Ways to answer this:

How did the French officers and soldiers rate their own effectiveness relative to the Americans and Brits? (Diaries, letters, reports, etc)

How did French government officials rate them?

How did the British and Americans rate them?

If a German division knew they were going to get attacked by the French, were they more or less scared than if the Americans/Brits were attacking?


So, the French Provisional Government existed only for two years, you might be referring to "Free France" led by Charles De Gaulle.

They mainly fought in north Africa and were quite capable but matched against a legend of his time, Rommel. After Operation Torch (wikipedia link) this government got a large chunk of territory and manpower. Thus, able to help the allies more effectively.

They helped the U.K. in liberating german/italian holdings in Africa and in Middle-East, but they weren't that good. During the Italian Campaign (Wikipedia link) they fared much better and were actually praised by their general (an U.S. one, and others wikipedia link). During the liberation of France, they did really well in helping and securing cities, they ultimately were the one to liberate Paris (partially because they feared it would be destroyed, they attacked without reinforcements before the Allied sent help. Source on the first link I provided) " and by the end of the war in Europe, they were 1,300,000 strong – the fourth-largest Allied army in Europe ".

They weren't "feared" by the Germans, especially because the army was mainly made of north-africans (and the nazi ideology stated those people were clearly inferior.), but they often had people behind them, after all they were trying to liberate their country, one can guess it was somehow easy to gather support.

The British and Americans seemed to ponder their tactical value quite high (pincer attacks were more feasible etc etc) but for martial feats, it all depended on the situation. Some times (Italian conquest, liberation of France) they were useful and helped a lot, other times (Syria, East African) much less so. (De Gaulle thought much more people would rise to help, the soldiers garrisoned there didn't do as he expected etc etc)

On the other hand, French officials in Free France thought highly of it's army, that was able to fight back and wash a bit of the shame that was losing the mainland. Vichy France badmouthed them in order to prevent uprising and appease the other Axis powers (that really didn't want to see an uprising when they were busy elsewhere.).

Lastly, on the Eastern Front, they received multiple awards from the Soviets, even Stalin granted them a special name.

EDIT : I misunderstood what you were looking for, so I'll talk a bit more about what happened after the Liberation.

The French Army (which already became quite important before the Liberation) became well supplied (thanks to America), well marshaled and well equipped. General Leclerc used a bit of that new army to fulfill his oath (Wikipedia Link) and liberate Strasbourg. They did quite well there and were swift. Soon after that, a counter-attack happened! Only France and the U.S. are attacked, ferocious blows are dealt but ultimately the French army simply protected Strasbourg while the main battle has been done by the U.S. army. (Wikipedia Link). Then, the invasion of Germany continued. The French army did quite well in the south, but once again, they weren't fighting the most important battles. So they weren't a laughingstock anymore for the germans, they were simply another nuisance. It seems they were useful in preventing allies to be hit back, but I do not find any more distinction on the western front. (Wiki Link)

Hope that helps more!

  • Very interesting, thank you. I specifically meant the Provisional Government, though. It provided 500,000-1,000,000 troops for the final invasion of Germany, so not insignificant. How did it stack up as a regular force? 1940 France obviously failed pretty badly. How much better was 1944 France at fighting the Germans. – Ne Mo Jun 20 '17 at 10:15
  • Well the Provisional Government was basically Free France after the Liberation of France, there really is no difference for the scope of world war II. (Politically, after the war, it does have different policies and stuff.) France at that point was rid of their really awful generals, so they did quite well. They were U.S. led and modernly equipped (for the most part.) – LamaDelRay Jun 20 '17 at 14:55
  • Ok, well I don't have a problem with calling it Free France but only after 1944, except it's a bit of a mouthful compared to French Provisional Government ;) – Ne Mo Jun 20 '17 at 15:17
  • It's actually a semantic and Constitutional question (to differentiate the two.). "Free" France was France that wasn't Vichy France (mind you, they both claimed to be free.), it was called "Free" by the Allies, and it caught on. They were an exiled government, thus, once they claimed back their capital, they became once again "Whole" France. Since the government wasn't elected, it called itself Provisional, ensuring once the turmoil is over it would change. – LamaDelRay Jun 20 '17 at 15:32
  • Okay, weeellllll... I'm still asking what I asked about, and not about Operation Torch :D – Ne Mo Jun 20 '17 at 18:09

About the factors for combat effectiveness:

One of the major features of Free France forces, compared to American and British ones, was that they were able to fight in mountains. This is true for a great part of them, mostly coming from North African territories with local as well as metropolitan soldiers.

This ability was of great use in North Africa and in Italy.

Another special fact about these forces is that they included, for a part, veterans of the French campaign, officers with a professionnal military background, but as American divisions they had time to train and recent hardware. This combination of abilities made them quite effective. But you should note that it applies only for a part of Free France's forces. The better case is the 2nd Armoured Division.

About actual combat effectiveness:

The effectiveness in mountain was outstanding, according to French officers like General Juin, as well as Allied officers. The main example is the Battle of Cassino, but you could cite as well Tunisia or Corsica.

The combat effectiveness of the 2nd Armoured division was very good, and it often managed to get victory where it was not expected:

  • Battle of Ksar Rhilane
  • Alençon
  • Saverne and attack on Strasbourg

And for the Free French 1rst Army:

  • Attack on Belfort

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.