Operation Paula

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Operation Paula
Part of the Western Front of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-401-0240-20, Flugzeug Heinkel He 111.jpg
Heinkel He 111 formations prepare for another mission, somewhere in France, June 1940
Date3 June 1940
France, Paris
Result Operational failure [1]
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg France Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Joseph Vuillemin Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Hugo Sperrle
Units involved
Zone d'Opérations Aériennes Nord or Z.O.A.N I. Fliegerkorps
II. Fliegerkorps
IV. Fliegerkorps
V. Fliegerkorps
VIII. Fliegerkorps
120 fighters [2] 1,100 aircraft (460 fighters)
Casualties and losses
35 aircraft (31 fighters)
906 casualties
254 dead
(166 were servicemen) [2]
10 aircraft (four bombers) [2]

Unternehmen Paula (Undertaking or Operation Paula) [3] [4] is the German codename given for the Second World War Luftwaffe offensive operation to destroy the remaining units of the Armée de l'Air (ALA), or French Air Force during the Battle of France in 1940. On 10 May the German armed forces ( Wehrmacht ) began their invasion of Western Europe. By 3 June, the British Army had withdrawn from Dunkirk and the continent in Operation Dynamo, the Netherlands and Belgium had surrendered and most of the formations of the French Army were disbanded or destroyed. To complete the defeat of France, the Germans undertook a second phase operation, Fall Rot (Case Red), to conquer the remaining regions. In order to do this, air supremacy was required. The Luftwaffe was ordered to destroy the French Air Forces, while still providing support to the German Army.

<i>Luftwaffe</i> Aerial warfare branch of the German military forces during World War II

The Luftwaffe was the aerial warfare branch of the combined German Wehrmacht military forces during World War II. Germany's military air arms during World War I, the Luftstreitkräfte of the Army and the Marine-Fliegerabteilung of the Navy, had been disbanded in May 1920 as a result of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles which stated that Germany was forbidden to have any air force.

A military operation is the coordinated military actions of a state, or a non-state actor, in response to a developing situation. These actions are designed as a military plan to resolve the situation in the state or actor's favor. Operations may be of a combat or non-combat nature and may be referred to by a code name for the purpose of national security. Military operations are often known for their more generally accepted common usage names than their actual operational objectives.

Battle of France Successful German invasion of France

The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries during the Second World War. In the six weeks from 10 May 1940, German forces defeated Allied forces by mobile operations and conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, bringing land operations on the Western Front to an end until 6 June 1944. Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940 and invaded France over the Alps.


For the operation, the Germans committed five Air Corps to the attack, comprising 1,100 aircraft. The operation was launched on 3 June 1940. British intelligence had warned the French of the impending attack, and the operation failed to achieve the strategic results desired by the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (High Command of the Air Force). However, the plight of the French ground and air forces at this stage meant that the failure of the operation would not impede the defeat of France.

Corps military unit size

Corps is a term used for several different kinds of organisation.

<i>Oberkommando der Luftwaffe</i> 1944-1945 command staff of the German Air Force

The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL), translated as the High Command of the Air Force, was the high command of the Luftwaffe.


After the declaration of war on Nazi Germany by the United Kingdom and France, in the aftermath of the German invasion of Poland, nine months of stalemate took place along the Western Front named the Phoney War. The only military action was the French Army's Saar Offensive which was terminated in controversial circumstances. After the Polish Campaign, in October 1939, the planners of the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (Luftwaffe High Command) and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme Command of the Armed Forces) turned their attentions to Western Europe. [5]

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Western Front (World War II) military theatre of World War II encompassing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany

The Western Front was a military theatre of World War II encompassing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. World War II military engagements in Southern Europe and elsewhere are generally considered under separate headings. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale combat operations. The first phase saw the capitulation of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France during May and June 1940 after their defeat in the Low Countries and the northern half of France, and continued into an air war between Germany and Britain that climaxed with the Battle of Britain. The second phase consisted of large-scale ground combat, which began in June 1944 with the Allied landings in Normandy and continued until the defeat of Germany in May 1945.

