1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lanrezac, Charles Louis

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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Lanrezac, Charles Louis
See also Charles Lanrezac on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LANREZAC, CHARLES LOUIS (1852- ), French soldier, was born at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, July 31 1852. Entering the military academy of St. Cyr in 1869, he fought in the latter part of the war of 1870-1 as a sub-lieutenant of infantry. Graduating from the École de Guerre (staff college) in 1879, he held in succession various staff and instructional positions, in particular at the École de Guerre during the period in which, under the influence of Maillard, Langlois and Bonnal, the new French doctrine of strategy and tactics was being established. To the furthering of this doctrine Lanrezac himself contributed a study of Napoleon's spring campaign of 1813 (La Manœuvre de Lützen), but it was chiefly through his personal methods of instruction that his influence made itself felt. He became colonel in 1902, general of brigade in 1906, general of division in 1911, corps commander in 1912, and finally in April 1914 he succeeded Galliéni as a member of the Conseil Supérieur de la Guerre and commander-designate of the V. Army in case of war.

In this capacity, Lanrezac, as Galliéni had done before him, soon came to the conclusion that the V. Army, on the left of the French line, would be exposed to the weight of a decisive German attack coming through southern Belgium. But General Joffre and those members of the general staff who, under him, had prepared “Plan No. 17” for the war concentration of the French army, thought otherwise, and when war came at the end of July in the same year, the railway concentration of the army was carried out as planned, without the modifications in the defensive sense that Lanrezac's views, if accepted, would have required. Moreover, the later French doctrine of strategy and tactics, which had sprung up since 1910 and was championed by the younger school of staff officers, rejected the new Napoleonic theories of Lanrezac's generation, tended to the almost complete exclusion of the defensive as a mode of war, and its advocates were fully prepared to commit the fate of France to the chances of an immediate general offensive in Lorraine and Ardennes. This being presumed to succeed, events beyond the extreme left of Lanrezac's army might be ignored, and his fears might be (and undoubtedly were) put down to his predilection for that defensive-offensive which he had constantly taught. The Grand Quartier Général thus began the campaign with a prejudice against Lanrezac's theories of war.

It was not until Aug. 15 that the reality of the danger to the V. Army began to be accepted by Joffre, and measures were taken to bring that army towards Namur and Charleroi; and even then the fact that the greater part of the German striking wing would be W. of the Meuse was not definitely admitted either by Joffre or, for that matter, by Lanrezac himself. Thus the battles of Charleroi and Mons were begun under the most unpromising conditions as regards unity of purpose. Moreover, Lanrezac's own subordinates allowed themselves to be carried away by the doctrine of the offensive, and engaged in a confused battle with Bülow's II. Army in the tangle of suburbs and mining villages round Charleroi, in spite of Lanrezac's formal order to stand on the defensive on the open heights S. of the Sambre. And, lastly, tactical liaison with the British on the left and personal liaison with its commander, Sir J. French, were both imperfect. In such circumstances misunderstandings could hardly be cleared up or good relations established either with the distant Grand Quartier Général or with French during the unexpected and trying retreat of the Allied left wing which followed. But Lanrezac, aided by his chief-of-staff General Hely d'Oissel, managed to bring off his army, and so far to restore its normal organization and moral that it was able to take the offensive in the battle of Guise-St. Quentin without support[1] either from the IV. Army on its right or from the British on its left. The success of the V. Army at Guise could not, in the general situation of the moment, be followed up or extended, and the retreat was resumed. Henceforward the army headquarters had the troops well in hand, and such attempts as were made by the Germans to envelop the now exposed left wing came to nothing. Already, however, Joffre had determined to dismiss summarily a large number of the generals who had played a part in the battle of the Frontiers, as a measure tending to restore the moral of the army and the nation. One of these, and the most conspicuous, was Lanrezac. On the day of the battle of Guise, Joffre had visited his headquarters with the intention of relieving him of his command, but had thought better of it. Nevertheless, a few days later, on the eve of the battle of the Marne, Lanrezac was removed from his command, being succeeded by one of his corps commanders, General Franchet d'Espérey.

The justice of his dismissal was far too questionable for him to be relegated to unemployment. He served as an inspector-general of infantry-training till the end of the war, and retired on reaching the age limit.

After the war General Lanrezac published a short account of the Charleroi campaign and the retreat of the V. Army, which besides his personal justification contains important documentary material for the general history of the 1914 campaign. (Le Plan de Campagne Français, Paris 1920.)


  1. As regards the British, Sir Douglas Haig, commanding the I. Corps, promised coöperation, but was obliged by orders from Sir John French to withdraw the promise before the battle.