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Javelot to 1977: French Divisions in the Atomic Age

Updated: Apr 21

Military Organization > France > 7th Rapid Mechanized Division (7e DMR)

Updated 2 April 2024: Corrected the the graphic and text with regards to 21e RIC's organization; added more detail on the Aviation Platoon

France's 7th Rapid Mechanized Division (7e Division mécanique rapide, 7e DMR) was one of its most interesting in the 1950s. The result of the Javelot experiments seeking to create a formation suited to the nuclear battlefield. Their concepts were employed in combat during Operation Musketeer and counter-insurgency in Algeria. While the division structure as a whole didn't persist into the 1960s, its effects on the battalion/regiment were implemented across the French Army during more conservative reforms in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But a more radical divisional structure, similar to 7e DMR, was also introduced in 1977 and applied throughout the whole force.

This article covers the organization of 7e DMR during its brief existence in depth, as it was pivot point separating American and uniquely French structures in the French Army chronology. In the discussion, I will overview the divisional reorganizations that followed in the decades after Javelot, touch on how 7e DMR changed when it very quickly deployed to Algeria to fight a very different kind of war, and compare it to the American Pentomic division structure (as it is what it is most commonly compared to).

↓ Organization (7e DMR)

Purpose: Reconnaissance, security, exploitation, autonomous operations in nuclear environment

Time Frame: ~1955-56

Personnel: About 7,500 personnel

2x Combined Arms Regiments / Régiments interarmes (RIA)*

1× Command & Services Squadron (ECS)

1× Scout Squadron — on jeeps

2× Tank Squadrons — on AMX-13 tanks

2× Anti-Tank Voltigeur Companies — on American Half-Track and then VTT AMX-13

1× Artillery Battery from the 72nd Artillery Group (72e GA) — with AMX-105 105mm SP howitzers

1× Engineer Liaison Detachment

*2e régiment de dragons (2e RD) and Régiment colonial de chasseurs de chars (RCCC)

1x Mounted Infantry Regiment / Régiment d'infanterie porté*

1× Command & Services Company (presumed)

1× Light Tank Squadron — on AMX-13 tanks

4× Infantry Companies — on American Trucks

*21e régiment d'infanterie coloniale

Divisional Troops

Divisional Staff

57th Headquarters Company (from 1958, integrated into the 57th Service Battalion)

57th Signal Company (later 57th Signal Battalion)

⁍ 3rd African Chasseur Regiment (3e RCA) — EBR reconnaissance regiment, Europe-type

• 1× Command and Service Squadron (ECS)

• Additional EBR Squadron added in 1959

57th Engineer Battalion (57e BG) — Engineer battalion

57th Service Battalion (57e BS) — Logistics battalion

• 407th Command and Services Company (CCS 407)

• 227th Traffic Control Company (CCR 227)

• 307th Transport Company

• 57th Material Company (until 1958)

• 57th Medical Company (in June 1956, converted to the 409th and 411th Medical Companies)

7th Light Aviation Platoon (PALAT 7) - From April 1956 after arriving in Algeria. Initially 6 Piper L-18C light planes. Expanded to 12 Piper L-18Cs in late 1958 to become GALAT 7. Returned to smaller PALAT 7 status in April 1957 with 2 Piper L-18Cs and 6 Piper L-21BMs. In August 1959, traded its L-21s for Cessna L-19Es. First received Alouette II helicopters in 1960. (Source)

57th Maintenance Company (until Jan 1958)

457th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group (457e GAA) - With 40mm Bofors. Converted to a foot infantry battalion in Algeria.

72nd Artillery Group (72e GA) — Batteries attached to the RIAs.


↓ Discussion

The formation of the 7th Rapid Mechanized Division in 1955 (and the 10th Parachute Division in 1956) was the result of experiments conducted from 1952 to 1954. The Javelot Brigade, placed under the command of Colonel François Huet, was tested as a light and highly mobile unit capable of operating autonomously in a highly dispersed, nuclear environment. Its rationale was much the same as the American Pentomic idea in that dispersion allowed a unit to present a less juicy target for nuclear attack, and high mobility allowed a unit to rapid concentrate for an attack. However, the Javelot experiments pre-date the Pentomic force design. By the time the Javelot Brigade was being converted into 7e DMR, the most current U.S. Army proposal was the Atomic Field Army Division or AFTA-1, which was based on 7 infantry battalions under 3 combat commands (following the American Armored Division model) rather than 5 battle groups (Wilson, 1998). The implementation of the Pentomic division in 1956-59 came 2 or 3 years after 7e DMR's formation, and a couple more years after the experimentation with the Javelot Brigade.

