1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Foch, Ferdinand
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FOCH, FERDINAND (1851- ), French marshal, was born at Tarbes Oct. 2 1851, his father being a civil official and his mother's father an officer of Napoleon's army. Educated at Tarbes, Rodez, and finally at the Jesuit colleges of St. Michel (Loire) and St. Clément (Metz), he was preparing for the entrance examination for the École Polytechnique when the war of 1870 broke out. He enlisted in the army, but saw no active service, and returned to Metz, then in German occupation, to complete his studies, entering the École Polytechnique in Nov. 1871. On being commissioned in 1873 he was posted to the artillery, in which arm the whole of his regimental service was spent. As a captain, he became a student of the Staff College (École de Guerre) in 1885 and left, with fourth place, in 1887. From this time till 1901, save for a period in which as major he commanded a group of horse artillery batteries, his work lay in the general staff of the army, the staff of formations and the École de Guerre. It was in the École de Guerre that he developed his doctrines and his influence on the education of the army. From 1895 he was assistant-professor, and from 1898, as lieutenant-colonel, professor of military history and strategy in that institution, first under Gen. Langlois, and then under Gen. Bonnal, the two leaders of military thought whose work, with his own to complete it, established the new French doctrines of war, based on re-study and application to modern conditions of Napoleon's practice. This is the key idea of Foch's classical treatises, Principes de Guerre and La Direction de la Guerre.
Foch's career as a professor at the École de Guerre lasted hardly more than five years. The army was at that time in the midst of acute political troubles. The Minister of War, Gen. André, was engaged in a drastic, and not overscrupulous attempt to make the army safe for democracy; the Dreyfus affair was running the last stages of its fierce course, and, in his responsible post at the École de Guerre, Foch was an obvious target of attack, as an openly devout and practising Catholic, educated under Jesuit influence. He was returned to regimental duty, and his promotion to colonel only took place in 1903.
In 1905 Clemenceau, then Prime Minister, determined to make use of his military ability to the full, irrespective of political considerations, and, after a short time spent as deputy chief of the general staff, he was appointed commandant of the École de Guerre. Already in 1907 he had been made general of brigade. In 1911 he was promoted general of division and in 1912 corps commander. In 1913 he was appointed to command the most exposed of all the frontier corps, the XX. at Nancy, and he had held this appointment exactly a year when he led the XX. Corps into battle. Foch was then the only intellectual master of the Napoleonic school still serving. And the doctrines of the brilliant series of war school commandants, Maillard, Langlois, Bonnal, Foch, had been challenged, not only by the German school (see Strategy), but also since about 1911 by a new school of thought within the French army itself, which, under the inspiration of Gen. Loiseau de Grandmaison (d. 1915), criticised them as lacking in vigour and offensive spirit, and conducing to needless dispersion of force. The younger men carried the day, and the French army took the field in 1914 governed by a new code of practice. But history decided at once and emphatically against the new idea in the first battles of August, and it remained to be seen whether the Napoleonic doctrine would hold its own, give way to doctrines evolved in the war itself, or, incorporating the new moral and technical elements and adapting itself to the war of national masses, reappear in a new outward form within which the spirit of Napoleon remained unaltered. To these questions, it must be admitted, the war has given an ambiguous answer which will long provide material for expert controversy.
It was, in reality, as a leader in the field, far more than as thinker, that Foch personally influenced the course of the war on the western front. His conduct of operations in the first battles before Nancy, as a corps commander, presents no special characteristics, but in a few weeks he was placed at the head of the newly formed IX. Army, to fill the gap in the line caused by the divergent directions of retreat of the IV. and V. This army he commanded in the battle of the Marne, being opposed to the German III. Army and part of the II. in the region of Fère Champenoise and the Marais de St. Goud. After several crises he finally repulsed the attack, and initiated a counterstroke round which a legend promptly grew up and on which was founded a popular reputation that, no doubt, gave Foch the one element lacking in his equipment for the highest commands — prestige. Almost immediately after the battle, when the mutual attempts of Allies and Germans to outflank one another's northern wing produced the so-called “race to the sea,” Foch was designated assistant to the commander-in-chief and sent north to coördinate the movements of the various French armies and eventually those of the British and Belgian armies concentrating towards Flanders. Over the French army commanders he possessed the powers of a commander-in-chief, but over the British and Belgian forces, like Joffre, he had no authority. This delicate relation, in the midst of one of the greatest crises of the war — one which for Britain and Belgium was of graver import than even that of the Marne, — inevitably led at times to friction between the coequal commands, and after the war a rather unworthy controversy was waged in the press as to some incidents of this period. But in sum, the reputation which Foch already enjoyed amongst European soldiers before the war, and the fact that he had long been in intimate relations with Gen. Sir Henry Wilson, deputy-chief of Sir John French's staff, enabled him to carry out successfully a mission with which no other general could have been entrusted.
