Amiens 1918

Campaign 197
French Army

Although the French Army of 1918 was tactically effective in combat, four years of war had severely tempered the élan that characterized their earlier battles. Despite being tenacious in defence, unrest on the home front, high casualty rates and manpower shortages meant that morale was volatile. Mindful of this, Foch and his commanders envisaged limited attacks that maximized the use of firepower to spare their men.The French Army had also developed the doctrine of firepower and surprise, augmented by tactical envelopment and flank attack for enemy strongpoints when necessary. Each division was usually made up of three regiments, each of three battalions. Although reduced in strength from 1,000 to 700 men, Infantry battalions had been issued with 37mm cannon, 45mm and 60mm mortars, and had one rifle company converted to a machine-gun company to increase their firepower. The rifle platoons, consisted of rifle, bombing and light machine-gun squads, and operated in a similar manner to their British counterparts. Chasseur battalions were created from the elite prewar light infantry units attached to some divisions. They were larger than their line infantry counterparts, containing five instead of the normal three companies. The infantry formations contained significant numbers of units from the French colonies. The Zouaves were recruited from Frenchmen living overseas and had gained a reputation as tough fighters. The Tirailleurs were recruited from the indigenous populations of the colonies and had a more mixed reputation.

The artillery was the mainstay of French combat power, increasing from 20 per cent of the army in 1914 to 38 per cent by 1918. 105mm and 155mm guns and howitzers had augmented the prewar 75mm field guns. However, without the benefit of the heavier British tanks to assist with the tactical break in, the French preferred to retain short, violent preparatory bombardments when organised defences were faced.

The most numerous French tank was the light Renault FT-17. At a weight of six tonnes and armed with a single machine gun or 37mm cannon, it lacked the firepower of the British tanks, but still operated as a mobile ‘pillbox’ in direct support of the infantry.

Unlike the British, the French air arm had not yet developed into a separate service. However, it had evolved similar structures to support the armies in battle. Each army controlled a number of fighter, reconnaissance and heavy artillery cooperation units giving it the ability to optimize and protect its own fire support, whilst at the same time disrupting that of the Germans. Each corps usually controlled a number of escadrilles to provide artillery liaison and close support to the divisional units. In early 1918 a large number of fighter and bomber escadrilles were grouped together into the Division Aérienne. This powerful formation was controlled by the French high command and deployed to the most important sector at a given time.

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