We all know the surrender jokes and memes that tend to be aimed at France. In Hearts of Iron, it’s not easy to see why the deck is stacked against the nation from the very beginning. Extreme political divides and a faltering economic base cripple its ability to wage war, or even resist an invasion. To add insult to injury, France’s only weak frontier, the flatlands of the north, happens to sit right across from the ever-threatening German Reich. And yet, France can overcome it all. In this guide, we’ll turn the lovely plains of Northern France into a defensive basion no German armor can overcome.
Before I get into that, this guide assumes that you have all the DLCs, including the expansion which offers France its unique and diverse focus tree, La Résistance. It also follows the most recent version of the game. I’ll use Historical AI and follow the democratic path, with the option to restore the monarchy later. This HOI4 guide for France starts with the setup, followed by intervening in the Spanish Civil War and ultimately surviving and defeating the German onslaught. We’ll finish with some achievements you can get with La Grande France.
Playing without La Résistance? Then check out our previous France guide for HOI4!
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
Despite its victory in the Great War, France wasn’t in a great spot in 1936. At that time, it was a nation wracked by civil unrest and strife, economic inefficiency, and an aging military that failed to meet the standards of modern war. That situation comes in the form of serious debuffs that we must get rid of as soon as possible.
Disjointed Government causes you to surrender more quickly, but with this guide, we won’t be near surrender. More hurtfully, it makes every purchase with political power more expensive. An inefficient economy makes it so that all factories and dockyards have a 20% lower output than the factories of our enemies, like the Germans. And lastly, victors of the Great War causes a +50% land doctrine cost, which means it’s expensive to reform your army to counter threats effectively. Let’s get rid of those spirits!
It’s worth noting that I’ll be taking quite a few cues from Efficient Strategy Gaming, including his unit templates and general approach. His approach to France makes it simple to achieve your goals with the nation.
Before You Unpause
Armies and Politics
So let’s talk politics first. It’s important to get rid of the Disjointed Government modifier early on, since the more political power you have, the faster you can hire the right advisors and the longer you can enjoy the buffs they bring. We’ll head down to Repeal the Laws of Exile, which is a relatively easy reach but doesn’t force you to abandon democracy. So take Revive the National Block, followed by Utilize the Leagues, the Council of Rambouillet, and Revise the Constitution. We’ll then get stuck for a year as the constitution is revising – but we’ll get back to that later.
Armies! France has a large army, but not a particularly good one. France’s lackluster industry can’t support the republic’s complex armed forces. So take all your armies except for five Division de l’Infanterie, which you should assign to a new army under Alphonse Juin. Juin is a highly skilled general and promotes extra quickly thanks to his Career Officer modifier. Change all of the others to the Division Coloniale. This cheap army is easy to mass produce, so that’s exactly what we’ll do!
Delete the templates you don’t need to clean up some space. Of course, have your armies exercise for some sweet army experience!
Industry and Research
France doesn’t have the best industry, but what we need most of all is a better industrial base for our military. So, let’s build military factories. You can set up the production as below. You may have noted that we’re making weapons that aren’t used in our army template yet. That’s because over time, as we produce more and more, we’ll switch units from the fairly cruddy Division Coloniale to the much more powerful Division de l’Infanterie, which will win us the war.
One more thing that you’ll want to do is to create a spy agency. Focus on taking the Cryptology upgrades and a few passive defense bonuses. These will help you the most in combat.
Moving on to research. Since this strategy relies on churning out as many military factories as possible, we’ll want to be building, building, building. So, to start, focus on the Industry technologies, with a couple of engineering ones to research faster. It doesn’t matter if you’re ahead of time a little – the industrial base will be worth it.
Lastly, the Air Force and Navy will play second fiddle in this campaign. Take 90 tactical bombers and put them near the Spanish border, and take all the other plains to Paris. You can reorganize your navy into three navies, divided by task forces that have roughly the same speed. Have a couple of submarine exercise in the Mediterranean to gain valuable naval experience. For your dockyards, just build out any ships you’re making and put everything on convoys after. The point is simply to make sure you’ll get an early naval hegemony over Italy. With Britain’s help, that shouldn’t be a huge problem anyway. Make sure that all your ships are at least docked around the Mediterranean, preferably close to Sardinia and Sicily. They’ll be needed most there.
There’s one more thing to France’s setup. Once you have a little army experience, find the cheapest tank you have, and take off the engine and the armor. That way, you’ll have an even cheaper light tank. While this thing won’t do anything in combat, it’s great for garrisons. Change the garrison template to the Brigade de Chars de Combat. They have the additional advantage that they don’t require any guns – so there’s more to spare for your divisions at home!
