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Sharp, Lee. The French Army, 1939-1940 : Organisation: Order of Battle : Operational History, volume 1. Milton Keynes, UK: The Military Press, 2002.
Introduction; Abbreviations/Glossary; Comparative Table of Ranks; Military Symbols; maps; charts; tables; organigrams; OBs
Appendices: Colonial Troops; Air Reconnaissance & Observation Units
The German Army has Tessin. The British Army has Joslen. The American Army has Stanton. The Soviet Army has Boevoi sostav Sovetskoi armii. The French Army has Les Grandes Unites Francaises. Just as the first four have fathered a host of secondary or tertiary works by Bellis and Bevis and Nafziger and Crofoot and Charles Sharp and many others, now Les Grandes Unites Francaises serves as one of the principal sources for a new series of order-of-battle books, The French Army, 1939-1940, by Lee Sharp (who is apparently unrelated to Charles).
That's actually great news. Like some of the other original sources, Les Grandes Unites Francaises is particularly difficult to acquire. Few libraries in the United States hold copies, and individual tomeslet alone the entire setcan seldom be located via secondhand booksellers. That's too bad, because the six volumes of LGUF (with volume five actually published in four separate parts, for a total of nine books) amounts to an enormously valuable reference for anyone delving into the OBs and TOEs of French units. The volumes cover not only OBs and TOEs for the 1940 campaign and again during 1942-1945 in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany, they also provide extremely detailed day-by-day information about each unit's movements, combat, and condition for all those campaigns. Thankfully, all the material is presented in a standardized, neatly laid-out tabular format which makes it a breeze to extract reams of data even for researchers with only the most rudimentary grasp of the French language.
Can't lay hands on LGUF? Can't even order a beer in French? Not to worry. If the first volume of The French Army, 1939-1940 is any indication, the core of the original materialalong with many useful additions from other French books and archiveswill soon be readily available in English, at least for 1940.
Here's how the author describes the series as a whole in his Introduction:
This book is one of a projected series of seven that will describe in detail the organisation and operations of the French Army during the period September 1st 1939 to June 26th 1940.
The aim of this series is to fill a gap in the literature of the events leading up to the German attack on France and the short campaign that ended with her defeat. Most books in English only cover the military operations up to Dunkirk and ignore the equally important second phase of the campaign that ended with the largest encirclement operation of the war. I also include for the first time in English details of the French Empire forces in [sic] especially those of French North Africa, the Levant and French Indo-China.
The series is divided into two separate standalone parts with the first part describing in detail the organisation and list of all combat formations of the French Army right down to independent sections and platoons. Each Table of Organisation/War Establishment (Tableau d'Effectifs de Guerre) will have breakdowns to platoon level for combat units and to company level for non-combat units. They will be presented in tabular form. Technical data on the weapons, vehicles and other equipment used by French forces are part of the many appendices.
The second part will cover the mobilisation of the Army and its deployment up to the German attack. There will be chapters on logistics, the medical services, manpower, all the arms of service with special studies on artillery, other Allied armies etc. A description of military operations from May 10th 1940to June 25th 1940 will take up the bulk of this second part. The account of these operations will be down to regimental/battalion level with in some cases a day-by-day commentary. The operations in Norway and the measures taken in North Africa, the Levant, Corsica and intervention into Switzerland will also be described. All the above will be supplemented by numerous orders of battle, statistical charts/tables and detailed maps.
As to the first volume, Sharp begins with the top-level organizations of the French Army: the military districts, the High Command, army groups, armies, corps, and the single armored group.
After describing the organization, functions, and basic establishments of the military regions as a whole, Sharp provides specific details for each individual region: name, location, map, subdivisions and local structure, mobilization centers, and peacetime garrisons down to company level. This is all welcome informationsome of which appears in LGUF and some of which does notand beautifully laid out along with very functional maps for easy access.
Like the pages on military regions, the section on the High Command is extremely detailed (with, for example, numbers of male and female "deputy head clerks" in each department), carefully laid out (including many tables and charts), and very enlightening. None of this material appears in LGUF.
All the same is true of the section on the French army groups and armies in 1940. Sharp surveys each echelon in general, then focuses on each individual army group and army. For each army, complete details are given on all organic forces: companies of HQ guards, engineers, transport, signals, services, medical, veterinary, repair parks, and army parks. This OB material is presented as text and repeated in charts with unit symbols. The data for each army also includes names, ranks, and dates of principal officers, plus a list of the higher HQs to which the army was assigned from 1939 through June 1940.
After almost eighty pages of this material, the book reaches the point at which it begins to recapitulate information from Les Grandes Unites Francaises on army corps. Sharp provides two pages as a general survey of corps, then launches a series of more than twenty pages with one page for each corps headquarters. Each page lists all the organic elements of the corps (transport, signals, artillery, engineers, etc), displays the same information with a handy organigram, lists all changes to the composition of the organic elements, gives names, ranks, and dates of principal officers, and shows the dates and higher HQs to which the corps was assigned from 1939 through June 1940. This is great stuff, and apparently not available anywhere else in English. For completeness, however, it should be noted that this does not go into the day-by-day OBs and summaries of operations provided by LGUF. For example, in comparison to Sharp's one page on III Corps d'Armee, the original French volume offers twenty pages.
OB enthusiasts with an eye for the obscure will especially appreciate the fact that The French Army includes complete information on overseas forces as well: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, the Levant, Indo-China (this seems to come from Claude Hesse d'Alzon's La Presence Militaire Francaise en Indochine), French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, French East Africa, Madagascar, the Antilles, and the Pacific islands. The author also writes an essay on French colonial troops, provides a page about the French Scandinavian Expeditionary Force (with more to come in future volumes), and surveys army air units utilized for reconnaissance and observation duties. Great material presented very well, and only slightly tarnished by some imperfect proof-reading and spell-checking (such as "Grench" for "French" and "duel" for "dual").
In sum, fantastique!
Next time you're in France, try to acquire a set of Les Grandes Unites Francaises. Even if you succeed, you'll still want to get hold of Lee Sharp's new book. The first volume is a must-have for anyone interested in the French Army, the 1940 campaign in France, or OB works in general, and it looks like this series should be a real winner for The Military Press. The next two volumes are due to be published later this year, and we hope to be able to review them as well as the remaining four.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from The Military Press.
Thanks to Military Press for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 12 March 2002
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone