French Military, 1919-1940

Jeffery A. Gunsburg

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
French Military, 1919-1940

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The subject of this bibliography is the development of the French army (and its subsidiary air forces, which eventually became the French air force) from 1919 to 1940, not to include the French navy; information on the relations between the French army and the French state appear as background to this subject. The French army found itself after 1871 facing the threat of the newly unified German state, more populous and more heavily industrialized than France. In response, the French army adopted the concept of the “nation in arms”: the conscription of all qualified young men into military service followed by their release into civilian life and then mobilization of these “citizen-soldiers” when war came. In addition, France raised native soldiers from its great overseas colonial empire; from early in World War I throughout the period of this article they played an important role in counterbalancing German numerical superiority. In compensation, the French army had to invest in overseas colonial operations of “pacification” at the expense of its principal focus on Germany. A second major element in the response of the French army to the German challenge was the development of military technology: modern machine weapons; electrical/electronic means of communication; and the internal combustion engine, which ultimately greatly increased mobility on the battlefield with the use of tracked, armored fighting vehicles and made possible the extension of armed conflict to the third dimension—the air. By the end of World War I modern warfare had become dependent on heavy machine weapons with their massive requirements for munitions and on air forces to fight for and exploit command of the air both to assist their comrades on the ground and to threaten the enemy’s military and industrial bases. The French army played a leading part in the invention and application of these implements of industrial total war from 1914 to 1918; during that war, the French “nation in arms” suffered the highest losses of all the Great Powers in proportion to its population. From 1919 the French army demobilized, but as the German threat reappeared the French army invested in fortifications (the Maginot Line) and from the early 1930s developed substantial motorized and mechanized forces to spearhead the mobilized “nation in arms” while splitting off its air forces to form an independent air force more oriented toward strategic air war in 1933. The French “nation in arms” mobilized against Nazi Germany in September 1939 but, supported only by a partially prepared and improvised coalition, was catastrophically defeated in May–June 1940.

Article.  11446 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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