History of the French Army

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Current logo of the Armée de terre
Ordonnance flag of the Régiment de La Reine until 1791
Standard of the Régiment de Condé-dragons 1814

The history of the French army as a permanent institution begins in the last phase of the Thirty Years' War with the establishment of standing regiments . This army quickly attained great importance, taking first rank in Europe for the next two centuries.

middle Ages

The military service originally carried out by the peasant population had become unsatisfactory, and the rulers began to adjust to an individual level of feudal lords , vassals and squires . However, the wars of this time were mostly fought in a limited, local context.

Many cities presented citizen militias (Milices bourgeois) in order to protect themselves, without, the local nobles to have to take. Paradoxically, the king got used to using these volunteers to fight against great feudal lords or to use them as a threat in his demands.

A new sword aristocracy arose , the knighthood .

During times of war, the king hired foreign mercenaries , most of whom came from Switzerland ( Reisläufer ), the German Empire and Ireland . (There were, however, a few Scottish , Danish , Swedish, and Polish regiments.) The monarch's bodyguard was usually formed from these regiments .

The beginnings of the royal army

After King Charles VII had pushed the English back in the Hundred Years War , he set up a number of companies called Compagnies d'ordonnance , which were the first attempt to create a constantly present force. A type of national infantry was also created, called Compagnies de francs-archers .

He made every effort to limit the privilege of drafting the military to the king, paid the troops a fixed wage and thus improved discipline. Under his government, the development of a new started branch of service that: that was to have a massive impact on the battlefields of the future artillery .

The ancien régime

From Henri IV to Louvois

The regiment as a military unit goes back to Charles IX . Henri IV, then Richelieu, improved structure and discipline in these units. The nature of recruiting has become more reluctant and opportunities for advancement have been improved. It was now possible for non-aristocrats to rise to ranks on the basis of merit which until then had only been reserved for the nobility.

An important reason for the weakness of the army at the beginning of the 17th century was that the formation of the units was carried out with too much haste and little importance was attached to the quality of the soldiers recruited. After the conflict had ended, the regiments had also been dismissed too quickly for cost reasons, which in the frequent wars of the time led to new recruits with the known results. Furthermore, the irregularity of pay was a serious weakness in the royal military administration, which was very detrimental to general discipline.

The royal army presented itself in two bodies: on the one hand the elite troops from the standing regiments, the orderly companies and the royal guard, on the other hand the mass of quickly dug up units, poorly paid (many regiment owners like to divert part of the money they received from the military administration for the entertainment of their regiments, in their own pocket), without discipline and without motivation.

After the French infantry had been mistakenly shot at by their own artillery in the Battle of Fleurus , each flag of infantry and cavalry was then given a double, white flag ribbon, which was wrapped around the foot of the metal flag tip.


At the beginning of the standing army, the cavalry of the line consisted of the cavalry (cavalerie) and the dragoons (dragons) . The latter were intended to be only mounted infantry, but in France they were counted as light cavalry . The first units of hussars appeared in the Thirty Years War , but it was not until after 1692 that a first regular regiment was set up as "Hussards royale" on the orders of the king. From 1779 there were six regiments of hunters on horseback (Chasseurs à cheval) , and between 1779 and 1788 there were six regiments of Chevau-légers . They were incorporated into the hunters on horseback. There were also smaller units of the royal guard such as the Mousquetaires de la garde , the Grenadiers à cheval , the Maréchaussée and the Gendarmerie de France .

At the beginning of the revolution there were 24 regiments of cavalry, 17 regiments of dragoons, 12 regiments of hunters on horseback and six regiments of hussars.

Since there were often infantry and cavalry regiments with the same name, the addition "cavalerie" or "dragons" was added to the cavalry after the regiment name ( Régiment Colonel-Général cavalerie ).

