The Unwanted Clairvoyant. A different French strategy in WW1

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15th July 1911

General Victor-Constant Michel, Vice-President of the Supreme War Council, was in a precarious position. The Minister of War, Adolphe Messimy, had strongly advised him to resign three days ago. His rather tempestuous argument with the Colonel Grandmaison, the flamboyant chief of the Third Bureau and a brilliant teacher in the Center for Higher Military Studies, had badly weakened both his position and credibility. The meeting of the Council was scheduled for July the 19th. If Michel wanted to see his plan accepted, he would need support. That’s why he had decided to invite some acquaintances to dinner that evening. The first to arrive was General Augustin Dubail, Chief-of-Staff of the French Army. The man partially shared Michel’s views and was quite courteous. Then came General Joseph Joffre, commander of the Second Corps and a respected member of the War Council. And finally, Grandmaison himself appeared. The charismatic officer was surprised by Michel’s invitation, whose vision about the French army was the exact opposite of his. He was even more surprised by the polite welcome of the Vice-President.

The meal was both copious and delicate and the wine both plentiful and excellent. Soon the atmosphere lost some of its tension and Michel began to guide the conversation towards military matters. He stated right away that it was his firmest belief that, in case of war in the Reich, the German Army would go through Belgium in order to try to encircle the French Army in a vast pincer movement. General Joffre didn’t try to contest that statement but nonetheless claimed that, in case of such of move, the Germans would probably stay East of the river Meuse. He then asserted that the main thrust of the German Army would be against the French borders in Alsace and Moselle, as it was known that the German Army would almost certainly only use its active Army Corps and not the reserve units. The Germans simply hadn’t enough trained troops to perform a large offensive throughout western Belgium. Colonel Grandmaison gave his approval to Joffre’s theory.

At this moment General Michel decided to play his trump card and divulged the contents of a recent report of the Second Bureau ( the Intelligence branch of the Army): the said report established that the German Staff was seriously considering the idea to deploy Reserve Corps in the frontline in case of war. The revelation seemed to confuse Grandmaison a bit, but the man nonetheless claimed that this report was only one among many. Then General Michel asked him the following question: “Can you guarantee me, with the utmost certainty, that the German Army won’t use his reserve units and thus won’t try an attack through Belgium west of the river Sambre?”

Grandmaison answered that he couldn’t provide such a guarantee. A rather lengthy conversation followed and General Dubail finally concluded that the possibility of a German movement west of the river Sambre couldn’t be ignored and that the Army should at least prepare for such a case. Grandmaison then asked two questions: First: what about about a possible offensive against the French borders in the East? Second: in such case, how General Michel intended to find enough men to defend the homeland both in Alsace and Belgium?

General Michel knew that almost everyone in the Supreme War Council was aware of his report delivered to the Minister of War in February. He knew that his idea to amalgamate reserve regiments with active ones, thus creating 30 000 strong Infantry divisions, was received with scepticism at best. That’s why he had secretly chosen to give up this option. He was ready to make concessions to the “Offensive at the utmost” faction in exchange for the acceptation of his plan. As a consequence, he answered that it was never his intention to leave the Eastern border completely defenceless and that he agreed to the idea of limited and carefully designed offensives (as he had accepted the importance of attacking in Lorraine for a long time in the first place). By an astute choice of words, he didn’t describe his plan as a “defensive” one, but as a “counter-offensive” one.

He then proposed his ideas for a future strategy, specifying each time that it was only rough drafts and that he would accept advices to improve them. The conversation went into the late hours of the night and remained courteous, with concessions on both sides.
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- What's that?
-"That" is General Victor-Constant Michel trying to gain the approval of the War Council for his War Plan.

-So it's "a Plan XVI" TL?
-Not quite. The Plan XVI was good but utterly lacked flexibility. Here Michel realized that and tries to compromise.

-Don't you have other current stories to write?
-Yes I do. And I won't leave my dear Maid to her fate. In fact Joan is still a priority for me. This WW1 TL will enjoy regular but quite small update. Consider this prologue as a trailer. The others updates will come later.

-Why that TL? Why now?
-Because there is a TON of CP's threads (many of them being quite interesting TBF) and I intend to correct the balance a bit. I do not intend to write a French Wank or a German Screw. Both sides will have their share of victories and bloody noses. France's fate in 1914 will be different though.

-Which literary style have you chosen for this TL?
-The most lazy and easy one. Each update will describe a situation in a rather neutral tone. I will add to this that I took some inspiration from the truly delightful TLs of PDF27, Zheng He and Galveston Bay. So my updates will focus on important days or weeks. The pre-war years will only have a handful of updates.

-Thank you.
-Thank you. It has been a real pleasure to speak to myself. Now I have to feed the dragon. Have a nice day.
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-Not quite. The Plan XVI was good but utterly lacked flexibility. Here Michel realized that and tries to compromise.
At least it would not butcher French soldiers like Joffre and Nivelle.

Also, note that IOTL the main task of the German armies stationed in Alsace-Lorraine was to defend the possible French invasion. So, if the French stayed defensive like Michel originally planned, these areas would be quiet. The most important thing by far is that the German would never reach the Channel and Longwy-Brien with Michel's plan executed. They would be stalled in the frontier.

Anyway, the methodical tactic was the king of ww1 Western Front by far, not maneuvering tactics.
At least it would not butcher French soldiers like Joffre and Nivelle.

Also, note that IOTL the main task of the German armies stationed in Alsace-Lorraine was to defend the possible French invasion. So, if the French stayed defensive like Michel originally planned, these areas would be quiet. The most important thing by far is that the German would never reach the Channel and Longwy-Brien with Michel's plan executed. They would be stalled in the frontier.

Anyway, the methodical tactic was the king of ww1 Western Front by far, not maneuvering tactics.
Indeed the VIth and VIIth German Armies had to remain defensive in the Schlieffen Plan (even if the Konprinz of Bayern didn't obey to that order TBH) and the IVth and Vth Armies had to conduct limited offensives to keep the pressure on the French. Thing is: the majority of the French Staff DIDN'T KNOW THAT and BELIEVED that the Germans would attack through Alsace and Lorraine and BELIEVED that the GERMANS hadn't enough troops to invade through Belgium. The (accurate and numerous) reports of the Second Bureau were often rejected as a consequence. The French Intelligence wasn't faulty but the treatment of the provided informations by the French Staff surely was.The whole idea of the "Offensive at the utmost" and of Plan XVII was clearly designed to disrupt a supposed offensive of the Germans in the East by attacking first.
Michel belonged to a minority when he believed that the Germans would try a sickle cut. Lanzerac perhaps suspected it between 1911 and 1914 but wasn't certain of it. It was Belgian calls for help in early August which convince him of the german real intentions.
ITTL, Victor Michel has managed to convinced some important officers that Belgian option was at least a serious one. It will have consequences for the meeting of the War Council since Michel won't be as isolated as OTL.
The next update will come soon.
19th July 1911

The meeting of the Supreme War Council was quite a lengthy affair. It was attended by Adolphe Messimy, Minister of War; General Michel, Vice-President of the Supreme War Council. General Dubail, Chief-of-Staff of the French Army. Generals Joffre, Pau, Durand and Gallieni, members of the War Council. Were also invited: Colonel Grandmaison, chief of the Third Bureau (responsible for Military Operations), Colonel Philippe Pétain, professor at the Ecole Militaire, General Lanzerac (deputy leader of the Ecole Militaire), General de Castelnau, General Foch. There was finally a newcomer: Colonel Mangin, a man who had recently written a remarked book about the necessity of recruiting colonial troops en masse and named The Black Force.

There were rumours that General Michel had recently gained the firm support of Generals Dubail and Joffre and at least the neutrality of Grandmaison. General Lanzerac and Colonel Pétain, both being vocal opponents of the “Offensive at the utmost” doctrine, were quite benevolent towards General Michel, although they had their doubts about Michel’s capacity to preside the Council, since his position seemed still fragile.

General Michel began his briefing by a presentation of the current state French Army. Upon mobilization, the Army would numbered roughly 120 active infantry regiments and 250 reserve regiments for 30 active Infantry Divisions and 40 reserve Infantry Divisions. That figure didn’t include the 11 Territorial Divisions, the 10 Cavalry Divisions, the 3 active Colonial Infantry Divisions (Marine Troops) and the 2 reserve Colonial Infantry Divisions.

In North Africa and the Colonies, the forces were the following: 25 Zouave battalions (European Infantry), 38 Algerian Riflemen battalions (Arab Infantry from Algeria and Tunisia), 2 Foreign Legion Infantry regiments (with three battalions per regiment), 34 Senegalese Riflemen battalions, 12 Tonkinese battalions, 3 Annamite battalions, 9 Magalasy battalions, 6 Colonial Infantry regiments (with three battalions per regiment).

After this statement, the Vice-President presented his strategy. After a thorough research about the recent German railway building and the reading of numerous Intelligence reports, he had come to the conclusion that a German attack through western Belgium constituted a serious possibility. Nevertheless, there was no denying that an offensive against the French fortresses in Lorraine was likely as well. As a consequence, General Michel called for a War Plan which could frustrate these two possibilities. The Plan XVI would require three Masses of Manoeuver, each with two Armies. The first mass would protect the Northern Border between Sambre and Meuse, the Second would defend a line between Nancy and Belfort. The third would protect the space between the two formers masses of manoeuver between Nancy and Sedan. Finally, a Seventh Army would be kept as a strategic reserve North East of Paris. In case of a German attack in the East, the third mass of manoeuver and the Seventh Army could reinforce and assist the first mass of manoeuver.

Michel insisted on the flexibility of his plan, claiming that the dense railway system in Northern France, particularly the lines parallel to the Belgian border, would allow the quick transfer of troops to the theatre of war which would seem to be the most important. Finally, he agreed on the principle that initial offensives should be launch in Lorraine and the Northern Vosges to unsettle the Germans and reinforce the morale of the French troops.

The plan was welcomed by a deafening silence but it appeared that the most hostile generals (like Paul Pau) weren’t trying to interrupt him. Nevertheless, a still concerned M. Messimy asked him just how big would be this army after Mobilization. Michel answered with a simple number: around 1 800 000 strong, including the support units. The Vice-President then seized the opportunity of a stunned assembly to quickly propose his solutions to have such an enormous mass of men on the battlefield.

First of all, thanks to General Joffre and Colonel Grandmaison’s valuable advices (the two men nodded in response), Michel recognized that the backbone of this plan would be the active Infantry divisions. Each army belonging to the three masses of manoeuver would number eight active Infantry Divisions (two per corps), excluding the Army defending the Vosges, which would only number 5 Divisions. Each of these six armies would be reinforced by a “Reserve Divisions Group” (a Reserve Army Corps with three reserve divisions). As for the Seventh Army, it would only have reserve divisions. Each army would have eleven Infantry divisions (excluding the Vosges Army, which would number eight). The remaining reserve divisions and the territorial divisions would serve in the Alps and along the Spanish border.

To achieve this result, General Michel had two courses of action. The first was to proceed to an energetic recruitment policy in the Colonies. By doing so, he intended to create at least twelve active Infantry Divisions. The Divisions raised in North Africa would have two European regiments (Zouave or Foreign Legion) and two Algerian Riflemen regiments. The others would have one Colonial regiment and three Indigenous regiments (Senegalese, Malagasy, Indochinese etc.). General Michel concluded that he had taken inspiration from Colonel Mangin’s book (which seemed flattered and nodded in response).

The second solution was to send at least 33 Reserve divisions at the front. If General Michel recognized that the reserve units often lacked in cadres, the quality of its troops was often equal to the active ones (he then mentioned an Inspection of the reserve regiments performed by himself in 1907 when he held the position of Inspector of Reserve Regiments). That’s why he agreed that serious efforts should be undertaken to give competent cadres to the reserve units. This policy would have several methods.

First, the most competent reserve officers should be regularly sent to active regiments for training periods. Secondly, young active officers (from mere lieutenant to general) should be sent to command reserve companies, battalions, regiments and divisions. Those officers would be convinced to do so with the promise of accelerated advancements. This idea, which came from Generals Dubail and Joffre, would develop the cohesiveness and the offensive spirit of the reserve units.

