Calling WWII historians: Why did Guderian obey the “halt” order?

Historians are familiar with the “Miracle of Dunkirk”: the fact that Hitler ordered a halt to the Nazi advance, allowing the British time to evacuate men from the port.  Some argue that had the British been annihilated at Dunkirk, they would have surrendered to Germany.  At any rate, saving all those men was obviously a huge boon for the Allies.

What’s less clear is the reason for the Nazi “halt” order.  Some say it was given because Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, wanted a chance to demonstrate that air power could annihilate the enemy, and wanted ground forces to halt so eh could make his point. (Which he then failed to do.)

Others argue that the order was given because Hitler, being a megalomaniac, wanted to make it clear that he was the one in charge, and by ordering his generals to halt, he could demonstrate supreme authority.

Still others say it simply came down to a matter of logistics.  German armor had advanced so far so rapidly that their supply lines were stretched too far, and they needed to stop to be re-supplied.

Still others argue it was because the Nazis, caught up in their pseudo-scientific, quasi-mystical racial delusions, saw the British as being of the same or similar “race”, and were reluctant to annihilate them, preferring they should surrender with few casualties and become part of the Aryan empire they envisaged.

Whatever the reason, the order was given, and it was obeyed.  And that’s the part I find interesting.

Heinz Guderian
Image via Wikipedia

The German advance through France had been led by the rather sinister-looking fellow pictured at right, Heinz Guderian. Guderian was famously a proponent of advancing very fast and unrelentingly surprising the enemy with speed. It’s probably partially thanks to his style that the term blitzkrieg got so famous.

Guderian was also not hesitant to ignore orders.  Higher-ranking officers were shocked by just how quickly he was moving through France, and ordered him to halt.  Guderian would ignore them and advance anyway, looking to press his advantage and not give the French time to regroup.

So, my question is: why did Guderian finally obey the order to halt at Dunkirk, when he had a golden opportunity? It seems wildly out of character for him. Was it simply that an order from Hitler himself he felt he had to obey? Had he in fact stretched his supply lines to the breaking point, and really was incapable of continuing to press the attack?

It’s nothing more than a footnote in the larger historical context, but it’s very interesting to me.

5 Comments

  1. Basil Liddel_Hart proposed the Aryan Race theory. Notice Hitler treated the Germanic nations he conquered a lot nicer than the Slavic. It might have been a perfect storm of all the reasons given. The strongest reason is that Hitler gave a direct order. The Gestapo was a palpable threat even to a hot shot general. Rommel is the field commander that led the charge at this time and made his reputation for the rest of the war.

    1. Good points all. Another writer who I know influenced the Nazis was JFC Fuller, a British officer who came up with a proto-blitzkrieg style of tank warfare, as well as being a big believer in the occult/racial/mystic insanity.

    1. I’m going to hazard a guess that you probably went on dates and talked to people when you were in college, as opposed to sitting alone in your room reading obscure history books like… uh… *some people* may have done… I’ve heard. 🙂

      (In all seriousness, it’s a pretty esoteric bit of history.)

      1. But you’ve piqued my interest. And I would rephrase it to “talked to people whether they were listening or not and remembering the conversations depending on how drunk I was.” lol

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