Here's a first preview and description of some of the units in the French Army's tech tree. This list is in no way exhaustive. The French Army evolved into a complex organisation during WW1 with many specialised trades; since we design our factions on historical accuracy the French will have a rather large list of units. We'll need at least three parts to cover them all, by which time we'll be closer to announcing a release date.
The first weeks of war saw French infantry rage forward with particular élan to emulate the notorious "furia francese" of old. However, the advent of modern warfare would prove to be a bloody reality check for past visions of glorious charges and a big wakeup call to military modernisation.
The need for tactical flexibility over the hazard-strewn trench battlefields, the increased spread of men made necessary by the threat of artillery and machineguns, and the introduction of rifle grenades and the Chauchat machine-rifle in every infantry company required a new tactical organisation. While every side experimented with squads of specialised grenadiers, by 1916 the French army was the first of all major belligerents to adopt the squad and platoon as their infantry's main tactical unit.
Instead of being considered a mass of bayonet-wielding riflemen, even the most basic infantrymen became seen as a specialist. The core of infantry squads were the "grenadiers-voltigeurs", a designation reflecting the new role of infantrymen as assault skirmishers trained to use grenades (a trade designation still used for modern French riflemen). The squad's fire support was provided by the fusiliers' Chauchat machine-rifle and the grenadier's V.B. rifle grenades
The terrifying losses suffered by the French army throughout the war, and specially by its infantry, meant that by 1918 it could hardly spare to waste its men. Units were made smaller, but more flexible and better armed. With little blood left to spare the French infantry has to make up with steel and firepower.
Fast, well-armoured for its time and powerfully armed with a 75mm field gun, the Saint-Chamond tank had only one weakness: it could not be driven.
The small tracks and the big frontal overhang of the Saint-Chamond meant it was an inadequate machine to use in the conditions of trench warfare it had been designed for as it would easily get bogged down or stuck.
Ironically the return to mobile warfare with the beginning of the German spring offensive in 1918 and the allied counter-attacks that followed meant the Saint-Chamond could be used on more auspicious flat ground where it could take advantage of its speed and powerful gun. By then these tanks were worn-out and obsolete in light of the introduction of the revolutionary Renault FT; however the drastic need for tanks meant every machine had to do its duty.
The need to maintain momentum during an assault and to keep to the strict timeline of a creeping barrage for protection meant that assaulting units had little time for cleaning up operations. Time and time again soldiers in the first wave would find themselves shot at in the back by pockets of enemies that had been overlooked after overrunning a position.
Special mopping-up units were formed up to follow the assault wave with the sole mission of cleaning up the terrain of enemies. To clear shelters and dugouts they were armed with close combat weapons, grenades and flame devices such as the J1 incendiary can.
The white brassard worn here indicate that these units are allowed to operate independently and avoid the meddling of overzealous officers.
Brandt pneumatic mortar
The onset of trench warfare saw the German Army utterly outclass its opponents when it came to trench artillery. At first the French Army had to make do with outdated Napoleonic era mortars picked out of museums and medieval-looking improvised catapults. However, spurred by the inadequacy of their equipment, it wasn't long before a host of different models of various calibres were introduced.
The Brandt was a 60mm mortar first introduced in 1915, and then modified in 1916. It was light and easily transportable over rough terrain, and was widely issued to infantry companies. Its main advantage however was the lack of muzzle flash and noise when it fired, thanks to using pressurized gaz as propellant.
Peugeot armoured car
The Peugeot was one of the first standardised armoured car model used by the French army. It was actually two separate models: an "automitrailleuse" armed with a 8mm Hotchkiss machine gun, and an "autocannon" armed with a 37mm SA 18 gun. Though built on different chassis, they used the same open-topped armoured compartment and as such were virtually indistinguishable.
These were relatively underpowered vehicles, and it was planned to replace them with the improved White-Laffly by 1919. Furthermore, armoured cars proved to be of little use in trench warfare and instead they were relegated to patrolling the rear lines for most of the war.
The situation would change with the German Spring offensive of 1918. Armoured car groups of the cavalry suddenly found themselves fighting rear guard actions in open country and acting as mobile reinforcements on parts of the front threatening to break. With the allied counteroffensive after the 2nd Battle of the Marne they relentlessly pursued the retreating German armies.
As for the old Peugeots, few of them survived to see the armistice. Though unused for most of the war and condemned by obsolescence, the great offensives of 1918 gave them a last opportunity to go out fighting.
Since Napoleonic times, French infantry regiments traditionally maintained a squad of pioneers tasked with building and maintenance; this allowed the infantry to lower their reliance on the engineers corps. In WW1 however the need to build and maintain extensive trench networks meant that these few men were insufficient to keep up with demand. The engineer companies could not spare the men, and as such infantry regiments expanded their own pioneers instead. By 1918 each battalion had a whole platoon of "sapeurs-pionniers" (so called to distinguish them from the "proper" sappers of the engineer companies).
58mm type 2 mortar
The "mortier de 58 mm type 2" was the main medium mortar in use in the French army in WW1. Its introduction during the war allowed the French to make up for their initial deficiency in trench artillery and to reach parity with the Imperial German Army in terms of short range indirect fire.
Unusually it was a type of spigot mortar, with bombs being only partially loaded in the canon by a tail tube. While the canon had a diameter of only 58mm, the standard ammunition were 75mm calibre bombs. This also allowed the use of a wide variety of shell types, including smoke and gas.
Models by The_Soldier, Cireva and don_Durandal
Textures by don_Durandal
Brandt mortar by tr3nch soldier
Special thanks to B-Dizl from the N:TW Great War mod for the Lebel rifle model
Q: when will you release the French and Austro-Hungarians?
A: we will not give an ETA until we're close to release. We're a very small development team, and as such it's virtually impossible to keep a deadline.
Q: will you add such-or-such French unit?
A: the title of this preview says "part 1". Wait and see!
Q: why aren't the French wearing red trousers?
A: red trousers were the first piece of uniform to be abolished, being replaced on frontline service as early as October 1914 (months before the introduction of horizon blue). The mod takes place in 1918, long after that.
The TGW1918 development team.