Ferdinand Foch.

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The translator would like to point out, though
the direction should hardly be necessary, that he
has introduced no modification, criticism, or even
elucidation of his original even in a footnote, and
that the historical statements appearing especially
in the introductory sketch or study are their
author's alone. He would further point out that
such divergences from a literal rendering of the text
as may be observed are due to nothing more than
the necessity of rendering modern French into
passably readable English. To translate idiomatic
French into idiomatic English is impossible. The
most that can be done is a rendering, and even so
the mere sense of the original can only be procured
at the expense of a certain foreign flavour : so
widely have the modes of thought and expression
in France and England diverged since the eighteenth











By Major A. Grasset, of the French

Ferdinand Foch was born on the 4th of August,
1 85 1, at Tarbes; his father was at that moment
Secretary-General to the Prefecture. He began
his schooling in a college of that town, continued
it at Rodez, then at Polignan with the Jesuits,
and ended at the Jesuit College of St. Michel at
Saint-Etienne, where his father had been appointed
Treasurer and Paymaster.

He was studious and concentrated in his work,
and rather more serious than his years might allow
for. As he was inclined to physics and history,
the Jesuit fathers had determined to send him to
the Polytechnic. In 1869 they sent him to Metz,
to their celebrated establishment of Saint Clement
in that town ; and there he passed one year coaching
for the examination.

The Franco-Prussian war broke out before this
year was over, and young Foch, who had every
prospect of success in the entrance competition,
enlisted as a volunteer; but the armistice came
before he had completed his training in depot,
and before he could do anything for his country,
he witnessed the disaster. His vocation for the


Army was not affected; but he understood now
that enthusiasm and faith are not enough to secure
victory ; that science must be added. And without
losing a moment he returned to his work.

The College of Saint Clement at Metz was occupied
by the German soldiery, who filled its courts and
corridors. Nancy, where his entrance examination
for the Polytechnic was held, the old capital of
Lorraine, was the headquarters of Manteuffel, and
the Stanislas Square echoed every evening with the
sound of the German marching and with their bugle
calls. Every evening, as he came in after the
day's examination work, Ferdinand Foch looked
out upon those scenes ; and he never forgot them.

On the ist of November, 1871, he entered the
Polytechnic School. In 1873 he was at Fontaine-
bleau; in 1875, Lieutenant in the 24th of Artillery
at Tarbes. As he was keen upon horsemanship,
he entered Saumur in 1877; he became Captain
in the 10th Regiment of Artillery at Rennes, in
1878, and entered the School of War in 1885. He
was attached to the Staff of the Montpellier Division
up to 1 89 1, in which year be reached the rank of
Major, and was summoned to the 3rd Bureau of
the General Staff of the Army. After commanding
a group of mounted batteries of the 13th Regiment
of Artillery at Vincennes, he was recalled, in 1894,
to the General Staff of the Army, and finally ap-
pointed, on the 31st of October, 1895, Supplementary
Professor of Military History, Strategy and Tactics.
In 1896 he received his promotion as Lieutenant-
Colonel and the full title of Professor.

Colonel Foch's lectures produced a profound im-
pression on all the officers who were privileged to
hear them. The man had personal magnetism.
He was clean-cut in figure and careful in manner.
" He struck every one," says a witness of this
phase in his career, " by the mixture of energy with


calm and directness in his expression. He spoke
without gestures, with authority and conviction,
in a grave, somewhat monotonous voice, invariably
appealing to logical process, and even having
recourse to mathematical metaphors. He was
sometimes difficult to follow through the exuberant
wealth of idea that lay behind his words, but he
held one's attention by the depth of his views as
much as by the sincerity of his accent."

These lectures, which trained several generations
of officers of the Staff, are contained in two books,
The Conduct of War and The Principles of War.
The leading ideas which appear in these treatises
are simple and illuminating. In their largest lines
they are somewhat as follows —

War, as Napoleon said, is a simple art and lies
wholly in its execution.

Foch reiterates this. The art of war is simple,
in its widest sense, for the most marvellous con-
ceptions of strategy are open for any one to under-
stand, and are discussed every day in general
conversation. Yes, the art is simple enough in its
conception, but, unfortunately, complicated in its
execution; for that execution necessitates the
accommodation of profound knowledge in the
material and moral means at one's disposal with an
equally profound knowledge of the highly compli-
cated organization of an army. The execution of
any strategical conception also demands in the
general a commanding will, a tenacity, an energy
and a strength of soul which no disaster can reduce.
And all these qualities must be made in some
fashion to produce their irresistible effect upon the
mass of which he is the chief. The art of war, there-
fore, simple though it be in theory, is, in practice,
accessible to but a very small number of men.

What are the steps by which one may initiate
oneself in this art ?


