Military Wiki
French Army
Logo of the French Army (Armee de Terre).svg
Active 15th century – present
Country France
Allegiance France
Type Army
Size 892,483 regular personnel[1]
,1,000,000 reserve personnel [1]
Part of French Armed Forces
Nickname(s) La grande muette
"The great mute one"
Motto(s) Honneur et Patrie
"Honour and Fatherland"

Hundred Years' War
Italian Wars
Thirty Years' War
War of the League of Augsburg
War of the Spanish Succession
War of the Polish Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
American Revolutionary War
French Revolutionary Wars
Napoleonic Wars
French intervention in Spain
Greek War of Independence
Conquest of Algeria
Crimean War
Franco-Austrian War
Franco-Prussian War
World War I
World War II
Colonial Wars
Gulf War
Kosovo War
War in Afghanistan
Northern Mali Conflict

(List of wars involving France)
General Bertrand Ract-Madoux

The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre (English: Land Army), is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces. Just like the Armée de l'Air, the Marine Nationale and the Gendarmerie Nationale, it is placed under the responsibility of the French government. The current Chief of Staff of the French Army (CEMAT) is general Bertrand Ract-Madoux. All soldiers are considered professionals following the suspension of conscription, voted in parliament in 1997 and made effective in 2001.

As of early 2012, the French Army employs 122,328 regular personnel (including the French Foreign Legion). In addition, the reserve element of the French Army consisted of; 16,006 personnel of the Operational Reserve and 14,920 personnel of the Citizens Reserve.[1][2][3]

Mission statement

In 1999 the Army issued the Code of the French Soldier, which includes the injunctions:

(...) Mastering his own strength, he respects his opponent and is careful to spare civilians. He obeys orders while respecting laws, customs of war and international conventions.(...) He is aware of global societies and respects their differences. (...)[4]


The first permanent army, paid with regular wages, was established under Charles VII of France. From 1792, the French Revolutionary Army fought the allies. Under Napoleon I, the French Army conquered most of Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. In August 1914, the French Armed Forces numbered 1,300,000 soldiers. During the First World War the French Armed Forces reached a size of 8,300,000 soldiers, of which about 300,000 came from the colonies. During the war around 1,400,000 soldiers were killed. It was the most deadly conflict in French history. The main generals were: Joseph Joffre, Ferdinand Foch, Charles Mangin, Philippe Pétain, Robert Nivelle, Franchet d'Esperey and Maurice Sarrail (See French Army in World War I).

French soldiers awaiting an assault during the First Battle of the Marne, 1914

At the beginning of the war, the French Army was wearing the uniform of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, but the uniform was maladapted to the trenches, and so in 1915 the Army replaced the uniform, with the Adrian helmet replacing the képi.[citation needed] A uniform with a capote, of bleu-horizon colour adopted to the trenches, was adopted, and the uniform for colonial soldiers coloured khaki.

At the beginning of the Second World War the Army deployed 2,240,000 combatants grouped into 94 divisions (of which 20 were active and 74 were reservists) from the Swiss border to the North Sea. These numbers did not include the Army of the Alps facing Italy and 600,000 men dispersed through the French colonial empire are not included in this figure.[citation needed] After defeat in 1940, the Vichy Army was allowed to retain 100-120,000 personnel in unoccupied France, and larger forces in the French Empire: more than 220,000 in Africa (including 140,000 in French North Africa),[5] and forces in Mandate Syria and French Indochina.[6] After 1945, despite enormous efforts in the First Indochina War of 1945–1954 and the Algerian War of 1954–62, both lands eventually left French control.

During the Cold War, the French Army, though not part of NATO's military command structure, planned for the defence of Western Europe.[7] In 1977 the French Army switched from multi-brigade divisions to smaller divisions of about four to five battalions/regiments each. After 1977, II Corps (France) was stationed in South Germany, and effectively formed a reserve for NATO's Central Army Group. In the 1980s, III Corps headquarters was moved to Lille and planning started for its use in support of NATO's Northern Army Group. The Rapid Action Force of five light divisions was also intended as a NATO reinforcement force.

