I Corps (France)

I Corps (France)

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name=1er Corps d'Armée

dates=27 Aug 1939 - 10 Jul 1940
16 Aug 1943 - 30 Apr 1946
branch=French Army
battles=World War II
notable_commanders=Émile Béthouart
The I Corps ( _fr. 1er Corps d'Armée) was first formed before World War I. During World War II it fought in the Campaign for France in 1940, on the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Elba in 1943 - 1944, and in the campaigns to liberate France in 1944 and invade Germany in 1945.

1940 Campaign

the Corps commanded the 25th Motorised Infantry Division (25e DIM) in addition to its organic units [ [http://france1940.free.fr/oob/7armee.html#IerCA] french: France 1940 website] .

With the German invasion violating the neutrality of Belgium and the Netherlands on May 10, 1940, the I Corps moved into Belgium with the goal of gaining contact with the Dutch Army. This was achieved on May 12 near Breda, but the general failure of the Allies to hold the German advance mandated early retreats so that the I Corps would not be cut off. Breda fell to the Germans on May 13 and the corps conducted a fighting withdrawal through Dorp and Wuustwezel to the fortified zone of Antwerp, Belgium. During May 15 - 17, the corps defended the Scheldt Estuary with the 60th and 21st Infantry Divisions (60e DI and 21e DI), but was ordered to retreat back into France on May 18. [Grandes Unités Françaises, Vol. I, p. 69]

The period from May 19 - 26 saw the corps falling back to the line of the Somme River, where the French Army intended to make a major stand. Because of German advances, the I Corps had to deploy its divisional reconnaissance units to cover positions on the river that the slower-moving infantry divisions (4th Colonial Infantry Division - 4e DIC, 7th North African Infantry Division - 7e DINA, and the 19e DI) could then occupy. This required combat with the Germans, but the corps reached positions near Le Hamel, Aubigny, and along the road between Amiens and Saint-Quentin. During May 24 - 25, troops of the corps seized and lost Aubigny twice. [Grandes Unités Françaises, Vol. I, pp. 69-71] The Germans, however, had held onto a large bridgehead at Peronne. The Germans broke out of this bridgehead on June 5, 1940, and continued their advance into the heart of France. A counterattack by armored elements of the corps on June 6 was halted by the Germans.

From June 9, the corps was involved in a succession of withdrawals that were meant to form lines of defense along the Avre, Oise, Nonette, Seine, and Loire rivers. The crossing of the Oise River was made under German air attack, some bridges were destroyed by the Luftwaffe, and portions of the corps' infantry had to surrender north of the Oise.

After the Germans crossed the Loire River on June 18, the 19e DI of the corps was largely destroyed near La Ferté. This was followed by capture of the bulk of the infantry of the 29th (29e DI) and 47th Infantry Divisions (47e DI) on June 19 near Lamotte-Beuvron. [Grandes Unités Françaises, Vol. I, p. 77] The final week of the campaign was a constant retreat for the remnants of the corps, with elements crossing the Dordogne River near Bergerac on June 24, 1940. The following day, an armistice was declared and the corps assembled in the region of Miallet and Thiviers.

On July 1, Brigadier General Trancart [Jacques Marie Joseph Edmond Ignace Trancart, 1881-1952, commander of I Corps Artillery prior to assuming corps command.] assumed command of the corps. The I Corps was demobilized on July 10, 1940.

Corsica 1943


While British and American troops invaded mainland Italy in September 1943, the I Corps, comprising Headquarters, 4th Moroccan Mountain Division (4e DMM), the 1st Regiment of Moroccan "Tirailleurs" (1er RTM), the 4th Regiment of Moroccan Spahis (4e RSM) (light tank), the 2nd Group of Moroccan Tabors (2e GTM), the Commandos de Choc battalion and the 3rd Battalion, 69th Mountain Artillery Regiment (69e RAM), [Grandes Unités Françaises, Vol. IV, p. 422] landed on the island of Corsica in the same month. To the south, the German "90. Panzergrenadier-Division" and the "Reichsführer-SS" assault infantry brigade were evacuating Sardinia and landing on the southern coast of Corsica. Wishing to cut off the German troops, and informed on September 10 1943, that the Italian troops on Corsica were willing to fight on the side of the Allies, the French launched Operation "Vésuve" and landed elements of the I Corps at Ajaccio on September 13, meeting Corsican partisans who also wanted enemy troops off the island.

