A. Hilliard (Andrew Hilliard) Atteridge.

Marshal Ferdinand Foch, his life and his theory of modern war online

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first episode in a long struggle, as to the ultimate result
of which he had no fear. Meanwhile he had at last
had the experience of actual battle. He had led an army
corps in action under the most trying conditions; he
had met a terribly dangerous crisis in the fight with
swift resolution, and helped to save the whole army
from destruction. His own splendid corps had done
well, and he felt it was thoroughly in his hands and
ready for further efforts. Meanwhile he busied liimself
with preparations for the fighting retirement across the
Seille and tlie Meurthe.

His chief, De Castclnau had already decided on the


main lines of the movement. The Second Army was to
fall back to a new position on the French side of the
frontier, covering the Troupe de Charmes — the gap in
the eastern fortress barrier — with the entrenched camp
of Toul on its left and that of Epinal on its right. On
this side, Dubail with the First Army would co-operate
in the next battle. Nancy and the Grand Couronnd
would be held against the enemy.



On August 21st — tlie morrow of the Battle of Morhange
— a welcome reinforcement reached the Second Army.
It was made up of three infantry brigades and several
batteries of artillery belonging to the Ninth Army
Corps, which had mobilized at Tours.

The Ninth Corps had been originally destined for De
Castelnau's army; but, just before the offensive was
ordered, the troops belonging to it, which had already
reached eastern France, had been sent away to
strengthen the Third Army under De Ruffey. A delay
in the mobilization of the three brigades led to their
being sent to the original destination of the whole corps,
when the news arrived of the serious resistance met
with by the Second Army on August 19th. De Castel-
nau placed them under the command of General Leon
Durand, and sent them to reinforce the Reserve Divi-
sions holding the entrenchments of the Grand Couronn^.
This set free the troops of the Twentieth Army Corps
which Foch had already assigned to this position, and
thus enabled him to have his whole corps at his dis-
posal for the important task which De Castelnau now
entrusted to him. The Twentieth Army Corps was to
act as the rear guard of the whole army, and cover its
retirement across the Meurthe to the new battle posi-

The retreat across the frontier — begun on August



21st — was announced in the French official communique
of the 22nd, which while still avoiding any admission
as to the lost battle, stated that " the importance of the
enemy's forces engaged in Lorraine did not allow of
the retention of the ground that had been won, except
at too great a cost." As a set-off to this disappointing
news, it was announced that General Pau had occupied
Mulhouse and captured twenty-four guns and several
thousand prisoners.

On August 21st, Foch re-crossed the river Seille ; and
during this and the following day there was some
fighting, as his corps covered the retirement to the new
line. He protected the crossings of the Meurthe by hold-
ing a position from the southern slopes of the Grand
Couronne to the line of high ground along the south
side of the Marne and Rhine Canal and the little river
Sanon. His front formed a re-entrant angle, so as to
bring a cross fire of artillery on the approaches to the
bridges. During the 21st, though there was some firing,
the enemy made no serious attack ; but on the 22nd the
pursuit was hotly pressed, and there was hard fighting.

Foch held that day the heights on the left bank of
the Meurthe above and below St. Nicolas, covering the
river crossings with his artillery fire. The 4th Chasseurs
defended the bridge of St. Nicolas. On the right bank,
a brigade of the 11th Division with several batteries
held the heights about Flainval against repeated attacks,
and only withdrew across the river after dark, blow,ing
up the bridges. By nightfall, the retreat across the
Meurthe had been successfully completed. The only
French troops left on the right bank were those that
held the Grand Couronne.

It .was while he was preparing for battle that Foch


heard the news of a double personal loss. On August
22nd in the battle of the Ardennes, his only son, Lieu-
tenant Germain Foch had been killed in action, and
also his son-in-law. Captain B^court.

On Sunday, August 23rd, the Second Army was in
position on its chosen battle ground for the defence of
the Charmes Gap. Before following further the course
of events on this front, let us see what was happening
elsewhere on the long line. Without taking note of
these events, the full importance of the battle for the
Gap cannot be understood.

While the Second Army was retiring across the
Meurthe, the French offensive had developed along the
northern frontier. On Friday, August 21st, the Third
and Fourth armies under De Ruffey and De Langle had
advanced into the wooded Ardennes. On the 22nd, they
were defeated by the Crown Prince and the Duke of
Wurtemburg. Want of cohesion between the columns
advancing through the difficult forest and hill country,
inferior numbers, weakness in heavy artillery and
machine guns, and finally a deficiency of aircraft
accounted for the failure. The French fell back across
the frontier to make a stand on the line of the Meuse.

On the same Saturday, De Lanrezac's army on the
Sambre was attacked and defeated by Von Btilow. On
Sunday, the 23rd, while De Castelnau's army was taking
up its positions to hold Nancy and the Charmes Gap,
the Britisli Exj)editionary Force was fighting its first
battle at Mons, and late that evening its retreat began.
Namur liad fallen. De Lanrezac was already in full
retreat, and the Tliird and l\)urth armies had soon to
abandon tlieir positions on the Meuse. The whole line
along the northern frontier was falling back.


So on the mommg of Monday, August 24th, when the
battle of the Trouee de Charmes began, De Castelnau
knew that there had been a series of defeats in the
North, and the German invasion was pouring into
France like a flood that has swept away a river bank.

In front of the Second Army the Germans had
occupied Lun^ville and thrown a number of bridges
across the Meurthe. As the result of the lost battle,
Dubail had abandoned the Donon heights and the
neighbouring line of the Vosges. Pau was withdrawing
from Mulhouse and the Alsatian plain to hold the
mountain frontier. Official accounts of the operations
that followed say that Dubail with the First Army was
ordered by General Joffre and the headquarters staff
to combine with De Castelnau's army in the fight for
the Charmes Gap. But before receiving the order, he
had already decided to take this course, and was help-
ing his colleague most effectively.

The Troupe de Charmes is geographically the opening
between the southern end of the Meuse heights (Cotes
de la Meuse) which extend from Verdun to Toul, and
the long spur of the Vosges that forms the heights of the
right bank of the upper Moselle. Both these lines of
heights are fortified. As already noted, ^6v6 de
Rivieres, when he planned the new defences of France,
left the Gap open. German critics wrote of it as the
" erwunschte Durchbruckstellung," the " desired break-
ing-through point " for an invasion, a trap set for the
German invader where he would have to fight with
fortresses on his flanks or rear and a French army
holding the hills of the Faucilles country in front.

Perhaps this was De Rivieres' idea — an attempt to
canalize the invasion. Behind the Gap, the little town


of Neufcliateau, a place of no importance before the
war of 1870, was made the meeting point of no less than
six railways, and protected by a fort. It looked like an
Intended centre of concentration. In 1895, when the
French army, after the signature of the treaty of alliance
with Russia, executed manceuvres on a huge scale in
the presence of a Russian military mission of eighty
officers under General Dragomiroff. The idea of the
manoeuvre campaign was that an " eastern army " had
penetrated into the Faucilles through the Gap of
Charmes. It was attacked and driven back by the
" western army." Naturally, everyone interpreted the
manoeuvres as a rehearsal of a fight with a German
invader coming through the Gap. But if the trap scheme
ever existed, it had been long abandoned before the
Great War of 1914. The idea of tlie battle which began
on August 24th was to deny the Gap to the invader by
meeting him, not behind it, but in front of it, with De
Castelnau's Second Army based on Toul and Nancy,
and Dubail's First Army based on Epinal.

The fortresses had still their use, and if the battle
were lost the Gap would afford a safe line of retreat
to other good positions in the Faucilles. The Gap
itself would have afforded an excellent line on which to
fight the battle. It is not much more than twenty miles
wide, if we exclude on either flank the ground actually
swept by the guns mounted in the forts of Toul and
Epinal. But to make a stand on this shorter line
would have entailed the sacrifice of Nancy. That the
French leaders chose to fight in advance of such a
tempting position sliows how confident they were in
their men, despite tfie failure before the Morhange


But, as the map shows, their plan enabled a trap of
another kind to be laid for Rupert of Bavaria. De
Castelnau's battle line, with its left on the heights of
the Grand Couronnd, and running southwards by
Saffais towards Essey, formed almost a right-angle with
Dubail's line, which ran from Essey by Baccarat to the
Vosges. The German advance must either be frontul
against one army, exposing a flank to the other, or must
form a sharp salient enveloped by the French from the

On Sunday, August 23rd (the day of Mons), the
Germans had occupied Lun^ville and were advancing
towards the Gap. Next day the great battle began on
a front of about forty-five miles.

We cannot give any exact estimate of the force which
Prince Rupert brought into action ; but it appears that,
besides the Saxon and Bavarian troops, which had
fought in the first battle, he had the support of a con-
siderable part of Von Heeringen's army on his left.

Prince Rupert's plan for the battle was to break the
French right — Dubail's army. He made an attempt to
turn the flank by forcing the Pass of St. Marie in the
Vosges with a corps of Von Heeringen's army. Here,
during the 24:th, the Fourteenth French Army Corps,
reinforced by troops from the garrison of Epinal,
steadily repulsed repeated attacks on the Pass and the
heights on both sides of it. Meanwhile the Bavarians
had pushed along by the Meurthe valley, and at Celles
and Baccarat the Twenty-first Corps had to hold its own
all day against superior numbers. But De Castelnau's
front was also attacked. Advancing across the Mor-
tagne valley on both sides of Gerb^viller, the Germans
flung themselves in dense masses against the high


ground from Saffais to Rozelieure, where the position
was held by the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Corps. The
Fifteenth — the men of Provence — amply redeemed their
failure of a few days before, by their steady resistance.
On the right of De Castelnau's line, about Essey, Con-
neau's cavalry fought dismounted, supported by a divi-
sion of the Eighth Corps. Here the attack was pressed
furiously for hours. " The enemy's columns were every-
where," wrote one of Conneau's officers. " They were
coming up in all directions from the river (the Mor-
tagne), uniting on each side of the Lundville-Bayon
road, which ran through our position. At the same
time the bombardment began. Shells and shrapnel
rained on the Plateau."

As soon as the first German attacks had been repulsed
and it was evident that the line was holding on firmly
to the positions, De Castelnau organized a counter-
attack. The enemy had not ventured to assail the
entrenched heights of the Grand Couronn^, and De
Castelnau was able to detach from its garrison the
70th Reserve Division and two of Durand's brigades
of the Ninth Corps — the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-
fifth. These were placed at General Foch's dis-
posal, in addition to his own Army Corps. The
Twentieth Corps crossed the Meurthe by bridges, under
the cover of the guns of the Grand Couronn^; and
Foch led it against the heights beyond the Sanon,
north of Lun^ville, while the otlier detachments were
pushed forward towards the Luneville-Chtiteau Salins
road, north of the Marne and Rhine Canal. It was a
turning movement against the German right flank and
rear, threatening to cut their communications, and
endangering their whole position. It is evident that


the capture of the heights above the Sanon would be
fatal to the whole German advance. The Germans saw
the danger, and hurried up troops to meet the counter-
attack; but their main masses were already committed
to the attack far to the south and west. By nightfall,
General FayoUe with the French 70th Division was
within two and a half miles of Serres on the Chateau
Salins road, while Foch had reached the heights beyond
the Sanon and stormed Flainval and the neighbouring
villages, and cleared the wood of Crevic of the enemy.

On Tuesday, the 25th, Rupert still persisted in his
attacks, from Saffais to beyond Baccarat, while counter-
attacking to regain the ground so perilously lost, to
the northward. Fayolle could make no further progress.
Foch found that all he could do was stubbornly to main-
tain himself on the heights he had won the day before.
Attacked again and again, he held on to what he held
to be the decisive point of the battlefield. But to feed
these attacks on the heights and to hold the Cha,teau
Salins road. Prince Rupert had to withdraw consider-
able forces from his main battle line. His reserves were
becoming exhausted; and early in the afternoon it was
evident that the German attacks were everywhere losing
their vigour. At 3 p.m. De Castelnau realized from
the reports he received at his headquarters near the
outer forts of Toul, that the time was come for a final
effort. He telegraphed the order : '^ En avant partout
et a fond" — " Forward everywhere and drive it home."

