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AT THE SUPREME
WAR COUNCIL




Keystone View Co., Inc.



MARSHAL FOCH



AT THE SUPREME
WAR COUNCIL



BY



CAPTAIN PETER E. WRIGHT

LATB ASSISTANT SBCRBTART, SUPREME
WAR COUNCIL



G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
Zbc ■ftnicKerbocfter press

1921



Copyright, 1921

by
Peter E. Wright

Printed in the United Slates of America



y"t^




W Ua



PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION

Though it has hardly been detected by the

many and hostile critics of this book, my main

object in writing it was to establish the truth on a

niimber of points: for a nimiber of plain truths

about the war had been obscured for the public,

or rather never revealed to it, at all. Many of my

views, here expressed, are, and perhaps always will

be, debatable: for men always have, and always

will, argue for ever about battles, and no estimate

^ of a himian character can be fixed or final. But

g there is one fact which is unshaken and imshak-

^ able, and which was no less a shock to the public

^ than it had been to myself when it came to my

2 knowledge. In this war we, the Allies, were big

and our enemies small during almost the whole

contest. Yet they held out for four years, and

nearly won.

Now, with great deference, given my himible
miUtary rank, I find a moral in this, of great im-
port to my own fellow-coimtrymen, and perhaps of



345578



PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION

tremendous import to their kinsmen in the United
States. That moral is rather commonplace, like
all morals, and it is that you cannot improvise in
war: like all other vast practical enterprises it
needs preparation to be successful. The Anglo-
Saxons have never really believed this, and re-
mained obstinately opposed to, and contemptuous
of, military life. They are likely to be confirmed
in their error by their success: for now the Teu-
tonic and Slav rivals have collapsed, they stand
almost as the pre-eminent race. If they can win
wars without being military, it is hardly likely they
will come to think that it is necessary to be military
in order to win wars.

This little book aims at telling them that, in
spite of a vast preponderance in ntimbers as well
as in all other forms of military strength, they
nearly lost. Reflecting sincerely, and, I hope,
without immodesty, on the great British efforts, it
seems to me that the evil of improvisation, and the
advantage of preparation, do not lie on the sur-
face, and cannot be easily detected. A nation of
sportsmen and business men can rapidly create all
that makes a great army, men, officers, material,
and enthusiasm. One thing, however, cannot be
created ofifhand and at will, but is the fruit of long



PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION

efforts and the work of generations — command,
great leaders, and the right conceptions of strategy.
The greatest problem and practice we had ever
given our Regtdar Army in Europe was handling
four skeleton divisions at autiimn manoeuvres : we
then required them to handle sixty real divisions
on a real battle-field. It was like asking men em-
ployed to build cottages, suddenly to construct a
cathedral. Hence the long duration of the war.

Paradoxical and unpalatable as this truth may
be, my little book shows that the Allies ultimately
won when they were weaker than their adversary,
after failing to beat him for years during which
they were much stronger: it also endeavours to
show the simple reason, that they at last found the
right method of command and the right com-
mander, Foch. But Foch and Foch's 191 8 battle
is not the product of chance, any more than
Michael Angelo or the Sistine frescoes are. He is
the outcome of a long national effort, of a universal
sacrifice to military life, of a passionate conviction
that military command is one of the highest arts,
of the devotion of the finest French minds to this
profession, of the unspoken resolve of generations
to be ready for this struggle. Only at this price
can the military genius that decides the fate of



PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION

nations be produced : and this idea, implicit in my
book, and perhaps as disagreeable to most Ameri-
cans as it is to most Englishmen, I offer to the
serious consideration of the American public.

Peter E. Wright.

May, 1921.



CONTENTS



I. — Foundation of the Supreme War Council 9
II. — The Plan of Campaign for 1918 . . 53



III. — The Battle of St. Quentin
Appendix A . . .
Appendix B . . ,
Appendix C . . .



Ill

151
183
191



ILLUSTRATIONS

PAGE

Marshal Foch Frontispiece

General Gough 26

Major-General Sir Frederick B. Maurice . 42

General Robertson 58

Marshal Sir Douglas Haig .... 90

General P^tain 122

Rt. Hon. David Lloyd George . . .156

Colonel Charles Repington . . . .190



AT THE
SUPREME WAR COUNCIL



FOUNDATION OF THE SUPREME
WAR COUNCIL



Foundation of the Supreme
War Council

A well-known military writer, and a com-
batant in the Great War, Major Grasset,' has
lately made a collection of extracts from the two
great works of Foch, written more than twenty
years ago, which are rather too voluminous for
the ordinary reader, though even before the war
curious inquirers, without the least direct interest
in military affairs, had been attracted by books
which treat war from such a philosophical height.
These short extracts, published by Major Grasset
in book form, reveal the fiery disposition and calcu-
lating brain which Foch always points out as the
mark of a military leader. But prefaced to these
extracts is a short study of the life of Foch. Now
this is of unusual interest, because Major Grasset,

^ Precepts and Judgments of Marshal Foch, by Major
Grasset : translated by Hilaire Belloc. (Chapman & Hall.)

9



AT THE SUPREME WAR COUNCIL

from the text itself, has evidently obtained his in-
formation from the innermost circles of the French
General Staff; some expressions, some phrases ring
very like those of Foch himself: the resemblance
can hardly be fortuitous. But, if not from Foch
himself, then the information must come from the
small group of officers who have always been imme-
diately next to him while he was in any position of
high command, for there are some facts, and es-
pecially some dates, which can only be known to
this group. And as some of this information is
new, and throws a new light on some of the great
events in which our armies took part, and especially
the battle of St. Quentin, it is of the highest in-
terest. Having been at the Supreme War Coimcil
during the winter I9i7-I9i8as Assistant Secretary,
I can tell at first hand and with nimierical precision
the events of that period which he relates at second
hand and vaguely.^

The world knows Foch only at the height of his
achievements, when he drove the Germans before
him, and would have destroyed them altogether
had not his final and fatal blow been stopped by

^ My authority for my statements has been questioned:
a fuller description of my functions will be found in Ap-
pendix A.

10



FOUNDATION OF WAR COUNCIL

the armistice; it knows him at the moment of his
success when his position was at its highest, but it
knows little of him in adversity when he himself
was at his greatest. This preface of Major Gras-
set's book tells us something, but not enough, of
those earlier battles in which he rose, between
August 4 and October 4, 19 14, from the command
of a corps to the command of an army group, and
that the most important, and foimd himself, in the
third month of the war, commanding the generals
who had commanded him during the first month.
During the first period of the war he was far greater
than in the last, when the eyes of all the world were
fixed on him ; when he took all the tricks, but held
all the cards. During the first period he held no
cards at all, but won all the same. Then, as later,
the words of the greatest of ancient historians,
used by him of the man he admired most, are
applicable to Foch. "He gave proof of a power
and a penetration that was natural, wonderful, and
infallible. When any crisis arose, however little
he expected it, and without any examination, a
view of the situation, far superior to that of any
one else, sprang from him at once, and he predicted
the subsequent course of events with no less cer-
tainty. His exposition of his own plans was most

II



AT THE SUPREME WAR COUNCIL

lucid; his criticism of other men's schemes con-
summate; and however incalculable the result
might seem, he always knew what would succeed
and what would not. In a word, uniting the
deepest intellectual grasp with a lightning rapidity
of decision, he was the model man of action.'"

Major Grasset gives us only a sHght sketch of
Foch's earlier feats.

At his second battle, the Troupe de Charmes in
Lorraine, August 24, 19 14, he and Dubail defended
the line of the Meurthe against odds at least ten
to one. The Marne was his third battle. On the
last day of August he was put at the head of the
Ninth Army by Marshal Joffre. This army was to
hold the French centre in the first battle of the
Marne, and it was against the centre that the main
attack of the Germans was to be expected. Foch
had 70,000 men: Von Biilow and Von Hansen, who
attacked him (or, rather, who faced him, for he at-
tacked them at once, as soon as they came within
his reach on September 6) , had 300,000 men. Thus
the plan of the battle hung on whether Foch could
hold these odds, while Maunoury and Lord French
enveloped the German right ; if the Germans could
have rolled him over and cut the long Allied line

^ Thucydides, i., ch. 138,

12



FOUNDATION OF WAR COUNCIL

from Verdun to Paris in two, they would not have
been even endangered by this enveloping move-
ment, for they would have destroyed most of the
French armies. So the whole plan of the Marne
hung on Foch. It was a speculation by Joffre that
his lieutenant could win the odds of more than four
to one. "Victory resides in will," writes Foch.
"A battle won is a battle in which one has not ad-
mitted oneself defeated." Von Billow's official
report has been published, and we know that, for
all his material superiority, he was a beaten man
before the battle began. Twenty years before, his
spiritually superior adversary, then Colonel Foch,
had written: "Victory always comes to those who
merit it by their greater strength of will and
intelligence."

There are many sayings attributed to Foch at
the Marne, but most of them are bom of the French
love for flowery rhetoric, not Foch's flinty, scientific
brain, though, like flint, the hard impact of events
can strike the brightest spark from it. There is one,
however, which is not only true, but very like him.
On the last day of the battle, as he watched the
Germans come on for the seventh time to the at-
tack of Mondement, the key of the French position,
which the Prussian Guard had taken time after

13



AT THE SUPREME WAR COUNCIL

time, only to lose it again every time Foch counter-
attacked, he said cheerfully to his staff: "Well,
gentlemen, they must be in great straits some-
where or other if they are in such a desperate hurry
here." He had divined rightly: Maunoury was
creeping behind Von Kluck, and Franchet d'Es-
perey behind Von Bulow and Von Hansen, and
Foch, as he guessed, only had to cling on for a few
more hotirs to be safe. The Germans did finally
pierce the French centre by the capture of La Fdre
Champenoise on the last day of the battle ; but Foch,
though he had no reserves of any kind left, would
not concede it. He took the 42nd Division out of
the line, risked leaving a gap in the French front,
and stormed La Fere just as the Germans were
sitting down to dinner, thinking the battle was
over and won.

Foch had only one week between the first and
seventh of September to inspire the Ninth Army,
largely composed of defeated and retreating troops,
with his determination in that desperate struggle.
Almost at once he was given something still more
difficult to do, and he took up this foiu'th command
even more swiftly. In the beginning of October
the fall of Antwerp, the fortress which protected
the whole of the Allies' left flank, was suddenly

14



FOUNDATION OF WAR COUNCIL

seen to be imminent, and another catastrophe
impending. Joflfre immediately turned to Foch.
Late in the evening on October 4, Foch, who was
at Chalons, was told over the telephone that he
had been appointed commander of the north-
western army group. He left Chalons at ten o'clock
in the night. Between four and six o'clock next
morning he had given their instructions to his army
commanders, and at nine o'clock was directing the
furious battle raging round Lens. M. Poincare
said in the speech he made on Foch's admission to
the Academy that it was his view, single and alone
among those of all the Allied commanders, that the
British, few in nimiber and battle-worn as they
were, could still hold Ypres, that gave our troops
the chance of winning the first battle of Ypres, the
crowning victory of 19 14, the glorious year of the
war for both the Allies. This was the Foch of 1 9 14.
But subsequent years of the war are far less
creditable to the Allies than 19 14, for never again
during the remaining four years of the war, except
for six months in 191 8, were the Central Powers
to be superior on the Western European front, and
that superiority not only short, but slight; and
during that period in 191 8, the Germans very
nearly won the war. The Entente were brought to

15



AT THE SUPREME WAR COUNCIL

the edge of defeat by disregarding the advice of
Foch, and again saved by him. We can never
justly allot the merit of winning the war, or learn
the errors that prevented us gaining it far earlier,
or profit by the lessons of the struggle, imless we
make the effort to discard our vanity and under-
stand the truth. For struggle there will be gain in
the future, if not in the immediate present; the
evil of war is too inherent to be extirpated by the
new, fashionable, but delusive ideas with which
some hope to cut it out.

For a period that can almost be called of years
the British and French were more than 7 to 4 to
the Germans in men on the Western front, and
almost double in material. In January, 191 7, the
Allies had 178 divisions on the French front to the
German 127, which, allowing for the smaller size
of the German division, gives more than the pro-
portion mentioned.

