Refugees flee as German advance resumes

Across France refugees started to clog the roads in fear of the German advance.

The German advance through France towards Paris resumed in earnest on the 5th June. This was the War Diary of XV Panzer Corps which attacked over the Somme River in the early hours of the morning:

At 0430 Hours along the whole of XV Panzer Corps’ front the attack over the Somme began. At the same time the construction of make shift bridges began in all divisions’ [sectors].

Under the cover of mist riflemen succeeded in taking the opposite bank by surprise. To preserve the element of surprise, we refrained from preparatory artillery fire … Numerous enemy batteries of all calibres were discovered. The enemy’s artillery shot well and skilfully, especially against crossing points, bridges and bridging points which were quickly identified. By frequently changing position he avoided successful engagement in part.

Nevertheless, both panzer divisions succeeded in advancing with their riflemen and some panzers on the Corps’ left and right wings. Doing this villages and woodland were avoided if possible, to seize the heights south of the Somme needed for artillery observation before the enemy [could reach them] … The crossing or passage of panzers, artillery and anti-aircraft guns in both divisions did not grind to a halt.

The enemy, who had recovered from his initial surprise in the morning, offered fanatical resistance in villages and woodland, as ordered by the French High Command as we learned from captured orders later. Thus, the infantry of 2nd Motorised Division was forced to get involved in extremely bitter house-to-house fighting in villages on the southern bank of the Somme. The bulk of the division was tied down in these.

The division’s request for support by panzers could not be met, since experience showed that panzers could not be used in street and house-to-house fighting successfully and merely suffered losses, which we had to avoid in view of the intended breakthrough. The division was urged to deploy its artillery in even greater strength than hitherto for the direct support of the infantry …

Moreover, all three divisions had to eliminate the enemy units remaining in their rear. The Senegalese of 5th Division Coloniale offered particularly fanatical resistance in Airaines. Even though the initially far-reaching goal was not achieved on the first day of the attack, the Corps had nevertheless succeeded in gaining a firm foothold on the southern bank. This success is to be exploited tomorrow.

The Corps’ command was determined, despite the enemy pockets of resistance still holding on in our rear and without regard to the occurrence the both neighbouring corps, which were still engaged in bitter fighting just south of the Somme, to advance on June 6th to break through the enemy who is apparently forming fresh defences either side of Hornoy.

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For those in the path of the German forces there seemed no alternative but to move out of the line of possible battle. Many did not have a clear idea where they were going. Many people left in a panic, throwing a few possessions on a cart. Along the route food became scarce as the mass exodus gathered pace. Towns in the path of the refugees became overwhelmed, accommodation ran out and people were forced to sleep rough. The sense of panic infected those who met the columns of refugees, causing ever more people to join their lines. Soon the panic had spread to Paris.

France was confused, tangled up like an immense skein of wool being manipulated by a superhuman, evil power. Soldiers and civilians—soldiers without their leaders and leaders without soldiers—mothers who had lost their children, children who were lost and who were crying alone on the roadsides four days’ journey from their bombed homes. Other couples were fleeing on foot dragging cases which were tied up with string, young people on bicycles overloaded with packages of all kinds… all this formed a deeply moving and pitiful mixture of bravery and panic, calm courage, distress, and (what a marvellous thing!) good humour, the will to live and fear of death

See Andre Morize: France Ete 1940

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