Clara E. (Clara Elizabeth) Laughlin.

Foch the man online

. (page 5 of 7)
Online LibraryClara E. (Clara Elizabeth) LaughlinFoch the man → online text (page 5 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to them when their "blue prints" would not fit
unexpected conditions.

He knew that they expected to take Nancy
easily, that they were looking for some effort
to defend it, but not for a French attack.

They did not know his maxim: *'The best
means of defense is to attack."

He attacked. His Twentieth corps fought
its way through the center of the Bavarian
army, into German Lorraine. Then something
happened. Just what it was is not clear — but
doubtless wnll be some day. The offensive had
to be abandoned and the French troops had
to withdraw from German soil to defend their
own.

How bitter was the disappointment to Foch
we may guess but shall never know. But
remaking plans in his genius.

"What have we to do here ?" he asked him-
self.

Then, "in the twinkling of an eye," says one
military historian, "General Foch found the
solution to the defense problem wherewith he
was so suddenly confronted when his offensive
failed of support."



XIII
THE BATTLE OF LORRAINE

WHAT is known as the battle of Lor-
raine began at the declaration of
war and lasted till August 26—
though the major part of it was fought in the
last six of those days.

I shall not go into details about it here, ex-
cept to recall that it was in this fighting that
General Castelnau lost his oldest son, stricken
almost at the father's side.

A German military telegram Intercepted on
August 27 said:

"On no account make known to our armies
of the west [that is to say, the right wing, in
Belgium] the checks sustained by our armies
of the east [the left wing, in Lorraine]."

So much depended on those plans which
Castelnau and Dubail and Foch — and very par-
ticularly Foch! — had frustrated.

108



THE BATTLE OF LORRAINE 109

Joffre realized what had been achieved. And
on August 2^] he issued the following "order
of the day'' :

"The First and Second armies are at this
moment giving an example of tenacity and of
courage which the commander-in-chief is
happy to bring to the knowledge of the troops
under his orders.

"These two armies undertook a general of-
fensive and met with brilliant success until
they hurled themselves at a barrier fortified
and defended by very superior forces.

"After a retreat in perfect order, the two
armies resumed the offensive and, combining
their efforts, retook a great part of the terri-
tory they had given up.

"The enemy bent before them and his recoil
enabled us to establish undeniably the very
serious losses he had suffered.

"These armies have fought for fourteen
days without a moment's respite, and with an
unshakable confidence in victory as the reward
of their tenacity.

"The general-in-chief knows that the other



no FOCH THE MAN

armies will be moved to follow the example
of the First and Second armies."

Now, where were those other armies ? And
what were they doing?

France had then eight armies in the field,
and was soon to have a ninth — commanded by-
General Foch.

There was the First army, under General
Dubail; the Second, under General Castelnau;
the Third, under General Sarrail; the Fourth,
under General Langle de Gary; the Fifth,
under General Franchet d'Esperey; the Sixth,
under General Manoury; the Seventh and
Eighth armies are not mentioned in the Battle
of the Marne, and I have not been able to find
out where they were in service.

The First and Second armies, fighting in
Lorraine, we know about. They developed, in
that battle, more than one great commander
of whose abilities Joff re hastened to avail him-
self. On the day he issued that order com-
mending the First and Second armies, the gen-
eralissimo called Manoury from the Lorraine
front, where he had shown conspicuous lead-
ership, and put him in command of the newly-



THE BATTLE OF LORRAINE 111

created Sixth army, which was to play the
leading part in routing Von Kluck. And on
the next day (August 28) Joffre called Foch
from Lorraine to head the new Ninth army,
which was to hold the center at the Battle of
the Mame and deal the smashing, decisive
blow.

In two days, while his troops were retreat-
ing before an apparently irresistible force,
Joffre created two new armies, put at the head
of each a man of m.agnificent leadership, and
intrusted to those two armies and their leaders
the most vital positions in the great battle he
was planning.

The German soldiers facing Joffre were act-
ing on general orders printed for them eight
years before, and under specific orders which
had been worked out by their high command
with the particularity of machine specifications.
And all their presumptions were based on the
French doing what Teutons would do in the
same circumstances. Their extra-suspender-
button efficiency and preparedness were pitted
against the flexible genius of a man who could
assemble his two "sliock" armies in two days



112 FOCH THE MAN

and put them under the command of men
picked not from the top of his list of available
commanders, but practically from the bottom.