Reorganization by Minister of War François Michel Le Tellier de Louvois

Under the reign of King Louis XIV , it was François Michel Le Tellier de Louvois who continued the reorganization of the army that his father Michel Le Tellier de Louvois had begun. The latter could claim the merit of forging the first army worthy of the name, something France had never owned before. The number and quality of the officers, the regulations enacted, and the professionalism of the soldiers made them what can be considered the first real military royal force in France.

With a first law, François Michel Le Tellier de Louvois set up a military school for the training of future soldiers, NCOs and officers in the Royal Guard . He issued a binding ordinance on uniforms, equipment and armament.

The officers remained owners of their companies , but were required to keep diaries of the measures taken to maintain strict discipline and evidence of regular and correct payment of wages .

He also initiated

However, the officer and regiment owner positions that were under the direction of the king could still be bought. The army of Louis XIV reached a strength of at least 200,000 men under arms (some sources even speak of up to 300,000 men), which was a number hitherto unknown in Europe. Unwanted side effects could not be avoided, the faulty recruiting system led to a certain percentage of unusable officers and men in the ranks of the army.

Even if the regiments were only referred to by name, there was a numerical ranking in which each regiment was assigned a number. This number said a lot about the reputation of the unit. (A low number was very popular and hotly contested.)

The regiments with the suffix "Royal" had the king as regiment owner, the Régiment de la Reine and the Régiment du Dauphin belonged to the Queen and the heir to the throne. These regiments were all commanded by a "Colonel-lieutenant" or a " Mestre de camp-lieutenant ", as were the regiments whose owner was a prince of blood or some other higher noble who was not interested in joining the regiment To go to war and possibly perish in the process.

The "six great old men" (Les Six Grands Vieux) were the most respected infantry regiments:

They were followed by the "five little old ones" (Petits Vieux)


In the German Reich the military hierarchy was clearly regulated up to the generalissimo . In France there were ranks practically only up to the maréchal de camp , which roughly corresponded to a general. The great commanders did not claim ranks - it was enough for the staff to know who you were. Lieutenant-général , Colonel général and Maréchal de France were not ranks, but merely positions whose primary importance was the high financial income associated with them.

The rank designations also differed (and still do today) significantly from those of many other armies. A major z. B. was not a rank, but a position - that was the name of the officer who was responsible for general organization within the regiment - brigadier was a non-commissioned officer, brigadier des armées du roi was a high officer rank.

From Louis XV to the French Revolution

Reorganization from 1791

In 1791 all regiments lost their names and from then on were only referred to by numbers. For the most part, the previous ranking was retained. The Régiment du Roi with number 25, which mutinied in Nancy , was disbanded and soon afterwards set up again with number 105.

The regiment owners and the purchasability of the positions as well as the rank of Mestre de camp were abolished.

Foreign regiments

After the king's death, the Swiss regiments in French pay considered their oath of allegiance to have expired and returned to their homeland in accordance with their terms of surrender (contractual agreements). (The Régiment de Châteauvieux , which mutinied in Nancy, had already been disbanded.) The other foreign regiments (most of them from Germany) were integrated with the remaining personnel into the French army. (Quite a few of their relatives, primarily the officers, and the entire Régiment Royal-Allemand cavalerie , however, preferred to leave on their own.)

Revolutionary uniforms - hussar, cavalryman, infantryman

Reorganization from 1793/1794

A reorganization became necessary in 1793/1794. After the Levée en masse, one saw a huge number of untrained and undisciplined volunteers (Bataillons de volontaires nationaux) who flocked to the arms. On the other hand, thousands of officers and the Swiss regiments left the service, simply going home after the death of the king or switching to the royalists, who waged a civil war against the revolutionaries.

At the suggestion of Edmond Louis Alexis Dubois-Crancé on January 23, 1793, the National Convention ordered by decree of February 26 and August 12 to replace the term " regiment " with Demi-brigade de bataille .

The half-brigade consisted of one battalion from a former infantry regiment and two or more battalions of volunteers.