After the battle of Ypres and the stabilization of the fronts, Gen. Foch commanded the French “Group of Armies of the North” during 1915 and 1916. In this period, under Joffre, he was responsible for the offensives in Artois during the spring and autumn of 1915, in which again he stood in close relation to the British on his left, though now the sectors of each were exactly defined and there was neither a crisis nor an intermingling of forces such as those of the Ypres period. Moreover, the general headquarters of the two commanders-in-chief, Joffre and French, were now fixed, and the two armies made their liaison between St. Omer and Chantilly rather than through the local headquarters of Foch, who was no longer assistant commander-in-chief, but a subordinate.
In 1916 Foch's group of armies supplied the French element in the battle of the Somme. Towards the close of that battle, his reputation underwent a temporary eclipse, motived no doubt largely by the disappointment felt both in England and in France as to the results; but also and perhaps more by somewhat obscure domestic intrigues within the French staff. At that time the movement for Joffre's supersession had come to a head, and, it is said, his adherents within the headquarters sought to maintain him in power by suggesting that Foch, the most likely candidate for the place, was broken down in health. Though this did not prevent the removal of Joffre, it excluded Foch from the succession. Gen. Nivelle was appointed commander-in-chief, and a certain control by him over the British forces was agreed to by Mr. Lloyd George's Government, then newly in office. Foch was relieved of his command and sent first to the Swiss frontier to report on the possibilities of attack and defence in that quarter and then to Italy to negotiate with the Comando Supremo as to aid from France in case of a disaster to Cadorna's forces. But on May 15 1917, after the tragic failure of Nivelle's offensive and the supersession of that general by Pétain, M. Painlevé called Foch to Paris as chief of the general staff of the French army. But in this capacity his influence only became really effective after the accession to power of the Clemenceau Ministry in November. From that point to the events of March 1918, the evolution of Foch's authority was rapid. He was first, as adviser to Clemenceau and as a soldier whose counsels carried more weight than those of any other, a powerful indirect influence in the inter-Allied discussions as to the plan of campaign for 1918. Then as French member of the “Executive Committee,” a sort of board of inter-Allied command founded in Jan. 1918, he took his place almost as de jure president of that body. Lastly, the storm of the German offensive broke on the British V. Army on March 21, and although Haig and Pétain managed by cordial coöperation to reconstruct the broken line and check the German advance, the situation remained so critical that the last step was taken. On March 27 Foch by general consent was nominated to coördinate the operations of the British and French in France. On April 14 the title and authority of commander-in-chief was granted to him by the two Governments concerned, and on April 15, April 17 and May 1 respectively by the Belgian, American and Italian Governments.
On Aug. 6 1918 Foch was made a marshal of France. In the interval the Germans had renewed their offensives four times, and more than once there had been a crisis as grave as that of March which Haig and Pétain had had to face, notably on May 27. But these crises had been surmounted, and towards the end of June, with his resources greatly augmented through the emergency measures taken by the American Government, the British sea transport authorities and Gen. Pershing in France, he could begin preparations for his counter-offensive. The story of the battles in Champagne in which the last German offensive and the first Entente counter-offensive coincided (July 15-18), of the battles on the Somme area about Amiens (Aug. 8) and Bapaume-Peronne (Aug. 21), and of the simultaneous offensives of the Americans on the Meuse-Argonne front, the British on the Cambrai-St. Quentin front, and the Belgian, British and French under King Albert in Flanders (Sept. 26-28) is told elsewhere (see also the article Tactics). From Sept. 26 to the Armistice the whole front from the sea to Verdun was one continuous battlefield, controlled by one commander-in-chief. An extension of this battlefield into Lorraine, where the final blow was to be delivered on Nov. 14, was only prevented by the capitulation of the enemy.
After the war Marshal Foch received the highest honours from his own country and from the Allies. In one of his frequent visits to London he was created a field-marshal in the British Army, and he was also awarded the O.M. He became a member of the Académie Française in 1919. He had a great reception in the United States on his visit in 1921.
Various biographical sketches of Marshal Foch have appeared, for the names of which the reader is referred to any good subject index. The history of the single-command idea will be found in detail in M. Mermeix's Les Crises de Commandement and Le Commandement unique (part I.) and that of the internal politics of the French headquarters in the same, and in J. de Pierrefen's G. Q. G., Secteur I. (2 vols.), Paris 1920. The story of his final campaign, from the point of view of Foch's headquarters, is given in Louis Madelin's La Bataille de France and R. Recouly's La Bataille de Foch.
- (C. F. A.)