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France Military Planning,... before 1940 part 1 of 3

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  • France Military Planning,... before 1940 part 1 of 3

    Why did France collapse so completely in May and June 1940? Judging from the volumes written over the decades one would assume that the answer is clear and the lessons laid bare for all to see. Yet, there are many assumptions in much that has been written over the years and many of them simply do not hold true when examined in light of the limitations faced by France. Chief among these assumptions has been that the French military should have done more to adopt the new theories of maneuver warfare to avoid the disaster that befell them. Authors such as Doughty (Seeds of Disaster) point to a flawed doctrine, Powalski (Lightning War) points out the conservatism and rigidity of thought in the high command, May (Strange Victory) looks to a fear of massive casualty and Horne (To Lose a Battle) describes the divisions between both class and politics amongst officers and the rank and file, and so on. Despite the volumes of print few authors have actually tried to combine all these elements. Perhaps more importantly few have fully examined how France developed its military policies between the wars and why certain decisions were, or were not, taken. Even today, more books are being published that well recount what French doctrine was but not how and why that doctrine was adopted.

    Rather than resort to hindsight to describe *what should have been done*, what I hope to point out in the following paragraphs is that France, like the other major powers, was constrained by the very nature of her political institutions, history and national characteristics. I hope to show, in the limited space allowed, that the French military was well aware of the changes to modern warfare wrought by the advent of the internal combustion engine and the new theories of mobile warfare. When France was faced with a resurgent Germany she faced the problem of translating strategic ideas *into a set of specific actions* but between theory and practice fell the shadows of political, economic and social reality* (Kiesling, Arming Against Hitler, France and the Limits of Military Planning). By examining French military policies, structure and sources of doctrine we may be able to discover a clearer picture of just why the French military was compelled to travel down the road that led ultimately to defeat.

    Part I - Planning for Total War.

    Any examination of French planning for war with Germany must begin by facing certain undeniable facts; the first and most obvious of these is simple demographics. At the time of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 France and Germany had a rough parity in manpower of military age, by 1910 the ratio favoured Germany by 1.6 to 1. In 1939 Germany could call up twice as many men between 18 and 32 as could France, World War I had simply bled France white. Indeed, while Germany and France both suffered approximately the same death toll in the Great War the damage was felt more in France and in 1939 she could call up 300,000 men less than she could in 1914. All of this had a direct influence on the shaping of French military policy (strategy) during the 1920s and 30s. As Doughty lays out early in *Seeds of Disaster* and *Breaking Point*, the northern one-third of France contained 75% of her coal and 95% of her iron ore resources. Ninety percent of France*s cloth and woolen industry was north of the Seine as were the majority of the chemical industry, 100% of the automobile factories and 100% of the aircraft industry. To make matters worse the vast majority of the population lived near these industrial centers and as such they could not be lightly surrendered to the enemy.

    In order to address these problems the French military called for a policy of total war in a study completed in the early 1920s by General Buat. The plan called for a *Long War* strategy that would harmonize France*s military and civilian institutions in a modernized version of the *Nation in Arms*. Together with an aggressive international political strategy of building alliances the French military planned to use this Long War strategy to defeat the Germans through attrition. The government sent the proposal to the *Superior Council for National Security* in 1921 with the intent of integrating *the military and civilian aspects of national defense planning* (Kiesling, Arming Against Hitler). The council presented its findings to the Chamber of Deputies (France*s lower house) in 1922 where the nascent policy paper quickly ran afoul of competing interests inherent to all democracies - party politics. Both sides of the spectrum wanted to link the national defense policy to the new proposition that would reduce the length of mandatory military service from three years to eighteen months. Those deputies that supported Buat’s vision of a coordinated industrial and military machine were in favour of using the reduced service as compensation for comprehensive mobilization of almost all aspects of French society. Others, including those opposed to conscription, saw *national mobilization* as a rhetorical debate to be used to bring in the reduced service period and then promptly forgotten. As it happened the eighteen month service policy became a reality but the national mobilization plan laid fallow until the Chambers term expired in early 1924. Over the next four years the bill was sent up and down and back and forth until the whole scheme collapsed under the divisive weight of irreconcilable differences between the left and the right in 1928 (Shirer, The Collapse of the Third Republic)

