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  • French tactical & operational doctrine

    It is frequently said that the French army that went to war in 1939 did no in fact do so with the same doctrine that it had during WWI. Yet an examination of the campaign will show that the French military, despite having more tanks and other pieces of modern technology, was not able to effectively implement a solid doctrine.

    So, my question, which is particularly directed to TP, who is by far the most knowledgeable regarding this topic, having produced many insightful works on this matter, is, what specifically did French doctrine call for? I know the Dyle Plan called for an advance into Belgium, to protect French territory and to hopefully make us of the Belgian and Dutch armies to supplement the French and British ones, but what as to come next? Methodical battle, executed in 1918, was largely still the french offensive doctrine in 1940 as I understand it (modified to better incorporate newer and larger numbers of tanks and other gear), but how did the French and British intend to defeat the Germans in battle?
    A wild liberal appears! Conservative uses logical reasoning and empirical evidence! It's super effective! Wild liberal faints.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Destroyer25 View Post
    It is frequently said that the French army that went to war in 1939 did no in fact do so with the same doctrine that it had during WWI. Yet an examination of the campaign will show that the French military, despite having more tanks and other pieces of modern technology, was not able to effectively implement a solid doctrine.

    So, my question, which is particularly directed to TP, who is by far the most knowledgeable regarding this topic, having produced many insightful works on this matter, is, what specifically did French doctrine call for? I know the Dyle Plan called for an advance into Belgium, to protect French territory and to hopefully make us of the Belgian and Dutch armies to supplement the French and British ones, but what as to come next? Methodical battle, executed in 1918, was largely still the french offensive doctrine in 1940 as I understand it (modified to better incorporate newer and larger numbers of tanks and other gear), but how did the French and British intend to defeat the Germans in battle?
    There is plenty on doctrine. Read that if you wish. But before you do, invest some time reading Eugenia Kiesling's "Arming Against Hitler: France and the Limits of Military Planning." Then you will understand why France adopted the doctrine it did. I suspect TP will recommend the same work.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
      There is plenty on doctrine. Read that if you wish. But before you do, invest some time reading Eugenia Kiesling's "Arming Against Hitler: France and the Limits of Military Planning." Then you will understand why France adopted the doctrine it did. I suspect TP will recommend the same work.

      TP cites it in his essays he posted. I fully understand what factors led to the choices France made regarding it's military, strategy and doctrine. What I want to know, is just moreabouttheir doctrine, operational and tactical.
      A wild liberal appears! Conservative uses logical reasoning and empirical evidence! It's super effective! Wild liberal faints.

      Comment


      • #4
        French doctrine in 1940 was based on Methodical Battle. This was a applied doctrine in 1918 that maintained rigid control of tactical battle operations. Planning and control were top down with local commanders given little latitude in decision making.
        Its main goal was to minimize casualties while maintaining the advance and gaining ground. While those are laudable goals, the problem with methodical battle is that it won't work at all on a fluid battlefield. Commanders simply don't have the time to plan in detail everything they do and then relay those plans to their subordinates to carry out. The subordinate commanders, having been trained to wait for orders, wait for orders to do anything.
        Worse for the French was that any changes to doctrine were unlikely to happen in the interwar years. Gamelin and the French general staff put out edicts that any publications by officers had to be cleared through them. That meant anything that didn't reinforce or conform with the doctrine of methodical battle was either not published or, as in deGaulle's case with his advocacy of mechanized warfare, suppressed and the officer ostracized. DeGaulle remained a colonel for his disobedience of this rule.

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        • #5
          I wonder just how much General Doughty would like to take back from his masters dissertation "The Evolution Of French Army Doctrine, 1919-1939" Probably not too much actually. This eventually became the basis for his "Seeds of Disaster," which might still be the best book on French doctrine.

          http://cgsc.cdmhost.com/utils/getfil...ename/2046.pdf

          Comment


          • #6
            I'm new here. Who is TP? I only know one TP and it isn't in ACG.
            "Ask not what your country can do for you"

            Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

            you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

            Comment


            • #7
              Yup. Here we are again.

              In short offensive doctrine was a modernised version of the 1918 Entente all-arms bite and hold offensives with tight command controls best known as "Methodical Battle". With the need to keep losses down, with the limits in training imposed by the one-year conscription laws and a reserve system that was both under staffed and ill-trained, the high command realised they had to develop a doctrine that was basic and easily understood by short service soldiers.

              Defensively the French, like everyone else, deployed in linear defence lines with reserves but rather than launch "hasty counterattacks" penetrations of the line were to be 'masked' and brought to halt by firepower rather than by manoeuvre. Additional reserves would then be brought up and a prepared assault sent in. This too was top down system with the masking and counterattack by fire being controlled from above. Counterattack by fire, by the way, is found in German and British manuals as well.

              The biggest myth still hanging about like a bad smell is that the French high command did not consider other possibilities. They most certainly did. It was not uncommon for the academy and command school to examine all theories being developed between the wars. The French examined their own theories and how, through historical review of wars of the past (not just 1914-18) the army came to view firepower as superior to manoeuvre. The French examined the German theories, the British theories, the Russian theories and even DeGaulle's "professional army" plan in some detail. The restricting factor was the one-year conscription law and what could be expected from a soldier who had received just 165 days of training before being released into an equally flawed reserve system. The One-Year law was supposed to come with a well funded and expanded reserve system for additional training and exercises but this was not always forthcoming due to political instability and the voting of the necessary credits.

              DeGaulle's system was rejected, rightly so, because it would have meant two armies in France. One army would be made up of one-year conscripts, the other of long service regulars. The high command correctly reasoned that this would destroy the morale of the conscript force. The soldiers would ask, naturally, if their doctrine was correct and 'best for France', that firepower was superior to manoeuvre, why is there a "specialist" armoured/motorised army that turned the regular doctrine on its head? Who mans the Armee de Metier? One-year conscripts? Would long service professionals get priority in training? Equipment? Pay? Would it be a volunteer force? What if there were not enough volunteers? Conscription for the professional army? Do you pass a new law permitting longer conscription terms for the 'professional' force? what about enforcement? How do you convince the numerous political parties? The National Assembly? The Senate?

              The questions continue.

              Is manoeuvre superior to firepower? Firepower over Manoeuvre? If the reserve system saved France in 1914 why would it not be adequate in a future war? Who could prove manoeuvre was superior to firepower? Did not the experience of 1914-17 prove "Fire Kills"? The Armee de Metier posed political, legal, doctrinal and logistical questions that could not be resolved by the Third Republic within the national framework that existed in the mid and late 1930s.

              "Arming Against Hitler" is probably the best text out there. Doughty's "Seed of DIsaster" is also excellent as is his study in the application of French doctrine "The Breaking Point". Kiesling also has a number of on line articles but be aware that she writes largely for other academics and her work is not aimed at the general public. Both Kiesling and Doughty were instructors at West Point. "The Republic in Danger" by Alexander give very good insight into Gamelin's term as commander and the politics of leadership in France in the 30s. Posen's "Sources of Military Doctrine" is a good review of French German and British doctrinal developments. For a counterpoint "The Roots of Blitzkrieg" by Corum presents a good review of 1919-1924 in Germany and how/why the Weimar army under von Seeckt went in for motorisation with such gusto.
              Last edited by The Purist; 08 Oct 12, 00:06.
              The Purist

              Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking - John Maynard Keynes.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by asterix
                Honestly.....this topic again? How many times must this be rehashed...with the exception of saying that there was hardly a single Allied power in 1939-40 who had an answer for what the Germans were about to unleash...not France, not the UK, not the US. Everyone facing the Blitz in those first two years had a very difficult learning curve to undergo.





                Fixed for accuracy.
                Yep.just like 1914.

