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Military history of France

The military history of France includes both those military actions centered on the territory encompassing modern France, and the military history of French-speaking peoples of European descent, both in Europe and in Europe's overseas possessions and territories.

If starting from the Franks, French military history encompasses about 1,500 years. However, the Gauls are the more preferred and popular starting point, partly because Gallo-Roman culture laid the foundation for the current French people. In that case, the breadth and scope of French military history extends for a few more centuries. Such lengthy periods of warfare have allowed peoples of France to often be at the forefront of military developments, and as a result military trends emerging in France have had a decisive impact on European and world history.

Selected article

Assault on Schellenberg. Tapestry detail by Judocus de Vos
The Battle of Schellenberg was fought during the War of the Spanish Succession on 2 July 1704. The assault on the Schellenberg heights on the River Danube was part of the Duke of Marlborough’s campaign to rescue Vienna, the capital of Habsburg Austria, from King Louis XIV's forces ranged in southern Germany. Marlborough had commenced his march from Bedburg, near Cologne, on 19 May; within five weeks the Duke had reached the Danube where he sought to bring the Elector of Bavaria's forces to open battle. However, the Allied army’s lines of supply were established in Franconia and central Germany, too far north to be convenient once the line of the Danube had been crossed. It was therefore necessary not only to secure a bridge across the river, but also to obtain a new supply base. To achieve these objectives, the Allied commanders chose the walled town of Donauwörth, overlooked by the fortress on the Schellenberg Heights. Once the Franco-Bavarian commanders knew of the Allies’ objective, they dispatched Count d’Arco with 12,000 men to strengthen and hold the position. Marlborough’s co-commander, Louis of Baden, preferred a protracted siege; however, with news arriving that Marshal Tallard was approaching with French reinforcements, the Duke insisted on an immediate assault. Within two hours the Allies had secured their objective, but at considerable cost; the coup de main had cost the Allies some 5,000 casualties, and the defenders, 8,000.


Selected picture

Battle of the Somme
Credit: Lt. J. W. Brooke

A Cheshire Regiment sentry in a trench near La Boisselle during the Battle of the Somme. The battle is best remembered for its first day, 1 July 1916, on which the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead. With more than one million casualties over five months, it was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. The Allied forces attempted to break through the German lines along a 25-mile (40 km) front north and south of the River Somme.

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

Lazare Ponticelli (center) between two reenactment members in old uniforms in 2006
Lazare Ponticelli (December 7, 1897 – March 12, 2008) was, at the time of his death, the last documented surviving French veteran of the First World War and the last poilu, or foot soldier, of its trenches. Born in Italy, he moved to France at age nine and lied about his age to join the French Army in 1914. However, upon the entry of Italy into the First World War in 1915, Ponticelli was transferred to its army when authorities discovered his true ancestry. After World War I, he and his brothers founded the piping and metal work company "Ponticelli Frères" ("Ponticelli Brothers"), which assisted with the Second World War effort and is still in existence. At the time of his death, Ponticelli was both the oldest living man born in Italy and the oldest man living in France. In his later years, he was critical of war in general and humbly kept his war awards in a shoe box. While he felt unworthy of the state funeral the French government offered him, he eventually accepted one, although he asked for the emphasis of the procession to be on the common soldier that died on the battlefield. Ponticelli was born "Làzzaro" in Groppo Ducale near the village of Bettola, Piacenza province, in northern Italy. Raised in the mountain village of Cordiani, he was one of seven children born to Jean and Philomena Ponticelli. His father worked the fairgrounds and occasionally as a carpenter and cobbler. His mother cultivated the family's small plot of land and, like many women of the area, commuted three times a year to the Po Valley to work in its rice fields. When Lazare was two, his mother moved to France to try to earn a better living.


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