    While the deputies debated the virtues of national defense policy the army went ahead with its plan to offset the German numerical advantage by fortifying the northeastern frontier in order to protect the vulnerable resources, industries and population located there. A policy of forward defense was forced on the French military and yet the much maligned Maginot Line has its roots in a very logical response to a very real problem faced by the French army. The line of fortifications was never intended to be an impenetrable shield that would protect France but was designed more as what in modern parlance would be called a *force multiplier*. The line of fortifications would absorb and bleed the German attack while allowing the smaller French army to maneuver and plug any breaches. It was recognized that France initially would have to fight on the strategic defensive in any war with Germany until the enemies numerical advantage could be offset by her allies and their combined manpower and industrial strength. In the meantime, the enemy must be kept away from almost the entire northern part of France and the battle pushed forward into Belgium. The French had recognized that even if they halted a German attack along the same line as in 1914 they would probably face defeat and strove to keep the German army out of France altogether. War now depended much more on heavy industry and France would quickly lose if the north was again occupied. None wanted a repeat of the nearly crippling loss of agricultural and industrial lands during World War I (Doughty, Seeds of Disaster).

    The significant changes that took place on the international scene and at home between 1928 and 1934 further complicated the French military*s attempt to adopt a policy for national defense. The disarmament conferences were in full swing in Geneva and any further talk of a national defense bill and talk of total war strategies would only undermine French negotiators in Geneva. The worldwide economic collapse in 1929 meant the government was forced to funnel it efforts and money into peacetime relief rather than planning for future war. On the domestic front French political instability saw a succession of short term governments come and go and there were no opportunities to undertake any long-term programs of such depth. Defending the franc, social and political instability and France*s declining position in an increasingly technological world economy all seemed more important than making plans against an already disarmed Germany.

    It would not be until 1934, when some stability had returned to both the political and economic life of France, and the rise to power in Germany of the Nazis, that France again turned to examine a modernized national defense scheme. Over the next four years the Chamber Deputies or the Senate all but destroyed the initial intent of the plan as laid down in 1927. There was no provision for an overall military commander in chief of all the services; rather the president of the republic chaired a Comite de Guere. The fear of military dictatorship was still alive among the left wing members of the Chamber and the commanders-in-chiefs of the three services would direct their operations as authorized by the committee. Even as late as 1936, the civilian leaders of the three services could not bring themselves to agree that France needed a military commander-in-chief or chief of staff supported by a general staff in peacetime. Rather they proposed yet another committee that would delegate its authority *when circumstances dictated* for specific operations or theatres. In the end there was no political support for a C-in-C as the navy and air forces feared being placed in a subordinate position to the army and only in case of actual war would a Generalissimo be appointed. Supporters of the unified command structure in the senate could only warn their opponents that France needed a *spirit of national defense* rather than an *army spirit*, *airforce spirit* or *navy spirit*(Kiesling). Opponents, on the other hand, called for an end to the debate as it was damaging to the national interest and bad for inter-service cooperation. In other words, internal controversy was too high a price to pay for military reforms.

    In the end the bill was finally signed into law on July 11th, 1938 but it was to prove almost impossible to implement and in the attempt to please all sides it ended up a weakened and overly cautious law. Twenty years of debate had yielded up precious little of value to the French military and the nation seemed willing to do no more than switch to a wartime version of *business as usual*. Those parts of the new bill that various government agencies did not like were simply ignored or appeals to various ministers would allow the law to be side stepped.

    When war did break out in September, 1939, the faults in the law became readily apparent. It took until February 1940 for factories to begin unloading on Sundays and holidays, rolling stock was scattered around the country, skilled workers in both the aviation and automotive industries were mobilized and only slowly returned to their factories - production of aircraft and tanks suffered accordingly. Compounding the error, the recall of these skilled workers left huge gaps in the ranks of the units they left. Especially hard hit were the reserve officers and NCOs of the category B reserve divisions and the motorized units who lost their trained artillerymen and mechanics at a time when the army needed them the most. No provision had been made to fill these gaps with trained men who were not exempt from service.

    The law*s original intent was to enable France to pursue a policy of total war with all the sacrifice that such measures entail. Yet the peacetime preparation for setting up such a process left out such measures as the mobilization of women in order to free up men for the front. There was the fear that women of good breeding may have to work side by side with prostitutes and this could not be allowed. Private property was protected at the expense of efficiency of wartime production, attempts to curb the excesses of profiteering were offset by worries that lack of incentives would lower efficiency and thus waste money. The armed forces were separated under different and often competing civilian branches that kept the services separate and did little to foster newer doctrines of cooperation. In short, France, being a democracy, was reluctant and unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices in peacetime to prepare for a future war. In this she was not alone, neither the United Kingdom or the United States were farther along this path than France and in fact in many ways they lagged far behind her. Despite the known weaknesses and gaps in the law the French government and military were confident that they possessed a plan for winning a modern industrial war.

    <to be cont'd>
    Last edited by The Purist; 13 Jan 06, 09:48.
    The Purist

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

  • #2
    French Military Planning,...before 1940 part 2 of 3

    Part II The Structure of the Peacetime Army

    Any discussion involving the French collapse in 1940 invariably involves the question of why France made the doctrinal decisions that it did. Kiesling sums up the argument with three succinct points; the *Germans achieved a battlefield advantage by superior strategy, because the French Army*s operational doctrinal was less effective than the Wehrmacht*s, or because poor training and leadership prevented French soldiers from employing their doctrine effectively* (Arming Against Hitler, pg. 62). In order to understand why the choice of doctrine was made it is first necessary to examine the force that would have to put the doctrinal theory into practice. Only then can one understand whether the doctrine was indeed flawed or was it that the army employing the doctrine was itself unready for war.

    The Metropolitan Army of France was divided into two branches, the Active Army and the Reserve Force with the active portion being made up of professional officers and NCOs, reenlisted men from the biannual conscription and the conscripts themselves. Even though the Active and Reserve component were intended to be separate entities, only the active force had the means to train the reserve army and the reserves were the *meat on the bones* of the active force. Neither could exist without the other since the deployment of even a regiment could not be done without the call up of reservists to fill in as much as 2/3 of its ranks.

    Complicating the Army*s task of defending France and training an army ready to fight a European war was the short service time as laid down in the conscription law of 1923, which reduced the term of service from three years to eighteen months. A new law introduced in 1927 further reduced this term to 1 year, effective with the first class of 1930. This was accomplished by calling up two *semesters* each year, the first at the end of March, the second at the end of September. Biannual drafts of recruits allowed the training cadres (the professional army) only 6 month with which to prepare the recruit for advanced training even though it was accepted that it took a minimum of 10 month to do so. After that the cadre had make ready for the arrival of the new arrivals and begin the process anew.

    One of the largest drawbacks to this semester system is that between 1923 and 1930 each regiment had soldiers at three different levels of training at any one time and as such tactical formation training was in a constant state of flux. Mixing the recruits into the companies and battalions had the effect of reducing each unit to the level of the recruit while separating the recruits from the soldiers with more advanced training left a regiment with three tactical entities of which only one was actually trained. Added to these problems was the fact that most fatigue duties, administrative tasks and those selected for specialist courses were drawn from the third semester. Thus, the troops who would form the only trained elements in a regiment often saw little training in their basic occupation during their final six months of service before release into the reserve forces.

    All the above problems only became worse for the French army in March 1930 when the first semester of one year inductees arrived. The state of near confusion already existing in most units was further exacerbated by the fact that for the next two years the army would be releasing twice as many men as it was taking in. Once the army had shaken itself out and adjusted to the new routine it was found that the already short training schedules were curtailed even more. As such, since the cadre was doing little more than inducting new recruits and releasing end of term members, the cadre itself was not keeping up with its own training. As the commander of the 23rd DI was to complain in 1934, *his division consisted not of regiments but of various recruit schools* (Keisling, pg 66), this problem was made worse in the cavalry, tank units and artillery, where the recruits had priority on available mounts and equipment. One American observer serving three months with the 502nd tank regiment recorded the following breakdown of the 365 day calendar year - *22 day break between semesters, 20 days inducting/releasing each semester, 49 Sundays off, 15 days annual leave, 35 days on agricultural duties and special leaves, 10 days sick leave, 50 days guard duty, 30 days for national holidays and equipment inspection* (Fales, USNA RG165 2015-1159/3,3.). This left a mere 169 days training for the unit*s member between induction and release.

    The army of the Third Republic had, from its very inception, been founded on the idea of a small active army being reinforced by a large reserve. The system had been tested in 1914 and had been found to work well enough that France survived the early military disasters and went on to win the war. The change to the army organization brought about by the 1927 conscription law caused a significant change in the relationship between the active and reserve components of the French army. The lack of time allowed for training the conscripts of the regular army meant that the cadres could spare little or no time for the reserve formations. To address this challenge the law allowed the reserves to take over their own training units and training cadres. The provisions of the new law made all healthy French males liable for twenty-eight years of military service, the first of which was to be in the active force. The next three years he remained attached to his parent unit as a *ready* reservist and was liable for a three week training period and could be recalled to active service at the call of the government. Next came a period of sixteen years as a First-Line reservist in which he could be called up twice for three weeks of training, followed by a final eight year period as a *Second-Line* reservist with a theoretical seven day training period.

    What is most striking about this rather long service reserve pool is that it members were subject to only nine or ten weeks of training in twenty-seven years. Between 1919 and 1927 no reserve exercises were held as the government wished to save on the seven francs per day/per man expense and between 1927 and 1933 no *Ready* reservists were called up for training exercises at all. The cause of this amazing lapse can be found within the Chamber of Deputies as, in the case of 1927, socialist members voted against the funding, while the center left split down the middle between those who supported the training out of patriotism, and those who voted against it due to popular sentiments. And so it went from year to year to year. Some reservists had not held or fired a weapon since their initial training as much as twenty years previously and new equipment was often withheld from the reserves so as not to wear it out by use in training. Tank units that trained, for example, in FT-17s in the early 1930s suddenly found themselves being issued modern Renault or Hotchkiss machines when mobilized in 1939. Anti-tank gunners who had learned their trade with the diminutive 25mm gun or 37mm infantry howitzer were issued the much larger refurbished 75mm or brand new and deadly 47mm guns when they reported to their depots.

    What is more, even though reserve units were supposed to have been filled with members of the local region (to foster familiarity and unit espirit de corps), often the region could not provide the numbers required. Such unit shortages could only be made up by transferring reservists from areas with surplus members with the results that units were often staffed by members who had never met before much less trained together (Shirer, The Collapse of the Third Republic). The same thing occurred in units with high numbers of specialists and it eventually transpired that only the reserve riflemen were likely to be mobilized in their home districts and they only accounted for some 39 percent of the army. Artillerymen, tank drivers, radio and telephone operators, etc. had to come from whatever city and region they could be found, with all the problems this caused for unit cohesion and morale. Training was found to be abysmal since the entire reserve training scheme had reserve officer and NCO instructors drawn from the same untrained reserve that needed the training to begin with. Whether it was the reserve officer, NCO or enlisted man, the training programs of the reserves had all but ceased to function as the system bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.

    It would be a mistake to believe that the General Staff was blind to all of this but there was little that the laws would allow them to do, the cadre was overstretched and time was short. By the time the problem reached crisis proportion in the period of 1936-38 the General staff could do little but reassure the government that all was well and that any problems would work themselves out on mobilization. In truth, there was little else that the generals could have said. Nearly twenty years of policy and failed training schemes were not going to be undone by two or three years of reform; France would have to fight with the army that the government and the people had given her. The failure of the professional officer corps to address these failings and influence the government is itself a large and complex topic and space does not allow for its inclusion here. In brief, the officer corps itself had become highly politicized, with senior officers being supported in their positions by politicians. At the same time, within the Third Republic there was always the great fear of dictatorship and thus the need to keep the military firmly under the control of the civilian government. This had the effect of silencing the protests of senior officers, lest they be seen as fascists who aimed to undermine that same cherished civilian control. This left the professional officer corps with the need to develop a doctrine that would make use of the tool at hand. The policy makers had to craft the doctrine so that it appeared infallible, with all possible criticisms accounted for, so as to ensure it was universally accepted and implemented. With training times cut so drastically short it was felt that there was no time to waste in endless doctrinal debate and to a certain extent such debate was stifled, if not totally suppressed.

    <to be cont'd>
    Last edited by The Purist; 13 Jan 06, 09:31.
    The Purist

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

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    • #3
      French Military Planning,...before 1940 part 3 of 3

      III Defining a Useable Doctrine

      Chief among the past criticisms of the French military planning between the wars has been that the army merely planned to re-fight the first world war all over again and that the French failed to take away the *correct* lessons from that conflict. Thankfully, the historiography of the last fifteen years or so has put aside such dismissive ideas and instead turned towards a more careful analysis of how French doctrine was developed. That being said, authors such a Doughty (Seeds of Disaster), while acknowledging the reasoning that shaped French doctrine, still insist that something different should have been done. Keisling (Arming Against Hitler), on the other hand, points out that the development of doctrine does not *occur in a vacuum* and that *military leaders cannot devise methods of fighting and then expect their nations to organize an army and foreign policy to match.* It is worth remembering that France, unlike Germany, was a democracy and that the military was subject to all the restrictions that such political and social institutions impose. The French, therefore, set about developing a doctrine that suited their defensive strategy and the army provided by the nation.

      French military planners had to face certain truths when examining how France was to go about fighting a future European war. While publicly, the French generals appeared confident and justly proud of their recent victory in the war, privately they realized how close they had come to a crushing defeat. They were also all too familiar with the price that France had paid to obtain that victory and were well aware of the fact that France would not survive such a bloodletting again. French society had been changed by the experience of the trenches and the population had little enthusiasm for such sacrifices again and less faith in the national leadership that led them into the war (Shirer, The Collapse of the Third Republic). The French military had little choice but to take into account the population from which the army was drawn, demographic weakness in comparison to Germany, a smaller industrial base and a reliance on coalition warfare. Doctrine, therefore, could not be developed contrary to the national policies or the very structure of the army that was to implement it.

      Much criticism has been leveled at the French high command over a perceived conservatism or rigidity of thought but this criticism almost always stems from the events of 1940. The successful allied offensives of 1918 that led to victory had been under the command of the *Grand Quartier General* and the Ecole Superieure de Guerre replaced the Kreigsacadamie as the world*s top institution for military study. Winston Churchill stated, *No one can understand the decisions of that period without realizing the immense authority wielded by the French military leaders and the belief of every French officer that France had primacy in the military art* (Their Finest Hour, pg 35). That this belief was shared by almost every nation*s military throughout the 20s and 30s can be seen in the fact that 500 foreign officers from 38 countries had attended the French military academy between 1920 and 1938. The French did not simply rely on their experiences of the war but carefully studied the methods employed in their achieving those victories. Further, the army had developed a highly complex system for considering new ideas and technologies and a debate raged over doctrine within the army between two schools of thought, the historical and the material. The historical proponents claimed that history proved that firepower, the defense and *methodical battle* was a universally applicable truth while the material side proposed the theory that new technology would reintroduce mobility and thus offensive capabilities.

      However, it is not quite so simple as to state that the historical side won the debate and thus led the army down the doctrinal path to defeat. In fact, the college used the historical method to show the fluidity of military conditions over time and to reinforce the main thesis of the course that Fire Kills. Thus the students were shown the lessons learned from history and how it fit with the material conditions of the present (Keisling, Arming Against Hitler). Doughty, while fully comprehending the methodology used by the French academy then complains that the *doctrine for methodical battle was molded more by past experience than by technological or conceptual advances, or by careful analysis of more recent wars* (Doughty, Seeds of Disaster). Doughty, Horne and others seem to have missed the essential fact that French doctrine stemmed not from an over-emphasis on the lessons of history but from paying too little attention to them, in particular the most recent war. The French commanders did not use the history of the war to learn general principles about warfare but instead used the examples as evidence of how weapons should be used in the present context. What became engrained in French military thought by the survivors of trench warfare was that it had no need to look beyond their own experiences and the weapons they had used. History was not so much taught as historical events were used to explain why French doctrine worked and how the conclusions reached were unassailable. They were not blinded by the historical principle truth that *Fire Kills* but rather by *todays fire kills because the weapons used today are like those of the last war*, if not even more potent.

      The army*s doctrine stems not from misunderstanding the lessons that the battlefield offered but more so by the way in which they were incorporated into a new doctrine, and that doctrine was rigidly constrained by strategy, the structure of the French army and the politics of the day. It was the high commands job to make policy and the task of teaching the policy was left to the professors of the military schools. The primary lesson instilled in the students was *Make no mistakes* as mistakes would lead to casualties and casualties were to be avoided. Within the college, creative thinking was stressed yet instructional method tended to lean towards orthodox solutions and time constraints placed on students did not allow for much discussion of alternatives. Yet one should not assume that the pressures placed on the students of the staff colleges was designed to reinforce orthodoxy, it wasn*t - the intent was to train officers to think and react under pressure. Still, textbooks and exercises tended to reinforce accepted practices and while new ideas were not dismissed out of hand, they could gain little acceptance in an institution lacking methods and tools for re-evaluating doctrine. The rigorousness in which the colleges taught their course and were able to reinforce accepted doctrine over new ideas had the unfortunate effect of instilling complete faith in the policies then followed by the army.

      The final assessment by the high command was that it had struck a balance between the strengths of accepted doctrine and the need for innovation within the constraints placed on it by both social and political limitations of the Third Republic. The lessons of the last war were seen to be all too clear and the limitations forced on the army by the conscription laws of the 1920s and strategic and demographic realities forced the creation of a doctrine of defensive firepower over maneuver and caution in the attack over risky and unproven theory. That French doctrine was rigid and inflexible stems from the fact that it had to be so. Geography and demographic imperatives forced the French command to accept that France had to fight defensively and away from French territory until allies could come to her aid. The largely untrained conscript army had to have absolute faith in its battle plan or it would have been better that it remained in barracks rather than take to the field. In the end, the French command adopted the doctrine it did because it had no other viable option. Maneuver warfare was too new and unproven a concept and the very structure of French politics, society and the army mitigated against it being successfully implemented. Among the reasons for the collapse of the Third Republic was that it lacked the strategic depth of a Russia for retreat, an English Channel to withdraw behind or an Atlantic Ocean to screen her from a larger and more powerful enemy who did not suffer the constraints inherent in all liberal democracies.
      Last edited by The Purist; 13 Jan 06, 09:46.
      The Purist

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

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      • #4
        Awesome, awesome essay dude. Loved it.
        Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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        • #5
          One of the most insightful observations to France's rapid collapse is provided by Marc Bloch's Strange Defeat (May altered for his title): A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940. Marc Bloch was a renown French Medieval historian called to active duty and turned his historian's eye and analytical mind to observations on the French military. The book is a powerful short read. Some of his major points:

          "Those who teach history should be continually concerned with the task of seeking the solid and concrete behind the empty and abstract. In other words, it is on men rather than functions that they should concentrate their attention. The errors of the High Command were, fundamentally, the errors of specific group of human beings."
          { ed. I, personally, seek this men in battle perspective.}

          "All staffs on which I ever worked had, to an almost morbid degree, the passion for 'paper'."

          He points out that the staff paper passing, constantly performing purely mechanical tasks comprised the static order of officer routine which in many respects is the very antithesis of the active and perpetually inventive "order" which movement demands. "One is a matter of discipline and training, the other of imaginative realism, adaptable intelligence, and , above all, of character."

          He later observes, "Very few of them keep their minds supple enough to retain the power of criticzing their own prejudices." A "...mental laziness...." "I scarcely ever saw one with a book in his hands which might have helped him to a better understanding of the present by shedding on it the light of the past."

          "Our own rates of progress was too slow and our minds were too inelastic for us ever to admit the possibility that the enemy might move with the speed which he actually achieved."

          This human perspective combined with Purist's excellent commentary on doctrine and the inter-war environment is an instructive case for the necessity of peacetime armies to actively work against a natural rigidity in thought.
          Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 06 Dec 05, 10:06.
          Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by R.N. Armstrong
            One of the most insightful observations to France's rapid collapse is provided by Marc Bloch's Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940. Marc Bloch was a renown French Medieval historian called to active duty and turned his historian's eye and analytical mind to observations on the French military. The book is a powerful short read.
            I have this text back home and even though the sources I do have with me quote Bloch, I did not feel comfortable "quoting quotes", lest I get them out of context. I would have liked to have had this book as well as "The French Army and Politics, 1898-1965" (I can't remember the author).,the two give the reader a good insight into the French officer corps from the Dreyfuss Affair forward.

            Cheers.
            The Purist

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

            Comment


            • #7
              Ernest May edited Knowing One's enemies: Intelligence Assessment Before the Two World Wars, the Chapter French Military INtelligence and Nazi Germany, 1938-1939 by Robert Young came to a similar conclusion on awareness. "French Intelligence on German military developments seems to have been detailed, comprehensive, and competent." They knew about and understood Guderian's notions of war. The French Intelligence system and higher military and civilian echelons to which it was responsible were unquestionably well informed.

              However, as the information moved through the bureaucracy of intelligence analysis:
              "...the army and air 2nd bureaus duly synthesized the incoming information from Spain and Germany, they also regularly made judgments which may have subued the ipact of the information they were considering." "...it may wellhave been the case that these study sections were tailoring their assessments in light of their superiors' expectations.

              "There is one overriding impression of French intelligence work on the war in Spain. The successes of antitank, antiaircraft, and artillery weapons were credited to the inherent superiority of defensive fire. The successes of tanks and aircraft were explained with reference to inadequate defensive preparations and material, unsuitable terrain, or more generally to the localized and peculiar characteristics of the Spanish war."

              A faulty assessment in a 2nd bureau report "suggested that the Spanish experience had made many Germanofficers wonder if a tank was really worth its construction and maintenance cost." This report was just a few months befor Gamelin's training directive for 1939, which forbade exposing French troops--though not their officers--to German=style mobile maneuvers, for fear of confusing them as to what was appropriate doctrine and what was not."

              The author concludes that "Here, it seems, was knowledge without understanding, or at least without enough understanding."

              In 1935 and 1938, French officers who observed Red Army maneuvers were censured for too positive a report and exaggerating Russian miitary capacity.

              I'll tie this last observation to a more strategic consideration made in Barry Posen's The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars.

              To be cont'd
              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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              • #8
                French civilian and military leadership as a "specific group of human beings" made decisions based on their beliefs of what was the best course of action for their country in the face of a certain resurgence of German industrial and military power. This was the main threat to French security.

                Posen's referenced book in the previous posting in a comprehensive chapter pulls together a wide range of issues noted by The Purist commentary.

                For France, WWI's lessons in firepower were a shocking impression which shows a determination in subsequent French civilian decisions on military matters to avoid the repetition of high casualties.

