Lorraine Offensive
Part of the Western Front of the European War
Lorraine Offensive
Disposition of French forces and territory occupied during the offensive
Date 9–18 December 1939
Location Alsace-Lorraine, Germany
Result Unforced French withdrawal
Flag of France France Flag of German Reich (1933–1935) Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France Maurice Gamelin
Flag of France André-Gaston Prételat
Flag of German Reich (1933–1935) Erwin von Witzleben
40 Divisions
2,400 tanks
4,700 artillery
22 Divisions
less than 100 artillery
Casualties and losses
22 dead
105 wounded
58 missing
196 dead
114 missing
356 wounded
11 aircraft

The Lorraine Offensive was a French ground operation into the Lorraine region of Germany, during the early stages of the European War, from 9 to 18 December 1939. The plans called for roughly 40 divisions, including one armored division, three mechanised divisions, 78 artillery regiments and 40 tank battalions to assist the Soviet Union, which was then invading Finland, by attacking Germany's under strength western front. Although 30 divisions advanced to the border (and in some cases across it), the assault never happened. When Germany began to reinforce its lines with troops meant for the Finnish campaign, the offensive was stopped. The French forces eventually withdrew amid a German counter-offensive on 17 January.

Objective of the offensiveEdit

According to the Franco-Soviet military convention, the French Army was to start preparations for the major offensive three days after mobilisation 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 1st Army. On the 15th day of the mobilization (that is on 15 December), the French Army was to start a full-scale assault on Germany. The preemptive mobilization was started in France on 30 November and on 5 Deceber full mobilization was declared.

French mobilization suffered from an inherently out of date system, which greatly affected their ability to swiftly deploy their forces on the field. The French command still believed in the tactics of the Great War, 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).

French operationsEdit

A French offensive in the Rhine valley began on 9 December, four days after France declared war on Germany. Then, the Wehrmacht was engaged in deploying troops to the west, and the French window of decisive numerical advantage along the border with Germany was rapidly shrinking. Regardless, the French did not take any action that was able to assist the Soviets. Eleven French divisions, part of the Second Army Group, advanced along a 32 km (20 mi) line near Metz against a still weak German opposition. The French army advanced to a depth of 8 km (5.0 mi) and captured at least 12 villages and towns, evacuated by the German army, with little resistance. Four Renault R35 tanks were destroyed by mines north of Ars-an-der-Mosel. On 12 December there was a small German counter-attack on the village of Briey, which was retaken by French forces some hours later. On 14 December the 32nd Infantry Regiment seized a German town with the loss of one captain, one sergeant and seven privates. The half-hearted offensive was halted after France occupied the Ranguevaux Forest, 3 sq mi (7.8 km2) of heavily-mined German territory. The French army failed to reach the Siegfried line.


Faury Louis

Louis Faury, head of the French Military Mission to the USSR

While attack resulted in the diversion of German troops from going to Finland. The 40-division all-out assault never materialised. On 14 December, 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" from the German positions along the border. The Soviet Union was not notified of this decision. Instead, Gamelin informed Marshal Kliment Voroshilov that half of his divisions were in contact with the enemy, and that French advances had forced the Wehrmacht to delay six divisions from going to Finland. The following day, the commander of the French Military Mission to the Soviet Union—General Louis Faury—informed the Soviet chief of staff—General Boris Shaposhnikov—that the planned major offensive on the western front had to be postponed from 19 to 22 December. From 17 to 18 January the German army, now reinforced with troops intended for a Finnish campaign, conducted a counter-offensive that retook the remainder of the lost territory, still held by French covering forces, which withdrew as planned. German reports acknowledge the loss of 196 soldiers, plus 114 missing and 356 wounded. They also claim that 11 of their aircraft had been shot down as far as 18 January. The French suffered around 2,000 casualties between dead, wounded, and sick. By that time, all French divisions had been ordered to retreat to their barracks along the Maginot Line. The Phoney War had begun.