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Published on May 26th, 2010 | by Bojidar Marinov

16

A Tale of Two Eschatologies

Politically correct historical myths to the contrary, the myth of the efficiency of the German Blitzkrieg in WWII died not in the winter of 1942 in the plains west of Moscow but in the mild comfortable spring of 1940 in central Belgium, a few miles from the town of Gembloux. On May 12–14 there the French Cavalry Corps (the name for the French armor division) met two (the 3rd and the 4th) Panzer division in an open field. A relatively small force of only 239 French tanks without tactical air cover engaged 674 German Panzers supported by 500 tactical bombers and 500 Messerschmidt fighters. The French objective was simple: Slow down the German offensive until the French infantry divisions marching into Belgium take and fortify positions at the Gap of Gembloux, according to the Dyle Plan. The Dyle Plan turned out to be a strategic failure: It did not expect that the main force of the German invasion will attack through the Ardennes in the South to reach Sedan. That may have been the reason for the quick defeat of France.

But what happened at Gembloux wasn’t expected at all by the German High Command. And it could have been France’s chance.

Within several hours on May 12th, the French Cavalry Corps, vastly outnumbered and pounded from the air, was able to stop the German advance. Fewer than 100 French tanks were destroyed versus 160 German Panzers. The Germans soon discovered that their best tank, the Panzer IV, was no match for the French Somua S35. At the beginning of the war S35 was in fact the best tank on all battlefields of the war, with superior armor and armament. The effective range of the German Panzers against the French was less than 200 meters, while a French S35 could destroy a Panzer III or IV at 600-700 meters. Besides, even from a very close distance the German guns couldn’t produce more than a few dents in the strong armor of the Somua; by the end of the day on May 13 most of the surviving Somuas were hit 15-20 times, some more than 40 times, without any serious damage to the tanks or the crews. In the first all tank battle of the war, the German confidence in the Panzers was shattered badly.

The Panzers were stopped, and they had to wait for the arrival of the German infantry. Two days later, when the attack against the French positions at the Gap of Gembloux was launched, there were even more surprises for the Germans. The French infantry, far from being dispirited and unprepared, proved to be a serious obstacle to the German advance. Outnumbered three to one on the ground, and bombed around the clock from the air, the Moroccan Division held its ground for several more days. Of the attacking German regiments some were completely wiped out, most of the rest lost about 30% of their officers. So serious was the French victory that the Germans expected the French to move south and cut off the main German advance. The time the heroic French won at Gembloux allowed for the regrouping of the Belgian forces in the north, and the British Expeditionary Force in the rear. The significance of this French victory is underestimated today but at the time it was serious enough to make Hitler give orders to move his headquarters close to the front lines, something he would only do when he expected the war to last longer than expected.

We in America like to think of the French military as an ill-equipped, low-morale, incompetent, cowardly bunch. Such an assessment is very far from the truth. To the contrary, the French were excellent soldiers on the battlefield. Heinz Guderian who fought the French in two world wars, characterizes the French soldier as “tough and brave,” and holds him in great esteem. At Gembloux, the soldiers and the officers of the Cavalry Corps and the Moroccan Division confirmed Guderian’s assessment of them. In May 1940, despite the German successes in the first couple of weeks, the Germans were still very far from their victory.

It was the French government and the French General Staff that saved the day for the Germans. On that same May 13, while the Cavalry Corps were beating back the German advance, the mood in the French General Staff was “fear, tears, and panic,” according to a witness. The French generals on that day were not debating how to organize their forces more effectively; they were discussing how to convince their own government to capitulate. In the next several days the French government – to a large degree influenced by the German propaganda communiques – was entirely pessimistic of the outcome of the war. That pessimism spread, and soon Winston Churchill was giving his own generals orders to evacuate. The Netherlands, whose territory was only partially invaded – more than 80 per cent of the Dutch troops, those in Fortress Holland – never saw battle – capitulated after a few bombs dropped on Rotterdam. Belgium capitulated soon thereafter. Large numbers of British and French troops evacuated through Dunkirk. And the Germans were unopposed.

