Siege of Lille (1940)
The Siege of Lille or Lille Pocket was a Second World War battle fought during the Battle of France. It took place from 28 to 31 May 1940, in the vicinity of Lille. It involved about 40,000 men of the French IV Corps and V Corps, part of the First Army (General René Prioux), after the III Corps managed to retreat to the Lys river with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) divisions nearby. The surrounded portion of the army fought seven German divisions, including three armoured divisions, that were attempting to cut off and destroy the Allied armies in the Battle of Dunkirk. The defence of Lille was of great assistance to the Allied troops retreating into the Dunkirk perimeter.
On the night of 27/28 May, the BEF divisions near Lille were able to retreat over the Lys but only the III Corps of the French First Army (General René Prioux) managed to get away. Many of the French units had retreated from much further south and were still around Lille when German units attacking from the west and east met behind the city.[a] The 4th Panzer Division, 5th Panzer Division and 7th Panzer division and the 11th Infantry Division, 217th Infantry Division, 253rd Infantry Division and 267th infantry Division surrounded most of the First Army in Lille.
The IV Corps (Général de corps d'armée Aymes) and V Corps (General René Altmayer) attempted a break-out on the west side of Lille, to retreat towards the Lys at 7:30 p.m. on 28 May. The 2e Division d'infanterie nord-africaine (2e DINA, Major-General Pierre Dame) tried to cross the Deûle river over the bridge to Sequedin (just south of Lomme). The 5e Division d'infanterie nord-africaine (5e DINA, Major-General Augustin Agliany) tried to escape over the Moulin Rouge bridge on the Santes road, south of Haubourdin. Another attempt was made during the morning of 29 May. The Germans had mined the bridge but two French tanks and two companies of infantry got across, although they were then repulsed.
Molinié and mainly French North African troops (most of them pieds-noirs) from five divisions of the First Army, fought from house to house in the Lille suburbs, German troops trying to infiltrate through gaps and the many civilian refugees stranded in the city. With food and ammunition dwindling, Molinié and Colonel Aizier negotiated surrender and hostilities ended on the night of 31 May. On Saturday, 1 June, 35,000 French troops and some British soldiers surrendered to the Germans at the Grand Place. The German commander, General Kurt Waeger, allowed the French the honours of war and the garrison paraded through the Grand Place as German troops stood to attention, for which Waeger was reprimanded.
In The Second World War (1949), Winston Churchill described the Allied defence of Lille as a "splendid contribution", which delayed the German advance for four days and allowed the escape of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk. William L. Shirer wrote in 1969 that the "gallant" defence of Lille "helped the beleaguered Anglo-French forces around the port to hold out for an additional two to three days and thus save at least 100,000 more troops". Alistair Horrne wrote in 1982 that the French defence of Lille enabled the BEF and the rest of the First Army to retreat into the Dunkirk perimeter and in 2013, Douglas Fermer wrote that the Battle of Lille diverted about seven German divisions during the evacuation of Dunkirk.
- The French units involved were the 15th Infantry Division, 1st Motorised Division, 2nd North African Division, 1st Moroccan Division. German units that fought in the battle were the 4th Panzer Division, 5th Panzer Division, 7th Panzer Division, 7th Division, 253rd Division, 217th Division, 267th Division.
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