Article 2 of the decree of February 21, 1793 provided:

“Each half-brigade will consist of a battalion formerly known as the 'regiment de ligne' and two battalions of volunteers. The 1st Battalion will then [e.g. B.] 1 er bataillon du 42 e régiment d'infanterie (formerly Limousin). "

Reorganization from 1796

If until then the connection between the main battalions and the former regiments was still in place due to the naming, it was finally cut with the second amalgamation (Deuxieme amalgame) . The previous battalions of the former infantry regiments now lost their name and were only referred to as "1 er bataillon de ... demi-brigade d'infanterie".


The changes in the cavalry were far less serious. There was no massive influx of volunteers because there were simply not enough horses available, everyone would have had to bring at least one horse - which would not solve the problem, because cavalry horses require a certain amount of training. The regimental association was retained, and the rank of "Chef de brigade" was not introduced instead of the "Colonel".

Consulate time

The First Consul ordered a reorganization (troisième reorganization) of the French infantry by decree of "1 er vendémiaire an XII" (September 24, 1803) . The target was 90 regiments of line infantry and 27 regiments of light infantry. A certain number of regiments have been left vacant for reasons of force effectiveness, and their number has not been allocated (e.g. the 38 e régiment d'infanterie ). This measure by Napoleon made the army more powerful, and it became possible to have a force available that was better trained, better supplied and better managed than before. This system existed until the restoration .

First empire

In the year the empire was established , the “Demi-brigades d'infanterie” were renamed “Régiments d'infanterie de ligne”. The rank of "Chef de brigade" became "Colonel" again.

With the imperial regulation of February 18, 1808, the infantry regiments were structured as follows:

Each regiment consists of five battalions, of which four battalions of six companies each (one grenadier company, one voltigeur company, four fusilier companies) and the 5th battalion as a depot battalion with four fusilier companies.

Between 1809 and 1810, 30 demi-brigades (also known as provisional regiments) were organized as follows:

  • 8 demi-brigades (active) were in the army in Germany.
  • 22 demi-brigades (reserves) were in the army in Spain.

Some of these units began to be disbanded in 1810, and the personnel were integrated into the regiments from which they had been formed.

Between 1808 and 1812, 44 new regiments of line infantry (No. 113 to No. 156) and six regiments of light infantry (No. 32 to No. 37) were set up.

Under Napoleon, the French army ruled the European continent. For a period of ten years - from the Battle of Ballinamuck in 1798 to the Battle of Bailén in 1808 - she remained undefeated.

On the occasion of the invasion of Russia, Napoléon put together the Grande Armée , which was about 690,000 strong and which nevertheless did not succeed in being successful.

The campaign in France in 1814 and the campaign in Belgium during the reign of the Hundred Days brought the army only defeats and the end of the First Empire.

After Napoleon's first abdication , the strength of the royal army was set by decree of May 12, 1814 at 90 regiments of line infantry and 15 regiments of light infantry. The cavalry was also drastically reduced.


Napoléon reinforced the cavalry extensively. The "Régiments de cavalerie" were renamed "Régiments de cuirassiers" and equipped with the cuirass . In addition, there were new branches of the army, the Chevau-légers were re-established, there were Uhlans (called "Lanciers"), grenadiers on horseback, "Chevau-légers lanciers polonais" and a few other formations that disappeared again after the end of Napoléon. In 1812 there were in the line:

12 regiments of cuirassiers
2 regiments of carabiniers
30 regiments of dragoons
30 regiments of hunters on horseback
6 regiments of Chevau-légers lanciers
11 regiments of hussars
1 gendarmerie corps
French cavalry during a historical reconstruction of the Battle of Waterloo : Hussars, Chasseurs à cheval, Chevau-légers lanciers polonais, Grenadiers à cheval de la Garde impériale, Dragoons

Imperial Guard

With the imperial coronation, the previous “ consular guard” was renamed “Imperial Guard” (Garde impériale) and massively increased. In the course of time it was divided into the "Young Guard" (Jeune Garde), "Middle Guard" (Moyenne Garde) and " Old Guard " (Vieille Guard) and contained all branches of service, as well as exotic troops such as the Mameluks . At its peak it was over 100,000 strong.