German General von Senger und Etterlin [Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin, 1891-1963, commander of 17. Panzer-Division and military commander of Sicily prior to becoming military commander for Sardinia and Corsica in 1943. Went on to command XIV. Panzerkorps in Italy 1943-1945, prisoner of war 1945-1948.] hoped to obtain reinforcements with which to hold the island. After the Germans began disarming Italian soldiers, General Magli [Giovanni Magli, 1884-1969, commander of the Centauro Armored Division prior to commanding VII Corps on Corsica, then GOC of Sardinia 1943-1944.] of the Italian Army ordered Italian forces to consider the Gemans as an enemy rather than as allies. Thereafter, Italian units on the island cooperated with the French forces. Surprising the Italian "Friuli" Division in the northern port of Bastia on the night of September 13, 1943, the SS troops took 2,000 Italian prisoners and secured the port from which the Germans could evacuate their forces. Although supported by the Royal Navy, the French were unable to land forces quickly enough on Corsica to prevent the bulk of the German troops from reaching their exit ports on the east coast of the island. The final combat took place around Bastia, with the island secured by French forces on October 4 1943. The bulk of the German forces, however, had made good their escape. The Germans took 700 casualties and lost 350 men to POW camps. The Italians lost 800 men in the fighting (mostly "Friuli" Division troops), and the French had 75 killed, 12 missing, and 239 wounded. [L'Armée de la Victoire, Vol. I, p. 161] From October 1943 until May 1944, the I Corps defended Corsica, conducted training, and moved units between Corsica and North Africa. On April 18 1944, the I Corps was subordinated to General de Lattre's [Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny, 1889-1952, commander of the 14e DI, 13th Military Division, 14th Military Division, and CinC Tunisia prior to commanding Armée B. Postwar, became high commissioner then CinC for French Indochina.] Armée B.

Elba 1944

[Henry Maitland Wilson, Baron Wilson of Libya & of Stowlangtoft, 1881-1964, commander of 2nd Division, British forces in Egypt, W Force, GOC Palestine and Transjordan, commander of 9th Army, and CinC of Persia and Iraq and then Middle East Command prior to becoming Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean in 1944. Postwar was the Head of the British Joint Staff Mission to Washington.] took over the Mediterranean Theater, however, attitudes at Allied headquarters changed and the operation was approved. [The History of the French First Army, p.34] By this time, though, the Germans had strongly fortified Elba, an island dominated by rugged terrain in any case, making the assault considerably more difficult.

At 0400 hours on June 17 1944, the I Corps assaulted Elba in Operation "Brassard". French forces comprised the 9th Colonial Infantry Division (9e DIC), two battalions of French commandos ("Commandos d'Afrique" and "Commandos de Choc"), a battalion and supplementary battery of the Colonial Artillery Regiment of Morocco (R.A.C.M.) and the 2nd Group of Morrocan Tabors (2e GTM), in addition to 48 men from "A" and "O" commandos of the Royal Navy [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/85/a2943885.shtml BBC - WW2 People's War - Operation Brassard The Invasion Of Elba ] ] . French "Choc" (lightly armed fighters who had the mission of operating behind enemy lines) units landed at multiple points before the main landing force and neutralized coastal artillery batteries. Landing in the Gulf of Campo on the south coast, the French initially ran into difficulties because of the German fortifications and extremely rugged terrain that ringed the landing area. Falling back on an alternate plan, the landing beach was shifted to the east, near Nercio, and here the troops of the 9th Colonial Infantry Division seized a viable beachhead. Within two hours, French commandos reached the crest of the 400-meter Monte Tambone Ridge overlooking the landing areas. The RN commandos boarded and seized the German "Flak" ship "Köln" and also landed to guide in other troops headed for the beaches, but a massive blast from a German demolition charge killed 38 of their men. Portoferraio was taken by the 9th Division on June 18 and the island was largely secured by the following day. Fighting in the hills between the Germans and the Senegalese colonial infantry was vicious, with the Senegalese employing flamethrowers to clear entrenched German troops. [The History of the French First Army, p.45]

