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system of frontier fortification was undertaken. The north
and east frontiers were divided into five sections, three of
which were fortified and two left unfortified. On the
northern frontier the important fortresses of Lille and
Maubeuge were planned to meet a German invasion
through Belgium. Military students, not only French and
German, but also Belgian, have had this plan of campaign
constantly in mind. Along the coast the fortifications of
Dunkirk and Calais gave the necessary flank protection
and the defense of this section was made much easier by
the Sambre, Scheldt, and Scarpe rivers and the district which
could be inundated by them and the Lys. The Valley of the
Oise was closed by Fort Hirson, and that of the Meuse by
Fort Charlemont and the Fortress of Mezieres. The Chiers
Valley was guarded by Forts Montmedy and Longwy.

The northernmost sector of the eastern frontier, from
Mezieres to Verdun, about forty miles in a straight line,
was left unfortified.

Next to the south followed the defensiv^e sector of the
Middle Meuse, about forty miles long, guarded on the
flanks by the great fortresses of Verdun and Toul, which
were connected by a number of barrier forts.

The next sector to the south, from Toul to Epinal, was
left unfortified. In front of this sector, near Luneville,
stood Fort Manonviller protecting the Saarburg-Luneville-
Nancy railroad. Behind it were forts guarding the cross-
ings of the Meuse.

The last sector of the eastern frontier, the upper Moselle,
had on its flanks the fortresses Epinal and Belfort. Both



298 The Great War

are surrounded by double lines of forts and the two are
connected by a chain of barrier forts, an arrangement
similar to that of the Middle Meuse. This completes only
the first line of defense.

Behind the opening left between the fortified sectors of
the northern frontier and the Middle Meuse lies the forti-
fied region of La Fere-Laon-Rheims. Another fortified
region further south is formed by the fortresses of Langres,
Dijon, and Besancon.

In the third line Hes the central giant fortress of Paris.
Paris is surrounded by a double line of forts, and, even in
1870-1871, after the destruction of the French field armies,
held out until peace was declared.

On the Italian and the Spanish frontiers the Alps and the
Pyrenees were similarly organized for defense, though the
natural barriers made the defense much easier. Lyons, in
southern France, as a fortified city, bears the same relation
to the southern frontier fortifications that Paris does to the
northern and eastern defenses.

The fact that these defenses were practically completed
by 1885, at enormous cost, showed that France had awak-
ened to the dangers of unpreparedness and that the French
people were ready at last to assume the burdens necessary
to guarantee their national existence. The interests of the
individual were no longer to dominate the national life. It
was finally realized that Liberie, Egalite, Fratemite are only
possible in a state strong enough to protect the home from
foreign aggression. The great strength of the German
people, now united under the empire formed at Versailles,
forced plans for a defensive campaign in the next war, but
this great system of fortifications was designed to neutralize
the advantages of the aggressor.

A reduction of the great fortresses flanking the fortified
areas would require much time and give opportunities for




I'll lull tiiiik motor-trucks for carrying pure water




Frciu-li Army : [lontouus useil tor t'errviut; troi>]is across a riicr or tor
constructing a Hoatins^ bridge.



The French Army 299

a Frencli offensive. Whether»l;he German armies advanced
north or south of the fortified zone of the Middle Meuse,
the French armies could assemble behind the Verdun-Toul
line and from there fall on the invaders, or take a flank posi-
tion, facing north or south, and await attack. If the inva-
sion came from the north through Belgium, and the
northern defenses were reduced, the field armies would still
occupy a strong position facing north, with their flanks
resting on Paris and Verdun.

Fortifications are, however, like battleships in that they
have a limited useful age. The improvements in arms and
explosives made a complete rearrangement and reconstruc-
tion necessary. It was recognized, too, that such an exten-
sive system of defensive works would require more fortress
troops than France could afford to take from her field
armies in view of the rapidly increasing population of Ger-
many. The system here outlined was elaborated by many
smaller forts occupying salient points in advance of the
fortified regions and covering roads and railways which
crossed the frontier.

