Asia and the Pacific
Pacific War China Pacific Ocean South-East Asia South West
Pacific Japan Manchuria (1945)
MEDITERRANEAN AND MIDDLE EAST North Africa Horn of Africa
Mediterranean Sea Adriatic Malta Yugoslavia Iraq Syria–Lebanon
Iran Italy Dodecanese Southern
OTHER CAMPAIGNS Atlantic Arctic Strategic bombing America French
West Africa Madagascar
Chinese Civil War
Chinese Civil War USSR–Japan Border Wars
Western Front of
World War II
World War II
* Phoney War
* The Heligoland Bight
* The Netherlands
* The Hague
* Fort Eben-Emael
* La Lys
* Italian Invasion of
The Hardest Day
Battle of Britain Day
* Sea Lion
* Cerberus and Donnerkeil
St Nazaire Raid
St Nazaire Raid
* Market Garden
* Hürtgen Forest
* Atlantic Pockets
* Invasion of Germany
Defence of the Reich
Defence of the Reich
* Raids on the Atlantic Wall
* Battle of Atlantic
The PHONEY WAR (French : Drôle de guerre; German : Sitzkrieg) was an
eight-month period at the start of
World War II
World War II , during which there
were no major military land operations on the Western Front . It began
with the German invasion of
Poland on September 1st 1939 and the
declaration of war by the
United Kingdom and
France against Nazi
Germany on 3 September 1939, and ended with the German attack on
France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940.
Poland was overrun in about five weeks in the German
Invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland beginning on 1 September 1939 and Soviet invasion
beginning on 17 September 1939, the Western Allies did nothing. War
had been declared by each side, but no Western power committed to
launching a significant land offensive, notwithstanding the terms of
the Anglo-Polish and Franco-Polish military alliances which obliged
United Kingdom and
France to assist
The quiet of the
Phoney War was punctuated by a few Allied actions.
Saar Offensive in September, the French attacked Germany with
the intention of assisting Poland, but it fizzled out within days and
they withdrew. In November, the Soviets attacked
Finland in the Winter
War , resulting in much debate in
France and Britain about an
offensive to help Finland, but the forces finally assembled for this
campaign were delayed until it ended in March. The Allied discussions
about a Scandinavian campaign caused concern in Germany and resulted
in the German invasion of Denmark and
Norway in April, and the Allied
troops previously assembled for
Finland were redirected to Norway
instead. Fighting there continued until June when the Allies
Norway to Germany in response to the German invasion
On the Axis side, the Germans launched attacks at sea in the autumn
and winter against British aircraft carriers and destroyers, sinking
several including the carrier HMS Courageous with the loss of 519
lives. Action in the air began on 16 October 1939 when the Luftwaffe
launched air raids on British warships. There were various minor
bombing raids and reconnaissance flights on both sides.
* 1 Terminology
* 2 Inactivity
* 3 Saar offensive
* 5 German invasion of Denmark and
* 6 Change of British government
* 7 Actions during the
* 8 See also
* 9 Notes
* 10 References
* 11 Further reading
* 12 External links
Phoney War customarily appears using the British spelling
even in North America, rather than the American phony, although some
American sources do not follow the trend. The first known recorded
use of the term in print was in September, 1939, in a U.S. newspaper
which used the British spelling, although other contemporary American
reports sometimes used "phony" since both spellings were in use at the
time in the U.S. The term appeared in Great Britain by January 1940
as "phoney," the only acceptable spelling there.
Phoney War was also referred to as the "Twilight War" (by Winston
Churchill ) and as the Sitzkrieg ("the sitting war": a word play on
blitzkrieg created by the British press). In French, it is
referred to as the drôle de guerre ("funny" or "strange" war). In
Polish, it is referred to as the Dziwna Wojna ("strange war").
The term "Phoney War" was probably coined by US Senator William Borah
, who, commenting in September 1939 on the inactivity on the Western
Front , said, "There is something phoney about this war."