The Germans defended Elba with two infantry battalions, fortified coastal areas, and several coastal artillery batteries totaling some 60 guns of medium and heavy caliber. In the fighting, the French seized the island, killing 500 German and Italian defenders, and taking 1,995 of them prisoner. French losses were 252 killed and missing, and 635 men wounded in action, while the British lost 38 of their 48 commandos, with nine others wounded by the blast of the demolition charge. [The History of the French First Army, p.45]

France 1944

in November 1942. For the remainder of the war in Europe, many French divisions would be subordinated to I Corps, but the divisions that spent the most time with the corps were the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division (2e DIM), the 9th Colonial Infantry Division (9e DIC), the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division (4e DMM), and the 1st Armoured Division (1re DB).

I Corps drove north along the east bank of the Rhône River, but the push lacked strength as the 4e DMM was still deploying to France (and would be further engaged securing the alpine frontier with Italy for several months) and the 1re DB was still assembling in southern France. In mid-September, the corps secured the Lomont Mountains (a range about 130 kilometers (about 80 miles) long running from the Doubs River to the Swiss border. German resistance was spotty in September, but rapidly coalesced in front of the Belfort Gap, a corridor of relatively flat terrain that lies between the Vosges Mountains and the Swiss frontier and that is a gateway to the Rhine River. Operating with one division and experiencing the same logistics problems as other Allied units in Europe, the advance of the I Corps was slowed in front of the Belfort Gap by the German "11. Panzer-Division".

Compounding the distance that supplies had to travel from the ports in southern France were the north-south railway lines with destroyed bridges and sections of track. Early October 1944 also saw the unseasonably early arrival of cold and wet weather more characteristic of November. All of these factors served to force a halt to the I Corps' advance in October while the corps improved its supply situations and resolved manpower issues caused by the French high command's decision to rotate the Senegalese troops to the south and replace them with FFI manpower. The supply situation had improved by early November, coinciding with orders from General Eisenhower, now in charge of all Allied forces in northwestern Europe, directing a general offensive all along the Western Front.

Believing that the relative inactivity of I Corps meant the corps was digging in for the winter, the Germans reduced their forces in the Belfort Gap to a single, not-at-full strength infantry division. The I Corps launched their attack to force the Belfort Gap on November 13, 1944. By a stroke of fate, the French attack caught the German division commander near the front lines, who perished under a hail of Moroccan gunfire. ["Generalleutnant" Hans Oschmann, 1894-1944, commander of the "286. Sicherungs-Division" in 1943-1944 prior to taking command of the "338. Infanterie-Division" on September 18, 1944.] [Riviera to the Rhine, p. 413] The same attack narrowly missed capturing the commander of the German "IV. Luftwaffen-Feldkorps". Although desperate German troops formed islands of resistance, most notably at the fortified city of Belfort, troops of the 2e DIM, 9e DIC, and the 1re DB pushed through gaps in the German lines, disrupting their defense and keeping the battle mobile. French tanks moved through the Belfort Gap and reached the Rhine River at Huningue on November 19.

The battle cut off the German "308. Grenadier-Regiment" on November 24, forcing the German troops to either surrender or intern themselves in Switzerland. On November 25, I Corps units liberated both Mulhouse (taken by a surprise armored drive) and Belfort (taken by assault of the 2e DIM). Realizing the German defense had been too static for their own good, General De Lattre (commander of the French First Army) directed both corps of his army to close on Burnhaupt in order to encircle the German "LXIII. Armeekorps" (the former "IV. Luftwaffe Korps"). This maneuver succeeded on November 28, 1944 and resulted in the capture of over 10,000 German troops, crippling the "LXIII. Armeekorps". [Riviera to the Rhine, p. 431] French losses, however, had also been significant, and plans to immediately clear the Alsatian Plain of German forces had to be shelved while both sides gathered strength for the next battles.

