Saar Offensive

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Saar Offensive
Part of the Phoney War of World War II
Ofensiva del Saar2.jpg
Disposition of French forces
Date7–16 September 1939 (1939-09-07 1939-09-16)
Saarland, Germany

Coordinates: 49°10′N7°15′E / 49.167°N 7.250°E / 49.167; 7.250
Result French withdrawal
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg  France Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Maurice Gamelin
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg André-Gaston Prételat
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Erwin von Witzleben
40 divisions
400 tanks
4,700 artillery pieces
22 divisions
100 artillery pieces
Casualties and losses
2,000 casualties [1]
4 tanks destroyed
196 killed
356 wounded
114 missing [2]
11 aircraft destroyed [3]

The Saar Offensive was a French ground invasion of Saarland, Germany, during the early stages of World War II, from 7 to 16 September 1939. The plans called for roughly 40 divisions, including one armored division, three mechanised divisions, 78 artillery regiments and 40 tank battalions to assist Poland, which was then under invasion, by attacking Germany's understrength western front. Although 30 divisions advanced to the border (and in some cases across it), the assault never happened. When the quick victory in Poland allowed Germany to reinforce its lines with homecoming troops, the offensive was stopped. The French forces eventually withdrew amid a German counter-offensive on 17 October.

Saarland State in Germany

Saarland is a state of Germany.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Invasion of Poland invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent

The Invasion of Poland, known in Poland as the September Campaign or the 1939 Defensive War, and in Germany as the Poland Campaign (Polenfeldzug), was an invasion of Poland by Germany that marked the beginning of World War II. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September following the Molotov–Tōgō agreement that terminated the Soviet and Japanese Battles of Khalkhin Gol in the east on 16 September. The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.


Objective of the offensive

According to the Franco-Polish military convention, the French Army was to start preparations for the major offensive three days after mobilization started. The French forces were to effectively gain control over the area between the French border and the Siegfried Line and were to probe the German defenses. The sector was defended by the German 1st Army. On the 15th day of the mobilization (that is on 16 September), the French Army was to start a full-scale assault on Germany. The pre-emptive mobilization was started in France on 26 August and on 1 September, full mobilization was declared.

French Army land warfare branch of Frances military

The French Army, officially the Ground Army to distinguish it from the French Air Force, Armée de l'Air or Air Army, is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces. It is responsible to the Government of France, along with the other four components of the Armed Forces. The current Chief of Staff of the French Army (CEMAT) is General Jean-Pierre Bosser, a direct subordinate of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CEMA). General Bosser is also responsible, in part, to the Ministry of the Armed Forces for organization, preparation, use of forces, as well as planning and programming, equipment and Army future acquisitions. For active service, Army units are placed under the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CEMA), who is responsible to the President of France for planning for, and use, of forces.

Mobilization assembling and readying troops and supplies for war

Mobilization, in military terminology, is the act of assembling and readying troops and supplies for war. The word mobilization was first used, in a military context, to describe the preparation of the Imperial Russian Army during the 1850s and 1860s. Mobilization theories and techniques have continuously changed since then. The opposite of mobilization is demobilization.

Siegfried Line World War I line of defensive forts and tank defenses built by Germany in northern France during 1916–1917

The "Siegfried Line", known in German as the Westwall, was a German defensive line built during the 1930s opposite the French Maginot Line. It stretched more than 630 km (390 mi); from Kleve on the border with the Netherlands, along the western border of the old German Empire, to the town of Weil am Rhein on the border to Switzerland - and featured more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps.

French mobilization suffered from an inherently out of date system, which greatly affected their ability to swiftly deploy their forces on the field. [4] The French command still believed in the tactics of World War I, which relied heavily on stationary artillery, even though this took time to transport and deploy. Many pieces also had to be retrieved from storage before any advance could be made. [5]

French operations

A French soldier reading a German sign in Lauterbach Soldat Frances al Saar.jpg
A French soldier reading a German sign in Lauterbach

Almost everyone expected a major French attack on the Western Front soon after the start of the war, but Britain and France were cautious as both feared large German air attacks on their cities. They did not know that 90% of German frontline aircraft were in Poland. [6] A French offensive in the Rhine valley began on 7 September, four days after France declared war on Germany. The Wehrmacht was engaged in the attack on Poland and the French enjoyed a decisive numerical advantage along the border with Germany but the French did not take any action that was able to assist the Poles. Eleven French divisions, part of the Second Army Group, advanced along a 32 km (20 mi) line near Saarbrücken, against weak German opposition. The French army advanced to as far as 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) in some areas, and captured about 12 towns and villages unopposed: Gersheim, Medelsheim, Ihn, Niedergailbach, Bliesmengen, Ludweiler, Brenschelbach, Lauterbach, Niedaltdorf, Kleinblittersdorf, Auersmacher, and Sitterswald  [ de ] (occasionally called "Hitlersdorf" in some French reports). Four Renault R35 tanks were destroyed by mines north of Bliesbrück.

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.

Rhine river in Western Europe

The Rhine is a European river that begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Swiss-Liechtenstein, Swiss-Austrian, Swiss-German and then the Franco-German border, then flows through the German Rhineland and the Netherlands and eventually empties into the North Sea.

Wehrmacht unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.