Phoney War early period of World War II

The Phoney War was an eight-month period at the start of World War II, during which there was only one limited military land operation on the Western Front, when French troops invaded Germany's Saar district. The Phoney period began with the declaration of war by the United Kingdom and France against Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939, and ended with the German attack on France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940. While there was no large-scale military action by Britain and France, they did begin economic warfare, and shut down German surface raiders. They created elaborate plans for numerous large-scale operations designed to swiftly and decisively cripple the German war effort. These included opening a French-British front in the Balkans; invading Norway to seize control of Germany's main source of iron ore; and a strike against the Soviet Union, to cut off its supply of oil to Germany. Only the Norway plan came to fruition, and it was too little too late in April 1940.

The Western Allies had surrendered the initiative and the Germans would take the offensive in 1940. Several plans were toyed with by the German General Staff. General Franz Halder, the chief of staff of the Army, presented the first plan for Fall Gelb ("Case Yellow") on 19 October 1939. The plan's German code was Aufmarschanweisung N°1, Fall Gelb, or "Deployment Instruction No. 1, Case Yellow". [6] The operation was a limited operation in which Luxembourg and the Low Countries were to be conquered in order to provide a base for further operations against France at a later date and amounted to a less ambitious re-run of the infamous Schlieffen Plan which failed during the First World War in 1914. [7] It was rejected by Adolf Hitler and at the turn of the year, Heinz Guderian's chief of staff, Erich von Manstein secured Hitler's attention with a modified version. An ambitious thrust through the Ardennes was suggested by von Manstein. This main attack would use up the majority of the motorised and tank divisions (Panzer Divisions) in a drive to the English Channel. A diversion operation in Belgium and the Netherlands would precede this thrust, to lure the Allied Armies, including the British Expeditionary Force, into a trap. [8] [9]

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Franz Halder German general

Franz Halder was a German general and the chief of the Oberkommando des Heeres staff from 1938 until September 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler. During the invasion of the Soviet Union Halder insisted on focusing on Moscow, despite Hitler's objections. Until December 1941 Halder's military position corresponded to the old Chief of the General Staff position, which during World War I had been the highest military office in the German Imperial Army. Halder's diary during his time as chief of OKH General Staff has been a source for authors that have written about such subjects as Hitler, World War II, and the Nazi Party. In William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Halder's diary is cited hundreds of times.

Luxembourg grand duchy in Western Europe

Luxembourg, officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, is a small landlocked country in western Europe. It is bordered by Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. Its capital, Luxembourg City, is one of the three official capitals of the European Union and the seat of the European Court of Justice, the highest judicial authority in the EU. Its culture, people, and languages are highly intertwined with its neighbours, making it essentially a mixture of French and German cultures, as evident by the nation's three official languages: French, German, and the national language, Luxembourgish. The repeated invasions by Germany, especially in World War II, resulted in the country's strong will for mediation between France and Germany and, among other things, led to the foundation of the European Union.

Launched on 10 May 1940, the revised version of Unternehmen Gelb (Operation Yellow), also known as the Manstein Plan, succeeded. However, the British Army escaped during the Battle of Dunkirk. Nevertheless, the Belgian Army, Dutch Army and most of the elite French forces were destroyed in the encirclement. This left just second rate French units to combat the entire German Army. The Luftwaffe had played an integral part in disrupting Allied operations in this early phase. The Luftwaffe's participation was particularly crucial during the Battle of Sedan which enabled the German Army to carry out Operation Yellow. By early June the Dunkirk siege was over, and on 3 June, the Germans began preparations for the conquest of the rest of France under the codename Fall Rot (Case Red). For this to be as successful, air superiority would be required first, as it had been during Operation Yellow. [10]

Manstein Plan

The Manstein Plan is one of the names used to describe the war plan of the German Army during the Battle of France in 1940. The original invasion plan was a compromise devised by Franz Halder and satisfied no one. Some documents with details of the plan fell into Belgian hands during the Mechelen incident of 10 January 1940 and the plan was revised several times, each giving more emphasis to an attack by Army Group A through the Ardennes, which progressively reduced the offensive by Army Group B through the Low Countries to a diversion.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

Battle of Dunkirk important battle in the Second World War between the Allies and Germany

The Battle of Dunkirk was a military operation that took place in Dunkirk (Dunkerque), France, during the Second World War. The battle was fought between the Allies and Nazi Germany. As part of the Battle of France on the Western Front, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation to Britain of British and other Allied forces in Europe from 26 May to 4 June 1940.