Thirdly, those reserve units and the Colonial active divisions would need a significant number of Non Commissioned Officers, a rare species within the French Army. To that effect, General Michel intended to create a Military School dedicated to the recruitment and formation of NCOs. He also wished to recruit simple soldiers perceived as talented by their commanding officers at the end of their military service and to turn them into trained NCOs (with the prospect of a rapid advancement and recruitment bonuses). Finally, a limited number of natives in the colonies, coming from the local elites (like the sons of tribal chieftain in Black Africa), should be formed as NCOs. This policy, he outlined, was in line with the French Policy of civilizing and integrating the people which didn’t enjoy the light of civilization yet. General Michel also added that the native NCOs would never exceed a quarter of the entire NCO corps in the Colonial Divisions.

Overall, after heated but nonetheless polite debates, the plan was accepted as an acceptable compromise. Even General Paul Pau, one of the most zealous supporters of the Offensive at the utmost doctrine, recognized that the plan wasn’t without its merits. Alfred Messimy looked relieved. Indeed the Minister of War wanted an united War Council first and foremost and, until now, had feared that General Michel was a man who lack both the flexibility and the diplomatic skills for that purpose. But it would appear that the Vice-President was finally becoming less stubborn. As a consequence, Messimy described the plan as an “ambitious yet solid one” in front of the entire assembly. The Plan XVI, for better or for worse, was adopted.
Modified Plan XVI. Map
the red lines show the positions of the French Armies in case of a war with Germany.
Plan XVI.png
Late July 1911

The structure of the French Staff had drawn criticism for a long time. Indeed, in case of war, General Michel would be the supreme commander of the French Army (“Generalissimo”) but General Dubail would remain chief-of-staff. That’s why, for the sake of efficiency, M. Messimy decided to combine the two functions. As a consequence, General Michel became the new Chief-of-Staff of the French Army with General Dubail as his deputy. At Michel’s request, General Joffre became the Major-General of the French Staff with Colonel Henri Berthelot as his deputy.


General Victor Constant Michel. Chief-of-Staff and supreme Commander of the French Army.


General Augustin Dubail. Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the French Army


General Joseph Joffre. Major-General of the French Staff ( and de facto number three of the French Army)


Colonel Henri Berthelot, Second Major-General of the French Army and Joffre's deputy. A "bon vivant" (weighing 105 kilograms), who enjoys working with a simple shirt and slippers during warm summers.
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August 1911

The Agadir Crisis had put a great deal of pressure on the French army and the government. The President of the Council notably asked General Michel if, in case of a war against Germany, the French army would be able to prevail. Michel bluntly answered him in private that it was possible but not likely. On a tactical level, he added that the German Army was simply better, with well-equipped and well-trained troops led by a corps of well-formed and competent commanders. On the top of that, the French army had begun to plan a partial reorganization. Michel concluded that he needed at least two years to build an army which could hold the Germans at bay. This statement was one of the reasons which pushed M. Joseph Caillaux to support a negociated solution with Germany.

As for the army, its financial needs were becoming greater and greater. This led the President of the Council to renew one more time his proposal to introduce a direct tax system to the Parliament. The idea was vastly impopular within the conservative parties and many politicians, just like in 1909, denounced it as an “intolerable fiscal inquisition”. The debate was fierce in the two Chambers but M. Caillaux had the total support of the War Council. Many officers with connections with the right and even the far right gathered support. Eventually, it led to the curious following paradox: the newspapers L’Humanité (belonging to the socialist Jean Jaurès, who had a decent if not friendly relationship with Michel) and l’Action Française both defended the introduction of the new fiscal system, the former defending a tax which constituted an important step towards social equality, the latter claiming that every good patriot should contribute to the defence of his Motherland by supporting the proposal. The debate at the Parliament lasted for weeks and in September 1911, the law was adopted by a narrow margin. The new fiscal system was planned to be implemented for the next year.

The Agadir Crisis also resulted in an unofficial declaration of support from Great Britain. Already in July, Henry Wilson, the new director of Military Operations for the War Office had met M. Messimy and General Dubail. The meeting had resulted in the promise that England would send in France an Expeditionary Force with 6 Infantry Divisions and 1 Cavalry Division, a Force called the “Wilson Army” by the French. Wilson was personally convinced that the Germans would attack through Belgium in a future war against France. This belief led him to establish a good working relationship with General Michel, later depicted by Wilson as a “discreet but nevertheless tenacious man with an immense working capacity and two vital virtues for any commander: lucidity and patience”.

