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Remembered Today:

France`s Worst Day


PhilB

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That reminds me that an educated French friend of mine (female) said to me in all innocence one day:

"Oh, were the British involved in World War I, too?" :huh::huh::huh:

Angela

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That reminds me that an educated French friend of mine (female) said to me in all innocence one day:

"Oh, were the British involved in World War I, too?" :huh::huh::huh:

Angela

Here's another one...A young French woman, a Parisienne, apparently well read and informed, expressed her astonishment to me when I told her about the death of a member of my family who died from wounds in March 1915. " ...But the British were not involved in the war until 1916!" she remarked.

Phil.

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I think Papa Joffre kept a lot of the horrors of August 1914 secret : even now there is a distinct lack of general reading matter about those early battles...the recent book by Zuber (?) marks a debut.

Two interresting reading concerning the battle of august 1914 and the disastrous "Plan Joffre" :

"Mensonges et désinformation - Aout 14 Comment on vend une guerre" Leon Schirmann

and above all, the pamphlet of Roger Fraenkel "Joffre, l'âne qui commandait aux lions"

Eric

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Gibbo,

Numerous threads regarding Mosier's book. Hard to find anything positive to say about it.

Hopefully the other books had independent sources for the casualty figures.

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I managed to look at Mosier's book whilst in the library for something else. On a 20 minute perusal, it didn't impress me. On the subject of this thread, it gave no information on French casualties on any specific day, just a total or 329,000 killed and missing in August and September 1914. Stevenson appears to have used it as a source for his statement that German losses were much lower than French ones. His claim of 27,000 Frenchmen killed on 22 August therefore must come from Strachan, who in turn presumably sources it from the 2 books by Henri Contamine named in my earlier posting in this thread. Mosier claimed that the 329,000 killed and missing has never been broken down more precisely but Contamine's 2 works aren't in his bibliographical essay.

I've searched for Contamine's books on WorldCat; 4 British and 1 Irish libraries have La Victoire de La Marne, 9 septembre 1914 and 6 British libraries have La Revanche 1871-1914. WorldCat gives his first name as being Henry rather than the Henri used in Strachan's bibliography. Glasgow University library has both and I am visiting it for something else early next month so will try and check the references but my school French may struggle.

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22 August is remembered in the area where it took place by memorial walks and commemoration ceremonies. They are held each year in Ethe, Rossignol, Neufchateau and other places in S. Belgium close to the border with France. There isn't much written about them in French, let alone in English.

Christina

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It's a major mistake to rely on Mosier for anything; he's not an historian and really not knowledgeable about the topic, makes ridiculous statements such as 1st Marne was a German victory.

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Tonight it was said that 100,000 Frenchmen died to re-take Fort Douaumont. Is this seen by the French as a necessary loss to bolster the Verdun front or a pointless waste?

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Oct 30 2008, 09:49 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Tonight it was said that 100,000 Frenchmen died to re-take Fort Douaumont. Is this seen by the French as a necessary loss to bolster the Verdun front or a pointless waste?

That statement is often made, in one form or another, but I'm sure it's either an outright mistake or a misinterpretation. Maybe the loss of the fort was equivalent to the loss of a hundred thousand Frenchmen, so great was its symbolic importance and the humiliation attendant upon losing it.

An abortive attempt to recapture the fort was made in May 1916, and one or two divisions under Mangin's command suffered extreme casualties. The actual retaking of Douaumont was accomplished in late 1916 with remarkably small loss. The claim that 100,000 Frenchmen died to retake the fort is, at best, rhetorical exagerration. It might be argued that the tactical advantage gained by the Germans in February 1916 was such as to cause the French inordinately heavy casualties, as they fought the battle wrong footed from the start. Even so, there is no validity in the suggestion that 100,000 French lives were lost on account of Fort Douaumont - for one thing, we must differentiate between casualties and actual deaths, which represented about thirty per cent of the total casualty list of 378,000 killed, wounded and missing for the French in the entire battle.

I'm sorry, Phil, I'm being pedantic and not addressing your question properly !

Whatever the actual loss of life that the surrender of the fort and its subsequent recapture entailed, the fact that the edifice returned to France at the end of the battle was important symbolically, and since Verdun is the ultimate in symbolic battles, the event bestowed a fitting conclusion. Conversely, this could also be cited as an example of the futility of the battle, since it ended with both sides more or less back where they had started. That being said, I reckon that it gave a great boost to French morale. The reality was encouraging - the fort was recaptured swiftly and smoothly with minimal casualties; the French artillery programme was spectacularly effective, and the German loss in killed and prisoners was remarkably heavy. Nothing unnecessary or pointless here....although it engendered excessive confidence in a method that was to fail with drastic consequences in April the following year. Nivelle's recapture of Fort Douaumont was the Hubris : his offensive on the Aisne was the Nemesis.