Luftwaffe plans

Hugo Sperrle, commander of Luftflotte 3 (Air Fleet 3) Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1987-121-30A, Hugo Sperrle.jpg
Hugo Sperrle, commander of Luftflotte 3 (Air Fleet 3)

Hugo Sperrle had long planned attacks upon Paris and on 22 May he ordered Fliegerkorps II (Air Corps II) and Fliegerkorps V (Air Corps V) with Kampfgeschwader 77 (Bomber Wing 77) and Generaloberst (General Colonel) Ulrich Grauert's I Fliegerdivision , III./ Kampfgeschwader 28 (Bomber Wing 28) to bomb Paris. Bad weather prevented the operation. Determined to continue with his plans, Sperrle ordered Otto Hoffmann von Waldau and Helmuth von Hoffman, Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander) of III./KG 28, [11] to plan an operation named Paula the following day, on 23 May 1940. [12]

Hugo Sperrle German general

Hugo Sperrle was a German field marshal of the Luftwaffe during World War II. His forces were deployed solely on the Western Front and the Mediterranean throughout the war. By 1944 he had become Supreme Commander of the Luftwaffe in the West, but was subsequently dismissed when his heavily outnumbered forces were not able to significantly hamper the Allied landings in Western Europe.

2nd Air Corps was formed on 11 October 1939 in Frankfurt am Main from the 2. Flieger-Division. During Operation Barbarossa and from 22 June to 12 November 1941, the Corps flew over 40,000 day and night sorties, dropping 23,150 tons of bombs and claiming 3,826 Soviet aircraft destroyed as well as 789 tanks, 614 artillery pieces, 14,339 vehicles, 240 enemy field positions, 33 bunkers, 159 trains and 304 locomotives along with relentless attacks on enemy troop concentrations and logistical choke-points.

Kampfgeschwader 77 was a Luftwaffe bomber wing during World War II. Its units participated on all of the major fronts in the European Theatre until its dissolution in 1944. It operated all three of the major German bomber types; the Dornier Do 17, Heinkel He 111 and the Junkers Ju 88.

The operation was broad in its scope. As well as eliminating French airfields and aircraft factories around Paris, [13] in von Waldau's words, the bombing was to "achieve a desirable influence on the morale of the capital". [14] German reconnaissance aircraft reported 1,244 aircraft on airfields in and around Paris, including 550–650 single engine aircraft. [15] This French air power was to be destroyed along with the aviation factories in the area. French anti aircraft artillery (AAA) defences were mapped from tactical to operational level, and intelligence of French ground defences was therefore good. [16] The operation was due to be carried out on 30 May, but again, bad weather prevented it. [12]

The operation was compromised by poor staff work and excessive confidence in the "invulnerable" Enigma machine . The British intelligence, namely Ultra, who had been reading the German codes, forewarned the French. On 30 May they intercepted a message sent by Grauert discussing the arrangements he was making for his Corps. [2] Adding to this leak, the units involved received incomplete orders for the assault. Oberst Johann-Volkmar Fisser, Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) of KG 77 complained about this. He asked the Headquarters of VIII Fliegerkorps , only to be told that the target was "Paris". [2] Sperrle responded to his request by removing KG 77 from the order of battle. The British intercepted Frisser's request to VIII Fliegerkorps, and passed it to the French. The French had intercepted similar messages and in response they doubled their aircraft strength to 120 fighters. [2]

Forces involved


Units from both Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 3 (Air Fleet 1 and 2) were made available for the operation. Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Wings) and Jagdgeschwader (Fighter Wings) with aircraft from Lehrgeschwader 1 , (LG 1), Kampfgeschwader 1 (KG 1), Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG 2), Kampfgeschwader 3 (KG 3), Kampfgeschwader 4 (KG 4), Kampfgeschwader 54 (KG 54), Kampfgeschwader 55 (KG 55) and Kampfgeschwader 76 (KG 76), escorted by fighter aircraft from Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2), Jagdgeschwader 26 (JG 26), Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27), Jagdgeschwader 53 (JG 53), Zerstörergeschwader 2 (ZG 2) and Zerstörergeschwader 76 (ZG 76) were to carry out the attack. [17]

KG 1, ZG 76 and LG 1 were under the command of I. Fliegerkorps . ZG 2, KG 3 and II./KG 2 were under the command of II. Fliegerkorps . KG 55 and III./KG 54 were under IV. Fliegerkorps . KG 51 served under V. Fliegerkorps . KG 4 and JG 26 were under the command of the IX. Fliegerdivision . JG 2 and JG 27 were under the command of VIII. Fliegerkorps . Jagdfliegerführer 3 lent JG 53 for the operation. [18]

Stab. and I./KG 2 moved to Trier-Euren for the attack. I./KG 2 operated from Wengerohr, and III./KG 2 was to operate from Kirchenburg. [19] Stab. KG 55 operated from Schwabisch. I., II., III./KG 55 operated from Reims, Heilbronn and Eutingen respectively. [20] KG 3's, I., II., and III., Gruppe were based at Aschaffenburg, Schweinfurt and Würzburg. These units were based at unknown French bases by 3 June. [21] KG 4 and its units were based at Gütersloh, Fassberg and Delmenhorst. It is likely that some of KG 3's units moved to bases near Lille for the attack. [22] KG 1's I., II., III., Gruppe were based at Giessen, Kirtorf and Ettinghausen. [23] It likely that some of these units also moved to captured French airfields by 3 June. It is possible they were based at Rosières-en-Santerre. [24] Only I./KG 54 took part in the raid from the Geschwader (Wing). KG 54 was probably located in somewhere in northern France on 3 June. It was originally based at Köln-Ostheim. [25] The fighter units were based at the following airfields: Abbeville (ZG 76); Darmstadt, Neufchâteau, Freiburg (ZG 2); Le Touquet, La Capelle, Étaples (JG 26); Couvron, Oulchy-le-Château, (JG 2); Guise (JG 27); Épernay, Douzy, Charleville-Mézières, La Selve (JG 53). [26]

KG 2 put up 99 bombers for the raid and KG 55 committed 66 bombers from their three Gruppen. [27] Altogether the Luftwaffe fielded 640 bombers and 460 fighters. [2] [28]


Tasked with the defence of the greater Paris area was the Zone d'Opérations Aériennes Nord or Z.O.A.N (Northern Zone of Air Operations). [2] Groupe de Chasse I/145 (Polish) armed with Caudron C.714 fighters were based at Dreux. G.C. I/1 with Bloch MB.152s were based at Chantilly-Les Aigles. G.C. II/1 Bloch 152s were deployed to Brétigny-sur-Orge airfield. G.C. II/10 Bloch 152s were located at Bernay-en-Ponthieu, while G.C. III/10 Bloch 152s were based at Deauville. More fighter units operating the Dewoitine D.520 are also listed on the order of battle: G.C. I/3 at MeauxEsbly, G.C. II/3 at La Ferté-sur-ChiersGaucher, G.C. III/3 with the D.520 and Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 at Illiers-l'Évêque. Further units were located along the line. G.C. I/4 with Curtiss H-75s at Évreux-Fauville, G.C. II/4 Curtiss H-75 at Orconte, G.C. I/6 Morane 406s at Lognes Émerainville, G.C. III/7 (Morane 406s) at Coulommiers, G.C. I/8 Bloch 152s at Claye-Souilly, and G.C. II/9 Bloch 152s at Connantre. These units were supported by night fighter units, (Groupement de Chasse de Nuit, Night Hunting Group), E.C.M.J. 1/16, E.C.N. 1/13, 2/13, 3/13 and 4/13 equipped with the Potez 631. All in all, these groups totalled 240 aircraft. [29] [30] Only 120 fighters were made available to counter German attacks. [2]

