FRENCH ARMY MANOEUVRES, 1912.
The manoeuvres of the French Army were held south of the Loire, in Touraine, and in Poitou, in the neighbourhood of Loudun, from the 11th to the 13th, and from the 10th to the 17th September.
They were of particular interest, partly on account of the extensive scale on which they were carried out and of the large forces that were engaged, approximating 110,000 men, 20,000 horses, 500 guns, 54 aeroplanes and 4 dirigibles, and partly because the Generals commanding each side were given full liberty of action, special care being taken that no premature publication of information to the prejudice of either party should be made by the press, but that all situations and conditions should be ascertained by the normal medium of military reconnaissance. The general idea given out by the Directing Staff, Head Quarters at Loudun, was as follows:—”During the first days of September a Blue Western side has assembled to the west of the line Chantonnay, Fontenay-Le-Compte, Niort, St. Jean d’Angely. Other elements have been formed in Vendee, north of Cholet, and in Anjou, in the region of Laval. To operate against these forces, a Red Side is assembled on’ the upper Creuse, above d’Argenton. Other Red groups are forming on the lower Cher, to the east of Tours.”
This situation practically restricted the theatre of active operations during the first period of the manoeuvres within the polygon bounded by Saumur, Bressuire, Parthenay, Chauvigny and Tours, an open and generally level country, very fertile and rich and naturally lending itself to great deployments. The large number of good routes and roads, and of rivers and railways crossing it in every direction, rendered communications and transport rather easy, and allowed of free movements of troops; whereas the forests with which it is dotted afforded security from view and facilitated surprises. The western Blue Army, commanded by General Gallieni, was composed of the 1st Cavalry Division, the 10th and 11th Army Corps and some Army Heavy Artillery. The eastern Red Army, under General Marion, was made up of the 7th Cavalry Division, the 9th Army Corps and a Provisional Army Corps composed of the 9th Infantry Division and of a Colonial Infantry Division. The 54th Division of reservists which was encamped at Ruchard was held by the Directing Staff for the second period of the manoeuvres, together with other special troops. The Western Army was first deployed on the line Saumur, Doue-la-Fontaine and Bressuire, on the left bank of the Vienne, with headquarters at Cholet and a detachment of the army camping on both banks of the Loire. Another detachment was about sixty kilometres lower down, in the neighbourbood of Bressuire, the Division of Cavalry being well in rear near Saumur. The task of the Blue Commander appears to have been to concentrate at once these disseminated forces and march on the enemy somewhere on the line Chauvigny-Tours, to then overthrow and destroy him.
The first position of the Eastern Army was the line Chauvigny, La Haie-Descartes and Montbazon, on the right bank of the Vienne, with headquarters at Leblanc. It was scattered in different places, one Army Corps lying between the rivers the Clain and the Vienne, near Poitiers; another being on the Creuse near La Haie-Descartes and Cavalry operating near the forest of Chinon. The efforts of the Red General tended to join these dispersed detachments with lightning rapidity and profiting by their slight geographical advantage to prevent the concentration of the opposing forces and to defeat them in bulk if unable to do so in detail. Operations commenced on the morning of September 11. The first day was employed bv both Commanders in trying to effect the concentration of their own forces,’ in which both were successful, and in making for the region south of Loudun, between Moncontour and Mirebeau, with the result that on the evening of that day the front of the Western Army instead of occupying about sixty miles as it did the previous day was reduced to about fifteen miles. And that was also the then approximate distance between the advanced bodies of the two armies.
The Blue Force assembled for the night in the region Thouars (10th Corps), Airvault (11th Corps), and Moncontour (1st Cavalry Division), facing the gap Moncontour-Mirebeau. The Red Army had reached St. Georges and Vendeuvre (9th Corps), the forest of Scevolles (Provisional Corps), and Richelieu (7th Cavalry Division), also facing the gap Moncontour-Mirebeau, and had succeeded in reducing its morning frontage of 120 kilometers to about 40. Marching was resumed very early on the morning of the 12th. And all that day appears to have been spent by both sides in feeling the enemy and manoeuvring for battle positions. The Red Commander advanced the 9th Corps from Vendeuvre on the plateau between and near Mirebeau and Lencloitre. The Provisional Corps penetrated the forest of Scevolles and occupied its western outskirt, to clear it later and occupy a position in front of it. The 7th Cavalry Division rode from Richelieu to Loudun and appeared to hold the gap between that place and the Scevolles woods.
