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The French Army, officially known as the Land Army (French: Armée de Terre, lit. 'Army of Land'), is the principal land warfare force of France, and the largest component of the French Armed Forces; it is responsible to the Government of France, alongside the French Navy, French Air and Space Force, and the National Gendarmerie. The Army is commanded by the Chief of Staff of the French Army (CEMAT), who is subordinate of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CEMA), who commands active service Army units and in turn is responsible to the President of France. CEMAT is also directly responsible to the Ministry of the Armed Forces for administration, preparation, and equipment.
The French Army, following the French Revolution, has generally been composed of a mixed force of conscripts and professional volunteers. It is now considered a professional force, since the French Parliament suspended the conscription of soldiers.
According to British historian Niall Ferguson, out of all recorded conflicts which occurred since the year 387 BC, France has fought in 168 of them, won 109, lost 49 and drawn 10; this makes France the most successful military power in European history in terms of number of fought and won.[anachronism]
The first permanent army of France, which was paid with regular wages instead of being supplied by feudal levies, was established in the early 15th century under Charles VII. It was formed due to the need for reliable troops during the Hundred Years' War, though the Army was not disbanded because it saw continued use by the Kings of France following the conflict. Upon the outbreak of a conflict, an ordonnance would be issued to govern the length of service, composition and payment of units.
The Compagnies d'ordonnance formed the core of the Gendarme well into the 16th century, and were stationed throughout France and summoned into larger armies as needed. There was also provisions made for francs-archers, which was a militia of bowmen and foot soldiers raised from the non-noble classes, but the units were disbanded once war ended.
Meanwhile, the bulk of infantry was still provided by urban or provincial militias, which were raised from an area or city to fight locally and that were named for their recruiting grounds. Gradually, the units became more permanent, and in the late 15th century, Swiss instructors were recruited, and some of the 'Bandes' (Militia) were combined to form temporary 'Legions' of up to 9000 men. The men would be paid, contracted to fight and receive military training.
Henry II further regularised the French Army by forming standing infantry regiments to replace the Militia structure. The first of them (Régiments de Picardie, Piémont, Navarre and Champagne) were called Les Vieux Corps (The Old Corps). It was normal policy to disband regiments after a war was over as a cost-saving measure with the Vieux Corps and the French Royal Guard being the only survivors.
Regiments could be raised directly by the King and so be called after the region in which they were raised or by the nobility and so called after the noble or his appointed colonel. When Louis XIII came to the throne, he disbanded most of the regiments in existence, leaving only the Vieux and a handful of others, which became known as the Petite Vieux and also gained the privilege of not being disbanded after a war.
In 1684, there was a major reorganisation of the French infantry and another in 1701 to fit in with Louis XIV's plans and the War of the Spanish Succession. The reshuffle created many of the modern regiments of the French Army and standardised their equipment and tactics. The army of the Sun King tended to wear grey-white coats with coloured linings. There were exceptions and the foreign troops, recruited from outside France, wore red (Swiss, Irish etc.) or blue (Germans, Scots etc.) while the French Guards wore blue. In addition to the regiments of the line the Maison du Roi provided several elite units, the Swiss Guards, French Guards and the Regiments of Musketeers being the most famous. The white/grey coated French Infantry of the line Les Blancs with their Charleville muskets were a feared foe on the battlefields of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, fighting in the Nine Years' War, the Wars of Spanish and Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution.
Wars of the Coalition
The French Revolution caused the Army to lose losing most of its officers to aristocratic flight or the guillotine, and thus it became demoralised and ineffective. The revolutionary militias of Sans-culottes, and the bourgeoise National Guard formed the nucleus of the French Revolutionary Army alongside the remnants of the dissolved Royal French Army; it was created following the storming of the Tuileries palace, where the French National Guard joined the revolt, the loyal Swiss Guards were massacred and the King was deposed.
From 1792, the Revolutionary Army fought against a combination of European powers in the French Revolutionary Wars, with the state directing most of its industry and population to war efforts, marking the start of modern conscription in the world, it also allowed more flexible military strategies, setting way for napoleonic warfare. Moreover, many noble officers were retired, decreasing stratification and increasing military specialism. These, and the extreme investments into war efforts allowed France to begin a steady advance into Europe.