France, Belgium, and the Netherlands together had a population of 56 million. Together with Britain, they could have stopped the German invasion, and the history of the World War II would have been different. But they didn’t.

The French leadership had an operational eschatology – expectations of the future – about the coming war. According to that eschatology, the last days of France would start when the Germans invade. Not much could be done, except for a few troops to escape through Dunkirk, and hopefully expect help from the United States, three and a half – or may be four – years later.

That operational eschatology trumped the heroism and the skill of the French soldiers and officers. France, Belgium, and the Netherlands lost the war, and it brought unspeakable misery to whole populations for the next four years.

* * * * * * * *

The best summary of the eschatology of the Swiss political and military leaders was given by a Swiss army captain to the Kaiser of Germany when the latter asked him what the quarter of a million Swiss citizens’ militia would do if invaded by a half million German regular army.

“Shoot twice and go home,” was the laconic reply of the highlander.

Both men knew what that meant. The German army at the time trained its soldiers to shoot at 100 meters. Any target practice beyond 100 meters was considered exceptional marksmanship. The Swiss routinely practiced at their shooting festivals at 300 meters, with their army rifles, which the Swiss men kept in their homes, clean and loaded and ready to use. In case of an attack, in order to take position to open fire, the German soldiers would have to cross the zone between 300 meters distance and 100 meters distance from the Swiss positions: enough time for the Swiss comfortably to shoot, reload, and shoot again. And go home. The Swiss knew their own strengths, and they couldn’t be intimidated by the enemy’s numbers. Any invader would be defeated, and that was as inevitable as the sunrise the next day.

That unshakable faith in their superiority, the optimism about the future of Switzerland was cultivated over the centuries after in 1291 representatives of the three mountain cantons Uri, Schweiz, and Unterwalden met on the Rütli Meadow to create the free confederation of people who refuse to live under any dictatorship. Since then, the Swiss peasants have invariably defeated much stronger armies of knights and professional soldiers sent against then. In remarkable feats of courage and tenacity, sometimes outnumbered 15 or 20 to one, the Swiss proved to the world that there was no way their land would fall in foreign hands. Over the years, tyrants and dictators learned the lesson: Don’t touch Switzerland. The Kaiser’s bluff was empty, and he knew it, and the Swiss captain knew it too. When the Great War started, all the participants – more populous than Switzerland – preferred to honor her neutrality.

The expectations of the future, the eschatology of the Swiss, were always positive, optimistic. The land was theirs, given by God, and they were obligated to dress it and keep it. It wasn’t the most fertile land in the world, it didn’t boast numberless resources, it had rugged mountains and precipices and narrow valleys . . . but it was theirs and theirs it would remain. For centuries Switzerland would remain the poorest of its neighbors because of the hardness of its terrain. As late as 1940, most Swiss citizens were living in much poorer conditions than their neighbors in France or Germany. But poor or not, they would remain free.

In 1940, after France fell to the Wehrmacht, the Chief Commander of the Swiss army, General Henri Guisan, assembled his officers on the same Rütli Meadow where 650 years earlier the Swiss Confederation was founded. His address told the Swiss officers what they already knew in their very being as Swiss citizens and soldiers: Switzerland would never surrender. In case of invasion, all announcements of surrender must be considered enemy propaganda, and every Swiss soldier must continue the fight to the last cartridge, and then use the bayonet.

In 1940 the whole population of the small Alpine republic numbered a little over 4 million, with an army of about 400,000, armed mainly with rifles and mountain artillery, and limited number of fighter planes. The Wehrmacht had 6.6 million men, thousands of heavy artillery, tanks, and tactical and strategic bombers in the air. Between 1939 and 1944 the German High Command developed six plans for invasion of Switzerland, that “stinking little state” as Josef Göbbels called it. Hitler never dared take action. He knew that unlike France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and others who believed in inevitable defeat, the Swiss believed in victory against all odds. Hitler knew that you don’t conquer a people who don’t believe in being conquered.

As a result, Switzerland remained an island of freedom during the war. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were saved, and hundreds of American pilots whose planes were shot over Germany. Hitler never got control of the mountain passes and this impeded the movement of German troops when Italy was invaded by the Allies. In France, the belief in inevitable defeat produced defeat; in Switzerland, the belief in inevitable victory kept evil at bay.