By 9 September the French occupied most of the Warndt Forest. [6] On 10 September, while a minor German counterattack retook the village of Apach, French forces reversed the loss only hours later. The French 32nd Infantry Regiment made further gains on 12 September, seizing the German town of Brenschelbach with the loss of one captain, one sergeant, and seven privates. [1] Near the meeting point of the French, German, and Luxembourgeois borders, the Schengen bridge was destroyed. [7]

Warndt forest region at the border between Germany and France near Saarbrücken

The Warndt is an extensive forest area of approximately 5,000 hectares (19 sq mi) including parts of the German Saarland and the French region Grand Est west of Saarbrücken. The geology of the Warndt is composed of Buntsandstein permeated by veins of iron ore and deposits of hard coal. Today it is a popular recreational area.

Apach Commune in Grand Est, France

Apach is a commune in the Moselle department in Grand Est in northeastern France.

French soldiers in Lauterbach Ministry of Information Second World War Press Agency Print Collection HU102736.jpg
French soldiers in Lauterbach

The offensive was halted after French forces had occupied the 7 square kilometres (2.7 sq mi) Warndt Forest, which had been heavily mined by the Germans. The French stopped short of the Siegfried line, although they came within a few kilometres south of it, immediately east of Saarbrücken.

Land mine explosive weapon, concealed under or on the ground

A land mine is an explosive device concealed under or on the ground and designed to destroy or disable enemy targets, ranging from combatants to vehicles and tanks, as they pass over or near it. Such a device is typically detonated automatically by way of pressure when a target steps on it or drives over it, although other detonation mechanisms are also sometimes used. A land mine may cause damage by direct blast effect, by fragments that are thrown by the blast, or by both.

The French held German territory along all of the Rhine-Moselle front, but after the collapse of Poland, [6] General Maurice Gamelin on 21 September ordered French units to return to their starting positions on the Maginot Line. Some French generals, such as Henri Giraud, saw the withdrawal as a wasted opportunity and made known their disagreement with it.

As the withdrawal was taking place, on 28 September, a counterattack by the German 18th Infantry Regiment (from the then newly-formed 52nd Division) in the area between Bischmisheim and Ommersheim was repelled by French forces.

On 17 October the withdrawal was complete. There had been about 2,000 French casualties (killed, wounded, or sick). [1]


Louis Faury, head of the French Military Mission to Poland Faury Louis.jpg
Louis Faury, head of the French Military Mission to Poland

The Polish Army general plan for defense, Plan West, assumed that the allied offensive on the Western Front would provide a significant relief to the Polish front in the East. [8]

However, the limited and half-hearted Saar Offensive did not result in any diversion of German troops. The 40-division all-out assault never materialised. On 12 September, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council gathered for the first time at Abbeville in France. It was decided that all offensive actions were to be halted immediately. General Maurice Gamelin ordered his troops to stop "not closer than 1 kilometre (0.6 miles)" from the German positions along the Siegfried Line. Poland was not notified of this decision. Instead, Gamelin informed Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły that half of his divisions were in contact with the enemy, and that French advances had forced the Wehrmacht to withdraw at least six divisions from Poland.

The following day, the commander of the French Military Mission to Poland, General Louis Faury, informed the Polish chief of staff, General Wacław Stachiewicz, that the planned major offensive on the western front had to be postponed from 17 to 20 September.

From 16 to 17 October, the German army, now reinforced with troops returning from the Polish campaign, conducted a counteroffensive that retook the remainder of the lost territory, still held by French covering forces, which withdrew as planned. [9] [10] German reports acknowledge the loss of 196 soldiers, plus 114 missing and 356 wounded. [2] They also claim that 11 of their aircraft had been shot down as far as 17 October. [3] The French suffered around 2,000 casualties. [1] By then, all French divisions had been ordered to retreat to their barracks along the Maginot Line. The Phoney War had begun.

At the Nuremberg Trials, German military commander Alfred Jodl said that "if we did not collapse already in the year 1939 that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign, the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions." [11] General Siegfried Westphal stated that if the French had attacked in full force in September 1939 the German army "could only have held out for one or two weeks." [12]

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André-Gaston Prételat was a general in the French Army.

This is a timeline of events that stretched over the period of World War II. For events preceding September 1, 1939, see the timeline of events preceding World War II.


  1. 1 2 3 4 La drôle de guerre Ministére de la Defénse (in French)
  2. 1 2 "Berlin Diary" by William Shirer, 20 October 1939
  3. 1 2 "Berlin expects Italy will react to New Turkish Treaty" Associated Press, 20 October 1939
  4. Snyder 1960, pp. 95–96.
  5. Liddell Hart 1970, pp. 31–33.
  6. 1 2 3 Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. xviii.
  7. Government of Luxembourg. The Luxembourg Grey Book, Hutchinson & Co. Accessed 13 March 2016
  8. Seidner, Stanley S. (1978). Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz Rydz and the Defense of Poland. New York. pp. 89–91. OCLC   164675876.
  9. Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2002, p. 97.
  10. Germans counterattack in the Saar region Monday, October 16, 1939. Chronology of WWII
  11. "Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal" (PDF). Nüremberg. 1948. p. 350.
  12. World at War - "France Falls" - Thames TV

Further reading