French Wars

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The following is a list of some of the wars that France has fought:

Pre-18th century

  • The Crusades

It was under Frankish leadership that the First Crusade conquered the Holy Land from the rule of the Turks. Baldwin of Boulogne was crowned the First King of Jerusalem.

  • 100 Years War

For nearly 116 years, from 1336 to 1453, France and England engaged in on-and-off warfare for control of France. After suffering major defeats at Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415), finally managed to drive the English out of France for good with the aid of St. Joan of Arc.

  • Italian Wars

The Italian Wars were a series of wars from 1494 to 1559 for control over the States of Italy, mainly involving France and Spain, but also involving most other European states, and the imprisonment for several months of Pope Clement VII.

Originally arising from dynastic disputes over the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples, the wars rapidly became a general struggle for power and territory among their various participants, and were marked with an increasing degree of alliances, counter-alliances, and regular betrayals. The Habsburg were eventually victorious with the French and their allies suffering major defeats.

  • War of the League of Cognac

The War of the League of Cognac (1526–1530) pitted the League of Cognac (an alliance of France, England, Pope Clement VII, Venice, Florence, and elements of Milan) against the Habsburg dominions of Emperor Charles V—primarily Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.

By 1539, France's ally, Florence alone continued to resist Emperor Charles V's Imperial forces, which were lead by the prince of Orange of the Principality of Orange. A Florentine army under Francesco Ferruccio engaged the Imperials at the Battle of Gavinana in 1530, but although Orange himself was killed, the Imperials won a decisive victory, and the Florentine Republic surrendered ten days later. With this decisive Habsburg victory; not only did the entire League of Cognac suffer a loss, but France especially was humiliated.

18th century

  • Seven Years' War

The Seven Years' War (1754 and 1756–1763) was a war that pitted Great Britain and Prussia against France and Austria. The war was described by Winston Churchill as the first world war, as it was the first conflict in human history to be fought around the globe, although almost all of the combatants were either European nations or their overseas colonies.

The British-French hostilities were ended in 1763 with a French defeat that was made official by the Treaty of Paris; which was particularly catastrophic for France because it lost most of its colonial empire to Britain, especially Canada and India.

  • French and Indian War

The French and Indian War was the nine-year North American theater of the Seven Years' War. The conflict was caused by land disputes. Specifically both the British and the French claimed the vast territory between the Appalachians and the Mississippi river, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, known as the Ohio Country.

The French conceded their defeat and a British victory with the 1763 Treaty of Paris. As a result of the French defeat, the British gained control of French Canada and Spain gained control of Louisiana. Overall, French administrative presence in North America was almost completely removed.

  • Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution was the first successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere and established Haiti as a free republic. At the time, Haiti was a colony of France known as Saint-Domingue.

After two years of dispute among elements of the free population, a great slave uprising plunged the country into civil war in 1791. Slavery was first abolished on August 29, 1793 on the island. But by 1802, it was obvious that the French intended to re-establish slavery. As a result, the black population continued the fight against the French. The leader of the revolution, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, led the rebellion until its completion, when the French were finally defeated at the Battle of Vertières in November 1803.

Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars fought between France (led by Napoleon Bonaparte) and alliances involving England and Prussia and Russia and Austria at different times. They were partly an extension of conflicts sparked by the French Revolution, and continued for the duration of the First French Empire.

The Napoleonic Wars ended on 20 November 1815, following France's final defeat at Waterloo and the Second Treaty of Paris.

  • Quasi-War

The Quasi-War was an undeclared war fought entirely at sea between the United States and France from 1798 to 1800. The conflict began because the French began to stealing American ships trading with the British.

The war started on July 7, 1798, when Congress rescinded treaties with France. United States Naval squadrons then sought out and attacked the French privateers. By October 1800, the United States Navy produced a reduction in the activity of the French privateers and warships, defeating the French. The French had already admitted this defeat with the Treaty of Mortefontaine on September 30, 1800.

  • Peninsular War

The Peninsular War (1808–1814) was a major conflict during the Napoleonic Wars, fought in the Iberian Peninsula with Spanish, Portuguese, and the British forces fighting against the French. It has been described as "a hammer and anvil" campaign, the hammer being the Anglo-Portuguese Army, commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, with 40,000 to 80,000 men, and the anvil being the Spanish armies, the Spanish guerillas and the Portuguese militia.

The Peninsular War was the first guerrilla conflict (a term coined for this war) and lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated France in 1814.

  • War of the Sixth Coalition

The Sixth Coalition (1812-1814) was a coalition of the Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria and a number of German States against France. After France's disastrous defeat in Russia, the continental powers saw a final opportunity to defeat the French and joined the coalition which previously consisted only of the Russians and British in addition to Spanish and Portuguese rebels in Iberia.

2.5 million troops fought in the conflict and the total dead amounted to as many as 2 million (some estimates suggest that over a million died in Russia alone). It included the battles of Smolensk, Borodino, Lützen, Dresden and the epic Battle of Nations — the largest of the Napoleonic wars, and indeed the largest battle in Western history up until the First World War. The final stage of the war led to the Allies occupying Paris, forcing the French to admit defeat.

19th century

  • Franco-Mexican War

The Franco-Mexican War lasted from December 8, 1861 to June 21, 1867. It began with the invasion of Mexico by the army of the Second French Empire. It followed President Benito Juárez's suspension of payments of interest on loans to foreign countries made by previous governments on July 17, 1861, which angered the French government. France wanted to exploit the rich mines in the north-west of Mexico. The French started the war when they did due to the fact that the United States was in the middle of its Civil War, and thus was unable to intervene as they would have due to the Monroe Doctrine.

