In the thirties the French Army was only the shadow of its former self. The losses of the Great War greatly marked French society, empowering pacifism and a defensive doctrine centred around the Maginot Line. Compulsory military service time was reduced to one year, with soldiers divided into active units and class A and B reservist units. The modernisation of the army would only begin in 1935, spurred on by the rapid German re-armament.
However, the huge modernisation effort could not save the French army from its backward-looking high-command. Unable and unwilling to go on the offensive it would be beaten by the Blitzkrieg through the Ardennes. From the 2.7 million french soldiers fighting in the campaign around 100000 soldiers would be killed and 600000 captured, with 1,2 million more captured after Petain’s call to stop the fighting.
Chasseurs are the standard light infantry units of the French Army, tasked with recon duties and special operations to disrupt enemy activity. The corps, full of traditions like the dark blue color or the hunting horn emblem, found its modern origins in the late 18th Century. The Chasseurs become famous notably during the First World War, gaining the nickname schwarze Teufel (translated as Diables bleus or Blue Devils) from their German adversaries in reference to their dark blue uniforms and their ferocity.
In 1940, three types of Chasseurs could be found in the French Army: Chasseurs à Pied, on foot or motorized like the regular infantry units; Chasseurs Alpins, experts in mountain warfare; and Chasseurs Portés, specially motorized with armoured carriers. The latter were formed in 1937 to follow the newly formed Divisions Cuirassées de Réserve (DCR).
The 5e Bataillon de Chasseurs Portés of 1940 was one of the various iterations of the 5e Bataillon de Chasseurs, a unit that was formed and dissolved multiple times between 1815 and 1962. As a part of the 1e DCR, it was engaged in the Dyle-Breda maneuver and took part in the battle of Flavion. Suffering heavy casualties, the 1e DCR would be reformed on May 31st and continue to fight during Fall Rot. Avoiding capture, the unit was demobilized after the armistice.
In 1923 Recon Groups were created from active squadrons from cavalry units and attached to regular infantry divisions (GRDI) or army corps (GRCA). Equipped with machineguns and antitank guns, some of those would also receive trucks, motorbikes, side-cars, and even armored cars. These groups would be tasked with recon duties, skirmishes, and reinforcement. Elite and reliable units, they can be distinguished from the regular infantry by their motorized type uniforms.
The 6e GRDI was one of the few units equipped with armored cars and was attached to the 3e Motorized Infantry Division (DIM). The unit would take part in skirmishes around the Maginot Line and some of its armored cars would be send to the fighting in Norway. After the breakthrough at Sedan, they would hold Stonne on the first day of the battle and fought continuously after, finally being captured with the rest of the 3e DIM on June 18th.
Spahis were initially Algerian cavalrymen formed in the 16th century. They were integrated into the French Army during the conquest of Algeria, alongside similar units formed in other part of the empire. Easily identifiable with their traditional uniforms during parades, spahis in war time wore more common looking khaki uniforms with chèche and sarouel. Despite their gear being designed for cavalrymen (gaiters, bandoliers) spahis were expected to dismount and fight on foot.
At the beginning of World War Two, 3 brigades of Morrocan, Algerian and Tunisian spahis were stationned in France. The 3rd Spahi Brigade, composed of the 2nd Algerian and 2nd Morrocan Spahi regiments, would have its most famous fight at La Horgne, where it withstood the entire 1st Panzer Division for a full day. The unit would reorganise and keep fighting until ordered to surrender on 23rd June.