Why did France lose the Franco-Prussian war

Why did France lose the Franco-Prussian war?


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Within this essay I aim to try to place some of the cardinal elements within the Franco-Prussian war that led to the oppressing Gallic licking. Some of the cardinal issues to be considered will be the comparative ground forcess, scheme and tactics every bit good as the diplomatic negotiations conducted by both sides.


During the period in the lead up to the war in the late 1860’s, the political state of affairs was altering. The traditionally dominant France was in serious danger of being supplanted by the lifting Prussia. Bismarck had looked, to state the least, astute in his international diplomatic negotiations in forestalling the purchase of Luxembourg from the Dutch by the Gallic. Napoleon III, on the other manus, was beset with internal rifts. Republicans were invariably naming for democratic reform and there were changeless rumor of revolution. War with Prussia was going progressively inevitable. Preussen was besides beset with internal troubles that led Bismarck to reason that war was besides inevitable. [ 1 ]


Once war was declared, France sought Alliess in the signifier of Denmark, Austria, Bavaria and the southern German monarchies, all of whom had suffered recent lickings at the custodies of the Prussians. Napoleon III failed, nevertheless, to procure any aid from these provinces, all of whom were seemingly unwilling to put on the line farther lickings. [ 2 ] France was besides unsuccessful in procuring other Alliess, Russia was still aching over Franc’s engagement in the Crimean was and Italian patriots were upset at France’s place defender of the Papal States. Bismarck was besides busy diplomatically ; he acted to insulate France by carry oning common non-aggression treaties with the southern German monarchies which evolved into existent military assistance for Prussia during the war. Bismarck was besides successful in guaranting Britain did non fall in the at hand war on the side of the Gallic. [ 3 ]

Opposing Armies.

The two opposing forces were really different in character and in this we can see the seeds of one of the grounds for the Gallic licking. The Gallic ground forces was big, consisting some 400,000 regular soldiers. Many of these were veterans of old Gallic runs and were therefore non mere natural recruits. [ 4 ] In footings of equipment, the single Gallic soldier was besides superior to his Prussian opposite number ; the Gallic being equipped with the rear of barrel lading Chessepot rifle, one of the most up to day of the month arms available at the clip. It was speedy to tonss and had an effectual scope of up to 1500m. [ 5 ] The major Gallic military disadvantage was in heavy weapon, they used a muzzle loaded 4 lb gun. [ 6 ] For the Gallic, artillery engineering had advanced small since Waterloo. The Gallic were besides equipped with a crude version of a machine gun. The mitrailleuse was mounted on an heavy weapon base and was organised into units along precisely the same lines as heavy weapon batteries. [ 7 ]

The Prussian ground forces was instead different, dwelling non of seasoned habitues but of draftees. Service in the Prussian ground forces was compulsory for all work forces of military age therefore the possible size of the ground forces available to Bismarck and von Moltke was huge in comparing to the Gallic. The combined ground forcess of Prussia and her southern German Alliess could make 1.2 million. [ 8 ] The ground forces was equipped with the so called “needle gun” , [ 9 ] a comparatively old rifle [ 10 ] and non comparable to those usage by the Gallic, holding an effectual scope of merely around 600 m. Prussian lacks in foot equipment ended with the rifle, their heavy weapon was far superior, using the Krupp 6 lb [ 11 ] rear of barrel lading cannon. [ 12 ] The Prussian cannons fires an explosive shell which had an effectual scope of 4.5 kilometers and a immensely superior rate of fire to the heavy weapon pieces possessed by the Gallic. These cannons gave the Prussians a decisive tactical advantage as we will see. The Prussian ground forces was alone in Europe at the clip for using a system that is common in modern warfare ; they employed a general staff who were responsible for organizational facets of warfare, logistics, operational motions, communications and the development of scheme. The presence of a staff meant that many sentiments were considered and evaluated, instead than merely the sentiments of merely one adult male dominating.

The Gallic had the initial advantage in that they had a standing ground forces any it would take clip for the Prussians and their Alliess to call up their ground forcess. In order to capitalize upon this advantage the Gallic forces had to move rapidly and resolutely before superior Prussian Numberss could be brought to bear.

The War.

On July 28Thursday1870, Napoleon III took bid of the freshly titled Army of the Rhine ; a important force of around 100,000 Gallic military personnels. [ 13 ] The Gallic had a pre-war program to take advantage of their standing ground forces in comparing to the Prussian demand to conscript its military personnels. The program was simple, an violative motion from Thionvile towards Trier and into the Prussian heartland. [ 14 ] The program, nevertheless, was unwisely discarded in favor of an basically defensive scheme, an business of the boundary line part with the thought of driving any Prussian offense, this scheme handed the tactical enterprise heterosexual to the Prussian forces. The Prussian forces mobilised rapidly and by August 3rdan ground forces numbering something like 320,000 military personnels opposed the much smaller Gallic forces. [ 15 ] By this clip Napoleon III was under huge domestic force per unit area to move, so he ordered a limited violative motion towards the town of Saarbrucken. The Gallic offense was successful, but despite being hailed by the Gallic as the first measure into the Rhineland, its logistical links were hapless and the Gallic found themselves surrounded by 3 Prussian ground forcess. [ 16 ]

