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Portal:Military history of France

Military history of France

In July 1453, a French army crushed its English opponents at the Battle of Castillon, the last major engagement of the Hundred Years War. The decisive victory at Castillon showcased the power of artillery against charging masses of infantry and allowed the French to capture Bordeaux a few months later. The English subsequently lost their major remaining possessions on the European continent.

The military history of France encompasses an immense panorama of conflicts and struggles extending for more than 2,000 years across areas including modern France, the European continent, and a variety of regions throughout the world.

According to historian Niall Ferguson: "of the 125 major European wars fought since 1495, the French have participated in 50 – more than Austria (47) and England (43). Out of 168 battles fought since 387BC, they have won 109, lost 49 and drawn 10."

The first major recorded wars in the territory of modern-day France itself revolved around the Gallo-Roman conflict that predominated from 60 BC to 50 BC. The Romans eventually emerged victorious through the campaigns of Julius Caesar. After the decline of the Roman Empire, a Germanic tribe known as the Franks took control of Gaul by defeating competing tribes. The "land of Francia," from which France gets its name, had high points of expansion under kings Clovis I and Charlemagne, who established the nucleus of the future French state. In the Middle Ages, rivalries with England prompted major conflicts such as the Norman Conquest and the Hundred Years' War. With an increasingly centralized monarchy, the first standing army since Roman times, and the use of artillery, France expelled the English from its territory and came out of the Middle Ages as the most powerful nation in Europe, only to lose that status to the Holy Roman Empire and Spain following defeat in the Italian Wars. The Wars of Religion crippled France in the late 16th century, but a major victory over Spain in the Thirty Years' War made France the most powerful nation on the continent once more. In parallel, France developed its first colonial empire in Asia, Africa, and in the Americas. Under Louis XIV France achieved military supremacy over its rivals, but escalating conflicts against increasingly powerful enemy coalitions checked French ambitions and left the kingdom bankrupt at the opening of the 18th century.

Resurgent French armies secured victories in dynastic conflicts against the Spanish, Polish, and Austrian crowns. At the same time, France was fending off attacks on its colonies. As the 18th century advanced, global competition with Great Britain led to the Seven Years' War, where France lost its North American holdings. Consolation came in the form of dominance in Europe and the American Revolutionary War, where extensive French aid in the form of money and arms, and the direct participation of its army and navy led to America's independence. Internal political upheaval eventually led to 23 years of nearly continuous conflict in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. France reached the zenith of its power during this period, dominating the European continent in an unprecedented fashion under Napoleon Bonaparte. By 1815, however, it had been restored to the same borders it controlled before the Revolution. The rest of the 19th century witnessed the growth of the Second French colonial empire as well as French interventions in Belgium, Spain, and Mexico. Other major wars were fought against Russia in the Crimea, Austria in Italy, and Prussia within France itself.

Following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, Franco–German rivalry erupted again in the First World War. France and its allies were victorious this time. Social, political, and economic upheaval in the wake of the conflict led to the Second World War, in which the Allies were defeated in the Battle of France and the French government signed an armistice with Germany. The Allies, including the Free French Forces led by a government in exile, eventually emerged victorious over the Axis Powers. As a result, France secured an occupation zone in Germany and a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. The imperative of avoiding a third Franco-German conflict on the scale of the first two world wars paved the way for European integration starting in the 1950s. France became a nuclear power and, since the late 20th century, has cooperated closely with NATO and its European partners.

Selected article

Marshal Beresford disarming a Polish lancer at the Battle of Albuera. Print by T. Sutherland, 1831.
The Battle of Albuera (16 May 1811) was an indecisive battle during the Peninsular War. A mixed British, Spanish, and Portuguese corps engaged elements of the French Armée du Midi (Army of the South) at the small Spanish village of Albuera, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of the frontier fortress-town of Badajoz, Spain. From October 1810 Marshal Masséna's Army of Portugal had been tied down in an increasingly hopeless stand-off against Wellington's Allied forces, safely entrenched in and behind the Lines of Torres Vedras. Acting on Napoleon's orders, in early 1811 Marshal Soult led a French expedition from Andalusia into Extremadura in a bid to draw Allied forces away from the Lines and ease Masséna's plight. Napoleon's information was outdated and Soult's intervention came too late; starving and understrength, Masséna's army was already withdrawing to Spain. Soult was able to capture the fortress at Badajoz from the Spanish, but was forced to return to Andalusia following Marshal Victor's defeat in March at the Battle of Barrosa. However, Soult left Badajoz strongly garrisoned. In April, following news of Masséna's complete withdrawal from Portugal, Wellington sent a powerful Anglo-Portuguese corps commanded by Sir William Beresford to retake the border town. The Allies drove most of the French from the surrounding area, and laid siege to the remainder in Badajoz.


Selected image

Assault landing one of the first waves at Omaha Beach as photographed by Robert F. Sargent. The U.S. Coast Guard caption identifies the unit as Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.
Credit: U.S. Army's First Division

The Normandy landings (D-Day) is one of the best-known battles of World War II. The invasion force included 4000 landing craft, 130 warships for bombardment and 12,000 aircraft to support the landings. In order to persuade the Germans that the invasion would really be coming to the Pas de Calais, the Allies prepared a massive deception plan, called Operation Fortitude. An entirely fictitious First U.S. Army Group was created, with fake buildings and equipment, and false radio messages were sent.

Unit of the month

1reg.JPG

The 1st Foreign Engineer Regiment (French: 1er régiment étranger de génie) (1er REG) is a Military engineer regiment in the French Foreign Legion. It is a part of the 6th Light Armoured Brigade. The regiment is station in Laudon.

It was created on 1 October, 1939 as the 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment. The manpower came from 3 battalions of the 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment and one from 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment. It was disbanded 1 January 1942 and its soldiers were transeferred into the 1st Foreign Regiment and Foreign Legion depots. (More...)

Selected biography

Sir Jacques Le Gris was a squire and knight in fourteenth century France who gained fame and infamy when he engaged in the last judicial duel permitted by the Parlement of Paris after he was accused of rape by the wife of his neighbour and rival Sir Jean de Carrouges. Carrouges brought legal proceedings against Le Gris before King Charles VI who after hearing the evidence, authorised a trial by combat to determine the question. The duel attracted thousands of spectators and has been discussed by many notable French writers, from the contemporary Jean Froissart to Voltaire. Described as a large and physically imposing character with a reputation for womanising, Le Gris was a liege man (feudal retainer) of Count Pierre d'Alençon and a favourite at his court, governing a large swathe of his liege lord's territory in addition to his own ancestral holdings. Le Gris' insistence on defending his case in by chivalric trial by combat rather than opting for the safer church trial (to which as a cleric in minor orders he was entitled) attracted widespread support for his cause amongst the French nobility, and controversy continues to this day as to where the real guilt lies in the case.Jacques Le Gris was born in the 1330s, the son of a minor Norman squire Guillaume Le Gris. Unusually for the time, he was educated, taking minor orders as a cleric in the church. and able to read sufficiently well to officiate at mass. Like his father, Le Gris was first a man-at-arms and then squire in the service of the Count of Perche, a role at which he excelled. He also participated in several minor military campaigns in Normandy in the entourage of Robert d'Alençon.


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Isle of FranceLouis de Brancas de Forcalquier de CéresteChristian Louis de Montmorency-LuxembourgNicolas de Neufville, Duc de VilleroiHenri de La Ferté-SenneterreJean Baptiste Budes de GuébriantPhilippe de La Mothe-HoudancourtCharles de La Porte de MeillerayeJean-Baptiste Louis Andrault de MaulévrierUrbain de Maillé-BrézéUlrich Friedrich Waldemar von LöwendahlEmmanuel Félicité de Durfort de DurasHenri de SchombergPaul de La Barthe de ThermesJacques d'Albon de Saint-AndréOperation BrochetOpération CorseOperation HirondelleRobert NivelleLouis Vincent Le Blond de Saint-HilaireBattle of VerdunSecond Battle of the MarneMartha DesrumeauxBattle of Bapaume (1871)Battle of LutterbergBattle of FreibergAlbert Severin RocheSiege of GroningenSecond Battle of Orleans (1870)Georges Loustaunau-LacauClaude d'AnnebautPhilippe de CulantJean de LescunJacques de TrivulceCharles II d'Amboise de ChaumontRobert Stuart d'AubignyGaspard I de ColignyThomas de Foix-LescunRobert III de La MarckGaspard de SaulxCharles de Choiseul-PraslinAntoine III de GramontJean de GassionArmand-Nompar de Caumont, duc de la ForceJacques Henri de Durfort de DurasGuy Aldonce de Durfort de LorgesRené de Froulay de TesséPierre de Montesquiou d'ArtagnanAlain Emmanuel de CoëtlogonCharles-Armand de Gontaut, duc de BironGaspard de Clermont-TonnerreLouis Antoine de GontautLouis Charles César Le Tellier, duc d'EstréesHubert de Brienne, Comte de ConflansJean Isidore HarispeMarie-Madeleine FourcadeBattle of ZeelandMarcel-Bruno GensoulBattle of Foz de ArouceMiles VI de NoyersRobert IV de La MarckJean de BaudricourtGaston Pierre de LévisImbert de La PlâtièreRobert of Torigni
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