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phil andrade

French prisoners

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phil andrade

Charlie,

 

The officer  casualty rate reflected the conspicuous role....but I was looking hard at the ratio of   prisoners , rather than that of the killed or wounded.  Those who lead, bleed.....as the war progressed, was there a reluctance to shed blood and a willingness to surrender that was not apparent among officers earlier ?

 

Phil

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charlie962
14 minutes ago, phil andrade said:

was there a reluctance to shed blood and a willingness to surrender that was not apparent among officers earlier

Wouldn't the ratio of officers killed as opposed to officers PoW reduce as the war progressed as the initial suicidal French tactics became more rational ? And the makeup of the Officer cadre would change as the regulars were killed. As to  'reluctance' and willingness' isn't it more a case of a return to more realistic attitudes and probably ratios that are not dissimilar to Britain or Germany ?

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phil andrade

The British ratio was very different from that of the continental armies.  As you have mentioned, this reflected a much larger cohort of officers in relation to men in the British service.

 

Phil

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SteveMarsdin
On ‎01‎/‎05‎/‎2019 at 13:50, charlie962 said:

The early French stats should show a high officer casualty rate if they were rather distictively dressed wearing white gloves and waving swords as they bravely led their men. Easy high profile targets.

Charlie

Except there are only 2 or 3 documented cases of this happening on 22 August !

 

Steve

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charlie962
Posted (edited)
On 03/05/2019 at 14:06, SteveMarsdin said:

Except there are only 2 or 3 documented cases of this happening on 22 August !

Steve,

Are you saying this was limited to a few St Cyriens and on this day only ?

Charlie

 

 

Edit-  This thread on pages14-18 is of interest.

Edited by charlie962

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phil andrade

British people are susceptible to caricature when it comes to the depiction of officers going into battle in the Great War : we still see them depicted on screen  as unduly conspicuous, even in the later years of the war, when they had “ dressed down “ long beforehand .

 

If this is true for the British, then surely it applies to the French, too.

 

The red trousers and the cuirassier breastplates are always associated with 1914, so too the swords and white gloves.

 

Were the officers really that daft ?

 

Phil

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SteveMarsdin

Good morning,

 

The main problem is that, compared to the German army, the French army was poorly trained. Simon House's book goes into great detail about this.

 

By 1911, when Joffre renewed the French programme of building training camps, the Germans possessed twenty–eight large camps, twenty–six of at least 5625 hectares each. There was one camp per corps region and three artillery camps, one being an extra–large range at Grafenwöhr. At this same moment in time France had only two large (corps) camps and two smaller (divisional) camps, one of which was still being completed. These four camps – Châlons, Coëtquidan, Courtine and Mailly – ranged from 2000 to 3000 hectares, but Châlons was badly organised and in need of renovation and Mailly was considered virtually unusable. There were in addition three small, brigade–sized camps, but their scope for combat exercises was severely limited.

 

The comparative lack of long–term facilities for combat exercises had a huge adverse consequence for the French in August 1914. This was particularly true for junior officers and NCOs, with the Germans being able to practice doctrine and improve their command skills much more frequently.Regular high–quality training over a sustained period – the nature of mass armies incorporating large numbers of reservists requires solid basic training with effective refresher courses over subsequent years – which was delivered to the German army but not the French.

 

It's also important not to confuse offensive spirit with "offensive á outrance", which involved a strong avant-garde finding and fixing the enemy, whilst the gros of division maneouvres to attack enemy in flancs. I don't think there were any instances of this in August 1914. Joffre was aware from the early pre22/08 encounters that officers were guilty of attacking without artillery support and issued orders on 16/08 reminding officers of:

 

  • Generals must remain in effective control

  • Artillery/Infantry coordination

  • Generals must ensure that troops are well fed

  • Generals must ensure that approach marches aren’t too long

In practice ignored on the 22nd; he issued a similar order on 24 August:

  • Artillery/Infantry coordination

  • Infantry attacking from too long out, often without artillery support

  • Once an objective is taken, it should be fortified and the artillery brought up, to beat off any counter-attacks, before moving on to the next objective (“bite and hold” ?)

  • (also reminded the cavalry commanders to feed and rest their horses properly)

The French paid the price for a lack of training in those early battles but as officers were replaced though death or limogeage and the army learnt on the job, the disparity between the opposing sides narrowed.

 

Steve

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phil andrade

Steve,

 

The French paid the price for a lack of training in those early battles...

 

Has ever a nation lost  such a large part of its manpower reserves in such a short time ?

 

Perhaps one quarter of all the French loss in dead and prisoners  - combined -  throughout the war was suffered in six weeks.  I know I’m labouring the point, but it does merit reiteration .

 

That such punishment was taken at the outset made it yet more traumatic .

 

Phil

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charlie962

Steve, thanks for that detail. But if at a disadvantage of poor training they should neverthelesss have had a considerable advantage of active service experience (gained in colonial environment) . OK not the same battle conditions but a training of sorts ?

Charlie

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SteveMarsdin

Hi Charlie,

 

Only a very small proportion of French troops would have had experience of colonial wars and in some ways it was the wrong kind of experience. As you would expect, of all the units who fought on 22 August the Colonial Corps had most (but certainly not all officers or  men within it had) and this may have contributed to their downfall at Rossignol. Repeated infantry advances may have suppressed adversaries in the colonies but it wasn't going to work against a trained European army with modern weapons and supporting artillery.

