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The War Nerd October 2, 2003
 
The French
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 3
 
The French were scared, all right. But they had reason to be. For starters, they'd barely begun to recover from their last little scrap with the Germans: a little squabble you might've heard of, called WW I.

WW I was the worst war in history to be a soldier in. WW II was worse if you were a civilian, but the trenches of WW I were five years of Hell like General Sherman never dreamed of. At the end of it a big chunk of northern France looked like the surface of the moon, only bloodier, nothing but craters and rats and entrails.

Verdun. Just that name was enough to make Frenchmen and Germans, the few who survived it, wake up yelling for years afterward. The French lost 1.5 million men out of a total population of 40 million fighting the Germans from 1914-1918. A lot of those guys died charging German machine-gun nests with bayonets. I'd really like to see one of you office smartasses joke about "surrender monkeys" with a French soldier, 1914 vintage. You'd piss your dockers.

Shit, we strut around like we're so tough and we can't even handle a few uppity Iraqi villages. These guys faced the Germans head on for five years, and we call them cowards? And at the end, it was the Germans, not the French, who said "calf rope."

When the sequel war came, the French relied on their frontier fortifications and used their tanks (which were better than the Germans', one on one) defensively. The Germans had a newer, better offensive strategy. So they won. And the French surrendered. Which was damn sensible of them.

This was the WEHRMACHT. In two years, they conquered all of Western Europe and lost only 30,000 troops in the process. That's less than the casualties of Gettysburg. You get the picture? Nobody, no army on earth, could've held off the Germans under the conditions that the French faced them. The French lost because they had a long land border with Germany. The English survived because they had the English Channel between them and the Wehrmacht. When the English Army faced the Wermacht at Dunkirk, well, thanks to spin the tuck-tail-and-flee result got turned into some heroic tale of a brilliant British retreat. The fact is, even the Brits behaved like cowards in the face of the Wermacht, abandoning the French. It's that simple.

Here's a quick sampler of some of my favorite French victories, like an antidote to those ignorant websites. We'll start way back and move up to the 20th century.

Tours, 732 AD: The Muslims had already taken Spain and were well on their way to taking the rest of Europe. The only power with a chance of stopping them was the French army under Charles "the Hammer" Martel, King of the Franks (French), who answered to the really cool nickname "the Hammer of God." It was the French who saved the continent's ass. All the smart money was on the Muslims: there were 60,000 of them, crazy Jihadis whose cavalry was faster and deadlier than any in Europe. The French army was heavily outnumbered and had no cavalry. Fighting in phalanxes, they held against dozens of cavalry charges and after at least two days of hand-to-hand combat, finally managed to hack their way to the Muslim center and kill their commander. The Muslims retreated to Spain, and Europe developed as an independent civilization.

Orleans, May 1429: Joan of Arc: is she the most insanely cool military commander in history or what? This French peasant girl gets instructions from her favorite saints to help out the French against the English invaders. She goes to the King (well, the Dauphin, but close enough) and tells him to give her the army and she'll take it from there. And somehow she convinces him. She takes the army, which has lost every battle it's been in lately, to Orleans, which is under English siege. Now Joan is a nice girl, so she tries to settle things peaceably. She explains in a letter to the enemy commanders that everything can still be cool, "...provided you give up France...and go back to your own countries, for God's sake. And if you do not, wait for the Maid, who will visit you briefly to your great sorrow." The next day she put on armor, mounted a charger, and prepared to lead the attack on the besiegers' fortifications. She ordered the gates opened, but the Mayor refused until Joan explained that she, personally, would cut off his head. The gates went up, the French sallied out, and Joan led the first successful attack they'd made in years. The English strongpoints were taken, the siege was broken, and Joan's career in the cow-milking trade was over.


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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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