The French Navy and the Pirates

800px-GFM_Toulon_Bastille_Day_2008_n2 "French commandos on the frigate Nivose caught 11 suspects some 900 kms (560 miles) off the Somali coast, the French Defence Ministry says.

The Nivose is reported to have alerted the Seychelles authorities to help them capture the other three.

Somali pirates are currently holding nearly 20 ships for ransom.

On Saturday a Greek-owned ship with a Ukrainian crew was hijacked by Somali pirates south-west of the Seychelles, a seafarers' group says."BBC   


This the handiwork of the Fusiliers Marins embarked in a frigate of the Marine Nationale.  Some Americans seem to hold the French military in low regard.  I make a habit of of asking such people why they feel that way.  There is seldom a comprehensible reply.  Blind prejudice, inherited from the British ("The wogs start at Calais," etc.) probably is at the root.  "They surrendered. etc."  What crap!  Everyone surrenders when the game is over.  The British surrendered to us (and the French) at Yorktown.  The British surrendered at Singapore.  The British Empire garrison surrendered to the Germans at Tobruk.  Shall I continue?   An American division surrendered in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge, and then there was Bataan.  I am not inclined to apologize for that.  The US Marines never surrendered anywhere?  No?  What about Wake and Corregidor?   No matter.  For Francophobe bigots no argument would suffice.  Names like Verdun and Bir Hakeim mean nothing to them.

Well, here, unaccountably we have the French Navy acting as the most effective part of the international anti-piracy coalition.  How can that be?  I will be interested in viewing and responding to the responses to this post.  pl


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49 Responses to The French Navy and the Pirates

  1. Vive La France! Hey last I heard Napoleon did not do too badly. The surrender in 1940 does seem to overshadow all the hard fighting the French did for the Allies after North Africa was taken in 1943! What has always fascinated me about military history is not that a certain military unit or a certain country’s military is viewed as competent and professional but how often history seems to shadow the success of many successful militaries. The US military conveniently forgets, like the rest of the country, some of its most trying history and losses, but it is appalling how underappreciated the skill set of the current military is now viewed domestically. Perhaps because the citizen soldier day has ended except for the National Guard most citizens have no idea of the complexity of modern warfare, COIN or conventional and how much it has changed even from the Viet Nam generation. What I keep hoping for is more intelligent reviews of the small unit combat prevailing in Iraq and AF-PAK Theatre (as I now choose to call it). There is scandalously little intelligent writing about the military by non-military historians, and other disciplines. Political correctness even hit Sir John Keegan when in his book “On War” suggested perhaps its obsolence. It (war) is in our nature and will be until the end of time or history (whichever comes first Frances Fukuyama)! I personally am glad the French have rejoined NATO. Now time for US to leave it.

  2. WILL says:

    two regiments of the 106th “lion” division surrendered during the bulge.
    from the wiki
    “The 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments were encircled and cut off from the remainder of the Division by a junction of enemy forces in the vicinity of Schonberg. They regrouped for a counterattack but were blocked by the enemy and lost to the Division, 1944-12-18. The two Regiments surrendered to the Germans on 1945-12-19. ”

  3. Bobo says:

    Ah, the French. Love them or Hate them whichever way you want as over time you will expend efforts in each direction. Now having the distinction of cursing them on this site once I could have the moniker placed on me of a Francophobe Bigot. Does it fit, ah, maybe but I also spend equal time on the loving side.
    As anyone who has spent time on the Champs- Elysees trying to flag a cab will tell you 10 will go by with the finger raised and one will stop and pick you up but then he will be muttering under his breath the whole trip. Now granted my French is not up to par so I do suffer it quietly. The country is beautiful and I can spend days wandering the Louvre so its worth the mingling.
    The French military is renowned in military history and I congratulate them for helping control the Somali rascals out for a buck.

