March 24, 2005
France's military reputation has taken a beating over the last three years due to their attitudes towards Iraq and American foreign policy. Part of the American reaction is to disparage French military ability. Whether or not this attitude towards France is deserved is up for debate. A famous website, set up as a Google bomb, so that when one searches for French military victories and hits the Im Feeling Lucky button, takes potshots at France, particularly citing the twentieth century. But the REAL story is much different.
First of all, the Battle of the Virginia Capes, from September 5-9, 1781 was an unambiguous win for France. This is important for Americans to keep in mind this was the battle that sealed the fate of the British garrison at Yorktown (and thus American independence). So, France has achieved victory at least once, and it mattered big time for the United States.
In the 20th Century, the French record is also much better than some people would lead a person to believe. In World War I, the French did not fold up. If anything, the French carried a lot of the burden of the ground war from 1914-1917, halting the German invasion at the Marne. The French also outfought the Germans at Verdun in 1916, holding the line against a vigorous German offensive.
In 1918, the French forces took part in major offensives in the Balkans and in France itself. Both of those were victories. This came after France played a major part in repelling the powerful 1918 offensive by Germany. In other words, the French did their fair share in World War I. Only natural, since France was where most of the fighting occurred. It was Marshal Ferdinand Foch (commanding French Forces in the Second Battle of Marne) who said, My center is giving way, I cannot move. Situation excellent, I shall attack.
In World War II, France is often judged by the 1940 German offensive. This is unfair in some aspects. France had 3 armored divisions Germany had 10, which was a decisive edge in one of the earliest mechanized campaigns in history. After France surrendered, Free French forces took part in the African battles, and played major roles in Operation Dragoon (the landings in southern France in August, 1944). The French also carried out the liberation of Strasbourg, and took part in the final defeat of Nazi Germany.
Since World War II, France has taken part in the 1956 Suez War, which was a military victory. France only backed off due to political pressure from the United States and USSR. France also did not lose the Algerian War of Independence from 1954-1962 on any battlefield, but instead in terms of politics. The only real loss was the Indochina War, which was highlighted by the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
France today has a reasonably capable military (they operate the only CVN outside the
United States Navy, and the Rafale is one of the best combat aircraft in service at the present time). French forces recently carried out a brilliant operation in Cote dIvoire, in which aircraft, that had launched attacks on UN peacekeepers, were quickly and efficiently destroyed.
France has, in these wars, lost as many as two million killed in action. Far more often than not, France has won major battles in the past century, and in some cases, paid a dear price to do so. French military forces have gotten a bit of a bum rap as a result of the weasel-like positions of certain French political leaders. Harold C. Hutchison