The army between 1814 and 1851

After Napoléon was exiled to the island of Elba , King Louis XVIII set about reorganizing the army and giving the regiments a different numbering.

After his return from Elba, Napoléon reversed the king's changes by decree of April 20, 1815 and returned the old number to the regiments.

After Napoleon's final abdication, the entire army was dismissed pro forma. For political reasons, new units have now been set up, which instead of “Régiment” were called “Département-Legionen” (légions départementales) . They wanted to prevent any reference to the empire.

These legions were not homogeneous units, which is why, following a decree by the king of October 23, 1820, the name "regiment" was used again. 80 line infantry regiments and 20 light infantry regiments were formed. Each had three battalions.

In this structure, the army moved into the French invasion of Spain in 1823 .

In 1830, King Charles X initiated the conquest of Algeria. On February 20, 1830, he decided on the composition of the battalions of the expeditionary forces. These were to be brought to a level of 840 men by persons on leave for a period of one year. For this purpose, the light infantry regiments deployed the first battalion and the line infantry deployed the first and second battalions.

The infantry at this point included:

  • the “Gardes du corps”: 54 officers, 301 NCOs and men
  • 6 regiments of the Royal Guard: 88 officers, 1,676 NCOs and men each
Total: 528 officers and 10,056 NCOs and men
  • 2 regiments of the Swiss Guard, each with 3 battalions: a total of 178 officers and 4,432 NCOs and men
  • 64 regiments of line infantry, including:
25 regiments of 3 battalions each: 2 battalions of 840 men each and 1 battalion of 485 men - a total of 2,200 officers and 54,025 NCOs and men
2 regiments of colonial infantry, each with 3 battalions of 840 men each - a total of 176 officers and 5,156 NCOs and men
37 regiments of line infantry with a total of 3,256 officers and 54,057 NCOs and men
  • 4 light infantry regiments of 3 battalions each:
a colonial regiment of 840 men - a total of 88 officers and 2,578 NCOs and men
three colonial regiments of 1,461 men each - a total of 264 officers and 4,383 NCOs and men
  • 16 regiments of light infantry, each with two battalions:
4 regiments of 1 battalion with 840 men and 1 battalion with 500 men - a total of 248 officers and 5,504 NCOs and men
12 regiments with 62 officers and 1,009 NCOs and men - a total of 744 officers and 12,108 NCOs and men
  • 4 Swiss foreign regiments, each with three battalions, with a total of 364 officers and 7,460 NCOs and men
  • the Hohenlohe Regiment to three battalions with a total of 88 officers and 1,943 NCOs and men
  • 1 staff battalion of 5 companies with a total of 19 officers and 846 non-commissioned officers and men
  • 1 engineer battalion of 4 companies with a total of 16 officers and 620 NCOs and men
  • 8 penal companies with 40 officers and 160 non-commissioned officers and men
  • 2 companies “de la garde sédentaires”, 10 companies “de sous-officiers sédentaires”, 40 companies “de fusiliers sédentaires” with a total of 156 officers and 5,200 non-commissioned officers and men

Colonial troops were raised in Africa to conquer Algeria. After arriving in Algeria, on October 1, 1830, by order of Général Clauzel, two battalions of Zouaves with a total of eight companies of 100 men each were set up. Officers, NCOs and corporals consisted of volunteers from the expeditionary army.

After the July Revolution of 1830

In the course of the proclamation of the July Monarchy , the National Guard was reorganized and brought back to the level of 1791.

