skip to Main Content

France Norway 1940:

British Expeditionary Force

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the planning assumption was a German invasion through the Low Countries and into France, the same scenario as occurred in 1914. As the likelihood of war grew in 1938, plans were formulated for the creation of another expeditionary force to be sent to France as soon as war was declared. These plans were activated on 3 September 1939, with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General The Viscount GORT assuming command of the new field formation. The formations deployed to France increased steadily throughout late 1939 and into 1940. I Corps with the 1 Infantry Division and 2 Infantry Division arrived first in September 1939. II Corps with the 3 Infantry Division and 4 Infantry Division became operational in France in October 1939. The 5 Infantry Division arrived on 19 December 1939.

DOWNLOADABLE DOCUMENTS (pdfs)

Higher Formations History and Personnel
» B.E.F. History & Personnel (Personnel)
» B.E.F. Campaign Overview (BEING UPDATED)
» B.E.F. Divisional and Brigade Commanders (IN PREPARTION)

Order of Battle Structure Diagram(s)
» 40.05.09 British Expeditionary Force Structure Diagram

Command Troops
» B.E.F. G.H.Q. Troops

The winter of 1939 was very cold, which limited the activity of the B.E.F.. Training continued into 1940, boosted with the arrival in France of the first Territorial Army formations. Five first-line divisions arrived before the German invasion, these being:

5 January 1940 – 48 (South Midland) Infantry Division;
20 January 1940 – 50 (Northumbrian) Infantry Division;
4 January 1940 – 51 (Highland) Infantry Division;
1 April 1940 – 44 (Home Counties) Infantry Division;
12 April 1940 – 42 (East Lancashire) Infantry Division.

In addition to the five first line Territorial Army divisions deployed to France, three second line divisions were also sent to join the British Expeditionary Force. These were:

12 April 1940 – 12 (Eastern) Infantry Division;
22 April 1940 – 23 (Northumbrian) Infantry Division;
24 April 1940 – 46 Infantry Division.

The German forces attacked on 10 May 1940, with air attacks and parachute landings in the Netherlands, and a land invasion into both the Netherlands and Belgium. The King of the Belgium’s officially asked for military assistance, so the British and French forces advanced into Belgium to take up positions on the line of the River Dyle. The German forces gained three bridgeheads across the River Meuse on 14 May, allowing them to sweep through from the Ardennes into northern France. The 2 Panzer Division reached Abbeville on 20 May 1940, effectively isolating the B.E.F. and French 1 and 7 Armies. On 21 May, British armoured units counter attacked at Arras, to try to force a way through the German lines, but failed to do so. The B.E.F. fell back towards Dunkirk, with major battles between 23 and 28 May at St. Omer, and between 26 and 28 May 1940 along the Ypres – Comines Canal.

The German advance could not be contained, with Boulogne falling on 25 May 1940, and Calais on 27 May 1940, despite heroic defence by British and French forces. Operation Dynamo was launched on 27 May 1940 to rescue the B.E.F. from the Dunkirk area. Before the town was captured by the Germans on 4 June 1940, about 210,000 British servicemen and 120,000 French soldiers had been evacuated successfully.

Back To Top