The Spanish Civil War and the Quest for Army Experience
So, you’ve just put France on a radically different track to avoid a tragic fate. As you rush down your focus tree to Revise the Constitution, your southern neighbor Spain will have a crisis of its own. However, it’s a great opportunity for you, since one thing you have to hoard at this point in the game is army experience.
Finish revising the Constitution first, and take the focus Intervention in Spain. This will provide you with the means to influence the conflict in your favor but tends to come at the expense of your stability. France’s stability is already quite precarious – and by aiding Spain, you may face a Communist uprising. However, there’s a trick.
Once you’ve completed the focus, go to your decisions and click “Enable Covert Intervention”. Send the five volunteer units under Juin to Republican Spain, and enable air volunteers to send the aforementioned 90 planes down to Spain. Before you unpause,ban covert intervention to avoid the stability hit. Usually, Spain should accept your volunteers before you even unpause. So now you’ll have your volunteers in Spain, without the stability hit.
This might not work right away. Never unpause before you’ve banned anything you’ve enabled. If Spain doesn’t directly agree, simply try it again in a few days.
Once you have your volunteers in Spain, just fight the Nationalist Spanish and their volunteers to rack up some sweet army experience. Your first purchase with some spare political power, the Army Defense Expert Maxime Weygand, should also be a huge help in your combat. Usually, I tend to focus on eliminating the units in Sevilla and Córdoba first, however, that’s completely up to you. There are multiple roads to Rome.
Meanwhile, you’ll be ready to start making some more political purchases. The most important ones to get early on are the Army Defense Expert, the Silent Workhorse, and Partial Mobilization.
While You’re Busy in Spain
With your focus tree, you should now start industrializing. Take the focus Begin Rearmament for some extra military factories, and the focus Laissez-Faire for some crazy industry buffs. After that, take the focus Economic Devolution and work your way down the Defensive Focus towards the vitally important Army Reform. Don’t forget to take Repeal the Law of Exiles as soon as you can get rid of that horrible Disjointed Government modifier.
Technology wise, you should continue building up your country by prioritizing Industry. With Laissez-Faire, you’ve got some great boosts to Industry focuses, so use those early on. Alongside building up your industry, focus on the following;
- Weapons and Equipment. When the Germans invade, you’ll want to have 1940s rifles, or at least 1938/1939 tech.
- Support Equipment. Especially Engineer Company 2, Logistics Company 1 & 2, and Canon de 305, the French Railgun. Once you’ve researched Railguns, queue them in the production lines with up to five military factories. They’ll be a massive help against the Germans.
- Artillery and Anti-Air. Simply keep upgrading them to match the Germans and the Italians.
- Engineering. Always good to gain more research speed – however, this is the least important category.
Meanwhile, there’s another opportunity for army experience forming in the East, with the Japanese invasion of China. Improve relations with China a bit for them to accept your Military Ataché. This will help them resist Japan, and give you more army experience. Win-win! Although Japan won’t be as happy, but seriously, who cares.
I should also mention espionage here. With the description focuses you have done, concentrating on decrypting the ciphers of Italy and Germany. Put your spies in Germany after you finish up in Spain. Once they built up a sufficiently big network, they can be very useful to help capture – and break – the German cipher.
In the Year 1939
By 1939, you should have a pretty formidable army – however, it’s made up almost exclusively of cruddy units. But – fear not. We still have the Division de l’Infanterietemplate, which we can improve by adding anti-air and logistics companies. As such, start building these rather than the Division Coloniale, and slowly change the templates of the units. The most important units to change are those defending the border with Belgium. More on that in a bit.
With all the army experience we’ve racked up, we can now start racing down an army doctrine. We’ll take Mass Assault, the best defensive doctrine. First, take the Professional Army Corps as the spirit of the academy for cheaper doctrines, and hire Henri Geroud. As these both seriously decrease the cost of doctrines, you can probably take quite a few doctrines. Ultimately, we’ll want to go down to Guerrilla War, which will help us hold the line with all of Europe against us.