In order, then, to reduce the cost of reconstruction and
the garrisons necessary for the defensive works, it was
decided to abandon many of the smaller forts and to divide
the remaining fortifications into those considered indispen-
sable to the national defense, those which were of value
only under particular circumstances, and those which were
only important as centers of military activity. The first
class included the fortified sectors of the Middle Meuse
and the upper Moselle and were to be made impregnable
at all cost, provided with complete garrisons, and equipped
with all the auxiliaries of modern defense. The third class,
such as Lille, Rheims, Langres, and Dijon, were not to be
rebuilt, but maintained as they were. The second class,
lying between the first and third in importance, were to



300 The Great War

be equipped in a less expensive manner than the first class.
After the construction of the Belgian forts at Liege and
Namur the northern frontier was thought to be well pro-
tected, and the defensive sector Lille-Maubeuge lost some
of its importance. Such was the state of the fortifications
of France in 1914. If the annual allotments of funds were
honestly and intelligently applied, the fortifications left little
to be desired.

But fortifications alone were not sufficient to neutralize
the advantages of the growing population in Germany, who
maintained her military strength on a par with her increase
in population by enlarging her military establishment from
time to time so as to train and pass into the reserve her
constantly augmented annual contingent of recruits. Both
countries had reduced the color service to two years,
although Germany held to three years for the mounted
service. France was already utilizing the full annual con-
tingent of recruits furnished by her stationary population,
and, in order to meet the German increases, was compelled
to extend service with the colors to three years. This was
accomplished by the law of August, 1913, which created the
most drastic form of universal compulsory service known.

Three years in the active army, eleven years in the re-
serve, seven years in the territorial army, and seven in the
territorial reserve, made a total of twenty-eight years that
every Frenchman, save only the physically and mentally
unfit, was to belong to the armies of France. Men con-
victed of serious crimes could not belong to the national
army, but must serve in a Special Corps in Algiers. During
the three years' service with the colors the soldier was en-
titled to one hundred and twenty days' furlough, but the
absentees at any one time were in no case to exceed ten
per cent of the established strength of the unit to which
they belonged.




Frcncii int;iiii:\ in liuKI kit at army inaiunivers.




Tiircos : Freiicii Colonial forces ot the N; .;((i in Ariiiv Corps in Algeria.



The French Army 301

The male population was classified into those suitable to
bear arms, those who could be employed in the auxiliary
services, the temporarily unfit, and the wholly unfit. The
classifications were based on careful examinations at the age
of twenty. The temporarily and the wholly unfit had to
submit to further examinations at the ages of twenty-five,
twenty-nine, and thirty-five, and were subject to assign-
ment to any class of military service for which they were
found c]ualified. A temporary rejection did not alter the
obligation to serve three years with the active army; but
after the second rejection only two years, and after the
third rejection only one year with the colors were required.
Whoever after that was found fit for service entered the
proper class in the reserve. No shortening of the term of
service was permitted.

Families left in need received twenty-five cents per day
and ten cents for each child under sixteen. All men were
permitted to reenlist, non-commissioned officers vmtil they
had served fifteen years, others until they had served, in the
cavalry, ten years, and in the other arms, five years. The
number of reenlisted men was, however, not to exceed
74,000.

Volunteers were accepted from their eighteenth year if
they were provided with a certificate of aptitude from
the proper military commission for the arm which they
selected. Beginning with nineteen years, volunteers were
accepted without a certificate of aptitude, but without the
right to choose a particular arm of the service.

The service in Tunis was, for the colonists, two years.
Natives served four years. Natives of Tunis were per-
mitted to volunteer for service in the French national army
for from three to five years, after naturalization. France
was utilizing more and more the strength of her colonies to
make up the deficiency in men due to a declining birth rate



302 The Great War

at home. In the home corps of the Colonial army volunteers
were accepted for from three to five years and drafts were
made from the annual contingent to make up the deficiencies.

