Key Facts & Summary
- They were formed to fight in the first World War
- They also participated in the Second World War
The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was the name given to military forces from the British Empire who fought in Belgium and France during the First World War.
The BEF was first trained by professional soldiers (about 70,000) (there was no compulsory military service in the UK at the time). Recruitment was quickly completed by volunteers and conscripts of compulsory military service. In total, nearly 5.4 million soldiers from the British Empire fought during the First World War (the maximum number present at the same time on the front was 2 million combatants). From August 1914 to December 1915, the BEF was commanded by Marshal John French and then until November 1918 by General Douglas Haig.
The BEF participated in the Battle of Mons in August 1914, at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. He was the main force engaged in the Battle of the Somme in July-November 1916, at the Battle of Passchendaele in July-November 1917.
On September 3, 1939, Great Britain, followed by France, declared war on Nazi Germany that had just attacked Poland. During the First War world, Great Britain and France were bounded by the “Entente Cordiale”, the alliance of the two countries. A total financial and military union was decreed.
The fraternity of arms resulted in sending a British expeditionary force to France from the early days of September 1939, which fitted into the defensive strategy of the French. In the financial agreement between Paul Reynaud, Minister of Finance and Sir John Allsebrooke Simon, his British counterpart, it was expected that war spending would be shared in the proportion of 3 for England and 2 for France.
The British Expeditionary Force, (BEF), landed in France. It was deployed east of Lille on the Franco-Belgian border. From then, as for the French armies, a period of waiting and relative inactivity that flowed from September 1939 to the German offensive of May 10, 1940, in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg started. The latter caused the entry into Belgium by the French units and British.
May 14th, German armored vehicles broke through into the French territory in the Sedan region. This lead to the retreat of Franco-Belgian-British forces on the Scheldt and the north canals. From May 20, the opponent encircled the allies and despite strong British resistance, the cities of Arras, Calais, and Boulogne were captured. May 26, 1940, the “Dynamo” operation, which consisted of the evacuation of allied forces by the entrenched Dunkirk, was engaged. As of June 4, there were more than 300,000 soldiers, 225,000 of them were British, who were sent back to England.
The BEF lost three-quarters of its heavy equipment, had 3,500 killed and many captured as prisoners. There were 150,000 Britons not evacuated at Dunkirk through other ports in June. The evidence of the SCA, kept at ECPAD, on the British Expeditionary Force in France, was distributed with forty photographic reports.
The pictures showed the armed forces stationed on the French territory, their training during the funny war, from September 1939 to May 1940 and the visits of the British authorities to their troops. The advance of German forces and the defeat of the Allied armies as for them are covered by the photographers of the companies propaganda (Propaganda Companion) German.
Command of the BEF
The British Expeditionary Force in France was commanded by General Lord Gort, appointed by the Imperial Chief of Staff, Field Marshal Ironside, and placed under the command of General Gamelin, Chief of the French Land Forces and Allied armies.
General Gort was a prestigious officer who served as a battalion commander during the First World War. He was decorated with the Victoria Cross. His GHQ (General Headquarters) was moved to Arras (Pas-de-Calais) and two missions liaison were detached from the French commands. The first, under the orders of the Major-General Sir Richard Howard-Vyse, was in Vincennes, at the headquarters of General Gamelin and the second, under the command of Brigadier J. G. R. Swayne, at the headquarters of General Georges, deputy General Gamelin.
The composition of the BEF
The British troops in France, composed of professional soldiers, had 4 divisions in
September 1939 and 10 in May 1940 (given reinforcements landed May 17) for a total of 237,000 men grouped into three army corps, services and units in reserve of HQ (Headquarters) :
– Lieutenant-General Barker’s I Corps, consisting of the 1st, 2nd, and 48th Infantry Divisions,
– Lieutenant-General Brooke’s II Corps, composed of 3rd, 4th Infantry Divisions, and 50th Motor Infantry Division,
– Lieutenant-General Adam’s III Corps, consisting of the 42nd and 44th Infantry Divisions,
– The main large units in reserve which will come under French command in the current of the year 1940: 1ST Armored Division (Armored Division) and 51st Highland Infantry Division.