While most of the German army was engaged in
Poland , a much smaller
German force manned the
Siegfried Line , their fortified defensive
line along the French border. At the
Maginot Line on the other side of
the border, British and French troops stood facing them, but there
were only some local, minor skirmishes , while in the air there were
occasional dogfights between fighter planes. The Royal Air Force
dropped propaganda leaflets on Germany and the first Canadian troops
stepped ashore in Britain, while western Europe was under a period of
uneasy calm for seven months. People of Warsaw outside the
British Embassy with a banner which says "Long live England!" just
after the British declaration of war with
Leopold Amery suggested to
Kingsley Wood that the Black Forest
be bombed with incendiaries to burn its ammunition dumps, Wood—the
Secretary of State for Air —amazed the member of parliament by
responding that the forest was "private property" and could not be
bombed; neither could weapons factories, as the Germans might do the
same. Indeed, the sense of unreality was maintained when some British
officers imported packs of foxhounds and beagles in 1939, but were
thwarted by the French authorities in their attempts at introducing
live foxes. Civilian attitudes in Britain to their German foes were
still not as intense as they were to become after the Blitz . In April
1940 a German
Heinkel bomber crashed at
Clacton-on-Sea in Essex,
killing its crew and people on the ground. They were all laid to rest
in the local cemetery which was provided with support from the Royal
Air Force . Wreaths with messages of sympathy for the casualties were
displayed on the coffins.
Meanwhile, the opposing nations clashed in the
Norwegian Campaign .
In their hurry to re-arm, Britain and
France had both begun buying
large amounts of weapons from manufacturers in the US at the outbreak
of hostilities, thereby supplementing their own production. The
non-belligerent US contributed to the Western Allies by discounted
Despite the relative calm on land, on the high seas the war was very
real. Within a few hours of the declaration of war, the British liner
SS Athenia was torpedoed off the
Hebrides with the loss of 112 lives
in what was to be the beginning of the long running Battle of the
Atlantic . On 4 September, the Allies announced a blockade of Germany
to prevent her importing food and raw materials to sustain her war
effort; the Germans immediately declared a counter-blockade. RAF
Bomber Command, Britain's principal offensive arm, was also heavily
engaged, but found that daylight bombing caused little damage and cost
insupportable losses (e.g. 12 Wellington bombers shot down out of 22
sent over the Wilhelmshaven naval base on 18 December 1939.)
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."
Siegfried Westphal stated, that if the French had attacked in
force in September 1939 the German army "could only have held out for
one or two weeks."
Saar Offensive A French soldier examines a German
street sign during the
Saar Offensive was a French attack into the
Saarland defended by
the German 1st Army in the early stages of World War II. Its purpose
was to assist Poland, which was then under attack. However, the
assault was stopped after a few kilometres and the French forces
withdrew. According to the Franco-Polish military convention, the
French Army was to start preparations for a major offensive three days
after the beginning of mobilization . The French forces were to
effectively gain control over the area between the French border and
the German lines and were to probe the German defences. On the 15th
day of the mobilisation (that is on 16 September), the
French Army was
to start a full-scale assault on Germany. The preemptive mobilisation
was started in
France on 26 August, and on 1 September full
mobilisation was declared.
The offensive in the
Rhine river valley area started on 7 September,
four days after
France declared war on Germany. Since the Wehrmacht
was occupied in the attack on Poland, the French soldiers enjoyed a
decisive numerical advantage along their border with Germany. However,
the French took no meaningful action to assist the Poles. Eleven
French divisions advanced along a 32 km (20 miles) line near
Saarbrücken against weak German opposition. The attack did not result
in the diversion of any German troops. The all-out assault was to have
been carried out by roughly 40 divisions, including one armoured ,
three mechanised divisions, 78 artillery regiments and 40 tank
battalions . The
French Army had advanced to a depth of 8 km (5.0
miles) and captured about 20 villages evacuated by the German army,
without any resistance. However, the half-hearted offensive was halted
France seized the Warndt Forest, 7.8 km2 (3.0 sq mi) of heavily
mined German territory.
On 12 September, the
Anglo-French Supreme War Council gathered for
the first time at
Abbeville . It was decided that all offensive
actions were to be halted immediately as the French opted to fight a
defensive war, forcing the Germans to come to them. General Maurice
Gamelin , ordered his troops to stop no closer than 1 km (0.62 miles)
from the German positions along the Siegfried Line.
Poland was not
notified of this decision. Instead, Gamelin informed Marshal Edward
Rydz-Śmigły that half of his divisions were in contact with the
enemy and that French advances had forced the
Wehrmacht to withdraw at
least six divisions from Poland. 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
major offensive on the western front planned from 17–20 September
had to be postponed. At the same time, French divisions were ordered
to withdraw to their barracks along the Maginot Line, beginning the
A notable event during the
Phoney War was the
Winter War , which
started with the
Soviet Union ′s assault on
Finland on 30 November
1939. Public opinion, particularly in
France and Britain, found it
easy to side with Finland, and demanded from their governments
effective action in support of "the brave Finns" against their much
larger aggressor, the Soviet Union, particularly since the Finns'
defense seemed so much more successful than that of the Poles during
the September Campaign. As a consequence of its attack, the Soviet
Union was expelled from the
League of Nations
League of Nations , and a proposed
Franco-British expedition to northern
Scandinavia was much debated.
