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100 Years On – Mutiny

By 1917, the French army had absorbed over one million dead soldiers.  Offensive after offensive had promised to end the fighting, or at least get the men out of the trenches, but nothing seemed to work.  After Verdun, the French general Neville thought he had struck upon a way to finally pierce the German lines, and hopes were high among his soldiers as they once again went on the offensive.

A few weeks later, their hope had turned to despair.  Along with agitation by communist and pacifist forces, the lack of any hope of succeeding, and possibly of surviving, had eaten away the confidence of many French infantrymen.

Their answer was to refuse to follow orders.  Beginning on May 3, 1917, 43% of all French divisions saw at least some disruptive behavior, with several entire regiments refusing to attack.  Thankfully, this activity was not hostile toward leadership.  Rather, the soldiers simply refused to go back to the trenches or leave the relative safety of their positions to attack the enemy.

French commanders reacted with a surprisingly gentle solution.  In return for the return of discipline in the ranks, they increased the number and length of leaves for soldiers and promised to not undertake any large offensives until American forces were able to join the line.  Additionally, while there were 3,427 courts martial against mutineers, only 629 men were sentenced to death.  Of these, only 43 soldiers were actually executed.

French commanders kept their offensives and objectives limited for the remainder of 1917, giving their army time to rest and regain its fighting spirit.

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3 Comments

  1. The amazing thing is just how long after the Battle of the Frontiers their moral held together. I don’t totally buy the “Lions led by Donkeys” viewpoint, but when the learning curve of Generals is measured in 100,000s of casualties in the present tense discontent becomes more understandable.

  2. Ray

     /  May 4, 2017

    I don’t believe that the French ever regained the “fighting spirit” you wright about. Hence the interwar defensive mindset leading to the 1939 collapse of the French army and it’s use of nearly 100% non-French troops in the first indo China war, followed by the mutiny of French troops in Algeria. Leading to collapse after collapse of French governments and ever increasing leftist government. France castrated itself at Verdun. A nation never recovers from that

  3. While they ‘have’ a military force, it’s been a hollow one since Verdun.

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