  4. srv says:

    At least the French declared war on the Nazis. The US courageously waited until Germany declared war on it.
    No doubt shooting a couple of teens pirates has bought Obama some time. But they better be working on something bigger if they don’t want the wingnuts portraying the French as being tougher than Obama.
    What’s the equivalent of “Shock and Awe” in pirate terms?

  5. EGrise says:

    Thank you for posting this, Col. Lang. I have never understood the tendency among some Americans to derisivly dismiss French courage and valor. Perhaps it has to do with a fear of socialized medicine?
    I spent some time years ago working with La Royale, and found them to be very active and professional, and brave to the point of contempt for danger. The War Nerd’s classic column on the French is a useful corrective.

  6. Dave of Maryland says:

    The French are insufferable snobs, and proud of it. That is why I love them so very much.

  7. isamu says:

    The War Nerd wrote the best article on this topic:

  8. Highlander says:

    I tend to agree with your point about the French taking a bad rap concerning their fighting skills and spirit. They certainly came in handy for us at Yorktown.
    But as to your point about even the US Marines surrendered at Wake Island and Corregidor. Unfortunately in both events the Marines were hobbled by being placed under the command of the Navy and the Army respectively. Officers from those two services made the surrender call. As you well know, leadership is everything.

  9. WILL says:

    & then there is the Antoine-Henri, baron Jomini, but he was Swiss French. And fought for France and Russia trying in vain to spare Marshal Ney’s life & perhaps he did where legend says Ney escaped fate thru freemason contacts to become a mathematics professor at Davidson college in NC.

  10. Patrick Lang says:

    Sure, whatever…
    What? Macarthur was ordered out of the Phillipines by Roosevelt personally. You did not know that?

  11. Neil Richardson says:

    I don’t doubt the competence of the French military. My only contact with them was when an observer group was attached to 11ACR during a REFORGER back in 1983 and they seemed professional enough. My past annoyance has to do with French public opinion of their forces. Whenever I had conversations with friends who’d done compulsory service, they’d go on and on about how the French way of warfare (whatever that means) and their hardward was better than anything the US could muster. After a while it becomes grating especially coming from those who’d done 12-18months. National pride is understandable but I felt it bordered on delusional at times.
    2e DB was as fine an armored division as any in the ETO (IIRC Fritz Beyerlein rated them among the best he’d faced in the war along with the Fourth and Sixth Armored Divisons). Still, if you listen to some of these French people, they think the Daguet Division singlehandedly defeated the Iraqi Army in 1991.

  12. Fred says:

    Col the ‘these colors never run’ crowd never heard of Bull Run, Chancellorsville, or a hundred others. Neither do they know of the French help in Savannah, Yorktown or the Battle of the Chesapeake. I am sure, however; that they love Freedom Fries and French toast. Perhaps they should check this:, Oh, wait, that was the British who burned Washington. (The Marines only skedaddled, er, withdrew, but they didn’t surrender.)
    How much impact does illegal fishing and possible nuclear waste dumping have to the rise of Somalian piracy?

  13. curious says:

    Dissing France? I thought it was Bush being unhappy because they didn’t want to get involved in Iraq/afghanistan, and initially were contentious in the UN.
    Then Rumsfeld is doing his “old europe” gag to pressure the european on the run up to Iraq war vote in the UN. Massive propaganda war. The france newspaper was getting nasty too. It ends with “francefries/freedom fries” silliness.
    I still want to know who instigates the 2005 Paris riot. That was right after Mitterand sending exactly ONE france troop after Bush arm twisting him in all sort of ways.
    That very well could be one of France finest moment, not getting involved in very long and ugly war. UK obviously caved and they get nothing out of it.
    And Iraq war still rages on and will get complicated soon, due to geopolitical trend.
    France getting ugly rap?
    loosing to germany in WWII
    (tho’ again. easy for everybody to say, considering the european was traumatized from WWI experience and do not want to repeat very bloody trench war.)
    (somebody add nice diagram to the wiki article. way cool.)
    2. in relation to US history. Vietnam.
    should have listened to vietnam and get out of that place instead of trying to quell war of independence in guise of “anti communism” domino theory … Obviously the rance knew something about their ex-colony.
    with regard to Obama. I think Obama will inherit serious long term problem from Bush policy.
    1. relationship with Russia is collapsing fast. And europe will have to decide where they stand. (NATO in georgia? bad move. Russia will not forgive that. Hillary better know playing the bluffing game with Russia won’t last few months, but decades.)
    2. Iraq. This means Iran, european and chinese energy supply upon economic recovery, Russia interest in central asia. Now is easy, but 2-3 years from now, Iraq will be a very difficult problem. 5 years from now, it will be ugly.
    3. afghanistan. I can’t feel it yet. But history lesson says, it will not end nicely.
    So france position? They have right wing government with relatively mild negative impact from global economic collapse. I don’t expect big change.

