Case Red: The Collapse of France
Reviewed by Neil Smith
Most of Wargames Illustrated’s readers will have a grasp of the Dunkirk story when it comes to the narrative of World War II. On 10 May 1940, the Germans poured over the French, Dutch, and Belgian borders and trounced a seemingly limp and confused opposition. The German panzers, backed by a dominant Luftwaffe, cut off large swathes of territory, forcing their enemy into a retreat bordering on a rout. The British Expeditionary Force narrowly escaped complete annihilation at Dunkirk over a one week period at the end of May while the Dutch and Belgians capitulated. And that was that as far as most of us are concerned. But what happened next? Robert Forczyk provides an answer in his informative, but flawed, Case Red: The Collapse of France.
The German operation, leading to Dunkirk, was called Case Yellow. Case Red was the second stage that began on 5 June and was aimed at completing the defeat of France. It took them just three weeks! This was despite significant numbers of British troops still in France, though their second evacuation did not go so well, and by the time they pulled out, under the nose of Churchill who wanted them to stay, the allied cooperation had completely fallen apart. Isolated, demoralized at all levels, and defeated in the field, the French could not hold and surrendered to the rampant Germans. Forczyk narrates all this in a closely written operational history with touches of first-person accounts from those involved to heighten the drama. He is particularly good at telling us who was where and when, and doing what to whom – for wargamers, this is an invaluable scenario generator.
Forczyk also forays into analysis, but here he is less successful. His efforts to destroy a series of myths surrounding the allied defeat in France are ineffectual, and his opinionated incursions into the blame game often smack of armchair-generalism. In particular, Forczyk’s forays against British actions in France are often myopic and clearly agenda driven – at one point, he condemns the British for maintaining their lines of retreat, and Forczyk claims that two-hundred Spitfires would have made all the difference while acknowledging the hundreds of RAF wrecks littering the French countryside. The author’s criticisms of the French are more cogent, though often hindsight driven, but it is not made clear how greater British involvement would have led to anything other than a greater disaster and the probable consequent defeat of Britain. These are, however, a historian’s criticisms of Case Red: as a wargamer, there is much material in Forczyk’s book to assist in understanding the Fall of France and developing interesting gaming ideas from it.