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ART. I.-La Troisième Invasion. Par EUGÈNE VÉRON. Deux tomes. 8vo. Nouvelle édition. Paris 1886.
N the history of the world there have been several instances of the sudden and complete overthrow of a great military power, as much to the surprise of those not engaged in the contest, as to the utter bewilderment of the nation vanquished. Never, however, were the surprise of the one and the bewilderment of the other greater than when within seven weeks after the declaration of war in 1870 the contest was virtually decided by the surrender of the Emperor Napoleon and his army at Sedan. It is easy to be wise after the event, and Englishmen succeeded in explaining to themselves this gigantic catastrophe in a vague and general way. Certain clear-sighted men had, indeed, as soon as the war began expressed an opinion that the French would be worsted; but even they had never anticipated so complete and rapid a disaster. Even to the Germans the result came, in its thoroughness and the speed with which it had been attained, in the nature of a pleasant surprise, though that they would be ultimately victorious they never doubted. As regards the French-with the exception of a very few, including the Emperor himself-their confidence had been so great, their enthusiasm so high, that when the crash came they could hardly realise it, and were utterly at a loss to account for it, save on the grounds of treason or gross incapacity of the military commanders. That France fairly dealt with by the Government, that French armies, handled with ordinary skill, could be worsted by the stolid, hated Prussians who had been so thoroughly cowed by
VOL. CLXIV. NO. CCCXXXVI.
Jena, was inconceivable. It was an outrage, a stupid insult to the nation, to suppose that French soldiers were not infinitely superior to German troops. Even if the former had by some mismanagement or an unfortunate accident been out-manoeuvred or out-numbered by the enemy, the furia francese would have compensated for these material disadvantages. How then to account for disasters which at last could not be denied? Thus distraught with wounded vanity, a scene of recrimination ensued, and every one sought to make a scapegoat of his neighbour. Under such circumstances an impartial judgment was not to be expected from the French, while, dazzled by the success of the Germans, it was not much more easily obtainable from foreigners. Now, however, circumstances are changed: the heated passions of the moment have subsided in France, while as regards ourselves the glamour of German success has waned in its power. The evidence is complete, and public opinion now in a position to weigh its value calmly with a view to establish historic truth.
Animated by the patriotic desire to point out, in order that they may be remedied or removed, the causes of the most startling military collapse of modern times, the author of La Troisième Invasion' has striven to place all the facts connected with the war before his countrymen. In the execution of his task he has displayed an impartiality, a contempt for illusions, and a disregard for French vanity which does him the highest honour. The first edition appeared in 1876, when France was still smarting from the wounds which she had received. The edition which we take as our text appears when actual anguish has been succeeded by an aching memory. In the interval of eleven years which has appeared between the two editions the author has had an opportunity of profiting by additional information obtained from those who bore a prominent part in the drama which they describe. Of the causes of the contest and the events which preceded it we do not propose here to treat, but shall commence with the relative military situation of France and Germany on the day on which war was officially declared.
The chief military law of France is still that of 1832, due to Marshal Gouvion St.-Cyr. This law, though largely superseded and altered by successive enactments, is the basis of the French military system, and invariably referred to whenever military legislation is discussed. Startled by the triumphs of Prussia in 1866, the French Government determined to increase its military strength, and at the end of 1867
Marshal Niel introduced a new military law. Its chief object was to increase the number of soldiers of which the Minister of War could in the event of a European war dispose. The French generals were quite content with the military institutions of the country, and looked on the French soldiers as the best in the world. The only drawback was that their number was insufficient. As to improving the arrangements for mobilisation, concentration, the organisation of cadres, for making the staff and the intendance more efficient, not a thought was bestowed on these important matters. The efforts of Marshal Niel were therefore practically confined, as we have said, to increasing the numerical strength of the army. With this view the period of With this view the period of engagement was raised from seven to nine years, five years being passed with the colours and four in the reserve. By this expedient the effectives of the army were on paper increased or rather would be when the system came into full operation- from 700,000 to 900,000 men without largely swelling the budget. Further to diminish the cost, the Minister of War was empowered to send a portion of the men with the colours to their homes on unlimited furlough. In addition to the regular army, another force, estimated at 500,000 men, was instituted. This force, called the garde mobile, was to consist of those who drew good numbers in the conscription or were exempted for reasons of family from service in the regular army. This auxiliary force, which M. Véron stigmatises as a phantasmagoria and a fiction, was evidently of no real value, from want of habits of discipline and knowledge of drill, the law only authorising the mobiles being instructed fifteen times a year during a few hours each time. But, with a few insignificant exceptions, even this limited amount of instruction was not imparted, and the men were neither clothed, armed, nor even organised in regiments. Evidently, therefore, in estimating the real numerical strength of the army, the half million of mobiles must be omitted from the calculation.
