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Forum LockedThe French Military 1789-1918

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Post Options Post Options   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The French Military 1789-1918
    Posted: 13-Oct-2006 at 15:50
Hi,

I was wondering that since the Germans developed their Empire's military side quite quickly after the 60's (1860's), then how far went their yet-to-be-allies-in-a-hundred-years?

Also, are there any examples of the Revolutionary Uniforms?

True, I wonder if the constitutional monarchy made any differences to the army, after 1789 in the year?

Who have been the men you would select of many, as the finest and best of generals of France? Besides Napoleon, I can think of many, but again the later part of the Kingdom/Empire/Republic fades off of my mind.

True is also the fact that the French wanted to begin along with many new inventions, or rather make old ones anew. For example, I have read that Napoleon III liked galleys (or triremes) and had one extremely large one built on the Loire or something along that, but the galley/trireme sunk and Napoleon began thinking of aerial balloons.

Also, how did exactly the French develop their forces prior the the WWI?


Thanks for any replies,


Edited by rider - 13-Oct-2006 at 15:52
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Joinville Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Oct-2006 at 04:29
Dunno' what yer French is like, but this site has a lot of information, and a lot of pictures of the varios branches of the French army and theur development approx. 1850-1914.

http://www.military-photos.com/index-photo.htm

That's roughly Napoleon III's second empire to WWI. It seems the French army in the period was pretty artillery heavy. N III was a bit of a "gun nut" in trying to emulate his great ancestor who started out as an arty man. The French artillery outclassed the Austrian one in the war over Italian unification, but seems to have hrown complacent afterwards with no major technological upgrades, meaning the Prussian arty dominated it in 1870.

The novelty the French artillery did get at the same time was the mass adoption of machine-guns, the Reffye system, but these pieces seem to have been used as regular, short range artillery. (Hm...?)

So the French went back to upgrading the arty in time for WWI. Most importantly they in 1898 adopted the short to medium range, flat trajectory rapid firing 75mm piece. This piece of equipment was good enough to stay in service until 1939.

Its intended use dovetailed nicely with the doctrines of the pre-WWI "school of attack". The 75 was to be brought forward alongside the advancing infantry and used to very agressivley blast the enemy at short range. Unlike the machineguns, of which France only had heavy ones in 1914, and viewed as static and defensive (they got the Chauchat light MG in 1917, piece of crap that it was). There was very little heavy, long range howitzer artillery.

Unfortunately the French gunners in 1914 immediately found themselves fighting a war their guns weren't intended for. They rarely saw the enemy, and when they did it was bugger-out time. The artillery duels they got into were with longer ranged German heavy arty, at which point they cranked their guns to maximum elevation and tried to return fire. It wasn't very effective, but German opinions from 1914 was still that the French arty was good, and would have hurt them more if not about one shell in three had been a dud. (But all armies had problems with shoddy quality ammunition at the time.)

The one time in 1914 the the French 75s were employed as intended was at the battle of the Marne, and then they did great and have been indicated as one of the factors that won France that battle.

But since France already has heaps and heaps of good field artillery, they spent the rest of WWI catching up the initial German advantage in heavy long range arty. The overtook Germany in that department by 1917.

And by 1918 the French army on the western front numbered 1.6 million men; 1 million infantry and 600.000 artillery. French photographs of troops from the later stages of WWI almost never show soldiers carrying rifles; they're all lugging around heavy machinery or servicing an artillery piece or somesuch.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Kapikulu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Oct-2006 at 19:42
Originally posted by rider

Who have been the men you would select of many, as the finest and best of generals of France? Besides Napoleon, I can think of many, but again the later part of the Kingdom/Empire/Republic fades off of my mind.

Also, how did exactly the French develop their forces prior the the WWI?

 
After Napoleon, it was a time for pacifization for French...French were diplomatically isolated and lost their capability for any new attempts..
 
One specific thing they did, they got involved in Africa...They annexed Algeria from weak Ottoman Empire in 1830, who was living probably its worst days, even though there was Mahmud II's attempts for solid reformations, and then supported Mehmed Ali Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt, in his insurgency to Ottoman Sultanate, while the English supported the Ottomans to keep Suez Canal and their colonial gains(mostly India) safe...Brits didn't want to see a strong power out there who can ruin things for them, while Mehmed Ali Pasha was always supported by French, contrary to English benefits.
 
