Phony War

Even though WW2 is often associated with fierce fights and dramatic turns of events, in fact, a very strange period occurred in its initial months. It is referred to as “Phony War” (French: Drôle de guerre; German: Sitzkrieg). What happened then?

The term was actually coined by journalists to describe the period between October 1939 and March 1940, when… no major hostilities took place in Western Europe. No operations were taken either by the Allies, or the Germans after their conquest of Poland in September 1939. And as much as the invasion of Poland became known as “Blitzkrieg” (“rapid war”), the following period went down in history as “Sitzkrieg” (“sitting war”). 

The term “Phony War” is said to be first used by an American senator, Borah. Winston Churchill, on the other hand, used the term “Twilight War”. 

Clearly, just to state that literally nothing was happening would be wrong. Two British passenger liners, “Athenia” and “Royal Oak”, were sunk by the Germans. It was a clear signal that all ships could be destroyed, not just those of military importance. Also, Britain would “bomb” Germany, dropping propaganda leaflets instead of actual bombs. Such air raids were called “truth raids” by Sir Kingsley Wood, Secretary of State for War. On September 3rd, 1939, 13 tons of paper in the form of 6 million copies of “Note to the German People” were dropped. The purpose of “truth raids” was to reveal the horrors of the Nazi regime and show the German leaders that it was easily possible to break through and bomb their cities. General Spears called the entire process “a confetti war against an utterly ruthless enemy”.

But what was the Wehrmacht doing in the period of “Phony War”? Clearly, getting ready for the war in the West. Finally, the attack on the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg was carried out on May 10th, 1940, and breaking through the French defenses took only a few days.