 

Reading the thread I notice earlier comments on prisoners or the lack of prisoners (which the Kronprinz commented on). I would suggest although it was an undoubted German victory (or more accurately, string of victories) it wasn't the decisive victory that the German needed. In most cases the French were allowed to break contact and withdraw to France without a committed, active pursuit. Don't forget that even though the German casualties were 40-60% of the French levels (depending on which sources you take) that still equates to 11-16,000 men.

 

Steve

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phil andrade

Steve,

 

You mention the German casualties being forty to sixty per cent of the French.

 

Are you alluding to fatalities here ?

 

I ask this because I am convinced that the German casualties in the August fighting contained a far lower proportion of killed than those of the French., and I assume that you’re referring to the 27,000 French deaths on 22 August 1914...hence the 11,000 to 16,000 German figure that you equate with that ( ie 27,000 x 40-60% ).

 

With their casualties containing a lower proportion of killed in that fighting, even if their overall casualties  equated to 60% of those of the French, wouldn’t that imply only 30% when it came to the number of deaths ? 

 

I hope I’m making sense here.

 

A German who was hit was more likely to be wounded, when his French counterpart was killed ( or left to die of his wounds ).

 

Phil

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SteveMarsdin

Hi Phil,

 

Sorry for the ambiguity, I was meaning deaths. Zuber suggests 40% and a variety of commentators 40 - 60%. 40% is corroborated by cemetery burials in the area but of course they will be "died of wounds" etc further back. The point I'm making is that if you haven't fought a battle before, even if the enemy is retreating, 11,000 killed still has an impact and is a reason why the French could withdraw without such an effective pursuit; this in turn impacting on the number of French POWs been less that the German high command may have expected.

 

Steve

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phil andrade

Thank you for clarifying, Steve.

 

I worry about being a one trick pony, but I get rather fixated by the inordinately high proportion of fatalities in the French casualty figures, especially in those August 1914 battles.  That’s why I opened this thread, because I wanted to find out how many of the 313,000 French killed/missing attributed to August-September 1914 were, in fact, prisoners.  More than half of them, I believe.....which still leaves an appallingly high number of killed to account for.

 

Take that example I cited earlier on, regarding Foch’s XX corps, which returned a higher number of killed than of wounded in the period of the battles we’re discussing .  That’s a freakish thing to see - understandable in a battalion - perhaps even a regiment - but truly shocking in a unit the size of an army corps. I wonder how this might be explained. 

 

As for the Germans, I recollect the Zuber book on the Ardennes fighting citing anecdotal evidence from German burial squads who reported burying five or six French  dead for every two of their own : if memory serves me, and my arithmetic too, that suggests German  killed equating to 33-40% those of the French.  This must be attributable to murderous exposure of French soldiers to deadly and intense German fire : an image very much in accordance with accounts of  the Battle of Rossignol, where a single French division of the Colonial Corps suffered around eleven thousand casualties.  Am I right ?  And, if so, how many were killed ? The memorial there suggests several thousand....a proportion of fatalities that conforms with that figure I cited from Foch’s XX corps. I get the impression that the German losses, while much lower in killed, were pretty severe in terms of wounded.  Plenty of blood was shed by the Kaiser’s men, but, for whatever reason, they survived to reach medical care, while their French counterparts didn’t. I note the same disparity, albeit to a lesser extent, at Verdun in 1916. Maybe this reflects how - and who - you count.  A French soldier dies of wounds in a forward aid post, and is classified as killed : his German counterpart is reported as wounded, even though he succumbs later ?

 

Phil

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SteveMarsdin
Posted (edited)

Hi Phil,

 

11,900 is the total casualty figure for Rossignol (it's 15,000 for the Colonial Corps as a whole):

 

Rossignol Casualties (Dead, Wounded or POWs)

French: 11,900 (incl. 2,800 dead)

German: 3,500 (incl. 1,400 dead)

 

Total Colonial Corps losses:

15,000, incl 3 Generals (2 KIA, 1POW), 4 Colonels, 36 75s and 20 machine guns

 

The memorial is a bit misleading as it excludes casualties from 2eDIC who intervened briefly at Termes and Frenois to try and allow the 3eDIC to withdraw but includes the 5e BIC (Neufchateau) and 7eRIC who didn't get past St Vincent. If you include St Vincent in the Rossignol figures and attached cavalry etc: you get to 3,500+KIA

IMG_0561.JPG.1ca993eec8d0cf41163813d95c3842ac.JPG

 

Sorry, can't seem to rotate the image

Edited by SteveMarsdin

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phil andrade

Thanks, Steve, you’re kind to provide this .

 

There are totals on that memorial that add up to approx. 4,500 : that’s just the ones that I can see.

 

These are numbers of dead, from the regiments ?

 

 

 

If a regiment, about three thousand strong, loses 877 dead ,  in a single action on one day, then the implications are truly catastrophic, when we allow for prisoners and wounded.

 

The highest figure for dead that I’ve seen cited for a German regiment that day is for IR 116, which, according to Zuber , lost 353 dead, 619 wounded and 72 missing at Virton.  This aggregate of 1,044 is one third or more of the regimental strength. 

 

Phil

 

 

 

 

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