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French Arms Production - Great War

So formidable a military and naval effort required for its support a corresponding industrial effort behind the firing line. The mobilization had taken from the factories the greater part of their youngest and most active workmen; the invasion had deprived the country not only of the mining district of Briey but of the rich industrial and mining region of the North. Yet France, though mutilated, was capable of organizing the labor of her industries.

For every 100 rifles she made at the beginning of 1914, France made in 1918 29,000; for every 100 machine-guns, 7,000. She had been able to furnish to her Allies 1,350,000 rifles; 16,000 automatic rifles; 10,000 machine-guns; 200,000,000 cartridges, at the same time maintaining and increasing her own armament notwithstanding losses. In place of two St. Etienne machine guns, by the end of the War each battalion had twelve Hotchkiss machineguns.

In this war of armament, the production of artillery reached unheard-of proportions. In August, 1914, the daily production of 75-millimeter shells in the French factories was 13,000; in 1918 it was 180,000. Their daily production of shells of large caliber was 100,000, and in particular 45,000 of 155 millimeters as against 200 in August, 1914. It has been necessary not only to replace the 75's lost and destroyed, but to increase the supply of this arm, and to furnish it to the Allies (especially to the American army, whose entire field artillery is at present of French manufacture). It has also been necessary to create for France a heavy artillery (France has 6,000 heavy guns, as against 800 at the beginning of the war), and to furnish heavy artillery, especially 155millimeter cannon, to the Allies (Russia, Roumania, the United States). In 1918 the French factories turned out each day 60 cannon of all calibers. The French army alone is provided with 17,000 cannon and 6,000 trench mortars and light field mortars (mortiers d'accompagnement).

With Tanks (Artillery of Assault), it had not been enough to improve and develop; it has been necessary to create. After the English had tested the first types of heavy tanks, and France had in 1917 followed their example, she turned her efforts in another direction. The light tank, highly mobile, easily concealed, armed either with a 87-millimeter gun or with a machine-gun, and carrying a crew of only two men, the " baby Renault," is a French conception. It has proved its worth on the battlefields of 1918 and has been one of the most valuable arms in the decisive combats. To give an idea of the industrial effort involved, it is sufficient to say that in the spring of 1918 the production of light tanks had reached an average of 150 to 160 a month.

The aviation service also had to be created. Compare with the 100 or more airplanes of touring type which the French army had in August, 1914, the 4,000 war airplanes, equipped with all modern apparatus and powerfully armed, which France now has in service. The present planes have a speed of 150 miles an hour and can climb to 20,000 feet in 18 minutes. The giant bombing planes, furnished with 2, 8, or 4 motors of 450 horsepower each, carry a load of two tons, and can fly for six hours at 110 miles an hour; these are the planes which bombed German cities in reprisal for the German raids on Paris and other French cities. France manufactured 7,000 motors a month, many of which were furnished to her Allies. The manufacture of planes had been developed to a still higher output.

The agricultural effort of France was equal to her industrial one. The task was difficult: the peasants formed the great mass of the army; out of 8,000,000 employed in farming in 1914, 2,555,000 were mobilized. Besides the needs of the army, the occupation of part of the territory by the enemy brought about a great decrease in stock (10,000,000 sheep instead of 16,000,000; 12,000,000 oxen instead of 14,000,000; 2,000,000 horses instead of 8,000,000; 4,000,000 swine instead of 7,000,000). Fertilizers were lacking; the output of sulphate of ammonia had fallen from 100,000 tons to 28,000; all the nitrate of soda available was used for the manufacture of powder. Therefore, 60,000 farms were abandoned in France, and the war wheat crop was less than the average pre-war crop.

A few statistics will form an estimate of the industrial effort of France. In 1914, France's daily production of steel, with all her blast furnaces operating, was only 18,500 tons, while that of Germany was 42,500. Moreover, the retreat of August, 1914, left in the enemy's possession mines and factories, three-fourths of the French resources in iron and coal, four-fifths of the French resources in cast iron, steel, and coke. Schroeder, the President of the German Metallurgical Association, announced in January, 1915: " Out of 127 blast furnaces in France, hardly 30 are producing cast iron; 95 are in the war zone." France set her hand to the task; new mines were developed; water-power was brought into service; new factories were established. The number of workers in her steel and iron plants, compared with the number of workers before the war, and which in August, 1914, had fallen to 88 per cent, had by July, 1917, risen to 178 percent. Women operatives had largely replaced the men, who were standing guard in the trenches.

The losses were heavy. Up to November 1, 1918, France had 1,327,800 killed in action, dead of wounds, or missing; nearly 700,000 crippled and pensioned, out of 3,000,000 wounded. In spite of these losses there were 3,000,000 French soldiers on the various fronts and 113 divisions in France on November 11, 1918. It is not diminishing the part played by the British or the Americans or the Italians - the services rendered by each of these have been in many ways valuable, indispensable - to conclude that the French army has constantly been the pivot of all the strategic combinations on the western front.




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