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Showing posts from November, 2013

Sources for French military history

In something of a mood for reviews after last week's post, I dipped my pen (? or should that be keyboard?) in critic's vitriol once again, and took a look at Milindex, a searchable bibliography newly mounted on the website of the French Ministry of Defence's Centre de Doctrine d’Emploi des Forces (CDEF).
The bibliography is the work of the CDEF's Research Centre, the Ecole Militaire's Documentation Centre and an un-named university. The database includes the following older titles:
Journal des Sciences militaires (1825-1914) (available on Gallica), Revue d’artillerie (1872-1939) (available on Gallica), Revue de cavalerie (available on Gallica 1905-25),  Revue d’infanterie (1887-1939) (available on Gallica), Revue des Sciences Politiques (1911-1936) (available on Gallica),
Revue des troupes coloniales (1902-1939) Revue du géniemilitaire (1887-1959) (available on Gallica), Revue du service de l’intendance militaire(1888-1959)
Revue militaire générale (1907-1973) (available…

A corner of a foreign field

A bit of a break from aviation for this post, to celebrate the revamping of the Mémoire des Hommes site. For those unfamiliar with it, the site is the production of the French Ministry of Defence, and includes digitised historical material on the French armed forces. For the Great War, it includes the record card of every person killed while in service; the surviving unit war diaries (most of the Army's; only a few for Aviation) and carnets de comptabilité (a kind of quarterly muster roll); a partial index of aviation personnel; and a list of digitised regimental histories. It is entirely free.
Some of these have been available for some time now, but now benefits from enhanced usability. For example, it is now possible to search the Morts Pour La France database, not only by name (as used to be the case), but now also by date of death, place of birth, and unit. This opens up a large number of possibilities for studying the impact of the war on individual communities, particularly…

Kings of the Air: Aces High (3): Away from the Front

Everyone admired the aviator, claimed Jacques Mortane, the editor of the weekly magazine La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée, even the ordinary soldier: 'I've interviewed lots of poilus and asked them what they thought of pilots. “They're marvellous,” they told me, “we don't know what would become of us without them”.'
A soldier by the name of Glaure went so far as to write to the pilots of C51: 'We infantrymen follow you from our holes. Nothing you do escapes us. You are our gods. In fact, I would venture to say our guardian angels. If a day passes with no sight of you we're like children whose mother has given them no pudding.'

But other poilus were unimpressed. For one member of 241st Infantry, volunteering for aviation was simply another form of shirking: 'It's a massacre,' he wrote in 1917, 'and we're forced to stay here and resign ourselves to our fate while our fearless officers tuck themselves up nicely in the bottom of a sap. The…

Kings of the Air: 'The world owes its wings to France'

To celebrate 4,000 page views, here are some more posters and other publicity material on an aviation theme.
A selection of planes circle over the town of Bar-le-Duc, with the fourteenth century Tour d'Horloge prominent in the background - but given the presence of other buildings close by, this looks a rather dicey procedure. This particular meeting was rather overshadowed by the Circuit de l'Est endurance race, which was running at the same time, as well as a spectacular landing at Deauville by Hubert Latham (not to mention a train crash, and a fire at the International Expo in Brussels). The route of the Circuit de l'Est ran Paris-Troyes-Nancy-Mézières-Douai-Amiens-Paris, and so missed Bar-le-Duc entirely.

A crowded piece of sky - the parade of entrants at the Champagne Aviation Week, held at Reims in August, 1909. Did such a parade ever happen quite like this, or is it artistic license? The grandstand was built especially for the event, as was a temporary station on t…

Kings of the Air: Aces High (2); In Combat

More on the aces, especially on the way they fought. While there was an air fighting school at Pau, and from 1918, a Combat and Bombing School at La Perthe, pilots were free to evolve their own fighting methods.
Fonck thought his technique a simple one: 'I knew how to put myself in my attacker's blind spots, without really engaging in a duel. Guynemer fought differently and was regularly shot at, but this tactic was very dangerous, leaving the pilot vulnerable if his gun jammed. I always used the blind spots. This forced me to fire whatever my SPAD's position, but I'd been doing it for a long time. I fired in bursts of eight to ten rounds maximum, and three bursts was often enough.' 
Navarre favoured the unexpected, sometimes making his approach while flying inverted: 'Seeing me arrive like this, the German pilot is momentarily disconcerted. Perhaps he's the one who is upside down? The key to the manoeuvre is to take advantage of this momentary pause for thou…