The Blue General moved the 10th Corps to Moncontour, which it occupied, and later towards Mirebeau, the 11th Corps also advancing on its right. The 1st Cavalry Division reconnoitered the different outlets of the forests of Scevolles, but seeing they were occupied in force by the Colonial troops of the Provisional Corps, later assembled near the village of Laroche, south of the forest, nearly in contact with the enemy.
The different reconnaissances made during the day brought about a number of local engagements, some of which were quite important, as at Martaizé, which was attacked vigorously by the 20th Division (10th Army Corps), and at the village of Angliers, which was taken by the Alpine Forces of the Provisional Corps. The 1st Cavalry Division, while moving from the woods of St. Clair and Lachaussée to St. Jean de Sauves, came into contact with the infantry forces of the Provisional Corps; but while making dispositions to engage them appeared to have been ordered in the direction of Mirebeau, its strategic role being practically over. Montréal The overlapping of the British Army Manoeuvres which necessitated the prompt return of the Honourable the Minister of Militia and the Canadian officers accompanying him to England caused the latter to leave the French manoeuvres before the termination of the operations of the first period and before the general engagement which took place on the morning of September 13, and which was especially hot at Vatré, on the plateau of Martaizé, between the 10th and the Provisional Army Corps; and at Craon, where the southern opposing forces met. The latter engagement culminated in the sensational capture by the Blue Cavalry of the Red Commander with his staff and one of his corps Commanders and Staff, and of six batteries of Army Artillery and a number of aeroplanes and apparatus of the wireless telegraph—which put an end to that period of the manoeuvres. From what has been seen during the operations, some impressions have been formed, subsequently strengthened by fuller reports, and among them the following may be specially pointed out:—
- The normal working of the French Army showed training, discipline and organization.
- Their marching and march arrangements seemed of the best. Everywhere there appeared to be alertness, interest and intelligence.
- The French soldier, although not like the British Guardsman in size, is of good physique, especially so in the cavalry, and he has endurance and lots of good spirits, which do not appear to fail him even after the longest and most tiresome march.
- The French officer, as a rule, is learned and keen; he is a professional, at home in his work.
- The relations between officers and men seemed very good.
- French troops arc well armed, especially the Artillery, which has a gun that gives amazing rapidity of fire.
- The French cavalry men are full of initiative, rapidity and dash, and they are good horsemasters. But although dismounted action was employed by the Cavalry on occasions to check the advance of hostile Infantry, it is possible that this arm has clung more closely than the others to the tradition of the past. They appeared at places to move in close formation under Infantry fire at effective ranges. They have an urgent need of being supplied with a new horse artillery gun, lighter and easier to handle than that which they possess at present. This problem is now meeting the attention of the French Minister of War.
- The Infantry deployment against Cavalry was in fairly dense firing lines and supports. Cover was made use of where available, but Infantry did not appear afraid of open ground when covered by Artillery. Lines were thicker than in the British manoeuvres, owing probably to greater strength with an equivalent frontage.
- French troops have as yet no general service uniform and consequently their clothing would appear too conspicuous and distinctive for modern conditions.
- The Manoeuvres of 1912 were remarkable in that they constituted an excellent test of the technical capacities of the officers, the different staffs having solved with great credit to themselves formidable problems of concentration, transport and mobilization. They also tried the physical capacities of the men, a number of Corps having marched on an average over 40 kilometres a day. Their force of resistance and the wonderful endurance of the French Infantryman have been the admiration of the foreigh officers. On a strength of 2,800 men, the 47th Regiment of Infantry, which is reported as having marched an average of 50 kilometres a day during six days, had only 20 casualties, all of which were due to accident or illness.
- Reference should be made to the splendid work of the aerial scouts and mechanical transport, as two of the distinctive features of the manoeuvres.
The organization of the mechanical transport for the manoeuvres took in:—
- One Light Automobile Company, of a tonnage sufficient to carry one day’s ration for a Cavalry Division of 2,500 men and 3,000 horses.