                "Two major decisions, taken mainly by French civilians, determined the subsequent defensive character of French grand strategy and military doctrine. The first was to drastically reduce the term of conscription [from 3yrs to 1 yr in 1928, and remained until 1935], and the second was to create the Maginot line."

                It takes more soldier training to fight offensively. Even one year of service by soldiers left many French professional officers uncertain about the capability of their soldiers to conduct a defense. "The number of fully ready divisions dropped from 12 to 6; 14 divs at partial strength were added; and 20 divs were to be formed as before by mobilized reserves."

                "The French Army was now unsuited for offensive action and barely suited for defense." This allowed a thin covering force against a German attack.


                It was just as important to the french to protect their industrial resources during mobilization that had been lost early in the last war. "The Maginot line would not only allow France to defend a dangerous invasion route with limited forces, it would help France defend her critical long-war resources in the northeastern part of the country."

                Posen's argument and understanding France's doctrine to be cont'd.
                Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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                • #9
                  Judith Hughes in To the Maginot Line: The Politics of French Military Preparations in the 1920's, like Posen, believes the French Army began to abandon the offensive plans with the building of the Maginot fortifications.

                  While there was an element within the Army that advocated using the fortifications for economy of for leaving room for offensive maneuver, Hughes argues that the plans were for a stabilized northeast sector, an advance to defensive lines in Belgium, and after mobilization of the national resources a counteroffensive.

                  In the 1930's, Germany's population was nearly 30% greater than France, that combined with Germany's greater industrial potential represented a disparity in the two country's ability to wage a war of attrition. Posen notes, "From the first, French doctrine viewed the addition of Allied (especially British) industrial sources to her war efforts as a prerequisite to any successful encounter with Germany."
                  This imbalance of power, Posen suggests, encouraged France to seek allies.

                  The Maginot line along the French border would serve to push a future German attack into Belgium which would violate their neutrality and surely bring at least the British in on the side of the French. Posen argues, if France was interested in protecting her soldiers from modern firepower, preserving her border-concentrated industry, and buying time to get contributions from Allies, the encouragement of a German end-run was no mere oversight, but rather "it is exactly what the French wanted to happen."

                  This might be a good point to pause for some commentary by others.
                  Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 07 Dec 05, 09:14.
                  Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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                  • #10
                    "There is one overriding impression of French intelligence work on the war in Spain. The successes of antitank, antiaircraft, and artillery weapons were credited to the inherent superiority of defensive fire. The successes of tanks and aircraft were explained with reference to inadequate defensive preparations and material, unsuitable terrain, or more generally to the localized and peculiar characteristics of the Spanish war."
                    It is information such as this that tended to reinforce rather than contradict French military thought before the outbreak of the war. So much evidence seemed to point to the fact the defense held an extreme advantage and that firepower and defense in depth was the answer to masses of tanks. That being said, senior officers such as Gamelin knew fully well that no army ever won a war by sitting on the defensive and they recognized that an army must maneuver. Defense in depth was not meant to be an abandonment of the ability to maneuver. Gamelin himself wrote:

                    “…from 1915…whenever the necessary means were judiciously employed, one ALWAYS BROKE THE FRONT.” (emphasis is Gamelin’s).

                    and,

                    “no more in strategy than in tactics is there defense without counterattack.”

                    General Weygand also cautioned against reliance solely on firepower and the defense when he stated, “even on defense, especially on the defensive, an army having neither the will nor the ability to maneuver is doomed to defeat”. French regulations in 1936 further stated,
                    “However powerful are the fortified fronts, the decision, tomorrow as yesterday, will only be attained through maneuver, whose essential elements are speed and mobility.” This hardly sounds like a fortress mentality the French command is so often accused of. However, in spite of this acknowledgement that there was a need to develop a doctrine that included maneuver, the French command could not escape the realities forced on them by the one-year conscript.
                    The Purist

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

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                    • #11
                      What clouds the issue is that there were competing thoughts in the civilians and military. But the machinations of men nudge the drift towards a defensive doctrine. Maginot, as war minister in 1922, interposed Petain as "inspector general" between himself and the army chief of staff who had to submit all decisions on "military-technical" questions to Petain. Petain's who had demonstrated a willingness to reduce the conscripts' term of service was doing the civilians bidding.

                      Maginot co-opting the senior military leadership established a civilian control over instrumental tasks of a military organization. Under Maginot there was defensive direction in the civilian leadership. Of course, during this period French governemtns did not enjoy long tenure(as Shirer notes). French civilian leadership of the 1930s were not only further removed from the Great War, but probably unschooled enough in military matters to understand the depth, let alone alter, defense decisions of the 1920s.

                      By the 1930s, the period of your examples, Belgium's neutrality declaration threw a wrench in the defensive plans. The military had to consider how they were to keep the Germans away from the northeastern industrial areas. From the civilian side, German violation of Belgium neutrality would ensure British involvement which met the requirement for greater depth in resources necessary from Allies for France to have thelong war.
                      Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 07 Dec 05, 11:05.
                      Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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                      • #12
                        Kiesling points out that despite the "public" perception that fronts were to be inviolable, the army had a different idea in mind when they set about building the Maginot Line. The intention was to fight the Germans on French terms and "not on French territory", as such, the military planned on fortified regions (defense in depth), over a continuous front. French territory was to be inviolate but the military did not intend for French fortifications to be so. The economic collapse of 1929 and subsequent fiscal cutbacks along with troop shortages resulted in a region that was neither a continuous front nor constructed to the requisite depth. Yet despite this the “magic adjective inviolable shifted” away from the concept of the nation to the forts themselves. Herein lies a source, if not the source of the “Maginot Mentality”. The 1920s were definitely period where the word maneuver had all but disappeared from the vocabulary of the French military but this began to change, slowly, from around 1928 onward. As mentioned above, when change came to the French military between the wars, it came slowly.
                        Last edited by The Purist; 07 Dec 05, 12:02.
                        The Purist

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

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                        • #13
                          I think we are in agreement through the 1920's. It seems the military, in the 1930's, should have reacted to the growing perception of mobile warfare. They were aware of German efforts; they had witnessed the Red Army maneuvers under Tukhachevsky's vision. Before exploring French military in 1930's, I want to cross check a couple of sources.
                          Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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                          • #14
                            The purist,

                            I enjoyed your essays. The things I remember most of my readings on the French Army are:

                            1. Shortage of equipments. Antitank, artillery and communications in particular. French Doctrine called for a certain number of Antitank guns per kilometer. Regular units did not have near enough and reserve units frequently had one third of the regular establishment. Then the Germans hit the lines with three and more times the tanks the French expected to attack!

                            2. There was a shortage of European Males for the Regular Army to conscript, but there was a vast number of Colonials and Natives in Africa and other French colonies to draw on. This is balanced with the need to station some European troops in the colonies, but there was a much larger pool of manpower to draw on here. Germany did not have this resource! The French also employed the French Foreign Legion, which did not draw on much French manpower. Germany did not have this resource, either. The French were very fond of their Senegalese and North African troops. They even usefully employed other colonial troops as well in WW1, like the Tonkinese and Annamese Infantry and consider all the labor troops that could be raised.

                            3. The French Commander in Chief had health problems and an anti-British mistress! Once syphillis hits the brain, I would expect the indiviadual to be retired. He wasn't! He also made sure his mistress travelled with him. I wish he had been more concerned about his wife!

                            4. Both German and French Armies had training problems before the war. They were pretty equal here.

                            Pruitt
                            Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                            Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                            by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Pruitt
                              1. Shortage of equipments. Antitank, artillery and communications in particular. French Doctrine called for a certain number of Antitank guns per kilometer. Regular units did not have near enough and reserve units frequently had one third of the regular establishment. Then the Germans hit the lines with three and more times the tanks the French expected to attack!

                              2. There was a shortage of European Males for the Regular Army to conscript, but there was a vast number of Colonials and Natives in Africa and other French colonies to draw on. This is balanced with the need to station some European troops in the colonies, but there was a much larger pool of manpower to draw on here. Germany did not have this resource! The French also employed the French Foreign Legion, which did not draw on much French manpower. Germany did not have this resource, either. The French were very fond of their Senegalese and North African troops. They even usefully employed other colonial troops as well in WW1, like the Tonkinese and Annamese Infantry and consider all the labor troops that could be raised.
                              The Metropolitan army was different from the Colonial army in many ways similar to the way the British and Indian armies were different. This did not stop the French from using both "Colonial" and "North African" divisions in 1940. Like the divisions made up of white soldiers, the performance of these divisions varied from excellent to very poor. The Foreign Legion was used in Norway (Apr-June) where they also put up a very good showing but if I recall correctly, they were not allowed by law to be deployed in Metropolitan France.

                              I disagree that the French could have raised more "Empire" troops to offset the manpower advantage of the Germans. As it was, the French pulled numerous divisions from overseas colonies and they did have to guard against large Italian and Japanese forces on or near their colonial borders. Your own point number one (above) I think answers the question. If equipment stocks and training cadres were insufficient for the Metropolitan army, how would the situation be improved by swelling the ranks with more colonial troops from overseas?
                              The Purist

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

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