                Comment


                • #9
                  The UK was no better prepared and used almost identical doctrine as did the French in 1940-45. Training in doctrine was just as poor, execution just as clumsy, required British equipment less available and the results just as disastrous for the BEF during the campaign. The BEF could, and did, run for the beaches to avoid capture (understandable and wise) but the French 1st, 7th and 9th Armies were to fight to obliteration in delaying the inevitable. The BEF would not have escaped if not for the sacrifice of the 1st Army at Lille. It was the French 7th Army left holding the perimeter when the last of the British sailed away. It is also worthy of note that German infantry themselves did not rack up up any significant successes except in the wake of disruption of French or British lines by tank forces.

                  The biased and stale view that the French simply crumbled and ran away in the May battles is certainly not based on any sort of knowledge or even a passing familiarity with events. It can only be ignorance of the facts that leads anyone to make such jingoistic remarks.
                  The Purist

                  Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking - John Maynard Keynes.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by The Purist View Post
                    The UK was no better prepared and used almost identical doctrine as did the French in 1940-45. Training in doctrine was just as poor, execution just as clumsy, required British equipment less available and the results just as disastrous for the BEF during the campaign. The BEF could, and did, run for the beaches to avoid capture (understandable and wise) but the French 1st, 7th and 9th Armies were to fight to obliteration in delaying the inevitable. The BEF would not have escaped if not for the sacrifice of the 1st Army at Lille. It was the French 7th Army left holding the perimeter when the last of the British sailed away. It is also worthy of note that German infantry themselves did not rack up up any significant successes except in the wake of disruption of French or British lines by tank forces.

                    The biased and stale view that the French simply crumbled and ran away in the May battles is certainly not based on any sort of knowledge or even a passing familiarity with events. It can only be ignorance of the facts that leads anyone to make such jingoistic remarks.
                    This post is golden and ought to be read by any indulging in as Gerry puts it, jingoist fantasies. Do note the flag by Gerry's avatar as well.

                    To the French and British troops who fought bravely in 1940.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by The Purist View Post
                      Yup. Here we are again.

                      In short offensive doctrine was a modernised version of the 1918 Entente all-arms bite and hold offensives with tight command controls best known as "Methodical Battle". With the need to keep losses down, with the limits in training imposed by the one-year conscription laws and a reserve system that was both under staffed and ill-trained, the high command realised they had to develop a doctrine that was basic and easily understood by short service soldiers.

                      Defensively the French, like everyone else, deployed in linear defence lines with reserves but rather than launch "hasty counterattacks" penetrations of the line were to be 'masked' and brought to halt by firepower rather than by manoeuvre. Additional reserves would then be brought up and a prepared assault sent in. This too was top down system with the masking and counterattack by fire being controlled from above. Counterattack by fire, by the way, is found in German and British manuals as well.

                      The biggest myth still hanging about like a bad smell is that the French high command did not consider other possibilities. They most certainly did. It was not uncommon for the academy and command school to examine all theories being developed between the wars. The French examined their own theories and how, through historical review of wars of the past (not just 1914-18) the army came to view firepower as superior to manoeuvre. The French examined the German theories, the British theories, the Russian theories and even DeGaulle's "professional army" plan in some detail. The restricting factor was the one-year conscription law and what could be expected from a soldier who had received just 165 days of training before being released into an equally flawed reserve system. The One-Year law was supposed to come with a well funded and expanded reserve system for additional training and exercises but this was not always forthcoming due to political instability and the voting of the necessary credits.

                      DeGaulle's system was rejected, rightly so, because it would have meant two armies in France. One army would be made up of one-year conscripts, the other of long service regulars. The high command correctly reasoned that this would destroy the morale of the conscript force. The soldiers would ask, naturally, if their doctrine was correct and 'best for France', that firepower was superior to manoeuvre, why is there a "specialist" armoured/motorised army that turned the regular doctrine on its head? Who mans the Armee de Metier? One-year conscripts? Would long service professionals get priority in training? Equipment? Pay? Would it be a volunteer force? What if there were not enough volunteers? Conscription for the professional army? Do you pass a new law permitting longer conscription terms for the 'professional' force? what about enforcement? How do you convince the numerous political parties? The National Assembly? The Senate?