Flag of the 38 e régiment d'infantry de ligne 1830

By order of August 11, 1830, the royal guard was dissolved and the 65 e régiment d'infanterie and the 66 e régiment d'infanterie were set up.

The infantry consisted of:

  • 66 infantry regiments of the line (each with 4 battalions) of 114 officers and 3,000 NCOs and men - a total of 7,524 officers and 198,000 NCOs and men
  • 20 light infantry regiments (each with 3 battalions) with 87 officers and 2,250 NCOs and men - a total of 1,740 officers and 45,000 NCOs and men
  • the Hohenlohe Regiment to three battalions with a total of 87 officers and 1,943 NCOs and men
  • 1 staff battalion of 5 companies with a total of 28 officers and 1,425 NCOs and men
  • 1 engineer battalion of 4 companies with a total of 16 officers and 620 NCOs and men
  • 8 penal companies with 40 officers and 160 non-commissioned officers and men
  • 12 companies “de sous-officiers sédentaires” with 4 officers and 150 men each - a total of 48 officers and 1,800 men
  • 41 companies "de fusiliers sédentaires" with 4 officers and 150 men each - a total of 164 officers and 6,150 NCOs and men
  • 81 companies "vétérans sédentaires" with 4 officers and 500 men per company - a total of 344 officers and 12,900 NCOs and men
  • 1 engineer battalion with four companies - a total of 16 officers and 620 NCOs and men
  • 2 Zouave battalions of eight companies - 7 officers and 200 NCOs and men per company

Total number: 331 battalions with a staff of 10,047 officers and 271,1105 NCOs and men

In 1831 the Foreign Legion was established. It should primarily serve for service in North Africa.

Army of the Second Empire 1852 to 1871

Uniforms of the Algerian riflemen (Tirailleurs algériens) 1852
Capture of Fort Malakov . A British officer greets the tricolor (painting by Horace Vernet 1855).

The revolution of 1848 had King Louis-Philippe I , he deposed and in December Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte as President of the Second French Republic made.

The Second Empire was established in 1852 and, by decree of May 1, 1854, an Imperial Guard was set up again.

In 1854 there were 25 regiments in the French army, which were referred to as "light infantry" (infanterie légère) . However, apart from the name and a few smaller details, there were no differences to the line infantry. The tasks of the "light infantry" in the French army were performed by the hunters' troops on foot (Chasseurs à pied) .

The regiments of the light infantry were then converted to regiments of the line infantry, which helped the officers to save costs when relocating between the two branches of the armed forces, as they would otherwise need new uniforms every time.

In addition to the line infantry and the hunters' troops on foot, there were three (1870 four) regiments of Zouaves, one regiment of light African infantry, seven battalions of "Algerian riflemen" (Tirailleurs algériens) and four regiments of "Algerian hunters" (Chasseurs algériens) .

The cavalry consisted of:

2 regiments of carabiniers
4 regiments of cuirassiers
4 regiments of dragoons
2 regiments of hunters on horseback
8 regiments of hussars
4 regiments of Spahis (Algerian, Moroccan and Senegalese Spahis)

Before the threatened outbreak of the Sardinian War , a decree was issued on March 14, 1859, to strengthen all line infantry regiments to four battalions, including three combat battalions of six companies each (two of them shock companies - "companies d'élite") and a depot battalion with six rifle companies .

Les dernières cartouches ("The last cartridges", painting by Alphonse de Neuville 1873)

The Army of Revenge (1871-1914)

In 1875 the General Staff decided to fortify the north-eastern border and installed the Système Séré de Rivières for this purpose . The artillery was modernized and the mitrailleuse was introduced into the infantry. At the beginning of 1900, the doctrine of the offensive à outrance prevailed in the army . All forces should move forward, the artillery supports the infantry, the cavalry intervenes in the event of a counter-attack.

As early as 1909 the fighting strength of the French army was restored, the personnel strength was 850,000 men compared to 840,000 men on the German side.