Under Napoleon I, the French Imperial Army conquered most of Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. Professionalising again from the Revolutionary forces and using columns of attack with heavy artillery support and swarms of pursuit cavalry the French army under Napoleon and his marshals was able to outmanoeuvre and destroy the allied armies repeatedly until 1812. Napoleon introduced the concept of all arms Corps, each one a traditional army 'in miniature', permitting the field force to be split across several lines of march and rejoin or to operate independently. The Grande Armée operated by seeking a decisive battle with each enemy army and then destroying them in detail before rapidly occupying territory and forcing a peace.
In 1812, Napoleon invaded the Russian Empire with a new Grande Armee, seeking to remove their influence from eastern Europe and secure the frontiers of his empire and client states. The campaign initially went well, but the vast distances of the Russian Steppe and its cold winter forced his army into a shambling retreat preyed on by Russian raids and pursuit. This force could not be replaced and with the "ulcer" of the ongoing war in the Spanish peninsular against Britain and Portugal, the French Army was badly short of trained troops and French manpower was almost exhausted.
After Napoleon's abdication and return, halted by an Anglo-Dutch and Prussian alliance at Waterloo, the French army was placed back under the restored Bourbon Monarchy. The structure remained largely unchanged and many officers of the Empire retained their positions.
The 19th century
The Bourbon restoration was a time of political instability with the country constantly on the verge of political violence. The army was committed to the restoration of Spanish monarchial absolutism in 1824. It achieved its aims in six months, but did not fully withdraw until 1828. By comparison with the earlier Napoleonic invasion, this expedition was rapid and successful.
Taking advantage of the weakness of the local bey, the French invasion of Algiers in 1830 again rapidly overcame initial resistance. The French government formally annexed Algeria but it took nearly 45 years to fully pacify the country. This period of French history saw the creation of the Armée d’Afrique, which included the Légion étrangère. The Army was now uniformed in dark blue coats and red trousers, which it would retain until the First World War.
The news of the fall of Algiers had barely reached Paris in 1830 when the Bourbon Monarchy was overthrown and replaced by the constitutional Orleans Monarchy. During the July 1830 revolution, the Paris mobs proved too much for the troops of the Maison du Roi and the main body of the French Army, sympathetic to the crowds, did not become heavily involved.
In 1848 a wave of revolutions swept Europe and brought an end to the French monarchy. The army was largely uninvolved in the street fighting in Paris which overthrew the King but later in the year troops were used in the suppression of the more radical elements of the new Republic which led to the election of Napoleon's nephew as president.
The Pope had been forced out of Rome as part of the Revolutions of 1848, and Louis Napoleon sent a 14,000 man expeditionary force of troops to the Papal State under General Nicolas Charles Victor Oudinot to restore him. In late April 1849, it was defeated and pushed back from Rome by Giuseppi Garibaldi's volunteer corps, but then recovered and recaptured Rome.
The French army was among the first in the world to be issued with Minié rifles, just in time for the Crimean War against Russia, allied with Britain. This invention gave line infantry a weapon with a much longer range and greater accuracy and would lead to new flexible tactics. The French army was more experienced at mass manoeuvre and war fighting than the British and the reputation of the French army was greatly enhanced.
A series of colonial expeditions followed and in 1856 France joined the Second Opium War on the British side against China; obtaining concessions. French troops were deployed into Italy against the Austrians, the first use of railways for mass movement.
The French army was now considered to be an example to others and military missions to Japan and the emulation of French Zouaves in other militaries added to this prestige. However, an expedition to Mexico failed to create a stable puppet régime.
France was humiliated following its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and while the Army had far superior infantry weapons in the form of the Chassepot and Mitrailleuse, its tactics and artillery were inferior, and by allowing the Prussian Army to take the initiative, the French Army was rapidly bottled up into its fortress towns and defeated. The loss of prestige within the army lead to a great emphasis on aggression and close quarter tactics.
The World Wars
In August 1914, following the outbreak of the Great War, the French Armed Forces numbered some 1,300,000 soldiers, and in total the French Army would call up 8,817,000 men, including 900,000 colonial troops, by the end of the war; this resulted in around 1,397,000 French soldiers killed in action, mostly on the Western Front. French soldiers, at the beginning of the war, still wore the colourful uniforms of the Franco-Prussian War, with this conspicuous dress proving unsuited to the trenches and, accordingly, by 1915 the mostly blue and red peacetime uniforms had been replaced by bleu-horizon (light blue-grey), with the Adrian helmet in place of the kepi. The traditional capote of the French infantry continued to be worn in the trenches but in bleu-horizon. Colonial and North African soldiers adopted khaki uniforms.
At the beginning of the Battle of France the French Army deployed 2,240,000 combatants grouped into 94 divisions (of which 20 were active and 74 were reservists) from the Swiss border to the North Sea. These numbers did not include the Army of the Alps facing Italy and 600,000 men dispersed through the French colonial empire are not included in this figure. After defeat in 1940, the Vichy French regime was allowed to retain 100–120,000 Armistice Army personnel in unoccupied France, and larger forces in the French Empire: more than 220,000 in Africa (including 140,000 in French North Africa), and forces in Mandate Syria and French Indochina. Free French Forces, under the command of Charles de Gaulle, continued the fight with the Allies until the final defeat of the Axis in 1945.
The Cold War
After 1945, despite enormous efforts in the First Indochina War of 1945–54 and the Algerian War of 1954–62, both lands eventually left French control. French units stayed in Germany after 1945, forming the French Forces in Germany. 5th Armored Division stayed on in Germany after 1945, while 1st and 3rd Armoured Divisions were established in Germany in 1951. However NATO-assigned formations were withdrawn to fight in Algeria; 5th Armoured Division arrived in Algeria in April 1956. From 1948 to 1966, many French Army units fell under the integrated NATO Military Command Structure. Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Central Europe was a French Army officer, and many key NATO staff positions were filled by Frenchmen. While an upper limit of 14 French divisions committed to NATO had been set by the Treaty of Paris, the total did not exceed six divisions during the Indochina War, and during the Algerian War the total fell as low as two divisions.
The Army created two parachute divisions in 1956, the 10th Parachute Division under the command of General Jacques Massu and the 25th Parachute Division under the command of General Sauvagnac. After the Algiers putsch, the two divisions, with the 11th Infantry Division, were merged into a new light intervention division, the 11th Light Intervention Division, on 1 May 1961.
During the Cold War, the French Army, though leaving the NATO Military Command Structure in 1966, planned for the defence of Western Europe. In 1977 the French Army switched from multi-brigade divisions to smaller divisions of about four to five battalions/regiments each. From the early 1970s, 2nd Army Corps was stationed in South Germany, and effectively formed a reserve for NATO's Central Army Group. In the 1980s, 3rd Army Corps headquarters was moved to Lille and planning started for its use in support of NATO's Northern Army Group. The Rapid Action Force of five light divisions, including the new 4th Airmobile and 6th Light Armoured Divisions, was also intended as a NATO reinforcement force. In addition, the 152nd Infantry Division was maintained to guard the S3 intercontinental ballistic missile base on the Plateau d'Albion.
In the 1970s–1980s, two light armoured divisions were planned to be formed from school staffs (the 12th and 14th). The 12th Light Armoured Division (12 DLB) was to have its headquarters to be formed on the basis of the staff of the Armoured and Cavalry Branch Training School at Saumur.
In the late 1970s an attempt was made to form 14 reserve light infantry divisions, but this plan, which included the recreation of the 109th Infantry Division [fr], was too ambitious. The planned divisions included the 102nd, 104e, 107e, 108e, 109e, 110e, 111e, 112e, 114e, 115th, and 127th Infantry Divisions. From June 1984, the French Army reserve consisted of 22 military divisions, administering all reserve units in a certain area, seven brigades de zone de defence, 22 regiments interarmees divisionnaires, and the 152nd Infantry Division, defending the ICBM launch sites. The plan was put into action from 1985, and brigades de zone, such as the 107th Brigade de Zone, were created. But with the putting-in-place of the "Réserves 2000" plan, the brigades de zone were finally disbanded by mid-1993.[a] 1st Army Corps was disbanded on 1 July 1990; 2nd Army Corps in August 1993.
At the end of the Second World War, France was immediately confronted with the beginnings of the decolonisation movement. The French army, which had employed indigenous North African spahis and tirailleurs in almost all of its campaigns since 1830, was the leading force in opposition to decolonization, which was perceived as a humiliation. In Algeria the Army repressed an extensive rising in and around Sétif in May 1945 with heavy fire: figures for Algerian deaths vary between 45,000 as claimed by Radio Cairo at the time and the official French figure of 1,020.
The Army saw maintaining control of Algeria as a high priority. By this time, one million French settlers had established themselves, alongside an indigenous population of nine million. When it decided that politicians were about to sell them out and give independence to Algeria, the Army engineered a military coup that toppled the civilian government and put General de Gaulle back in power in the May 1958 crisis. De Gaulle, however, recognized that Algeria was a dead weight and had to be cut free. Four retired generals then launched the Algiers putsch of 1961 against de Gaulle himself, but it failed. After 400,000 deaths, Algeria finally became independent. Hundreds of thousands of Harkis, Moslems loyal to Paris, went into exile in France, where they and their children and grandchildren remain in poorly assimilated "banlieue" suburbs.
Recent history (1996–present)
In February 1996, President Jacques Chirac began the transition of the Army to a professional force, and as part of the resulting changes, ten regiments were dissolved in 1997. On 1 July 1997, the specialized support brigades were transferred to various communes; Lunéville for signals, Haguenau for artillery and Strasbourg for engineers. On 1 September 1997, the 2nd Armoured Division left Versailles and was installed at Châlons-en-Champagne in place of the disbanded 10th Armoured Division. On 5 March 1998, in view of the ongoing structural adoptions of the French Army, the Minister of Defence decided to disband III Corps, and the dissolution became effective 1 July 1998. The headquarters transitioned to become Headquarters Commandement de la force d'action terrestre (CFAT) (the Land Forces Action Command).
During the late 1990s, during the professionalisation process, numbers dropped from the 236,000 (132,000 conscripts) in 1996 to around 140,000. By June 1999, the Army's strength had dropped to 186,000, including around 70,000 conscripts. 38 of 129 regiments were planned to be stood down from 1997 to 1999. The previous structure's nine 'small' divisions and sundry separate combat and combat support brigades were replaced by nine combat and four combat support brigades. The Rapid Action Force, a corps of five small rapid-intervention divisions formed in 1983, was also disbanded, though several of its divisions were re-subordinated.
Opération Sentinelle is a French military operation with 10,000 soldiers and 4,700 police and gendarmes deployed since the aftermath of the January 2015 Île-de-France attacks, with the objective of protecting sensitive "points" of the territory from terrorism. It was reinforced during the November 2015 Paris attacks, and was part of a state of emergency in France due to continued terror threats and attacks.
|Chief of Army Staff|
|Military history of France|
The organisation of the army is fixed by Chapter 2 of Title II of Book II of the Third Part of the Code of Defense, notably resulting in the codification of Decree 2000-559 of 21 June 2000.
In terms of Article R.3222-3 of the Code of Defence, the Army comprises:
- The Army Chief of Staff (Chef d'état-major de l'armée de Terre (CEMAT)).
- The army staff (l'état-major de l'armée de Terre or EMAT), which gives general direction and management of all the components;
- The Army Inspectorate (l'inspection de l'armée de Terre);
- The Army Human Resources Directorate (la direction des ressources humaines de l'armée de Terre or DRHAT);
- The forces;
- A territorial organisation (seven regions, see below)
- The services;
- The personnel training and military higher training organisms.
The French Army was reorganized in 2016. The new organisation consists of two combined divisions (carrying the heritage of 1st Armored and 3rd Armored divisions) and given three combat brigades to supervise each. There is also the Franco-German Brigade. The 4th Airmobile Brigade was reformed to direct the three combat helicopter regiments. There are also several division-level (niveau divisionnaire) specialized commands including Intelligence, Information and communication systems, Maintenance, Logistics, Special Forces, Army Light Aviation, Foreign Legion, National Territory, Training.
Arms and Formations
- Special Forces
- Airborne Units
- Infantry (Infanterie)
- Armoured Cavalry (Arme blindée cavalerie)
- Artillery (Artillerie)
- Foreign Legion (Légion étrangère)
- Troupes de Marine
- French Army Light Aviation (Aviation légére de l'armée de terre, ALAT)
- Engineers (Génie)
- Paris Fire Brigade (brigade des sapeurs-pompiers de Paris)
- Signal Corps (Transmissions)
- Transport and logistics (Train)
- Matériel (Supply)
- Intelligence (Renseignement)
On the administrative side, there are now no more than one Direction and two services.
The Army Human Resources Directorate (DRHAT) manages human resources (military and civilian) of the Army and training.
The two Services are the service of ground equipment, and the integrated structure of operational maintenance of terrestrial materials (SIMMT, former DCMAT). This joint oriented service is responsible for project management support for all land equipment of the French army. The holding-operational equipment the Army is headed by the Service de maintenance industrielle terrestre (SMITer).
Historically there were other services of the Army who were all grouped together with their counterparts in other components to form joint agencies serving the entire French Armed Forces.
- In 2005, the Army historical service (SHAT) became the "Land" department of the Defence Historical Service (Service historique de la défense);
- In September 2005, the Central Engineering Directorate (Direction centrale du génie, DCG) was merged with its counterparts in the air force and the navy to form the Central Directorate of Defense Infrastructure (Direction centrale du service d'infrastructure de la défense);
- On 1 January 2006, the Central Directorate of Telecommunications and Informatics (DCTEI) was incorporated into the Central Directorate of the Joint Directorate of Infrastructure Networks and Information Systems (DIRISI);
The Army Commissariat was dissolved on 31 December 2009 and intégrated into the joint-service Service du commissariat des armées.
On 24 July 1873, the French Parliament passed a law which created 18 military regions in metropolitan France. A 19th Army Corps was created in Algeria in September 1873 (see Région militaire [fr]). In 1905, the strength of the Troupes coloniales stationed in the 19 military districts of metropolitan France was reported at 2,123 officers and 26,581 other ranks. In 1946, following the Second World War ten military regions were created or recreated, in accordance with a decree of 18 February 1946. They included the 1st (Paris); 2e (Lille); 3e (Rennes); 4e (Bordeaux); 5e (Toulouse); 6e (Metz); 7e (Dijon); 8th (Lyon); the 9th (Marseille), and the 10th in Algeria. The 10th Military Region (France) supervised French Algeria during the Algerian War.
The Défense opérationnelle du territoire supervised reserve and home defence activities from 1959 to the 1970s. However, by the 1980s the number had been reduced to six: the 1st Military Region (France) with its headquarters in Paris, the 2nd Military Region (France) at Lille, the 3rd Military Region (France) at Rennes, the 4th Military Region (France) at Bordeaux, the 5th at Lyons and 6th at Metz. Each supervised up to five division militaire territoriale – military administrative sub-divisions, in 1984 sometimes supervising up to three reserve regiments each. Today, under the latest thorough reform of the French security and defence sector, there are seven Zone de défense et de sécurité [fr] each with a territorial ground army region: Paris (or Île-de-France, HQ in Paris), Nord (HQ in Lille), Ouest (HQ in Rennes), Sud-Ouest (HQ in Bordeaux), Sud (HQ in Marseille), Sud-Est (HQ in Lyon), Est (HQ in Strasbourg).
|Personnel strength of the French Army 2022|
As of 2020[update], the French Army employed 118,600 personnel; this includes the French Foreign Legion and Paris Fire Brigade. In addition, the reserves of the French Army consist of 22,750 personnel.