  14. Mark Logan says:

    I am quite certain no one ever told me a joke about French cowardice prior to 2002, and had thought it all originated from then, but googling around a bit I discovered that while the meme did indeed become quite widespread during the runup to the Iraq war, it had prior existence.
    The roots appear to be from WW2, and are likely of British origin, but no one is really sure. The term “Cheese eating surrender monkeys”, for instance, originated from the character “Grounds keeper Willie” on the Simpsons in 1995, where it sat, unremembered, until dragged into wide usage for the occasion of Frances refusal to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom, supposedly by Jonah Goldberg…
    Well, I suppose we all remember those “Freedom Fries”.
    John Lennon: “Strange days indeed…”

  15. Marcus says:

    Didn’t they warn us not to go into Vietnam and Iraq? Maybe that’s why a lot of people hate the French. Well that and that French exceptionalism thing too.

  16. Cato the Censor says:

    French cowardice: the wooden hand of Captain D’Anjou.

  17. arbogast says:

    Christianity would have died out had it not been for Charles Martel, certainly one of the greatest generals who ever lived…unless you believe that defeating a much larger force of Arab cavalry with a small group of infantry was child’s play.

  18. Holiday Inn Resident says:

    Please see this account of a recent response to pirate attack by the French military, posted at the excellent Cargo Law site:
    There is much to discuss regarding these developments.

  19. rjj says:

    I tell thee, herald,
    I thought upon one pair of English legs
    Did march three Frenchmen. Yet, forgive me, God,
    That I do brag thus! This your air of France
    Hath blown that vice in me:

  20. rjj says:

    previous post was wrt the roots/origins of jokes about the French. They predate France.

  21. Ian says:

    The Americans surrendered at Detroit. In fact, the captured colours of the 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment are to be found in the Welch Regiment Museum at Cardiff Castle.
    The French gave one of history’s more memorable refusals to surrender at Quebec City in 1690. Frontenac: “I have no reply to make to your general other than from the mouths of my cannons and muskets.”

  22. hotrod says:

    I may post a more considered reply later, but for now..
    As something of an Anglophile, I enjoy a good Frog, er… French joke as much as anyone. But I don’t doubt the competence of their military. If a bit untested in recent years overall, they have performed well in operations such as those in the Gulf of Aden. I’ve never worked with them, but all accounts I have heard is that they are quite professional.
    But if we’re going to invoke French assistance at Yorktown in a debate, then perhaps we should also examine the nature of French assistance in a far more recent affair like, oh, I don’t know… Oran or Safi or Port-Lyautey (I’m not a scholar, just pulled them from the Wiki article). None of those things are dealbreakers – I work with people who have (probably) killed Americans all the time. And I acknowledge the irony of insisting that they surrendered too soon over on the mainland, but not soon enough everywhere else. But if we’re going to talk American contempt for the French in matters military, it seems like something worth considering.

  23. Abu Sinan says:

    I never got it either. Historically it would make more sense us being closer with the French than the British.
    I have spent a lot of time in France and have never had the issues that the great unwashed hordes talk about in relationship to the French.
    99% of these same unwashed hordes have never been to France.

