chapter  1
‘It takes a lot of stuff to kill a German’: French Material and Technological Responses to the Western Front
Pages 20

The search by the French army for operational and tactical solutions to the problems of trench warfare on the Western Front can conveniently be split into two closely connected approaches. One was what might be called the war of ideas, the other was the war of material. The war of ideas was primarily concerned with developing new tactics to adjust to the onset of a modern war of material. The war of material itself can be divided into two main strands: harnessing the country’s industrial capacity to produce the large quantities of armaments that were required, along with the development of new forms of armament. This process led to what Rolf-Dieter Müller has called ‘the transition from personnelintensive to material-intensive armaments’.2 The development of new weapons is a point where the war of ideas and the war of material coincided. Estienne’s suggestion that a technological solution to the problems of the war be developed, via the cuirassé terrestre (land battleship), was only one of many proposals and needs to be seen in that context. Both elements of this war of material will be examined here, with the many demands made on France’s industrial capacity being considered first. The pressures on the French industrial system are important since the development of tanks required resources that were already subject to numerous competing demands. The opposition that Estienne faced throughout the AS project was depicted in many post-war accounts in the familiar terms of a man of genius struggling against narrow-minded bureaucrats, both military and civilian.3 However, these accounts fail to take into consideration any factors beyond the immediate needs of the AS and are rather undermined by the qualities of those who showed initial opposition to the tank project. It is therefore necessary to consider those other demands on French industry that the AS was competing with and the general context of innovation of military technology in the French army, within which the AS would develop. This survey cannot claim to be comprehensive but

it will highlight some particular problems and general developments that are indicative of the French experience of industrial warfare during the first half of the war.