Franco-Prussian war

there seems to be no "random banter" forum so i'm sorry if this is in the wrong place.

Got an essay on "why did the French loose the Franco-Prussian war?" and wondered if you lot have any good sources, apart from the obvious genetic problems that the French naturally have to loose or run.

Any help would be great. ;)
Not completely sure on this and I could be talking out of my arrse but I think the Prussians had the benefit of breech loading artillery whereas the French still used muzzle loaders at the time. 8O


Book Reviewer
French were using the Chassepot rifle and the Prussians the needle gun. Difference was Moltke and the Prussian staff (if memory serves, been a while since I studied it)
See Michael Howard's excellent eponymous book. He hypothesises a fractured political scene with no national unity until it was too late, a failure in C2 with a decentralised command system that cracked under pressure and no clear war aims.

The French did have excellent breech loading rifles and tactical arty. They had no clear doctrine for the use of it or indeed the conduct of a defence/withdrawal. No change there then. :lol:
some really good comments, very helpful, thank you very much, feel free to add more ;) at this rate you may be able to do my essay for me.*
If my fleeting memory remembers correctly, this was the first major conflict where camo uniforms were worn (by the prussians, obviously).

Not much help, I know. I'll dig me books out.


Napoleon III was a tired old Bu**er by 1870, and the other side had the Prussian General Staff and Bismarck
The Germans also had the benefit of an extremely efficient rail network (surprise surprise) that allowed them to concentrate and move troops far more easily than the Frogs
The Germans system of recruiting and training was much more efficient. In fact The British Army adopted some of the German ways after Cardwells reforms. The French society of the 1870s with a largely rural populace was ill prepared for what was then a very new type of modern warfare.

Correlli Barnett argues a good case in his 'Britain and her Army' that the French were, in military terms, stuck in the past and very old fashioned.

I think we should invade France next wednesday and tw@t em all.
In spite of all the kit disadvantages, the concentration of the 'field army' in Sedan was a bad thing and came about after pressure from Napoleon (or his wife?). In the battle there was some mad cavalry charge from a Kraut called Seydlitz (?look it up) that unnerved brother frog.

Sedan is worth a visit to see the scale of the Citadel, most of fortifications in place and even the dismantled portion has merit. The French celebrate some minor victory down the road where a small group surprised the Hun and then died under overwhelming numbers. Or am I thinking of some other site(s)?.
If you want some contemporary source material, look out for two C19th century works.

Ehilu-Rich The History of the Franco-German War 6 volumes
Cassell's History of the War Between France & Germany 1870-1871 (2 volumes)

These are stuffed full of contemporary reports copperplate drawings and maps.

Not great for historic views but they give an idea of what was thought at the time or soon after the event.

You might also like to look at sectionson these wars in JFC Fuller's decisive battles + some of the reprints of strategy works of the early C20th.
France certainly had the advantage in terms of rifles, the Chassepot had a vastly longer range, and a primitive but effective gas seal on the breech. The Prussian Dreyse rifle used the same needle-fire system but without a gas-tight seal, also used a weird acorn shaped bullet if I remember correctly, fired "fat end" first. I believe that as mentioned, the Prussians using breechloading Arty was indeed a significant point.

Still trying to get my hands on a good Chassepot to test on the range :p One of those with its Bayo. is a sight to behold!


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
I seem recall some mention of French having some sort of machine guns but has given their soldiers no training in it as the generals believed it was too secret to use. Thus war started french had potential war winning weapon but no one to use it.

You might also have a look at The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71 by Alistair Horne.

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