Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Gustave-Maurice Gamelin was a veteran of WW1. He was credited with the planning of the French counterattack of 1914 that led to a victorious First Battle of the Marne. During the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1919-1921, he acted as an advisor of the Polish forces. In 1933, he became the commander of the French Army, in which role he oversaw the completion of the Maginot Line. His plan to fight any aggression from Germany centered around the Maginot Line; he believed that the defenses of the line was so strong that any potential German invasion would have to come through the Low Countries, where he placed almost all of his best-trained forces. Although a national hero, he was rather timid, and was known to break under pressure. Indecisive, he often gave orders impulsively when the matter was urgent, only to make it worse later by retracting the order and create confusion. Nevertheless, his skillful political maneuvering ensured a healthy career growth.
During the Rhineland crisis which Germany re-militarized the region, he refused to deploy French troops to counter the German move, which was something France was obligated to do according to the Locarno Pact. Then, in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, Gamelin once again refused to invade Germany, whose borders were only garrisoned by ten divisions at the time; he seemed to have forgotten the clauses of the Franco-Polish Military Convention of 19 May 1939, which was drafted by him and two Polish generals. While he betrayed the Franco-Polish Military Convention by not "launch[ing] a major offensive in the west if Germany attack Poland"; he merely sent nine divisions to engage in a few skirmishes in Saarbrücken and then declare to his troops a "victory". When inquired by Poland, he lied by stating "[m]ore than half of our active divisions in the northeast front are engaged in combat... [and meeting] vigorous resistance.... It has been impossible for me to do more."
Gamelin's failures to respond to German aggression directly led to his own country being invaded. Relying overly much on the Maginot Line, he was caught by surprise when the German invaders bypassed the line and attacked through the "impenetrable" Ardennes forest. To make matters worse, he was at best unfamiliar with modern mobile warfare. His mindset was (as with many other prominent world military leaders, of course) that of WW1. "Combat tanks are machine to accompany the infantry", he said to his officers. "In battle, tank units constitute an integral part of the infrantry.... Tanks are only supplementary means.... The progress of the infantry and its seizing of objectives are alone decisive." He was similarly unprepared to deal with the German aerial attacks. "There is no such thing as the aerial battle", he told the French air forces only even after seeing the success of the Luftwaffe in Poland, "there is only the battle on the ground." The series of failures finally led to his removal from power on 18 May 1940. He was replaced by Maxime Weygand, but by then it was far too late for Weygand to make a difference.
During German occupation of France, Gamelin was arrested and unsuccessfully tried for treason by the Vichy government.
Gamelin died in 1958.
Sources: the Last Lion, Wikipedia.
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