As promised in the previous news update, here is the second part of the French unit preview.
By 1918 the traditional tasks of the engineer corps had been largely overtaken by infantry pioneers. Instead the "Génie militaire" became specialised units in charge of tasks requiring a high level of expertise, like battlefield demolitions, gas, mine warfare... and Flamethrowers.
The organisation of French flamethrower units was a mirror image of their German opponents, down to their first commander being a fireman. To be effective the flamethrower needed good planning and support firepower. This required units that were specially trained for the task and given a good deal of autonomy when planning assaults.
Model by B-Dizl, skin by don_Durandal
While the French arguably designed the worst tank models of WW1, they also came up with the very best. The Renault FT was a revolutionary step in tank design, with a layout that can be seen even in modern tanks. The fully rotating turret made the addition of multiple weapons unnecessary, and the separated engine compartment at the back meant the crew wouldn't be incapacitated by engine fumes like in other WW1 models.
While the FT was a latecomer to the battlefield, only seeing action for the first time in May 1918, by the end of the war more FTs had been built than all other WW1 tank models together.
The main variations were a machinegun tank armed with a Hotchkiss model 1914 and a gun tank with a SA18 37mm rapid-fire cannon. The later could fire a variety of shells, including HE, canister and armour-piercing.
Renault FT TSF
The lack of portable radios in WW1 made communications difficult. Wireless sets were available, but these were usually cumbersome and fragile, required a conspicuous antenna, and as such were ill-adapted to the battlefield especially when on the move.
The "signal" or "TSF" (wireless) version of the Renault FT was a solution to that problem. The turret was replaced with a fixed casemate hosting a wireless set, an operator and an observer. While it required the tank to be set up to properly deploy the antenna, this gave French tank units a much-needed means of communications, especially in the mobile conditions of the 1918 battlefield.
The French Army was slow in understanding the advantage of properly trained and equipped snipers in trench warfare. It wasn't until 1916 that scoped rifles started being distributed to frontline units, and snipping was left to individual initiative.
WW1 was the birth of modern military camouflage, from artillery to tanks, fortifications and individual or groups of soldiers. In the French Army, universal conscription had brought various artists and artisans under the colours. Their skills were quickly put to use and vast army workshops were set up to test and paint camouflage patterns, create dummies for deception and observation, and create new means of avoiding detection such as camouflage nets and clothing.
One of such items was the "frog" suit (named in reference to the spotted skin of the common frog, not for culinary reasons). It covered the whole body, with a masked hood for the head and gloves for the hands. It was distributed to observers and raiders.
Canon de 105 mle 1913 Schneider
Model by Regulator, skin by don_Durandal
The pre-war reliance of the French Army on their excellent 75mm field gun meant that when war broke out it was almost bereft of modern medium and heavy artillery models. The 105 L (for "105mm Long") had been acquired in small numbers back in 1913, and soon a massive order was made for more guns. It had long range, good accuracy and an excellent rate of fire, and more importantly its heavy shell was more suitable for taking out fortified emplacements than the 75mm field gun.
For all armies, raiding parties became a fixture of trench warfare once the Western Front settled down into stalemate, and the French were no exception. At first these "groupes francs" were organised on an ad-hoc fashion, but it wasn't long before formal regulations were set up for raising and training such units. Commanders also realised that it was more effective to seek volunteers for these tasks; the thrill of action, the promise of special advantages (such as more leaves and no chores) and the lure of loot meant that there was rarely a shortage of such men.
A big turning point came in 1917 when General Nivelle was nominated commander-in-chief of the French Army. He envisioned whole battalions of raiders organised along the lines of German stormtroops. The existence of these units of "Grenadiers d'élite", as they were designated, was short-lived however. Nivelle's successor, General Pétain, felt that placing all the best elements in the same units would weaken the rest of the army, and ordered the battalions disbanded and the men sent back to their old units.
Nevertheless the usefulness of such units meant that they remained in existence on a semi-official basis in most infantry regiments of the French Army. When the front become mobile again after the 1918 German Spring offensive their task was widened to assault and reconnaissance.
Models by The_Soldier, Cireva and don_Durandal unless specified otherwise.
Textures by don_Durandal
Special thanks to B-Dizl of the NTW:TGW mod for the Renault FT and Lebel rifle models, and Regulator of Battlefield 1918 for the 105L.
It's hard to preview them through images, but gameplay and sounds are also being worked on. Dzierzan has been creating realistic weapon sounds for the mod. General WVPM has joined the team as a coder.
The TGW1918 development team.