The presidential terms of Benito Juárez were interrupted by the French occupational monarchy, which was eventually overthrown in early 1867. The Mexicans occupied the rest of the states of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato in January 1867. The French evacuated the capital on February 5, 1867. The French instituted puppet monarch, Maximilian of Habsburg was executed on June 19, 1867 by the forces loyal to President Benito Juárez.

  • Franco-Prussian War

The Franco-Prussian War (July 19, 1870 – May 10, 1871) was fought between 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, still a loose federation of quasi-independent territories.

Over a five-month campaign, the German armies defeated the French army in a series of battles fought across northern France. Following a prolonged siege, the French capital Paris fell on January 28, 1871. The French admission of defeat, the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed May 10, 1871, during the time of the bloody Paris Commune of 1871.

  • Sino-French War

The Sino-French War (also called the Tonkin War) was fought between France and China over Indochina. France had already established a colony in southern Indochina, but was expanding northward, bringing it into conflict with China, which controlled the city of Hanoi and the surrounding province of Tonkin. The war began in 1883, and French forces won a series of victories against the Chinese and soon captured Hanoi. A proposed peace treaty would have made Tonkin a joint Sino-French protectorate, but continued fighting led France to demand more concessions, which China rejected. The Chinese army was able to hold off French incursions into southern China, but on August 23, 1884, French cruisers and gunboats destroyed the Chinese fleet at the Roads of Foochow in central China. French losses in the battle were slight. The Chinese were forced to surrender Tonkin, and peace was concluded on June 9, 1885.[1][2]

20th century

  • World War I

Following major defeats at the outbreak of war in August 1914 in which German forces threatened Paris, because of troops from French-controlled Africa the French barely managed to push back the German advance at the Battle of the Marne. Alongside Britain, they fought the war to a standstill that lasted years. In the summer of 1917 the United States joined the war, and in November, 1918, the United States military enabled the combined forces of France, Britain, and the U.S. to defeat the Central Powers.

  • World War II

After the so-called Phony War from 1939 to 1940, Nazi Germany managed to inflict a humiliating defeat on the French. The French Third Republic formally surrendered to Germany on June 25, 1940 and voted itself out of existence. The reorganized French government, known as the Vichy regime, enthusiastically joined the Axis. In 1944, France was invaded by the Allied powers. After the French surrendered for the second time in less than five years, the Fourth French Republic out of the French National Committee led by Charles de Gaulle.

  • French-Thai War

The French-Thai War (1940 - 1941) was fought between Thailand and Vichy France over certain areas of French Indochina that had once belonged to Thailand. In early January 1941, the Thai lauched their offensive. Many French units were simply swept along by the better-equipped Thai forces. The Thais swiftly took Laos. Because of over-complicated orders and nonexistent intelligence, the French counterattacks were cut to pieces and fighting ended with a French withdrawal from the area.

The Japanese Empire mediated the conflict, and a general armistice was arranged to go into effect at 1000 hours on January 28. On May 9 France admitted defeat in Tokyo, with the French relinquishing their hold on the disputed territories.

  • First Indochina War

The First Indochina War (also called the French Indochina War) was fought in Southeast Asia from 19 December 1946 until 1 August 1954 between the nation of France and the resistance movement led by Ho Chi Minh, called the Viet Minh. Most of the fighting took place in Northern Vietnam (the area the French referred to as Tonkin) although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring Indochinese countries of Laos and Cambodia.

In 1954, the Battle of Dien Bien Phu occurred between Viet Minh forces under Võ Nguyên Giáp and French airborne and Foreign Legion forces. The French suffered an humiliating defeat. At least 2,200 members of the 20,000-strong French forces died during the battle. Shortly after Dien Bien Phu, the Groupe Mobile 100 of the French army were wiped out at the Battle of Mang Yang Pass. The Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu led to the departure of France from Vietnam.

  • Tunisian War of Independence

The Tunisian War of Independence was fought from 1952 to 1956 between France and a guerilla movement of Tunisia, a nation that had been a French territory since 1881. The guerilla movement was lead by Habib Bourguiba.

In 1954, Pierre Mendes-France became the leader of the French government and pursued a policy of surrender. This resulted with the April 1955 agreement which handed internal autonomy to Tunisian hands while international relations were managed by France, a similar situation to the Turkish Bey method of governance in pre-1881. The use of torture by the French government, in particular by Paul Aussaresses, in the Algerian War of Independence further weakened the French claim to the area, leading to the abolition of the Treaty of Bardo and Tunisia gaining full independence in March 20, 1956.

  • Algerian War of Independence

The Algerian War of Independence (1954–62) was one of the most important decolonisation wars and a complex conflict. It was characterized by guerrilla fighting and terrorism against civilians on both sides and counter-terrorism operations by the French Army. It was effectively started in November 1954. Under orders from Socialist Guy Mollet's (SFIO) government, the French Army initiated a campaign of "pacification" of what was considered at the time to be fully part of France. This "public order operation" quickly turned into a full-scale war.

France eventually conceded defeat with the March 1962 Evian Accords which organized the independence of Algeria, ending French imperialism.

21st century

France contributed soldiers to the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and sustained casualties. As of 2009, French forces are still stationed in the theater.[3]


  1. Battle, by R.G. Grant, DK Publishing, 2005
  2. A History of War at Sea, by Helmut Pemsel, Naval Institute Press, 1975
  3. Eduring Freedom casualties