|Grossdeutschland Campaign Pt. 2: The Road to Dunkirk|
|by Travis Petkovits|
It is sometimes tougher to fight my superiors than the French
- General Heinz Guderian
After the grueling battles of Sedan & Stonne the Infanterie-Regiment Grossdeutschland spent three days reorganizing near Bulson, France. The butchers bill had been high. In the period 10-17 May the Regiment had lost 81 men killed, 335 wounded, & 24 missing. Late on the 19th the Regiment received orders to join XIX Corps in the St. Quentin area.
While Grossdeutschland had been resting, the Wehrmacht Panzer Divisions continued driving towards the channel. By the 20th they had reached the coast, trapping the BEF & French 1st Army (a total of 40 Divisions) in what was to become known as the Dunkirk pocket. In 11 days the Germans had crossed 240 miles of French territory. The Wehrmacht communiqué of 22 May read: “The French Ninth Army, which was to have established and maintained contact between powerful enemy operations groups in Belgium and the Maginot Line south of the Sedan on the Meuse between Namur and Sedan, has been smashed and is in disintegration.”
After reaching the channel XIX Corps began to attack into the pocket. 2nd Panzer moved on Boulogne, while 10th Panzer worked it’s way towards Calais. 1st Panzer Division was ordered to cover 2nd Panzers flank and rear.
On the 21st, Infanterie-Regiment Grossdeutschland was assigned the mission of securing the right flank of 1st Panzer Division from attacks from the north. Once again the regiment was holding the end of the Corps line. On the 23rd orders came from higher directing the Regiment to advance towards St. Omer in the direction of Dunkirk.
From midday until dawn the regiment moved forward towards the bridges over the Aa canal. 1st Battalion engaged in a small skirmish with French and English forces around St. Pierre, before orders were issued to bypass the village to the south. During the confusion of the night move both 2nd and 3rd battalions moved towards Henniun instead of St. Pierre. Morning found the regiment dug in along the western edge of the Aa canal. It would be up to 6th Company to force the canal at St. Nicolas (near Henniun), and set up a bridgehead on the eastern side.
On the 20th of May Maxime Weygand was named Supreme Commander of French forces. At once he set about drawing up plans to contain the German spearhead that had reached the channel coast. While French forces were gathering to enact the “Weygand Plan”, a British armored counterattack at Arras on the 22nd bought the Allies some breathing room.
Having no faith in General Weygand’s plan, Lord John Gort, Commander-in Chief of the BEF ordered a withdrawal towards the only viable channel port left, Dunkirk. While some British units were holding the line, for the most part it fell to French forces to cover the withdrawal.
Scenario: The Road to Dunkirk
The Aa canal/river flows 80 km, from near the village of Bourthes to the coast at Gravelines. Held by elements of the BEF and 3 French Divisions, it protected the western approaches to Dunkirk. It would be vital for the Allies to hold the canal line as long as possible to protect the port.
The 6th Co. of I.R. Grossdeutschland was able to cross the canal and establish a bridgehead about 1000 meters deep on the eastern side. Most of the 2nd Battalion remained on the western side however, as the Allied machine-guns and AA batteries were too well dug in around the bridge.
Realizing that it could not breakout to the south, the British has started Operation Dynamo (the evacuation of the Dunkirk pocket), on the 26th of May. By June 4th they had rescued almost 340,000 British & French troops. Although the BEF lost most of its heavy equipment in the pocket, it was able to return the bulk of its units to Britian.
For I.R. Grossdeutschland the situation on the Aa remained unaltered until the 27th when the Regiment, accompanied by SS-Leibstandarte went on the attack toward the line Crochte-Drincham. Throughout the rest of this stage of the campaign the regiment engaged enemy forces, trying to deny them the chance to embark at Dunkirk. Although not as brutal as the first stage of the campaign, the battles in Flanders still cost Grossdeutschland 59 men killed, 234 wounded, and 17 missing.