Home Forums WWI French infantry in 1914.

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  • #200087
    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen
    Participant

    When I read Crownprince Ruprecht’s memoir of the war, he notes that they experienced the French infantry as being both skilled and tenacious defenders in 1914.

    I am currently reading William Balck’s book (Translated as “Development of tactics, world war”) he likewise remarks on the French skill at defending villages and finding good and concealed firing positions.
    “The skill of the French in defending a village was especially noticeable”

    “..was seen to be especially adept in finding good firing positions, unperceived by the enemy”

    “The French positions also had a great depth”

    This is likely no news to the super nerds, but it does stand in contrast to the general perception that the French just got rolled up effortlessly until the Marne.

    As a side note, Balck comments on Saarburg that “..though the French infantry utilized the terrain most excellently and could barely be distinguished” which stood out to me given no discussion of 1914 seems to omit the red trousers of doom.

    Another note of interest is this (referencing French infantry later in 1914):
    “Frequently individuals rushed foward, assembling again in squads at the nearest cover. Stretches of open terrain were crossed in this manner in very thin lines, echeloned, and offering a very poor target” and “the endeavor seemed to be to reach the mid ranges without material losses and there to form skirmish lines that could take up the battle in force”.

    He also notes that the French First Army in November instructed ceasing the use of march columns within 10 kilometers of the enemy.

    Honestly this book is a gold mine of interesting stuff for gamers, you can grab a copy on the internet archive or google books since it is long out of print.
    I just thought a few snippets about the somewhat maligned French in 1914 (from their opposition) would be of note.

    #200092
    Avatar photokyoteblue
    Participant

    That sounds like a great source for early war French.  But come on you love those red pantalooms !!!

     

    #200095
    Avatar photoOotKust
    Participant

    but it does stand in contrast to the general perception that the French just got rolled up effortlessly until the Marne.

    You are learning, as I did many years ago, that “general perception” given by English writers, [in books and articles debating outside matters] of all skills and sources, includes a huge bias and critical ‘not the way we would do it’ underlying animosity.

    The Brits have a long way to go to get over their ’empire’ brain and dismissive behaviours toward all foreigners. That is clearly shown in open society today where non-white/ Anglo-Saxon (who themselves were partly immigrants) are still belittled even though 100% born and raised in British ‘culture’. Let alone those escaping fascism of various kinds…

    If needing photographic support, hunt out the ’80s series of  ‘Uniforms’ magazines that have a lot of historical data on that epic event.
    regards d

    #200097
    Avatar photoAdmiralHawke
    Participant

    The Brits have a long way to go to get over their ’empire’ brain and dismissive behaviours toward all foreigners. That is clearly shown in open society today where non-white/ Anglo-Saxon (who themselves were partly immigrants) are still belittled even though 100% born and raised in British ‘culture’. Let alone those escaping fascism of various kinds…

    It might be fairer to say ‘some’ Brits. While clearly such dismissive attitudes exist, both in military histories and in the population at large, please don’t succumb to same type of bias that you castigate past English historians for.

    I suspect there’s a strong arguement that British military thought was held back by social immobility within the army, particularly the socially superior regiments. For centuries clever young men from poorer backgrounds went into the Royal Navy, and later the Royal Air Force, the Tank Corps and other technical branches where hard work and technical competence gave men more opportunity to progress despite their social class.

    The resultant lack of critical thinking and openness to foreign ideas meant that the British army was much less effective than it might have been. That the British could have learned much from both the French and Germans (and others) is evident.

    #200108
    Avatar photoTony Hughes
    Participant

    I’m not convinced that many French sources described things much different to their British (if you refer to the country, English only if you refer to the language they write in) counterparts until much later. They were both mostly far more concerned about blaming each other and making or deflating reputations than what actually happened.

    There are other books that mention French small units’ proficiency but not always followed up by any analysis of where their doctrine fell down. I will download this and read with interest.

     

    #200111
    Avatar photovtsaogames
    Participant

    Sounds like the French problem was the bone-headed Plan 17 rather than the infantry. It should be noted that the French held a longer part of the eventual trench line than the Brits for years. Plan 16 was a defensive plan, thrown out by new staff sold on all-out attack. Too bad.

    The general staff had learned much from the 1870 debacle. Moving troops from the right flank to the left to create the Sixth Army was done quite well, unlike the disastrous Franco-Prussian rail moves.

    A book I read many years ago about Caporetto told about the intervention of French and British reinforcements against the Austrians. A British division attacked and dislodged an Austrian unit while dealing out heavier casualties, a creditable performance. A French division attacked and eviscerated an Austrian unit. This, in 1917, before the mutinies.

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood

    #200130
    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen
    Participant

    My understanding based on reading yoinks number of books but not as many as some of the good folk, is that the main issues plaguing everybody in 1914 was:

    Infantry-artillery coordination did not work all that well. Often the two arms would basically try to fight separate battles. The Germans were better at this but Crownprince Ruprecht bemoans it in at least one order I read, stating that attacks had often gone forward without adequate artillery support.

    Lack of heavy artillery. The British did not have much of it and the French were mostly lacking it entirely in 1914. As it turned out shrapnel could pin down troops that are dug in but you needed big chunks of high explosive to kill them.

    Indirect fire for artillery was difficult to do and training was lacking. Again, the Germans were ahead here but they stumble at times as well.

    I couldn’t begin to opine on grand strategy. Interesting to game out though, but perhaps a defensive plan is not politically viable?

    #200131
    Avatar photovtsaogames
    Participant

    …I couldn’t begin to opine on grand strategy. Interesting to game out though, but perhaps a defensive plan is not politically viable?

     

    A combination of that (Alsace-Lorraine!) and a fever for all-out attack that also infected the Austrian chief of staff Conrad. There were others in various nations that had the fever but France and Austria led the mob.

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood

    #200246
    Avatar photoRobert Dunlop
    Participant

    The only country on the Western Front to adopt a purely defensive strategy was Belgium. They positioned their divisions to cover invasion by Germany from the east and to ‘protect’ against uninvited incursions by Britain and by France. This meant their forces were not concentrated against Germany when the invasion started.

    Joffre wanted the option of a pre-emptive strike on German forces in Germany. The French government refused and ordered that the French army should step back from the border. Politically, they wanted it to be clear that Germany was the aggressor and that there was no possibility that French incursions into Germany, whether by accident or design, would give the excuse for Germany to attack.

    Germany, France, and Britain all favoured offensive actions. That said, all armies trained their men to operate on the defensive as well. The emphasis on attack arose, in part, because of the perceived failure of the French army in the Franco-Prussian War.

    Many British commanders were familiar with German military writings and the debates that raged in the press. Several attended German military manoeuvres, until von Moltke imposed a ban on foreigners being present. A few generals actually spent time with the German Great General Staff in Potsdam. A smaller number, most notably Wilson, were familiar with the French military too.

    In practice, the pre-war training of the three major armies followed the same patterns. The biggest difference was the dearth of dedicated sites for training corps in France.

    Robert

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