                      The questions continue.

                      Is manoeuvre superior to firepower? Firepower over Manoeuvre? If the reserve system saved France in 1914 why would it not be adequate in a future war? Who could prove manoeuvre was superior to firepower? Did not the experience of 1914-17 prove "Fire Kills"? The Armee de Metier posed political, legal, doctrinal and logistical questions that could not be resolved by the Third Republic within the national framework that existed in the mid and late 1930s.

                      "Arming Against Hitler" is probably the best text out there. Doughty's "Seed of DIsaster" is also excellent as is his study in the application of French doctrine "The Breaking Point". Kiesling also has a number of on line articles but be aware that she writes largely for other academics and her work is not aimed at the general public. Both Kiesling and Doughty were instructors at West Point. "The Republic in Danger" by Alexander give very good insight into Gamelin's term as commander and the politics of leadership in France in the 30s. Posen's "Sources of Military Doctrine" is a good review of French German and British doctrinal developments. For a counterpoint "The Roots of Blitzkrieg" by Corum presents a good review of 1919-1924 in Germany and how/why the Weimar army under von Seeckt went in for motorisation with such gusto.
                      Thank you Gerry, that pretty much answers my question.
                      A wild liberal appears! Conservative uses logical reasoning and empirical evidence! It's super effective! Wild liberal faints.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Von Ritcher and zee Frogs

                        Originally posted by Von Richter

                        Revise this from the history books Monsewer...
                        Post deleted, as it served only to embellish the trolling and contributed near zip to the discussion. (You were not the primary instigator, lodestar, but your additions - meant in good humour I know -were unfortunately only adding fuel to the trolling)

                        Thread now under very close scrutiny.

                        TO VR primarily, but also to anyone who follows him; let this be a warning:
                        Trolling will cease forthwith and totally.

                        Thank you for your co-operation.

                        ACG Staff

                        Last edited by panther3485; 10 Oct 12, 06:30.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Seriously, I can only conclude that von is to the WW 2 section what crash is to the political section.

                          Good responses by Purist. I would add however, that I think there was a phsycological aspect within the French political scene in regards to deGaulle's work. Understandable that the metropolitain army might already be very wary of a professional elite force at their side, but historically such elite armies have been in used in the past to stage coups, so therein may have been another level of suspicion amongst certain politicians and even generals...thought that fear was imo wholly unjustified.

                          It it noteworthy that deGaulle's book initially raised more interest in Germany than France itself, the first 200 or so copies being translated into Germany and sent to that country before deGaulle learned of it and demanded an immediate halt of sales.

                          On a side note...I'm wondering if French and Dutch forces ever linked via the French 7th army? Did they ever fight together? All of my French sources indicate they were close, if not linked in one or two places, but never coordinated anything before having to turn back towards France.
                          You'll live, only the best get killed.

                          -General Charles de Gaulle

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            The key was that the Germans had learned from the Spanish Civil War that armoured columns should be used as such while infantry columns should back them up.

                            The French error was to distribute their armour piecemeal. By this I do not mean a few tanks in every infantry division. But using armoured groups dispersed, compared to the concentration of armour into entire armies.
                            When looking for the reason why things go wrong, never rule out stupidity, Murphy's Law Nº 8
                            Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana
                            "Ach du schwein" a German parrot captured at Bukoba GEA the only prisoner taken

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by asterix View Post
                              ...On a side note...I'm wondering if French and Dutch forces ever linked via the French 7th army? Did they ever fight together? All of my French sources indicate they were close, if not linked in one or two places, but never coordinated anything before having to turn back towards France.
                              I don't think any "units" tied in with French but French reconnaissance units of 1st DLM did tangle with the lead elements of 9th Panzer divisions east of Breda. I think the Dutch were already withdrawing into Fortress Holland while the battle against German airborne troops was developing.
                              The Purist

                              Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking - John Maynard Keynes.

                              Comment

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