IMAGES OF WAR
THE FRENCH ARMY IN THE
FIRST WORLD WAR
Saint-Thomas-en-Argonne (Marne), 25 July 1915. Resting on a copy of Le Petit Parisien, a popular national daily, a Provençal soldier from 255th Infantry writes a letter.
IMAGES OF WAR
THE FRENCH ARMY IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR RARE PHOTOGRAPHS FROM WARTIME ARCHIVES
First published in Great Britain in 2016 by PEN & SWORD MILITARY an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS Text copyright © Pen & Sword, 2016 Every effort has been made to trace the copyright of all the photographs. If there are unintentional omissions, please contact the publisher in writing, who will correct all subsequent editions. A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978 147385 619 6 eISBN 978 147385 620 2 Mobi ISBN 978 147385 621 9 The right of Ian Sumner to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the Publisher in writing. Pen & Sword Books Ltd incorporates the imprints of Pen & Sword Archaeology, Atlas, Aviation, Battleground, Discovery, Family History, History, Maritime, Military, Naval, Politics, Railways, Select, Social History, Transport, True Crime, Claymore Press, Frontline Books, Leo Cooper, Praetorian Press, Remember When, Seaforth Publishing and Wharncliffe. For a complete list of Pen & Sword titles please contact Pen & Sword Books Limited 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2AS, England E-mail: [email protected]
Contents Introduction and Acknowledgements
Chapter One ‘The attack must be pursued at close quarters’
Chapter Two Finding the Right Formula
Chapter Three ‘Warriors ready for anything’
Chapter Four ‘We know nothing of glory’
Chapter Five ‘Life goes on’
Chapter Six ‘An unforgettable day’
Introduction and Acknowledgements First World War demanded an enormous effort of France and its people. The During the course of the fighting, eight-and-a-half million Frenchmen were mobilized – 40 per cent of all males and 60 per cent of those of working age – to serve alongside 260,000 North Africans and 215,000 colonials. One-and-a-half million men were killed – on average 890 a day – and three million wounded, including 800,000 left disabled for life. At the same time French industry and agriculture was damaged by invasion and subsequent manpower shortages. Yet still the nation rallied. Food supplies were maintained, industry was transformed into a machine capable of supporting a vast ongoing military endeavour, and a fierce determination to drive the invader from French soil eventually produced a bitter victory. France shouldered the heaviest burden of all the Allies, and the legacy of the conflict continued to affect its politics and society for years to come. This book is not an illustrated chronology of the conflict. Instead, it concentrates on the experience of the French soldier, in the trenches and behind the lines, forming a graphic companion to my earlier work They Shall Not Pass: the French Army on the Western Front, 1914–1918 (Pen & Sword, 2012). We follow the soldier into the front line and out again. Chapter 1 covers mobilization and the battles of 1914, as well as call-up, training and departure for the front – an experience shared by millions over the next four years. Chapter 2 explores frontline combat, including technological innovation and the treatment of casualties; Chapter 3, the mundane realities of trench life. Chapter 4 considers front-line attitudes to the enemy, to France’s allies and to other corps – as well as the vital role played by the artillery, engineers, transport and the rest in the final victory. Chapter 5 concentrates on time out of the front line, including rest, leave and medical treatment in the rear. Chapter 6 ends with a view of the armistice and demobilization – a time of celebration, of readjustment to civilian life and, for many, an uncertain future. Wherever possible, these eloquent images are supported by extracts translated by the author from contemporary diaries, letters and newspapers – the immediate, first-hand testimony, uncoloured by hindsight or lapses of memory, previously highlighted in They Shall Not Pass. I would like to thank all who have helped in the writing of The French Army in the