  24. charlottemom says:

    Where’s the rest of the story — is it French competence or US incompetence (with the exception being recent hostage release)? Please also comment on Russian success, as I understand they too have stepped into the vacuum and have made some headway with pirates.

  25. Pat Lang,
    A nice day’s work by les Fusiliers Marins. Those pirate laddies are getting pretty far out to sea when they’re 560 NM off the coast.
    I liked your major points also.
    Of course I did, as my late uncle was awarded the Croix de Guerre 5 times as a tank platoon leader and company commander in Italy and was made an honorary corporal of the 3d Algerian Rifle Regiment.
    Even better, however, is the fact that I share a nom de famille with that amiable rogue, Luc Teyssier, played by Kevin Cline in “French Kiss”. (That information was for the rare person who hasn’t seen the film multiple times.) Who wouldn’t wish to spend the rest of his life helping Meg Ryan run a vineyard in southern France?

  26. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You are misunderstanding history [which, of course, means I understand it.]
    Martel at Potier was not decisive.
    What was decisive was that Arabs had become too dumb, fat, and happy to puruse further expansion. They were content to consume their booty – both physical and intellectual.

  27. Mark Logan says:

    I am referring to the American case, and specificaly to the jokes of
    supposed French cowardice within the US. There have of course been no shortage of jokes about the French, but about oddness, and other things, not generally of cowardice, at least not in the US.
    Take the case of The Coneheads,
    “We are from France!”
    Today this joke would not be used, because the Coneheads were not cowards,
    and the writers would not wish risk confusing their largely American audience
    about the image they are creating. I am of the opinion that this cowardice meme is almost entirely rooted in the attempts by some to gin up support for the Iraq war, or perhaps even war in general.

  28. lina says:

    Didn’t some guy speaking Norman French conquer Britain?

  29. Babak Makkinejad says:

    William P. Fitzgerald:
    You asked: “Who wouldn’t wish to spend the rest of his life helping Meg Ryan run a vineyard in southern France?”
    Wine is forbidden in Islam, Meg Ryan isn’t.

  30. Makkinejad,
    Absolute tripe. The Battle was won by Frankish valor, with the aid of a contingent of coneheads, over those oriental brigands and was decisive. That it was is made evident by the fact that they left and didn’t return. It was the Battle of Tours (A.D. 732), not Poiters.
    Well, I admit it is sometimes called Poitiers but Tours is more common.
    Lina, The guy speaking Norman-French conquered England, not Britain and was ever afterward known as William the Conqueror. Does this mean that Tommy Franks will go down in history as “Tommy the Conqueror”?
    With tongue in cheek,

  31. Fred says:

    Holiday Inn Resident, interesting link, I think the French were more inclined to get the facts right before they started shooting rather that being worried about ‘maritime law’. As the Col. pointed out in a previous post, you have to get the money out – and not just the money the pirates are making. Then again, maybe I just to to put this MBA to use in a new (old) career at sea.

  32. Vile Whig says:

    A good case can be made that French military and political leadership in 1940 was second-rate. But it was geography, not moral superiority, that made it possible for the US, Britain and even the Soviets– to absorb their initial defeats by the Axis, recover and come back to win.

  33. Patrick Lang says:

    I am sort of Whiggish myself. Jack Aubrey would have thought so.
    Yes, you could make that case, and that British military and political leadership was second rate when they lost America, or that anyone’s leadership was second rate when they lost anywhere. pl

  34. Babak Makkinejad says:

    William P. Fitzgerald III:
    I disagree with your disagreement.
    Why didn’t the Arabs/Muslims come back to fight aother day?

  35. MongoPongo says:

    An interesting thing to note is that many francophobic jokes are actually transpositions of Russian antisemite jokes.
    In Russia, Jews have the reputation of being useless in the military. Try that one on a Russian friend: So it’s about a soldier, Jew…
    Also, the most rabid francophobes are jewish hawks, e.g. Jonah Goldberg. How strange.