British forces that began to be assembled to send to Finland's aid
were not dispatched before the
Winter War ended, but were sent instead
Norway ′s aid in the Norwegian campaign. On 20 March, after the
Winter War had ended,
Édouard Daladier resigned as Prime Minister of
France, because (in part) of his failure to aid Finland's defence.
GERMAN INVASION OF DENMARK AND NORWAY
The open discussions on an Allied expedition to northern Scandinavia,
also without the consent of the neutral Scandinavian countries, and
Altmark Incident on 16 February, alarmed the
Germany by threatening iron ore supplies and gave strong arguments for
Germany securing the Norwegian coast. Codenamed Operation Weserübung
, the German invasion of Denmark and
Norway commenced on 9 April. From
the 14th, Allied troops were landed in Norway, but by the end of the
month, southern parts of
Norway were in German hands. The fighting
continued in the north until the Allies evacuated in early June in
response to the German invasion of
France ; the Norwegian forces in
Norway laid down their arms at midnight on 9 June.
CHANGE OF BRITISH GOVERNMENT
Norway Debate British Ministry of Home Security
poster of a type that was common during the
The debacle of the Allied campaign in
Norway , which was actually an
offshoot of the never-realised plans to aid Finland, forced a famous
debate in the House of Commons during which the British Prime Minister
Neville Chamberlain was under constant attack. A nominal vote of
confidence in his government was won by 281 to 200, but many of
Chamberlain′s supporters had voted against him while others had
abstained. Chamberlain found it impossible to continue to lead a
Government or to form a new coalition government with himself
as leader. So on 10 May, Chamberlain resigned the premiership but
retained the leadership of the Conservative Party. The King—George
Winston Churchill , who had been a consistent opponent
of Chamberlain's policy of appeasement , as Chamberlain's successor,
and Churchill formed a new coalition government that included members
of the Conservatives , Labour and the Liberal Party , as well as
several ministers from a non-political background.
ACTIONS DURING THE PHONEY WAR
Most other major actions during the
Phoney War were at sea, including
Battle of the Atlantic
Battle of the Atlantic fought throughout the Phoney War.
Other notable events among these were:
* 17 September 1939, the British aircraft carrier HMS Courageous was
sunk by U-29 . She went down in 15 minutes with the loss of 519 of her
crew, including her captain. She was the first British warship to be
lost in the war.
* 14 October 1939, the British battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk in
the main British fleet base at
Scapa Flow ,
Orkney (north of mainland
Scotland ) by U-47 . The death toll reached 833 men, including
Henry Blagrove , commander of the 2nd Battleship
Luftwaffe air raids on Britain began on 16 October 1939 when
Junkers Ju 88s attacked British warships at
Rosyth on the Firth of
Forth . Spitfires of 602 and 603 Squadrons succeeded in shooting down
two Ju 88s and a
Heinkel He 111 over the firth. In a raid on Scapa
Flow the next day, one Ju 88 was hit by anti-aircraft fire , crashing
on the island of
Hoy . The first
Luftwaffe plane to be shot down on
the British mainland was a He 111 at Haddington ,
East Lothian , on 28
October, with both 602 and 603 Squadrons claiming this victory. 602
Archie McKellar was a principal pilot in both the
destruction of the first German attacker over water and over British
soil. McKellar (KIA 1 Nov. 1940) went on to be credited with 20 kills
Battle of Britain , as well as "ace in a day " status by
shooting down five Bf 109s; a feat accomplished by only 24 RAF pilots
during the entire war.
* In December 1939, the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee
was attacked by the
Royal Navy cruisers HMS Exeter , Ajax and Achilles
Battle of the River Plate . Admiral Graf Spee fled to
Montevideo harbour to carry out repairs on damage sustained during the
battle. She was later scuttled rather than face a large British fleet
Kriegsmarine believed, incorrectly, was awaiting her
departure. The support vessel for Admiral Graf Spee, the tanker
Altmark was captured by the
Royal Navy in February 1940 in southern
Battles of Narvik
Battles of Narvik ,
Altmark Incident .)
The warring air forces also showed some activity during this period,
running reconnaissance flights and several minor bombing raids . The
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force also conducted a large number of combined
reconnaissance and propaganda leaflet flights over Germany. These
operations were jokingly termed "Pamphlet raids" or "Confetti War" in
the British press.
