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"3rd Spahi Brigade, Battle of France 1940" Topic

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Comments or corrections?

JRR Tokin27 Oct 2021 6:57 p.m. PST

I understand this unit fought a screening action in the Ardennes E of the Meuse versus the German spearhead May 11-12, etc.

Forgive my ignorance, but I was wondering, was this unit mounted on actual horses? Or by that time had the unit become motorized/mechanized?

breif search yielded this tidbit from Wikipedia:
'Each regiment was made up of four sabre squadrons with five officers and 172 troopers in each. Three regiments saw active service in France in 1940. Hermann Balck was of the opinion that they were the best troops that he met in both world wars.'

Does someone perhaps know a link to an orbat or resources for more details on this?

Uncle Goblin27 Oct 2021 8:50 p.m. PST

Try here:


Personal logo Bobgnar Supporting Member of TMP01 Nov 2021 6:27 p.m. PST

"All the horses and transport were kept in relative safety in the woods along and adjacent to the ridge." While many of the troopers were European, it is amazing to me how well the native type would fight for their French masters/

JRR Tokin02 Nov 2021 10:34 a.m. PST

In recearching Uncle Goblins link( thanks) I noticed it indicated somewhere that many of the Spahis were from French framilies that lived in Morrocco, etc – I guess you would consider this an elite unit in terms of morale and training, but it seems they were rather antiquated in their equipment and methods in 1940.

Mark 102 Nov 2021 3:23 p.m. PST

An excellent find, Uncle Goblin. Thanks for posting it!

While many of the troopers were European, it is amazing to me how well the native type would fight for their French masters

Perhaps it amazes you, but it should not surprise you. It is little different than Australian, Canadian, Irish, South African or Indian troops fighting for the British.

And much like the Gurkhas among the various Indian formations fighting for the British, there were some quite professional or quite fierce (not always the same thing) formations among the French Colonial forces. To this day the Spahi units of the French Army (no longer actually a colonial force, just mech cavalary forces) have a rather notable elan.

… it seems they were rather antiquated in their equipment and methods in 1940.

I would not agree. Yes, the colonial formations were not first in line for re-armament with the newest equipment. But a first rate modern formation in the French Army would have had bolt action rifles, FM.29 LMGs, Hotchkiss HMGs and some (but not enough) 25mm AT guns. The Spahis would have been equipped with bolt action rifles, FM.29 LMGs, Hotchkiss HMGs and some 25mm AT guns, but perhaps not quite as many 25mm AT guns.

The bolt action rifles would more likely be Berthier M16 carbines than MAS36s that the regular infantry might carry at this time (note: MIGHT carry -- only some formations had received their MAS36s), but the Berthier carbine, an 8mm gun firing from a 5 round clip, was a serviceable weapon.

The FM.29s were pretty widely distributed throughout the French forces by the start of the war. A few colonial units might still have had Lewis guns or some other older LMGs (even Chauchats?) but not units brought to France for service in the lines in 1940.

The 25mm AT gun was underwhelming, but it was the standard AT gun of regular front line infantry formations across the board. It was never available in enough quantities to fill all the TOE slots, so the weapons it replaced, either the 75mm M1897 field gun or the 37mm M1916 trench gun, still lingered on in some cases … more often in the colonial forces.

The Spahis were still horse troops through the Tunisian campaign, until re-equipped by the US. But in this the French were not further behind than most nations -- there were German, Italian, Romanian, Polish, American, British and Russian horse-mounted troops in 1940. Even as the French had mounted some of their cavalry formations in armored cars, motorcycles and light tanks, there were still both metropolitan and colonial formations on horseback as well in 1940. So the Chasseurs d'Afrique got mechanized in the late 1930s, while the Spahis remained on horses until 1943.

Or so I've read.

(aka: Mk 1)

Bill N03 Nov 2021 3:18 a.m. PST

seems they were rather antiquated in their equipment and methods in 1940

By the standards of 1940, not really. It certainly was by 1945 standards. The French like the Germans had truck mounted infantry in 1940, but there were not enough trucks and drivers to move more than just a portion of those two armies. Horses made sense as a way to move troops from one location to another quicker than they could go on foot. The 25mm would have been adequate to deal with the Panzer Is and IIs using the prevailing antitank doctrines of the time.

JRR Tokin04 Nov 2021 6:33 a.m. PST

Maybe limited in their equipment would be a better term, and perhaps by extension, their methods.

In this case particularly against the elite of Germany's armoured spearhead in the Ardennes, Gamelin's fait accompli, "Inferiority of numbers, inferiority of equipment, inferiority of method", could ring true I think to some degree.

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