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"French Military Doctrine – 1940" Topic


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614 hits since 23 Oct 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2018 9:12 p.m. PST

"What kind of war was the French army expecting and how was it intending to use its arms? It is commonly asserted that, through a mixture of complacency, conservatism, and intellectual laziness, the French had failed to modernize their military thinking and were preparing to fight the previous war again. In 1950, the parliamentary inquiry into the causes of France's defeat concluded: ‘[T]he General Staff, retired on its Mount Sinai among its revealed truths and the vestiges of its vanished glories, devoted all its efforts to patching up an organization outmoded by the facts.' Was this true?

The main charge is that the French military had not adapted to the idea of mobile warfare and had neglected the possibility of grouping tanks together so that they could be deployed offensively and autonomously rather than playing an infantry support role as in the Great War. One of the earliest advocates of using tanks like this was General Jean-Baptiste Estienne, the so-called ‘father of the tank', who started in 1919 to argue for the development of heavy breakthrough tanks that could be deployed independently of the infantry. As Inspector of Tanks between 1921 and 1927, Estienne instigated studies of the development of armour. Although he had a decreasing influence on military policy, the prototype heavy tanks that he commissioned in 1921 were the ancestor of the B1. Without him, France would probably not have had a heavy tank ready at the start of the 1930s…"
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Amicalement
Armand

emckinney24 Oct 2018 9:21 p.m. PST

Case Red, by Robert Forczyk's, is much better and deeper look at this question.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2018 9:30 a.m. PST

Thanks!.

Amicalement
Armand

Mark 125 Oct 2018 12:13 p.m. PST

Case Red, by Robert Forczyk's, is much better and deeper look at this question.

Quite agree!

I am currently reading Case Red. Even though I am only about 3/4ths of the way through, I am already very impressed, just as I was on Forczyk's 2 book series on the Eastern Front.

His research is impressive. His analysis is even more impressive. He seems to do better than most historical authors I've seen in recent years, taking his set of conclusions from the broad picture that the research gives him, rather than selecting anecdotes to support either the popular myth set or the current fad revisionist set.

He paints a picture of a French army with modern (if incomplete) doctrinal thinking, hamstrung by political leadership that could not rally the nation or apply consistent policy to re-armament.

Some of his evidence:
- Modern designs like S-35, that after 3 years were still not available in even a fraction of the intended volumes
- Political maneuvering to build alliances surrounding Germany, but with no practical military cooperation, either practiced or even just planned
- A naval building program that drew more budget than any army or air program, but contributed nothing to the nation's security against the rising threat of Germany
- An air force beset by doctrinal failures on top of materials management failures. Sourcing airframes, engines, propellers, radios and armament from differing vendors left production numbers that looked like a large modern airforce, but without finished working airplanes.
- And despite all the work on doctrine and weapons, a complete failure in training. Whether it was training of units in tactics, training of recruits in basic skills, or training of pilots and mechanics to match the number of planes (or plane parts kits), the manpower and skills of the soldiery in general were grossly mis-managed.

He offers some criticisms of the Germans and the British too. But the Germans took HARD lessons in Poland, and applied many of them before the campaign in France. The French didn't. And British mistakes may have complicated French problems, but even if the British were brilliant (which they most certainly were not), they were never going to provide a large enough contribution to make up for French shortcomings.

French political leadership wanted to find other ways of managing the German threat, and when they finally realized no one else was going to do it for them, that they had to rely upon themselves and their own military, it was far too late.

That's what I'm finding so far. Good stuff. Very clear-eyed. At least it seems so to me.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP26 Oct 2018 12:35 a.m. PST

Be ready to win in 1918, without the Americans.

Bill N27 Oct 2018 6:48 a.m. PST

The main charge is that the French military had not adapted to the idea of mobile warfare and had neglected the possibility of grouping tanks together so that they could be deployed offensively and autonomously rather than playing an infantry support role as in the Great War.

I have never understood this one. The French did have several division sized tank units available. When those French armored divisions went up against the Germans they didn't have the same success that the German Panzer divisions did. I doubt that allocating more tanks to armored divisions would have made much difference. Plus the American experience later in the war was that allocating tanks to support infantry formations was beneficial to the latter.

Legion 427 Oct 2018 7:02 a.m. PST

Short answer, the Germans not only understood mobile combined arms warfare, i.e. the Blitzkrieg. They knew how to actually execute in it effectively and efficiently if battle.

While even the armies of France and the UK had a lot armor, much of it was "superior" in a number of ways to many of the earlier German designs, e.g. the Pz. Is and IIs. They couldn't generally match the German tactical and operational superiority with development of the "blitzkrieg" … The Germans demonstrated among others, the Principles of War of Mass and Maneuver.

The French, UK, etc. were only able to try to react to the Blitzkrieg. Not really able to counterattack and go on the offensive. Save for on a few occasions. Which made little difference in the long run.

Fred Cartwright27 Oct 2018 7:21 a.m. PST

Plus the American experience later in the war was that allocating tanks to support infantry formations was beneficial to the latter.

The Americans had enough tanks that they could do both. The French didn't.

Legion 427 Oct 2018 7:29 a.m. PST

Plus the American experience later in the war was that allocating tanks to support infantry formations was beneficial to the latter.
Combined Arms i.e. Blitzkrieg … Not only did Pz Divs have tank units plus some FA & Infantry they knew how to use them … together. Along with CAS … link

Murvihill27 Oct 2018 9:18 a.m. PST

I have to say, the French had a larger army than the Germans and failed both in the attack (during the Polish campaign) and defense in May. It had to be something and I suspect their doctrine was the problem. Their tanks ran out of gas and their 3C completely failed even if the enemy wasn't around. It may have been a matter of training and experience rather than theory, but their doctrine still failed them.

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP27 Oct 2018 10:18 a.m. PST

Was it De Gaulle who said we had 000 packs of 3 tanks and the Germans 3 packs of 1000?

Legion 428 Oct 2018 9:06 a.m. PST

Training & experience is always is a factor in winning or defeat generally … A weapon is only as good as the troop(s)/crew using it, plus capable leadership …

Daniel S28 Oct 2018 10:48 a.m. PST

the French had a larger army than the Germans

They didn't, the French fielded a total of 117 divisions of which 104 were allocated to the Northestern front, the Germans had 157 division and had allocated 93 of those to Fall Gelb with another 42 in reserve ready to be used in the west. And of course there is the factor that a number of French divisions were on the small side such as the DLM and DLC or divisions in name only such as the DCR.

The French lack of numbers was a major reason behind the building of the Maginor line as it allowed the French to free up a lot of troops for their mobile field armies compared to a situation where the same lenght of front had to be defended with conventional means.

Fred Cartwright28 Oct 2018 2:27 p.m. PST

They didn't, the French fielded a total of 117 divisions of which 104 were allocated to the Northestern front, the Germans had 157 division and had allocated 93 of those to Fall Gelb with another 42 in reserve ready to be used in the west.

Maybe he meant the allies in total, although the French did have a total of 5,000,000 men under arms, not all of them were in the army facing the Germans in 1940. The allies had parity in manpower and almost twice the guns and tanks that the Germans had. The only arm the Germans had superiority in was aircraft, although not all the British aircraft were committed to France.

William Ulsterman29 Oct 2018 4:28 p.m. PST

The French certainly had enough tanks for infantry support and armoured divisions. They had 100 battalions (or thereabouts) equipped with infantry support tanks – R-40, R-35, D-1, D-2, and the venerable FT-18. The French had 4 armoured divisions and 3 DLMs which certainly contained enough tanks to qualify as armoured divisions. The Germans only had 10 panzer divisions and one of those had to be committed in Holland. The French had enough tanks, even without the British. How the French tanks fought and why they did so poorly has to be the crucial question. Rommel's 7th Panzer division got across the Meuse in 24 hours with what amounted to a motorcyle battalion and a few pioneers – counterattacking French tanks (infantry support) broke off when German pioneers engaged them. That's one example of how poorly French tanks did. Yet two DLMs held off a panzer corps at Gembloux/Hannant and inflicted heavy casualties upon the panzers, but then the two DLMs were stuffed for the rest of the campaign and did very little. The French just didn't seem to be able to cope with the speed of the situation.

Legion 430 Oct 2018 5:39 a.m. PST

The French just didn't seem to be able to cope with the speed of the situation.
Bottom line … and again the Germans not only understood modern mobile combined arms warfare, they knew how to execute it much more effectively and efficiently than the French, UK, Belgium, etc.

Again weapons are only as good as the troops using them and the commanders leading those troops basically …


E.g. one on one most French & UK AFVs were "superior" than many of the AFVs the Germans fielded at that time. I.e. the Pz Is and IIs which made up the bulk of many of the Panzer units. Were no real match for many of the French and UK AFVs. E.g. S35, B1, A9, A10, A12, A13, etc.

huevans01130 Oct 2018 4:52 p.m. PST

Can anyone comment on the fact that the French and British had continuity of officer personnel and training programs since 1918 whereas the Germans had to remake their army almost from scratch in the mid 1930's??

Given that fact alone, it's astonishing that the Germans turned out a superior army!

Legion 431 Oct 2018 12:52 a.m. PST

Good point … Of course the Germans after WWI were like a wounded animal, with the Treaty of Versailles, ruined economy, etc. They didn't like their lot after the war. They wanted payback, etc., …

And were willing to do whatever it took to get their country back to "normal", working, etc., it appears. They may have been much more "motivated" per se …

Fred Cartwright31 Oct 2018 4:14 a.m. PST

Can anyone comment on the fact that the French and British had continuity of officer personnel and training programs since 1918 whereas the Germans had to remake their army almost from scratch in the mid 1930's??

The Germans were permitted a small army of 100,000, which formed the basis of the reconstituted German army supplying most of the leaders. Once Hitler came to power and repudiated treaty obligations they had a few years to expand the army before the war started. It was not without problems. Also boys in the Hitler Youth received drill and weapons instruction. They did a lot to prepare the nation for war.

Legion 431 Oct 2018 6:39 a.m. PST

Yes, the Treaty was basically ignored generally. The Germans/Nazis prepped for war …

And we know the rest of the story …

Fred Cartwright31 Oct 2018 1:08 p.m. PST

One other point the continuity of officers and training was not necessarily of benefit to the British and French. It meant returning to the same old ways and business as usual which meant policing their respective empires. Innovations like the tank were considered a peculiar solution to a particular problem and not generally applicable to warfare. The cavalry lobbies were particularly vociferous in defending the role of the horse. While the post WW1 German Army was not immune to such entrenched views they do seem to have been more open to new ideas and to analysing and learning from the battles. The army being small could afford to only pick the brightest and best and to train them rigorously. All that stood them in good stead when the German army was expanded in the early 30's.

Legion 401 Nov 2018 1:11 p.m. PST

Innovations like the tank were considered a peculiar solution to a particular problem and not generally applicable to warfare.
And that type of thinking lead to Dunkirk …

William Ulsterman01 Nov 2018 8:14 p.m. PST

Regarding the German officer Korps of the interwar period:

1. Restricted to just 4,000 men by the Treaty of Versailles they could take not only the best but the very excellent – almost every one had an Iron Cross and the Pour le Merite was not uncommon in the Reichswehr.

2. Political will – von Seeckt and then Guderian were basically getting nowhere, aside from a few clandestine exercises with the Red Army in the 1920's and the production of a few Panzer I tanks in 1932 until Hitler saw a panzer excercise under Guderian in 1933. After that Guderian pretty much got all the German economy could give him for the panzers. There was not a single French or British politician of influence who could compete with the way Hitler gave the tank as much priority as possible prior to WWII.

3. The Germans didn't train the officers of their expanding army at all well – many received no training at all and relied upon their old WW1 experience and reservist training. However, what the Germans did very well was maximise the trained talent they did have – all younger officers were trained and allocated to combat units. Older and more senior officers were carefully allocated to important commands like panzer regiments (Guderian basically got to hand pick them) and divisional command.

4. Versailles wasn't ignored until 1933/34. There was an ongoing undermining of it by the German army, which began pretty much straight away, but it didn't really amount to much beyond the testing of a few theories and the construction of the odd prototype. Fred has mentioned the Hitler Youth and to that could be added the RAD and the reintroduction of conscription in 1935. This stuff is important to be sure, but remember that the Hitler Youth didn't become compulsory until 1936 – only three years before WW2 started. The RAD was only compulsory at the age of 18 in 1935. You can't do much in that time to train 2 million conscripts for a world war. There were clearly other factors involved, such as a well established traditional staff system, a command economy and a faith that infused that society at the time.

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