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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, Europe, 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 387 BC, 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

The Capitulation of Ulm by Charles Thévenin. The decisive finale of the Ulm Campaign led to the surrender of General Mack and 23,000 Austrian troops.
The Ulm Campaign consisted of a series of French and Bavarian military maneuvers and battles to outflank and capture an Austrian army in 1805 during the War of the Third Coalition. The French Grande Armée, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, comprised 210,000 troops organized into seven corps, and hoped to knock out the Austrian army in the Danube before Russian reinforcements could arrive. Through rapid marching, Napoleon conducted a large wheeling maneuver that captured an Austrian army of 23,000 under General Mack on October 20 at Ulm, bringing the total number of Austrian prisoners in the campaign to 60,000. The campaign is generally regarded as a strategic masterpiece and was influential in the development of the Schlieffen Plan in the late 19th century. The victory at Ulm did not end the war, since a large Russian army under Kutuzov was still near Vienna. The Russians withdrew to the northeast to await reinforcements and to link up with surviving Austrian units. The French followed and captured Vienna on November 12. On December 2, the decisive French victory at Austerlitz effectively removed Austria from the war. The resulting Treaty of Pressburg in late December brought the Third Coalition to an end and left Napoleonic France as the major power in Central Europe, leading to the War of the Fourth Coalition with Prussia and Russia the following year. Before Austerlitz, Europe had been embroiled in the French Revolutionary Wars since 1792.


Selected image

Napoleon Crossing the Alps
Credit: Jacques-Louis David

Napoleon Crossing the Alps is the title given to the five versions of an oil on canvas equestrian portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte painted by the French artist Jacques-Louis David between 1801 and 1805. Initially commissioned by the Spanish Ambassador to France, the composition shows a strongly idealized view of the real crossing that Napoleon and his army made across the Alps in 1800.

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

Du Guesclin Dinan.jpg

Bertrand du Guesclin (c. 1320 – 13 July 1380) was a French-Breton knight and military commander during the Hundred Years' War. He was Constable of France from 1370 until his death. His strategy of wearing down the English while avoiding major battles allowed the French to recapture most of what they had lost earlier in the war.

Bertrand du Guesclin was born in Broons, near Dinan in Brittany. His family was of minor Breton nobility, the lords of Broon. He initially served Charles of Blois in the Breton War of Succession (1341-1364). Charles was supported by the French crown, while his rival was allied with England. In 1356-1357, Bertrand held Rennes against English attack. He entered the service of Charles V when he became King of France in 1364.

He won the victory of Cocherel over the forces of King Charles II of Navarre. The victory forced Charles II into a new peace with the French king.

On September 29, 1364, at the Battle of Auray, Bertrand du Guesclin and Charles of Blois were heavily defeated by John V, Duke of Brittany, and the English forces under Sir John Chandos, Vicomte de Saint-Sauveur. Charles was killed in action, ending the Blois pretensions in Brittany. (More...)

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