Overlord’s blog has posted a three part article on the battle of Arras, France in 1940. This battle is well known to those interested in the history of armored warfare, remembered primarily as the time British Matilda tanks put a serious scare into Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division.
Tank terror is that moment when the infantryman realises he can’t do anything to hurt the steel monster clanking towards him filled with malice and doom, and it’s heading right towards him. At that point he gets up and runs. The term was coined during the Blitzkrieg in 1940 that conquered France. But on one occasion the markings on the tanks weren’t German crosses, but the white squares of the BEF.
The Arras counter attack is one of the interesting battles from the summer of 1940, it points out the lesson that most commanders need to learn: the enemy can always surprise you. Rommel is reported to have suffered an attack of tank terror, and panicked reporting hundreds of tanks crushing his lines. It caused the Germans to halt their dash for the Channel, giving the Allies two days extra. This was time that would be very beneficial at Dunkirk.
As the Germans pushed their armoured spearhead into France the Allies laid plans for a large counter attack on the southern shoulder of the penetration. It was decided to try to support that attack with a push from the north with whatever forces could be spared. To this end the 5th Infantry and 50th Northumbrian Division along with the 1st Army Tank Brigade were dispatched to the Arras sector. When the units began to trickle into their staging area near Vimy Ridge, they found the area thinly held, with a French armoured unit to the east of Arras. Much of the infantry force were diverted to hold the line, this did however free up sixty S-35 tanks to take part in the attack. With these forces in place an attempt was made to plan the attack on the 20th of May, however things were hampered simply by not knowing what forces would be available.
Read the complete articles at these three links: