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  •  French Built the World's Greatest Forts (14+ / 0-)

    Too few Americans appreciate the high art French miitary planners have always taken fortress design to.  One has only to think of the lines of forts which defended the French northeastern frontier as far back as the Thirty Years War during the times of the musketeers to Vauban under Louis XIV to the Rivieres Line of which the Verdun fortress was one site to the Maginot Line.  They expend money for blood and buy time in war.  Worse investments have been made.

    "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

    by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:58:52 AM PST

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    •  Don't forget Carillon. (8+ / 0-)

      although you may know it better as Ticonderoga.


      •  World's Most Heavily Fortified Region (8+ / 0-)

        Ask anyone what the world's most heavily fortified region (or at least the most expensively fortified) was - in the mid-18th century.  I suspect almost no one would say the borders between New France and the British colonies on the eastern American seaboard, but it was.  Carillon was merely one of the more notable examples.  Of course, the world's first real world war (known in the US as the French & Indian War and elsewhere as the Seven Year's War) started because George Washington blundered into the French and opened fire, acting as the spark to light the powder keg of long simmering disputes between the British and the French to turn into a globe-spanning conflagration.  

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 02:30:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  The whole "French are lousy fighters" ignores (8+ / 0-)

      the amazing military establishment the French had in the 17th and 18th centuries. French military engineers basically invented modern siege warfare.

      Every 17th century to early 19th century fort you see crumbling on the shores of the U.S. or some Caribbean island, from Jamestown to Jamaica,  was based on French designs.

    •  Maginot line is routinely derided now, but... (5+ / 0-)

      the French really had little choice. WWI inflicted horrific casualties, which greatly depressed France's birth rate in the following decades. Add Germany's much larger population, and the French were looking at a severe manpower disadvantage. The apparent lesson of WWI was that attrition and weight of numbers tell in the end. It's easy to criticize the Maginot defense line in hindsight, asserting that the French should have spent the money on more tanks, but the same imbalance in troop strength would still apply.

      The French regarded the Maginot fortifications as a way to limit their casualties, with French troops protected under meters of concrete while German forces broke their strength against the line, redressing the imbalance in numbers. The failure of the French in 1940 resulted from a rashly conceived defensive plan that pushed their best mobile units far into Belgium, incompetence on the part of several divisional commanders in the Ardennes region, and some very bad luck, more than failure of the Maginot defenses per se. A more dynamic commander than the lethargic Gamelin would also have helped a lot.

      •  The Hollow Years (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Massconfusion, Jay C, devtob

        Indeed the depleted classes of men available to the French in the period just before the start of WW2 always lay heavy on French planners.  One does need to recognize that they realized in the mid-1920s that they would face that challenge and begin the process 15 years before the crisis period to try to solve it successfully.  Except for command mistakes, they actually achieved those aims.

        One could argue that, rather than a more dynamic commander than Gamelin, the French would have benefited from a less dynamic commander.  Gamelin bet France's future on that very risky rush into Belgium, mostly be choosing to use the one reserve army available to form part of the active defensive line.  That left the French with no strategic reserve in case the German offensive plan for the campaign differed from what the French though they were facing.  That is precisely what happened when the Germans came through the Ardennes and surprised the French totally.

        Corap did not lead the 9th Army very well, and Huntzinger, despite his reputed brilliance, did not do a very good job with the 2nd Army either.  The Germans hitting the seam between those two French armies at Sedan was good luck, as was the fact that the absolute best German units (1st and 2nd Panzer) struck some of the worst French Class B divisions made up of out-of-shape reservists armed with obsolescent weapons (lighter artillery than current) or lacking anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery altogether.  Once the panzer tore a twenty-mile wide hole in French line, no reserve existed to put it back together.

        Interestingly, in my reading on this campaign, I've seen where the French planners who had examined a potential advance through the Ardennes predicted almost to the hour just how long it would take the Germans to be on the Meuse.  Unfortunately, the stove pipes were strong in the French army during that period.  

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:06:12 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  French troops in Belgium fought quite well; (0+ / 0-)

          the French cavalry commander Rene Prioulx was very competent, and in fact stopped the German armored advance cold with heavy losses. This despite commanding a force with very little experience in large scale mobile operations compared to the highly trained German units.

          The tragedy is that by sheer luck the very best German commanders (Guderian, Rommel) faced the very worst French commanders in the Ardennes, and the French response to the German breakthrough at Sedan fatally sluggish. Almost everything went right for the Germans, and everything wrong for the French. It easily could have gone the other way. Only in retrospect does it seem inevitable.

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