French Fighting ability

Discussion in 'General' started by Owen, May 3, 2006.

  1. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I've just been reading a few posts about how well the Vichy French fought.
    That is about the only praise for the French fighting forces I've read on this Forum, when they're on the "wrong" side.
    I know that is not the case. They French fought gallantly in 1940 on their own soil again in North Africa, Italy and back in France in 44.
    The ferocious actions of French-Colonial Troops in Italy makes me shudder.
    To read a US member on this Forum denigrate the French fighting ability is rather sad.
    I'd like to ask for examples of the French in action both good and bad.
     
  2. lancesergeant

    lancesergeant Senior Member

    The Vichy French fleet at Oran put up a spirited fight, and there is mention of their fighting ability in Syria. Desert Dog is more genned up than me on this part of the Middle East.
     
  3. Glider

    Glider Senior Member

    I suspect its a bit like the Italians. The individual soldier was as brave as the next man. However they had some of the worst generals, leaders, tactics and the often forgotten infra structure, so what do you expect.
     
  4. Herroberst

    Herroberst Senior Member

    I suspect its a bit like the Italians. The individual soldier was as brave as the next man. However they had some of the worst generals, leaders, tactics and the often forgotten infra structure, so what do you expect.

    I agree with you on leadership, very true with the poles and czechs.
     
  5. Kiwiwriter

    Kiwiwriter Very Senior Member

    Besides the defenders of Bir Hakim, the French Expeditionary Corps was one of the best Allied forces in Italy. Their boss, Marshal Juin, tried to use the mountains, rather than see them as an obstacle. He lacked the manpower to push on at First Cassino.

    The 2nd French Armored Division was a fine outfit, too, which refused to serve in the 1st French Army, which consisted mostly of former Vichy forces...anathema to the 2nd Division's Gaullistes.
     
  6. David Layne

    David Layne Well-Known Member

  7. Kiwiwriter

    Kiwiwriter Very Senior Member

  8. Desert Dog

    Desert Dog Member

    You have to keep in mind that you have to distinguish the French of 1939/1940 from the French Colonial Forces.

    During the opening Blitzkrieg days, you had a British and German army who were essentialy profesional armies and in the case of the Germans, very rehearsed as to what they were going to do.

    The French on the other hand were essentialy reservists that were called up. It was an army in name only, most of them fought in WWI and may in fact been part of the mutnies caused by the wholesale slaughter of 10s of thousands of their fellow soldiers who were told to go over the top (of the trenches) into certain death. These French conscripts knew war and didn't have the enthusiasm of either the German or even the British professional soldiers they fought alongs side and faced.

    Furthermore, keep in mind both Britain and France were just comming out of the Depression and their armamament spending was very low. In the case of the French, they were using alot of obsolete equipment.

    Obsolete equipment and unenthusiastic reservists result in a bad combination.

    The French Colonial Forces who were in North Africa and Syria on the other hand, were their professional soldiers. Like the French Foreign Legion, they were well trained and knew how to fight. They were definitely well trained and professional as they fought their former allies on the orders of the Vichy Government.

    The Italians were a different situation. The ones that O'Conner faced in the opening days of the war were under equiped and under trained. The only menancing thing of the Black Shirt Divisions were their black shirts. Most of the equipment was WWI era also. They were in Libya to keep the natives in check, not to fight the British.

    The reinforecements that arrived with Rommell on the other hand were better equiped and trained. Also keep in mind that they were under German supervision which probably made most of the difference.

    The difference between a 'good' soldier and a 'bad' soldier is weahter he stays and fights or retreats. It is the officers that have to keep them at the line fighting.

    I think I said too much
     
  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I think I said too much


    No, far from it. More please.
    Can anyone cite an example of the French fighting well in 1940?
    The image we have is them is very poor in respect to how well they defended their Homeland. I'm sure this isn't true at all.
     
  10. David Layne

    David Layne Well-Known Member

    So are you saying there is no truth associated with French soilders wearing brown trousers for a reason similar to the reason British soilders once wore red tunics?
     
  11. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Maybe I ought to read this.
    http://www.powells.com/biblio/019280300x?&PID=27382

    He debunks the "vast superiority" of the German army, revealing that more experienced French troops did well in battle against the Germans. Perhaps more than anything else, the cause of the defeat was the failure of the French to pinpoint where the main thrust of the German army would come, a failure that led them to put their best soliders against a feint, while their worst troops faced the heart of the German war machine.

    http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/st/~cshimp/france_1940.htm

    This is not to say French troops didn't fight well. On several occasions, they fought well at the tactical level against German infantry and tanks. In fact, most French and British tanks were superior to those fielded by the Germans. The Allies also fielded about 1,000 more tanks than the Germans. The Allied error was that they fielded them in small, tightly controlled battalions, with the mission of supporting the infantry. This tied them to the 3 mph speed that infantry has been fighting at since the times of Alexander.
     
  12. Desert Dog

    Desert Dog Member

    Thank you Owen.

    I guess you can say that in the French Army in Europe there were good (regular army) and bad (reservists) soldiers but the French command was categoricaly bad. Consisting mainly of eldery Generals who were responsible for the French showing in WWI.

    As for Allied tank tactics, that did not change until El Alemein. The reason Operations Brevity, Battleaxe and even Crusader failed were because the allied tanks would be sent in piecemeal to be taken out by Rommels more concentrated tanks and 88. This happening with the allies having more tanks then Rommel.
     
  13. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Having read more on this subject since I asked the original query and been to see some of the 1940 battlefields I thought I'd add these thoughts of German soldiers about their French foes.
    These are from June when France was all but defeated , most of the British had gone, Holland and Belgium were out of the war but still French units fought as bravely as any other soldiers had done.
    From ATB Blitzkrieg In The West.
    page 488.
    Hauptmann Ernst von Jungenfeld, 4 Panzer Division.
    "Behind us is the glare of a vicious battle where one fights not for each village , but for each house .
    We are not therefore surprised to find ourselves under fire from all quarters and one could say : "Nobody knows which is the front and which is the rear". When summonded to surrender , the enemy refuses and redoubles his fire. These soldiers are from the Active (regular) troops , they do not know hesitation or weakness."

    page 494
    General Albrecht Schubert , commander XXIII Armekorps which had lost a thousand men trying to breach the postions of 14eme Division d'Infantrie of General Jean de Lattre noted,
    'The attack ran up against an enemy whose morale was unshaken...on June 9 and 10 the 14eme Division d'Infantrie fought in a manner which recalls the French troops of 1914-18 at Verdun'.
    Just to the east the German XVII Armeekorps experienced the same difficulties , the German 26 Inf Div lost about 600 men killed wounded or taken prisoner by the French 36eme DI.

    Just a few examples of the French ability to fight, the war had been lost by their politicians & Generals not the French soldier.
     
  14. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique MOD

    Owen - an excellent post. There may have been no 'miracle of the Marne' in 1940 as there had been in 1914, but many do forget that French soldiers continued to fight and die long after Dunkirk, and in many cases even would not give up once the Armistice had been signed.
     
  15. mahross

    mahross Senior Member

    Owen - an excellent post. There may have been no 'miracle of the Marne' in 1940 as there had been in 1914, but many do forget that French soldiers continued to fight and die long after Dunkirk, and in many cases even would not give up once the Armistice had been signed.

    I agree with Paul here. For to long the French have been derided for the lack of combat effectivenes and while some of it may well be true they do continue to fight well unitl the government decides to sue for peace. There is an excellent article by Martin Alexander on French performance after Dunkirk in War in History.

    Martin Alexander 'After Dunkirk: The French Army's Performance against 'Case Red', 25 May to 25 June 1940' War in History, Vol 14, No. 2 (2007) pp. 219 - 264

    Here is the abstact of the article:

    The historiography of the German defeat of France and her allies in 1940 has focused mainly on the first fortnight of what was a six-week campaign. Most writers have concentrated on either the German Wehrmacht's breakthrough of the thin French defences on the River Meuse, on the evacuation of over 330 000 Allied troops from Dunkirk and the nearby beaches, or on the political level of an unravelling Anglo-French partnership. The continuing fight of the French armies, with some assistance from the British and others in the last month of operations (c.25 May to 25 June), has been almost invisible, reduced to the status of an epilogue. This article re-examines questions of French command and control, force strength, and combat performance, focusing particularly on a series of case studies of French divisions that resisted the second-stage German offensive, Fall Rot (Case Red) from 5 June 1940. The evidence deployed offers a considerably more complex — and for the French, more creditable — picture of how resistance was reorganized after the shocks of May 1940. The German victory was not some kind of stroll in rural France, but came about only after very hard fighting that has been lost from sight in most evocations of the `fall of France'.


    If anyone wants a copy let me know.

    Ross
     
  16. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Discharged

    the 2nd armd div in normandy did move on paris when in fact they had different orders,they were supposed to be part of an american corps,fighting in an allied army,under an allied commander.yours,lee.
     
  17. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Supposedly the Germans had a total of 156,000 casualties (Killed, wounded and missing). Cowards dont exact that sort of toll on an army.
     
  18. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Discharged

    i reckon that when the french guy surrendered in that railcoach in compiegne,the nation had the franco/prussian defeat still in the nations psyche.maybe they thought o.k,we will lose alsace-lorraine,but that wont be too bad.when they did give up,vichy was a large area,could france have continued to the very last bullet.yours,lee.
     
  19. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique MOD

    the 2nd armd div in normandy did move on paris when in fact they had different orders,they were supposed to be part of an american corps,fighting in an allied army,under an allied commander.yours,lee.

    What's that got to do with 1940? Please stick to the subject.
     
  20. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Discharged

    oops,cheers,lee.
     

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