First of all, the soldier must appreciate the great-
ness of his task and rise to it ; he must train himself
to think in terms of his business, and to reach that
state of mind the best thing is, obviously, to have

Now it is not possible to obtain experience with-
out actually making war, and, moreover, without
making war continually.

But this would seem impossible, for war is of
its nature no more than a violent crisis, and,
normally, a temporary one.

Yet there are two other means of acquiring

First the study of history, the consideration of
events that have taken place in war, and of the
campaigns of the great captains. It was upon
these lines that Napoleon trained himself.

Secondly, there is the study of concrete cases;
that is, of problems based upon realities as opposed
to deduct ve abstractions. Here is a particular
known piece of ground, a general situation which
can be defined; a body of troops of which the
material and moral value are known; here is a
definite order given to these troops. Given all
these data, the object of one's study consists in
discovering how, in such circumstances, one may
reach a decision through action, for which decision
reasons can be given. And the role of the pro-
fessor is this : to appeal continually to the common
sense and intelligence of his pupils until he has
created in them the habit of treating all questions
in one spirit ; he will then have brought into being
a unity of doctrine which, in the moment of need,
when every executant has to act on his own full
initiative, will assure a perfect co-ordination of
effort from all those brains towards the common
objective assigned by the higher command.

Let us suppose the soldier, trained in such a


method as the pupil of such a teacher, to have
become a leader in his turn. He finds himself
in the actual presence of those formidable problems
which he had hitherto envisaged only in thought;
how will he solve those problems?

In the first place, the leader must have a plan of
operations, and this plan will be directly dependent
upon the geographical situation of the belligerents,
their separate customs, characters and power.
That plan has for its object, of course, victory.
And because victory can only be obtained by battle
and by the destruction of the enemy's forces, battle
is the one object which the chief bears in mind :
immediate battle founded upon sudden attack if
the general situation is in favour of it; prolonged
battle, awaiting better conditions, if the state of
one's forces demands such delay.

Knowing what his objective is, the chief must
eliminate, in the presence of reality, all- hypothesis
and even every memory which might obscure his
vision of the actual situation in front of him.
What thing am I handling? What is the thing I
have to deal with? That is the first question he
must set out to answer.

Now that question is a terribly complicated one.
The unknown is the very essence of war. Where
does the enemy stand? What is his strength?
What are his intentions?

There is only one way in which to answer those
questions, and they will always be answered most
imperfectly. That way is to reconnoitre the enemy
in every possible fashion : to complete one's informa-

This done, the general must act upon the precise
information he has obtained, and not upon pre-
conceived ideas or upon hypotheses, which very
rarely correspond with reality, however logically
one may have framed them. Put thus, this way


of acting seems so natural as to be almost childishly
simple; it is none the less very difficult to realize
in practice, and the proof is that Moltke himself
never learned to carry it out.

For we must appreciate that it is not enough
for the various organs of intelligence to gather
precise information, difficult as that task is; it is
further necessary that such information should
reach the chief in time to be used — that is, not too
late for him to act freely : not too late for him to
accept or to provoke a combat if it is presented
to him in good conditions, or to refuse it if the
conditions are unfavourable. ,

The instrument guaranteeing such liberty of
action, the instrument which Napoleon used and
which Moltke never managed to restore, was and
is the General Advance Guard.

Seeing the great masses which are brought into
action to-day, if they are to collaborate in time for
battle, this Advance Guard should be strong enough
to fix the enemy, once he is in contact with one's
cavalry, and oblige him to premature deployment,
which will betray, if he is not very careful, the
strength of his forces; which will disorganize him
and leave him in bad condition for manoeuvring
the bulk of his army.

That the succeeding events of the action should
develop according to the will of the chief, he must
make his intentions clear to his subordinates.
" Command " never yet meant " obscurity." When
every one has been given his direction, each in his
own sphere collaborates in the common work.
Each feels that a part of the general responsibility
is upon him, each feels that the success of the man-
oeuvre in hand in part depends upon his own effort,
and this because each knows what the general task is.

The commander cannot think for every one; he
cannot immix himself in all details ; he cannot lead


every executant by the hand : armies are not
manoeuvred like pieces upon a chess-board.

We begin, then, with a doctrine ; that is, a common
conception of war. All the brains at work are
trained and have a common way of approaching
the problems they have to solve. The data of a
problem being known, each will solve it after his
own manner, but these thousand separate manners
will harmoniously diverge towards the common

Now suppose action engaged. A leader worthy
of the name will, under all circumstances, avoid the
parallel battle. In this two armies are drawn up in
two ever-extending lines facing each other. In such
a battle the result, of necessity, depends upon the
mere valour or ability of the soldiers; it is at the
mercy of any incident, as of a local panic, and
the General commanding is deprived of all means of
action. He has abdicated his function through
ignorance or sloth, and can do nothing to master
his fate.

