First Army (France)
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Insign of First French Army during World War II
|Allegiance|| French Army
Free French Forces
|Motto||Rhin et Danube (Eng: Rhine and Danube)|
On mobilization in August 1914 the First Army was put in the charge of General Auguste Dubail and comprised the 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th, and 21st Army Corps, two divisions of cavalry and one reserve infantry division. It was massed between Belfort and the general line Mirecourt-Lunéville with headquarters at Epinal. First Army then took part, along with the French Second Army, in the Invasion of Lorraine. The First Army intended to take the strongly defended town of Sarrebourg. German Crown Prince Rupprecht, commander of the German Sixth Army, was tasked with stopping the French invasion. The French attack was repulsed by Rupprecht and his stratagem of pretending to retreat and then strongly attacking back. On August 20, Rupprecht launched a major counter-offensive, driving the French armies out. Dubail was replaced in 1915. A frantic 1916 saw four different commanders command the First Army; an even more frantic 1917 saw five different commanders at the helm (including François Anthoine during the Battle of Passchendaele).
During World War II the Army under the command of General Georges Blanchard formed part of the forces ranged against the German Army during the Battle of France. On 10 May 1940, it included the Cavalry Corps, 3rd Army Corps, 4th Army Corps, the 5th Army Corps, as well as the 1re Division Cuirassée de Réserve (1st DCR, effectively an armoured division with four battalions of tanks and one of infantry, plus supporting units) and 32nd Infantry Division.1 When the Wehrmacht invaded France and the Low Countries in 1940, the First Army was one of the many armies including the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that advanced north to stop the German armies.
On May 21, 1940, the First Army was one of the armies trapped in a vast pocket with their backs to the sea that would eventually result in the Dunkirk evacuations. As the Germans moved in, what remained of the once-formidable First Army was hopelessly surrounded at Lille but counterattacked and resisted fiercely in a delaying action aiming to buy time for the beleaguered Anglo-French defenders of Dunkirk. General Jean-Baptiste Molinié's 40,000 remaining men engaged seven German divisions (including the 4th, 5th, and 7th Panzer Divisions, roughly 110,000 men and 800 tanks), capturing General Fritz Kühne of the German 253rd Infantry Division in the fighting and halting the German capture of Dunkirk for three days.2 It is estimated that the First Army's last battle allowed the evacuation of an additional 100,000 men from Dunkirk.2
The First Army formally ceased to exist on May 29, though a portion escaped with the British troops.
French Army B under the command of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny landed in southern France after Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of the area. On September 25, 1944 French Army B was redesignated French First Army. Liberating Marseilles, Toulon, and Lyon, it later formed the right flank of the Allied Southern Group of Armies at the southern end of the Allied front line, adjacent to Switzerland. It commanded two corps, the French I and II Corps. The French First Army liberated the southern area of the Vosges Mountains, including Belfort. Its operations in the area of Burnhaupt destroyed the German IV Luftwaffe Korps in November 1944. In February 1945, with the assistance of the U.S. XXI Corps, the First Army collapsed the Colmar Pocket and cleared the west bank of the Rhine River of Germans in the area south of Strasbourg. In March 1945, the First Army fought through the Siegfried Line fortifications in the Bienwald Forest near Lauterbourg. Subsequently, the First Army crossed the Rhine near Speyer and captured Karlsruhe and Stuttgart. Operations by the First Army in April 1945 encircled and captured the German XVIII S.S. Korps in the Black Forest and cleared southwestern Germany. At the end of the war, the motto of the French First Army was Rhin et Danube, referring to the two great German rivers that it had reached and crossed during its combat operations.
The First Army was mainly composed of North African units (Maghrebis and French Pied-noirs soldiers) from the Army of Africa which already played a major role in the liberation of Corsica (September - October 1943) and the Italian Campaign (1943–44) in which around 130,000 of their force's men engaged. During the French and German campaigns of 1944-45 these units formed the core of the First Army which comprised about 260,000 men (including 50% Maghrebis), and eventually more than 320,000 men during its offensive advances in Germany and in Austria,3
- 1st Free French Division (1st DFL, later became the 1st Motorized Infantry Division and finally the 1st March Infantry Division)
- 2nd Armoured Division (2nd DB, former 2nd Light Division) only for a short time in late 1944
- 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division (2nd DIM)
- 3rd Algerian Infantry Division (3rd DIA)
- 4th Moroccan Mountain Division (4th DMM)
- 9th Colonial Infantry Division (9th DIC)
- 1st Armoured Division (1st DB)
- 5th Armoured Division (5th DB)
- Moroccan Goums (Four groups of Tabors equivalent to one brigade)
From 26 September 1944 André Malraux's Alsace-Lorraine Independent Brigade, formed from the FFI, formed part of the army's reserves.4 Like other units formed from FFI personnel, Malraux's brigade was subsequently incorporated as a regular unit (and was retitled the 3rd Demi-Brigade of Chasseurs) into the French Army.
- General Auguste Dubail (Mobilisation – 5 January 1915)
- General Pierre Roques (5 January 1915 – 25 March 1916)
- General Olivier Mazel (25 March 1916 – 31 March 1916)
- General Augustin Gérard (31 March 1916 – 31 December 1916)
- General Emile Fayolle (31 December 1916 – 6 May 1917)
- General Joseph Alfred Micheler (6 May 1917 – 1 June 1917)
- General Henri Gouraud (1 June 1917 – 15 June 1917)
- General François Anthoine (15 June 1917 – 21 December 1917)
- General Marie-Eugène Debeney (21 December 1917 – Armistice)
- General Georges Blanchard (2 September 1939 – 26 May 1940)
- General René Prioux (26 May – 29 May 1940)
- General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (September 1944 – 1 August 1945)
- 1st Army
- Shirer (1969), p. 746
- "Au total, à l'automne de 1944, la France finira par disposer d'une armée effective de 250 000 hommes composée pour moitié d'éléments indigènes, Maghrébins, Africains et pour moitié d'Européens d'Afrique du Nord", Philippe Masson, L'homme en guerre, 1901-2001: de la Marne à Sarajevo, Editions du Rocher, 1997, p.23
- Michalon, Roget (ed.): Les Grandes Unités françaises, 6. Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1980, p. 569. Malraux's brigade was among several units formed from FFI personnel that made up what up General Lattre used as a reserve.
- David C. Isby and Charles Kamps Jr, Armies of NATO's Central Front, Jane's Publishing Company, 1985.