In late August, the two men met for the first time. Wilson was impressed by the French War Plan even if he complained about its “lack of imagination and audacity”. The plan was to be divided into two phases: the Malplaquet phase, an active defence of the French borders with limited and very detailed offensives in Lorraine to provoke the Germans and reduce their fighting capacity in a succession of costly battles, and the Denain Phase, a series of Offensives in Western Belgium and Southern Alsace which would keep the pressure on the Germans while the Russians armies would attack in the East. After discovering the plan, Wilson joked about the names of the two phases: “If I am understanding this correctly, you’re asking to the Army of His Royal Majesty to repeat the feat of Blenheim”. To what General Michel answered with humour: “the people of France would be immensely grateful if England decides to do so”. After this quip, Michel recalled to Wilson how vital the participation of the British Army in case of a war was. Indeed, the “Wilson Army” would be the only force able to protect the French left wing and to flank the German right one, thus triggering the Denain Phase. “At the end of the day, said the French Chief-of-Staff, Marlborough will have to save Villars”.
Well, it seems that the red trousers problem is unlikely to be tackled.
the reseda uniforms were used and tested for the first time in September 1911 during the annual great manoeuvers. We're in August. The decision hasn't been taken yet and the idea not seriously considered.
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This is a great idea for a timeline.
Thanks :) TBH, there were several threads about the possible results of a Plan XVI (Thomas1995 being the author of one of them, and a rather good one). But Plan XVI, despite being somewhat better than Plan XVII, wasn't a perfect war plan, far from it (Wiking was right about it). Here, Michel is aware that he must modify his plan to gain the support of the War Council (including the Offensive at the utmost faction). Funnily enough, this contributes to turn the Plan XVI into a far more flexible plan and doable on a logistical point of view (because creating a 1 800 000 strong army and moving it to the frontline is possible if you know what you're doing, but creating a large army with 30 000 strong Infantry Divisions by merging active regiments with reserve ones was almost an absolute nonsense and that cost Michel his job OTL).ITTL, he decided that he had do give bones to his "enemies" and to swallow his pride for the sake of unity. So far, it works.
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Late 1911. The New Recruitment Policy

After the successful introduction of the Direct Tax in the French fiscal system, the Army partially had the financial means of its ambitions. Nevertheless, the Supreme War Council agreed on the principle that it had to take measures which would be both cost-effective and easy to implement.

About the recruitment policy in the Colonies, General Michel decided to appoint Charles Mangin, recently promoted to Brigadier and made High Commissioner For the Recruitment of African Troops. Mangin was seconded by a civilian: Blaise Diagne. The man was a French citizen of Senegalese descent. An able administrator and a freemason, he was familiar with the territories in French West and Equatorial Africa. The two men had the mission to raise four Senegalese, one Malagasy and one Indochinese active Infantry Divisions within two years as well as enough battalions to protect the Colonies against the German forces in Togo and Cameroun in case of a war. To achieve this result, several concessions would be made made to the natives who would volunteer. Besides the promise of good meals and good pays, the natives who would join the Army would not be governed by the Code of the Indiginate anymore (this measure would concern their wives and children as well). The soldiers’ children would be immediately accepted in public schools. Finally, the sons of the tribe chieftains who would volunteer would become French citizens at the end of their contract. The same policy would be conducted in North Africa by General Hubert Lyautey, who would become the first Resident-General in Morocco in April 1912 and had to raise 7 North African Divisions. In order to avoid turmoil with the European population in Algeria and Tunisia, the French citizenship wouldn’t be given to any Arab recruit.

About the reserve regiments, in order to resolve the acute shortage of trained cadres, it was decided that the said regiments would number three battalions from now on instead of two. As a consequence, the number of reserve Infantry regiments dropped from 250 to 166.

A Military Academy for Non Commissioned Officers was also created in the small town of Saint-Maixent (where an Infantry Military School had already been established). Also, remarked professional soldiers who had spent at least five years in the Army would be formed as NCOs.

The program was expected to be completed in Fall of 1913. It would give to the French Army 30 active Infantry Divisions, 3 active Colonial Divisions, 7 active North Africa Divisions, 4 active Senegalese Divisions, 1 active Malagasy Division, 1 active Indochinese Division, 41 reserve Infantry Divisions and 2 reserve Colonial Divisions for a total of 46 active Infantry Divisions and 43 reserve Divisions.
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IV. Pictures

Brigadier General Charles Mangin. High Commissioner for the Recruitment of African Troops


Blaise Diagne. Charles Mangin's Deputy.


General Henri Lyautey. Resident-General in Morocco and responsible for the recruitment of Indigenous Troops in French North Africa.
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Late 1911. New Armament Program

Like the Recruitment Policy, the New Armament Program, drafted in the last months of the year 1911 for an implementation in 1912, was intended to be both an effective and cheap plan. The program concerned the partial reorganization of the French artillery and the possible introduction of new infantry weapons.

The reform of the artillery was the brainchild of Adolphe Messimy, Minister of War, and General Dubail. Both were worried about the uncontested superiority of the German artillery and wanted to expand the use of heavy artillery in the Army. Generals Michel and Joffre supported the idea but insisted that the Army lacked both the time and the money to adopt new designs. They also added that it was impossible for the Army to create new artillery regiments due to manpower issues. As a result, the widespread adoption of heavy artillery pieces would only be possible by converting field artillery regiments into heavy artillery units. This led to the decision to turn 34 artillery regiments equipped with 48 75mm field guns each into 68 heavy artillery regiments with 24 guns each. Thirty-four of these regiments would use 105mm field guns and the others would be equipped with 155mm howitzers. The idea was to create 34 artillery brigades (one per Infantry Corps), each of them with one field artillery regiment and one howitzer regiment. In order to rationalise the production and limit the expenses, it was decided that the army would adopt only one model of 105mm field gun and one model of 155mm howitzer. In late 1911, there were three candidates for the 155mm Howitzer: the first was the Rimailho Model 1904TR. The gun was already in use in the French Army and had an impressive rate of fire of 6 rounds per minute. But it was also expensive and its effective range was limited to 6000 m (less than the 75mm Model 1897). The second was the howitzer produced by Saint-Chamond. The gun had a range of 9000 m but had been rejected by the Mexican Army. On the top of that, the Supreme War Council doubted that the factory would be able to deliver 800 howitzers. The last option was the gun designed by Schneider. Possessing an impressive range of 11000 m, the howitzer had been adopted by the Russian army in 1910. On the top of that, the company offered a significant discount on the total price and guaranteed a monthly production of fifty guns. These advantageous conditions convinced the War Council and the 155C model 1912 Schneider was chosen as the standard heavy howitzer of the French Army, with production and delivery due to start in February 1912.

This very choice also influenced the Council to adopt a variant of the Russian 107mm gun model 1910, also made by Schneider: the 105mm gun model 1911 Schneider, with a range of 12 000 m.

If Messimy and Dubail were the main actors of the reorganisation of the French artillery. It was General Joffre who inspired the adoption of new infantry weapons. Polytechnicien, the man had been an engineer officer and a talented logistician for a long time. During the summer, Joffre had discovered that the backbone of the French infantry, the Lebel rifle, couldn’t be produced en masse anymore for the simple reason that the qualified workers in the armament industry didn’t know to make them anymore. Damaged rifles could be repaired but those permanently lost couldn’t be replaced. On the top of that, if the Lebel was a sturdy, reliable and accurate rifle, it was also heavy and plagued with a slow-to-reload tube magazine. Those shortcomings persuaded Joffre to find a replacement solution. Fortunalety, a solution already existed. The Berthier rifle model 1907 was already used by the Indochinese and Senegalese battalions. The weapon was much lighter than the Lebel and with the same performances. On the top of that, it was cheap, easy to produce and designed for three rounds en-bloc clips. The rifle was slightly modified and quickly adopted as the Berthier Rifle model 07/12. With 600 rifles produced each day (mainly in the National Manufacturing Companies at Tulle, Saint-Etienne and Chatellerault), the weapon was intended to gradually replace the Lebel in the active Infantry Divisions and the Colonial units (Foreign Legion included).