The dissolution of the Russian army which began
after the Revolution went on rapidly during 19 17.
But in May, 1916, the Russians had had along their
European front 140 divisions of infantry — each
division half as great again as a German division,
and a quarter as great again as an Austrian — -and
33}4 divisions of cavalry. One portion of this vast

16



FOUNDATION OF WAR COUNCIL

anny, known as the Northern group, had consisted
of 45 infantry divisions and 13 cavalry divisions.
This Northern group had sunk, in January, 191 8, to
175,000 men all told, of which 15,000 only were in
the fighting line ; and the rest of the Russian armies
had shrunk in the same proportion. At one rail-
road point during the winter, 10,000 deserters had
been counted daily going home; and this collapse
left the Roumanian army with a fighting strength
of 18 infantry, and 2 cavalry divisions exposed,
unprotected, and helpless, and eventually driven to
submission; the same army which, after the defeat
of 19 1 6, had sufficiently recovered themselves to
inflict a severe defeat on the Germans in 191 7. So
towards the end of 191 7 both Russia and Roumania
could be taken as out of it. The new ally, America,
had hardly begun to come in — -in December, 19 17,
there were only 3>^ American divisions in France,
each of them being, however, two or three times
as big as a German division. But in the interval
between the exit of Russia, an empire of more than
160 million people, and the entrance of America, a
coimtry of more than 100 millions, the Allies were
compelled to carry on the war with diminished
forces. This question, therefore, naturally put

itself to their statesmen, whether or not they could
2 17



AT THE SUPREME WAR COUNCIL

get through this difficult interval. The Germans
might be strong enough to snatch a victory during
this period of our weakness, in which case it was the
duty of our statesmen to make peace while still
undefeated ; or, on the contrary, we might be able
to resist them till the weight of the Americans in-
clined the balance in their favour, in which case it
was their duty to resist till that moment. Though
no peace negotiations were ever contemplated, they
took stock of their resources.

The course to be steered towards the end of 191 7
depended upon obtaining as accurate a calculation
as possible of the enemy's forces, and of their own,
leaving out of accoimt Russia and America. To
the making of this calculation a War Cabinet Com-
mittee applied itself, concentrating all the figures
obtainable by the information branches of all the
Allies. This Committee on Man Power, whose con-
clusions were to govern the Allied policy, reckoned
these were the forces of the adversaries.

The combatant strength (not the ration strength)
of the British and the French in all the existing
theatres of war — in France, Italy, the Balkans,
Palestine, and Mesopotamia — was 3,700,000 (three
million, seven hundred thousand) men; the com-
batant strength of the Germans in all theatres, in-

18



FOUNDATION OF WAR COUNCIL

eluding the Russian and Roumanian was 3,400,000,
(three million, four hundred thousand) men.
Therefore Britain and France alone in December,
191 7, were, and had been for two years, numerically
stronger than Germany.

The total of the combatant Allied forces —
British, French, Italian, Belgian, Portuguese, Ser-
bian, Greek, and including 85,000 Americans —
was, in December, 191 7, 5,400,000 (five million,
four himdred thousand) men. There were no
Russians or Roumanians reckoned in. But the
total of the Central Powers — German, Austro-
Htingarian, Bulgarian, and Turkish — was only
5,200,000 (five million, two hundred thousand)
men. This included more than i^ millions who
were still on the Russian and Roimianian front. ^

The arrival of these last on any theatre might
create a momentary risk for the Allies, though they
would still have had a total superiority, but, till
that transference took place, their number on every
theatre, in December, 19 17, was higher. In the
Turkish lands the Allies were as six to five to their
opponents; in the Balkans as four to three; in Italy

^ The historian can find these and the following totals
at the end of the report of the Committee on Man Power,
in the archives of the War Cabinet.

19



AT THE SUPREME WAR COUNCIL

as thirteen to eight ; in France still very nearly six
to foiir. On the Western front, properly under-
stood, stretching from the North Sea to the Adri-
atic, the number of their field gims were six to five
of the enemy, and their heavy gims as seven
to six. Everywhere the advantage of numbers,
whether considered together, or, at that date, in
any particular place, was theirs.

How much more, and how crushing, had their
superiority been when more than 190 (one hundred
and ninety) Russian and Roumanian divisions — a
body of men far more numerous than the whole
German army — were fighting on their side; yet
they had failed to win the war.

