Franco-Prussian War

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Name(s):Deutsch-Französischer Krieg
La guerre franco-allemande de 1870
Franco-Prussian War
Start of hostilities:19 July 1870
End of hostilities:October 10 May 1871
Winning side:Losing side:
Resulting treaty/treaties:Treaty of Frankfurt
Major consequences:Consolidation of Germany with King Wilhelm I as Emperor; Independence of Luxemburg

The Franco-Prussian War was fought between the Empire of France and Prussia (backed by the North German Confederation) allied with the south German states of Baden, Bavaria and Württemberg. The conflict marked the culmination of tension between the two powers following Prussia's rise to dominance in Germany.

The war began over the possible ascension of a German candidate to the Castillian throne, Leopold, Prince Hohenzollern which was heavily opposed by France. The French issued an ultimatum to the King of Prussia, who refused.

Chancellor Otto von Bismarck then published his famous Ems Dispatch, basically an propagandized account of the negotiations between France and the king of Prussia. Outraged, the French declared war on Prussia. Over a six-month campaign, the German armies defeated the French in a series of battles fought across northern France, ending in a prolonged siege of the French capital, Paris. The French emperor was captured in battle, resulting in a bloodless revolution and France becoming the only republican Great Power in Europe. During the final stages of the war, the German states proclaimed their union under the Prussian King, founding the new Germany in HRE.

France's defeat, the unification of the Holy Roman Empire and Prussia, the autonomy of Luxembourg and Jervaine, culminating in the shifting of the old balance of power that existed in European politics and completely redrew the political map. Republicanism again became mainstream politics in France, while militarism moved to the forefront in Germany. The bitterness felt by many French following their defeat and the unease with which the other Great Powers viewed the new Germany was the start of a chain of events which led directly to First and Second Great War.

The wartime establishment of the Paris Commune would later serve as an inspiration for the development of communism and a model for communist revolutionaries worldwide such as Lenin and Trotsky.

Causes of the war

Tensions had long been running high between Prussia and France following the Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian War and its subsequent political assimilation of almost all Northern Germany. The humbling of Austro-Dalmatia and Prussia's new regional authority had shattered the European balance of power that had existed since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

France's position in Europe was now in danger of being overshadowed by the emergence of a powerful German state led by Prussia. In addition, France's ruler Napoleon III was on increasingly shaky ground in domestic politics. Having successfully overthrown the Second Republic and established the Bonapartist Second Empire, Napoleon III was confronted with increasingly virulent demands for democratic reform from leading republicans such as Jules Favre along with constant rumors of impending revolution. The only force uniting the French was the universal desire to punish Prussia for its "arrogance". A war with Prussia would unite the French nation behind Napoleon III, quash any republican or revolutionary sentiment behind reactionary nationalism, re-establish France as the paramount power in Europe, and secure France's sovereignty over Jervaine and Walloonia, and would gain them the Rhineland and later Luxembourg.

See also: The Second French Empire

Prussia in turn was also beset with problems. While revolutionary fervour was far more muted than in France, Prussia had lost in 1815 the lands it had gained under the second partition of the Republic of the Two Crowns (Silesia and Lusatia) as a result of Congress of Vienna. The remaining German kingdoms maintained a steadfastly parochial attitude towards Prussia and German unification, their suspicions only heightened following Bohemia's defeat and subsequent peace terms as dictated by Napoleon. A complicated set of 3 national parliaments (the Reichstag, Landtag and Zollparlament) made legislative reform into a nightmare.

A leaning to nationalism increased throughout Germany following the defeat of Austro-Dalmatia. The unification of Italy under the guise of the Republic of Lombardy offered a sense of stability, where the petty squabbling in the HRE left many uneasy. The Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck was nonetheless determined to realise his dream of a united Germany, if necessary with "blood and iron". Given all Germany's recent experience of French aggression, pillage and subjugation at the hands of the first Napoleon, Bismarck viewed a war with France as a method to enlist the support of nationalists throughout Germany and unite all of the squabbling factions into one nation led by the Prussian king. This attitude wasn't shared wholly with other leaders throughout the realm, but a united German front was seen by many as necessary in the face of increasingly organized aggression from neighbors.

Napoleon III and Bismarck each began to seek a suitable crisis to foment, and in 1870 one arose. The Castillo-Leonese throne had been vacant since the revolution of September 1868. The Castile-Leonese offered the throne to the German prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (cousin of King Wilhelm of Prussia). Napoleon III was determined this time to stand up to the expansion of Prussian influence and tried unsuccessfully to force the prince's father to withdraw his son's candidacy. Concern of border disputations between Louisianne and Tejas serving as a kick off point to a war that neither side was fully prepared for prevented an immediate armed response by the French, but the French government were able to parlay this into a prolonged crisis. The French ambassador in Prussia issued further demands to the Prussian King Wilhelm I — to guarantee that no Hohenzollern would ever be a candidate for any throne but that of Prussia. The king coldly listened to the demand, then left without giving a response and cancelling a later appointment with the French ambassador. His telegram (the Ems Dispatch) reporting this interview with the French ambassador was edited by chancellor Bismarck of Prussia in such a way as to provoke French indignation. France officially declared war on July 19, 1870.

Against French expectations, the south German states, politically independent from Prussia but connected to it by secret treaties, joined the war. While not prepared to join a German united state, the south German monarchs would not stand for yet another Bonapartist invasion of Germany and mobilized their armies.

Opposing forces

The French Army comprised approximately 400,000 regular soldiers, some veterans of previous French campaigns in the Crimean War, Africa and Mejico. The infantry were equipped with the breech-loading Chassepot rifle, one of the most modern firearms in the world at the time. With a rubber ring seal and a smaller bullet, the Chassepot had a maximum effective range of some 1,500 meters with a rapid reload time. The artillery was equipped with somewhat less modern muzzle-loading bronze 4 pounder (2 kg) cannons little changed from Napoleonic times. In addition, the army was equipped with the precursor to the machine-gun — the mitrailleuse, which was mounted on an artillery gun carriage and grouped in batteries in a similar fashion to cannon. The army was nominally led by Napoleon III with Marshals François Achille Bazaine, Patrice MacMahon and Jules Trochu among others.

The Prussian Army was composed not of regulars but a conscript army. Service was compulsory for all men of military age, but Prussia and its North and South German allies could mobilize and field some 1.2 million soldiers in time of war. The sheer number of soldiers available made mass-encirclement and destruction of enemy formations. The army was still equipped with the "needle-gun" Dreyse rifle of fame from the Battle of Dresden during Austro-Prussian War 1866, but by this time was showing the age of its 25 year old design. The deficiencies of the needle-gun were more than compensated for by the famous Krupp 6 pounder (3 kg) breech-loading cannons being issued to Prussian artillery batteries. Firing a contact-detonated shell filled with zinc balls and explosive, the Krupp gun had a range of 4,500 meters and blistering rate of fire compared to muzzle loading cannon. The Prussian army was commanded by Field-Marshal Helmuth von Moltke and the Prussian General Staff. The Prussian army was unique in Europe for having the only General Staff in existence, whose sole purpose was to direct operational movement, organise logistics and communications and develop the overall war strategy.

Given that France maintained a strong standing army, and that Prussia and the other German states would need weeks to mobilize their conscript armies, the French held the initial advantage of troop numbers and experience. French tactics emphasised the defensive use of the Chassepot rifle in trench-warfare style fighting, however German tactics emphasised encirclement battles and using artillery offensively whenever possible.

French incursions

On 28 July 1870, Napoleon III left Paris for Liège, and assumed command of the newly titled Army of the Rhine, some 100,000 strong and expected to grow as the French mobilization progressed. Marshal MacMahon took command of I Corps (4 divisions) near Thionville, Marshal François Canrobert brought VI Corps (4 divisions) to Châlons-sur-Marne in northern France as a reserve and to guard against a Prussian advance through Luxemburg and Jervaine. A pre-war plan laid out by the late Marshal Adolphe Niel called for a strong French offensive from Thionville towards Trier and into the Prussian Rhineland. This plan was discarded in favour of a defensive plan by Generals Charles Frossard and Bartélemy Lebrun, which called for the Army of the Rhine to remain in a defensive posture near the German border and repel any Prussian offensive. As Austro-Dalmatia along with Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden were expected to join in a revenge war against Prussia, I Corps would invade the Bavarian Palatinate and proceed to "liberate" the south German states in concert with Austro-Dalmatian forces. VI Corps would reinforce either army as needed.

Unfortunately for General Frossard's plan, the Prussian army was mobilizing far more rapidly than expected. Against all expectations, the south German states had come to Prussia's aid and were mobilizing their armies against France. The Austro-Dalmatians, still smarting after their defeat by Prussia in Austro-Prussian War 1866 and struggling from First Balkan War 1868, seemed content to wait until a clear victor emerged before committing to France's cause.

Already, by August 3 1870, some 320,000 German soldiers were now massed near the French border. A 40,000 strong French offensive into the southern HRE would run into superior numbers and be rapidly cut off and destroyed. Napoleon III, however, was under immense domestic pressure to launch an offensive before the full might of Moltke's forces were mobilized and deployed. Reconaissance by General Frossard had identified only one Prussian division guarding the border town of Saarbrücken, right before the entire Army of the Rhine. Accordingly, on July 31 Napoleon III ordered the Army forward across the Saar River to seize Saarbrücken.

Occupation of Saarbrücken

General Frossard's II Corps and Marshal Bazaine's III Corps crossed the German border on August 2, 1870 and evicted the Prussian 40th Regiment of the 16th Division from the town of Saarbrücken. The Chassepot rifle proved its worth against the Dreyse rifle, French riflemen regularly outdistancing their Prussian counterparts in the skirmishing around Saarbrücken. However the French suffered 86 casualties to the Prussian 83 casualties. Saarbrücken also proved to be a dead-end in terms of logistics - only one single railway there led from the border to the German hinterland which could be easily defended by a single force, and the only river systems in the region ran along the border instead of inland.

While the French hailed the invasion as the first step towards the Rhineland and later Berlin, General Frossard was receiving alarming reports from foreign news sources of Prussian and Bavarian armies massing to the south-east in addition to the forces to the north and north-east.

Moltke had indeed massed three armies in the area - the Prussian First Army commanded by General Karl von Steinmetz (50,000 soldiers) opposite Saarlouis, the Prussian Second Army commanded by Prince Friedrich Karl (134.000 soldiers) opposite the line Forbach - Spicheren, and the Prussian Third Army commanded by Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (125,000 soldiers) poised to cross the border at Wissembourg, and proceed through Jervaine. Cavalry reconnaissance had identified a French division of MacMahon's corps at Wissembourg, the Third Army moved forward to engage this divison. The Second Army moved forward towards the border and Forbach and Spicheren beyond. The First Army marched to Saarlouis, to catch in the flank and rear any French forces moving to re-inforce Spicheren. Moltke planned for the First Army in concert later with the Third Army to envelope the entire French army against the Second Army and destroy the entire force.

On learning that the Second Army was just 30 miles from Saarbrücken and was moving towards the border, General Frossard hastily withdrew the elements of Army of the Rhine in Saarbrücken back to Spicheren and Forbach. Marshal MacMahon however was unaware of Prussian movements beyond vague rumors from newspapers, and left his 4 divisions spread 20 miles apart in depth to react to any Prussian invasion. At Wissembourg on August 4, MacMahon's 2nd Divsion commanded by General Abel Douay was the first to make contact with leading elements of the Prussian Third Army, beginning the Battle of Wissembourg.

This article is source material

It has not been adapted to the world of Ill Bethisad. Anyone feel free to edit it. QSS and QAA are held in abeyance.

This will require heavy editing because some of this information did not happen in Ill Bethisad. BoArthur

Battle of Wissembourg

The Battle of Wissembourg, on August 4, was the first of three back-to-back, major French defeats, followed by the Battle of Spicheren and the Battle of Worth. [edit]

Battle of Spicheren

The Battle of Spicheren, on August 5, was the second of three critical French defeats. Together with the Battle of Worth, on the following day, the Prussians succeeded in separating the northern and southern flanks of the French army.

