French Fighting ability

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

  1. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Lee, that would be Roden Cutler in 1941.
    >>> RODEN CUTLER VC
    photo on here>>> Lieutenant Arthur Roden Cutler, VC

    That was the point I was making in post #1, it seems the only time the French fighting man got praised on this forum was when he was fighting against the Allies, hence the reason I started the thread.
     
  2. spidge

    spidge RAAF RESEARCHER Patron

    Lee, that would be Roden Cutler in 1941.
    >>> RODEN CUTLER VC
    photo on here>>> Lieutenant Arthur Roden Cutler, VC

    That was the point I was making in post #1, it seems the only time the French fighting man got praised on this forum was when he was fighting against the Allies, hence the reason I started the thread.

    A very brave man and a wonderful Australian in the post war. The Vichy fighting ability was suppressed as was the similar fighting ability of the Allied force.

    The Australian 7th division was the "forgotten division" as well. Their fierce fighting and strength of victory was not "trumpeted". This was due to the political considerations of French and Allied troops fighting the French legion.

    Much was made politically of the Australian 6th division infantry firstly routing the Italians out of Bardia and Tobruk, and the Australian 9th Division the first to defeat the Germans and Blitzkrieg at Tobruk however the 7th, being first to defeat the "French" would have gone done like a lead balloon.
     
  3. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Discharged

    i think i am right in saying that a nurse thought v.c meant viet,cong.yours,4th wilts.
     
  4. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Discharged

    again not privy to records,but i remember reading about the french airforce.they put up a good fight,in imho inferior aircraft.yours.4th wilts.
     
  5. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique MOD

    i think i am right in saying that a nurse thought v.c meant viet,cong.yours,4th wilts.


    What an earth are you talking about? :confused:
     
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  6. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Discharged

    i think cutler mentioned it in a t.v appearance about the victoria cross.yours,4th wilts.
     
  7. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique MOD

    Okay, but pray tell what an earth this has got to do with the fighting ability of French soldiers? Your ability to take an interesting thread to some bizarre corners never ceases to amaze me.
     
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  8. ADM199

    ADM199 Well-Known Member

    Lee, that would be Roden Cutler in 1941.
    >>> RODEN CUTLER VC
    photo on here>>> Lieutenant Arthur Roden Cutler, VC

    That was the point I was making in post #1, it seems the only time the French fighting man got praised on this forum was when he was fighting against the Allies, hence the reason I started the thread.

    Fought extremely well ; How many chose to join their fellow Countrymen and fight with the Allies in N/Africa. How many chose to ship out of Syria.?
     
  9. Len Trim

    Len Trim Senior Member

    Edward Spears in 'Assignment to Catastrophe' makes it clear that although many French soldiers undoubtedly fought bravely the morale of the French officers at the highest level was abysmal. After only a couple of weeks in charge Weygand was looking to surrender and was wanting to pin the blame for defeat on Britain. Reynaud tried bravely to stand up to him, but Petain and Weygand's defeatism was too much for him. Throughout the book Spears gives eyewitness accounts of French soldiers, tanks and fighters unused while Weygand screamed of having no reserves and demanded the last of Britain's fighters. Spears gives a blistering account of French fighter pilots refusing to leave their lunch to fly to protect their own troops and refused British pilots permission to fly!
    Look at the bigger picture. France was a country split from top to toe politically. Many of the middle class preferred a Fascist government to democracy, especially if democracy meant a left wing government. If keeping the left out meant an accommodation with Hitler so be it. The extent of the voluntary collaboration of the Vichy government with Nazi Germany says it all. De Gaulle was extremely generous not to have had many more of them executed than he actually did after France was liberated. With the military leaders that they had in 1940 it's surprising the French forces lasted so long.


    Len
     
  10. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Edward Spears in 'Assignment to Catastrophe' makes it clear that although many French soldiers undoubtedly fought bravely the morale of the French officers at the highest level was abysmal. After only a couple of weeks in charge Weygand was looking to surrender and was wanting to pin the blame for defeat on Britain. Reynaud tried bravely to stand up to him, but Petain and Weygand's defeatism was too much for him. Throughout the book Spears gives eyewitness accounts of French soldiers, tanks and fighters unused while Weygand screamed of having no reserves and demanded the last of Britain's fighters. Spears gives a blistering account of French fighter pilots refusing to leave their lunch to fly to protect their own troops and refused British pilots permission to fly!
    Look at the bigger picture. France was a country split from top to toe politically. Many of the middle class preferred a Fascist government to democracy, especially if democracy meant a left wing government. If keeping the left out meant an accommodation with Hitler so be it. The extent of the voluntary collaboration of the Vichy government with Nazi Germany says it all. De Gaulle was extremely generous not to have had many more of them executed than he actually did after France was liberated. With the military leaders that they had in 1940 it's surprising the French forces lasted so long.


    Len

    I would say that this is an accurate assessment of France's postion in 1940.

    Pre war, the Government of Leon Blum was despised by the right wing and became the scapegoat for the decline of France's influence in Europe and its defeat.After the 1940 armistice,Blum and others of the Third Republic were put on trial by the Vichy at Riom for the mere act of declaring war on Germany.The trial came to nought for the accused were able to point the finger at Petain and the French General Staff and show that the accusers were largely responsible for the French unpreparedness which led to the fall of France.The trial was adjourned indefinitely but members of the Third Republic were held in Vichy prisons and later German prisons until the Nazi collapse.

    Without doubt,France although having a superior army and armour was badly led in the field but the political will was not evident.

    Reynaud's postion was highlighted when in a cabinet meeting of June 12 1940 he uttered the statement "You think that Hitler is another Wilhelm1,the old gentleman who took Alsace- Lorraine and that was all.But Hitler is Ghengis Khan" (Reynaud was one who was to be held by Vichy and the Germans)

    Weygand defeatism was show by in appraisal of him by Paul Marie de la Gorce who related "Like all military man of the generation that had been victorious in 1918,he could not imagine that any other army was comparable to the French,except the German Army.Since the German Army had just won a decisive victory in France, he could not imagine that any other power might match it in armed strength.Thus he thought, Germany had vitually won the war in western Europe"

    Incidentally, De Gaulle, although intent on purging the French of the leading Vichyites and collaborators from a position he publically declared in 1943, he was anxious not to go too far and destroy post war French unity.As it was, a number of important Vichy offenders who implemented Vichy policy and German occupational policy slipped through the net and were able to lead normal occupations unitl they were exposed the the late 1980s and 1990s.
     
  11. ayac

    ayac Junior Member

    Good morning Ross,
    Yes, I would be glad to have a copy of this paper.
    On this subject you have now this book :
    Gilles Ragache, "La fin de la campagne de France. Les combats oubliés des Armées du Centre. 15 juin - 25 juin 1940", Paris, Economica, 2010.
    The subtitle means : Forgotten fights.
    Regards
     
  12. singeager

    singeager Senior Member

    On the subject of the french armies fighting abilities, i quote my grandfather (pictured left)

    'once the shooting started all your saw of the french was the backs of there heads - as they ran away'!

    Thats not to call them all cowards, im sure lack of equipment, training and poor organisation contibuted greatly.

    But the reputation earned in general up to Dunkirk, to the average british tommy does not appear to be good.
     
  13. ayac

    ayac Junior Member

    "I don't know much about the color of French uniforms, but all I know is that their blood was as red as anyone's."
    This kind of testimony is not the only one you will find, especially, as said before, when one is talking about poor units, composed of reservists. On the other hand, you will find a lot of examples of stubborn fighting. I don't think this sort of things is particular to the French army : Singapore fell to Japanese forces in less than two weeks, the British surrendered although British forces outnumbered Japanese forces.
    As for your grandfather, maybe his life was spared thanks to the sacrifice of the 30.000 French soldiers who did stand at Dunkerque to let the BEF reembark and cross the Channel.



    Now I shall try to answer this question :
    « They French fought gallantly in 1940 on their own soil [...].
    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. »
    I have chosen these battles or fights, because they show the diversity of the tactical situations. I didn't take into account French Airforce and Navy. It may be noticeable that an estimation would be about 300 German planes shot down by French fighters. A good job before the Battle of Britain.



    Hannut 12 – 14 mai
    Monthermé 13 – 15 mai
    Montcornet 14 mai
    La Horgne 14 – 15 mai
    Gembloux 14 – 15 mai
    Flavion 15 mai
    Stonne 15 – 25 mai
    Narvik 28 mai
    Lille 28 – 31 mai
    Abbeville 28 mai – 04 juin
    Dunkerque 28 mai – 04 juin
    Pont-de-l'Arche 09 juin
    Rethel 09 – 11 juin
    Alpes 10 – 25 juin
    Saumur 18 – 21 juin
    Chasselay 19 – 20 juin
    Ligne Maginot 10 mai – 04 juillet



    A very accurate summary about French fights including tanks by D. Lehmann can be found here :
    Tanks in World War 2 :: View topic - French fights
    Other link on the same site about the BEF
    Tanks in World War 2 Forum • View topic - Maginot Line
    About French tanks, D. Lehmann again
    http://www.forum.fun-online.sk/viewtopic.php?p=51434&highlight=&sid=7493eaecdc6e14e5724eb6f288fec5d6#51434
     
  14. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    With French military casualties at about 100,000 dead and 200,000 wounded in a 17 day campaign (18,000 a day), one must think that at least part of the French army was mounting a serious defense.
    Given that the remnants of both the French and British armies were side by side at Dunkirk, was there all that much to choose between the two forces? The result was identical for both; a decisive defeat.
    The French have been rightfully criticised for their lack of preparedness, weak leadership, poor equipment, organization and tactical errors, etc. etc. but the BEF, in my view, wasn't substantially any better. There were several brave rearguard actions by the British which have been well documented but as this thread demonstrates, the equivilent French actions are much less known.
     
  15. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Overall from what I've read the French soldier was no coward and in the main fought rather well. The blame in French failures would lay with their generals.