At the time, Javelot formations were not envisaged as a straight replacement for the Armored Division, although its principles would be carried forward into their force design reforms. The Javelot Brigade was really more akin to an American Armored Cavalry Regiment in character. In 1954-55, publications described it as a reconnaissance and covering formation with traditional light cavalry energy (Perret-Gentil, 1955, p. 571; Le Monde, 1954). Offensively, it sought to envelop the enemy using superior mobility, avoiding direct confrontation and exploiting friendly nuclear fires (Planchais, 1954a). For this reason, mobility was favored over protection, and 7e DMR’s new armor was particularly light (Panhard EBRs and AMX-13 tanks). It’d also seek to infiltrate the enemy’s rear area to conduct raids, guard the flanks of the friendly force, delay the enemy with a mobile defense, force the enemy to prematurely concentrate, presenting a target for friendly nuclear fires, and deep exploitation (Planchais, 1954a; Le Monde, 1954). This would be done in support of a corps (Noulens, p. 36). Through operational mobility, the Javelot formations would support the overall effort of the French Army and spare themselves from nuclear strike. Although, unlike the Pentomic model, Javelot's mobility wasn't theoretical. But it was written at the time that it was not capable of defeating strong resistance in the same way as an armored division. Planchais (1954b) wrote that, "there can be no question of entirely rebuilding an army made up of light forces of this type [Javelot], but [the experiment] indicates the general direction to be adopted." The general direction was organic combined arms and regiments without battalions.

The Javelot experiment saw a pretty substantial reorganization of the "regiment". The previous standard, for infantry at least, was for an infantry regiment based on 3 infantry battalions, which in turn consist of infantry companies. Before World War II, French cavalry regiments generally consisted of two squadrons groups (groupes d'escadrons) which consisted of two company-sized squadrons. Although when the French were Americanized, the "regiment" filled a role and echelon equivalent to the American Mechanized Cavalry Squadron (battalion-sized). In combat, infantry regiments would be articulated essentially as regimental combat teams of the American-type. For example, Groupement Mobile 100 in Indochina was an RCT composed of 3 French infantry battalions, 1 Vietnamese infantry battalion, 1 artillery battalion, and a light tank squadron. Javelot broke from this. 7e DMR, formed out of the Javelot Brigade via the addition of a regiment and division troops (JP, 1955), was instead articulated as 2 combined arms regiments (Régiments interarmes, RIA) and 1 mounted infantry regiment. These were:

  • RIA: 2nd Dragoon Regiment (2e RD)

  • RIA: Colonial Tank Destroyer Regiment (RCCC), designated the 1st Armored Marine Infantry Regiment (1er RBIMa) in 1959

  • Mounted Infantry: 110th Colonial Infantry Regiment (110e RIC) from founding in February 1955, redesignated as the 21st Colonial Infantry Regiment (21e RIC) in May 1955, again redesignated as the 21st Marine Infantry Regiment (21e RIMa) in December 1958

Making regiments organically combined arms was intended to allow the commanders of the various subunits to build habitual relationships "despite the rivalries of arms" (Planchais, 1954). Organic combined arms regiments likely would have also made the division more effective when operating highly dispersed, with regiments spread out. But the structure of the division as a whole also did mean that the division commander's only real tools for shaping the fight was its EBR reconnaissance regiment and aviation, as artillery would be habitually attached to the RIAs.

A third RIA (fourth maneuver regiment) was hypothesized was not formed and 7e DMR was never fully completed (Robinson et al; Aïcardi). The RIAs consisted of:

  • Command & Services Squadron (ECS)

  • Scout Squadron (on jeeps)

  • 2× Tank Squadrons (on AMX-13 tanks)

  • 2× Anti-Tank Voltigeur Companies (on American Half-Track and then VTT AMX-13)

  • 1× Artillery Battery from 72nd Artillery Group (with 105mm howitzers on AMX-13 chassis)

  • 1× Engineer Liaison Detachment

 The Mounted Infantry Regiment consisted of:

  • Command & Services Company (presumed)

  • 1× Tank Squadron (on AMX-13 tanks)

  • 4× Infantry Companies mounted on American trucks (Perret-Gentil, 1955)

While these regiments did lose the battalion echelon—directly controlling 4 maneuver companies, 1 recon/security company and an artillery battery—they did maintain a way to tighten span of control. As per the 1959 Division that followed the Javelot experimentation, each Motorized Infantry Regiment initially had 2 tactical staffs to command a Company Groups (Groupes de compagnies) controlling 6 companies total. For example, in 1961, the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment became the 1st Company Group, 146th Infantry Regiment under a Commandant (Major-equivalent). This is state of affairs was basically replicated in the 1990s, when French Tank Regiments were organized around 2 Squadron Groups (GE40), each with 3 Leclerc squadrons (although the GE40s had dedicated command squadrons and were intended to be employed as independent battalions). This was a clear upside when compared with the American Pentomic Battle Group, notorious for the span of control problem, which did not have an equivalent. Meanwhile, French Armored Infantry Regiments were basically just directly converted battalions with 3 infantry companies, which doesn't pose an abnormal span of control issue at the regimental level.

Ironically, although Javelot wasn’t fully implemented in its time due to operations in North Africa (Fantassins No. 35), divisions in Algeria were structured much more like the Javelot model with a flattened command structure. There, the command structure went from companies and squadrons controlling multiple districts, to regiments controlling sections, to divisions controlling departments (administrative divisions created in 1955-6 and aligned militarily in 1957), to corps controlling the three original departments (Algiers, Constantine, and Oran) (Aïcardi). But while the command structure was flattened, it wasn't exactly the same, and 7e DMR saw significant remodeling and reinforcement over the years.

When 7e DMR deployed to Algeria in March 1956, it left behind its tanks and a lot of its vehicles and artillery. Its 3 batteries of 6 self-propelled 105mm howitzers each were traded for 3 batteries of 4 towed 105mm howitzers. It was essentially to be reorganized into 2 brigades and a cavalry regiment. The 2nd Colonial Brigade would consist of the 21st Colonial Infantry, the Colonial Tank Destroyers, and another regiment trained in North Africa (Balazuc, p. 108-109; Planchais, 1956). The 12th Cavalry Brigade meanwhile would consist of the 2nd Dragoons and 457th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group, both converted to Type 107 foot infantry battalions (Noulens, p. 60). The 3rd African Chasseurs remained as a reconnaissance regiment with its EBRs (Planchais, 1956).

The 2nd Dragoons while reorganized as a Type 107 infantry battalion, regained its AMX-13s later in October 1956. This was to prepare for Operation Musketeer, for which it was reorganized as a North Africa Type 021 cavalry regiment, although it would never leave Algeria (Aïcardi). The 21st Colonial Infantry Regiment meanwhile did take part in Operation Musketeer, the invasion of the Suez, with an AMX-13 squadron, 3rd Battery of the 72nd Artillery Group (with 4 AMX-105 self-propelled howitzers) and 21e RIC's jeep scout squadron. The division's EBR reconnaissance regiment, 3e RCA, also deployed its 3rd squadron.


Javelot a "Better" Pentomic?

Although Javelot had its flaws, similar to the American Pentomic design, I argue they weren’t as big of a deal during the Algerian War, which 7e DMR spent its entire existence fighting. To illustrate this, I'll make some comparisons between the two in several key areas.

In terms of sustainment, Pentomic’s Battle Group system combined with very wide dispersion when in the defense made resupply difficult (Smith, 1994, p. 27). In addition to the capacity of logistics within the Battle Group just being insufficient for the task, Pentomic doctrine called for dispersed Battle Groups to be “islands of resistance” that were physically isolated from the rest of the division. This left lines of communication (i.e. supply lines) from the divisional rear to the Battle Groups basically free real estate for the enemy to maneuver through. One theorized solution was the increased use of helicopters and fixed wing aviation for resupply, but the capability just wasn’t there in the 1950s and airfields made juicy nuclear targets besides (Bacevich, p. 117-8) . The theory was ground surveillance radars could allow the Battle Group to monitor the gaps and hit them with their direct support howitzers, mortars and tactical nukes, but in reality this wasn’t sufficient. Javelot divisions (which had even fewer supply units at the division-level than the Pentomic model) might have presented similar issues in a conventional war. But in Algeria, French sustainment needs were readily met by logistics units providing area support to a given zone (Jackson, 2005, p. 80). With this backstop of support, the increase in the regiments' self-sufficiency over a regular infantry battalion was likely enough in COIN, whereas Pentomic's increase in self-sufficiency wouldn't have been adequate in a high intensity war.

In terms of command and control, the French model was automatically better than the American (at least at the regimental level) due to the tactical Company Group construct, which seem to have been pseudo-battalions. But Javelot also had the benefit of cutting its teeth in a counter-insurgency environment, where forces were massively dispersed, the enemy wasn't nuclear-armed, and the detailed control of individual elements didn't have to be as close. We see this in today's French Army, which is very company-centric, with the company team (sous-groupement tactique interarmes, SGTIA) as the basic building block of deployment. But their ability to deploy at the larger scales (brigade-division-corps) necessary during large-scale combat operations has been called into question. The fact Javelot worked out in the counter-insurgency environment is ironic given it was designed to tackle the challenges of nuclear war.

French divisions did have a more flattened DMR-esque structure based on regiments in the 1970s-1990s, and they did deploy these in combat. But keep in mind, when the French deployed Division Daguet during the Gulf War, even though the 6th Light Armored Division was based on regiments, it fought its forces as three brigade-sized groupings: Groupement Ouest, Groupement Est, and the American 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne. This was much different from the Pentomic model, which envisaged Battle Groups essentially fighting their own independent battles (Bacevich).

In terms of mobility, the Pentomic design was simply insufficient. It did not have the ability to rapidly concentrate after being widely dispersed, as rifle companies were footmobile and the division only had enough APCs to mechanized one of the five Battle Groups at a time (McGrath, p. 61). The US Armored Division didn’t have this problem, as its infantry were armored infantry with organic mobility (and the Armored Divisions didn’t actually convert from Combat Commands to Pentomic Battle Groups before ROAD came along in 1963). In reality, the Pentomic infantry would essentially be defending static and isolated positions (Bacevich, p. 116), begging to be defeated in detail. In this regard, 7e DMR did not have the same problem, as its elements had their own mechanized mobility more along the lines of an American Armored Division. Mobility above all else was really the calling card for the French, as static defenses were considered too vulnerable to atomic strike (even if they were dispersed).

In Algeria, while 7e DMR left behind a lot of its vehicles in Germany, logistics units providing area support could motorize the units converted to Type 107 foot infantry battalions (Jackson, p. 77). Still, the Type 107 battalions were more prone to being used for static guard duties and duty in complex terrain (Noulens).

In terms of mission, 7e DMR and the American Pentomic Infantry Division were very different, which I think gives some points to Javelot. The Infantry Division was the primary fighting division in the U.S. Army. The ultimate plan, as promised new equipment became available, was for armored divisions to be converted wholesale into mechanized infantry divisions. Combat commands would be converted to battle groups, and tanks would be centralized at the corps-level in pure tank brigades for reinforcing the divisions (Jussel, 2004, p. 98, p. 131). The PENTANA study (approved by General Taylor despite significant pushback in 1956) even deprived the Infantry Divisions of their divisional tank battalion, which they retained under the ROCID Pentomic reorganization. Such tank consolidation never happened, of course, but it demonstrated the centrality of the Infantry Division and anciliarity of armor in the whole scheme.

7e DMR meanwhile was more limited scope, and more of a supporting character to the Armored Divisions, which it was not intended to replace. Security, reconnaissance, and deep exploitation under nuclear threat were the primary missions of the initial Javelot concept. As it was much more about economy of force, its more dispersed and mobile nature made sense (recon & security units are in general often more dispersed than the main force they support). Its aims were more limited, associated with delaying the enemy, making limited infiltrations, and coaxing the enemy into concentrating too early. Given France mechanized 7e DMR to a sufficient degree (it was a high priority for modern equipment), it was well-equipped for this missionset. The Pentomic Infantry Division by contrast would likely have been a static formation until its destruction if nuclear war broke out in 1958 (Bacevich, p. 116).

Other than being emblematic of an aggressive mindset that prioritized mobility over almost everything else—an attitude that still persists in the French Army today (Shurkin, 2016)—Javelot's most immediate effect was in bringing an enlarged combined arms regiments (battalions?) in the rest of the French Army. Although French regiments are generally no longer combined arms (with some exceptions like the 5th Dragoons), they do generally remain sort of like large battalions. Although since the end of the Cold War, the French actually have had a task-organized battalion echelon as the center of their force: the Combined Arms Tactical Group (Groupement tactiques interarmes, GTIA). Brigades use their larger regiments to task-organize smaller GTIAs and company teams (SGTIA) (Shurkin 2016). At various points since the late Cold War and after, regiments have also at times consisted of permanent battalions (like the Squadron Groups of Tank Regiments) and co-existed with smaller formations more akin to battalions (like the Groupes de chasseurs of 1980s Armored Divisions). In my opinion, it's subjective whether French maneuver regiments deserve 3 or 2 lines over their unit symbols, although I usually seem the French themselves use 3.


Divisions 1959 and 1967: Baby Steps

Although the Javelot experiment was designed for nuclear war in Europe with a similar rationale to the American Pentomic design, France did not immediately adopt the radical new force structure at the division-level. Rather, the immediate impact was seen at the battalion/regimental level. The 1959 and 1967 Division designs were based on 3 brigades, which replaced the Combat Command and Regimental Combat Team systems imposed by the Americans during World War II (Robinson et al; Aïcardi). Each brigade was composed of battalion-sized regiments, which varied depending on if they were in an armored or mechanized brigade. The division, during a nuclear exchange, was intended to be capable of dispersing with decentralized command posts. However, the armored brigade was, in principle, intended to be used en masse (JP, 1963).

1959 Armored Brigades had 2 Régiments de chars de bataille or Battle Tank Regiments, which included 3 M47 Patton tank squadrons (18 tanks per squadron, 54 per regiment) and 1 anti-tank squadron with 12 AMX-13 SS.11 ATGM carriers (JP 1963; Aïcardi). Robinson et al. also states that the Battle Tank Regiments initially had a mechanized infantry company with 12 APCs. Although this is less often mentioned by French cavalry enthusiasts and omitted from this article from 1963. It might have been a later addition. Armored Brigades also had 1 Régiment d'infanterie mécanisée or Mechanized Infantry Regiment, which was intended to have a command & services company and 3 infantry companies with a total of 56 VTT AMX 13 armored personnel carriers in the regiment (although American half-tracks were used in lieu until adequate numbers of the new carrier were delivered) (JP, 1963; Robinson et al; Aïcardi).

1959 Mechanized Brigades meanwhile had 1 Régiment de chars légers or Light Tank Regiment (alternatively Régiment d'AMX or Régiment de 13t) which included a Command & Service Squadron and 3 light tank squadrons for a total of 54 AMX-13s in the regiment. In 1964, a squadron of AMX-13 SS.11 ATGM carriers was added to increase their anti-tank capabilities (Robinson et al.). Mechanized Brigades also had a Mechanized Infantry Regiment like in the Armored Brigade, as well as a Motorized Infantry Regiment mounted on trucks. Motorized Infantry Regiments were rather large, having been converted from regiments with 3 battalions and 12 companies. They were reorganized as a Command & Services Company, Support Company, and 6 Combat Companies under the 2 Company Groups mentioned early.

Both brigade types had a 16-gun 105mm Artillery Regiment (although Mechanized Brigades had towed guns while Armored Brigades had SPs), Engineer Company, Signals Company, and Services Battalion. In essence, brigades essentially became sort of like a 7e DMR with battalion-sized regiments. But they didn't go whole hog into the combined arms RIA concept either.

The division had an additional 1 Light Armored Cavalry Regiment (with Panhard EBRs), 1 Artillery Regiment (with 16 OB-105-Au-50 self-propelled guns, 5 MGM-18 Lacrosses, and 2 Honest Johns), 1 Anti-Air Artillery Group (with 40mms), 1 Engineer Regiment, 1 Signals Battalion, 1 Aviation Group, 1 Services Battalion, and 1 Traffic Control Company.

Soon after the 1959 conversions were complete, delayed by the cost of the Algerian War and the organizational chaos following its end, the 1967 redesign was implemented. Armored and Mechanized Brigades were redesigned into 2 Mechanized and 1 Motorized Brigades per division (each brigade about 4,500 soldiers). Although according to Aïcardi, they actually wanted 3 identical Mechanized Brigades, but couldn't implement it uniformly. The regiments under Mechanized Brigades in particular (which were the successors to the 1959 Armored Brigades) were much more like the 7e DMR model.

1967 Mechanized Brigades included:

  • 1 Tank Regiment on AMX-30s (M47 Patton's replacement, although the transition did not happen immediately)

  • 2 Mechanized Regiments (with 2 AMX-13 light tank squadrons and 2 VTT AMX-13 infantry companies)

  • 1 Artillery Regiment (with 3 batteries of 155mm SPGs)

  • 1 Engineer Company

  • 1 Scout Company (on Jeeps)

  • 1 Signal Company

  • 1 Command & Support Battalion.

In terms of the maneuver elements, Mechanized Regiments essentially had the same split of companies as the Javelot RIAs, and the Mechanized Brigade held as much direct support artillery relative to its subordinate regiments as 7e DMR (although with 155mms instead of 105mms).

When AMX-30 Tank Regiments were re-equipped in the late 1960s, they were organized as a Command & Support Squadron, 4 Tank Squadrons (13-tanks each) and a Mounted Squadron on 12 VTT AMX-13 APCs. Here are some examples of the 1st Cuirassiers and 5th Cuirassiers. This made for a Tank Regiment with as many tanks (54) as before. The squadron reductions from 3 platoons of 5 tanks to 4 platoons of 3 tanks were compensated for by adding an additional Tank Squadron to each Tank Regiment. But the 1967 Mechanized Brigade also had one less Battle Tank Regiment than the 1959 Armored Brigade, so the utlimate 1967 Division design (with the ideal 3 Mechanized Brigades) effectively had 1 less Tank Regiment than the 1959 Armored Division.


Division 1977: More Radical

A much more radical reform came in 1977; one that was much more reminiscent of Javelot. The 1977 Division saw the 3 Mechanized Brigades get deactivated without replacement. Rather, Divisions would directly control their regiments, which continued to resemble largeish battalions (although perhaps not as large as French regiments of 2023). There were 3 main division types not including the airborne and mountain divisions: Armored Divisions, Mechanized Divisions (mounted on VABs and supported by EBRs/AMLs/AMX-10RCs depending on the unit and time period), and Motorized Divisions. I'm mainly covering Armored Divisions here, but you can check out each of the 3 here. The 1977 design resulted in 5 brigade-based Mechanized Divisions transforming into 8 Armored and 5 Infantry Divisions.

The 1977 Armored Division consisted of:

  • Divisional Staff

  • Divisional Scout Squadron - Initially on Jeeps, and then P4s. administratively attached to a Tank Regiment but under the tactical control of the division

  • Anti-Tank Company - Initially on AMX-13 SS.11s and then VAB HOT. Administratively attached to a Mechanized Infantry Regiment but under the tactical control of the division.

  • 2 Tank Regiments, each-

    • 1× Command & Service Squadron - 2 AMX-30 tanks, 3 AMX-30 recovery vehicles

    • 4× Tank Squadrons - 13 AMX-30 tanks each

    • 1× Mounted Squadron - VTT AMX-13 followed by AMX-10P

  • 2× Mechanized Infantry Regiments, each -

    • 1× Command & Services Company

    • 3× Mechanized Companies - VTT AMX-13 followed by AMX-10P

    • 1× Tank Company - AMX-13/90 followed by AMX-30

  • Artillery Regiment (155mm SPGs)

  • Engineer Regiment

  • Command and Support Regiment

The Tank Regiments were the same at the regimental level as in the 1967 model, although the VTT AMX-13s of the Mounted Squadrons began to be replaced by AMX-10P infantry fighting vehicles (Francou, Senate Report No. 443, 1978). However, the number of Tank Regiments in an Armored Division dropped from 3 to 2, although the Mechanized Regiments' 2 light tank companies turned into 1 main battle tank company each as well. The Divisional Scout Squadron (Escadron d’éclairage divisionnaire) was attached to one of the Tank Regiments in each division, although this was only administrative and in combat it would revert to divisional control.

