French analysis of the war



Unlike Germans, who were directly involved into the Balkan war with some officers fighting in the ranks of the Turkish army, no Frenchman served during the war under the flag of any of the belligerent armies. The links with the Balkan powers were nevertheless very strict, especially with Serbia, and a lot of military observers watched with great attention the progress of the military operation both in Trace and in Macedonia. Moreover the armament of the Balkan artilleries was predominantly of French origin and had their crews had been instructed according to French regulations and instructions, while the Turks followed basically the German doctrines. The quick defeat of the Turkish Army confirmed the opinion of the French superiority upon Germany, but the war developments urged also a reconsideration of some commonplace regarded as unquestionable until then.   


The most distinguished among the French observers was brigade general Frédéric-Georges Herr, who would be the commander of the Verdun strongpoint before the German attack in 1916 and after the World War became the General Inspector of the French Artillery. At that time he was the head of the 6th Army Corps artillery at Verdun.

From 17 November to 15 December 1912 general Herr travelled the seat of war in the Balkans, when, with the permission of the Serbian and Turkish authorities, he was able to visit, first the Serbian lines as far as Uskub and the battlefield of Kumanovo, afterwards Tchataldzha as far as Hadankevi. In June 1913 he published his journey daily record, where he repeatedly asserted that his visit was unofficial and that his only aim was to satisfy his own curiosity and to complete his military knowledge, especially about everything was related with his job as artilleryman. Actually the truth was different, since the archive of the French Ministry of Defence keeps a “Rapport du général Herr en mission dans les Balkans (1912)”.

General Herr published his comments first on the French Revue d'Artillerie and later in a little book: La guerre des Balkans. Quelques enseignements sur l’emploi de l’artillerie. His essay had a great success and was translated in many languages (English, German, Italian) and prestigious military journals, like Journal des Sciences Militaires and Revue d’Artillerie, published several articles that advocated the deployment of three or four batteries of light field howitzers with every army corps. It was much esteemed, but also much criticized, especially because he studied the employment of the artillery in the Balkans without following too strictly the lessons of the French war school. General Joffre himself in his Mémoires that “the publication of this report caused a great anxiety among military and parliamentary circles; a great controversy begun once more between the supporters of the 75mm and the partisans of the introduction of a heavy artillery.” But this time general Herr’s experience could persuade who hesitated and on April 1913 the French Army ordered their first heavy field guns, 220 – 105mm Schneider long guns.


The French Army sent in Thrace also an official mission composed by colonel of the Engineers Jean Piarron de Mondesir, who during World War 1 was charged to reorganize the Serbian Army after its defeat in autumn 1915, captain Georges Bellenger of the fortress artillery, a pioneer of French military aviation, and captain Louis Ripert d’Alauzier, of the Chasseurs à pied. They reached Odrin on 7 April 1913 and stood in the Balkans till 3 June, having many meetings with Bulgarian high officers and visiting the principal battlefields in Thrace and Macedonia.

Colonel de Mondesir published in 1913 a very detailed book on the siege of the Turkish fortress, Siège et prise d’Andrinople (Novembre 1912 – Mars 1913). As an engineer he was especially interested in field fortifications, but he offered also a lot of considerations about the employment of the artillery by the two opposite armies. His research was much praised and was chosen as a basis for the narratives about the siege of Odrin published in various countries.

Captain Bellenger published his “Notes sur l’emploi de l’artillerie dans la campagne des Balkans” on the French Revue d'artillerie in November 1913. In his essay he strictly reflected the lessons of the French artillery school, as outlined in 1892 by general Hippolyte Langlois in his L'Artillerie de Campagne en liason avec les autres armes. Consequently he attached great importance to the light field artillery (75mm), while he thought that the heavy artillery could not play a great role in the field. He was one of the most influential critics of general Heer in France and his notes, translated into English and published on the American Journal of Field Artillery in 1913, were regarded as a confirmation both Langlois’s tactical precepts and of the conventional wisdom of the French Army on field guns.

Also captain Ripert d’Alauzier published the notes taken during his mission in the book Sur le pas des Alliés, published in 1914, reporting not only his own remarks, but also the records of the officers of the allies armies (Bulgarian, Serbs and Greeks), who had accompanied him during his recognitions.


In February 1914, another officer of the fortress artillery, captain Pierre Alvin, who in 1916 would be the author with major Felix d’André of the French Manuel d’artillerie lourde, published on the French Journal des Sciences Militaires a detailed essay about the employment of the field artillery during the Balkan war, where he gave also an account of the main features of the artillery material used by the opposite armies: “L’artillerie de campagne dans la guerre des Balkans”. This essay too was translated into English and published on the American Journal of Field Artillery in 1914.



All the dates in this page are according the western – Gregorian – calendar.