  36. Tom S says:

    In recent history, the French have tended not to mess around when “raison d’etat” is concerned. This is good, piracy today, support in Gulf War I. It can also be bad…the Rainbow Warrior, for example.

  37. mike says:

    I understood that the hero of Waterloo, the 1st Duke of Wellington was educated in a French military academy.
    He even poses like Bonaparte,

  38. Howard C. Berkowitz says:

    Bernard Fall, quoting a French lieutenant colonel in Indochina: “There is a difference between us French and Don Quixote. Don Quixote rode against windmills because he thought they were giants, but we ride against windmills knowing they are windmills but doing it all the same because we think that in this materialistic world, there ought to be someone who rides against windmills”

  39. John Minnerath says:

    Tycho Brahe (1546-1610), the famous Danish Astronomer evidently didn’t care much for the French.
    As can be seen in a quote from his writing on the stuff of comets.
    “Comets are formed by the ascending from earth of human sins and wickedness, formed into a kind of gas and ignited by the anger of God. This poisonous stuff falls down again on people’s heads, and causes all kinds of mischief, such as pestilence, Frenchmen, sudden death and bad weather.”
    Actually, this amateur astronomer, whose ancestors came from the old Duchy of Lorraine, thinks they have the “Right Stuff”.

  40. Makkinejad,
    Valiant Franks, of course. However, there may have been fair Spanish ladies on the other side of the Pyrenees.

  41. Will says:

    Abd-r-Rahman had conducted a cavalry looting raid into Gaul. His wagon trains were piled w/ treasure. Charles Martel had piled the horseless Franks into a shield wall much as Harald the Saxon would against the Norman William some five hundred years later.
    But the Franks detached and raided the raiders loot train. The Saracens (Sharkeyeen for Eastereners) lost interest in the battle and regrouped to protect their treasture, secured it and escorted it South. After all that was the whole point of the trip!!
    The lasting legacy of the encounter was that from the Muslim dead, the Franks learned the secret of the STIRRUP, armour, and heavy cavalry.
    When the saracens returned, they would encounter Frankish cavalry by and by. Which their Roman predecessors had developed hundreds of years before after being heavily humiliated time a and time again at the hands of the Persicos. See Crassus and the battle of Carrahae.

  42. Babak Makkinejad says:

    William P. Fitzgerald III:
    The Makkinejad Thesis, for I would like to so designate it, states that people and civilizations grow until they become physically and intellectually satisfied with where they have arrived (materially and intellectually).
    Then they atrophy.
    This certainly happened to Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula, who seem to have concluded that there was not much worth the effort beyond the Pyrenees.
    Yes, there were (and are) fair ladies in Iberia but what is the use if one cannot marry more than one, being so unfortunate as to be born a Christian?

  43. optimax says:

    To be fair Americans diss everybody, the Israelis being the only ones we respect militarily. Popular culture, most notably sports, provide most of our heroes today and there are no French football players (soccer isn’t American), baseball players, big-time wrestlers (if there is I’m sure he always loses), NASCAR drivers (Sasha Baron Cohen in “Taledaga Nights” was French), or rodeo cowboys. In that classic movie “Death Race 2000,” the original, the French were the enemy–I can’t remember why.
    But that’s popular culture and the more intellectualy inclined Americans have always admired the French, in fact French rock-and-roll is popular with the 30-somethings in-the-know.

  44. curious says:

    What was decisive was that Arabs had become too dumb, fat, and happy to puruse further expansion. They were content to consume their booty – both physical and intellectual.
    Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 04 May 2009 at 12:07 PM
    meh… if you look at the map. They didn’t have the technology to fight beyond open plain where cavalry is effective.
    see the map at wiki. As you notice, the early Islamic empire were largely going around the declining main roman empire area. Those area still use the highly effective roman infantry and defense system.
    The frank, may be lousy on horse and couldn’t go very far beyond borders for next thousand years, but 700AD, they had feudal structure worked out to fight the visigoth. And they had plenty of practice bashing each other.
    I suspect the Umayyad cavalry also had temperature adaptation problem. Look at annual climate map. southern spain vs. going deeper into europe.
    Also, holding an empire that is gained in such short time, specially in more densely populated area is complicated. Specially central europe where it’s basically chaos. Even the Roman couldn’t really establish tight rule over the barbarians.
    It would take the mongolian, 400 years later to perfect cavalry conquest over huge climate difference. The mongolian was skillful horse archer, thanks to nomad/hunter/herder culture. And they skipped the religious conversion nicety and simply kill everybody. Thats one way to impose control and install new government.