The Gallic forces rapidly withdrew to their former place and conflict rapidly ensued. [ 17 ] The Gallic were in a strong place but were spread to thinly and contending was indecisive. The undermentioned twenty-four hours the French were resolutely defeated at Spicheren. [ 18 ] They managed to keep the Prussians at bay but merely long plenty for a 2nd Prussian ground forces to progress and alter the tide of the conflict: Gallic lower status in Numberss and Prussian high quality in heavy weapon once more playing a important function. The two ground forcess clashed once more the undermentioned twenty-four hours at Woerth [ 19 ] but by this clip they were to a great extent outnumbered. The Prussians had been reinforced and now totaled unit of ammunition 140,000 military personnels whereas the Gallic had a mere 35,000. The high quality of the Prussian heavy weapon was apparent but both sides suffered heavy casualties ; The Gallic, fearing a slaughter broke and retreated. [ 20 ] These two conflicts represented two oppressing lickings for the Gallic and two of what was to go three decisive reverses.

A cardinal component in the overall Gallic licking can be seen on August 16Thursdayat Mars-le-Tour, 130,000 Gallic soldiers were attacked by a mere 30,000 Prussians. The Prussians believed erroneously that they were assailing the rear guard of the retreating forces whereas they were attaching the Gallic chief staying strength. Despite being to a great extent outnumbered the Prussians attached repeatedly and the Gallic forces were decimated and forced to withdraw yet once more. The Prussians once more turn outing their motive and belief in their ultimate triumph, set against gross indecisiveness and confusion on the portion of the Gallic. [ 21 ]

Two yearss after Mars-le-Tour occurred the largest conflict of the whole Franco-Prussian war, the conflict of Gravelotte. The Prussian forces totaled around 180,000 work forces while the Gallic mustered around 110,000. [ 22 ] The Gallic were dug in and expecting the Prussian progress, when it eventually occurred the Gallic had the upper manus due to their high quality in rifles ; nevertheless, the Prussian heavy weapon was, as ever, far superior and cut the Gallic to tear up. Casualties on both sides were awful ; the Prussians fring in surplus of 20,000 work forces and the Gallic about 8,000, most of whom were killed by the Prussian Krupp Artillery pieces.

The Gallic once more suffered on September 1stat Sedan. [ 23 ] Napoleon III had gathered together another ground forces and marched towards the Belgian boundary line with the purpose of ab initio avoiding the Prussian forces and associating up with the lasting elements of the Gravelotte ground forces. The manoeuvre had been widely recognised as an incompetent one and allowed the Prussians to capture the Prussians in a tweezer like motion. This incompetency in the Gallic high bid is a common subject throughout the run and one of the main grounds, coupled with precisely the antonym from the Prussians, why the Gallic lost the war. The twenty-four hours after Sedan, Napoleon III surrendered to the Prussians, as did over 100,000 Gallic soldiers.

The Germans hoped and believed that the war would be over at this point, the Prussian leading asked for a list of apparently sensible demands that included some territorial acquisitions in the Alsace part, the Gallic rejected these proposals [ 24 ] and the war continued, despite most of the Gallic ground forces now being out of action. With the refusal, the Prussians began a besieging of the to a great extent fortified and defended Paris but even this did non keep out long and with its autumn came the terminal of the Franco-Prussian War. [ 25 ]


It would look apparent that there was non one individual and simple factor that led to the Gallic loss in the Franco-Prussian war but a whole series. At the beginning of the war they possessed a standing professional ground forces, mostly veterans of many runs including Crimea and the war in Mexico ; these were seasoned military personnels of a high quality. The Prussian ground forces, by contrast, consisted of draftees. This should hold given the Gallic a important advantage but it was ne’er utilised. The fact that the Gallic had a standing ground forces and the Prussians had to call up about from abrasion should besides hold been a important advantage. If the Gallic bid had acted rapidly and resolutely to occupy Prussian land alternatively of taking up a defensive position, a different result could potentially hold been achieved. This arrant failure on the portion of the Gallic high bid was a important factor in their licking. The Gallic besides possessed high quality in rifles but ne’er managed to take advantage of this, the increased scope of the Gallic weaponries as against the Prussian should hold been used more efficaciously, but was non. A major factor was the Prussian commanding officers gaining their ain lacks in this respect and utilizing their heavy weapon to its greatest effectivity, in many of the conflicts this ( along with superior Numberss ) was normally one of the most decisive factors. Throughout most of the war the Iranian forces were merely more flexible and more nomadic, the use of a general staff rule to assist cover with many of the twenty-four hours to twenty-four hours issues of logistics and troop motions without restraining the overall commanding officer with such considerations led the Prussians to be more flexible and prepared at cardinal points. The Gallic seem sulky and merely able to respond to the Prussians offensives instead that force an issue themselves. Prussian ego belief besides grew rapidly with each go throughing triumph, as did, conversely, Gallic pessimism among the ground forces. Self belief has ever been and will ever stay a really powerful force. Finally a word should be said about the opposing commanding officers, Napoleon III proved less than competent compared to his Prussian opposite number, von Moltke and Bismarck.


J. F. C. Fuller,The Decisive Battles of the Western World and their Influence upon History( London 1956 )

M. Howard,The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France 1870-1971( London 1962 )

G. Wawro,The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871( Cambridge 2003 )

D. Wetzel,A Duel of Giants: Bismarck, Napoleon III and the Origins of the Franco-Prussian War( London 2001 )



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