France 1890-1914
Foreign Policy
France 1918-1929
Foreign Policy
France 1914-1918
Intellectual Life

German stamps overprinted for use in occupied Northern France

France in World War I : Foreign Policy

A.) The War

On August 3rd 1914, Germany declared war on France. In order to circumvent France's line of defensive fortifications along the Franco-German border, Germany violated Belgium's neutrality, German forces marching through Belgium into northern France.
Meanwhile, in France a government of national unity had been formed (UNION SACREE) which included socialists and politicians of the far right.
The German army invaded northern France; it was stopped and forced back when General JOFFRE attacked the exposed German flank, forcing them to withdraw (the MIRACLE ON THE MARNE). The Germans dug trenches in northern France and Belgium, and the frontline stabilized (TRENCH WARFARE). The trench warfare resulted in extremely heavy losses on both sides. The French casualties in the BATTLE OF VERDUN (Feb.-Nov. 1916) alone amounted to ca. 340,000 men. In November 1916, Joffre was replaced as chief of staff by Gen. NIVELLE.
Similarily, Gen. Nivelle was too optimistic and gave orders which produced large numbers of casualties, but little territorial gain. A number of French units mutinied, refusing to follow orders to attack in another suicidal run on heavily fortified German trenches. Gen. Nivelle was replaced by Gen. PETAIN, the hero of Verdun who restored confidence in the French general staff.
Spring 1918 saw the German SPRING OFFENSIVE - the collapse of the Russian front had enabled Germany to transfer it's divisions from the eastern to the western front in a last effort to force victory. Again the Germans made territorial gains, and the lines of the Entente held; the arrival of the small, but well-equipped and lead U.S. contingent made the difference. In August the German offensive was stopped, in September the German lines had to be taken back, in November Germany requested an armistice; France, by having avoided a military defeat, found itself among the victorious powers.

French losses in World War I amounted to 1,385,000 dead, another 3-4 million disabled. Northern France, where the trench warfare raged for 4 years, was devastated, cities sich as REIMS utterly destroyed. Farmers in the area still keep finding parts of artillery shells, soldiers' bones etc.

B.) Foreign Policy

In 1914 France's foreign policy was to stick to her alliance with Russia and trust in the alleged superiority of her arms and strategy. From late 1914 onward, French diplomacy was trying to convince other governments (Italy 1915, Rumania 1916, the USA 1917) to enter the war. In order to succeed in this undertaking, far-reaching promises were made (in part contradictory - Dalmatia had been promised to both the Italians and the Serbo-Croats), promises at the expense of Austro-Hungarian territory.
In 1916 France and Britain, in the SYKES-PICOT-AGREEMENT, partitioned the Arabic possessions of the Ottoman Empire amongst themselves (before they had actually conquered them). They similarily agreed on partitioning Germany's African colonial possessions amongst themselves.
In Europe, France demanded merely the restitution of ALSACE-LORRAINE and a compensation for the damage inflicted upon her by the Germans during the war.

Timeline French Foreign Policy 1914-1918, from France Diplomatie
Les Vapeurs pendant la Guerre 1914/1918, from Voiliers et Navires de Nantes, on warfare off the coast of Brittany
Willy Labbeke, De Lijdensweg van de Poilu (The Suffering of the French Soldier), story of WW I from the perspective of the French Army, in Dutch
Entry Missy-aux-Blois, from Footnotes to History, by James L. Erwin
DOCUMENTS Souvenirs des tranchees a Verdun; Extraits du journal de guerre du Docteur Marcel Poisot : Verdun 1916, from cliotexte, in French
The Sykes-Picot Agreement, 1915, from Avalon Project, from BYU, from MidEastWeb
Carnets de la Grande Guerre 1914-1918, Mobilisation, describes the events of early August 1914 from the perspective of a French border community; in French
Guerre de 1914-1918, Collection des Photographes, by Dominique Bac, comment in French
Memoire des Hommes, site containing list of French soldiers who fell in WW I, in French
REFERENCE Roger Price, A Concise History of France, Cambridge Concise Histories, 1993, pp.209-218
Philippe Bernard and Henri Dubief, The Decline of the Third Republic 1914-1938, (Fr. Or. 1975, Eng. Trsl. 1985) Cambridge UP 1993, KMLA Lib. Call Sign 944.0814 B518d
Article : France, in : New International Year Book 1914 pp.261-272, 1916 pp.236-247, 1918 pp.222-232 [G]
Marcel Dupont, In the Field (1914-1915) [1916], posted by Gutenberg Library Online
Isaac Alexander Mack, Letters from France (1916), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
C.E.W. Bean, Letters from France (1917), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
Anonymous, Letters of a Soldier (1915), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
VIDEOS Paths of Glory, 1957, cc, black and white; anti-war film showing the Trench warfare, focussing on a French battalion

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on October 28th 2007

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz