The French Army is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces. The first permanent army, paid with regular wages, was established under King Charles VII, to resist an English invasion and occupation in the mid 15th century. All soldiers are professionals, following the suspension of conscription, voted in parliament in 1997 and effective as of 2001.
French Army in The Man With the Iron Heart
Although the French Army was defeated in the first year of World War II, by the end of the war France was recognized as one of the leading Allied powers. When Nazi Germany surrendered, France was given a section of Germany to occupy alongside Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union.
Rather than finding a peaceful postwar country, all the Allies were subjected to terrorist attacks as the German Freedom Front worked to demoralize the invaders and issued public demands that they leave. The French Army, seared with the memory of so much humiliation and defeat at the hands of the Nazis, was the only Western army to fight back as fiercely as the Soviets did. As was the case in the Soviet zone, this provoked immense fear and hatred from the civilian German populace. By 1948, the Americans and British had given up and withdrawn, demoralized and embarrassed, but the French Army stayed to continue the fight against the GFF.
During this time, the French Army had virtually no uniforms, vehicles, or equipment of their own whatsoever. Due to the massive disruption of the French armed forces and arms industry caused by World War II, the post-war French Army used American-made M1 Garand rifles, M4 Sherman tanks, American-issue uniforms (with French rank insignia sewn on) and a number of Panther tanks captured from the Germans. This only added to the impression for some (namely individuals like Reinhard Heydrich, Vladimir Bokov, and Lou Weissberg) that the French Army and France overall were just riding on the coattails of their betters. The dislike and contempt was mutual, and the one attempt made to cooperate between the U.S. Army and French Army ended with a French intelligence officer storming out of an American headquarters.
French Army in Southern Victory
When the Great War broke out in 1914, the French Army —with the British — managed to hold the Western Front. However, the French bore the brunt of the war, and combined with the ineffective tactics of their generals led to many soldiers revolting, and by 1917, the French Army could no longer fight the war, forcing France to seek an armistice.
The terms of the peace treaty were hard on the French, and left the Army as nothing more than a glorified police force.
After King Charles XI, champion of Action Francaise, came to power, he began to rearm the army, but the small size of their country made it difficult for them to hide equipment and weapons that were banned by the Germans. After the death of the Kaiser Wilhelm II, Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm V refused all demands for a plebiscite, causing the French to declare war on Germany.
The French Army scored their first major victory over the Germans when they successfully recaptured Alsace-Lorraine, by launching a barrel offensive through the Ardennes, but were unable to cross the Rhine. They were more successful in their combined thrust up through the Low Countries into Germany, but the British overshadowed their efforts in that campaign.
After mid 1943, the tide turned against the French and British as the Germans pushed them back through the Low Countries, and into Belgium. The French Army was still proudly defiant after the superbomb destruction of Paris and the death of Charles XI, but was forced to seek an armistice after the collapse of Britain.
French Army in The War That Came Early
The French Army was the largest army in the Allied powers when war erupted in 1938. Despite this, the French Army barely moved against Germany when they invaded Czechoslovakia, and abandoned their conquest after the country's collapse.
Although the French army had the most powerful tanks on the battle field, they lacked the radio equipment found in their German counterparts as well as the tactics to use them, though Colonel Charles de Gaulle handled his tanks well enough. The infantry were also crippled by no modern equipment, lacking a light portable machine gun and a sub machine gun.
Despite this, the French were able to mount a successful counter attack north of Paris, using tank tactics copied from the Germans to spearhead their thrust.