The battle

On 3 June, the French units were warned an hour before the German bombers took off, but owing to equally poor staff work, few French squadrons heard the scramble signal when it was radioed from the Eiffel Tower and some were caught on the ground. In the end, only eighty took off to intercept the incoming German formations. [2] German progress was monitored by shadowing Potez 631s, one of which was shot down. [17] The Germans would copy this tactic when intercepting United States Army Air Force (USAAF) heavy bombers during the Defence of the Reich campaign. [2] Along with French AAA defences, the fighters shot down ten German aircraft, including four bombers. One of these machines was piloted by Jagdfliegerführer 3 (Fighter Flying Leader 3) Oberst Gerd von Massow. He was replaced by Oberst Werner Junck, until the former's release by German forces on 12 June 1940. Geschwaderkommodore of KG 51, Josef Kammhuber, who was wounded in action and taken as a prisoner of war, was brought down on this date, although it is not clear if KG 51 was involved in Paula. Kammhuber would be released after the French surrender. He was replaced as Geschwaderkommodore of KG 51 by Fisser, commander of KG 77. Fisser was killed two months later leading KG 51 during the Battle of Britain. [2] [31] At least one source does not place KG 51 on the order of battle. [32] German formations attacked twenty-eight railways and marshalling yard centres. All damage inflicted was light. None were out of action for more than 24 hours. [2]

Most of the German bombers had passed over and had an altitude advantage over French fighters trying to gain height to intercept. Skirmishes were few and far between, but some French units suffered heavy losses. For the attack, the Germans had used the new C-250 Flammbombe (Flame Bomb) which had only been cleared for use 24 hours earlier. The incendiary bomb did some damage to hangars and parked aircraft. [33]


The Germans believed they had struck a mortal blow against the ALA. [31] German post-operation analysis indicated a resounding success. It suggested a long list of wrecked French factories and destroyed aircraft on the ground and in the air. The Germans claimed to have destroyed 75 French aircraft in the air and 400 on the ground. Such was the perceived success, the Luftwaffe concentrated against ports on the northern French coast thereafter. [2] The damage inflicted by the Luftwaffe was far less than the Germans thought. Only 20 French aircraft (16 of them fighters) were destroyed on the ground and 15 of their fighters were shot down in aerial combat, a loss rate of 19 percent, suggesting German over claiming of over 4:1 in the air and 16:1 on the ground. Six of the sixteen airfields hit reported serious damage, while fifteen factories reported slight damage. [2] French casualties on the ground were heavy, including 254 dead and 652 injured. [31] The French shot down 10 German aircraft, including four bombers. They claimed 16, suggesting mutual over claiming. [2] A further 21 vehicles were destroyed. All the French airfields were back in operation 48 hours later. [32]

Although the operation failed to achieve its goals, the first phase of the German invasion, Operation Yellow, had stripped the French Army of its finest formations. The French forces holding the Somme line were mostly reserve divisions of poorer quality and unsupported by heavy artillery, tanks or motorised infantry. The failure of the German air operation did not prevent the German Army from defeating the French in June 1940, or the Luftwaffe in gaining air supremacy at the beginning of Fall Rot. [34] The main reason for German superiority in the air was the poor state of French air units' operational readiness. The Luftwaffe had a smaller margin of numerical superiority over the ALA at the start of Fall Rot as the French aviation industry was starting to reach full potential in production. Some 2,000 French aircraft were available despite the loss of 787 aircraft (473 fighters, 120 bombers and 194 reconnaissance aircraft). The French had 2,086 machines available on 5 June 1940, the first day of Fall Rot, but component production did not match the production of airframes. It was slow and poor, and as a result only 599 aircraft (340 fighters and 170 bombers) were serviceable; a rate of just 29 percent. [15] After the opening of the offensive, the Luftwaffe "ran riot" over French air space. Such was the superiority of the Luftwaffe at that point, some units were sent home to Germany to refit. The French collapsed altogether just 22 days later, and on 25 June France capitulated. [35]

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  30. French Air Force order of battle, 5 June 1940.
  31. 1 2 3 Hooton 1994, p. 264.
  32. 1 2 Jackson 1974, p. 81.
  33. Mackay 2003, p. 63.
  34. Hooton 2007, pp. 84–85.
  35. Hooton 2007, pp. 85–86.