  45. Relations between countries have their ups and downs over time. We can, of course, recall the French Alliance during our Independence era.
    Then there was the X,Y,Z Affair and Napoleon III’s plot (with Palmerston etal) to shred this republic.
    Then generally back on track in WWI…Lafayette and all that. And in WWII working with the French Resistance and elements of the French gov, and others, etc.
    DeGaulle was DeGaulle so…
    Behind the scenes, for example, today relations in the counterterrorism area are good at the working level.
    The Neocons were very anti-French when it came to the Iraq War…Irving (Kristol) editing Encounter was based in London for a time wasn’t he? Although Richard Perle has a fancy place in France complete with swimming pool…
    Surrender? What about that British king fellow who had to be removed owing to his pro-Nazi orientation? And that powerful circle of like minded businessmen and officials…to include certain prominent Fabian Society members?
    Good old Charles Martel…

  46. Cold War Zoomie says:

    SWMBO is a fully fledged Francophile having virtually grown up in Paris from the age of five until twelve. Her parents still have a flat there, with a very clear view of Sacré-Cœur on the hill, and they make their pilgrimages to Paris every few months. Once there, they rarely leave the city and its wonderful dog droppings.
    After five years quaffing beers and inhaling pork pies on Old Blighty, the British view got lodged into my little brain – Effing Frogs rolls a little too easily off the tongue!
    It can be fun ’round my house!
    All in all, though, I guess those folks across the Channel are OK. They did finish their half of the Chunnel on time and were gracious enough to slap up a Hypermarket in Calais close enough to the Chunnel so the Limeys can load their cars with cheap booze and ciggies without having to utter a word of French, or pay for parking.

  47. p
    In my estimation your thesis of inevitable decay, rot, and “fester, fester, fester” (Meg Ryan in “French Kiss”) needs to be refined. Maturity and atrophy are not necessarily the same thing and, after all, the Moors lasted on the Iberian Peninsula for another 700+ years after Tours. It must be admitted , though, that Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren gave them a spot of bother in the 11th century. As for the ladies of Spain, conversion and a few baubles(looted from Bordeaux, no doubt) and one could marry them by the score.
    As for comments on the Battle of Tours. It seems to have been the final act of an Arab 12 year on and off campaign in Southwest France and more than a cavalry raid or reconnaissance.
    Be that as it may the battle was won by the “moral and physical superiority of the Teutonic race”. My source is the Enyclopedia Brittanica, 1949 edition, which is, surely the more authoritative than Wikiwhatever. (Warning, I’m being facetious.)
    Finally, Paul Freeman must be one of the great soldiers in the history of the U.S. Army.

  48. Medicine Man says:

    French bashing is just pure ignorance really. Personally, I have a lot of respect for the French. They have a very long military history and as a culture don’t seem inclined towards fist-pumping braggadocio. They don’t act like they have something to prove.

  49. fnord says:

    Over here in Europe, its usually the Italians who bear the brunt of the jokes.
    Q: “How many gears does a Italian tank have?”
    A: “5, 1 forward, 4 reverse”.
    What was really shocking about the 2002 french hate was that it exposed how high up in the US system idiocy and populism runs. One thing is a meme about french “cowardice” spreads through the internet. But its another when the cafeteria of the Capitol changes French fries into freedom fries: Thats a studied public insult by one nation on another allied nation. I can still remember when it was reported over here, nobody could understand it and it was one of the first major public signs that the Bush admin was flying on hubris.

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