Initially the strongest of all the Allied armies, France's metropolitan and colonial units bore the greatest burden during the first two years of the Great War, and made a great contribution to the final victory. In common with most European countries, the pre-war French Army was based on a system of national military service providing conscripts who could be subject to recall as reservists for several years after. However, the advent of war, the crisis in manpower, and the development of new tactics and weapons brought radical changes. The influence of these factors on the organisation, equipment, uniforms and tactics of the French Army during World War I is examined in detail in this title.
So much has been written about the 1916 Battle of the Somme that it might appear that every aspect of the four-month struggle has been described and analyzed in exhaustive detail. Yet perhaps one aspect has not received the attention it deserves the French sector in the south of the battlefield which is often overshadowed by events in the British sector further north. That is why Ian Sumner's photographic history of the French army on the Somme is so interesting and valuable.Using a selection of over 200 wartime photographs, many of which have not been published before, he follows the entire course of the battle from the French point of view. The photographs show the build-up to the Somme offensive, the logistics involved, the key commanders, the soldiers as they prepared to go into action and the landscape over which the battle took place. Equally close coverage is given to the fighting during each phase of the offensive the initial French advances, the mounting German resistance and the terrible casualties the French incurred.The photographs are especially important in that they record the equipment and weapons that were used, the clothing the men wore and the conditions in which they fought, and they provide us with a visual insight into the realities of battle over a hundred years ago. They also document some of the most famous sites on the battlefield before they were destroyed in the course of the fighting, including villages like Gommecourt, Pozires, La Boiselle and Thiepval.
In December 1916 General Robert Nivelle was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French armies fighting the Germans on the Western Front. He had enjoyed a meteoric rise to high command and public acclaim since the beginning of the war - he was a national hero. In return, he proclaimed he 'had the formula' that would ensure victory and end the conflict in 1917. But his offensive was a bloody and humiliating failure for France, one that could have opened the way for French defeat.This is the subject of David Murphy's penetrating, in-depth study of one of the key events in the history of the Great War. He describes how Nivelle, a highly intelligent and articulate officer, used his charm to win the support of French and British politicians, but also how he was vain and boastful and displayed no sense of operational security. By the opening of the campaign, his plan was an open secret and he had lost the ability to critically assess the operation as it developed. The result was disaster.
Recent scholarship has challenged the assumption that military commanders during the First World War were inflexible, backward-looking and unwilling to exploit new technologies. Instead a very different picture is now emerging of armies desperately looking to a wide range of often untested and immature scientific and technological innovations to help break the deadlock of the Western Front. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the development of tank warfare, which both the British and the French hoped would give them a decisive edge in their offensives of 1917 and 1918. Whilst the British efforts to develop armoured warfare have been well chronicled, there has been no academic study in English on the French tank force - the Artillerie Spéciale - during the Great War. As such, this book provides a welcome new perspective on an important but much misunderstood area of the war. Such was the scale of the French tanks’ failure in their first engagement in 1917, it was rumoured that the Artillerie Spéciale was in danger of being disbanded, yet, by the end of the war it was the world’s largest and most technologically advanced tank force. This work examines this important facet of the French army’s performance in the First World War, arguing that the AS fought the war in as intelligent and sensible a manner as was possible, given the immature state of the technology available. No amount of sound tank doctrine could compensate for the fragility of the material, for the paucity of battlefield communication equipment and for the lack of tank-infantry training opportunities. Only by 1918 was the French army equipped with enough reliable tanks, as well as aircraft and heavy-artillery, to begin to exercise a mastery of the new form of combined-arms warfare. The successful French armoured effort outlined in this study (including a listing of all the combat engagements of the French tank service in the Great War) highlights a level of military effectiveness within
In the English-speaking world the First World War is all too often portrayed primarily as a conflict between Britain and Germany. The vast majority of books focus on the Anglo-German struggle, and ignore the dominant part played by the French, who for most of the war provided the bulk of the soldiers fighting against the central powers. As such, this important and timely book joins the small but growing collection of works offering an overdue assessment of the French contribution to the Great War. Drawing heavily on French primary sources the book has two main foci: it is both an in-depth battle narrative and analysis, as well as a work on the tactical evolution of the French army in Spring 1915 as it endeavored aggressively to come to grips with trench warfare. This period is of crucial importance as it was in these months that the French army learned the foundations of trench warfare on which their conduct for the remainder of the war would rest. The work argues that many advanced practices often considered German innovations - such as the rolling barrage, infiltration tactics, and the effective planning and integration of artillery bombardments - can all be traced back to French writing and action in early 1915. The work argues that - contrary to received opinion - French army bureaucracy proved effective at very quickly taking in, digesting and then disseminating lessons learned at the front and French commanders proved to be both effective and professional. Such radical conclusions demand a fundamental rethink of the way we view operations on the Western Front.
Tension and rivalry between France and Germany shaped the history of Western Europe in the century from 1860. Three times that hostility led to war and the invasion of France - in 1870, 1914 and 1940. The outcomes of the battles that followed reset the balance of power across the continent. Yet the German invasions tend to be viewed as separate events, in isolation, rather than as connected episodes in the confrontation between the two nations. Douglas Fermer's fresh account of the military campaigns and the preparations for them treats them as part of a cycle of fear, suspicion, animosity and conflicting ambitions extending across several generations. In a clear, concise account of the decisive opening phase of each campaign, he describes the critical decision-making, the manoeuvres and clashes of arms in eastern France as German forces advanced westwards. As the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War approaches, this is a fitting moment to reconsider these momentous events and how they fit into the broad sweep of European history.
The French air force of the First World War developed as fast as the British and German air forces, yet its history, and the enormous contribution it made to the eventual French victory, is often forgotten. So Ian Sumner's photographic history, which features almost 200 images, most of which have not been published before, is a fascinating and timely introduction to the subject. The fighter pilots, who usually dominate perceptions of the war in the air, play a leading role in the story, in particular the French aces, the small group of outstanding airmen whose exploits captured the publics imagination. Their fame, though, tends to distract attention from the ordinary unremembered airmen who formed the body of the air force throughout the war years. Ian Sumner tells their story too, as well as describing in a sequence of memorable photographs the less well-known branches of the service the bomber and reconnaissance pilots and the variety of primitive warplanes they flew.