True battle is the battle of manoeuvre in which,
thanks to the forces which the commander has
reserved and constituted in such time that they
can be usefully employed, thanks also to the
judicious application of that fruitful principle
" the economy of forces," it is he, and he alone,
who will preside over the various phases of the
struggle, and will at last be definitely the master
of its decision. Where he chooses and when he
chooses he will launch the decisive attack which is
the expression of his will, and which alone gives

Battle is the supreme act of war. It should,
therefore, be kept in hand fully and thoroughly
without room for hesitation. All should take part
in it with all their strength and with all the means
at their disposal. Therefore, in the supreme act,


there should be no strategic reserve; there should
be no important bodies left in the rear inactive
and wasted while the fate of the war is decided.

Above all, this tremendous drama demands of
each one of us not only the complete sacrifice
of himself but the very maximum of effort and
endurance; he must clearly appreciate that there
will come, almost fatally, a certain moment of
crisis when the nerves of a force will be strained
to their utmost, when human capacity will seem
to have reached its limit, and when the dangers
and obstacles present will appear insurmountable.
That is the moment when we must fall back upon
the conception that spirit always dominates matter ;
that in spite of the most crushing weight of apparent
circumstance, in spite of the most formidable
effects of the most modern instruments of de-
struction, it is always (in the long run) the moral
effort which triumphs over the material one. It
is always the spiritual side which impresses the

Victory resides in the will, and a battle won is
a battle in which one has not admitted oneself

Victory always comes to those who merit it by
their greater strength of will and of intelligence.

But this unshakable determination on the part
of the Chief to achieve victory, all the enthusiasm
and all the faith which he himself may possess,
would be sterile if he could not communicate them
in their entirety to the souls of his soldiers. " For
an army is to its commander what a sword is to a
man; it has no value save through the impulsion
which its bearer gives it. It is the influence of
the Command, through the enthusiasm it com-
municates, that explains those sub-conscious move-
ments in a human mass during those grave moments
when, without knowing why, the army opens up


the field of battle and feels itself carried forward
as though it were charging down a slope."

Let there be no error on this point : " Generals,
not soldiers, win battles; and a general who has
been defeated is one who has not understood the
task of leadership." The man who wrote this was
not Marshal Foch, the victor of the Marne, of the
Yser and the Battle of France in 1918; it was
Lieutenant-Colonel Foch who signed that challenging
definition in 1898.

There is no conception more simple nor any in
execution more terribly difficult than this, which is
the very art of war : to learn the enemy's situation,
to think matters out, and to will.

To understand the difficulty of this business of
" willing," of " knowing how to will " — to get a
fairly clear idea of it — it is worth remembering that
the lives of many thousand men and the future of
a whole country are often bound up in the result
of one battle. Remembering this, one can guess
what strength of soul is required in a man of warm
emotion — a strong patriot — that he should dare to
risk a decision. That is why the great Captains of
history bear the names of Alexander, Caesar, Han-
nibal and Napoleon. That is why, in twenty
centuries, we have only produced a half-dozen of

Foch was a man of such emotion, of such faith,
and of such sense of duty. He made it his busi-
ness to impress upon his pupils by what means the
spiritual forces of an army might be indefinitely
increased and rendered capable of passing the
supreme test. He said : " In our time, which
thinks it can do without ideals, that it can reject
what it calls abstractions, and nourish itself on
realism, rationalism and positivism; which thinks
it can reduce all questions to matters of science
or to the employing of more or less ingenious


expedients ; at such a time, I say, there is but one
resource if you are to avoid disaster, and only one
which will make you certain of what course to
hold upon a given day. It is the worship — to the
exclusion of all others — of two Ideas in the field of
morals : duty and discipline. And that worship
further needs, if it is to bear fruit and produce
results, knowledge and reason."

Foch himself had yet another resource, of which
he only spoke once, and that lately, for he knew
that it was not obtainable at will. " They are
blessed," he said one day, " who are born be-
lievers; but they are rare ..." and he suggested
to his audience that faith also is a matter of will,
as is strength, and as is instruction.

In 1900, General Bonnal succeeded General
Langlois as Commander of the School of War. We
have already said that Colonel Foch was a believer :
he stood utterly outside the political game ; he was
entirely absorbed by his great duties as a soldier.
His feelings upon this matter were too deep and
his emotion too noble to permit him, for any motive
whatsoever, to consider even for a moment the
admission of any constraint, however small, upon
his religious practice.

The period was a troubled one. A brother of
the Colonel was a Jesuit. There were some who
took alarm at that. There were some who thought
it impossible to allow so ardent a Catholic to have
the mission of training the officers of the General
Staff. In 1901 Colonel Foch was sent back to
command a regiment. He left the school in good
heart and took up garrison life again.