In the 1970s-1980s, two light armoured divisions were planned to be formed from school staffs (the 12th and 14th). The 12th Light Armoured Division (12 DLB) was to have its headquarters to be formed on the basis of the staff of the Armoured and Cavalry Branch Training School (French acronym EAABC) at Saumur.[8]

In the late 1970s an attempt was made to form 14 reserve light infantry divisions, but this plan, which included the recreation of the 109th Infantry Division, was too ambitious. The planned divisions included the 102nd, 104e, 107e, 108e, 109e, 110e, 111e, 112e, 114e, 115th, and 127th Infantry Divisions. From June 1984, the French Army reserve consisted of 22 military divisions, administering all reserve units in a certain area, seven brigades de zone de defence, 22 regiments interarmees divisionnaires, and the 152nd Infantry Division, defending the ICBM launch sites.[9] The plan was put into action from 1985, and brigades de zone, such as the 107th Brigade de Zone, were created. But with the putting-in-place of the "Réserves 2000" plan, the brigades de zone were finally disbanded by mid-1993.[10]

In February 1996 the President of the Republic decided on a transition to a professional service force, and as part of the resulting changes, ten regiments were dissolved in 1997.[11] The specialized support brigades were transferred on 1 July 1997 to Lunéville for the signals, Haguenau (the artillery brigade) and Strasbourg (engineers). The 2nd Armoured Division left Versailles on 1 September 1997 and was installed at Châlons-en-Champagne in place of the disbanding 10th Armoured Division. On 5 March 1998, in view of the ongoing structural adoptions of the French Army, the Minister of Defence decided to disband III Corps, and the dissolution became effective 1 July 1998. The headquarters transitioned to become Headquarters Commandement de la force d'action terrestre (CFAT) (the Land Forces Action Command).

During the late 1990s, during the professionalisation process, numbers dropped from the 1996 236,000 (132,000 conscripts) to around 140,000.[12] By June 1999, the Army's strength had dropped to 186,000, including around 70,000 conscripts. 38 of 129 regiments were planned to be stood down from 1997–99. The previous structure's nine 'small' divisions and sundry separate combat and combat support brigades were replaced by nine combat and four combat support brigades. The Rapid Action Force, a corps of five small rapid-intervention divisions formed in 1983, was also disbanded, though several of its divisions were re-subordinated.

Structure and organisation

French Army
Flag of France.svg

Army Light Aviation
Armoured Cavalry
Troupes de marine
French Foreign Legion
Chasseurs alpins
List of current regiments
Structure of the French Army
Chief of Staff of the French Army
Modern Equipment
Military history of France
List of senior officers of the French Army
Ranks in the French Army
Croix de guerre
Médaille militaire
Légion d'honneur

The organisation of the army is fixed by Chapter 2 of Title II of Book II of the Third Part of the Code of Defense, notably resulting in the codification of Decree 2000-559 of 21 June 2000.[13]

In terms of Article R.3222-3 of the Code of Defence,[14] the Army comprises:

  • The Army Chief of Staff (Chef d'état-major de l'armée de terre (CEMAT)).
  • The army staff (l'état-major de l'armée de terre (EMAT)), which gives general direction and management of all the components;
  • The Army Inspectorate (l'inspection de l'Armée de terre);
  • The Army Human Resources Directorate (la direction des ressources humaines de l'armée de terre (DRHAT));
  • The forces;
  • A territorial organisation (5 land régions: Île-de-France, Nord-Ouest, Sud-Ouest, Sud-Est et Nord-Est);[15]
  • The services;
  • The personnel training and military higher training organisms.

The operational organisation of the Army combines units from various Corps in 17 Brigades under the Commandement des Forces Terrestres. In 2011 CFT directs the Corps de réaction rapide France, two Etat-Major des Forces (division-level headquarters), the 1st Mechanised Brigade, the 2nd Armoured Brigade, the 3rd Mechanised Brigade, the 6th Light Armoured Brigade, the 7th Armoured Brigade, the 9th Light Armoured Marine Brigade, the 11th Parachute Brigade and the 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade.

The Army is divided into Corps or armes. They include the Troupes de Marine, composed of Marine Infantry (Infanterie de Marine), which includes parachute regiments such as 1er RPIMa and light cavalry such as the RICM, Marine Artillery (Artillerie de Marine), the French Foreign Legion (Légion étrangère), the Armoured Cavalry Branch (Arme Blindée Cavalerie), the Artillery, the Aviation Légère de l'Armée de Terre (ALAT, which translates as Light Aviation of the Land Army), including combat helicopters; Military engineers (Génie Militaire); the Infantry, which includes the Chasseurs Alpins, specialist mountain infantry, Maintenance Matériel; Logistics (Train); Signals (Transmissions); and Commissariat (Commissariat de l'armée de terre).