For the purposes of command, administration, and re-
cruiting, France was divided into twenty districts in each of
which there was garrisoned an army corps. One corps
stood in Algiers. Six corps districts, including the newly
created twenty-first, border on the northern and eastern
frontiers. In addition to the infantry regiments, each drawn
from its regimental sub-district, the corps districts furnished
the rifle battalions, corps cavalry, field artillery, garrison
artillery, and train. The cavalry divisions with their com-
plements of horse artillery, the line of communications
troops, and the Colonial army were drawn from the coun-
try at large. The Alpine riflemen were recruited in the
mountain regions of the Alps and the Pyrenees.

The remount service for supplying the necessary riding,
draft and pack animals was organized in the same careful
manner as the recruiting service, and the breeding, under
government supervision, was so successful that an ample
supply of animals of excellent quality was assured for
mobilization.

The oflicers of the active army were drawn, as to about
one-half, from the military school at Saint Cyr and the
Ecole Polytechnique of Paris; the other half came from
the ranks by promotion. The latter class seldom reached
a grade higher than that of major, beyond which promotion
was by selection. As seems to be inevitable in a republic,
promotion in the higher grades was not free from political
influences, and the outbreak of war was sure to result in a
weeding-out process that could not be accomplished in
time of peace.

Candidates for commissions as reserve officers were, after
six months' service with the colors, permitted to take the




r >■ i.i 4«c ^.'.ler ■5'ri



The French Army 303

examination for entrance to the regjimental schools of the
arms of the service to which they belonged. If successful
they served the second year at the regimental schools and
completed their service as second lieutenants of reserve.
Second lieutenants were (lualified for promotion to first
lievitenants after completing three periods of field training.
First lieutenants were promoted to captaincy after six
years in that grade, with the same requirements as to field
training.

In France, there were 185 infantry regiments, mostly of
3 battalions of 4 companies each (a few regiments had 4
battalions) and 31 rifle battalions of 6 companies each.
Each regiment and battalion had an extra complement of
officers for forming on mobilization an equal number of
reserve regiments and battalions.

In Africa, there were 4 Zouave regiments, 5 battalions
of light African infantry, and 12 regiments of Turcos; 3
Sahara companies of natives, mounted partly on horses
and partly on camels; 2 six-battalion regiments (Foreign
Legion); and 12 battalions of Senegal riflemen.

On mobilization the youngest reserves filled the ranks of
the active army to war strength and the remainder formed
regiments and battalions. The two together formed the
first litie in war. The youngest classes in the territorial
army formed about 180 territorial regiments (second line).
The older classes were to be used as railway guards, tele-
graph troops, and for general service behind the fight-
ing line.

All officers and certain non-commissioned officers were
armed with the saber and pistol. All other men carried the
Lebel repeating rifle, caliber .32 (nearly), models of 1889
and 1893. It had neither the initial velocity nor the corre-
sponding flat trajectory of the more modern high power
army rifles.



304 The Great War

The infantry regiment had normally 2 Puteaux machine-
guns, a single-barrel rifle of the same caliber as the Lebel,
capable of delivering 600 shots per minute. The regiments
belonging to the army corps stationed on the frontier had
each 3 machine-guns.

With all the improvements in arms and equipment no
army has been able to reduce the load carried by the
soldiers to less than about fifty pounds and the French
infantryman w^as no exception to the rule. With his rifle
and bayonet, belt cartridges, intrenching tool, rations, toilet
articles, change of underwear, individual messing and cook-
ing kit, canteen of w^ater, and a great coat, he carried about
fifty-eight pounds. These articles were the minimum re-
quired to meet his immediate daily needs when, under
campaign conditions, access to the train was not possible.
The regimental train carried an additional supply of rations,
forage, ammunition, medicines, a supply of tools for con-
structing defensive works, and included a kitchen on
wheels for each company.

For the care of the wounded each regiment had a sur-
geon attached to the regimental staff and one for each
battalion. Every surgeon had one or more assistants, and
every company had men trained to render first aid to the
injured and as wounded carriers, or litter bearers. The
surgeons and assistants carried the most essential remedies
and dressings and each officer and man carried a first-aid
dressing.

The organization of the infantry was almost identical
with that of the other European armies. The training in
garrison and in the field was not inferior to that of the
great armies. The French infantry has long enjoyed a
wide reputation for excellence, and careful observers found
this reputation well justified. But it was not a prepossessing
force in appearance; the individual was not well "set up";







hC*l:



Krtii. li iiMii'ii-ii "' k .anAiny gun crew and drawing heavy artillery and ammunition wagons.




Vri-mli 200 iinlliiiicti-r (8-incli) howit/.tr niountt-d on sin-cially constructed railway carnage.



The French Army 305

there was nothing "smart" about him. There was abun-
dant evidence that he took his training seriously, as a
national duty to be performed earnestly and conscien-
tiously, but he displayed no pride in being a soldier. His
service was not made attractive, and in spite of the most thor-
ough preparation for national defense, the individual soldier
had the appearance of being and of feeling neglected. His
uniform was substantially that adopted early in the last
century. Recent wars have pointed out clearly the neces-
sity of clothing an army in neutral colors, and endurance
in the field requires that the soldier be clothed in comfort.
Still the French trousers were of a most conspicuous red
and the great coat of blue, with skirts falling well below
the knees, was worn in midsummer as well as in winter.
It was only a few weeks before the beginning of hostilities
that a suitable field uniform was adopted, the change to
which it was estimated would require some ten years.
Notwithstanding the handicap of a long overcoat in a
temperature which made the civilian population resort to
light flannels and linens, foreign military observers have
testified to the excellent marching qualities of the French
infantry.

Of the 81 cavalry regiments in France 60 were organized
into cavalry divisions, and the others were assigned to the
army corps. The regiment consisted of 5 squadrons of
150 sabers each, but the fifth squadron was composed
largely of inferior horses and men assigned to special
duties, and did no. mobilize with the regiment. There
were 12 regiments of cuirassiers, 32 of dragoons, 23 of
chasseurs, arid 14 of hussars. The cuirassiers are heavy
cavalry and still wore the cuirass. The dragoons are
medium, and the chasseurs and hussars light cavalry.
There were in Africa, 4 regiments of chasseurs d'Afrique,
and 6 regiments of spahis, making a total of 91 cavalry



306 The Great War

regiments. Each regiment had 2 machine-guns mounted
on two-wheeled carts, and drawn by four horses. They
could be fired from the carriage or dismounted.

The cavalry officer was armed with a saber and a pistol and
the trooper with a saber and a light, short carbine (weight, six
and a half pounds), carried on the back. It took the same
ammunition as the infantry rifle, but was an inferior weapon
of old model. A part of the cavalry had been armed with
the lance shortly before the outbreak of the war. The
regiment had four telegraphers with telegraph and tele-
phone equipment, and a light bridge train. The bridge
pontoons could be used as row boats, carrying about a dozen
men. Two pontoons lashed together would carry a field
gun. The cavalryman carried three days' rations and one-
half forage ration for his mount.

The regimental train consisted of forage wagons, supply
wagons, medicine carts, and bridge wagons. The cavalry
division had a light wagon for carrier pigeons, a unique
equipment.

The French cavalry officer is the type that should inspire
his men to great efforts; his ideals are high. His pride in
his profession is no longer based on tradition alone; his own
best efforts have created a body of troopers in whom he
has confidence, and he leads them with pride. As horse-
men they are unsurpassed, and all are trained in the School
of Equitation at Saumur, where the art of military riding
has been developed to great perfection. Through the
courtesy of the French government most of the nations of
Europe send cavalry officers there to be trained. North
and South America and Asia are well represented in the
classes of this institution, whose influence extends around
the world. It is the French theory that the horse is the
principal weapon of the cavalry in attack, and based on this
theory they have made their cavalry officers masters of the



The French Army 307

art of horsemansliip. Careful breeding has produced a
type of horse well suited to the recjuirements of war. Of
great mobility, capable of long-sustained effort, and guided
by a master hand, the French cavalry officer believed that
his horse had the heart to respond at the moment of deliv-
ering the charge with a dash that was irresistible. Only war
can show whether his faith was well founded; but in mar-
tial spirit, confidence, courage, and devotion to duty the
French cavalry officer had no superior.