In 1911 the General Joseph Joffre converted the old army into one of the 20th century. The Luftwaffe was in its infancy and the famous 75 mm modèle 1897 cannon was introduced.

First World War

On July 1, 1914, the French army had a peacetime status of 880,000 men. For this purpose, another 290,000 men were mobilized in August 1914 . In the course of the war 8,410,000 men were drafted, 600,000 of them from the colonies. The so-called "Indigènes" made up 7% of the armed forces, but only a little more than 15% of them were used in combat.

The rapid mobilization was made possible by a sensibly laid out railway network that ran through each sub-prefecture. Thus the workforce could be increased to 3,500,000 men within a very short time. 65% of the forces served in the infantry , 13% in the artillery and 10% in the cavalry . The remaining 12% were divided between the pioneers, supply and replenishment , the gendarmerie , etc. The army consisted of 72 infantry divisions and 10 cavalry divisions (with 79 cavalry regiments). 600,000 horses and 600,000 mules were also used, as motorization was still largely in its infancy. When the war began, the soldiers were still wearing the same uniforms with red trousers that they had already worn in 1870. It was not until 1915 that the horizon blue field uniform with the Adrian helmet was introduced, which replaced the kepi that had been worn until then.

Adrian helmet

The Lebel modèle was used as the standard rifle in 1886 , plus around 5,000 machine guns of eight different types. The artillery had 3,840 field cannons of 75 mm caliber, the mountain troops had 120 cannons of 65 mm caliber. There were also 308 heavy field guns and 380 siege guns of 120 mm caliber. These were from the Système de Bange and all came from the years 1870 to 1880.

Soldiers of the 87 e régiment d'infanterie in 1916 off Verdun .

At the beginning of the war, the French forces were initially able to be pushed back, but after a while they managed to get hold of themselves and stabilize the front with British help. First there was trench warfare and then several battles, none of which were successful.

After the USA entered the war in 1917 , the material superiority of the Allies became increasingly noticeable. French contingents also fought on the Italian front , in Macedonia , Lebanon and Syria . At the end of the war in 1918, the army had 1,540,000 troops fighting, including 761,000 infantrymen, 525,000 artillerymen, 66,000 cavalrymen, 103,000 pioneers and 45,000 airmen and balloonists. The armament consisted of 9,000 field guns, 1,600 heavy and super-heavy artillery pieces, 1,600 mortars, 3,600 aircraft and 30,000 machine guns, for which 50,000 trained machine gunmen were available. About 1,400,000 soldiers were killed and about three million wounded during the war.

Furnishing 1914 1918
Field guns de 75 Modèle 1897 3,840 5,484
Mountain guns 65 mm 120 96
Heavy field guns 308 5,000
Over-heavy howitzers and naval guns - 740
Anti-aircraft guns 1 404
Machine guns 2,000 18,000
Motor vehicles 9,000 88,000
Planes 162 3,608

The cavalry regiments equipped with tanks kept their traditional regimental names, while the newly established regiments were given the designation "Régiments de char de combat".

Interwar period

In 1920 the army still consisted of 30 divisions with 872,000 men, 228,000 of them colonial soldiers. Although efforts were made to reduce their numbers, the proportion in the army in 1930 was 36%.

Despite the decline in its workforce in the interwar period, the army remained one of the most powerful in the world, as the table below shows.

The intervention in the Rif War from 1925 to 1926 is worth mentioning during this period .

year Overall strength including
colonial soldiers
1920 872 000 228 000 26.14
1922 732,000 206,000 28.14
1924 642 000 185,000 28.81
1926 625,000 190,000 30.40
1928 618,000 204,000 33.00
1930 550,000 199,000 36.18
1932 573,000 195,000 34.03
1934 425 664 118 213 27.77
1936 512 409 123 229 24.04
1938 563 419 138 223 24.53
1939 599 570 157 182 26.21

Second World War

Char B1 bis as a monument to the Battle of Stonne 1940

After the army had been massively reduced for financial reasons in the 1920s, the 1930s were marked by major changes:

At the beginning of the war in 1939, the army entered the war, still fully aware of the victory of 1918 and full of confidence in its artillery with 9,300 field guns and the 2,855 tanks available. On the other hand, the weak points were the air defense and the telecommunications sector.