Branches of the French Army

Army Light Aviation

The French Army Light Aviation was established on 22 November 1954 for observation, reconnaissance, assault and supply duties. It operates numerous helicopters in support of the French Army, its primary attack helicopter is the Eurocopter Tiger, of which 80 were ordered. For a complete list of aircraft see French Army Light Aviation.

French Foreign Legion

The French Foreign Legion was established in 1831 for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. The Legion is commanded by French officers. It is an elite military unit numbering around 7,000 troops. The Legion has gained world wide recognition for its service, most recently in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan since 2001.

Troupes de Marine

The Troupes de marine are the Marine Infantry of the French Army, the former Colonial Troops, deployed overseas. They work closely with the French Navy and as such are often deployed around the world.


EMIA cadets in parade uniform, during the Bastille Day Military Parade.

In the 1970s France adopted a light beige dress uniform which is worn with coloured kepis, sashes, fringed epaulettes, fourragères and other traditional items on appropriate occasions. The most commonly worn parade dress however consists of camouflage uniforms worn with the dress items noted above.

The legionnaires of the French Foreign Legion wear white kepis, blue sashes and green and red epaulettes as dress uniform, while the Troupes de marine wear blue and red kepis and yellow epaulettes. The pioneers of the French Foreign Legion wear the basic legionnaire uniform but with leather aprons and gloves. The Chasseurs Alpins wear a large beret, known as the "tarte" (the pie) with dark blue or white mountain outfits. The Spahis retain the long white cloak or "burnous" of the regiment's origin as North African cavalry.

Sailors of the French Navy and Fusiliers Marins wear a dress uniform dating from the nineteenth century with a distinctive red pom-pom on the crown of the round cap.

The infantry and cavalry of the Republican Guard retain their late 19th century dress uniforms, as do the military cadets of Saint-Cyr and the École Polytechnique. A medium blue evening dress for officers is now seldom seen but individual branches or regiments may parade bands or "fanfares" in historic dress dating as far back as the Napoleonic period.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Key defence figures 2012" (in fr). 
  2. "White Paper on Defense and National Security 2013-Twelve key points" 29 April 2013
  3. "Projet de loi de programmation militaire 2014-2019" 02 August 2013
  4. Original French : (...) Maître de sa force, il respecte l'adversaire et veille à épargner les populations. Il obéit aux ordres, dans le respect des lois, des coutumes de la guerre et des conventions internationales. (...) Il est ouvert sur le monde et la société, et en respecte les différences. (...)  : [1]
  5. Quid, ed. 2001, p.690, see also 'France, Soldiers, and Africa.'
  6. Jacques Marseille, « L'Empire », dans La France des années noires, tome 1, Éd. du Seuil, rééd coll. « Points-Histoire », 2000, p.282.
  7. David Isby and Charles Kamps, Armies of NATO's Central Front, Jane's Publishing Company, 1985
  8. Colonel Lamontagne G, CD, accessed June 2013.
  9. Isby and Kamps, 1984, p.111, 162
  10. In 1986, the 109th Infantry Division was restructured into the 109th Brigade de Zone. In 1992, as part of the « Armée 2000 » plan, the brigade became the 109th brigade régionale de défense (109th Regional Defence Brigade).
  11. French Army Terre magazine, 1998, see III Corps (France) article for reference.
  12. Jane's Defence Weekly 31 July 1996 and 13 March 1996, International Defence Review July 1998
  13. "Version du décret avant abrogation" (in fr).;jsessionid=A5BE58FB20973CDF008E6E1FC144AC1D.tpdjo13v_2?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000400939&dateTexte=20081123. Retrieved 2013-01-25. 
  14. CDEF(R), no. R3222-3 Code de la défense, art. R.3222-3
  15. CDEF(R) no. R1212-4, Code de la défense, art. R.*1212-4.

Further reading

  • Anthony Clayton, 'France, Soldiers, and Africa', Brassey's Defence Publishers, 1988
  • J A C Lewis, 'Going Pro: Special Report French Army,' Jane's Defence Weekly, 19 June 2002, 54-59
  • Rupert Pengelley, 'French Army transforms to meet challenges of multirole future,' Jane's International Defence Review, June 2006, 44-53

External links

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