The plan of the Allied statesmen, perhaps indeed
because of their great advantage in numbers, had
been to hope for the best. Now enemy reinforce-
ments of one million bayonets might appear on any
of their fronts ; for German and Austrian divisions
had begun to stream westwards. But the plan of
all of them — except one, Mr. Lloyd George — was
still to hope for the best, till the arrival of the
Americans decided the war. Even M. Clemenceau,
the least inert of men, was of this opinion, and in
January, 19 18, told the assembled military and
political leaders of the alliance, that the date of

20



FOUNDATION OF WAR COUNCIL

victory would be the auttunn of 19 19, for then the
American strength would be at its height. But this
American giant, though he intended to put forth
all his strength, only bestirred himself slowly.
When M. Clemenceau uttered this prognostic
there were 4^2 American divisions in France, huge
American divisions, much bigger than any Euro-
pean ; but only one of these was in the line, and the
American Chief of the Staff could then only promise
that there would be four fully trained by July,
19 1 8, eight in October, 19 18, and twenty in April,
1919.

This was the assistance which General Bliss in
January, 191 8, was promising to the Allies; but it
would not be fair to the Americans to omit saying
they ultimately gave much more after the mis-
fortunes of the spring. Both the dispatch and the
training of troops was then accelerated. In Janu-
ary, when this estimate was given, there were 43^
American divisions in France, of which one only
was trained and in the line. In Jime, 191 8, there
were 17 in France, of which 7 were trained. On
November i, 191 8, there were 41 American divi-
sions in France and Italy, of which 29 were trained,
and had taken over more than 70 miles of front,
thus enabling Foch to mass the bulk of the French

21



AT THE SUPREME WAR COUNCIL

forces on the upper Moselle for the death-blow; but
for the Armistice, Castelnau, at the head of three
French armies, would have burst into the Rhine
valley, and placed himself between Germany and
the exhausted German armies who were still being
hammered far away west of the Meuse, and Sedan
would indeed have been avenged. On Armistice
day there were rather more Americans than British
on the continent on the Western Front, although
the rifle strength of the trained American troops
was about half our own.

The one statesman who had refused to resign
himself to this policy, or this absence of policy, was
Mr. Lloyd George.

Immediately on coming into power he had in-
vented a new instrimient of government, the War
Cabinet. This body of four, sitting continuously
and issuing orders to all the ministries through its
Secretary, was virtually a dictatorship, and in
effect a personal dictatorship; and though this is
as yet unperceived, this concentration of power in
the one office of the Prime Minister has to some
degree survived the war; for it is the existence of a
Secretariat, both in the War Cabinet and the larger
cabinet, innovation as it is, that makes him almost
absolute.

22



FOUNDATION OF WAR COUNCIL

For in both these small executive bodies there
are no fixed rules of procedure or methods of voting
like, for example, at a Board of Directors. In the
War Cabinet, and apparently in the Cabinet that
has succeeded it, both the settlement of their
agenda, and, what is still more important, the for-
mulation of their decision, was left in the hands of
the Secretary, largely owing to his skill and in-
defatigable industry. The Secretary, therefore,
without having any wish to do so, must to some
extent affect their decisions, especially as in many
or most of their discussions what was their real
decision remains very doubtful.

It happens that the only holder there has so far
been of this post has acted as the assiduous attend-
ant of the Prime Minister, so that the War Cabi-
net's Secretariat was very much in effect the Prime
Minister's Secretariat. Through this Secretary,
and perhaps without any design, but by the natural
adoption of so great a convenience, the will of the
Prime Minister tended to be the will of the War
Cabinet. This growth of the Prime Minister's
office (to which other causes contributed, such as
the selection by him of ministers who had never
been in the House of Commons, and who, therefore,
could only consider themselves as chosen by him

23



AT THE SUPREME WAR COUNCIL

alone) is the great constitutional change of the war.
It tends to make the office more and more like an
American president, absolute, but subject to selec-
tion every four years. Whatever its defects and
merits in peace, it is only with this authority for
immediate and imcontrolled command that the
war could really be carried on. In war, the Prime
Minister during the whole day was like a swimmer
in rough seas — one question after another, like
charging waves, and no sooner was one breasted
than another came rolling on, and every question
requiring a decision without delay, when it was
always better to risk taking action wrongly than
not to act at all.

This creation of a central and supreme authority


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