Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The French Mutinies of 1917: The Real Numbers

There have been a lot of exaggerated numbers tossed around about the French mutinies of 1917. Some, by the way, prefer the use of terms like collective or systematic disobedience or indiscipline, since it involved a whole range of behaviors, much of which was not an open revolt against military authorities.

A Revealing Glance from a Frontline Poilu Later in the War

The late French historian Guy Pedroncini's work, Les mutinenès de 1917, is considered authoritative and here are his numbers.  Unlike other commentators, he freely uses the term "mutiny."

  • The French Army consisted of 112 divisions, and 68 were affected by mutiny.

  • Of these 68, five were “profoundly affected," six were “very seriously affected,"15 were “seriously affected," 25 were affected by “repeated incidents,” and 17 were affected by “one incident only."

  • A total 35,000 men were involved in mutiny.

  • 1,381 were given a “heavy prison sentence” of five years or more hard labor. Twenty-three men were given life sentences.

  • 1,492 were given lesser prison sentences, though some of these were suspended.

  • 57 men were probably executed (seven immediately after sentence and possibly another 50 after they received no reprieve. 

  • There were 43 certain executions (including the seven summarily executed) and 14 “possibly” or “doubtfully." Two more men were sentenced to death, but one committed suicide and one escaped (Corporal Moulin, who was known to be still alive after World War II).

  • It is known that of these 57, some were executed not for mutiny but for other crimes committed in the time when the mutinies occurred, including two men shot for murder and rape.

  • Therefore, fewer than 3,000 men received some form of punishment out of a total of 35,000.

See our earlier article on the 1917 Mutiny for more background here.
Source:  The Learning Site


  1. The mutinies were a from of protest for the heavy losses suffered during the failed 1917 offensive. The decline of the offensive spirit of the French armies put a heavier burden on the British. When Petain took command of the armies. He suspended offensive operations and concentrated on building material resources, more and heavier guns. When the Spring Offensive launched by Germany in 1918, the French armies fought well. French divisions helped plug the hole torn into the British lines. When the grand Allied counteroffensive began in August the French Army attacked with elan. But the rot that would destroy those armies twenty years later had been seeded.

  2. Great post -- objective as possible, with a big nod to the ways in which everyone had a reason to "spin" the numbers.

  3. When they ordered their troops to advance across open ground into machineguns, how many senior officers were in the lead? What were the casualty records for officers to enlisted by rank?