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The Great War-Myths, Facts and Legend

PostPosted: Tue May 23, 2006 7:24 pm
WE often embolden ourselves regarding our participation in the Great War with sayings like "Lafayette We Are Here" , which is all well and good.

But I think we have deluded ourselves into thinking that, in particular, the French Army in the War was hopeless and hapless.

What is true is that whenever a new technology in weaponry is introduced that is truly revolutionary there is the possibilty of the production of great numbers of casualties until tactics adjust.

Conversely such a tecnology if introduced one one side and used effectively, overall casualties could possibly be reduced. I think of "Desert Storm" as an example of this.

The opposite result is illustrated by German Army's fairlure to exploit theie initial supeiority in chemical warfare-in any event the stalemate was not broken by its introduction.

The weapons that produced the stalemate, and 350 miles of trenches runnning from the Swiss Border to the Channel, had been priduced by the introduction of true repeating rifles, the machine gun, and , as odd as it might sound, proper recoild mechanisms for artillery, such as the "French '75'".

The Seventy Five was accurate and could maintain a decent rate of fire without requiring the re emplacement of the gun after each shot. However, its effectice kill radius was small by even WWII standards, but it, even without factoring in the other weapon systems mentioned, it could destory and "massed" infantry or cavalry formations in minutes.

The French referred to this storm of fire as the 'rafale'.

The French army fought hard, took more devasting casualties and suffered more greatly than any army I can recall.

It was a large army, quickly built because of the introduction of the 'reserve/mobilization' system with which we are now familiar.

My memory tells me that the French fielded at least 4 million men, of which as least 30% had become casulalties by the war's end.

As in the case of the leadership of the BEF, the French General Staff was totally ossified and could not deal with the reality of the incredibly increased mortality associated with the effectiveness of the wave of new weapons technology.

However, because the French "poilus" after suffering savage casualties did actually "go on strike"-their deserved reputaton for endurance and bravery was unfairly tarnished.

Even the French (upper class at least) assigned the deprecatory name "poilu', which means "dirty neck" indicates a certain lack of apprecation of the stolid troopers in sky blue of the French Army in the Great War..