The French now assumed the offensive; and Rupert
of Bavaria with his army in the midst of a huge arc
of converging fire, and attacked from north, west and
south, speedily realized that to prolong the unsuccess-
ful battle might be to court disaster. The German


retreat began. But the Bavarians and Saxons though
defeated were not routed. Not a gun was lost. The
grey masses streamed back, fighting as they went,
through the wide gap between the Chateau Salins road
and the Vosges. They retired during the following
days towards their own frontier, but they fought a
series of steady rearguard actions, and finally halted
on the border waiting to renew the attempt. They
had lost heavily in their reckless and persistent massed
attacks on the Trouee de Charmes positions. It was
a serious defeat, and for awhile no effort was spared to
conceal it from the German people and the other Ger-
man armies. It was a severe disappointment to the
German High Command, coming as it did in the midst
of a series of successes on the other fronts. It was
utterly unexpected; for after his victory at Morhange,
Prince Rupert thought that it would be no diflcult
matter to crush the armies of De Castelnau and

General Joffre made it the subject of a stirring order
of the day, addressed to the other armies, in which he
held up to them the success of the eastern armies as
an encouragement and an example. It was the first
great victory won for France, and one may say that it
made the victorious stand on the Marne possible. Had
the Prince forced the Troupe de Charmes, a new tide of
invasion would have poured through the gap in the
eastern barrier, coming out in the rear of the long
French line, probably isolating Verdun from the upper
Marne region, and preventing the stand that was made
a few days later by the Allied armies, with the right
on the barrier, the left on Paris. The Allies would have
been forced to full back at least as far as the line of


the Seine, and the whole aspect of the campaign would
have been altered for the worse.

Foch had taken a decisive part in this all-important
success. He had proved himself a trusty leader, alike
in defeat at Morhange and in victory at the Trouee de
Charmes. His merit was to be promptly recognized by
giving him a still more important command and the
opportunity of rendering even more striking services
to his country and to the Allied cause.



Early on Saturday, August 29th, while he was watch-
ing one of the regiments driving in a German outpost
on the frontier line, Foch received a telegram, ordering
him to hand over the command of the Twentieth Army
Corps to General Balfourier and come to Chalons to
see General Joffre, and take a more important post.

Ninety miles of good road are soon covered, when
one has a staff car at one's disposal. Foch was at
Chalons in the forenoon of the same day, and found
Joffre at his headquarters there. The Commander-in-
Chief congratulated him on the splendid work he had
done at Nancy, and told him to take command — not of
another Army Corps, but of a group of corps — the
Ninth Army.

The general situation was rapidly discussed. All the
northern armies were in retreat since the beginning of
the week, and for the moment there was no immediate
prospect of the retreat being stopped. The very city,
in which the two generals were meeting, would soon
have to be abandoned to the enemy. But Joffre meant
to make a stand as soon as the German pursuit showed
signs of exhaustion and tlio armies could be brought into
line on a favourable position. It might be on the Marne,
but it might be necessary to fall back to the Seine.
Paris might be attacked. The Government had been
removed to Bordeaux.



Where was the Ninth Army, which Foch was to com-
mand? It had yet to be got together. In fact his first
task was to be its assembly and organization. It was
to be made up of the following bodies of troops : —

Eleventh Army Corps — General Eydoiix.
Thirty-fourth and Thirty-fifth Brigades of the Ninth

Army Corps — General Dubois.
42nd Division — General Grosetti.
52nd Reserve Division — General Battesti.
60th Reserve Division — General Joppe.
Morocco Division — General Humbert.
9th Cavalry Division — General de I'Esp^e.

In many popular histories of the Great War, the Ninth
Army is described as a reinforcement to the French
battle line provided by troops that had become avail-
able after the first mobilization. But every unit in it
was already somewhere in line, either in the eastern
armies or in those that were retiring from the northern
frontier. The only fresh troops were drafts from the
depots arriving to make up for some of the losses
already incurred. The formation of the new army did
not add a single battalion, battery or squadron, to the
total available French fighting force. There was, it
is true, some reinforcement of the fighting line to the
west of the fortress barrier, by the withdrawal of part
of the new organization from the eastern front. But
the main fact was that Joffre had decided that Foch
should be in a position to render more serious services
to France than those of a corps commander, by being
put in command of an army at the head of which he
would have freer scope for his remarkable knowledge
of war and powers of leadership. No higher tribute
was ever paid by one great general to another. It was


an honour to Foch ; but it was also honourable to Joffre,
for one of the highest qualities of a commander-in-chief
in war is the capacity for selecting his subordinate com-