This eclipse hurt his career but did not interrupt
his work ; we may even say that the leisure imposed
by it was favourable to the growth and ripening
of those ideas which have proved so fruitful.


In 1903 he was promoted full Colonel and called
to command of the 35th Regiment of Artillery at

In 1905 he was the Chief of Staff of the 5th
Army Corps at Orleans. In 1907 he was promoted
to the rank of Brigadier-General and summoned to
the General Staff of the Army. At that moment
General Bonnal had just left the command of the
School of War, and the question of his successor
was raised.

M. Clemenceau had also at that moment just
become Prime Minister. He sent for General
Foch, and the following conversation took place
between the two men.

" I wish to offer you the command of the School
of War."

" Thank you ; but doubtless you are not ignorant
that one of my brothers is a Jesuit ? "

" I know that, and I care nothing for it. You
can make good officers, and the rest is of no account."

The next day, therefore, General Foch took on
the direction of the School of War.

Convinced as he was that " the art of war "
(according to Napoleon's expression) " is a science
in which nothing succeeds which has not been
calculated and thoroughly thought out"; con-
vinced as he also was that to acquire that com-
plicated science hard work was even more useful
than genius, Foch had the good fortune to make
people understand that the two years' course in
the School of War in Paris could not yield a result
comparable to the three years' course of the Ger-
man Staff-training in the War Academy of Berlin.
In spite of opposition to his scheme, he was allowed,
by way of experiment, to keep the fifteen best
students at the end of their second year for a third
year's course, this third year to be given to the study
of operations in an army and a group of armies.


This reform would have been well received if it
had been applied to all students, but the com-
promise adopted caused the system to be con-
demned. The objection was made that the very
few officers chosen (by what was, after all, only
the chance of an examination) to remain a third
year in Paris, would find themselves at the opening
of their career specially marked out and designed,
as it were, to be Marshals — simply because they
had been better at lectures than the rest, or
because they were more precocious, or because
they happened to have a better memory than
their comrades, whose fundamental character
and abilities were perhaps superior. Jealousies
arose and a certain amount of bitterness. There
was also an element of parliamentary intrigue.
In a word, this reform, which, had it been fully
applied, would certainly have given excellent
results, broke down.

General Foch, promoted to be General of Division
in 191 1, was given the command of the 13th
Division at Chaumont; then, in 1912, of the 8th
Army Corps, which he left on the 23rd of August,
1913, to take up the command of the 20th Army
Corps at Nancy.


The General in Command
The 20th Army Corps. Morhange

When the war broke out, it found General Foch
at the head of the advance guard covering the

The 20th Army Corps formed a portion of the
army commanded by General Castelnau. From


the 7th of August the whole of this army was in
line ready for action, covering Nancy; at Lune-
ville and Epinal; facing Metz and Chateau-Salins.

On the 14th of August this army took the offen-
sive. The 20th Corps, which was flanked on the
left by the 9th Corps and on the right by the 15th,
had for its first objective the heights that mark
the frontier. The Germans were strongly en-
trenched there. After severe losses the resistance
of the enemy was overcome, and he retired, evacu-
ating Vic, Moyenvic and Chateau-Salins. He took
up a new position 15 kilometres to the north,
marked by the points of Delme, Morhange and
Sarrebourg. This position had been organized
very strongly and very secretly for some time past,
and was abundantly provided with machine-guns
and heavy artillery.

That modern heavy artillery, of which General Foch
had already foreseen the effect in battle, proved here,
as in Belgium and in Luxemburg and in Alsace,
the hidden and powerful ally of the German in-
fantry. It was a distant adversary whose blows
our soldiers received without being able to reply
to them or knowing whence they came ; no courage
and no cunning could stand against those new
means of action.

On the 20th of August the 20th Corps, with its
customary gallantry, struck at the heights of
Martrnl, of Baronville and of Conthil. It had for
its task the capture of Morhange and the carrying
of Benestroff, the last a nodal point of railways,
and therefore of capital importance. It was de-
fended by the army of the Crown Prince of Bavaria,
picked troops, equal in number to the French and
with far superior weapons.

The losses were very heavy, all the more so
because the attack was so desperately pushed.

On the left the 9th Corps, threatened upon its


flank by enemy forces which had come out of Metz,
was checked. To the right of it, in the district
known as that of " the ponds," the 15th Corps fell
back. This retirement uncovered the right flank
of the 20th Corps, which was thus exposed to the
blows of the 7th German Army.

It would have been folly to have held on; the
expected victory had to be abandoned, though every-
body thought it certain, and they retired upon the
Meuse, which was reached on the 22nd of August.

The situation was critical. The right of the
second army would seem to be out of action for
some time; the enemy could, therefore, either
drive straight on to the Gap of Charmes, through
the unoccupied gap which now yawned between
the armies of General Dubail and General de Castel-

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