French Artillery Doctrine

Discussions on all aspects of France during the Inter-War era and Second World War.
OldBill
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French Artillery Doctrine

Post by OldBill » 18 Jan 2015 18:28

I've been searching on the site for information on the French Artillery Doctrine, and while there is a nice listing of equipment, and occasional bits on how it was employed, there doesn't seem to be a thread on how the French were supposed to employ their artillery, nor a lot of information on how well they managed to do so. What is known about this?

DocHawkeye
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Re: French Artillery Doctrine

Post by DocHawkeye » 19 Jan 2015 17:15

Lots of pre-planned, multi-day barrages before an infantry assault on a given area. Once the infantry began moving on an objective, the French would use timetables to lift their barrage in something like 2km increments until the artillery was nearing its maximum range. The infantry would advance under each increment through a series of given phase lines. After a 7-8km advance was conducted the infantry would dig in and allow the artillery to limber and move up. Rinse and repeat.

Basically the French did not believe in conducting any kind of operation outside the protective umbrella of their artillery. Since during the Great War objectives were usually successfully taken after a long period of meticulously planned infantry/artillery cooperation. Precise timing was very important and adherence to a given plan was considered strict. Like the British the French preferred the use of lighter guns in the 75mm-90mm range because it was the suppressing effect of the barrage was more valuable than the destructive effect. Course' they may also have just built so many M1897s that what else were they going to do with them all?

Carl Schwamberger
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Re: French Artillery Doctrine

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 19 Jan 2015 23:48

In the Journal of Royal Artillery then 1937 edition, there is a lengthly description from a British artillery officer of French battalion or 'Groupe' operations. The short version is a battalion and central battery (four gun batteries) observation or command post were located within 50 meters of each other, or colocated. The OP of the other two batteries were located to each flank, roughly 500 to 1000 meters from the main OP/CP. All four OP were located to observe the battalions area of responsibility. The 3 or four OP/CP gave the battalion some redundancy in the face of counter fires from the enemy, allowed triangulation of targets for accurate location, and allowed positioning of the OP to reduce unobserved dead ground.

The batteries had both primary and alternate positions to reduce vulnerability to counter fires. The use of single gun positions was also made to reduce effectiveness of counter fires. ie: registrations or extended adjustments on a target would be offset to the single gun position to avoid giving away the main battery position. While fire missions from a single four gun battery were performed the preference was a shorter but larger attack from the entire battalion. That is 36 rounds fired rapidly from 12 cannon was seen as more effective than twice that more slowly from just four cannon.

While planning was detailed and methodical, and the fire plans tied closely to slow moving assaults the ability to respond with massed artillery fires was not slow. This was in part because of the close control of the battalion by the main CP. However the ability of mass multiple battalions with speed is noted in accounts of the 1940 campaign. ie: On 12 May tank battalions of the 4th Pz Div attempted to advance on to and through the outpost line of the 3rd DLM. The DLM was modestly supported by its own three battalions of 24 75mm & 12 105mm guns, and 24 more from the corps artillery groupement. The German attack force spent part of the morning and entire afternoon evening advancing just two kilometers against the French screen of a couple companies of dragoons, AT guns, and a squadron of light Renault tanks. It appears rapid and concentrated fires from the five artillery battalions. One German veteran of WWI thought the French concentrations as heavy as anything he had experienced 1914-1918.

Carl Schwamberger
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Re: French Artillery Doctrine

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 20 Jan 2015 00:00

DocHawkeye wrote:.... Like the British the French preferred the use of lighter guns in the 75mm-90mm range because it was the suppressing effect of the barrage was more valuable than the destructive effect. Course' they may also have just built so many M1897s that what else were they going to do with them all?
There was a 105mm gun in production for division use. It was distributed in limited numbers to the new divisions like the DCR and DLM or DLC, all the new mechanized formations. There were a few other battalions in the corps artillery groups. Other new artillery were a 155mm long range gun and IIRC a new howitzer. I dont have information on anticipated production for 1940-42 so I've no idea how fast these new cannon would replace the older ones.

The larger bore guns were concentrated in the corps and army artillery groups & the execution of nuetralizing or destructive fires was to originate at that level. I dont have the details, but the corps artillery commander was linked to the corps group and division group and battalions closely enough that he could direct the entire corps/division artillery, including the rapid concentration of multiple battalions.

OldBill
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Re: French Artillery Doctrine

Post by OldBill » 20 Jan 2015 00:18

IIRC it was posted on here that the French were deploying new 120mm mortars, in addition to 81mm types. Who controlled those? How were their arrangements for Forward Observers?

Carl Schwamberger
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Re: French Artillery Doctrine

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 20 Jan 2015 01:12

I've got no information on the heavy mortars. They did not have medium artillery in the infantry regiments like the Germans or US Army did. There were some AT gun companies at that level, but little else. So, maybe a regimental mortar company? Alternately add to the battalion mortar unit, or add a heavy mortar unit to the division artillery group? Might even be a indenpendent unit destined for the corps/army artillery groups.

French practice was to have the observation teams part of the artillery unit. The unit commander had primary responsibility for observation. The use of 'forward observers' vs the primary observation post is a bit more obscure to me. The concept was there, & had been used in 1917-18. I'm assuming the men in the FO team came from the artillery battalion and the ability of infantry officers to act as a FO and direct artillery fires first hand was not yet developed in the French army. In the artillery units I served in the survey section had a secondary mission of acting as forward observers. Perhaps the French had a similar idea?

OldBill
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Re: French Artillery Doctrine

Post by OldBill » 20 Jan 2015 02:43

Thanks fellows! This is IMO an area we haven't discussed in enough detail on the boards. Perhaps we shall get more information from our French posters.

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Hoplophile
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Re: French Artillery Doctrine

Post by Hoplophile » 25 Mar 2021 02:15

This article, written by John Sayen in 1991, sheds light on some of the questions posted in this thread.


French Infantry Regiment 1940.pdf
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Carl Schwamberger
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Re: French Artillery Doctrine

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 25 Mar 2021 03:45

Merci & Thanks. That does answer some questions. I am pondering some it raises.

One point that document reminds us of is unlike the German, US, and Red Armies the French infantry regiment had no internal cannon company. Just some mortars and AT guns. The mortars are bit on the light side in terms of numbers. This lack of a regimental cannon parallels the Britsh practice of concentrating all the cannon in the division artillery group.

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