This pacifization had totally ended with Napoleon III, but this time, he was probably too brave...Only to be ended by Franco-Prussian War...
 
Now France had a second era of diplomatic international pacifization, till Bismarck had died...
 
It was only in beginning of 1900s that France found herself some allies, Russia, who was competing with Germany's natural ally Austria-Hungary in Balkans, and fearing German overgrowth, among with English, who had turned against Germans after their naval buildup.Before that, Anglo-German relations were much warmer comparing to Anglo-French relations, which is spiced with long-term traditional rivalry till 100 Years' War.
 
For the best generals...There are quite a lot in Napoleon time, but after Napoleon, French army rarely showed up, so there are not so many candidates...
 
There can be some WW I generals listed...Petain, the guardian of Paris and the hero of Verdun, Gallieni, another general who contributed a lot in stopping Germans near Marne, Franchet d' Esperey, successful commander of Western Front and then Balkan Front against Bulgaria(even though he has huge numerical&morale&technical superiorities in the front).Oh, and of course Ferdinand Foch.
 
Before WW I, it can be clearly said that French were much more ready comparing to Franco-Prussian War, where they were in kind of thinking that they were superior, in some kind of vanity(Mostly because of Napoleon III's lack of vision). But still, their war plans were based on to attack Alsace-Lorraine in the beginning of the war, as it was an element of national pride to gain Alsace-Lorraine back, and that had resulted costly for French...Nobody can think of what would have happened if Germans weren't detained in Belgian forts and against small Belgian army&BEF(British Expeditionary Force) for a long time, exceeding Schlieffen's calculations.
 
But still, the initial retreat and then the defense around Marne was organized well, and the tired German army was stopped, and the fate of the Western Front had been the trench warfare...
 
Thanks to(!) commanders like Nivelle,De Castelnau,Dubail(Planner and applier of French war plan based on Alsace-Lorraine) French army's offensive operations had ended disastrously and the army totally lost its offensive capability in 1918...It was the fresh American army who replaced this lost capability.
 
French manpower source was extinct in 1918, and the mutiny in French army happened after Nivelle Offensives of 1917 was hardly controlled.
 
This manpower loss was to put a bare remark on France on next 25 years.
 
In terms of military innovation, I would say tanks...Which began showing up themselves as a major support with the Battle of Cambrai...And French artillery was quality,too.


Edited by Kapikulu - 17-Oct-2006 at 19:48
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Joinville Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Oct-2006 at 09:26
Originally posted by Kapikulu

After Napoleon, it was a time for pacifization for French...French were diplomatically isolated and lost their capability for any new attempts..

 

One specific thing they did, they got involved in Africa...They annexed Algeria from weak Ottoman Empire in 1830, who was living probably its worst days, even though there was Mahmud II's attempts for solid reformations, and then supported Mehmed Ali Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt, in his insurgency to Ottoman Sultanate, while the English supported the Ottomans to keep Suez Canal and their colonial gains(mostly India) safe...Brits didn't want to see a strong power out there who can ruin things for them, while Mehmed Ali Pasha was always supported by French, contrary to English benefits.

 

This pacifization had totally ended with Napoleon III, but this time, he was probably too brave...Only to be ended by Franco-Prussian War...

But what's true about France not fighting any of the other major European powers prior to N III is also true for the other European great powers. The period from the end of the Napoleonic wars to the Crimean war — with the French taking a very active part, and a military leader of note, MacMahon — was a peaceful period, relatively speaking...

Most of the military activity was the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, and at both these occassions the French again did a lot of fighting, if only to remove the useless Ancien Regime that had been forced upon it by the victors of the Napoleonic wars.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Kapikulu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Oct-2006 at 19:56
Originally posted by Joinville

 
But what's true about France not fighting any of the other major European powers prior to N III is also true for the other European great powers. The period from the end of the Napoleonic wars to the Crimean war — with the French taking a very active part, and a military leader of note, MacMahon — was a peaceful period, relatively speaking...

Most of the military activity was the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, and at both these occassions the French again did a lot of fighting, if only to remove the useless Ancien Regime that had been forced upon it by the victors of the Napoleonic wars.
 
1856 Crimean War, yes, I forgot to mention that, but the reason out there was rather to bash extreme Russian expansion...
 
The revolutions, were internal fights rather than fights with external parties.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Hyarmendacil Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-Nov-2006 at 08:34
Well, good French generals? Just right off the top of my head I think I can mention Lyautey--the master of the combined civil & military approach in colonial pacifications--and Marshal Bugeaud, the leader of the famed flying columns in colonial Africa. It's in the same way that you don't find the best British generals in the Crimea. Lord Roberts was in Afghanistan, and the even more famous Sir Garnet Wolseley was busy in Africa.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-Nov-2006 at 12:18
Hyarmendacil, a not so in-topic question perhaps for especially you...

Would the French deserve the title that you wear in your username for their military actions or not?
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Knights Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Jan-2007 at 04:38
Some other good French Generals around the 19th Century would have to be:
Nicolas Jean de Jieu Soult (1769-1851)- One of only 6 officers to be promoted to the rank of Marshal General of France in history, and French Prime Minister 1832-34, Soult was a general during the Napoleonic Wars Era. After joining the French Army in 1785, he proceeded to live out a very successful military and political career. He led a successful military campaign in the Penisula War, taking various Portuguese strongholds like Oporto. His antics in Southern Spain and Portugal consistently beared victories but was eventually brought against a stronger power with British General Arthur Wellesley's arrival. He was soundly beaten and driven from the region in battles such as Pyrenees, Vera and Orthez. Later in his career he participated in the Waterloo campaign as a 'Bonapartist'. His decorated career saw extreme highs, but eventual and inevitable lows, though all round, one of the best French Generals of the era in my opinion.

Michel Ney
(1769-1815)- Michel Ney was a French Military Commander during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and was elevated to Marshal of France at the peak of his career. His early career mainly consisted of minor roles in Switzerland and as a part of 'the army of the North'. He later played a part in battles such as Jena (of which Soult was also involved in) and his main battle was Waterloo. He commanded the left wing (I think) and was responsible for the mass cavalry charge which possibly cost the French the Battle. He was no superb general, but showed his ability in some areas like commanding cavalry. He was better suited to minor roles rather than the large one he had to manage at Waterloo. His high watermark was his strategic victory at Quatre Bras over the Allies.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Temujin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Feb-2007 at 13:56
Lannes, D'Avout, Massena, Moreau, Augereau, St. Cyr and Suchet. not necessarily in that order though.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Joinville Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Sep-2007 at 17:05
Since there is recent activity in the German military thread I might as well post some images of the WWI French army.
 
I find the French WWI experience fascinating precisely because they had possible the steepest learning curve;
Starting with darkblue coats, red pants, soft caps and near sucidal battale-tactics (hyper aggressive full frontal assult bayonet charges) in 1914 they ended the war successfully as a war of materiel, amassing more guns, tanks, machineguns, vans, aeroplanes etc. than any of the other armies involved in WWI, the German included.
 
Modern reconstruction of a 1914 French infantrymen to . The thing on the right is a trench mortar.
Mucking about with his kit in 1914.
In combat, 1914.
And a manneqin showing the New Look of the French army beginning in 1915. The uniform now became the famous "bleu de horizon", and the soft cap was replaced by a steel helmet, the "casque Adrienne". The standard infantry weapon, the 1898 Lebel rifle was retained though.
 
In most B/W pictures from WWI the uniforms of the French troops appear very light in colour. This is due to the photographic film of the day which was "blue sensitive", i.e. more light was absorbed from blue colours than the rest of the spectrum. Portraits of blue-eyed people also came out a bit weird, often giving them a nasty unnatural penetrating pale stare.
In any case the trenches were where the men ended up.
Conditions less than perfect for personal grooming...
...which helps explain how the French troops acquired their nickname of the "poilu", the hairy.
The French made quite a cult out of the "poilu", represented as ever cheerful, ever resourceful scrounger and survival artists, able to make themselves comfortable under the most horrible circumstances, as long as he got his daily tot of "pinard" (heated red wine), which meant these guys could and would hold on indefinately, until victory.
 
It might have been a myth, but positive myths are very important to keep people going. The one about the "poilu" was in tune with a French view of themselves as a people, one of their foremost qualities being improvisation, the famous "Système D" of the French army.
It was supposedly the "Système D" which was invoked when General Gallieni requisitioned all the taxis in Paris to make his Paris garrsion appear at the frontline in exactly the right spot, or so it was said, at the 1914 battle of the Marne.
 
In actual fact the "Système D" does seem to rather have been about officers unable to cater to the needs of their men letting them scrounge something up instead. It sort of worked apparently, on the basis that "Need is the mother of all invention".
 
