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The Phony War, or in Winston Churchill's words the Twilight War, was the phase of World War II marked by no military operations in Continental Europe, that followed the collapse of Poland. Although the great powers of Europe had declared war on one another, neither side had yet committed to launching a significant attack, and there was little fighting. The term has cognates in many other languages, notably German: Sitzkrieg ("sitting war", a pun on Blitzkrieg), French: drôle de guerre ("funny war"), and Polish: dziwna wojna ("strange war"). In Britain the period was even referred to as the Bore War (a pun on Boer War).
While most of the German army was fighting against Poland, a much smaller German force manned the fortified defensive lines along the French border (Westwall). At the Maginot Line on the other side of the border, British and French troops stood facing them, but there were only some local skirmishes. Meanwhile, the British air force dropped propaganda leaflets on Germany and the first Canadian troops stepped ashore in Britain, but still nothing happened. The "Sitzkrieg" or "Phony War" as it was called, held western Europe in a strange calm for seven months.
Given dates for the start and end of the phase may vary somewhat. In France the period from the official declaration of war on Germany on September 3 until the German invasion on the Benelux and France is known as drôle de guerre ("funny war"). This term was coined by the French journalist Roland Dorgelès who was reporting about the military inactivity on the Franco-German front. In Poland, which felt betrayed by her western allies, the term dziwna wojna ("strange war") is used for the period after all offensive operations on the Western Front were halted on September 12, 1939. In English works October 6 may be referred to, since on that day organized Polish resistance was given up, ending the September Campaign.
Assault on Finland
In the center of public interest during the Phony War stood the Winter War following the Soviet Union's assault on Finland on November 30, 1939. Public opinion, particularly in France and Britain, found it easy to side emotionally with democratic Finland, and demanded from their governments effective actions in support of "the brave Finns" against the incomparably larger aggressor, the Bolshevist Soviet Union, particularly since the Finns' defence seemed so much more successful than that of the Poles' during the September Campaign. As a consequence, the Soviet Union was excluded from the League of Nations, and a proposed Franco-British expedition to northern Scandinavia was much debated. On March 20, after the Winter War had ended, Édouard Daladier resigned as Prime Minister in France, due to his failure to aid Finland's defense.
Invasion of Denmark and Norway
The open discussions on an Allied expedition to northern Scandinavia, also without consent of the neutral Scandinavian countries, and the Altmark incident on February 16th, when (in the Germans' view) the British Royal Navy demonstrated grave disrespect for Norway's neutrality, alarmed the Kriegsmarine and gave strong arguments for a German securing of the Norwegian coast, codenamed Weserübung. The German occupation of Denmark and Norway commenced on April 9. The Royal Navy was nearby and on April 10th the First Battle of Narvik resulted in the sinking of two German and two British destroyers. On April 15–16 Allied troops were landed in Norway, but within two weeks most of Norway was in German hands — and the Allied troops were evacuated from southern Norway.
The Norway Debate
The debacle of the British campaign in Norway, which actually was an offspring of the never realized plans to aid Finland, forced a famous debate in the House of Commons during which the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was under constant attack. A nominal vote of confidence in his government was won by 281 to 200, but many of Chamberlain's supporters had voted against him whilst others had abstained. The humiliated Chamberlain found it impossible to continue to lead a National Government or to form a government of national unity (in Britain often called a "coalition government", to distinguish it from Chamberlain's existing national government) around him. On May 10 Chamberlain resigned his premiership whilst retaining his leadership of the Conservative Party. The King, George VI, appointed Winston Churchill, who had been a consistent opponent of Chamberlain's policy of appeasement, as his successor and Churchill formed a new coalition government that included members of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party as well as several ministers from a non-political background.
Allied action during the Phony War
The Allies' only major military actions during the Phony War were at sea. Notable events among these were the following:
- In October 1939 the obsolete battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk in Scapa Flow by the U-boat U-47.
- In November 1939 German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was attacked by the cruisers HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles in the Battle of the River Plate and trapped in Montevideo harbour where she was scuttled.
- On April 10, 1940, the mining of Norwegian fjords by British warships, intended to block Swedish iron ore shipments to Germany, followed by two months of battle around the harbour of Narvik in northernmost Norway (see: Allied campaign in Norway).
The Allied airforce also showed some activity in that period, running several minor bombing raids on German factories and naval bases. The Germans were sending reconnaissance aircraft then.
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