The department devoted to the two world wars retraces the history of the French army from 1871 to 1945 and the two major conflicts of the 20th century.
The two world wars (1871-1945)
These rooms retrace the military history of France from 1871 to 1945 and more generally that of the two great world conflicts of the 20th century. This presentation is based on a thousand objects that reflect the diversity of the collections: French and foreign uniforms, some of which belonged to illustrious military leaders (Foch, Joffre, de Lattre, Leclerc…), objects brought back from the former colonies, historical models, weapons (edged weapons, pistols, rifles, machine guns…), objects from the daily life of the soldier, prestigious items (sticks of the marshals and swords of honour). Emblems, paintings and personal archives (letters, postcards…) are added to the collection, and maps and relief maps complete this dynamic and educational trail.
After the defeat of 1871, the army was reorganised, universal military service was gradually introduced and close links were forged between the army and the nation despite a few crises.
The First World War 1914-1918
The journey continues with the French colonial expansion in Africa and Indochina and the important role of the African and colonial armies. In Europe, the two systems of alliances are opposed. The attack in Sarajevo in August 1914 triggered a war that all the belligerents thought should be short.
1915-1917, the war lasts, the armies get bogged down in the trenches. Attempts to break the front and win the victory failed. The hecatomb they caused caused the crises of confidence in the 1917s. The Allied forces became aware of the need to combine technological and moral factors to win on all fronts.
The year 1918 was marked by the failure of the German offensives and the final offensive of the Allied forces until the armistice of 11 November. After a painful victory during the inter-war period, France asserted its influence in the world and the power of its colonial empire. But on the eve of the Second World War, it withdraws behind the Maginot Line and the modernisation of its army comes too late.
The Second World War 1939-1945
1939-1942 were the “dark years”: the defeat of 1940, the Battle of Britain, the occupation of part of France, the Vichy regime, the success of the German forces in Russia and North Africa and the beginning of the Free French Forces’ involvement with General de Gaulle.
1942-1944, the “grey years” saw the first successes of the Allied armies, which took the initiative on all fronts, the unity of the resistance movements in France increasingly fiercely repressed by the occupying troops, and finally the rebirth, alongside the Allies, of the French army in North Africa.
Salle de Lattre
1944-1945, the “light years” saw the Allied landings in Normandy and Provence, then the liberation of French territory, the Allied armies’ offensives towards Berlin, the discovery of concentration and extermination camps, and the end of the Pacific War.
The redevelopment of this space benefited from the generosity of the American foundation The First Alliance.
Berlin and the Cold War
After Germany surrendered, the Cold War set in and led to the partition of the former capital until the fall of the Wall in 1989.