By 1984, this evolved into a Tank Regiment with its Command and Services Squadron and 4 Tank Squadrons, but no regimental Mounted Squadron. Instead, each Tank Squadron had a Protection Platoon mounted on VABs directly (Delporte, 2018). This Protection Platoon would evolve into the Direct Support Platoon (Peloton d'appui direct, PAD) of the 1990s and 2000s, with its VBL and 3 VAB T20/13s. Tank Regiments still had roughly as many tanks in the 1980s (53) as they did in 1977, 1967 and 1959 (54) though.

The 1977 reform allowed for a 3rd Army Corps to be stood up, with substantially more divisions in the field. This likely increased the flexbility of maneuver forces at the corps- and army-levels (Le Monde, 1977), but to the detriment of capability within individual divisions. Thirteen regular operational divisions and 2 specialized divisions is certainly more pieces to play with. The corps also gained "organic corps elements" or EOCA to include artillery, engineers, reconnaissance, aviation, and other enablers.

The reform also accomplished a unification of Army Corps and territorial defense forces (Isnard, 1979). The intent there was to introduce unity in command between the two forces, make the command structure more efficient, and reduce costs (Gautier, 1976). Under the 1967 organizations, the 5 Mechanized Divisions were under 1st and 2nd Army Corps, both under the 1st Army. Intervention forces included the airborne division and marine brigades. Each of the 7 Military Regions had a territorial defense brigade (each 1 AML armored regiment, 1 motorized infantry regiment, and support) and each of the 20 Military Divisions (Divisions militaires territoriales) had an infantry regiment (Aïcardi). Under the 1977 model, certain Army Corps headquarters located in France were merged with Military Region equivalents, while operational maneuver Divisions merged with the certain Territorial Military Divisions when possible. One general would command both a operational division and territorial division that were merged, and would have one deputy for operations and one for territorial defense (Order of 18 June 1977, Bachelet, 2012). For example, the command of the 11th Parachute Division was merged with the 44th Territorial Division, the new 14th Infantry Division merged with the 5th Territorial Division, and so on (Gautier, 1976; Order of 18 June 1977). The 1st Army Corps headquarters was also merged with the 6th Military Region, and the 7th Military Region was made redundant by merging it with the 5th Military Region.

The French government expected this reorganization would allow for a reduction of 20,000 personnel in the army. This would translate to a 5 billion franc reduction in spending. This compared to an overall army budget of 10.4 billion francs in 1976 and 15.8 billion francs in 1977. The budget savings made by reducing ordinary spending (Title III) were intended to be shifted to capital expenditure (Title V). In the cited Senate report, it was argued the ratio of ordinary spending to capital expenditure was far too high, and this was limiting the Army's ability to procure more equipment (like AMX-10RC, VAB, and the new FAMAS rifle) and maintain its barracks (Gautier, 1976).

So ultimately the reorganization was aimed at a few things. Politically, budgetary requirements demanded a reduction in everyday costs (directly associated to the amount of personnel on the roster). Flattening the command structure (getting rid of brigade staffs) and merging operational forces with the some territorial forces (further consolidating staffs) was expected to free up billions of francs for new procurement and infrastructure. Although I haven't specifically read it, I am also guessing that more operational divisions were needed to have enough to be associated with a large number of territorial defense organizations. So a smaller division was necessary, and having more divisions that a corps could wield was a fortunate side effect.

While the 1977 organization actually did resemble 7e DMR and its Javelot roots, it doesn't seem to me that the primary motivation behind it was tactical (although perhaps they reached back to the experience). The post-Algeria French army was characterized by austerity (Bachelet, 2012). Much like the U.S. Army in the 1950s, the French Army was a low priority. Having 3 corps with 3-5 divisions (Stome, 2016, p. 20) each rather than 2 corps with 2-3 divisions each likely did inject some flexibility into the French Army. But I think it'd be hard to argue that the commander of a Type 77 division itself had more flexibility or capability than the Type 67 division. More importantly, the reforms freed up the money to reinvest in new equipment that would increase the effectiveness of the entire force and shake off the period of fighting with American hand-me-downs (or ageing French equivalents from the 1950s). The AMX-30B2, AMX-10RC, VAB, Gazelle helicopters, and the FAMAS were all new pieces of kit associated with the the 1977-1982 reform period (Bachelet, 2012) which would take the French Army into the 80s.


If you'd like to learn about France's 1984 Divisions, David Delporte has a very cool website that goes into great depth.

↓ Sources

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