The Third, Fourth and Fifth armies of
Joffre were those which had sustained the ter-
rific onslaught in the north and had been fight-
ing in retreat, practically since the beginning.

On August 25 Joffre declared: "We have
escaped envelopment" — thanks largely to the
action in Lorraine, holding back the Bavarians
— and, clearly seeing that he could not hope
for favorable results from a great battle
fought in the north, he gave the order for re-
treat which meant the abandonment of north-
eastern France to the Hunnish hordes.

What anguish that order caused him we
shall never know. He realized to the full what
the people of that great, prosperous part of
France would have to suffer. He was aware
what the loss of those resources would mean
to the French, and also what their gain
would mean to the Germans. He under-
stood the effect of retreat upon the mo-
rale of his men. And he must have been aware
of the panic his order would create throughout



THE BATTLE OF LORRAINE 113

the yet-uninvaded parts of France where no
one could know at what point the invasion
would be checked. He knew that the nation's
faith in him would be severely shaken, and
that even his army's faith in him would be put
to a supreme test.

But when a man trains himself to be a com-
mander of men, he trains himself to go
through, heroically and at any cost, what he
believes must be done. To sacrifice one's self
comes comparatively easy — given compelling
circumstances and an obedient soul. But to
sacrifice others never becomes easy to a man
who respects the rights of others. And we
shall never begin to comprehend men like
Joffre and Foch until we shake ourselves free
from any notion we may have that military
expediency makes it easy for them to order
great mental and physical suffering.

General Foch detached himself, on August
29, from his beloved Twentieth corps and be-
took himself to the little village of Machault,
about twenty miles northeast of Chalons-sur-
Marne, where he found assembled for his
command an army made up of units from



114 FOCH THE MAN

other armies. They were all more or less
strange to one another and to him.

There was the Ninth army corps, from
Tours, made up of Angevins (men such as
Foch had learned to know when he was at
Saumur) and Vendeans (the Bretons' south
neighbors). Some of these men had been
fighting without respite for nine days as they
fell back, with the Fourth army, from the Bel-
gian border. With them, since August 22, had
been the remarkable Moroccan division under
General Humbert.

Then there was the Eleventh corps of Bre-
tons and Vendeans, which had been through
the same terrible retreat.

And — not to enumerate too far — there was
that Forty-second division of infantry which
was destined to play one of the most dramatic,
thrilling, forever-memorable parts in all war-
fare. It had been in the Ardennes, and had
fallen back, fighting fiercely as it came.

To help him command these weary men
whose hearts were heavy with forebodings for
France, Foch had, as he himself has said, "a
general staff of five or six officers, gathered



THE BATTLE OF LORRAINE 115

in haste to start with, little or no working
material, our note books and a few maps."

"Those who lived through these tragic hours
near him," says Rene Puaux, ''recall the chief
questioning the liaison officers who did not
know exactly where the different units were,
punctuating his questions with: 'You don't
know ? Very well, then go and find out !' ; put-
ting together in his head the mosaic of which
there were still so many pieces missing; grad-
ually visioning a plan for bringing them
together; calculating his effectives; estimating
approximately his reserves of ammunition ; dis-
covering his bases of food supply."

And through all this stress he had the per-
sonal anguish of being unable to get word of
his only son, Germain Foch, or of his son-in-
law, Captain Becourt, both of whom had been
fighting on the Belgian front.

*Tt was not, however," M. Puaux says, "the
time for personal emotions. The father ef-
faced himself before the soldier. There was
nothing to be thought of save the country."

Thus we see Ferdinand Foch, on the eve
of the first Battle of the Marne.



XIV
THE FIRST VICTORY AT THE MARNE

IT was Saturday, August 29, 19 14, when
General Foch went to Machault to take
command of the various units he was to
weld into the Ninth army.

On the Tuesday following (September i)'
Joffre was quartered with his general staff at
the little old town of Bar-sur-Aube, fifty miles
south of Chalons, and he had then determined
the limits to which he would permit the retreat
of his armies.

If a stand could be taken and an offensive
launched further north than the Aube River,
it should be done; but in no event would the
withdrawal go beyond the Seine, the Aube and
the region north of Bar-le-Duc.