Most of the armored forces of the BEF in 1939 were: a mechanized cavalry regiment, a regiment of armored carriages and a tank regiment (on the 4th Royal Tank Regiment). In addition, the British Air Force, the Royal Air Force (RAF), is deploying the Air Component, a detachment under the orders of the Air Vice Marshal C. Blount, and whose mission is to support BEF troops and carry out reconnaissance missions for its benefit.
As part of the maneuvers provided for by the “Dyle” plan, the British units deploy on the Franco-Belgian border, east of Lille, from Maulde to Halluin:
– The 1st Corps, with the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions, goes online from October 3, 1939,
– The 2nd Corps, with the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions, did the same on October 12, 1939, (on their left flank is the 7th French army, on their right flank the 1st Army French)
– The 5th Infantry Division joined the BEF at the end of 1939,
– The 51st Highland Infantry Division arrives in January 1940,
– Five territorial divisions also follow from January 1940,
– The III Corps finally is created in April 1940.
Despite the commendable British war effort, the British Expeditionary Force has an armament weak and hardly improved nor increased during the strange war. Staffing particularly shielded is very inadequate.
May 17, 1940, cannot compete with a German Panzer-division. Moreover, most of the English tanks are of a light type such Mark VI, exceeded at the time and the new Mark II “Matilda” heavy tanks are very few at this date. The chariot Mark VI, who served throughout the campaign of France (May – June 1940), is a tank of 5.2 tons, which includes a crew of 3 men, armed with 2 Vickers machine guns, one of 12.7 mm and the other 7.7 mm.
The phony war: waiting and training
After the short offensive of the Saar launched by the French army on September 7, 1939, which balance by the recovery by German troops of their lost positions during the attack, General Gamelin orders the troops to withdraw to the Maginot Line.
Then opens a period of eight months, marked by the absence or the low number of fighting on the territory between the armies facing each other, camped on their defensive lines respective Maginot and Siegfried lines. This situation gives rise to the expression “funny war” whose origin is disputed: the title of an article by Roland Dorgelès, war correspondent, in the press after a tour on the front, or alteration the English word phony war (funny war) in funny war?
No matter, the fact is there and the wait is insidious. In these circumstances, the main concern of the command is to fight “the boredom of those long months of winter and spring 1939-1940, which gnawed so much of intelligence … “as Marc Bloch testifies in The strange defeat.
The military daily of the British soldiers as French during this period alternates between observation, faction, training, patrol or skirmish but many did not fire a single shot before May 1940.
The last fights and the return of the survivors in England
On June 5, 1940, German troops resume the offensive on the Somme and Aisne. The British expeditionary force no longer online, alongside French armies strongly diminished, that half of the 1st Armored Division, the 51st Highland Infantry
Division, which capitulates at Saint-Valéry-en-Caux on June 12, as well as the 52nd Infantry Division and the Canadian Infantry Brigade. These two units landed in France during the second week of June, forming a second expeditionary force. Ordered by the Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, who succeeded General Gort, the surviving elements of these formations (approximately 150 000 men) are in turn evacuated during the operation.
“Ariel” to England in particular by the ports of Bayonne, Verdon, Saint-Nazaire, Rochelle, Brest, and Cherbourg.
The allied defeat was transformed into a propaganda element by Winston Churchill, Prime Minister since May 10, 1940, who evacuates to victory paradoxical. The “Dynamo” operation, which he calls “Miracle of Dunkirk” and the “Ariel” operation, allowed to evacuate, according to English historian Robin Brodhurst, 368,491 soldiers British and 189,541 allied soldiers including 129,000 French and 19,000 Belgians and save 300 guns, 2,300 vehicles of all types and 1,800 tons of equipment, between May and June 1940.
This situation has prompted the United States to provide support and provide material assistance unreservedly to Britain, determined to continue the struggle.