January 28, 2016

The fall of the French capital during the Franco-Prussian War (1871)

John RobsonResident Historian

On Jan. 28, 1871, the French capital fell to the Prussians, more or less completing France’s collapse in the Franco-Prussian War.

It also signaled France’s collapse as a great power, a fact some ignored outright while others simply ignored its implications.

Both World Wars arose in significant measure from this oversight, which ought to alert us that ignoring geopolitical imbalances and vacuums is a very bad habit.

Regrettably it remains common.


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commented 2016-01-28 21:34:49 -0500
How boring! Yet another story about the french surrendering.
commented 2016-01-28 18:21:44 -0500

Are you making fun of my name?

Remember, when in Texas, I am allowed to “carry”. Don’t mess with me in Texas, CINO scum.
commented 2016-01-28 15:47:10 -0500
Maybe if Dieter was man enough he would stop standing behind a fake name and debate John about the facts. To play on an old joke, how can you recognize a Canadian Liberal, they’re the ones with sunburned armpits.
commented 2016-01-28 14:47:32 -0500
Says more about Napoleon III’s inferiority complex than anything. Sure, France was in diplomatic disputes with Prussia over Belgium, but there was no fighting. And being goaded into declaring war over an obviously fraudulent transmission – again, Napoleon III’s ego letting it do its worst.

What it should say about the French is that their leadership is probably the worst, but everything else is alright.

Methinkest Robson is reading far too much into the events of the Franco-Prussian War.

As for WW1, that occurred mainly because Kaiser Wilhelm II felt he wasn’t getting the respect he felt he deserved from the British. (He disregarded the French, and he had very close blood ties to the British Royal Family.) He aggressively, against the advice of elder statesman, Bismarck, pursued a belligerent European policy, where he personalized German policy. Wilhelm’s approach was to taunt the British, the Russians (who have been long-time allies, as well as there were blood ties to the Romanov Family) and support the Austro-Hungarians, who were rarely allied with the Germans.

Wilhelm was just as unbalanced as Napoleon III.
commented 2016-01-28 14:24:49 -0500
Helps to explain the continued inferiority complex of the French and why they are so defensive.
commented 2016-01-28 13:58:32 -0500
Not sure what the point of this story is.

France was, in 1870, the dominant military power in Western Europe. Great Britain did not have a regular army (the did have the Royal Navy) and the vast majority of nations in the region militaries were small and under equipped. France had a regular army (being a soldier was considered a professional career) and they were the best equipped army in the world. (Outside of the US) Prussia was similarly organized, however, they prefered the use of conscripts and reservists. Prussia was already making a position for itself in a succession of wars against Denmark and Austro-Hungary.

The Franco-Prussian War began as a dispute over who was going to sit on the Hapsburg throne in Spain. The Prussian Hohenzollern throne (Kaiser Wilhelm I) and First Minister, Otto Von Bismarck, were determined to have a say in the matter. France, under Louis Napoleon III, opposed the Prussian interference, but took a backseat on the matter. It wasn’t until Bismarck crafted a telegram (Ems Dispatch) that was supposedly from France, which favoured the Prussian position, and presented the French position as being belligerent. France was already in a series of diplomatic disputes with Prussia already, so the French temper was really high when the Dispatch got out. France declared war on Prussia, who gladly jumped into the fight.

Prussia was able to get almost one million troops and allies in the field. France’s army was of equal size, but they could only get about 200,000 troops to the frontier in the start of the conflict. France’s means of mobilization was not as efficient as Prussia’s, but the expectation was that Prussia was not serious about putting that much effort into the fight. France struck first in the Rhineland, forcing Prussia in a, temporarily defensive posture. Casualties were high, and the fighting fierce. France withdrew across its own borders just as the Prussian advance pushed over.

In the battles, French infantry had the decided advantage with the excellent Chassepot rifle (better range and accuracy over the Prussian Needle Gun) but it was French artillery that was outclassed. France was, like many armies in Europe, still using muzzle-loading artillery (the long used Napoleon Cannon) while Prussia had moved onto to smaller, highly mobile, breech-loading rifled artillery, which fired timed explosive shells. Masses of the Prussian artillery pieces devastated the French lines. France leadership bumbled through the war, while Napoleon III’s own interventions made matters worse. The French attempted a last stand at Seden, hoping for a stalemate, or the arrival of large numbers French reinforcements to tip the balance. Prussia overwhelmed the French and Napoleon III surrendered.

French grievances over the rule of Napoleon III overheated and resulted in the French Commune, which occurred during the Prussian siege of Paris. France, with Napoleon III’s surrender had, effectively, no government. The Commune’s leaders saw the opportunity to strike and overthrow the government. The Prussians entered Paris, marched through its streets, and, given the chaos of the Commune, left the city soon afterward. Prussia annexed French territory in Alsace and Lorraine, and created the first German Reich with a union of all the German states – the first Germany.
commented 2016-01-28 13:36:45 -0500
Thank you once again John for pointing out the truth about history and by the way Obama is not listening he’s to busy golfing.
commented 2016-01-28 10:57:43 -0500
ominous warning there , john…
the idiots on the left are watching cartoons and eating fruit loops out of the box.
they won’t even see it coming.