He then placed his armies in the field in
the relation in which he deemed they would
be most effective: the First army, under Gen-

116



FIRST VICTORY AT THE IVIARNE 117

eral Dubail, was in the Vosges, and the Sec-
ond army, under General Castelnau, was round
about Nancy; the Third army, under General
Sarrail, east and south of the Argonne in a
kind of "elbow/* joining the Fourth army,
under General de Langle de Gary; then the
Ninth army, under General Foch; then the
Fifth army, under General Franchet d'Espe-
rey ; then the little British army of three corps,
under General Sir John French; and then the
new Sixth army, under General Manoury.

So Foch, on the third day of organizing his
new command, received orders — at once ter-
rible and immensely flattering — that he was to
occupy the center of Joffre's battle line and
to sustain the onslaught of Von Buelow and
the famous Prussian Guards.

In the morning of Saturday, September 5,
all commanders received from Joffre the now
historic message :

"The moment has come for the army to
advance at all costs and allow itself to be slain
where it stands rather than give way/'

The men to whom this order was relayed
by their commanders had, five-sixths of them,



118 FOCH THE MAN

been ceaselessly engaged, without one single
day's rest of any kind and much of the time
without night rest either, for fourteen days,
fighting as they fell back, and falling back as
they fought; the skin was all worn from the
soles of their feet, and what shoes they had
left were stuck to their feet with blood.

*They had marched under a torrid sky,"
says Louis Madelin, "on scorching roads,
parched and suffocated with dust. In reality
they moved with their hearts rather than with
their legs. According to Pierre Lasserre's
happy expression, 'Our bodies had beaten a re-
treat, but not our hearts.' . . . But when,
worn out with fatigue, faces black with pow-
der, blinded by the chalk of Champagne, almost
dying, they learned Joffre's order announcing
the offensive, then the faces of our troops from
Paris to Verdun beamed with joy. They
fought with tired limbs, and yet no army ever
showed such strength, for their hearts were
filled with faith and hope."

At daybreak on Sunday, the 6th, Foch
pitched his headquarters in a modern chateau
near the little village of Pleurs, which you



FIRST VICTORY AT THE MARNE 119

probably will not find on any map except a mili-
tary one, but it is some six miles southeast of
Sezanne. And the front assigned to Foch
ran from Sezanne to the Camp de Mailly,
twenty-five miles east by a little south. The
Marne was twenty-five miles to north of
him. Between him and its south bank were
many towns and villages; the clay pocket (ten
miles long) called the Marshes of St. Gond,
but far from marshy in that parching heat;
and north of that the forest of Epernay. His
vanguards were north of the marshes. But
as that Sunday wore on, the Prussian Guards
drove Foch's Angevins and Vendeans of the
Ninth Corps back and occupied the marshes.
The Bretons on the east of Foch's line were
obliged to dislodge, and the Moroccans and
Forty-second Division had to yield on Foch's
left.

Thus, at nightfall of the first day's fighting,
Foch's new army had given ground practically
everywhere.

The next day the German attack became
fiercer, and it seemed that more ground must
be yielded.



120 FOCH THE MAN

That was the day when Foch made his
memorable deduction: "They are trying to
throw us back with such fury I am sure that
means things are going badly for them else-
where and they are seeking compensation."

He was right! Von Kluck was retiring in
a northeasterly direction under Manoury's
blows; and even Von Buelow (whom Foch
faced) was withdrawing parts of his troops
from the line at Foch's left.

But the attempt to break through the center
Foch held, waxed fiercer as the Germans real-
ized the strength opposing them on their right.

And on Tuesday, the 8th, Foch was unable
to hold — save at certain points — and had to
move his headquarters eleven miles south, to
Plancy.

He had now reached the Aube, beyond which
Joffre had decreed that he must not retire.
On its north bank his gallant army must, if it
could not do otherwise, ''allow itself to be
slain where it stands rather than give way."

On that evening he sent Major Requin to
the Forty-second Division V\^ith orders for the
morrow. The most incredible orders!



FIRST VICTORY AT THE MARNE 121

The enemy had found his point of least
resistance — on his right wing. He ought to
strengthen that wing, but he could not. All
the reserves were engaged — and the enemy
knew it as well as he did. And it is a fixed
principle of war not to withdraw active troops
from one part of the line to strengthen
another.

Only one part of his army had had any
success that day: Toward evening the Forty-
second Division and the Moroccans had made
an irresistible lunge forward and driven the
enemy to the north edge of the marshes.