On the insistence of General Michel, General Joffre also worked to increase the provision of machine guns for the French Army. If the Saint Etienne model 1907 was the standard HMG of the French army, the Foreign Legion and some Colonial units in Africa were using the Hotchkiss model 1908. While the Saint Etienne was an accurate weapon, so was the Hotchkiss. And if the Hotchkiss had acquired a well-deserved reputation of being a sturdy and reliable weapon, the Saint Etienne was a complex and delicate machine, an “admirable and patented clockwork”, to quote an anonymous French officer. Furthermore, the Saint Etienne numbered no less than 64 components parts vs 32 for the Hotchkiss. Hence the decision to gradually stop the production of the Saint Etienne MG and to replace it with the far more cheaper Hotchkiss model 1908. Produced by the Hotchkiss Cie and by the National Manufacturing Companies under licence, 200 new machine guns were delivered each month to the French Army from March 1912 onwards. The Hotchkiss was intended to equip the majority of the French units in 1914 and to fully replace the Saint Etienne in 1917.

But perhaps the most innovative weapon delivered to the French Infantry units was the FM CSRG 12. After the invention of the Madsen LMG in 1902 and its limited use during the Russo-Japanese War, the European armies had been interested in adopting such a weapon. Louis Chauchat, an artillery officer and a Polytechnicien just like Joffre, had begun a fruitful collaboration with Charles Sutter, a gunsmith from Chatellerault. Between 1903 and 1909, the two men had elaborated no less than 7 prototypes, the last one being well received by the French Army. This very prototype showed an elegant, modern-looking and very-well finished weapon. While interested, General Joffre ordered to simplify the weapon to reduce the costs and to produce it in large quantities. This request was almost obsessively fulfilled and the weapon was accepted as a LMG designed to equip infantry companies and cavalry squadrons. One major advantage of this weapon was that it used the barrels of the new Berthier rifle, thus streamlining an already rationalized and cheap production. Barely costlier than a Berthier, over one thousand FM CSRG 12 (or simply Chauchat) were delivered to the army each month. The French staff developed a keen interest for the gun as it was perceived as an “offensive weapon”, capable to produce a significant amount of firepower for an advancing infantry, thus improving the morale of the unit and weakening the resolve of the enemy. Nonetheless, as the Supreme Council feared that others Powers could develop their own LMGs, the weapon was never officialy presented to the public and remained a (badly-kept) secret.
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V. Pictures

The Rimailho model 1904TR. Brainchild of Captain Emile Rimailho, the famous designer of the "Seventy-Five". While not widely adopted by the French Army, it was nonetheless intended to be used as an heavy howitzer in mountainous war theaters.

155 mm Schneider (W).jpg

The 155C model 1912 Schneider. A rechambered version of the howitzer produced for the Russian Army. 800 guns have been ordered by the French Army.


The 105mm gun model 1911 Schneider. Almost indentical to the 107mm field gun used by Russia. 800 guns have been ordered as well.

Berthier rifle.jpg

The Berthier rifle model 07/12. A cheap, effective and well-balanced weapon. Its main flaw is its three rounds clip. Far inferior to the German Mauser or British Enfield. Designed to fully replace the roughly 2 000 000 Lebel rifles in 1917. 600 of these rifles are produced each day, a weak figure compared to the Lebel rifle production in the early 1890's (which sometimes reached 5 rifles produced per minute).


The Saint-Etienne model 1907. An accurate but complex weapon. Production will ceased after the delivery of 2500 MGs to the French Army


The Hotchkiss model 1908. Designed to become the new standard HMG of the French Army. Note that this picture shows the OTL Hotchkiss model 1914. The Hotchkiss model 1908 was almost the same but had a sober metal butt instead of a grip


Latest prototype of the Chauchat. An elegant, high-quality and almost futuristic weapon. Note that the magazine was intended to be on the top of the gun, a little like a bren-gun.

FM CSRG 15 Chauchat-VD-WEB2.JPG

The Chauchat. The very definition of a simple and cheap weapon. Note that this picture shows the OTL Chauchat in 1915. Since the weapon has been designed in peacetime ITTL, the design is a little less rushed. The pistol grip is a bit more comfortable and the bipod both shorter and sturdier. As for the magazine, it is fully enclosed this time and with a better spring inside. All of this turns the Chauchat into a correct weapon. Some flaws are still here nonetheless: the barrel being a Berthier barrel, it is quite thin and vunerable to overheating. After 300 shots (15 magazines), you will have to wait that the weapon cools down for often four minutes. So it's more a cheap "battle rifle" than a true LMG.
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