    Ref the BEF (remember they were a small force compared to the French) most of their retreats came about because divisions on their flanks were retreating and as a result they had no choice but to retreat themselves even when they were holding and beating the Germans on their front.

    I can't say I've read anything good on the French Air Force in 1940.
     
  16. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    The casualty rates for killed and wounded were roughly the same between the BEF (17.5 to 17 %) and French armies, POW's excluded for obvious reasons.
     
  17. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Bare in mind that percentages only work on a level playing field. The (OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD) BEF had around 10 divisions in France by May 1940 and the French had somewhere near 130 divisions. I'm guestimating the figures but if you compare the losses against what was actually in France it does paint a different picture with the British sustaining much higher losses.

    Infact the Allies had more of everything apart for Aircraft when compared against the Germans.
     
  18. ayac

    ayac Junior Member

    With French military casualties at about 100,000 dead and 200,000 wounded in a 17 day campaign (18,000 a day)

    For the French the campaign is 45 days, not 17 (nice british lapsus...), as things didn't stop at Dunkerque for us.
    "A decisive defeat for both", no I won't say that, because for the British, the 200.000 men who did escape were full of our hopes. As Prince Charles said, without Dunkerque, there is no 6th june in Normandie.
    Yes, I agree about the lack of preparedness of the BEF.
    "Remember they were a small force".
    I don't want to be rude, but I don't understand why a country like United Kingdom, a country which did not suffer destructions in its soil during WWI, with all the ressources of British Empire, including India, was not able to send more than 10 division and 308 tanks after eight months of phoney war.

    You are right, « less known », even in their own country. To answer to the initial question, I had to search, and I discovered a lot of heroic deeds. In one way, it's a kind of reward to find that 1940 was not only a matter of civilians on the roads under the fire of the German planes (very civilized, indeed) or disbanded units running away because of the Panzerangst ; there is enough room for epic tales. If someone is interested, I can try to develop some of these battles, even if my translator will be a little upset to read again and again the dramatic story of a french spring.

    About casualties :

    « Allied human losses :
    · Belgian losses in 19 days : 7500 KIA and 15850 WIA
    · Dutch losses in 6 days : 2890 KIA and 6889 WIA
    · British losses in 26 days : 3457 KIA , 13602 WIA and 3267 MIA
    · French losses in 45 days : about 80,000 KIA and 120,000 WIA

    156,492 German losses (KIA and WIA) in 45 days, that's 3477 losses/day but in fact the French resistance is harder in June than in May :
    2499 German losses/day between the 10th May and the 3rd June,
    but 4762 German losses/day between the 5th and the 24th June.
    You can compare that to the 4506 German losses/day during operation Barbarossa from 22nd June to 10th December 1941.
    The Western campaign was much more deadly than commonly known. » (D. Lehmann)

    Pour les personnes qui lisent le français, un lien intéressant sur la campagne de France dans les Ardennes (Stonne),
    « A ceux qui ont résisté »
    Ardennes 1940 à ceux qui ont résisté .
     
  19. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Ayac,

    Some good points in your last post, alhough I appreciate figures will never be 100% accurate some of your figures are a little off.

    I don't want to be rude, but I don't understand why a country like United Kingdom, a country which did not suffer destructions in its soil during WWI, with all the ressources of British Empire, including India, was not able to send more than 10 division and 308 tanks after eight months of phoney war.



    Good point and I think the answer is down to cut backs. The British Military was well under funded pre WW2. I don't know the exact figures but I think the British Sent just about everything they could. I have quoted a book in another thread that stated when the 20 Guards Brigade was sent to Boulogne Britain had no Regular British Battalions left in the UK.

    I don't know the pre war figures but I suspect Britain had quite a few troops spread around the world because of the Empire. Does anyone have a source for pre war figures and deployments of the British Military?

    Some fairly reliable stats in the link below.
    http://www.ww2talk.com/forum/1940/25163-fall-france-dunkirk-1940-related-statistics.html

    Cheers
    Andy
     
  20. Alan Allport

    Alan Allport Senior Member

    I don't want to be rude, but I don't understand why a country like United Kingdom, a country which did not suffer destructions in its soil during WWI, with all the ressources of British Empire, including India, was not able to send more than 10 division and 308 tanks after eight months of phoney war.

    In a word: conscription. Or, rather, the lack of it.

    For generations, France, like the other continental great powers, had called up its annual classes for compulsory peacetime military service, creating a permanent reserve of millions of trained young men who could be called back to the colors at short notice.

    Britain, for various reasons to do with geography, history, and politics, did not do this until May 1939, when it called up its first ever peacetime militiamen. But the war broke out four months later and even this first cadre had barely finished its basic training.

    Eight months might sound like a long time, but even a first-rate industrial power cannot scratch-build a mass army in less than a year. It took 2 years for Britain to fully deploy the Kitchener New Armies in the First World War. It took the United States at least 2-3 years to fully mobilize its manpower in World War II, using economic and demographic resources far exceeding anything Britain possessed.

    Best, Alan
     

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