Of course the D-system wasn't all there was to the French army. They certainly acquired enough gadgets as time passed.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Jan-2008 at 15:08
Originally posted by rider

True, I wonder if the constitutional monarchy made any differences to the army, after 1789 in the year?
 
The most fortunate impact the revolution had on the military was in my opinion the institution of meritocracy, which unlike l'ancien regime did not exclude non-nobles from the higher officer ranks. I doubt France would have become such a powerhouse of excellent generals had it not been for this - many of revolutionary France's best generals were not of noble lineage.

Originally posted by rider

Who have been the men you would select of many, as the finest and best of generals of France? Besides Napoleon, I can think of many, but again the later part of the Kingdom/Empire/Republic fades off of my mind.
 
Napoleon overshadows all his contemporary French generals, which is a shame because France was a powerhouse of good generals in this period, much like Germany in WW2. Generals and officers like Ney, Junot, Murat, Desaix, Lannes and Bernadotte deserve to be mentioned, and why not La Fayatte as well, who fought with distinction in the American revolution. Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte is especially famous here in Scandinavia, since he later became king of Norway and Sweden, and the present Swedish royal family descends from him.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Jan-2008 at 17:24
But the non-noble persons all ended up aristocrats, I think. At least quite a few did... OR am I wrong?

Yeah. I know about Bernadotte. I've never really understood how he came to rule Sweden but.. good he did...
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Post Options Post Options   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Jan-2008 at 18:38
One runs into trouble when one desires to define the French concept of nobility under the adjective of the "aristocracy". In the France of the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a high degree of mobility. Yes there was the ancient nobility with roots even to the days of the Carolingians (for example Talleyrand) or tied to the royal house, these were the noblesse de l'epee.  Yet, there were other avenues for social advancement, the nobles of the Robe and the nobles of the Belfry. Service to the state opened the doors (much as it did in the England of this time). During the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV this element of social mobility permitted the breaking of the political power once held by the traditional nobility. Whatever one might think of the hoberaux (the wealthy who acquired status by their commercial successes and placing their resources in royal service) and their acquired titles they were the backbone of the system in the western and central sections of France. Likewise, in terms of political power, its fulcrum was in the nobility of the robe, the bureaucrats that maintained the administrative and judicial functions of the state. It was they who surged forth in the 17th century consolidation of the French state and owed their status directly to the crown. This avenue toward "status" was effectively employed by both Richelieu and Mazarin so as to break the classic nobility that had fragmented France in the 16th century. One could say that the young Robespierre was a member of the noblesse de la Robe. The thirst for titles was little different between the France of Louis XIV and the Empire of Napoleon. And in this sense one might view the years 1793-1803 as an aberration, because when the smoke cleared (or the guillotine ceased slicing at so discriminatory a pace) the people behind the bureaus essentially had their roots in the old noblesse de la Robe.
 
Now Rider did pose an interesting query, just how did Johan Baptiste Julius Prince de Ponte Corvo (the "title"  bestowed by Napoleon upon Bernadotte, whom he later sacked after the Battle of Wagram) become King of Sweden? Swedish history after the royal murder of Gustavus III in 1792 (as celebrated by Verdi in his opera) is quite an eye-opener. The reign of his senile brother, Charles XIII, after the deposition of Gustavus IV is a comedy all on its own, yet he must still have had some of the lucidity of his youth in selecting Bernadotte (a military man) as his crown-prince given the headdache the Swedish military had given his nephew, the hapless Gustavus IV.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Joinville Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Jan-2008 at 20:31
Originally posted by drgonzaga

Now Rider did pose an interesting query, just how did Johan Baptiste Julius Prince de Ponte Corvo (the "title"  bestowed by Napoleon upon Bernadotte, whom he later sacked after the Battle of Wagram) become King of Sweden? Swedish history after the royal murder of Gustavus III in 1792 (as celebrated by Verdi in his opera) is quite an eye-opener. The reign of his senile brother, Charles XIII, after the deposition of Gustavus IV is a comedy all on its own, yet he must still have had some of the lucidity of his youth in selecting Bernadotte (a military man) as his crown-prince given the headdache the Swedish military had given his nephew, the hapless Gustavus IV.

By having the assigned crown prince of Sweden, the prince of Denmark Charles August, die unexpectedly on everyone on 31 May 1810. (Fell dead from his horse during a military review.)