The active divisions and the first reserve were well equipped , while category B (third wave) was poorly trained and inadequately equipped.

Paris, German troops at the Arc de Triomphe on June 14, 1940

This army was defeated within six weeks for several reasons:

  • getting bogged down in armored forces as infantry support, instead of using them as fast wedges like the Germans
  • trust in the Maginot Line - not considering that it could simply be bypassed in the north
  • the surprise that the Germans advanced through the Ardennes, as they were considered impenetrable for tank units
  • their own lack of air support, which worked extremely well with the Germans
  • a reluctance to go to war, not to be underestimated, both in the troops and in the leadership

After the armistice with the Germans on June 22, 1940 and with the Italians on June 24, 1940, 1.5 million French soldiers were taken prisoner. A large part of France was occupied by the Germans, and the armistice army in the unoccupied Vichy France and in the colonies was limited to 100,000 professional soldiers . Equipment that could be used offensive was not permitted.

The task of the French army during this time was limited to the control of the colonies and the fighting against the Japanese invasion of Indochina (1940), against Thailand (October 1940 to May 1941), against the British in Madagascar ( Operation Ironclad 1941) and in Syria ( Operation Exporter 1941).

After the British and Americans landed in North Africa on November 8, 1942 ( Operation Torch ), the French forces offered resistance for some time, but the last parts had to surrender on November 11. As a result, the Germans marched into the previously unoccupied France, the last units of the "Armistice Army" (Armée d'armistice) were disbanded on November 27, 1942.

Parade on the
avenue des Champs-Élysées after the liberation of Paris on August 26, 1944

As early as June 1940, 1,300 volunteers who had escaped to England formed the Forces françaises libres (FFL). This force increased through the incorporation of the troops from French Equatorial Africa , which had broken up under the leadership of Governor Félix Éboué of Vichy France. The units of the FFL fought in the ranks of the Allies in Gabon in 1940, in Syria in 1941, in Libya at the Battle of Bir Hakeim in 1942 and in Tunisia in 1943. In the same year the FFL merged with the "Armée d'Afrique". This was followed by the deployment in the liberation of Corsica (September to October 1943) and then the campaign in Italy, the landing in Provence in August 1944, the liberation of Paris and the campaign in Germany until the end of the war. In the meantime, the forces of the Forces françaises de l'intérieur have been integrated .

Fourth Republic and Decolonization (1946 to 1958)

When the French army was re-established after the end of the war, it was almost entirely dependent on materials from the US Army . Only two tank regiments were equipped with around 50 broken-down German Panther tanks and kept in service until the end of the 1940s.

The Indochina War could not be won despite the massive deployment of troops. After the lost battle for Điện Biên Phủ , which was borne in its entirety by the Foreign Legion , one had to withdraw from the region.

Jagdkommando des 4 e régiment de zouaves during the Algerian war

The Algerian war was also lost, despite great efforts and not inconsiderable losses. Here, however, the troops were still used to set up the new Algerian armed forces .

End of the cold war

Parade of the 11th e régiment de chasseurs of the “Forces françaises à Berlin” on June 11, 1988 during Allied Day in West Berlin: as the first tank, the AMX-30B2, followed by the VAB

After the end of the Cold War , the troops of the FFA (Forces françaises en Allemagne) gradually withdrew from Germany. Only the French part of the staff of the Franco-German Brigade is still on German soil.

At the Second Gulf War , the French forces participated with about 14,000 men (Opération Daguet).

In 2008 a white paper on national defense was published, in which the reduction of the army was established. The workforce should therefore be reduced by 46,500 items (17%) by 2015.

