La bataille de Champigny
The French Republic in arms September 4th 1870. Only two month of war were enough for Prussia and its Germanic allies to induce Napoleon III to abdicate in Sedan. The Republicans refuse the defeat, proclaim the 3rd Republic, form the government of the national Defence and call the French population to rise up in arms. The objective: to burn in enthusiasm, like it happened in 1792. They are determined to push back the coalition of the German States. The fight continues. Too disorganised, the French Army, made up of the mobile national Guard and the infantry cannot prevent the German progression. September 19th, Paris is besieged. In the capital more than two millions of people need to be feed, among them 500 000 soldiers. The government, which found refuge in Tours, charge General Trochu of the defence of Paris. He chooses Decrot to command the troupes de ligne and asks him to work out a plan in order to eliminate the German presence. The day of the offensive is fixed on the 28th of November. The breakthrough has to take place in the south-east of Paris. The objective is to allow the Parisian troops to get Fontainbleau where a new army should soon arrive on the Loire river.
November 28th the troops are ready. The Marne must be crossed from Joinville and the contact with the enemy must be carried out in Champigny, Bry and Villiers. A first bridge is built but an unexpected flood from the Marne destroys it. General Ducrot decides to postpone the offensive. But the enemy is not naive. Well positioned on the hillsides of Chennevières and Champigny, he had the chance to observe the troop's movements towards Joinville, as well as the first attempt to get over the river which separates them .Immediately a Saxon division receives the order to reinforce the Würtemberger who occupies Champigny and its surroundings. In Thiais, Hay and Choisy-le-Roi, the in charged Generals the operations of the diversionary move, are not warned of the postponement of the offensive. November 29th they literally run into the enemy's arm for a huge lost.
The day of November 30th
Finally November 30th, the French troops succeed to pass the Marne in Joinville, Nogent and Bry. The weather is cold, the air is fresh nevertheless the sun is shining. Nearly 60 000 men launch the attack against the enemy's positions. The devotion of the officers is exemplary. The artillery's training has been more then efficient During the morning the soldiers advance, seize the Avron plateau and the village of Champigny and Bry. But the Saxons and Würtemberger retreats is well achieved. They find a strong position behind the massive fortified walls of the parks of Villiers and Coeuilly where the French attacks will crush. At the same time in Créteil, the French troops are constrained to evacuate the hillsides of Montmesly taken during the morning: the Würtemburger, reinforced by the Prussians and the Saxons push back the soldiers ("Mobiles") from Ain and Vendée. Their chef, general Ladreit de la Charrière is mortally wounded. "If we've got an army who knows how to die France is saved", he said with his last sigh. After the first day of fighting the results are ambivalent The Parisian troops manage to stay the night in the occupied villages by the enemy, but at the price of tragic losses. Despite a spirit of heroism, they didn't succeed to take the hillsides of the Marne, which constitute the main enemy's defence line. Meanwhile, in the capital the besieged believe in a complete victory. Everyone is in a optimistic mood. On the battlefield though, the mood is less good. The men are tired. Many of them saw their army friends die. The houses in which they sleep are ruins and in the night the snow suddenly starts to fall.
The two headquarters agreed on one day a tacit armistice. The men send their time picking up the wounded, burying the dead and strong holding their positions. As far as General Ducrot is concerned, he wants to reorganize his army. The Prussians take the opportunity to draft hundred thousand men as reinforcement.
The day of December 2nd
During the night the temperature drop down -10°C. In the early morning the troops are freezing. The enemy chooses this moment to attack: the Saxons in Bry, the Würtemberger in Champigny. Initially the French troops move back, then manage to take their positions back, thanks to fresh troops lead by General Ducrot. At four o'clock in the afternoon the situation is in a status quo: each camp gets back the positions they were the day before . In the evening the Parisians still believe that the breakthrough has been successful. What a disillusion! The French troops are tired of two days of keen combats and demoralized by the Saxon prisioners who affirm that a hundred fifty thousands Prussians are waiting for them in the forest of Coeuilly. The French head-quarter knows that the troops cannot spend another night in a devastated land dominated by the freezing cold. Don't forget that their equipment had been lightning to the point of removing the blankets to increase the progression speed as far as possible! The retreat begins during the night. The soldiers (" Mobiles ") are directed towards the fort of Nogent. In the early morning, at a temperature of -14°C all the troops withdraw. General Ducrot only takes this decision without consulting General Trochu, who he knew in advance his disagreement.
The losses of three days of fights are estimated around nearly six thousands men, including four hundred officers. As far as the Prussians, Saxons and Würtemberger superior. The French command is essentially responsible for this failure. The involved effective in the conflict have been insufficient although many troops in retreat have been unused. The men motivations wasn't enough to win the offensive. The government, General Trochu, his head-quarters and Parisian population, all had a great expectation of this battle for the liberation of Paris. The capitulation is inevitable. January 28th the capital surrender. May 10th 1871 the treaty of Frankfurt puts an end to the war. France must give away Alsace and a part of Lorraine and pay a compensation of 5 billion "golden-francs" to the German empire.
Day of the 3rd of December
Speech delivered in Champigny-la-Bataille "Patriots, We saw reappearing, very radiant of indignation and pride, the noble and generous figure of our former France, this France which long ago squandered its blood to liberate the close nations and which is finally ready to spill its blood again, this time for its own liberation, but also for its own honour and interests and to regain back its position among the nations. These are indeed the reasons to defend our country by a future war, an inevitable war and we will not fear to say, an imminent war. Disappointing the pacifist gentlemen, these timid forefathers of our shameless antimilitarists." Paul Déroulède
Written by MINDEF/SGA/DMPA and ONAC : The Battle of Champigny