The November offensives of the French First Army and the U.S. Seventh Army had collapsed the German presence in Alsace to a roughly circular pocket around the town of Colmar on the Alsatian Plain. This Colmar Pocket contained the German "19. Armee". As the southern-most corps of Allied forces in northwestern Europe, the French I Corps now faced the Rhine at Huningue and held Mulhouse and the southern boundary of the Colmar Pocket. A French offensive in mid-December designed to collapse the Colmar Pocket failed for lack of offensive power and the requirement to cover more of the Allied front line as U.S. units were shifted north in response to the Ardennes Offensive. On January 1 1945, the Germans launched Operation Nordwind, an offensive with the goal of recapturing Alsace. After the U.S. Seventh and French First Armies had held and turned back this offensive, the Allies were ready to reduce the Colmar Pocket once and for all.

The I Corps led the attack against the Colmar Pocket on January 20, 1945. Fighting in woodlands and dense urban areas, the I Corps attack stalled after the first day, meeting a German defense in depth and attracting German "19. Armee" reinforcements. By the end of the month, however, other attacks by U.S. and French forces against the Colmar Pocket had forced the Germans to redistribute their troops, and an early February attack by the I Corps moved north through weak German resistance, reaching the bridge over the Rhine at Chalampé and making contact with the U.S. XXI Corps at Rouffach, south of Colmar. The final German forces in the I Corps area retreated over the Rhine into Baden on February 9 1945. Thereafter, the thrust of the Allied offensive moved to the north, and the I Corps was assigned the defense of the Rhine River from the area south of Strasbourg to the Swiss frontier until mid-April, 1945.

Germany 1945

on April 29, cutting off the German "XVIII. SS-Armeekorps" in the Black Forest. Frantic attempts at escape by the encircled German troops came to naught among French roadblocks and the formidable terrain of the forest, and they were left no options save death or surrender.

From Freudenstadt, elements of the 1re DB pushed east and south, capturing Ulm on April 24, and then pushed south again with elements of the 2e DIM into the Alps, crossing into Austria and marching into Sankt-Anton on May 7, 1945. Elements of the 5e DB and the 4e DMM drove southeast along the north shore of Lake Constance, capturing Bregenz and then turning east toward Sankt-Anton. The following day was VE Day, ending Allied military operations in Europe.

During the course of its operations in France and Germany in 1944 - 1945, the I Corps lost 3,518 men killed, 13,339 wounded, and 1,449 missing, for a total of 18,306 casualties. Although not all casualties inflicted on the Germans by I Corps are known, the corps is credited with taking 101,556 Germans prisoner during the campaigns to liberate France and invade Germany. [Grandes Unités Françaises, Vol. V-III, p. 801]


After VE Day, the I Corps occupied Baden, parts of Wuerttemberg, and Austria, with corps headquarters initially in Ravensburg. On July 16, 1945, the I Corps was renamed "Army Corps of the South" ( _fr. Corps d'armée sud). General Béthouart became the commander of French forces in Austria and the High Commissioner for France in Austria until 1950. I Corps was inactivated on April 30, 1946. It was reformed later during the Cold War, and in 1989 it had its HQ at Metz with the 1st Armoured Division at Trier (Germany), the 7th Armoured Division at Besançon, 12th Light Armoured Division at Saumur, and the 14th Light Armoured Division at Montpellier. It was again disbanded circa 1990.


Article Sources

* L'Armée de la Victoire (Four volumes). Paul Gaugac. ISBN 2702500552, Paris: Charles Lavauzelle, 1985.
* Guerre 1939 - 1945. Les Grandes Unités Françaises (Volumes I, IV, V-I, and V-III). Armée de Terre, Service Historique. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1976.
* The History of the French First Army. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1952.
* Riviera to the Rhine (U.S. Army in World War II Series). Jeffrey J. Clarke and Robert Ross Smith. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1993.
* [http://www.generals.dk Biographical data for WW2 Generals]

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