Around 1992 I was "hanging out" in the virtual sense on an Internet service called Usenet, reading posts, when I happened upon a long and torrid argument about the incompetence of the French military establishment. Like most Americans I knew about the stunning defeat of France during World War Two, but I was also well informed about the debacle of the trenches during the Great War, the battles of Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, and Napolean's doomed invasion of Russia. It seemed to me that it was a no brainer, the French truly were the worst warriors in the world. My further experience with a friend's Peugeot further confirmed to me that the French were lucky to have survived this long in a dangerous world, lest a military powerhouse such as the Greeks or perhaps the Greenlanders wipe them from the planet as an afterthought.
The trouble with what I knew was that I was basically wrong. I discovered this when writing a post apocalyptic extension to my role playing game Total Eclipse called Project 9 and I decided to play a joke on the players, forcing them to use French weapons. This kicked off nearly a year of research that completely changed my mind about the French military establishment. At the end of the year I knew that some of the old tales of French military idiocy were indeed well founded (at least in a strategic sense), but that France was and remains a significant innovator in military tactics, military technology, and military strategy. In fact, many of the stories of the Great War where French soldiers charged enemy machine guns until the last days of the conflict were dead wrong. By 1916 the French had developed a successful tactic for dealing with enemy machine guns - it was the British who insisted on set piece charges that wasted tens of thousands of lives.
This website is dedicated to one small aspect of this story, the French rifle. Rifles originated in the German countryside in the 16th century and came of age on the American continent during the 17th and 18th centuries, but France was an important part of the story of the rifle. The fact that this story is mostly untold, usually mentioned only as footnotes to other stories, is why this website was created.
As with any popular historical website the goal is to create a readable and accurate story within the limits of the available sources. Unlike a book though, a website can be modified, so as the story grows and more is learned, the articles will (I hope) be improved.
One editorial note. Yes we have heard the one about the French rifle for sale cheap. It is quite funny but need not be included in every historical discussion of these weapons.
director (at) humanstudy (dot) org
Visit my blog on the Great War.