They were weary — those splendid troops —
but they were exalted ; they had advanced !

Foch believes in the power of the spirit.
He appealed to the Forty-second to do an
extraordinary thing — to march, weary as it
was, from left to right of his long line and
brace the weak spot. And to cover up the
gap their withdrawal would make he asked
General Franchet d'Esperey to stretch out the
front covered by his right wing and adjoining
Foch's left.

In a letter to me, Lieutenant Colonel (then



122 FOCH THE MAN

Major) Requin gives some graphic bits
descriptive of that historic errand. He was
a sort of liaison officer between General Gros-
setti, commanding the Forty-second Division,
and the latter's chief, General Foch, his special
duty being to carry General Foch's orders to
General Grossetti and to keep the army chief
informed, each evening, how his commands
were being carried out.

"It was 10 P.M.," he writes, "when I roused
General Grossetti from his sleep in the straw,
in the miserable little shell-riddled farm of
Chapton.

"The order astonished him; but like a
disciplined leader, he started to execute it with
all the energy of which this legendary soldier
was capable."

The Forty-second came! While they were
marching to the rescue the Prussian Guard in
a colossal effort smashed through Foch's right.
They were wild with joy. The French line
was pierced. They at once began celebrating,
at La Fere-Champenoise.

When this was announced to Foch he tele-
graphed to general headquarters:



FIRST VICTORY AT THE MARNE 123

"My center gives way, my right recedes;
the situation is excellent. I shall attack." '

For this, we must remember, is the man who
says: "A battle won is a battle in which one
is not able to believe one's self vanquished."

He gave the order to attack. Everything
that he cared about in this world was at stake.
This desperate maneuver would save it all —
or it would not. He gave the order to attack
— ^and then he went for a walk on the out-
skirts of the little village of Plancy. His com-
panion was one of his staff officers, Lieutenant
Ferasson of the artillery; and as they walked
they discussed metallurgy and economics.

There could be nothing more typically
French or more diametrically opposed to the
conceptions of French character which pre-
vailed in other countries before this war. And
I hope that if Lieutenant Ferasson survives, he
will accurately designate (if he can) exactly
where Foch walked on that Wednesday after-
noon, September 9, when, his center having
given way, his right wing receded, he pro-
nounced the "situation excellent," gave the



124 FOCH THE MAN

order for attack, and went out to discuss
metallurgy.

Toward six o'clock on that evening the Ger-
mans, celebrating their certain victory, saw
themselves confronted by a "new" French
army pouring into the gap they had thought
their road to Paris.

The Forty-second Division (more than half
dead of fatigue, but their eyes, blazing with
such immensity and intensity of purpose it has
been said the Germans fled, as before spirits,
when they saw these men) had not only
blocked the roundabout road to Paris; they
had broken the morale of Von Buelow's crack
troops. Without this brilliant maneuver and
superb execution the successes of all the other
armies must have gone for naught.

"To be victorious," said Napoleon, "it is
necessary only to be stronger than your enemy
at a given point and at a given moment."

Foch^s preferred way to take advantage of
that given point and moment is with reserves,
which he called the reservoirs of force. "The
art of war consists in having them when the
enemy has none."



FIRST VICTORY AT THE MARNE 125

But as there were no reserves available at
that first Battle of the Marne, he exempHfied
his other principle that conditions must be met
as they arise.

"I still seem/* says Rene Puaux, "to hear
General Foch telling us, one evening after din-
ner at Cassel several months later, about that
maneuver of September 9.

"He had put matches on the tablecloth" —
some red matches which Colonel Requin
treasures as a souvenir — "and he illustrated
with them the disposition of the troops en-
gaged. For the Forty-second Division he had
only half a match, which he moved here and
there with his quick, deft fingers as he talked.

"The match representing the Twelfth Ger-
man Corps (which with the Prussian Guard
was cutting the gap in Foch's weak spot) was
about to make a half-turn which would bring
it in the rear of the French armies.

"The general, laying down the half-match
that was the Forty-second Division, made an
eloquent gesture with his hand, indicating the
move that the Forty-second made.

" Tt might succeed,' he said, laconically, 'or



126 FOCH THE MAN

it might fail. It succeeded. Those men were
exhausted ; they won, nevertheless.' "

At nine o'clock the next morning (Septem-
ber lo) the Forty-second entered La Fere-
Champenoise, where they found officers of the
Prussian Guard lying, dead drunk, on the
floors in the cantonments, surroimded by innu-
merable bottles of stolen champagne where-
with they had been celebrating their victory.

