May 21, 2020Dev Blog
Hot on the heels of last week’s first look at the German Empire is the next instalment of our developer blog series. Standing directly opposite the German Empire was the French Republic, who were crucial in the defence of the Western Front, and so we now take the spotlight across the lines and present La Troisième République.
Initially, the French met the start of the Great War with enthusiasm and patriotic impulse, wanting revenge after the failure in the Franco-Prussian war. But soon the bloody reality of World War 1 had broken their expectations and hopes. Having entered the war in an outdated uniform with overly bright or contrasting colours, the French Army became ideal targets for the Germans. Due to this bright colouring, France experienced tremendous losses. Their hand was forced to reconsider the colour and the horizon-blue standard for the uniform was approved. The military went all-in with their war effort, following the old doctrines and ideas of a quick war expecting that the situation was about to crack and the French spirit would break the enemy advance.
However the Germans thought exactly the same and therefore, they too did not weaken the onslaught despite large losses. When the manoeuvring phase of the war ended the French command became intrigued by the modernization of equipment and armies as a whole. They began investing large resources into the renewal of their forces, betting on technological superiority and the first to introduce many innovations, such as a steel helmet or tactics of trench raiding with assault squads. From these innovations, the French infantry became the most experienced and trained force among the armies of the Entente.
The Adrian helmet was the first helmet designed in the 20th century for a new era of industrial warfare. August-Louis Adrian, who served during the Great War as an Intendant-General was analyzing the statistics of losses during this new era and noticed that the common cause of heavy injuries and deaths was shrapnel or shell fragments. This was the first steel helmet to be issued to modern infantry units that were better suited to protect against shrapnel. The value of the helmet was quickly appreciated by the soldiers and Adrian’s helmet was adopted by many other countries – Russia, Italy, Romania, Spain and many others. Even after the war, many soldiers gratefully remember General Adrian and his grave was not forgotten.
The army entered World War I wearing a kepi with a red tulle for both soldiers and officers. Later, the officer kepi’s were modernized and changed to horizon blue.
After the first gas attacks, in fear of an “invisible death”, French in-field workshops began producing primitive masks from improvised materials. Launched in early 1916 the Masque M2 was a good compromise between protection and simplicity. Such a combination allowed 29 million units to be produced during the war! Perhaps it was not the most comfortable gas mask, but it was cheap. The M2 mask was used not only by French troops but also by American and British soldiers.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the French preferred to go their own way and were not afraid to make unusual solutions. So their soldier’s harness’ were a bit different from the harness used by British, Americans or Germans. At the heart were the same set of connected leather strips and belt called Bretelles de suspension, on which bags and pouches with additional equipment were attached. Riflemen forced to carry large ammo bags (Cartouchière) were grateful of the extra carrying capability.
Like most military uniform of the time this coat was made of wool due to the varying weather conditions across the country in France, therefore the greatcoat had to suit differing climates. The officers in blue could be seen sporting the recognisable horizon blue greatcoat as they patrolled the line. However, during the Great War, the attitude of ordinary soldiers towards the officer class was volatile. After mass rioting in 1917 nearly collapsed the front, the French officers became more attentive to the soldiers entrusted to them to rebuild the trust and morale within the infantry.
When the conflict became stuck in entrenched warfare the soldiers had to experience inhuman conditions so the uniform had to protect from more than just weapons. Weather, disease and environment all contributed to the daily battle of each soldier and the uniform did its part in bringing some protection against the elements.
See you at the next briefing, soldier. Stay posted!