As to the 900,000 men of the active army and its reserves, it must be remembered that the law of February 1868 had not by July 1870 produced its full effect, for the reserve only comprised two annual contingents. Other deductions had also to be made before arriving at the number of combatants really available for service in the field against Germany. These deductions consisted of troops in Algeria, at Civita Vecchia, troops in garrison, depots, sick, non-combatants, &c. Thus the real effective was reduced to 400,000
men, including those on furlough and in the reserve. Marshal Leboeuf naturally wished to make the best of things, but even he did not estimate the total number of formed soldiers on the rolls of the French army at more than 567,000 in 1870. This was the actual state of things as regarded the available numbers of instructed men in July 1870; but the nation did not know it, and we will go so far as to say that even the Minister of War did not know it, so successful had he and his predecessors been in surrounding themselves with illusions. Less than a year before the firing of the first shot-viz. on August 16, 1869-the Journal Officiel' contained the following passage:
A regular army of 750,000 men disposable for war, nearly 600,000 men of the mobile national guard; instruction carried in all branches to an extent hitherto unknown; 1,200,000 muskets manufactured in eighteen months; the fortresses in a proper condition; the arsenals filled; an immense amount of matériel, sufficient for all eventualities, whatever they may be; and, in face of such a situation, France confident in her strength. All these great results obtained in two years!'
We have seen how exaggerated the estimate was as to numbers; we shall proceed to show how ill-founded were the other reasons alleged for confidence. According to the statement of Marshal Leboeuf, when the war broke out, France possessed for the infantry 1,035,555 chassepots, and 271,439 converted rifles; for the artillery 3,104 field-pieces; for chassepots 113,000,000 cartridges, for converted rifles 95,000,000 cartridges, for field-pieces 383,000 rounds. The result of the inquiry presided over by the Duc d'AudiffretPasquier and M. Reaul showed that Marshal Leboeuf was correct as to the converted rifles, but that of chassepots there were only 1,019,000, and of field-pieces but 2,376. As to the latter, for want of harness and horses only 924 pieces could be furnished to the army of the Rhine. The supply of ammunition was so insufficient that there were outside Paris on September 13 only about 5,500,000 cartridges, model 1866, with which to provide the fortresses threatened and the troops which were being hurriedly organised; and that as to provisions of all sorts the troops, from the time they took the field, were in want of everything.'
This assertion, sweeping as it may be considered, is confirmed by a selection of telegrams given in the book before us. Thus, as early as July 19, we find General de Failly complaining that he is destitute of everything, including money. The next day the intendant-general telegraphs that at Metz there was neither sugar, coffee, rice, nor
brandy, nor any salt, while the supply of biscuit and bacon was small. The major-general, on July 28, declares that there is not enough biscuit for an advance. The day previous he had represented that the detachments which joined the army were unprovided with cartridges and tents. A large proportion of the horse-collars destined for the artillery were found to be too small. In the 6th army corps there was only one veterinary surgeon to twenty batteries. The intendant of the 3rd corps on July 24 telegraphs as follows: The 3rd 'corps quits Metz to-morrow. I have neither hospital 'attendants, workmen of the administration, ambulance'carts, field-ovens, nor transport waggons, and in two divi'sions not even a functionary.' Other corps were almost as badly off in these respects. The finest army in the world is useless if unprovided with means to transport its baggage and food. In this respect the French in 1870 utterly broke down. The Ministry of War had failed to provide an adequate supply of food and stores generally, and even what it possessed in central depots was not forthcoming at the required times and places. Of military carriages there were sufficient, if auxiliary transport obtained from civil sources had been organised and added, to have satisfied all requirements. Here again, however, was displayed want of forethought. No auxiliary transport was arranged for, and as for military carriages the following passage from M. Véron's book shows how little common sense had been shown in preparing them for mobilisation: 8,000 carriages were collected in a single park in such a manner that, according to Intendant-General Blondeau, it would have required six months to get them out and place them at the disposal of the army.' The fact is, we believe, that there was only one narrow gate to the park above mentioned. Untaught by the lessons which they might have learnt from the arrangements of the Prussians in 1866, the French authorities had bestowed no thought on such essential matters as the mobilisation and concentration even of the men intended to bring up the regiments of the field army to their war strength. M. Véron, in a few powerful sentences, thus describes the general situation:
The troops were scattered about at hundreds of leagues from their depots, and the soldiers summoned to the German frontier were obliged to begin by going to seek for their rifles and equipment at Brest, at Toulouse, in Algeria, before proceeding to their appointed posts. The defective organisation of the staff and the intendance was scrupulously maintained. No pains were taken to study the military institutions of the enemy whom one was going to fight. There