French Cuirassiers only a year (1913) before WWI would begin, looking much the same as they did under Napoleon. “The War to change All Wars”

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The problem of infantry formations getting caught too close together was one that was shared by all sides. There are accounts of the BEF mowing down dense formations of Germans in 1914. There were of course sound military reasons why infantry bunched up and attacked in close formation. It increased the effect of their rifle fire so the enemy could be suppressed more readily. Loose skirmish tactics were the only other option for riflemen, and it was ineffective against strong enemy positions. When infantry fought other infantry close formation was best.

The problem was when any infantry formation faced machine guns or artillery, then they stood no chance. This wasn’t a new problem, unsupported infantry or cavalry attacking big guns and getting massacred had been a problem for centuries, WWI just scaled it up, and had it play out over larger areas due to the increase in effective range. The known and well-used solution was to use one’s own machine guns or artillery as a counter to soften and disrupt the enemy before attacking with infantry. But in the chaos of 1914, often there wasn’t enough heavy support in the right place at the right time to save the infantry. It wasn’t a problem of tactics but of execution. Everyone knew that infantry against artillery or machine gun was an uneven fight, it wasn’t a surprise. But getting enough big guns or machine gun teams to the right positions when the Germans were breaking through all over the place, taking the Allies by surprise, meant that the French infantry were often caught out. The idea that the infantry died because they were just courageous idiots is simplistic and inaccurate. They died because the enemy outmanouevred them.

And I don’t think the French believed in mass assault and agression at this point, if anything they were too cautious in 1914, they held back, and let the Germans come to them, allowing the Germans to dictate when and where they fought. They were terrified of losing their armies again after their humiliation in 1870, so relied on defensive lines rather than the courageous charges, gloire, and elan of Napoleon’s time.

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