- One Heavy Automobile Company, to carry one day’s ration for an Army Corps of 20,500 men and 3,000 horses.
- One Automobile Section of Reserve Park, to ensure repairs and replacements of vehicles for the two foregoing units and eventually repairs to touring cars and the motor trucks used for the meat revietualling of the Western Army. The mechanical transport is reported as having given highly satisfactory results and as having carried out in a most conclusive manner the undertaking of revietualling the troops with fresh or half frozen meat.
The organization of aerial scouting was excellent. Systematic aerial reconnaissance has become an established part of the routine of the army, carried out as a matter of course. The most reliable information came in greater part from the aviators. The organization included dirigibles and aeroplanes:—
- Dirigibles.—One for each army, with a reserve of two:
Red Army.—The ‘Adjutant Reau,’ stationed near Coudon castle, between the Creuse and the road from Tournon to Leblanc. Crew, 11 men.
Blue Army.—The ‘Depuy de Lome,’ stationed at Voultegon. Crew, 10 men. The work of the dirigibles was found slow as compared with that of the aeroplanes.
- Aeroplanes.—Fifty-four aeroplanes were used in the manoeuvres, six of which were specially detailed to the Red Artillery, the balance being equally divided between the Red and Blue armies. They were formed into squadronnettes of six each, under the command of a captain, and comprised as nearly as possible machines of the same type. With the exception of one mixed squadronnette, they were either numbered I, II, III, IV, and V, or lettered A and B, the numbered ones being two-seated aeroplanes of the same type, the lettered ones one-seated monoplanes of the same type, whereas the mixed squadronnette included three-seated machines of different types. They were allotted to the rival forces as follows:—
Blue Army.—Squadronnette I.—6 two-seated Henri Farman.
- “……………………………II.—6 two-seated Henri Farman.
- “……………………………III.—6 two-seated Blériot.
- “………A.—6 one-seated monoplanes: 3 Borel and 3 Blriot.
Red Army.—Squadronnette IV.—6 two-seated Déperdussin.
- “……………………..V.—6 two-seated Maurice Farman.
- “……………………..B.—6 one-seated Hanriot.
- “..Mixed squadronnette.—2 two-seated Déperdussin; 2 three-seated Breguet; 2 three seated Nieuport.
These aeroplanes instead of being treated as neutral as they had been in preceding manoeuvres, were organized as fighting units of each army, and instead of moving probably 15 kilometers from the Headquarters of the Directing Staff as done previously, were now prepared to make reconnoitring rounds of 200 or 300 kilometres from the point where they happened to be. The Blue ones with their motor trucks and cars were first concentrated at Voultegon, the Red being assembled at Tournon-Saint-Pierre and a reserve established on the banks of the Loire, between Tours and Saumur.
To ensure revietualling and repairs, each squadronnette commander disposed of:
- Six light motor cars, one to follow each aeroplane to its camping ground and to carry the material necessary for small repairs of first necessity. They usually carried the machinists, and could tow the aeroplane when necessary.
- Three heavier motor trucks, one per two aeroplanes, to carry the heavier spare parts, such as motors, tubes, &e.
- One motor workshop. This was an interesting new thing. About 10 yards long, the wagon was constructed so as to open on both sides and thus allow of easy work. The 18-power motor which was used for the traction of the vehicle, also moved a dynamo which lighted the workshop and set going the machinery and tools installed in it: strap saw, lathe, borer. The vehicle also contained all the tools necessary for wood-work, one forge, vices, &e.
- One automobile for personal use.
- One motor cycle.
Thus organized, the squadronnette was quite independent. It could work by itself, leave on a sudden, settle anywhere, follow the troops, camp near them, was attached to no park, needed no shed, could maintain and protect itself and obtain shelter through its own resources. During the first period of the manoeuvres six aeroplanes were disabled and four were taken prisoners, leaving still thirty-eight ready for the subsequent phase of the campaign. Those taken prisoners were disqualified for twenty-four hours. The fact that six of the disabled machines were replaced by six reserve aeroplanes from Paris shows that in an emergency reserve machines can be summoned from a long distance.
12 The French officers the Canadians met, gave them a kindly welcome and treated them most courteously. They made them feel that the entente cordiale had created strong bonds of amity and friendship.