Groupes Franc Motorisé de Cavalerie

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Groupe Franc Motorisé de Cavalerie
Active May - August, 1940
Country France France
Branch Logo of the French Army (Armee de Terre).svg Armée de Terre
Role Combined Arms Team
Special Forces
Independent Armored Squadron
Size 5 groups created with 170-250 men each
Engagements World War II
Battle of France
Battle of Saumur
Commanders
Notable
commanders
François Huet
Robert Jean Marie de Neuchèze
Robert M Gerard (né Gueiroard)

The Groupes Franc Motorisé de Cavalerie or GFC was a type of autonomous unit of the French Army created during the Nazi Invasion. Taking inspiration for their name from the Corps Francs which had played an important role in the Phoney War, they were a very early attempt to create truly independent Combined Arms Combat Teams. Although little more than Company sized, they had organic Armored, Artillery, and Infantry elements all rolled into one small and highly mobile force. They were created somewhat out of desperation in response to the rapid German advance into France and operated as independent strike forces with great latitude of movement. Although they were found to be quite effective, their existence died with the Third Republic.

Creation and Missions[edit]

The Groupes Francs Motorisés de Cavalerie were formed in the chaos of late May 1940 during the Battle of France. They were composed of two squadrons each, principally by regrouping the remnants of the Groupes de Reconnaissance de Division d'Infanterie (GRDI) from the shattered French Infantry Divisions returning from The Invasion of the Low Countries, especially from the 1st GRDI. These were a special type of Division level mechanised reconnaissance element. They also included young recruits pulled from training at the Montlhéry School of Mechanised Combat. They were created entirely from volunteers and had a high degree of morale and esprit de corps.[1]

The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Groupes Franc were officially stood up on 21 may 1940 and Groupes 4 and 5 on 25 may 1940.

The officially stated mission of the Groupes Franc, reflecting the desperate military situation out of which they were born, were:

They were small units, approximately Company sized, and commanded by a Captain. They grouped together the combat power of tanks,machine gun carriers,25mm and 47mm anti-tank guns, infantry equipped with Heavy Machine Guns, armed motorcycle and sidecar teams, as well as organic truck transport for all personnel and mobile fuel supplies for all vehicles. Their equipment was all newly-issued and of the latest version. This included medium tanks (Somua modèle 1935 & Renault AMC 35), AMD Panhard 178 light armored reconnaissance vehicles armed with 25mm Autocannons, Hotchkiss H39 light tanks, and Laffly W15 TCC Trucks

The Battle of France[edit]

Each Groupe Franc, composed of armor, artillery, and infantry, acted autonomously as a mini army unto itself within the zones to which they were assigned.[1] Most often, they fought on their own at the disposition of their assigned zone's combatant commander General. They were often utilized as a mobile reserve force and sent to wherever the fighting was worst.

Initially assigned to the defense of the river Somme, GFC's 1, 2, 4, and 5 were eventually deployed to positions around Rouen from 6 June 1940 in anticipation of the coming battle there. Suffering extremely heavy casualties, they were used to guard the bridges across the Seine. The all-volunteer units refused to retreat from these positions until after they were effectively destroyed by larger German forces.

In the words of then 1st Lieutenant Robert M Gueiroard (later Gerard), the Executive Officer or 5th GFC, "The specific mission of our Groupe Franc was to fight a rear guard action, protecting the retreat of an infantry division. We were, in fact, a special anti-tank unit, charged with protecting the division from attacks by [German] armor. The Groupe Franc was a sort of "suicide unit" as illustrated by the fact that, of the 250 men 5th Groupe Franc [began the battle with], more than 100 were killed, 50 wounded, 80 taken prisoner, and only 17 returned."[2]

Battle record[edit]

GFC no 1[edit]

GFC no 2[edit]

GFC no 3[edit]

GFC no 4[edit]

GFC no 5[edit]

Order of battle (6 June 1940)[edit]