Like my friend Ben House says in his book, Punic Wars and Culture Wars, “Victory is often matter of not having a culture of defeat.”

In other words, eschatology matters.

* * * * * * * *

For this article, I am grateful for the work of two men and great historians, who worked hard and had the courage to bust modern politically correct myths in the name of preserving historical truth for the future generations: John Mosier (The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II), and Stephen Halbrook (Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II).

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About the Author

A Reformed missionary to his native Bulgaria for over 10 years, Bojidar preaches and teaches doctrines of the Reformation and a comprehensive Biblical worldview. Having founded Bulgarian Reformation Ministries in 2001, he and his team have translated over 30,000 pages of Christian literature about the application of the Law of God in every area of man’s life and society, and published those translations online for free. He has been active in the formation of the Libertarian movement in Bulgaria, a co-founder of the Bulgarian Society for Individual Liberty and its first chairman. If you would like Bojidar to speak to your church, homeschool group or other organization, contact him through his website: http://www.bulgarianreformation.org/



16 Responses to A Tale of Two Eschatologies

  1. Justin Honaker says:

    Thank you for this article, Bojidar, I really enjoyed it.

  2. There were more a "few" bombs, Cor, I admit. More than 1,000 bombs were used by the Germans, total of about 100 tons of explosives. I suppose I am comparing it to other bombardments during the war. For example, only on one night, February 14, 1945, Dresden got about 200,000 bombs, total of 2,700 tons of explosives. I know, it doesn't sound right to make such comparisons but such is the nature of historical studies.

    I am in no way trying to imply that it was not a tragedy, or that the Dutch were cowards. My native country, Bulgaria, being an ally to Germany, was bombed by the Allies in 1943 and 1944. It was bad, but I will still use the words "a few bombs" when comparing to what London, or Dresden, or Tokyo got.

    Conventional historical science has it that it was the Dutch army that led the negotiations for surrender. That may be another myth, and it is possible that the Dutch officers acted on orders from the government. There are a few facts that stand out when it comes to the war in the Netherlands: 1) Hitler was surprised by the effective resistance of the Dutch; 2) the losses among the German paratroopers were prohibitively high (almost 50%); 3) Dutch officers and soldiers were recorded expressing astonishment that the country surrendered without putting up a better fight. Fortress Holland was considered a state of the art defense, and it could have resisted for weeks if not months.

    I promise to be more sensitive to people's feelings next time.

  3. Cor Labots says:

    I am tempted to judge the whole article by the very limited but factual knowledge I have about May 10-14 1940.
    The airforce consisted of 4 airplanes, located in Rotterdam, destroyed by German paratroopers in the first attack on May 10. The small group of professional soldiers located north of the river prevented the paras from crossing the river.
    The article says: The Dutch army capitulated "after a few bombs dropped on Rotterdam."
    The incinerary bombardment on the fourth daylasted approcimately 2 hours and the fire could not be contained for 3 days for lack of preparedness, destroying a greater area. I lived there. The threat of a similar fate to Amsterdam made the government, not the army, decide to surrender. For 5 years I walked through the ruins of the centre of Rotterdam.

  4. Gregg, the story about the Nazis not invading because they relied on the Swiss banks is just a politically correct myth created by modern liberal and socialist media. There is no historical evidence whatsoever that the Nazi leadership ever planned an "exodus" of gains to the Swiss banks, nor there is any evidence for the Nazis even taking the Swiss banks into account. If anything, Hitler would have profited from taking the gold that was in the Swiss banks to solve the chronic foreign currency deficit Germany had between 1933 and 1944 because of its dependence on imports of oil, iron ore, bauxite, rubber, and foods. Besides, with the laws in Switzerland banning all Nazi propaganda and all possible collaboration with the Nazis, and given the general anti-Nazi mood of the Swiss population, the banks would not accept Nazi money. The myth of the Swiss banks serving the Nazis is a lie.

    The second "reason" you mention is just as irrelevant as the first one. There were no big factories of any significance in Switzerland. The production of measuring and precision instruments and tools that Switzerland sold to Germany to get the much important coal was not organized in big factories like the metallurgical, aircraft, chemical, or shipbuilding industries that were immensely more important to the war effort. Even today's Switzerland's industry is small-scale. The strategic bombing at the time lacked the precision of modern weapons and was highly unsuccessful against small targets. No self-respecting British or American commander would risk sending a fleet of strategic bombers to hit a small factory with 50 workers. Besides, just like France was never bombed by the Allies, Switzerland would be considered a friendly territory, and the Allies wouldn't bomb it for the fear of killing friendly populations. The Germans knew that very well. It hardly makes sense to call that a "reason" for not invading Switzerland.

    Both of your "reasons" lack reason.

  5. Tony Cowley says:

    Thanks – I never knew the French Fighting was so Formidable! I've heard the myth, repeated so often, about them running away. I know that the modern French ingelligence is supposed to be quite good. But, I fear that their fear of Isalm will lead to the Islamization of their nation now. "Don't Lose Heart!" really means something!

  6. Gregg Weber says:

    I understand that, besides the militia/military, there were two other reasons why Germany would not invade Switzerland. One being the swiss banks and bank laws that allowed ill gotten gains to be kept if the war ended badly. The second was that, being neutral, factories could not be bombed by the Allies.

  7. If the Swiss were invade by the combined forces of the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, they would have been conquered and it would have taken them at least 60 years to regain their freedom.

  8. wayne says:

    And just think, it is this very same defeatist attitude that runs Washington DC now. I wonder if the Russians, the Chinese, Chavez or Iran are aware of this?

  9. covvie says:

    And don't forget the Frech Char-B tank. It was more an "infantry tank", but it was an absolute fortress on the battlefield. It did not serve with the Cavalry Corps, but it was nearly invincible in tank vs. tank warfare of the time.

    Somuas chasis were used by the Wehrmacht to make other AFVs, just as the Czech Skoda vehicles had been.

    A splendid article on "eschatology", sir.

  10. Bruce Townsend says:

    Christianity will become Christiandom again when the church forsakes dispensationalism, the eschatology of defeat and irresponsibility, and therefore volunteer freely in the day of the Lord's power dressed in holy array (Psalm 110). Our present culture of socialism and humanism is the result of Christians having retreated from the filed of battle.

    • Paul Martin says:

      Bruce,
      It will take much more than forsaking dispensationalism to re-establish Christendom, even given the dubious merit or biblical warrant of that goal; there is nothing intrinsically defeatist or irresponsible about dispensational eschatology, notwithstanding the insupportable conclusions of some of its adherents.

  11. Umm, Paul, several things here:

    First, T-34 and the IS (Iosif Stalin) tank are two different tanks. T-34 is a medium tank, IS-1 and IS-2 are heavy tanks.

    Second, T-34 did not start mass production until July of 1941, over a year after the invasion of France. So, it still stands that at the beginning of the war the Somua was the best tank. Besides, the first issues of T-34 were not as good due to defective armor plates, weaker engines, inferior transmission and clutch system, and the old L-11 gun. Only after the new 76.2 mm gun was introduced in late 1941, T-34 became the best tank of the war.

    Third, the Somua had something that is neglected by most military historians today, that makes a huge difference in a tank battle: Sloped armor at an angle that is most effective in terms of enclosed space and protection by deflecting the missiles. T-34 used the same angle of slope but much later – you will see the earlier T-34s having a rather awkward looking turret due to the inferior recoil mechanism for the gun. In comparison, the Germans never used sloped armor on their Panzers until the Panther and King Tiger – I don't know why they couldn't realize the potential of it.

    By and large, the Somua was the best tank at the beginning of the war. Had the French had the time to develop, they could have come up with something better than it. They were ahead of everyone else in tank design and development in May 1940.

  12. Paul says:

    I have never heard of the French Somua S35 tank. I have always read that the Soviet T-34 "Stalin" tank was the best of the war. The Germans themselves re-used many captured Stalins, but had to worry about being mistaken for Soviets by their own tanks & aircraft.