On 10 May 1940, eight months after Britain and
France had declared
war on Germany, German troops marched into Belgium , the Netherlands
and Luxembourg , marking the end of the Phoney War.
Italy entered the war in June 1940.
Why Die for Danzig?
* ^ Perhaps because of mishearing or a mistranslation, French
Roland Dorgelès or other French sources read the English
"phony" as "funny." See fr:Drôle de guerre (in French).
* ^ Safire, William (2008) . "Phony War". Safire\'s Political
Dictionary (Updated and expanded ed.). New York: Oxford University
Press . p. 539. ISBN 978-0-19-534334-2 .
OCLC 761162164 .
* ^ A B McNaughton, Frank (September 19, 1939). Edward T. Leech,
ed. "Roosevelt Deplores German Bombings".
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette .
Pittsburgh Press Company.
United Press . p. 8. ISSN
1068-624X . Retrieved 2015-09-09. "There is something phoney about
this war," told questioners yesterday, explaining that he meant the
comparative inactivity on the Western Front. "You would think," he
continued, "that Britain and
France would do what they are going to do
now while Germany and Russia are still busy in the East, instead of
waiting until they have cleaned up the eastern business." He did not
expect an early end to hostilities.
* ^ "This is Not a Phoney War". News-Chronicle. London. January 19,
1940. cited in Safire, William (2008) . "Phony War". Safire\'s
Political Dictionary (Updated and expanded ed.). New York: Oxford
University Press . p. 539. ISBN 978-0-19-534334-2 .
OCLC 761162164 .
* ^ "The Phoney War". History Learning Site.
* ^ Dunstan, Simon (20 November 2012). Fort Eben Emael: The Key to
Hitler\'s Victory in the West.
Osprey Publishing . p. 33. ISBN
OCLC 57638821 . Accordingly, the Allies first
devised Plan E whereby they would advance into Belgium as far as the
Scheldt River, but after months of inactivity that the British press
termed "sitzkrieg," a bolder Plan D emerged that called for an advance
as far as the Dyle River, a few miles east of Brussels
* ^ Patricia S. Daniels; Stephen Garrison Hyslop; Douglas Brinkley
(2006). National Geographic Almanac of World History. National
Geographic Society. p. 297. ISBN 978-0-7922-5911-4 . Retrieved 10
September 2015. The invasion of
France and Britain into
the war. For more than six months, the two sides sat idle—the
British press called it Sitzkrieg—as Germany sought to avoid war
with Britain without ceding Poland. With war unavoidable, the Germans
France on May 10, 1940.
* ^ Bert Whyte; Larry Hannant (2011). Champagne and Meatballs:
Adventures of a Canadian Communist. Edmonton: Athabasca University
Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-926836-08-9 .
OCLC 691744583 . Retrieved 10
September 2015. When, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland,
which Britain had pledged to defend, Britain declared war. But it did
nothing to help Poland; for eight months, the conflict remained
strictly the "Phoney War." In May 1940, in what the British press had
taken to calling the "sitzkrieg" became a German blitzkrieg throughout
Western Europe, Hitler-colluder-with-Chamberlain was replaced by
* ^ A B "The Phoney War!". schools.yrdsb.ca. 8 October 1980.
Retrieved 22 May 2016.
* ^ Atkin, Ronald (1990). Pillar of Fire: Dunkirk 1940. Edinburgh:
Birlinn Limited. p. 29. ISBN 1 84158 078 3 .
* ^ Reagan, Geoffrey. Military Anecdotes (1992) pp. 108–109,
Guinness Publishing ISBN 0-85112-519-0
* ^ Reagan, pp. 198–199.
* ^ Denis Richards RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War
(1995) chap. 3.
* ^ "Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International
Military Tribunal" (PDF). Nüremberg. 1948. p. 350.
* ^ World at War - "
France Falls" - Thames TV
* ^ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (2016). "Russo-Finnish
War". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Retrieved 22 May 2016.
* ^ "USSR expelled from the League of Nations". History.com. A+E
Networks Corp. 2016. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
* ^ "The Baltic Sea at war 1939-1945". 20thcenturybattles.com.
WorldPress.com. 2016. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
* ^ "Winston Churchill". biography.com. A&E. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
* ^ "1939 - Into Action". The Spitfire - An Operational History.
* ^ "Junkers Ju88 4D+EK". Peak District Air Accident Research.
* Pierre Porthault, L'armée Du Sacrifice (1939-1940), Guy Victor,
* Media related to
Phoney War at