Arras: British Counterattack 21 May 1940


Map Code: Ax00276

In response to the rapid panzer advance to the Channel, the town of Arras was reinforced with British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) troops. The British launched a counterattack to delay the German panzer advance and prevent the BEF becoming isolated. Codenamed Frankforce, it was planned to be carried out by two infantry divisions (15,000 men) but, in the end, it was just two infantry battalions (2,000 men) split into two columns who made the attack. The right column started well, but then suffered heavy losses when they came under fire from SS Totenkopf Division troops and the Luftwaffe. After similar initial successes, the left ran into Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division, reinforced by SS Totenkopf Division troops. The British Matilda tanks were seemingly impenetrable, forcing the Germans to use 88mm anti-aircraft guns as ground artillery. Both columns were eventually halted, and the French arrived to provide cover while the British troops withdrew. Despite being repulsed, the counterattack served to unnerve the German commanders.

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