    The British Churchill was a powerful heavy tank, but quite slow. The U.S. had no heavy tanks & relied upon tank destroyers, artillery, & bazookas to destroy German Tigers. The later model King Tiger possibly would have stood well against Stalins, but I do not think they were fielded yet during the invasion of Russia. They were also prone to sticking in the mud.

  13. lodibug3 says:

    A sound eschatology has its basis in a sound theology. Today's Christianity has little in common with the theology that first landed at Plymouth Rock and, as d'Tocqueville put it… theirs was "the triumph of an idea." That idea? Their eschatology taught them to expect that God would build a "City on Hill"- a civilization built from God's Law, in which He would honor righteousness, despite their own lack of merit. The precepts of the Laws of God provide the Tools for the work ahead. The real reason the Law of God is not honored today in the churches is that it has an eschatology of victory built within it. Victory entails responsibility and a courageous faith. As John Calvin put it… Life lived according to the image of God is to live according to the Law of God. So, the image within us is designed for maturation in understanding His Will "on earth, as it is in heaven."

    Consequently, EXPECTING NO FUTURE, the Church places little or no enduring value upon the culture carriers (law, sciences, medicine, media, arts, mathematics, history, business, theology, economics and others) with few exceptions (family, education, and church). Consequently, the one faith – Christianity – that is created by God for the production and long term development of the culture carriers, has, instead, adopted a culture of theological surrender and has, like the French leadership, already encouraged a determined humanistic-socialistic enemy to expect that surrender.

    Question: Would you consider a boxer who has gone 15 rounds against 10 other professional boxers without being knocked out, to be a poor fighter? Of course, neither you nor I would consider such a fighter to be anything but a marvel. Yet, as weak as Christianity is today in America, She stills stands, despite being opposed in every place by every "ist" and "ism" possible. She, like the boxer, stands, though all Hell has thrown itself against Her from every quarter possible. And, despite, Her disobedience and failure in conforming Her worldview to the Laws of God, She STILL grows in the face of all vilification. If only She would come to know the glory and power of the Tools put at Her disposal in the Toolbox of God's Holy Law (Romans 7: 7-25).

    God is IN His people. She must be judged, before She is matured and can overwhelm the adversaries of Righteousness (I Peter 4:17). He is the eschatology of victory. He has given such an eschatology of victory to His people in His Word. From our prayer life where we are instructed to pray FIRST, "Thy kingdom come… ON EARTH as it is in heaven…" Well, How is it in heaven? Triumphant and enthroned. From prayer to our Great Commission, Christ commands us to go to the four corners of the earth EXPECTING triumph because "All authority is given to Christ in heaven in earth… Therefore Go and disciple ALL nations…" (Matt. 28:18-19).

    Eschatology is given to us to accomplish three things: 1) It is designed to embolden faith, giving courage to a people.
    2) Like the Marxists and Islam, we are given an "Inevitability doctrine"… meaning, Christianity, rightly understood, is the pronouncement that God's Will is to be accomplished with… or without …. the agreement of men. Nothing can defeat Righteousness… Ours is the true Inevitability doctrine. Islam and Marxism are lies cultivated by the Devil to neutralize faith and faithfulness.
    3) If we know victory ahead, we prepare for it. That is sound economy and good stewardship. If we are to carry forth God's Holy Will, we begin to cultivate Righteousness on our knees in faith to Christ AND THEN make diligent inquiry and careful preparation for the development of Righteousness as we carry it into the culture.
    The time is at hand. If a disobedient Christianity still grows (but refuses to come into Her own inheritance), how much more overwhelming will She be if She arrives in this culture with an obedient eschatology? Perhaps review:http://bit.ly/in_memorium

    - respectfully submitted, Wayne C. Sedlak, http://www.EarlyChristianAmerica.com/blog

  14. Rod says:

    Bravo! And another positive piece on brave little Switzerland and its remarkable history:

    A PATRON SAINT FOR EUROSCEPTICS:
    Brother Klaus against the New World Order
    http://www.christianorder.com/features/features_1

  15. Paul says:

    Another excellent article Bojidar! I hope people who read this gain understanding.

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