lundi 21 avril 2014

From the "national pants" to the battleships, the lethal wedding (for French soldiers) between lobbies and news papers before both WW I and WW II (revised 11 / 08 / 2014)


Democracy and Truth must be ever linked together


Democracy is the best possible form of government, yes, it's absolutely my own conviction. 
However, a democratic power implies some constraints, one of them being the obligation to say the Truth. 

And, as the History teach us, it's not always the case.

Today, at the first part of the XXI th century, it's usual to underline the paramount role of the media. 

And, whatever say the journalists about that subject, their power is real. 

Very often, their writing 
goal is to influence large part of the opinion.

Those who use unverified informations may destroy the very basis of the democracy: All ill-based decisions became catastrophic, and disasters may happen quickly, as it occurred for France at least twice.




The French "national pants" affair induced huge casualties at the beginning of WW I


(source: Pierre Servent, Le complexe de l'Autruche, Perrin ed.)

This story occurred more than a century ago, in the 1911 France.

Since dozen of years, French infantrymen wear red pants (in French, that variant of red color was named as garance).



Personal document of the author -  The French soldiers were perfect targets for their German ennemies.
Seven years after the publishing of this picture the German gunners found that dressing very fun!


The French minister of War, Adolfe Messimy, knowing clearly the evolution of the military clothing since the 1st Boer War (1881), wished to change the field uniform. 

During the Boer War, the khaki clothes worn by the Boers farmers allowed them to shot down their British enemies with a kill ratio of about ten British for one Boer because the British professional soldiers cannot see them in the bush. 

The British soldiers wore flashy red uniforms giving perfect targets to the Boers...

The excellent French minister (I'm not used to write such compliments for a minister of my own Nation) launched tests on the field with réséda colored (~khaki) uniforms, during the Fall maneuvers in 1911.

(The excellent French review GBM (Guerre, Blindés, Matériels) had published a good paper and especially good painting on this subject in his #102 of 2012)

The newspapers expressed how they were unduly indignant: "The great republican principles were not respected, our soldiers became ridiculous, the officers would lose all their authority, the red pants were so much fun," and so on....

These articles were passed on by the members of parliament.

Though, one could be aware at this time that, if the Lebel rifle had good range and accuracy, the reloading of its magazine was very slow by comparison to the German riffle. 

The common sense would have been to equip the French soldiers with more drab clothing which would force the German soldiers to advance closer to the French lines to be able to engage them. 

So, the live losses would have been much more evenly distributed between the two opposite camps.

It had constituted somewhat like an actual stealthiness.

A similar political reaction happened simultaneously against the steel helmet, which equipped the French soldiers as late as September 1915 (a full year wasted).

The official reason then given was it was anesthetic!

It resulted that 300,000 French soldiers were killed and 600,000 wounded in the first 3 months of the war, among them  210,000 perished between the first day of the WW I and the end of the first Battle of the Marne.


The lesson is that, in France (at least?) politics follows often a lot of theatrical gestures which have nothing to do with the real world.

The problem is not really the political opinions of journalists, but their articles - as those of scientists - must be absolutely based on the Truth

If they had followed such a principle, numerous French soldiers would have been uninjured and more German soldiers were killed in the beginning of the WW I.



Lobbying for battleships, in 1936!



My purpose is to explain how the IIIrd Republic wasted its own maeger budgets into military foolish and irrelevant spending.

The following picture displays an article in a French review  rather similar to  Popular Science  and published at the end of 1936.



Personal document of the author 


In this article, the author discussed the budget of the French Navy for 1937.

The title was clear: The Navy had ordered 51 ships, but a single battleship would be more relevant...

The author wrote how insignificant would be the anti-submarine, the logistic boats, the submarine and the patrolers ordered.

View from today, it's ironic, knowing the weak role of the French battleships (as the battleships of all other countries) and the huge role of submarines, patrolers, logistic boats in WW II.

He is crying how weak the French "battle-group" would be with only two battle-cruisers and two battleships.

This writer was likely a man of the admiral Darlan stable.

The Front Populaire (a politician leftist coalition including the parliamentary support of the communists) was actually steering France and had launched a lot of reforms among them some were necessary - but very late - and some other were completely irrelevant (e.g. the nationalizations).

One of the consequence of that policy was huge spending, so the military budgets could not be as important as it was needed to answer to Hitler's Germany powerful arm race.



Hitler, the only real threat for France


Hitler, at this very time, had occupied the left rim of the Rhine, and also he developed a strong armored army, a strong AA artillery, a strong Air Force and a strong submarine fleet.

The worst enemy of the IIIrd Reich, as Hitler expressed in his program (Mein Kampf), was France, and there was no sea between France and Germany.

Our Navy had no mean to interfere efficiently with Germany in case of war.

It had no operational landing craft (I've read some years ago experiments were in progress with only two vessel of 60 and 90 tonnes).

The French Navy was conceived only to secure the naval traffic between France metropolis and its colonies, especially the North African ones.



The naval and colonial lobbies in action


The writer of this article began his narrative by the proposition which he prefer (we need battleships) before to write an apparently opposite opinion (aircraft may endanger the battleship). 

However, it was only a formal concession.

Four battleship were soon commissioned or very advanced but the writer wanted a battle group of nine battleships for 1943.

In the 1937 FF, the price of each of these battleships was 2,500,000,000 FF. 

With this money, France was able to buy 2,000 Dewoitine 520 or 1,000 Spitfire!

The huge amount of armor steel needed for these naval behemoths were useful for the bunker of the Maginot line near Sedan as they were useful to the tank industry.


For the French Navy, as for most of the other ones, the Aviation was seen as a great threat.

The Armée de l'Air was obviously money consuming.

The French Navy was addict to money, as all kind of great administration in all countries.

Though, it got 42% of the military budget from 1926 until 1936.

The top leaders of the Royale had not the vista which may allowed them to anticipate the near futur, except a handful as Frochot (dead in 1929) or de Laborde (whose stupid decision to scuttle the French Fleet at Toulon in 1942 - instead of joining De Gaulle - was only related to his very bad relationships with Darlan). 

They had not understood the clear lessons of the Battle of Jutland were it was obvious that the battleships were completely useless. 

Indeed, even if they were well conceived, they cannot conclude their actions.

When they were ill-conceived, as were all the British battle-cruisers, they exploded with all hands (as it was again the case in 1941 with the HMS Hood).

Instead, they would be wise to develop sonars, radars, anti-submarine warfare, and aircraft carriers. They do not... except to late.


They privileged flying boats, easy preys for any land or carrier based fighters.


Even for their submarines, the French admirals wanted a strong artillery, noisy when submerged, as also powerful surface engines in order to follow the fleets!

The consequence was the fine submarines dubbed "1500 tonnes" of the Redoutable class may be heard when they were surfaced at 12 nautical miles far from the coasts (source: Captain J. L'Herminier, Casabianca, who must be very skilled to conduct a lot of secret missions in Southern France and Corsica coasts).


The French Air Force obtained the first part of the military budget only in 1939, too late...

A free press is essential to Democracy, but the problem remaining is the sense of free.

Lobbies and bribery are often linked, then both act together against Liberty and Democracy.




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