Two days later Foch was at Chalons, to
direct in person the crossing of the Marne by
his army in pursuit of the fleeing enemy,

"The cavalry, the artillery, the unending
lines of supply wagons," says Colonel Requin,
"the infantry in two columns on either side of
the road; all this in close formation descend-
ing like a torrent to resume its place of battle
above the passage on the other side of the
river ; was an unforgettable sight and one that
gave all who witnessed it an impression of the
tremendous energy General Foch has for the
command of enormous material difficulties."



XV

SENT NORTH TO SAVE THE CHAN-
NEL PORTS

GERMANY'S plan to enter France by
the east gate, in Lorraine, was frus-
trated with the aid of Foch.

Her plan to smash through the center of
the armies on the Marne was frustrated, with
the very special aid of Foch.

Blocked in both these moves, there was just
one other for Germany to make, then, on the
western front.

And on September 14, Joffre, instead of
celebrating the victory on the Marne, was deep
in plans to forestall an advance upon the Chan-
nel ports, and began issuing orders for the
transfer of his main fighting bodies to the
north.

All this, of course, had to be done so as to

127



128 FOCH THE MAN

leave no vulnerable spot in all that long battle
line from Belfort to Calais.

Joffre had clearly foreseen the length of
that line. He predicted it, as we have seen,
in 1 9 12. Doubtless he had foreseen also that
it would be too long a line to direct from one
viewpoint, from one general headquarters.
What he was too wise to try to foresee before
the war began was, which one of France's
trained fighting men he would call to his aid
as his second in command. He waited, and
watched, before deciding that.

And late in the afternoon of October 4 he
telegraphed to General Foch at Chalons, tell-
ing him that he was appointed first in com-
mand under the generalissimo, and asking him
to leave at once for the north, there to co-
ordinate the French, English and Belgian
forces that were opposing the German march
to the sea.

Five weeks previously Foch had been called
to the vicinity of Chalons to assemble an army
just coming into existence. Now he was called
to leave Chalons and that army he had come
to know — ^that army of which he must have



TO SAVE THE CHANNEL PORTS 129

been so very, very proud — and go far away to
another task of unknown factors.

But in a few hours he had his affairs in
order and was ready to leave.

It was ten o'clock that Sunday night when
he got into his automobile to be whirled from
the Marne to the Somme.

At four in the morning he was at Breteuil,
where General Castelnau had the headquarters
of his new army, created on September 20 and
designated to service on Manoury's left. Gen-
eral Castelnau had not yet heard of the gen-
eralissimo's new order. He was sound asleep
when the big gray car came to a stop at the
door of his headquarters after its one-hundred-
and-fifty-mile dash through silent towns and
dark, war-invested country.

Six weeks ago Foch had been his subordi-
nate. Then they became equals in command.
Now the magnificent hero of Lorraine who,
before the war, had done so much on the
Superior War Council to aid Joffre in reorgan-
izing the army, rose from his bed in the chill
of a fall morning not yet dawned, to greet his
superior officer.



130 FOCH THE MAN

Some black coffee was heated for them, and
for two hours they discussed the problems of
this new front — Castelnau as eager to serve
under Foch, for France, as, eight weeks ago,
Foch had been to serve under Castelnau. If
the sublime unselfishness of such men could
have communicated itself to some of the minor
figures of this war, how much more inspiring
might be the stories of these civilian com-
manders !

At six o'clock Foch was under way again —
to Amiens, Doullens, St. Pol, and then, at nine,
to Aubigny, where General Maud'huy had the
headquarters of his army, holding the line
north of Castelnau's.

The difficulties of Foch's new undertaking
were not military alone, but diplomatic. He
had to take account of the English and Belgian
armies, each under independent command, and
each small. It was the fitness of Foch for the
diplomacy needed here, as well as his fitness
for the great military task of barring the
enemy from the Channel ports, that deter-
mined Joffre in nominating him to the place.

In 1 9 12 General Foch had been the head



TO SAVE THE CHANNEL PORTS 131


1 2 3 5 7

Online LibraryClara E. (Clara Elizabeth) LaughlinFoch the man → online text (page 5 of 7)