Phil.

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Thanks, Phil. I think the answer to my query is "Well, yes and no"! I have to admit that my reading of French actions has been virtually limited to Verdun. The above posts suggest that there aren`t many good books in English describing the whole French war on the Western Front?

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Pyrrhic Victory by Robert A Doughty is well worth a read. Yves Buffetaut's, " 1917 Spring Offensives", covers the battle at Chemin des Dames which resulted in the French mutinies. There is a classic by Georges Blond on the First Battle of the Marne and several other English translations of Foch and Joffres' which cover that battle very closely. There are a couple of biographies of Foch which give a view of the French war as experienced by him. For 1914 there is a book by an American Germanophile, Terence Zuber, on the Battles of the Frontiers and a rather dated but readable treatment By Sewell Tyng of the Campaign on the Marne There is very little I know of in English, on the Great French battles of 1915 in Artois and Champagne where they suffered heavy losses for little gain. I have not looked at the last year of the war in any detail so I don't know if there is a French treatment in translation. Apart, that is, from the Foch biographies which cover it in great detail.

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Pyrrhic Victory by Doughty and, IIRC, Paths of Glory ( not the film) are two recent publications for the British reader.

Lamentable lack of other titles.

Horne's Price of Glory, even if dated, is one of the best books I've ever read about this or any war: while dealing specifically with Verdun, it has a good "feel" for 1914-1918.

There is another title which escapes me; a small, hardback book published about 15 to 20 years ago - if I remember, I'll post info. immediately. It was, I recollect, rather good!

Phil.

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Jack's book about the Germans on Vimy Ridge gives a very good feel for the tremendous conflict in this area during 1915, especially around the Labyrinthe. He has included some of the French perspective too.

Robert

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The non-fiction book Paths of Glory on the French Army of WWI mentioned by PJA was written by Anthony Clayton.

An academic friend of mine told me that there aren't very many recent books in French on France in WWI and that those that are published are mostly cultural rather than military history. As an example of the lack of interest by French academics in WWI, he mentioned a book called Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, 1914-1918, edited by Stig Forster and Roger Chickering. This consists of a series of essays by academics on various aspects of the Western Front, looking at the perspective of all the combatants and some neutrals. Almost all the chapters on specific countries are written by nationals of the country in question, except those on France, which are written by English speaking authors. According to my friend, this was due to a lack of WWI specialists amongst French academics. He reckons that the way for a young French speaking British academic interested in WWI to make his mark would be to pursue primary research in the French archives, which are extensive but less researched than those of other countries.

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I would certainly agree with all that. There's an enormous amount of research not being done in France - no new biographies of the generals, for example, no new examinations of specific actions or of tactics or of strategy. There is a fair amount of very interesting local stuff being written but nationally, almost nothing. I don't understand the preference for the cultural side of the period but perhaps it stems from a fear of looking at the actual, dreadful, cost of the war to France.

Christina

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I would certainly agree with all that. There's an enormous amount of research not being done in France - no new biographies of the generals, for example, no new examinations of specific actions or of tactics or of strategy. There is a fair amount of very interesting local stuff being written but nationally, almost nothing. I don't understand the preference for the cultural side of the period but perhaps it stems from a fear of looking at the actual, dreadful, cost of the war to France.

Christina

Or, perhaps, the dreadful catastrophe of 1940 and the subsequent Vichy era have spoilt the French appetite for reflection on 1914-1918. The achievement of France in the Great War was, by any reckoning, supreme. The debacle of 1940, to say the least, tarnished it.

Phil.

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Yes, you may be right, PJA. That might be the reason but it's a pity nonetheless. Just to take Verdun as an example, the French achievement there was incredible and it deserves serious study.

Christina

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Yes, you may be right, PJA. That might be the reason but it's a pity nonetheless. Just to take Verdun as an example, the French achievement there was incredible and it deserves serious study.

Christina

It has been suggested that French pre-occupation with their achievement at Verdun was pernicous, in so far as it engendered the "Maginot Line" mentality.

Be that as it may, I find it astonishing that a nation that, in proportion to population, lost twice as many people as Britain in the Great War has produced such limited literature on those battles of 1914-18. Scarcely a week goes by in the UK without some new book on the war : the scholarship has assumed a phenomenal dynamic in the last few years.