At this point the liberal coup generals led by Georg Adlersparre feared that people might actually go for placing the son of Gustaf IV Adolph, young prince Gustaf, on the throne. To prevent this it was decided to call Charles August's brother Fredrick Christian to the job. But they also wanted Napoleon's approval to which end two courriers were dispatched to Paris.

Enter the 29 year old Count Otto Mörner, Liutenant of the Regiment of Upland, who had since 1808 in private expressed the view that the only way to regain Sweden's standing in the world, and give the Russians a proper work-over, was to put a sufficiently guts-and-glory French Marshall on the throne. Mörner immediately went AWOL from his regiment, down to Stockholm, at the news of the crown prince's death. He was also lucky that his future brother in law, Gustaf af Wetterstdt was a functionary at the court, and managed to land him the job as one of the courriers to Paris.

So, arriving in Paris on 20 July, Mörner dropped off his official dispatches, asking Napoleon to OK the next Danish princeling for the throne, and set about at 100% cross purposes, to find a suitable Marshall. It was a fluke that a French acquaintance suggested Bernadotte, and equally felicitous that the Swedish diplomat Elof Signeul was in fact able to quickly set up a meeting between the Swedish Liutenant acting on his own agenda and Jean Baptiste Julius Bernadotte, Prince de Ponte Corvo and Marshall of France.

At this meeting Mörner darkly hinted that back home in Sweden powerful forces stood behind him, working behind the scenes, willing and able to put Bernadotte on the throne. Hard to tell what the Marshall through at this point, but he did not dismiss it out of hand. At least the insanely up-beat Mörner though he had enough of an opening to latch on to the Swedish General Fabian Wrede, on a temporary diplomatic mission to Paris. Mörner somehow managed to convince Wrede that a French Marshall on the throne was the "popular choice" among the Swedes.

On the basis of this Wrede called on Bernadotte, who let him know that he would be open to a "suggestion", and that Napoleon wouldn't mind, no really, he wouldn't. On the strength of this assertion by Bernadotte himself, and a letter from General Wrede lauding the Marshall's personality, Otto Mörner returned to Sweden on June 29 1810.

Of course, at this point what Mörner and Wrede had been up to was discovered by the actual official Swedish ambassador to France, Count Gustaf Lagerbielke, who was understandably upset, and not only he. But Mörner came back to Sweden swinging, mounting a full campaign in parliament for the election of Bernadotte as Swedish crown prince. Of course, Mörner could do this, since in his capacity of Count, he had a permanent seat in the House of Lords. So while the idea of Bernadotte for king wasn't a twinkle in anybody's but Mörner's eye at the beginning of the summer of 1810, towards the middle of it he was building genuine political support for it in parliament.

Still, Mörner himself was banished from the capital to prevent his political manouvering. The government was still plugging Christian August for king, and the fact that Napoleon hadn't actually come clear on whether he supported Bernadotte or not yet, put the Danish prince is in the winner's position.

And then things turned around. First by the appearence of an agent of Bernadotte's in parliament, speaking on his behalf, the merchant Jean Antione Fournier. Of course Fournier's credibility was partly based on a misunderstanding. His passport had been signed by the French Minster of Foreign Affairs personally. That was accidental, but at the time interpreted as if Fournier was acting officially on Napoleon's behalf, not just Bernadotte'. Then Napoleon recalled his ambassador to Sweden, Désaugiers, for having been a little too fervent in his support of a third option, making king Frederick VI of Denmark king of Sweden as well. The final nail in the coffin was the Swedish ambassador to Paris, Lagerbielke, suddenly reporting that Napoleon in all probability really would not mind it if Bernadotte was elected.

What seems to have transpired in Paris was that Bernadotte's wife, Napoleon's former fiancée, Desirée Clary had engaged in some serious lobbying with the Emperor on Jean Baptiste's behalf, and Napoleon seems to have given the go ahead. eputedly he first asked his step-son prince Eugène de Beauharnais if he might like the job, who turned it down flat.

So first on August 16 the government voted 10-2 in favour of Bernadotte, and on August 21 1810 he was accepted as crown prince of Sweden by parliament.

Bernadotte started packing and made a final call on Napoleon, whose parting word have been reported as "Well, let our fates be fulfilled."

That is, according to a quick write-up of some fairly standard dictionary sources by yours truly.
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