Early WW1 French Army Uniforms

Aug 2016
977
US&A
When I first learned what the French wore on the onset of WW2 I was pretty surprised. The red and blue kepis looked more like targets than military gear.

I asked the question below on the comments of the youtube video I was watching but I just got “hurr hurr, the french are cowards” jokes. So I'm asking here.

Why did the French army choose that uniform, and did soldiers often ditch their bright red hats?

Another, admitted barely related, question about WW1. Were Austro-Hungarian soldiers ever issued boots made of cardboard? I heard that at least some were issued such equipment while fighting Russians in the balkans during winter. It seems too ridiculous to believe.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,807
The caps had a more neutral-color cover that was used in the field.

Also, the French army wanted to go all-khaki already in 1911.

The reason they didn't was all political. There was a public outcry and high-profile member of parliament started a national campaign to make sure the French army would stick with the conspicuous blue-and-red. The argument ran pretty much that the French people would feel estranged from the army, if it would wear khaki. The military in the end caved to the public campaign and suspended the reform. Took the war to hammer home the lesson generally, and by 1915 the army went with "bleu de horizon", which worked rather well.
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,743
Lower Styria, Slovenia
When I first learned what the French wore on the onset of WW2 I was pretty surprised. The red and blue kepis looked more like targets than military gear.

I asked the question below on the comments of the youtube video I was watching but I just got “hurr hurr, the french are cowards” jokes. So I'm asking here.

Why did the French army choose that uniform, and did soldiers often ditch their bright red hats?

Another, admitted barely related, question about WW1. Were Austro-Hungarian soldiers ever issued boots made of cardboard? I heard that at least some were issued such equipment while fighting Russians in the balkans during winter. It seems too ridiculous to believe.
I never heard about cardboard boots in the AH army, but as the war progressed and materials became scarce, the fabric for uniforms became thinner and was made of nettle stems.

Btw, in the Balkans they fought the Serbs and Montenegrins.
 
Nov 2013
1,486
Serbia
I never heard about cardboard boots in the AH army, but as the war progressed and materials became scarce, the fabric for uniforms became thinner and was made of nettle stems.
I read somewhere some German troops wore boots with cardboard soles when they were fighting in Flanders. Apparently, due to the Allied blockade there was insufficient leather so they had to resort to cardboard. Don't know if the Austro-Hungarians had the same problem, though.
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,743
Lower Styria, Slovenia
I read somewhere some German troops wore boots with cardboard soles when they were fighting in Flanders. Apparently, due to the Allied blockade there was insufficient leather so they had to resort to cardboard. Don't know if the Austro-Hungarians had the same problem, though.
I sometimes guide German-speaking groups through the Museum for the younger history of Slovenia, which in one room focuses a lot on the life in the hinterland during ww1. They have examples of signs that urge civilians to turn in metal objects they don't need (like steel or brass) to help the militarry and another famous example is a sign advising people to collect nettles. Since food production wasn't what it used to be either, the leaves would be used for food and the stems, like I mentioned, would provide for uniform fabric. The difference between an early war uniform and late war one is obvious. The thickness of the cloth decreases, it is more coarse and thus less comfortable, it is more prone to tearing etc. I'd like to imagine that if it was the case, the museum staff would tell me because it is an interesting occurance and would be relevant for us to tell the visitors in order to illustrade the hardships of the war. Of course I know far from everything, I've only worked there on rare occassions as a germanistics student and I never meat the real expert custodians of the museum. So don't take my word to bank on that.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,575
Dispargum
Austro-Hungarians were more likely to fight Russians in the Carpathian Mountains.

As to cardboard boots, once you are forced to stop making boots out of leather, all kinds of alternative materials become available, some better than others. Cardboard would have the advantage of being a good insulator. It will keep the feet warm so long as it stays dry. When wet, cardboard does not do very well. If winter temperatures are cold enough, the ground stays dry because all moisture is frozen. Once the spring thaw comes, cardboard boots will fall apart.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,575
Dispargum
The caps had a more neutral-color cover that was used in the field.

Also, the French army wanted to go all-khaki already in 1911.

The reason they didn't was all political. There was a public outcry and high-profile member of parliament started a national campaign to make sure the French army would stick with the conspicuous blue-and-red. The argument ran pretty much that the French people would feel estranged from the army, if it would wear khaki. The military in the end caved to the public campaign and suspended the reform. Took the war to hammer home the lesson generally, and by 1915 the army went with "bleu de horizon", which worked rather well.
You see this a lot in WW1. It had been so long since the previous war and there were a lot of outmoded ways of thinking. There are changes from one time or place to another, but throughout history most soliders have spent most of their time in peacetime routine: marching in parades, standing as ceremonial guards, etc. The uniforms were designed to look sharp, not to be practical. Most countries had brightly colored uniforms in the mid-19th century. All switched to more subdued colors beginning in the late 19th century. France was only slightly behind other countries.

As far as I know, the Confederates did not choose gray or butternut uniforms out of a desire to be less visible on the battlefield. They choose those colors because the relatively primitive Confederate economy could produce those dyes.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,807
You see this a lot in WW1. It had been so long since the previous war and there were a lot of outmoded ways of thinking. There are changes from one time or place to another, but throughout history most soliders have spent most of their time in peacetime routine: marching in parades, standing as ceremonial guards, etc. The uniforms were designed to look sharp, not to be practical. Most countries had brightly colored uniforms in the mid-19th century. All switched to more subdued colors beginning in the late 19th century. France was only slightly behind other countries.
In the case of the French army of WWI, it's one of these things the give people a false impression of it as outdated in ways it really wasn't.