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The War Ministry

The War Ministry

Ministers taken from the ranks

From the proclamation of the Third Republic until 1906, France had 45 successive governments. In the vast majority of these, the War Ministry was entrusted to a general-prior to 1902, only three civilians had held the post. These included Charles Freycinet from April 1888 to January 1893 and from November 1898 to May 1899; Godefroy Cavaignac between November 1895 and April 1896 and from June to October 1898, with a few days in which the portfolio was handed back over to generals (Zurlinden from 2-5 September and Chanoine on 17 September); and finally Charles Krantz, who led the ministry from 6 May and 21 June 1899.

The War offices

Given the successive appointments of twenty-one generals and three civilians as minister, the War Ministry's thirty offices-which were divided into seven departments-enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. Despite the creation of a General Directorate in 1871 and the centralizing effort of generals de Cissey and Boulanger, the weapons departments used the complexity of their tasks and the development of material to sometimes create little fiefdoms (A. Bach). This was the case even when Freycinet had additional authority from his simultaneous appointments as minister and president between 17 March 1890 and 26 February 1892.

Parliament played a role in the army's reorganization-and voted a budget to make this possible-but an order dated 16 February 1895 created an extra-parliamentary commission to study how the government's various administrative services could be simplified. Their recommendations for decentralization affected only the offices of the War Ministry. Nevertheless, Freycinet's reorganization plans called for the technical responsibility for each weapon to be given to consulting committees, while the departments were given administrative responsibility.

The ministry's cabinet and general staff retained their authority to communicate with the press, and oversaw-with increasing power-private and secret projects.


Cartoon featuring Cavaignac, Minister of War

General Billot speaking with Colonel Jouaust