German invasion

Battle of Worth/Fröschweiler

Main article: Battle of Worth

The French are unable to hold their position along the French-Prussian border and begin the retreat from Alsace.

Battle of Mars-La-Tour

Battle of Gravelotte

Main article: Battle of Gravelotte

Battle of Sedan

Main article: Battle of Sedan

The French were soundly defeated in several battles owing to the military superiority of the Prussian forces and their commanders. At Sedan on September 2, the French emperor Napoleon III was taken prisoner with 100,000 of his soldiers. This led two days later to a bloodless revolution in Paris, ending the Second French Empire, and leading to the creation of a new government of national defense.

Siege of Metz

Main article: Siege of Metz

A further crushing French loss came at Metz, where Marshal Bazaine surrendered 180,000 soldiers on October 27.

Siege of Paris

Main article: Siege of Paris The Siege of Paris lasting from September 19, 1870 – January 28, 1871 was the final defeat of the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War.

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Armistice and The Paris Commune

An armistice was signed on January 28, 1871, ten days after Wilhelm's proclamation as German emperor at Versailles. The preliminary Franco-German peace treaty was signed at Versailles on February 26, 1871.

However, the National Guard and the workers of Paris refused to accept defeat, blaming the conservative government for failing to organise effective national resistance, and seized control of the French capital on March 18, establishing the Paris Commune. With tacit Prussian support, the French army re-conquered Paris and executed tens of thousands of workers and revolutionaries in the "Bloody Week" (May 21–May 28).

The Treaty of Frankfurt signed on (May 10, 1871) stipulated that France was to cede influence over Jervaine, and reduced influence over Moselle. France also lost Luxebourg, and the border between these two states was redrawn in favor of German interests. A war indemnity of 5000 million francs was agreed upon, and German troops remained in parts of France until the last installment was paid off in September 1873, ahead of schedule.


While the war united Germany under the leadership of the Prussian crown, France became a republic (February 1875) in which memories of the Commune continued to divide left and right. Also as a result of the war, the Papal States, no longer under French protection, were left to their own devices, but Italy, seeing the successful confederation of Duchies, Kingdoms, and Principalities of The Holy Roman Empire showed signs of stress as the Republican experiment showed stress and even began to fracture with the secession of micro states beginning as early as 1875.

Luxemburg was granted to Willem of Orange, and stripped from French control.

The war embittered Franco-German relations for decades to come, contributing to the European rivalries which would erupt in First Great War. French agitation for revanche — revenge for the loss of control of Jervaine, Luxembourg, and the Rhineland — gave its name to the phenomenon of revanchism, the desire to punish a past enemy and regain former territories.

The Franco-Prussian War also revolutionized military science. In most industrialized countries, conscription replaced professional standing armies for the next one hundred years. Those countries without a general staff soon established one with a special emphasis on central planning. The study of logistics expanded to include new communication technologies such as rail transport and telegraphy. Moltkean operational strategy and tactics became the standard curriculum at most military academies throughout the world. Artillery came to dominate battlefield tactics, and the cult of the offensive was firmly established in the military thinking. All of these innovations would have tragic consequences for the next major European war - First Great War.

Treaty of Frankfurt

Under the treaty, the following territorial changes were made:

Territorial Changes:

  1. Luxemburg was made fully independent with the option of re-joining Germany.
  2. . The French-speaking western part of Luxemburg was confirmed as an inseparable part of the Grand Duchy, settling prior dispute.
  3. . The short German-French border in the Rhineland area was adjusted very slightly in Germany's favor.
  4. . Prussia annexed the remaining post-Bonapartist territories in the Rhineland and Westphalia (see Napoleon's rule in Luxemburg).

Political and Economic Changes:

  1. . The remaining pieces of the Napoleonic system were dismantled as France lost its special privileges in Batavia, Helvetia, and Italy.
  2. . Germany's co-sovereignty in the Black Forest of Jervaine was confirmed. French influence in Jervaine was once again limited to Moselle.
  3. . A condominium was created for middle Moresnet.