Enlistment contracts for French army soldiers can range from a one to a five year contract, which are all renewable. Meanwhile, Non-commissioned officers serve on permanent contracts, or exceptionally on renewable five years-contracts. Though NCO candidates are required to have a high school diploma that grants them access to university. École Nationale des Sous-Officiers d’Active (ENSOA), Basic NCO school of 8 months, followed by combat school of 4 to 36 weeks depending on occupational specialty. A small number of NCO candidates are trained at the Ecole Militaire de Haute Montagne (EMHM) (High Mountain Military School). NCOs with the Advanced Army Technician Certificate (BSTAT) can serve as platoon leaders.
All Career officers serve on permanent contracts, with direct entry cadets with two years of Classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles or a bachelor's degree spend three years at École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr (ESM), and graduate as First Lieutenants. Direct entry cadets with a master's degree spend one year at ESM, and graduate as First Lieutenants. Non-commissioned officers with three years in the army, spend two years at École militaire interarmes, and graduate as First Lieutenants. 50% of the commissioned officers in the French Army are former NCOs.
Contract officers serve on renewable contracts for a maximum of 20 years service. A bachelor's degree is required. There are two different programs, combat officers and specialist officers. Officers in both programs graduate as Second Lieutenants and may reach Lieutenant Colonels rank. Combat officers spend eight months at ESM, followed by one year at a combat school. Specialist officers spend three months at ESM, followed by a year of on the job-training within an area of specialization determined by the type of degree held.
Civilian women were hired by the French army in the First World War, thereby opening new opportunities for them, forcing a redefinition of military identity, and revealing the strength of anti-Republicanism within the Army. Officers by the 1920s accepted women as part of their institution.
In 1999, the Army issued the Code of the French Soldier, which includes the injunctions:
Mastering his own strength, he respects his opponent and is careful to spare civilians. He obeys orders while respecting laws, customs of war and international conventions. (...) He is aware of global societies and respects their differences.[b]
In the 1970s, France adopted a light beige dress uniform which is worn with coloured kepis, sashes, fringed epaulettes, fourragères and other traditional items on appropriate occasions. The most commonly worn parade dress, however, consists of camouflage uniforms worn with the dress items noted above. The camouflage pattern, officially called Camouflage Centre Europe (CE), draws heavily on the colouration incorporated into the US M81 woodland pattern, but with a thicker and heavier striping. A desert version called the Camouflage Daguet has been worn since the Gulf War which consists of large irregular areas of chestnut brown and light grey on a sand khaki base.
The legionnaires of the Foreign Legion wear white kepis, blue sashes, and green and red epaulettes as dress uniform, while the Troupes de marine wear blue and red kepis and yellow epaulettes. The pioneers of the Foreign Legion wear the basic legionnaire uniform but with leather aprons and gloves. The Chasseurs Alpins wear a large beret, known as the "tarte" (the pie) with dark blue or white mountain outfits. The Spahis retain the long white cloak or "burnous" of the regiment's origin as North African cavalry.
The military cadets of Saint-Cyr and the École Polytechnique retain their late 19th century dress uniforms. A dark blue/black evening dress is authorized for officers and individual branches or regiments may parade bands or "fanfares" in historic dress dating as far back as the Napoleonic period.
Ceremonial parade for the commemoration of 8 May 1945
Members of 21e RIMA in parade formation
Officers during military parade on the Champs-Élysées, Paris
- Grand Quartier Général
- National Office for Veterans and Victims of War
- List of military weapons of France
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- Pengelley, Rupert. "French Army transforms to meet challenges of multirole future", Jane's International Defence Review, June 2006, 44–53
- Pichichero, Christy. The Military Enlightenment: War and Culture in the French Empire from Louis XIV to Napoleon (2018) online review
- Porch, Douglas. The March to the Marne: The French Army 1871–1914 (2003)
- Vernet, Jacques. Le réarmement et la réorganisation de l'armée de Terre française, 1943–1946 (Service historique de l'armée de Terre, 1980).
- (In French) Official website
- French Military Reform: Lessons for America's Army?, George A. Bloch (includes explanations of the structure of command)
- The French Army: Royal, Revolutionary and Imperial