The only troops withdrawn from the eastern frontier
region were the two brigades of the Ninth Army Corps.
These were part of the reinforcement sent to Nancy
after the battle of Morhange, and had been engaged
with Foch's Army Corps in the great counter-attack that
decided the victory of the Troupe de Charmes. They did
not join the Ninth Army till September 4th, on the eve
of the battle of the Marne.

The rest of the new army came from the armies that
had already been engaged on the Belgian frontier, and
were now in retreat southwards. The only unit actually
available, when Foch met Joffre at Chalons, was General
Joppe's 60th Division. It had fought under General
de Langle in the Fourth Army, and had taken part in
the battle of the Ardennes on the river S^mois, and in
the subsequent attempt to hold the line of the Meuse
against the German advance. It had been engaged in
the battle at Donch^ry, * close to the old battlefield of

General Eydoux's Eleventh Army Corps, the only
complete corps to be handed over to Foch, had its peace
headquarters at Nantes. It was made up of the soldiers
of Brittany and La Vendue, good fighting material and
men for whom Foch had a special bond of sympathy.
They were "his Bretons," men of his new homeland,
who like himself were inspired by the old faith of

* Donchr-ry was the point, wliere on the night before the battle of
Sedan, the army of the Crown Prince (afterwards the Emperor Frederic)
crosBpd the Meuse to interpose between MacMahon and the line of
retreat on Mezifirea.


France. They had been with De Langle in the march
into the Ardennes. D'Espee's Cavalry Division had been
with them in the same fighting. The 42nd and 52nd
Divisions had been in the Third Army under Ruffey,
and had taken part in the advance against the Crown
Prince's army on the Luxemburg border. The Third
Army, now transferred to the command of General
Sarrail was concentrated about Verdun. The Morocco
Division — Zouaves and Marine from North Africa — had
reached the northern front on August 22nd, but had
not yet been seriously engaged. It was to be com-
manded by General Humbert who had taken part in
the battle of the Charmes Gap with the detachments of
the Ninth Army Corps.

Within a week the new army was concentrated and
organized. It was a difficult piece of work. A staff
had to be improvised. Only one division was near at
hand ; the rest were mostly on the move from the north.
Foch had to get in touch with them by telephone, tele-
graph or messenger, arrange for their future movements
that would bring his whole force together in one mass,
organize supply arrangements and reserves of ammuni-
tion — and all this in the midst of the ceaseless strain
of the retreat. Looking back on this strenuous week,
Foch said later, of the beginnings of the Ninth Army, —
" We were like a poor household. There was a staff
of five or six officers hastily got together to start with,
little or no working material, only our note-books and
a few maps." One of these first staff officers. Com-
mandant R^quin, tells how on the first night the new
staff found it difficult even to obtain quarters, and he
himself slept in the guard-room of a village among the
soldiers, in order to make sure of being able to rejoin


his General and the rest of the staff in the morning.
" One must imagine," he adds, " the difficulties of
organization and command of an army formed in the
course of the falling-back movements which prepared
the victory of the Marne, among the crowds of the
population fleeing before the horrors of invasion and
encumbering the roads, without the possibility of stop-
ping for a single day."

On September 4th, Foch had his headquarters at
Tours-sur-Marne a few miles to the east of Epernay.
It was a convenient position for collecting his divisions
and brigades from the two armies of D'Esperey and De
Langle. It was between their general lines of retire-
ment; and his army was to take its place between them
when the battle line was formed. Here on the 4th the
concentration w^as joined by the two brigades from
Nancy and the Ninth Army was practically complete,
six days after its formation had begun.

Next day he moved his headquarters some miles
further south to the village of Bergferes-en-Vertus, at an
important road-junction near the town of Vertus and

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Online LibraryA. Hilliard (Andrew Hilliard) AtteridgeMarshal Ferdinand Foch, his life and his theory of modern war → online text (page 11 of 20)