The five Groupes Francs Motorisés de Cavalerie (GFC) were rapidly created at the French Army's military motorcycle and scout car school (COMAM - Centre d'organisation de motocyclistes et automitrailleuses) in Montlhery starting on May 21, 1940 in response to the events in the Battle of Belgium. They consisted entirely of volunteers and became operational between June 3–6, 1940. On paper, each of the five groups were to have:

On 10 June, the French Order of Battle of the French 10th Army included the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th GFC's

  • GFC no 1 under Captain Robert de Neuchèze was initially composed of
  • GFC no 2 under Reserve Lieutenant Pierre Heilbronn (KIA June 9, 1940) and Lieutenant Pierre Huot
  • GFC no 3 under Captain François de Fürst
  • GFC no 4 under Captain François Huet and Lieutenant de Marolles
    • 1 command platoon
    • 1 motorcycle platoon (sidecars and motorcycles)
    • 1 tank platoon with 2 Renault AMC 35 (with a 3rd left behind for engine problems)
    • 1 scout car platoon with 4 or 5 Panhard 178s
    • 1 anti-tank section with 2 SA 37 47mm canons
    • 1 anti tank section with 2 25mm cannons
    • 1 heavy machine gun platoon
    • 1 mortar platoon
    • Manned by 177 men (8 officers, 19 NCO's, and 150 troopers)
    • The 4th GFC was intended to have 10 Somua S-35 tanks but they never materialized.
  • GFC no 5 under Captain Ricaud and Reserve 2LT Robert Marius Gueiroard
    • 1 command platoon with 1 command car, 6 sidecar motorcycles, and 4 specialist vehicles (radio car, telephone car, maintenance car, and mobile kitchen) (62 men)
    • 1 motorcycle platoon with 18 sidecar motorcycles and 6 machineguns (35 men)
    • 1 tank platoon with 5 Somua S-35 tanks (14 men)
    • 1 scout car platoon with Panhard M-1939s (19 men)
    • 1 anti-tank platoon with 2 SA 37 47mm canons, 2 Laffly W15 TCC prime mover trucks, 4 GMC Trucks (34 men)
    • 1 anti tank platoon with 2 25mm cannons, 2 machine guns, 4 half-tracks (30 men)
    • 1 heavy machine gun platoon with 6 heavy machine guns, 6 GMC Trucks and 1 command car (48 men)
    • Formed May 26, 1940, operational June 3, 1940
    • 249 Men (8 Officers, 241 NCOs and troopers). Around half of the soldiers in GFC no 5 came from the French Foreign Legion. About a quarter of the men had been active duty soldiers prior to the war, the other three quarters having been mobilized in the two years prior.
  • At the formation of the GFCs, Captains Huet and Ricaud were fresh from two weeks of combat in Belgium and the Pas de Calais, both at the head of a squadron of the 1st GRDI (Reconnaissance group of the 5th Motorized Infantry Division (5e DIM) commanded by Colonel Pierre Préaud. The 1st GRDI was disbanded on May 31, 1940 and a portion of its men and equipment helped form the 4th and 5th GFCs.

Notable Members[edit]

Influence[edit]

The heroic rear guard actions of the Groupes Franc Motorisé de Cavalerie had a lasting impact in the psyches of many Frenchmen in the resistance. The name "Groupes Franc" was carried on in the resistance where Groupes Franc (GF) were formed as autonomous mobile strike teams of resistance fighters. These later Resistance Groups Franc conducted many of the more audacious commando raids in Occupied France. Among their more famous exploits was the Groupe Franc led by André Bollier's liberation of Berty Albrecht from imprisonment at the Vinatier Psychiatric Hospital in Bron on December 23, 1942. The Groupes Franc were also given the task of liberating Paul Reynaud, but he was moved to Germany before the plan could be acted upon.

References[edit]

  • Gerard, Robert M. "Tank-Fighter Team" 2010. Coachwhip Publications (originally published 1942). ISBN 978-1616460235.