Ferdinand Foch

Ferdinand Foch

(1851-1929)

Known for his audacity and belief in a relentless offense, Ferdinand Foch, born in Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrenees, France, studied at the Ecole Polytechnique and became a lieu¬ tenant of artillery in 1873. Foch believed in the rules of war established by Napoleon (see no. 67), but he failed to appreciate the differ¬ ence that machine gun and trench warfare would make on the battlefield in the future.

Foch was already a general when World War I began. He led his men in an inspired defense of the St. Gond area during the criti¬ cal Battle of the Marne (September 6-9, 1914). During the “Race to the Sea” that fol¬ lowed the Marne, Foch won the attention and admiration of General Joseph Joffre of France, who became his patron. Joffre sent Foch north to coordinate movements of the French, British and Belgian armies, no small task given their differences in language and temperament.

Foch commanded the northern army group during 1915 and 1916. He was criti¬ cized by his allies for his troop allotments during the German gas attack at Ypres, and he failed to make any noticeable gains during the Somme campaign (1916). The lowest point of his career came when Joffre was removed from overall command, but Foch bounced back to prominence when Joffre’s replacement was himself replaced by General Henri Petain (see no. 84). Foch became chief of the general staff in 1917.

Germany made an enormous effort to break the deadlock early in 1918. During a collapse in the allied line, French and British leaders agreed to name Foch “generalissimo” of the combined forces. Belgium and the United States followed suit, making Foch the supreme allied commander for the rest of the war.

The German attacks faltered in June, and by July, Foch was on the offensive everywhere.He disagreed frequently with General John Pershing of the United States. Foch wanted to establish his dominance in the relationship, but had to accept the fact that the two mil¬ lion American soldiers were essential to the war effort. Foch planned and coordinated the tremendous allied offensives that broke the Siegfried Line on the German border and brought the German diplomats to the peace table. Foch himself dictated the terms of the armistice to the Germans in a railway car at Compiegne on November 11, 1918. It was sweet satisfaction for the man who had wit¬ nessed his nation’s defeat in the Franco- Prussian War 48 years earlier.

Foch was disappointed by the Treaty of Versailles; he believed it was too soft on the Germans. He made a tour of the United States in 1921, and received numerous honors from various countries prior to his death.