The Memoirs of Marshal Foch
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The Memoirs of Marshal Foch

Marshal Ferdinand Foch

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The Memoirs of Marshal Foch

Marshal Ferdinand Foch

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About This Book

The Commander-in-Chief of the Allied armies, the great strategist who directed the final victory, declined to publish his memoirs during his lifetime. Upon his death, his family at first intended to withhold his manuscript for ten or fifteen years, but the advice of the Marshal's friends prevailed.So this, the final word on the winning of the great war, was released in 1931, just two years after Marshal Foch's death.At first the Marshal planned to write a complete history, but he had neither the time nor the strength to complete so large a work. And it is fortunate for posterity that he did not. Others can collect and collate official documents. We have here what Foch alone could have written, his personal story of the war based solely upon his own experience.And it becomes apparent that Foch was not only the great commander and the leading strategist of his time but a writer with a sense of style and a graphic use of words that make his record one of the most moving and dramatic accounts of the great war.On certain details Foch's views may be questioned, but his story of the victory may well be called the final word. Only the leader of ten million men can speak from the vantage of supreme command.Special maps prepared by the French War Office, unpublished photographs, and facsimiles of the Armistice are included.

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Information

Year
2017
ISBN
9781787206106
Topic
History
Subtopic
World War I
Index
History

BOOK TWO — IN COMMAND OF THE ALLIED ARMIES

Preface to Book Two

THIS PREFACE was prepared under the direction of Marshal Foch’s military associates to cover the period which the Marshal omitted from his memoirs.
MARSHAL FOCH DID NOT HAVE TIME TO WRITE ALL HIS Recollections of the war and his observations on its conduct. He confined himself to reciting those events between 1914 and 1918 in which he took an active part. The events of 1914 are related in the first volume, those of 1918 in the second. In each case they comprise those acts which best illustrate the rôle played by the Marshal during the war, those concerning which his opinion has a special importance. Before resuming the Marshal’s narrative, which now deals with the year 1918, it seems useful to give a brief account of his activities in 1915, 1916 and 1917. This recital will enable the reader to see by what successive and almost uninterrupted steps he rose to the supreme command of the Allied armies, and how he prepared himself to meet this formidable task.
1. IN COMMAND OF THE ARMIES OF THE NORTH (JANUARY 5, 1915-DECEMBER 27, 1916)
On January 5, 1915, General Foch was assigned to the command of the Northern Group of Armies; the order giving him these functions merely confirmed a state of fact which had existed for three months.{49} Preparation of the Artois Offensive. The first task which fell to this group of armies was the preparation of the offensive for the spring of 1915.
The place chosen was the Vimy Ridge, north of Arras.
“The wide extent of ground it commands [wrote General Foch on March 24, 1915], and the practicability of the terrain it dominates, as well as the impossibility for the enemy to make any addition to his defensive organizations, would give the occupation of the ridge an immense value and lead to the piercing of the enemy’s line.”
The preparations were pushed with the greatest activity, and by the middle of April the movement of troops and matériel towards Arras was nearly completed; when suddenly a fresh alarm startled all of Flanders.
First German Gas Attack. On April 22, 1915, at 5:30 P.M., after a perfectly calm day, the Germans suddenly launched upon the northern part of the Ypres salient a dense cloud of suffocating gas whose effects were felt for a depth of more than a mile.
Surprised and partly asphyxiated, the French Territorials and Algerian riflemen poured back in disorder and a part of our artillery fell into the enemy’s hands. The British left (Canadian Division) retreated to Saint-Julien. The route to Ypres lay open.
In the midst of this general confusion the enemy advanced without striking a blow; Ypres was at his mercy, the few local reserves that could be thrown across his path being wholly inadequate to oppose him. Fortunately, after going two or three miles, he stopped at nightfall of his own accord. The fleeting opportunity passed; we were saved.
Informed by a brief report of what had taken place, General Foch once more gave proof of that quickness of decision and marvellous activity which never failed him in hours of peril. In order to get precise information, he sent a staff officer during the night to the spot where the surprise had taken place, ordered reinforcements to be sent from Nieuport, and roused up some of the numerous French units then assembled around Arras.
At 4:30 A.M. his liaison officer reported to him that the Yser had been crossed in several places by the enemy, that a breach two and a half miles wide had been made in our lines, and that along this space the road to Ypres was wide open.
The danger called for immediate and extensive measures. First of all, the enemy must be halted, and to do this, the continuity of our front must be restored; then, by counter attacks, he must be thrown back from the positions he had conquered. Such was the programme which General Foch outlined during the night to General Pütz, commanding the French troops in Belgium. He completed these arrangements during the early hours of the 23rd by bringing from Artois a division of infantry and by asking Sir John French to reinforce the British troops in the region of Arras. Thanks to these measures and to those taken on the spot by General Pütz, as well as to the aid furnished by the British and Belgians, the breach made by the Germans was closed during the morning of the 23rd, and Ypres was once more saved.
Nevertheless, the tactical results obtained by the Germans were not negligible: one of the most important lay in the fact that the British, now advanced too far forward in a point, were obliged to evacuate a part of the salient.
The Attacks in Artois (May, June, September, 1915). The Artois offensive was originally fixed to begin on May 7th, but unfavourable weather caused it to be postponed until the 9th. After a preparation by heavy artillery lasting six days, and by field artillery during two days, the new chief of the Tenth Army, General d’Urbal, on May 9th at 10 A.M., launched it against the Vimy Ridge.
In the centre the success was immediate. In less than an hour on a front of four miles and for a depth of two or three, the enemy’s positions were captured; more than 6,000 prisoners, 20 guns, 100 machine guns, remained in our hands; the crest at its culminating point, hill 140, was reached and even passed. The German artillery ceased firing and we had the impression we had broken through. Unfortunately, this satisfaction was of short duration.
Our reserves were too far in rear to follow up our success or widen the breach while there was yet time. The very slight progress accomplished on the right and left of this rapid advance also cramped it. Important points, such as the village of Carency on the left and of Neuville-Saint-Vaast on the right, remained in the hands of the enemy. On the Lorette plateau and farther along, towards Pont-à-Vendin, we had gained little or no ground, while to the north of La Bassée the British had very nearly completely failed.
Profiting by the fact that these places still held firm, the enemy concentrated upon hill 140 all the troops he could assemble; out of breath and unsupported, our men were driven from the crest and the German line reformed in front of them.
A new attack, which we undertook on the 11th, failed under flanking fire coming from the villages of Carency, Souchez, and Neuville-Saint-Vaast, and it was evident that these points of resistance must be captured before trying to advance to the ridge.
By minutely prepared operations, Carency was taken on May 12th, Ablain-Saint-Nazaire on the 13th, and Neuville on June 9th. Souchez alone resisted every effort, and it was decided to leave it to be cut off and enclosed in the general attack decided upon for June 16th at 12:15 P.M.
That day, as on May 9th, we succeeded in pushing some units to the top of the crest; but being isolated in a narrow salient and subjected to cross fire as well as the counter attacks of the enemy, they could not maintain themselves there very long, and on the 21st they were driven back. The reaction of both the artillery and infantry of the enemy was most severe along the whole front; except on the Lorette plateau the ground gained was insignificant, and on the 24th General Foch, in obedience to the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, suspended the operations.
At this time General Joffre was planning another manœuvre having for its object the combining of the Artois attacks with a large offensive in Champagne; a new grouping of French forces was therefore carried out in July, August, and the first three weeks of September. During this period, army corps and divisions were rested, organizations rectified, the training of troops resumed, their armament improved.
At this time, General Foch wrote a paper setting forth the conclusions he drew from the recent offensives; this he sent under date of July 19th to the Commander-in-Chief. We find in it the following observations:
“...Under the circumstances now prevailing and in the presence of an enemy organization long since established, it seems wise not to base all our hopes upon the possibility of breaking through, or risk all our available reserves in the attempt to effect a victorious and decisive piercing of the line by mere force of numbers. On the contrary, our plan should be directed towards the conquest of certain dominant points of the terrain; each one of our attacks should have a distinct object, and one whose accomplishment would lead to some further result.
In former times, the capture of such an objective was the necessary and sufficient condition of success. This condition remains necessary today; but while it is no longer sufficient to guarantee a complete success, it at least brings us a step nearer that end. Any other combination is likely to leave us with empty hands after a costly effort....
An attack merely launched forward without a definite and precise objective is incapable of producing a result, especially the result constituted by penetration, unless surprise has been effected.
The greatness of the reward which any attack can bring depends upon the importance which the objective aimed at has in the enemy’s system of defence or in his general situation.
The assignment of forces to our various attacks should be based upon the following principles: first make sure of taking this chief objective by assault, secondly facilitate this main action by secondary ones.”
In General Foch’s eyes, the principal objective remained the Vimy Ridge and he considered that the principal effort should be directed to its conquest, since its loss would be a heavy blow to the enemy’s defensive system. Attacks such as those then being prepared in Champagne were in no sense unimportant, but they should be considered solely as accessories, an aid offered, to the Artois offensive.
In this opinion he differed from that held at General Headquarters, where it continued to be maintained, long after General Foch had ceased to believe in it, that a breakthrough was possible. But since General Headquarters was founding its hopes chiefly upon the Champagne offensive, where a large and decisive rupture of the enemy’s front was counted upon, the Commander-in-Chief, logical with himself, assigned to this attack the major part of the French forces available. On September 25th the two attacks were launched simultaneously, one in Champagne and one in Artois.
In Artois, the Tenth Army had the benefit of a double extension of its field of action; on the one hand, to the south of Arras, where it put a new army corps in line; on the other, between the Lorette plateau and the La Bassée Canal, where the British First Army sent into action a mass of twelve divisions supported by eight hundred pieces of artillery.
After a powerful emission of gas, the British attack started at 6:30 A.M., advanced rapidly, took Loos and Hulluch, captur...

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