To one who knew the skill of the officer, the riding of
the man in ranks and the training of his horse were disap-
pointing. This condition was recognized by the officers.
They found that one year was not sufficient to develop
riders capable of training remounts. With only two years'
service neither men nor horses could be properly trained.
The law of 1913 corrected this defect.

In the development of modern armies the artillery has,
in the last few years, by reason of improvement in guns
and in the powers of explosives, assumed a role of increas-
ing importance. Inventions and improvements in aiming
devices have made it possible to place the guns in secure
positions, concealed from view of the enemy, and to con-
trol and direct their fire from central observation stations.
The observer from a clock tower, tree, or other position
affording good observation may, by telephone, direct the
fire of groups of guns placed in quarries, or behind hills or
hedges, so as to destroy forces of the enemy who have
never been seen by the officers and men who serve the
guns. The non-recoil inventions have made it possible to
fire repeatedly without the necessity of correcting the aim,
so little time is lost in aiming and the field gun has become
a true quick-firer.

While the infantry rifle and the cavalry carbine of the
French were not of the latest types, the French field gun



308 The Great War

was considered second to none. It is a 3-inch gun capable
of delivering 12 to 16 shots per minute. France took the
lead in reducing the number of guns in a battery from 6 to 4;
this was a natural result of the increase in rapidity of fire;
the extra pieces were replaced by ammunition wagons.
The battery carried for each gun 312 rounds of ammuni-
tion. The 6-inch howitzer delivered 6 shots per minute.
The mountain gun was of 2.6-inch caliber. The horse bat-
teries to accompany cavalry divisions were equipped with
the same gun as the field batteries, except that, in order to
save weight, they were built without shields for protection
of the gunners.

France had at home 618 field batteries, 20 horse batteries,
21 howitzer batteries, 15 mountain batteries, and colonial
regiments of 15 batteries; and in the colonies there were
about 50 batteries. To be effective, an army must be well-
balanced, that is, it must be composed of the three great
fighting arms in proper proportions. Of these the infantry
forms the greater part. Cavalry and artillery are indispens-
able supplementary arms, but battles are won and wars are
decided by the infantry.

The fighting arms are themselves trained to do a large
proportion of technical work. The cavalry regiment is
supplied with Hght telephone equipment; the cavalry divi-
sion carries a field telegraph, both wire and wireless, with
trained operators ; the infantry regiment is prepared to con-
nect its battalions with the commander of the regiment by
telephone. The brigade connects the regiments with bri-
gade headquarters and the brigades must remain at all times
in wire or wireless communication with the division. The
artillery connects its observing stations with the guns of the
battery by wire, and the battalion and higher commanders
coordinate the fire of their tactical units by the same means.
Roads must be opened or obstructed and bridges repaired or




Range finding with the telemeter as UicJ m lUc 1- 1




I'lcitl icuj^rajili as iisixl In' tin- t'niuh aiinv.



The French Army 309

destroyed; defensive works must be promptly designed and
hastily executed; temporary shelter nuist be provided for
the fighting man and his horse whenever time permits, so
as to conserve their strength. Improvised field kitchens and
bakeries supply the needs of the troops when the travelling
kitchens and division bakeries are not available; pure water
is furnished by hastily constructed filters and condensers,
or bad water is boiled when sterilizers are not to be had;
ammunition must be constantly forwarded to the firing line
and the wounded carried to the rear. All these and many
other such services fall necessarily on the fighting units.
Peace training makes them independent of all auxiliary
services on the battle front.

Behind the battle line, however, technical troops, whose
primary duty is not fighting, maintain the lines of commu-
nication, construct, repair, and operate railroads, canals, and
telegraph lines, construct and equip permanent or semi-
permanent defensive works, and purchase and deliver at
the front every class of supplies that an army requires.
These duties are performed by the engineer troops and
the train. There were 8 engineer regiments, 1 of which
was a railroad regiment of 12 companies, and 1 a telegraph
regiment of 8 companies, — 7 wire and 1 wireless. Of the bat-
talions of engineers pertaining to the peace establishment,
1 was assigned to each army corps. Bicycle sections com-
posed of 2 officers and 30 enlisted men were to accompany



Online LibraryGeorge Henry AllenThe Great war .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 25 of 40)