The Saar Offensive was a French invasion of Saarland, Germany, in the first stages of World War Two, from 7 to 16 September 1939. The original plans was to assist Poland, which was then under invasion, by attacking Germany’s neglected western front. In 1921, the French Army and the Polish Army made a defensive alliance against Germany in their military convention. The attack did not have the expected result. When the swift victory in Poland allowed Germany to reinforce its lines with homecoming troops, the offensive was halted. French forces then withdrew amid a German counter-offensive on 17 October.
French mobilisation suffered from an inherently out of date system, which greatly affected their ability to swiftly deploy their forces on the field.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 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.
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 per cent of German frontline aircraft were in Poland.
Beginning of the French invasion
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.
By 9 September the French occupied most of the Warndt Forest.
On 10 September, while a minor German counterattack retook the village of Apach, French forces reversed the loss only hours later.
The French advance halted
The offensive was halted after French forces had taken the 7-square-kilometre (2.7 sq mi) Warndt Forest, which had been heavily mined by the Germans.
After the collapse of Poland, 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.
The Polish ally
The Polish Army general plan for defence, Plan West, assumed that the allied offensive on the Western Front would provide a significant relief to the Polish front in the East.
However, the limited and half-hearted Saar Offensive did not result in any diversion of German troops.
Falsehood and false justification
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.
Poland was not notified of this decision. 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”. This wasn’t the truth.
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.
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.”