There are many jokes that the French surrender a lot. In many countries, France has a reputation for unsuccessful military campaigns, a history of giving up in conflicts and of losing wars. But why? Why is France known for surrendering? And is it actually true that France has been unsuccessful militarily throughout history?
France is known for surrendering in wars as there have been famous conflicts in which France conceded defeat. These have resulted in France getting a reputation for surrendering. However, this reputation unfair and France has fought and won many conflicts throughout history
…but that’s just an overview. To really under why France has a reputation for surrendering, we need to look at the data.
Does France Surrender More Than Other Countries?
In order to understand why France is known for surrendering, we first need to think about whether this reputation is justified. If France has lost more wars than other countries, it would explain why they have a reputation for surrendering. So, in recent history, has France surrendered more than other major powers?
France is one of the major global powers that has surrendered the least wars. Since 1850, France has surrendered in only 10% of the conflicts it has fought. This goes against the reputation France has for often surrendering in wars.
Below is a comparison table comparing the wars fought by France, and other major world powers, since 1850. It also compares the outcome of these wars, showing the percentage that were lost by each county.
|Country||Number of Wars Fought Since 1850||Number of Wars Surrendered Since 1850||Number of Wars Drawn Since 1850||Number of Wars Won Since 1850||Percentage of Wars Surrendered Since 1850|
*All data from Wikipedia
As we can see, since 1850, France has fought 74 conflicts. Of these, 62 were won and eight were lost. This means France surrendered 10% of the wars they fought since the mid-19th Century.
Comparing the percentage of surrenders by France with other major powers of the modern period, we can see that France is actually among the most successful military nations. Only America has an equal percentage of military victories as France.
Ok, it could be argued that France surrendered battles fought within wars but was able to win the conflicts overall – which might account for the countries reputation for surrendering. However, no army could surrender the majority of battles within a war and still win, so this argument can be discounted.
It could also be said that 1850 is an arbitrary cut-off date, and to get a full picture of France’s surrendering we would need to look back further in history. This is true, however France being known for surrendering is a modern reputation, so looking further back than the mid-19th Century is unlikely to influence how people view the country’s military abilities in recent history.
Overall, we can see that France does not surrender more than other countries. In fact, they actually surrender less.
Why Does France Have A Reputation For Surrendering?
So, it’s clear that in recent history France has actually not surrendered more wars than other major powers. In fact, since 1850, France has surrendered less wars than almost any other country. But if France has actually lost less wars than other countries, why does it still have reputation for surrendering?
France’s unfair reputation for surrendering most likely comes from the Fall of France in 1940, when France surrendered to German forces under Adolf Hitler. Major defeats in the First Indochina War and the Algerian War also likely contribute to the reputation of France for surrendering.
In 1939, France and Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany following the invasion of Poland. In May 1940, Germany invaded France and within six weeks had defeated the French army and forced the country to surrender. Britain’s forces fighting in Europe retreated to the British Isles, from where the UK was able to continue the war against Nazi Germany.
The Fall of France in just six weeks, and how swiftly German forces were able to knock France out of the war, is a major reason why France has a reputation for surrendering. This is especially the case in countries such as the UK, who continued the war, and the US, who later joined the war.
In many ways, the reputation of France for surrendering based on their defeat to the Germans in 1940 is unfair. Firstly, the French Resistance famously fought against the Nazi’s on French soul and were vital in disrupting the German war effort. Secondly, Free French forces continued to fight alongside the Allies, including in the Far East and North Africa. Also, following the Allied invasion of France in June 1944, French forces fought alongside Allied forces as they pushed into Germany. France is considered one of the victorious powers of World War Two, despite the country’s occupation by Germany from May 1940 to June 1944.
Although France’s reputation for surrender is most likely to come from their defeat in 1940 to the Germans, France’s defeats in the First Indochina War, and Algerian War, likely both contribute to France’s reputation for capitulation.
Indochina – modern day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, were French colonies from 1858 until 1954. From 1946 to 1954, France waged a war against forces fighting for the region’s independence. Although France did surrender at the end of the First Indochina War, it is unfair to give France a reputation for surrendering because of this. Firstly, America soon fought the Vietnam War in the same region and was also unable to win the conflict. Secondly, the First Indochina War was part of the wider decolonisation movement, in which all European powers lost their overseas territories
Regarding the Algerian War, Algeria was a French colony from 1830 until 1962. The Algerian War saw a fight by nationalists to expel the French and establish Algeria as an independent state. France did surrender in this conflict; however, it was also part of the wider end of European colonial rule around the world.
How Many Wars Has France Surrendered?
Although France has actually lost less wars in modern times than most other countries, there is still the reputation that France surrenders a lot. So, how many wars has France actually conceded in?
France has surrendered in only eight wars since 1850. From the mid-19th Century France has fought in 74 conflicts and won 62 of them. Since 1850, France has surrendered in only 10% of the wars it has fought.
