It is a truth universally acknowledged that, en masse if not individually, E2 has a slight nagging tendency towards anti-French sentiment. For the Brits it's sort of traditional/historic, dating back to the Hundred Years War and all that (in which the English gloriously won, as they will be sure to note, at Crecy and Agincourt; strangely, at the end of it all, the French owned all of France, including the bits that the English had owned previously) and quite a lot of subsequent ones, mainly fought in Belgium, while for the Americans it seems to be something to do with the fact that they needed French help to run a revolution properly, along with the proximity of uppity Quebeckers and the fact that the French are marginally less prepared than the rest of the world to roll over and be McDisneyfied™; not being one I can't say definitively. But I digress.

When it comes to military history, this particular bias mostly comes out in references to three weeks in May 1940, and specifically one piece of particularly crap judgement by General Gamelin and one bypassed fortress line. The fact that that the allied participants - France, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium - have spent most of the time since blaming each other and trying to work out who sold out whom has been allowed to mask the fact that this particular campaign was successful beyond all reasonable expectations for the Germans, and that when the French actually had troops in the right places, they were perfectly capable of fighting the advancing Panzers to a standstill at a tactical or operational level. Visitors to Paris may wish to note that the big - rather bigger than you think until you actually see it in the flesh - structure at one end of the Champs Elysées is called the Arc de Triomphe, and not the Arc de Defaite; it bears an admittedly tedious and tasteless, but indubitably long, list of battles at which the French did rather well. The fact that your school history lessons may have taught you rather more about Paul Revere or Clive of India than about Charles Martel is not relevant in the greater scheme of things.

Commonly held views on the Italians' military prowess are little less facile. Here we have two lasting images to deal with. In World War II we have the mass surrenders of several low-grade Italian infantry divisions in the Western Desert which provided the first images of victory for eager British newsreel cameras in three years of war - peasant conscripts fighting for a cause for which they had little sympathy in a blighted colony which they had no interest in defending. The first-line Italian units, despite poor equipment (what happens when you put centralised procurement into the hands of an idiot who likes shiny things) and being a long way second in line behind the Germans for ammunition, fuel, spares, food and pretty much everything else, provided serious opposition to the Eighth Army on many occasions. The best Italian army units, the Alpini, were sent, desperately underequipped for the conditions, to the Eastern Front under German command where they were used as cannon fodder; they left no trace on military legend except locally by virtue of their 100% failure to return, ever, but that was not their fault. A significant (if swollen after the event for reasons of political convenience) number of those less inclined to support the Germans fought a bitter and hard guerilla campaign on the Allied side as the British and Americans progressed rather slower than planned up the Italian peninsula.

Likewise, from World War I we have the enduring image of the defeat at Caporetto, a graphic demonstration of the perils of the potential weaknesses of a defensive line in mountains with an open plain to your rear (a breakthrough up one valley easily outflanks numerous valleys to either side while the terrain makes lateral redeployment impossible). It pays very little attention to the preceding three years' fighting in the Carso and the Altopiano di Asiago where troops from an army with truly atrocious human resources management (enlisted men were paid a fraction of what French or English troops received and denied leave for years at a time; emigrants to the USA serving in the US Army were listed as deserters by the Italian army!) fought tenaciously to hold the Austrians in terrain that made the Ypres salient look like a rest home. Small British and French forces sent to Italy in the aftermath of Caporetto were good for morale but hardly decisive, having on at least one occasion to be got out of the shit by the Italians (and about the same number of Italian troops were sent to fight on the Western Front).

Oh yes, did I mention the Austrians? A grand military tradition. The Radetzky march, all that stuff. Let's look at their record more closely, shall we?

The Austrians (or rather the Habsburgs) built up a moderately large empire by persuading the Magyars that they could be sort of equal partners in the empire in an unequal sort of way, expert politicking and setting one lot of Slavs against another in the Balkans and central Europe, and marrying into the right ducal families in bits of what was later to become Italy. They never quite managed to sort out the Serbs, however, who felt that fighting nobly against the Turks was their speciality, and they were forced out of Switzerland early on by a small boy with an apple on his head.

