French Fighting ability

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

  1. I've always felt that the defeat of France in 1940 owed much to the superiority of German doctrine and to an extent luck on the part of the Germans.

    The French and British were a war behind the Germans having learned all the wrong lessons from World War 1. I suppose we can lay the blame for this at the door of the Generals and Politicians but that's all with the benefit of hindsight.

    The Germans on the otherhand learned from World War 1 that initiative and speed of action at the lowest level could decide a battle and prepared their army accordingly.

    As to the fighting quality of the French soldier from what I have read the French regulars fought hard and inflicted casualties and the occational reverse on the Germans.

    Unfortunately in the key sector (Sedan) there were only reserve divisions. Once through this crust superior German doctrine; speed and movement won out.

    The Germans were lucky that the Allies fell so willingly into their trap.

    Something I've always wondered; had allied aerial reconnaissance revealed the schwerpunkt of the German attack as Sedan on the 10th or 11th May could the Allies have stopped the Germans, or was the French army not capable of redeploying fast enough?
  2. sebfrench76

    sebfrench76 Senior Member

    On an humoristic side..
    We have the best wines,cheeses,food with the greatest chiefs on earth,we have the most beautiful women,the beautest landscapes,the greatest writers,the beautest town in the world.We are the most friendly people and according to women's point of view,the better lover's.So how cares if we are not good warriors?
    But what makes us so really superior is our modesty,hehehe...
  3. spidge


    On an humoristic side..
    We have the best wines,cheeses,food with the greatest chiefs on earth,we have the most beautiful women,the beautest landscapes,the greatest writers,the beautest town in the world.We are the most friendly people and according to women's point of view,the better lover's.So how cares if we are not good warriors?
    But what makes us so really superior is our modesty,hehehe...

    I'll agree with Paris.;)
  4. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    Oldie and off topic but still funny :)

    Heaven and Hell

    Heaven Is Where:

    The French are the chefs
    The Italians are the lovers
    The British are the police
    The Germans are the mechanics
    And the Swiss make everything run on time

    Hell is Where:

    The British are the chefs
    The Swiss are the lovers
    The French are the mechanics
    The Italians make everything run on time
    And the Germans are the police
  5. sebfrench76

    sebfrench76 Senior Member

    How real it is..and how funny,i like it!!
  6. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    The Free French Navy ( "FNFL" ) and the Vichy French navy " Marine de Vichy" did not exactly get on well together, but in 1943 there was a fusion of the navies outside of France.

    There was an unfortunate incident when the Vichy cruiser "Montcalm" fired on the Free French submarine "Curie."

    This is my translation from the French account by Jean-Louis Gloaguen, with my apologies and acknowledgements:

    (In his memoirs of life aboard, Quarter-Master Mechanic Jean-Louis Gloaguen writes as follows: )

    The Free French Submarine "Curie" returned to Algiers on the 2nd of October, 1943.

    On the 15th of October, she steered out for her fourth patrol towards the Gulf of Genoa, from where she returned empty-handed on the 25th of October.

    On the 8th of November, a new departure, renewed hopes, but this fifth patrol started badly, because of a mistaken cut ^une meprise de taille.^

    Here follows an extract from the witness statement of Second Master Signalman Henri Toussaint:

    << I took my quarter at 0720 on the morning in question.

    When I got to the bridge, the captain, Sonneville, was already there, no doubt because the French cruiser the “Montcalm” was approaching.

    He said to me: “ Toussaint, on the horizon is the ( Vichy French ) “Montcalm” ( this encounter was foreseen in our sailing orders.)

    We will let her approach us, and when she is in range of our Aldis lamp ( a small portable signalling lamp the cable of which passed through the flooding-chamber), you will send her our recognition sign.”

    This is what happened some time later.

    The “Montcalm” replied to my transmission by the letter “C”, which was to say that our recognition signal was correct and our two warships would continue towards each other.

    Only that when the “Montcalm” came on our beam, she started shooting at us.

    However there could have been no ambiguity concerning our nationality, for:

    1. We flew at the back of our conning-tower the French flag which was plainly
    visible, at least visible with binoculars and the distance between us was relatively small, less than two miles.

    2. The recognition signal was correctly returned by the “Montcalm”, and she should have not been concerned about a friendly submarine.

    3. I believe and am persuaded that the sailing orders of the “Montcalm” would
    also contain a forewarning that our paths would cross.

    Well then, we had an emergency dive with consequences which could have been fatal for us, hence the anger of our captain, Sonneville.>>

    And here is the statement of Quarter-Master Joseph Pierre who was the aft starboard look-out on the bridge:

    << On the 8th of November 1943, the Curie left for patrol, on the surface towards the Genoa sector.

    We were, by mistake, bombarded by the French cruiser “Montcalm”, which was returning to Algiers, and this even, in sight of Cape Matifou, which is very close to Algiers.

    Were the recognition signals negligently transmitted or received ?

    Our Second Master Toussaint, highly qualified, could not have made such an error.

    An accurate shot at us, the Captain, Sonneville, ordered: “ Emergency dive, ahead 3.”

    Just as well that the shells from the “Montcalm” scored no hits, otherwise doubtless we would have sunk.

    The electricity cable for the Aldis lamp was effectively jammed in the hatch of the flooding-chamber and the Captain was compelled to reopen this hatch urgently.

    For nearly two or three seconds, it was high drama.

    It is easy to imagine that the lower hatch protecting the control room in the boat would have closed immediately because of the automatic sealing system, saving the Curie and the rest of her crew, but sacrificing the Captain, Sonneville, and myself.

    I will always remember the Captain’s colourless face.

    He and I knew that we had returned from a faraway place. >>

    And the Curie returned to Algiers on 22nd of November, 1943, dispirited because she had not yet sunk anything.
  7. MarkVdK

    MarkVdK Junior Member

    Not much to do with the French in 1940 but kind of makes my view of 'the French Military'

    Text / The Complete Military History of France

    Offcourse it's not completely serious...

    The French in 1940 put too much confidence in the Maginot-line, and their army was simply not modern enough, (only their maginot line was...) and the officers were not up to the job, only doing things when being ordered to, instead of taking the initiative when possible, so when the communications started to fail after a couple of hours of battle, no more orders were reaching the frontline units.
    The British had better communications, many thank you's to Phantom!
    But 1940 is not my best subject, and Holland was out of the war in 5 bloody days also...
  8. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    French Army not modern- They had the most and certainly the best tanks in 1940?

    I'm not sure Phantom played that big a part in 1940-My experience says it was the Despatch Riders and Scalies laying cables that kept what little comms there was going. There's quite a few accounts of units upto the size of Brigades loosing comms, getting surrounded and captured. Cassel immediately springs to mind.

    On that note I'm off to bed to read some more of the most excellent Bltzkrieg Legend.

  9. MarkVdK

    MarkVdK Junior Member

    Well, Phantom (or No. 3 Militairy and Air mission as it was called) did report the location of lots of British and French units to the people in charge, to be sure that they weren't bombed by their own airforce, that was their job and they did it really good.
    I'm not saying that they did it all themselves.

    And the French did have some of the best tanks available at the time, in great numbers, only spread out across the whole army to support the infantry and not like the Germans, concentrated in Panzer divisions.
  10. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    General Bayerlein seems to have summed it up. :)

    "The condition of the German infantry was extremely bad. They
    had been in France for 2 or 3 years, and were completely spoiled.
    France is a dangerous country, with its wine, women and its pleasant
    climate. Troops who are there for any length of time became bad
    soldiers. They had done nothing but live well and send things home.
    The troops in France had been in the rear zone for years and, when
    thrown into combat, failed utterly."

    From the following document:
  11. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    A very interesting thread. I have long felt that the French forces as a whole have been underrated or dismissed by English-speaking authors. However, as some people here have already pointed out, it is important to make distinctions.

    The quality of the French Army in 1940 was patchy to say the least. Some of the regular and colonial divisions were good to excellent, but quality of the reserve formations varied quite a bit. There is no doubt at all that the French troops at Dunkirk fought well (32nd, 60th, 68th Divs, III, XVI Corps, Dunkirk Fortified Sector). Accounts from 50th Div veterans (John Horsfall) speak of some fine French troops, as well as others who were useless. Some French units resisted to the end in the Maginot Line, and the Germans encountered some tough resistance in their final offensive against the Weygand Line below the Somme. Chapman (Why France Fell) and Sebag-Montefiore cite many cases of determined French resistance.

    However, reports of bad French morale and poor performance in 1940 are too numerous to dismiss. Many of these of course come from British observers, but by no means all such observers were prejudiced. Alan Brooke was half-French and he loved France and its army, but his observations on the French Army in 1940 were scathing. A great many Frenchmen--including some of the most conscientious and patriotic, like De Gaulle and Marc Bloch--were equally dismayed by French performance on the battlefield.

    Vichy forces also varied on the battlefield. Contrary to expectations, Vichy resistance in Syria was very tough. The picture in TORCH was much less consistent. By that point in the war, of course, Germany was starting to look like a loser and attentisme was becoming common. Vichy forces offered strong resistance in some places during TORCH (especially in Morocco), but performed poorly or gave up quickly elsewhere.

    There is no doubt about French performance thereafter. Despite miserable equipment and the recalcitrance of some older Vichyite officers, the French Army of Africa threw itself whole-heartedly into the Tunisian Campaign and made a greater contribution than histories in English would lead you to believe. The record of the FEC in Italy speaks for itself, as does the performance of De Lattre's 1st French Army and the 2eme DB in France and Germany.

    I hear a lot about the French as 'surrender monkeys,' and it isn't true. Yes, 1940 was a shameful chapter in the history of France and the French Army, but some units fought well anyway. After they had resolved their political problems and gotten good equipment the French came back into the war as strongly as they could and showed that they were still the sons of the poilus of Verdun. In my view, the casualties the French suffered in 1942-45 go a very long way to redeem the disgraceful record of Vichy.
  12. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    You ARE good soldiers.
  13. ethan

    ethan Member

    French fighter ace Pierre Le Gloan; 4th most successful ace of the war.

    Shot down-

    For the Allies:

    4 German planes (Battle of France)
    7 Italian Planes (Battle of France)

    For Vichy:

    7 British Planes (Syria-Lebanon Campaign)

    Then switched back to the Allies after operation torch but crashed and died Sept 11th (!) 1943.

    There's a description in the beginning of ' The Road Past Mandalay' of a skilfull Vichy pilot outfighting and downing RAF planes, always thought that might be Le Gloan.

    Complex career, reflecting France's complex and still controversial WW2 experience.
  14. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Just thought I'd bump this old thread because this is what I have just read on Twitter from a WW2 German Veteran about the French , who he fought against in 1940.

  15. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Some very interesting views on this thread - even by some people who were not even born at the time of your question of how the French fought in own experience of the "French" army was not really the true French but

    rather the North African French divisions in Italy and officered by the true French of Gen. Juin - who invariably made it clear to all that he was a legend in his own lunchtime. His three Divisions fought extremely well in the first Battle of Cassino

    by fighting past the Monastery with the intention of cutting off the German supply route of further North and severing Highway 6...this came to a screeching halt when US general Mark Clark pulled them back to help out his 34th Division who

    had run into trouble near the monastery......had the Highway been cut at that time perhaps the next three battles might NOT have been necessary ..we don't know as this is pure speculation by those of us who were there at the time.....

    However on the way back to their lines at the Garigliano..these three North Africa French divisions raped - murdered and pillaged everything in sight to their undying shame - it they had any.

    Their next foray in action was in the fourth battle or Operation Diadem with 8th Army having the tough job in the Liri Valley proper against the strong defences of the Gustav and Hitler lines....the task of the North African four divisions was

    to advance from the bridgehead over the Garigliani and advance over the UNDEFENDED Arunci mountains to meet at Valmontone - they then applied to cross 8th Army boundary as we were again too favourite summery of that is

    that there is a rather large difference of running across an undefended series on hills against trying to open a three inch thick doorway fully bolted - with many deadlocks which the owners do not want opened..regarding their fighting ability -

    who knows but their raping - pillaging and murdering was of the highest order...


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