France will also have 5,000 rapid reaction troops ready at all times. With a total of 131,000 soldiers, the army will maintain an operational force of 88,000 men.

The number of battle tanks is reduced to 240, four regiments are each equipped with 60 Leclerc tanks.

Structure from 2009 to 2015

In 2013 a new white paper was published in which the previous numbers were reduced again. However, they were corrected upwards in 2015:

  • Workforce planned for 2013: 66,000 - corrected to 77,000 in 2015
  • 200 main battle tanks
  • 250 armored vehicles
  • 2700 armored vehicles
  • 140 reconnaissance and attack helicopters
  • 115 transport helicopters
  • about 30 drones
A machine gunner of the Army Aviation during the "Operation Barkhane" in the Sahel (Burkina Faso) 2014

The internal threat and the need to act outside of the country's borders led to a rethink and to the fact that the cuts were not implemented as intended.

Africa has always remained the focus of French politics. Since the end of the war, French land forces have repeatedly been involved in pacification campaigns in Africa. Since the independence of the former colonies there have been up to 30,000 soldiers on the continent. In 1980 there were 15,000 and in 2012 5,000 men. In 2014, 9,000 men were stationed there again. In 2016, French troops were deployed in Mali to fight the terrorist organization Boko Haram .


  • With the one he régiment d'infantry has France Infantry Regiment located at the longest serving in the world.
  • The fusilier Jean Thurel was a member of the Régiment de Touraine during his more than 75 years of service . Joined the regiment on September 17, 1716, he died on March 10, 1807 as a veteran of the now called "33 e régiment d'infanterie de ligne".



  1. Applies to infantry only.
  2. The French invasion of Ireland was repulsed.
  3. Victor Louis Jean François Belhomme: Histoire de l'infantry en France. Volume 5, p. 146.
  4. Victor Louis Jean François Belhomme: Histoire de l'infantry en France. Volume 5. p. 145.
  5. about: Guard Landsturm
  6. about: Landsturm NCO companies
  7. for example: Landsturm Fusiliers
  8. Victor Louis Jean François Belhomme: Histoire de l'infantry en France. Volume 5, p. 152.
  9. Jean-Dominique Merchet: Rôle of Algériens en 14-18. "L'utilisation des troupes coloniales comme chair à canon est une parfaite legend". In: Liberation . June 16, 2000 (interview with Jean-Jacques Becker ).
  10. Bernard Crochet, Gérard Pioufrer: La Première Guerre mondiale. De Lodi, Paris 2007, ISBN 978-2-84690-259-5 .
  11. Louis Klein: L'encyclopédie de la Grande Guerre. Éditions E / P / A, Vanves 2008, ISBN 978-2-85120-704-3 .
  12. ^ Jean Étienne Valluy , Pierre Dufourcq: La Première Guerre mondiale. Volume 2: De Verdun à Rethondes. Larousse, Paris 1968, p. 323.
  13. Jean-Philippe Liardet: L'artillery française durant la Grande Guerre. In: Champs de Bataille. No. 10, February / March / April 2006, ISSN  1767-8765 .
  14. ^ André Corvisier : Histoire militaire de la France. Volume 3: De 1871 à 1940. Presses Universitaires de France (PUF), Paris 1992, ISBN 978-2-13-048908-5 , pp. 354, 361.
  15. ^ Stéphane Ferrard: France 1940. L'armement terrestre. ETAI, Antony 1998, ISBN 978-2-7268-8380-8 .
  16. Défense et Sécurité nationale , 2008, p. 291.
  17. ^ Défense et Sécurité nationale , 2008, p. 222.
  18. ^ Défense et Sécurité nationale , 2008, p. 224.
  19. ^ Rémi Carayol: Interventions armées: l'Afrique de papa revient, vive l'ingérence? In: Jeune Afrique . October 13, 2014.

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