However, that’s just looks at modern history. In order to fully see how many wars France surrendered in, let’s look all the way back to the establishment of the Kingdom of France in the year 987. Below is a comparison table of wars fought by France since that year, breaking down the number of conflicts won, lost, and drawn.
|Number of Wars Fought by France Since 987||Number of Wars Surrendered by France Since 987||Number of Wars Drawn by France Since 987||Number of Wars Won by France Since 987||Percentage of Wars Surrendered by France Since 987|
*All data from Wikipedia
As we can see, France has fought 191 wars since the Kingdom of France was established. This includes wars against foreign nations, internal rebellions against the state, wars of conquest and anti-colonial struggles.
Of the 191 wars France has fought since it was established as a state, the country has surrendered in 36 of them. This means that in all of wars France has fought, it has surrendered in just less than one fifth of them.
What Famous Wars Has France Surrendered?
France’s reputation for surrender is still widespread, although, as we have seen, actually France has surrendered in only eight conflicts since 1850, a much smaller percentage than almost any other major power. However, a big reason why France is known for surrendering is because they lost a number of famous conflicts in recent history. Probably the four best known ones are:
- Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 71)
- Fall of France (1940)
- First Indochina War (1946 – 1954)
- Algerian War (1954 – 1962)
Let’s briefly go over each of these…
Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 71)
In 1870, France declared war on the North German Confederation, led by Prussia. France saw the Prussian unity of German states as a threat to its dominant role in Europe. France was decisively defeated in the Franco-Prussian War and surrendered in May 1871. The war ended with Prussia laying siege to Paris and taking the French territories of Alsace and Lorraine. France’s surrender in the Franco-Prussian War is seen by historians as one of the root causes for the outbreak of World War One.
Fall of France (1940)
Following Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, France and Great Britain declared war. Germany invaded France on 10th May 1940 and, by 25th June 1940, had forced France’s surrender. British forces retreated to the UK from where they continued the war. Nazi Germany occupied France following it’s surrender until 1944, when American, Canadian, British, and Free French forces liberated the country.
First Indochina War (1946 – 1954)
Indochina, the region now including modern day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, was part of the French Empire from 1858. The First Indochina War saw independence movements fight against the French in order to end colonial rule. France surrendered the territories in 1954 and independent states were created.
Algerian War (1954 – 1962)
In 1954, Algeria, which had been a French colony since 1830, began a war of independence. France conceded defeat and surrendered Algeria in 1962.
When Was The Last Time France Surrendered?
A good question to ask when thinking about why France is known for surrendering is what is the most recent conflict France has lost? This might help us to understand why the country has a reputation for losing conflicts.
The last war surrendered by France was the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2021. France committed troops to this conflict and lost the war alongside America. The last war France surrendered before that was the Algerian War of Independence which ended in 1962.
Many people think of the last time France surrendered as either being the Fall of France in June 1940, when France surrendered to Nazi Germany, or the Frist Indochina War or Algerian War, where France lost wars of independence in her former colonies. However, it is actually the recent conflict in Afghanistan that is the last time France lost a war.
Following the attacks of 9/11 on America, the US enacted NATO’s article 5 guarantee – that an attack one NATO member was an attack on all. This meant NATO countries joined the US in the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. France sent forces and remained active in the country until the eventual Taliban takeover.
In 2021, US and NATO forces pulled out of Afghanistan. Within weeks the Taliban had taken Kabul and regained control of the country. The fall of the Western-backed government in Afghanistan was a defeat for every country that was involved in the war there, including France. Therefore, it is the most recent time France has surrendered a war.
Is It True That The French Surrender?
A final question we should ask in regard to France’s reputation for surrendering is if it is actually true that the French surrender?
It is not true that the French surrender. Since the creation of the Kingdom of France in 987, France has fought 191 wars and surrendered only 36 of them. Since 1850, France has surrendered a lower percentage of wars than Britain, Russia, China, Germany, or Japan.
As we have argued, France being known as a country that surrenders is an unfair reputation. In fact, looking back over the data of France’s military history, it is possible to say that France has been a highly successful military power.
Want To Learn More?
If you’re interested in French history, and especially why the country is known for surrendering, we really recommend the book France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944 by Julian Jackson. It’s one of the best histories of the Fall of France, covering all the way from France’s defeat to it’s liberation. We’ve linked to it on Amazon.com.
For those interested in more recent French defeats, we recommend Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina by Bernard Fall. First published in 1961, it is considered a classic of military history. The book explores the French surrender of its colonies in Southeast Asia. The link is to the paperback on Amazon.com.
Finally, we also think anyone interested in why France is known for surrendering should check out the book The Invention of Decolonization: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France by Todd Shepard. It’s a fascinating account of France’s defeat in Algeria and the lasting impact this had on French society. The link is to the book on Amazon.com.