We all look back and the 20 / 20 history that shows us “of course !”, and how obvious it was after the fact.
Hitler planned for, and then invaded France.
Most of the Western powers and the Russians would have thought such a plan was a way out long shot.
It stunned the world that a superpower such as France (at the time) would fall to a crazy person like Hitler.
This poll mainly highlights the crazy things Hitler did that failed, and not the key crazy thing done that actually succeeded beyond belief.
This is indeed an interesting question to consider: whether Hitler’s planning and invasion of France is something that would have looked crazy at the time (as opposed to how it looks now in retrospect). My feeling is that the answer depends on what is meant by “at the time.” If someone had suggested in 1937 or 1938 or even as late as September 1, 1939 that Germany would conquer France in a campaign lasting just six weeks, and with very acceptable casualty figures on the German side, he would quite plausibly been regarded as a lunatic…or at least as a wild optimist (if he was German) or pessimist (if he was French). By April of 1940, however, the basic concept that a German attack against France might succeed could (and should) have been taken very seriously by well-informed observers. Eight months of wartime experience had shown that:
Armoured forces, operating aggressively in mass formations at key points of the front, closely supported by aircraft, motorized/mechanized infantry and self-propelled artillery, could achieve strategically decisive results in a short amount of time.
France appeared wedded to a purely defensive strategy, hinging on the static position of the Maginot Line, hence completely surrendering the strategic initiative to Germany and giving Hitler the priceless luxury of attacking at whatever time, in whatever location and in whatever manner he chose.
The French Army suffered from poor morale and poor political and leadership. General Gamelin, in the words of one French official, “had no guts at all” and seemed to consider the French government to be more of an enemy than the Germans. The French Army had made a token advance of a few kilometers into the Saar region, then had quietly withdrawn. French soldiers were poorly paid, which often led them to use their infrequent leave time to earn some money on the side, and they tended to get so drunk when they were about to rejoin their regiments that special rooms were reserved by the military authorities in train stations to allow the men to recover. The French general mobilization had pulled many trained men away from vital war industries, and it was only after much confusion that they were released from military service. There was much political bickering among politicians and social/political disunity among the population at large.
In other words: by April 1940, France was militarily much more vulnerable than it may have looked at the start of the war. Many of these problems (such as the lack of any French offensive worthy of the name) were plain for the Germans to see, and others would have been discernable by the Germans without too much trouble. The eventual German campaign against France succeeded to a degree that was probably beyond anything that Germany could have hoped for, but by April 1940 it was not unrealistic for Germany to think that it at least had a decent shot at waging a successful campaign against France.
Gamelin’s strategy for France was to fight a defensive war for the first few years. At that point, the Anglo-French production advantage over Germany would have given the Allies a large military advantage over Germany. Especially when weapons purchases or donations from the United States were taken into account. After the Allies had achieved a massive numerical advantage in artillery, tanks, planes, and anything else which could be built in factories, he’d launch his invasion.
The Allies discounted the effectiveness of Germany’s blitzkrieg tactics against Poland. Germany’s excellent performance merely served to reinforce preexisting Allied beliefs about Polish inferiority. The Allies had had a low opinion of Poland from the beginning, as shown by the false promises they made regarding a French general offensive. When Person A dupes Person B, Person A will normally convince himself Person B was an idiot who deserved to be duped. All con artists think that way, and the French and British political leaders of 1939 were no exception.
During the '39 conflict between Germany and Poland, the German generals outperformed their Polish counterparts. But, again, this was seen as largely a result of horrible Polish incompetence, and not necessarily evidence of superior German generalship. The one-sided nature of the Germano-Polish conflict of '39 did far more to increase the preexisting Anglo-French contempt for Poland, than it did to increase their respect for the competence of the German military.
Von Manstein was the best general of the war on either side; and one of the best generals in human history. He recognized that Germany would lose a long war against Britain and France. However, he saw an opportunity to use good tactics to even the strategic odds. It was he who devised the plan to invade France. Hitler adopted the plan, against the advice of many of his most senior generals.
But von Manstein’s plan to invade France was only the first in a two part plan to save Germany from the Allies. The second part would have been the invasion of Britain, launched in the summer of 1940. Von Manstein’s plans generally succeeded, and he was confident this plan would have succeeded too. However, Hitler rejected von Manstein’s plan–a decision which may have cost him the war.
The eventual German campaign against France succeeded to a degree that
was probably beyond anything that Germany could have hoped for
The invasion went mostly according to von Manstein’s plan. There were times when his plan was set aside or overruled. The overruling of parts of his plan led to the Dunkirk evacuation; as well as to a longer, more painful conquest of Paris than would otherwise have been the case. But other than those two things, events transpired largely as von Manstein had anticipated. That said, most Germans, including Hitler, were surprised by the sudden, favorable turn events had taken.