The year 1683 may reasonably be considered a turning point for Western Christendom. Over the preceding century or so the Turkish Ottoman Empire had steadily advanced up the Balkan peninsula and after being balked, as it were, for many years by Macedonians, Bulgars, Albanians, Serbs, Bosnians, Croats, Slovenians, Slavonians and some I've probably forgotten, finally got as far as the Habsburg capital, Vienna, to which they laid siege. The siege failed, and the Turks were repelled, never again to return. Why? Because Austria was rescued by the Poles under Jan III Sobieski.

Under the noted and renowned Empress Maria Theresa, a War of the Austrian Succession was held. In keeping with tradition, it was mainly fought between the French and the English in Belgium (the French, opposed to Austria, won), except for an unimportant sideshow which appears to have been between the French and the Indians in Saratoga. The upshot was naturally that the Austrians let the Prussians have Silesia. Twice, to be on the safe side. A few years later the Seven Years War, largely fought between the English and the French in Belgium (the English, opposed to the Austrians, won) confirmed the result.

When it came to the French revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars, the Habsburgs were naturally on the side of the divine right of kings (well, Marie-Antoinette was a Habsburg herself) and against mob rule, liberty, fraternity, and most certainly equality. In furtherance of this cause, the Austrians fought the French at such places as Marengo, Austerlitz, and Wagram - among other names listed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. By 1812 the Austrians decided to try being on the same side as Napoleon for a change. Napoleon promptly invaded Russia, with predictable results. Following Napoleon's final defeat at a battle in Belgium which the Austrians fortunately weren't in time to get to, they regained most of their possessions in Italy at the peace talks due to diplomatic manoeuvrings by the master of the art, Metternich, but lost influence in Germany.

In the 1850s Austria failed to back her treaty partner Russia when the latter was invaded by the Turks, French and English in the Crimean war. Sardinia/Savoy/Piedmont, the leading state in the Italian peninsula, fought with the Allies, gaining international favour when it came to removing the Austrian influence during the subsequent wars of the Italian unification. Austria lost battles at places like Magenta and Solferino, and with them most of its Italian possessions except Venice.

In 1864 the Austrians did actually win a battle, a small naval engagement near Heligoland in the North Sea, against the Danes, against whom they were fighting in support of the Prussians over the Schleswig-Holstein question, of course. Emboldened by this masterstroke, they promptly came to blows with their erstwhile allies and were soundly whipped at the battle of Sadowa-Königgratz. The Italians got most of the rest of their country back in the resulting confusion.

The Austrians managed to stay out of trouble for another few decades after that, building up a national economy based on cheap dance music and diplomatic manoeuvrings in the Balkans. Unfortunately they got out of their depth in this respect; in 1914 the foreign minister Conrad von Hotzendorff, believing himself to be the reincarnation of Metternich, decided to start the First World War to impress a woman he fancied. It could reasonably be argued that all the countries involved lost the First World War, even the winners, but Austria, after some Pyrrhic successes against the Serbs, a certain amount of back-and-forth against the Russians in Galicia and a cheap and ultimately futile win at Caporetto after the Russians had pulled out and the Germans had sent rather a lot of extra troops, ended up losing its entire empire, its monarchy, access to the sea and any self-respect whatsoever. It also managed to export Adolf Hitler to Germany during this period, which was singularly unfortunate; he absorbed Austria into a Greater Germany and then lost a rather big war in the most spectacular of fashions, as you are probably aware. This ended the military involvement of Austria in world affairs, at least for the moment.

I rest my case.


Created as a response writeup to several others that got nuked before I managed to finish it and then frantically reworked and given rather a clunky title. That's just the way it goes.


Gorgonzola contends that the Ottoman Empire had a worse record, but that's not the point. And anyway, they beat the Australians once, and everyone knows that they're rock hard.

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