Strengths and Losses of the French Army

The following statistics are based on multiple sources. The specific figures shown were chosen from the most commonly cited or from those which are proven to be the most accurate. Variations in these numbers exist from source to source and in those cases where a range exists for the same statistic, generally the average of that range was chosen to be displayed here. Percentages are calculated from the figures given. Specific reference notes are featured at the bottom of the page.

Population of France in 1914 1

Total population..........39,000,000
Male population..........19,000,000


Numbers Mobilized, 1914-1918 2

Total number mobilized....................8,400,0003
Percentage of Total Population..........22%
Percentage of Male Population...........44%

Total number mobilized in August 1914...........4,186,000
Size of active army in August 1914.................1,138,000*
Size of reserve army in August 1914...............1,658,000*
Size of territorial army in August 1914...........920,000
Size of territorial reserve in August 1914........470,000**

*Note: These figures are adjusted to show the allotment of the younger reserve classes to active formations upon mobilization (350,000).

**Of these, only about 200,000 are mobilized in August. The older classes are mobilized gradually from December 1914 through 1916.

The majority of the army mobilized in 1914 was infantry (75%). Artillery was the next largest branch, composing 10% of the army. Of the 8.4 million men mobilized from 1914-1918, 7.3 million (or 87%) were already in uniform by January 1916. In August 1914, what could be called the true fighting portion of the army was composed of 2,800,000 men. From the period of fall 1914 to spring 1918 (the trench warfare stage), on average the size of the French army was about 2,150,000 strong.4

The following figures show the ever-decreasing size of the French army due mainly to casualties. To a lesser extent, the decrease in manpower came from the discharging of former factory-workers back to their old occupation and the retirement of the older reservists and territorials.

Size of the French army in July 1916.................2,234,000
Size of the French army in October 1917...........1,890,000
Size of the French army in October 1918...........1,670,000

French Army Casualties, 1914-1918 5

Total casualties............~4,700,000
Total killed...................~1,500,000*
Total wounded.............~3,200,000**
Percentage of mobilized killed or wounded.........52%
Percentage of mobilized killed............................18%
Percentage of French population killed...............4%

*Note: The precise number of dead will never be known. It could well be as high as 1,600,000. Other sources cite the lower figure of 1,350,000.

**The exact number of wounded is difficult to determine, as the French army (as was the common practice of the day) counted the number of wounds not the number of wounded. Thus, a soldier wounded several different times was counted several times over.

Among the great powers in the war, France had the worst losses proportionate to its forces mobilized (18%, compared to Germany's 15%, Russia's 14%, Great Britain's 12% or the United States 3%).6 Yet not all those who were mobilized actually saw combat, notably the class of 1919. When these men are taken out the equation, 20% of all French combatants were killed in the war (22% of all officers).7

Of the 3,200,000 men wounded, 1,120,000 (40%) were wounded more than once, 560,000 (20%) were wounded twice and 100,000 (4%) were wounded three or four times. At least 300,000 (11%) of the total number wounded were disabled from the injuries they received. Of the 1,500,000 men killed, 730,000 (48%) were killed in the seventeen-month period between August 1914 to December 1915 (or an average of 1,460 per day), including over 300,000 in the first three months of 1914. Only Russia, with roughly 1,700,000 dead, suffered as many dead as the French on the Allied side.8

The infantry, being the most exposed branch, suffered higher casualty rates than the others. One in every four French infantrymen died (more specifically 26%, compared to 8% in the cavalry, 6% in the artillery and 6% of the engineers); one out of every three officers. With about another 40% of these men wounded at least once, roughly 66% of all infantrymen became casualties.9

The number of killed by year were the following:

1914.........300,000
1915.........430,000
1916.........361,000
1917.........190,000
1918.........306,000

The average number killed per day were the following:

1914..................2,220
1915..................1,180
1916..................990
1917..................520
1918..................970
1914-1918.........1,020

As before, the French army suffered higher averages in deaths per day than its allies: Great Britain lost on average 457 men per day and the United States lost only 195 per day (though this rose dramatically to 820 per day during the summer of 1918).10 Of course these figures do not reflect the differences between periods of calm and periods of offensive operations. For instance, from the period of July 1918 through October 1918, the French lost an average of 4,980 killed and wounded per day, with a peak of 6,690 casualties per day in the month of July alone.11 The bloodiest single day for the French army was on August 22, 1914, in the Battle of Charleroi, when 67,000 fell (of whom 27,000 were killed).12

Some additional figures help to further demonstrate the slaughter that the French army suffered in the war...In four weeks, during the First Champagne Offensive in 1915, along a 12 km front the French advanced a varying distance of only 800 to 3,000 meters and lost 40,000 men. During the First Artois Offensive, from May 9 to June 18 (1915), along a 15 km front the French managed to advance only 4 km at the cost of 300,000 men (1/3 of whom are killed). The Second Champagne Offensive would last only 11 days, during which time the French army suffered a further 190,000 casualties and gained only 2 to 4 km of ground.13 In 1916, the 11 month Battle of Verdun would cost the French roughly 375,000; the 6 month Battle of the Somme, 200,000. In two weeks on the Chemin-des-Dames in 1917, they would lose 125,000. And as stated earlier, 1918 would prove even bloodier. The numbers are simply staggering.

When illustrated on a formation-level, these losses become startingly horrific. For example, the 70th DI (Infantry Division) with an average effective of 8,000 men, lost close to 17,000 in the first 17 months and 10,000 more for the duration of the war. This division, which was in fact less engaged than others, had therefore lost twice its number of effectives by the end of 1915. In another example, each company (effective of 200) within the regiments of the 13th DI counted an average of 700 casualties in just the battles of 1915. The division as a whole lost 8,000 men per km gained in 1915. The 151st RI suffered over 16,000 dead or wounded from 1914-1918. With an average effective of 2,500-3,000, the regiment thus suffered a casualty rate of nearly 600%.


French Civilian Casualties, 1914-1918

Total dead.................40,00014
Total wounded...........Unknown


Web site containing tables of losses by region, class year, chronology, etc.:
http://vestiges.1914.1918.free.fr/Pertes.htm

Sources:
1. British General Staff, ed. Handbook of the French Army, 1914. Battery Press: Nashville, 2002.
2. Ibid.
3. Audoin-Rouzeau, St├ęphane, Annette Becker, Leonard V. Smith, William Beik. France and the Great War. Cambridge University Press: London, 2003.
4. Audoin-Rouzeau, France and the Great War.
5. Ibid.
6. Everett, Susan. History of World War I. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.
7. Audoin-Rouzeau, St├ęphane and Annette Becker. 14-18: Understanding the Great War. Hill and Wang: New York, 2002.
8. Audoin-Rouzeau, France and the Great War.
9. Clayton, Anthony. Paths of Glory: The French Army 1914-1918. Cassell: London, 2003.
10. Audoin-Rouzeau, 14-18.
11. Clayton, Paths of Glory: The French Army 1914-1918.
12. QUID.fr. Nov. 10, 2007. "http://www.quid.fr/2007/Histoire_De_France/ Premiere_Guerre_Mondiale_1914_18/2."
13. Serman, William and Jean-Paul Bertaud. Nouvelle Histoire Militaire de la France: 1789-1919. Fayard: Lille, 1998.
14. Tucker, Spencer C. The European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia. Garland Publishing: New York, 1996.

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