At the risk of sounding preposterous, I suspect that French endorsement of the European Union in the last two generations might have something to do with it. British people perceive their role in the Great War as a foray away from isolation into the affairs of the Continent, and in their commemoration they display a fervour for remaining seperate. Maybe I'm talking b******s, but I find French reluctance to dwell on days like August 22nd 1914 so different from British fixation on July 1st 1916 that I seek an explanation.

Phil.

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A very good friend of mine wrote the following in respect of this question:

"I would suggest... a look at '14/18 magazine' (is there such magazine in the UK BTW ?) advertisement pages. [Recent examples of books include] "La chair et l'acier", or "Aux racines du mal, 1918, le deni de défaite" ? And they can be found at any bookseller BTW, not just in war history specialized booksellers. [And there are] books about French tanks,

guns, war industry, etc...

Books about WW1 can be found everywhere in France including newstands, and this shouldn't get slower with the

nearing 100th anniversaries. The largest share of books published about WW1 in the last years are accounts from 'diaries'

written during the war by 'those who were there'. They include many descriptions of operations, and are chosen because they weren't edited after the war by their authors (sometimes a KIA), hence their scientific interest.

Articles about WW1 abound in the "mainstream" war history press ("Batailles" etc..) Specific actions have been studied in details lately in books like "Lagarde". This trend is keeping pace as more and more military historians are getting involved.

The army, with the reduction of its operational means, is devoting more time and money to this end.

What may mislead a US or British observer... is that there are much fewer books on detailed studies about tactics and

local operations in France than in the US or UK, but this is simply related to the fact that French have, as a rule,

much less interest in war history, than anglo-saxons. See respective numbers of wargamers in both France

and UK for comparison.

For the above mentioned reason that French have more suffered from wars in the 20th century than British

or Americans , many of them don't want to hear about 'tactics', 'strategies', 'field of honor' etc... This doesn't mean they are 'afraid' of looking at the cost of war, but on the contrary, that they know it too well.

The 'cultural' side of many scholar works isn't meant to dismiss the cost of war, and since these works are mostly from historical sociology circles, they usually adress the 'civilian' resistance to the 'cultural mobilizations' (strikes, mutinies, indigenous empire mobilization,etc..) They thus cannot be found guilty of hiding the human cost of the war at any rate."

FWIIW, I have picked up many books during my trips to France, most recently a detailed diary account of the action at Rossignol and "Les Chars de la Victoire". The '14/18: Le magazine de la Grande Guerre' is one of my regular purchases whenever I travel to Brussels or Paris. Beautifully illustrated and with a wide range of articles, it also includes a number of special editions covering, for example, the Somme, Verdun, German artillery, etc.

Christina's point is still well made. There were a huge number of books published in the immediate aftermath of the war. While there have been many books published in recent years, it would be great to see some very detailed analyses of the Battle of the Frontiers, and other major actions, from the French perspective, taking into account British and German sources.

Robert

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Unfortunately, my schoolboy French would make a French text rather hardgoing & I suppose publishers here would not welcome the cost of translating? Maybe the French complain about a lack of books in French about the BEF!

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Phil, I can't speak for 'the French' but many of my friends are just as comfortable reading English books about the BEF as they are reading in their native language. Even via the Internet, there are many primary and high quality secondary sources in English that are online, such as the chapters from the first volume of the British Official History. There is a growing number of French sources, and lists of bibliographies. Hopefully this will continue to increase over time. It would be really great if we could access the equivalent of the BOH!

Robert

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Salut,

You're right Robert, your view of the French perspective is so true... you should have french backgrounds ? ;)

There are many French good books, I would say more and more and not only because the Armistice day but the interest about WW1 is really increasing.

Since yesterday all the "JMO" units (journaux de marche et opérations = war diaries), for all the French units, are online.

It is a fantastic source of information, you can download all the diaries, maps, etc... for anybody who's interested or do specific research (I do) it 's a very big advance.

The website (mémoire des hommes: http://www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.go...pip.php?breve1) will be officially open tomorrow by Jean Marie Bockel, French minister of war veterans.

Sly

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There is a new book which covers August 22 in detail, The Battle of the Frontiers Ardennes 1914. It's by Terence Zuber who has a PhD from Wurzburg U. and is a retired US Army Major. I suppose he left early to study. It's quite good on German organization and tactics but when he gets to describing combat I feel it's unreadable. Further he is aware of scholarship such as Horne & Kramer German Atrocoties 1914 A History of Denial but completely disregards it and believes German accounts in every instance of reports of francs tireurs. It's far from objective and really dense but there has been much detailed research for which he's to be commended.

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