Disaster in France
Seldom in the history of warfare can two sides have been so unequal than in the case of the 2nd/5th Leicesters, and the German forces which faced them in France in May 1940. The 2nd/5th battalion, which had only been in existence for just over a year, faced the crack divisions of the Wehrmacht, as the allied armies in France crumbled under the weight of the German blitzkrieg.
The 2nd/5th battalion was formed in 1938 when the 5th battalion was split to form a 1st/5th and a 2nd/5th, as the British government tried desperately to expand the Territorial Army following the Munich crisis. The newer formation had no heavy equipment and was desperately short of even the most basic requirements like rifles. The battalion was initially based in factories in Leicester, but then moved to the Filbert Street ground of Leicester City Football Club.
When the battalion was sent to France to join the BEF in April 1940, its intended roles were to be labouring duties and further training. On 10 May however the German blitzkrieg erupted against France, with German aircraft and armour making lightening strikes against the disorganised and demoralised Anglo-French forces.
In spite of its lack of preparedness the battalion was sent into the line on 25 May 1940 to try to stem the German advance. Strung out over more than a mile, with only demoralised French colonial troops in support, this was a desperate move on the part of British High Command.
Hopelessly outgunned, the battalion was first divebombed and then attacked by infantry. Most of its members were killed or captured. Only B Company and a few other stragglers escaped the debacle, and began the journey toward the coast and the town of Dunkirk, where the remnants of the BEF were being evacuated. In small numbers they made their way back to England.