First World War, particularly my wife Margaret, for her translating and editing skills, but also the staffs of the Service Historique de la Défense at Vincennes, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the municipal libraries of Albi, Dijon, Meaux and Tours, and the British Library. As in my previous title in the ‘Images of War’ series, The French Army at Verdun (Pen & Sword, 2016), the photographs used are drawn from the exceptionally rich archive of French official photographs at the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale et Contemporaine, Université de Paris-Nanterre. My gratitude goes to them and to the following named photographers: Every effort has been made to avoid infringing copyright and all exceptions are unintentional. If this has occurred, please notify the publisher, who will include the appropriate credit in future editions or reprints. Captain André: 35 (top) Lieutenant Barbier: 82 (bottom) Lieutenant Bied: 69 (top) Branger: 14 (top), 31 (top) Lieutenant Candlot: 31 (bottom), 90 (bottom) Chambrin: 65 Lieutenant Champagne: 87, 95 (top) G. Cherau: 12 (top) Clair-Guyot: 12 (bottom) Lieutenant desaulle: 34 (top) Durand: 55 (bottom) Dr Gallier: 49 (top) Golweiss-Leroy: 14 (bottom) Lieutenant Guillardot: 32 (top), 38 (top), 43 Captain J. Heilbronner: 64 (top) Houtart: 16 (top) Captain Lagarde: 46 (bottom), 47 Captain Le Mintier: 84 (bottom) Léré: 67 (bottom), 88 (bottom) Manuel: 13 (bottom) Sergeant Mathieu: 15 (bottom) M. Plagnes: 59 (top) Lieutenant de Preissac: 46 (top), 67 (top), 94 (bottom), 124 (top) Reims: 16 (bottom) Rey: 81 (bottom) Lieutenant Colonel Seauve: 85 (bottom) Dr Simon: 104 (top)
Tournyol du Clos: 48 Every effort has been made to avoid infringing copyright and all exceptions are unintentional. If this has occurred, please notify the publisher, who will include the appropriate credit in future editions or reprints.
‘The attack must be pursued at close quarters’ In contrast to its British counterpart, the French army that mobilized in August 1914 was manned by conscription. Every 20-year-old male was liable for three years’ service with the colours, followed by eleven as a reservist and fourteen as a territorial – each annual class of conscripts comprising between 250,000 and 300,000 men. The opening battles were fought by the three annual ‘classes’ of 1911, 1912 and 1913, yielding a force of some 90,000 officers and 817,000 men. They would soon be followed by the class of 1914, summoned two months in advance of its October call-up, and then by the classes of 1915 to 1919, all conscripted early, some by as much as twenty-one months. Conscript, soldier or reservist, every man received a big send-off when his regiment or draft left the barracks, usually for the local railway station. While the bands played famous old tunes like the Sambre et Meuse or the Chant du départ, cheering crowds gathered, offering the soldiers flowers and kisses. Civilians and soldiers alike sometimes struck up the Marseillaise or the popular Quand Madelon. The chasseurs, however, had their own song – Sidi Brahim. In line with prevailing French military orthodoxy, the commander-in-chief, General Joseph Joffre, was determined to attack – and to attack using his infantry. The strategy was vaunted to be in the ‘best traditions’ of the army and to suit the ‘French psyche’, victory resulting not from superior tactics nor yet superior weaponry, but from superior will. Both cavalry and artillery had been relegated to ancillary roles – the artillery to provide fire support for the ground troops; the cavalry to reconnoitre the field before withdrawing in anticipation of the decisive intervention and pursuit – and in consequence French weapons development had concentrated on field artillery, in the shape of the 75mm gun, rather than the howitzers and heavy guns favoured by the Germans. An infantry battalion would move into contact by throwing out a preliminary line of skirmishers, holding the remainder of its troops in columns in reserve. Once contact was made, the reserves would be fed into the firing line, first to suppress the hostile guns; then, helped by the field artillery, to inflict enough casualties to force the enemy line to waver. Finally, a bayonet charge would deliver the coup de grace. ‘To be decisive and irresistible, the attack must be pursued at
close quarters,’ claimed the 1913 infantry regulations. ‘The supreme weapon of the infantryman is the bayonet.’ The regulations also struck a note of caution: ‘the infantry’, they warned, ‘must be employed with prudence’. Many French officers, however, overlooked such caveats. Shortage of both funds and big training grounds had limited pre-war opportunities for large-scale field exercises – to the evident frustration of General Lyautey, then French commander in Morocco. ‘There is little point in revising the regulations or advocating the offensive in all its forms,’ he complained, ‘unless and until we address our chronic lack of provision for field training.’ Training took place largely at regimental level, while the four-year round of manoeuvres for larger formations – brigade level in years one and two, army corps level in year three, and army level in year four – ensured that no conscript would ever serve through a complete cycle. Reservists were recalled for training twice a year, for...