The war is now extremely close, so make sure to have your units in order. I like Efficient Strategy Gaming’s setup quite a lot, so I recommend you do something similar. Send 24 units down to the African front on the border with Italian Libya – these will be the first to move in the war. Put 6 units on Corsica, 24 on the Alpine Front with Italy, 24 on the Maginot Line border with Germany (these are the units you’ll upgrade last), and put all the others on the border with Belgium and Luxembourg. Additionally, you may want to send 2 or 3 mediocre units down to the Belgian Congo. When Belgium inevitably capitulated, Germany will gain the Congo, meaning they could pose a threat in Africa. Simply snatching Congo’s only port will prevent them from doing anything with the resource-rich nation.
Use your navies to directly oppose the Italians. Have one navy on standby as a strike force, and use your submarines and the others to raid Italian convoys. That way, they can barely supply their units, especially those in Libya. The quicker you kick the Italians out of North Africa, the better.
To join the war, don’t wait for Germany to come knocking. Instead, guarantee a country that Germany will certainly declare war on, like the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, or Denmark. Don’t join the allies when war erupts, since you’ll need to conquer the allied nations of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg to form a united, mighty European Union.
Handling the War
Turning the Odds Around
Congratulations on winning the war! Wait, shouldn’t you fight it first? Yeah, but this setup will help you win the war easily. With your strongest units in the northern plains, and with the Maginot Line in the northeast, Germany can’t push into your country. The alps shield you from Italy, and your units in Libya are far stronger than whatever the Italians can muster up. You can use some airplanes to increase your advantage there, if you feel like that’s necessary.
After taking down Libya, our next target is Sardinia. Use two units from Corsica to naval invade behind the tile directly across the strait, while you attack that one with the four units you have left. Without access to a port, the units defending Sardinia will quickly falter, letting you take the island. Meanwhile, German units will continue assaulting the front lines. Keep close watch on this. When units start to falter, cycle some other units in to keep the front close. Your first defensive line is by far the best- it’s best not to let the Germans break it.
Following the capture of Sardinia, invade Sicily with the units you used in North Africa. This also should not be a huge problem, as long as you can capture at least one of Sicily’s many ports. Don’t invade mainland Italy just yet, but consolidate for a while. The mainland can be pretty fortified, so use the same trick you used to conquer Sardinia. Naval invade behind their fortified position, and cut them off. Do be careful that there are no German tanks in the area, because especially before 1943 equipment, those can be very strong if you’re not particularly entrenched.
When you’ve gained a successful foothold in mainland Italy, the nation will start to falter. Mussolini will be deposed, and the opposition will declare the Regno do Sul, which given that you’ve done the legwork, will be your puppet. With the Regno do Sul present, Italy has severely weakened, and Germany is now overstretched.
Finishing Off Germany
Push as far up to Italy as you reasonably can – it’s likely you’ll be stopped somewhere in the alps, near the Austrian border. Now it’s time to do the final offensive, against Germany. By 1943, you should have a far stronger resource base, and infantry weapons have advanced far enough that German armor should be far less of a threat.
First, we’ll advance into Flanders, in the area west of the Meuse river. Try to encircle and destroy German divisions, but don’t risk your own units trying. A general push should be able to shove them far enough away. After that, advance up through the German Rhineland and through the Netherlands to hopefully encircle and destroy a large portion of the German forces trapped in Holland.
From that point, Germany really cannot resist you much longer. Do a general push towards Berlin, Vienna and Prague to end the war. If you’re particularly crafty, you can try to conquer Poland before knocking out Germany to get a chance of annexing them in the final peace deal.
Once Germany surrendered, make sure to take all the Dutch, Belgian, Luxembourgian, German and Italian cores. You can also expand into nearby areas like Austria, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the aforementioned Poland if you have enough points. With all of those under your control, integrate your Italian puppet and form the European Union, giving you cores on almost all of western Europe.
Now, you’re likely the most powerful nation in the entire world, with all of Italy’s, Germany’s and France’s power united. Take the focus Proclaim the Third Empire to get Napoleon VI in charge, which lets you attack the Soviet Union. When you’ve reached Moscow, you’ll get the achievement Second Time’s the Charm.
By simply waiting, you’ll get the achievement Vive la France, which you get by surviving until 1948 without surrendering or capitulating. Alternatively, you can turn on the British and their allies to get the achievement Die, Perfidious Albion!
Lastly, if you built up your navy particularly much during this run, you can earn the Vive la Jeune École achievement, as long as you have at least 150 destroyers and research maximum torpedo launcher technology before 1945. You can also more easily do that by claiming the German, Italian and Dutch fleets at the end of the war.
And there you have it – France as the uncontested superpower of mainland Europe! I hope you enjoyed this HOI4 guide, and may your France runs be as fruitful as mine!