- from 'Everyweek Magazine' February 28th, 1918
- 'General Foch
- a Star Strategist'
- by Edmund Dane
General Foch on the covers of a French and a Belgian newsmagazine
The war has produced two great military surprises - the qualities and leadership of the French army, and the vast expansion and marvellous efficiency of the British army. Probably no man has done more to contribute to French military education, and through it to the great results it has had on the field - for they have been great results, make no mistake - than General F. Foch. He is a scientific soldier, for, like Napoleon, he graduated in the artillery arm, and went through the regimental mill seeing service in the French colonies, and at every step proving his solid merits, until be became brevet-colonel. But during these years he had absorbed the philosophy of war as few men have done, for he had a passion for getting to the bottom of things, and mastering their realities. And he was I not only deeply read, checking theory by history and so keeping an open mind; he could think, and his judgments were his own.
Although still comparatively young, for his rise, though steady, has been rapid, he was given the command of the 13th Division. As a general officer he put into practice and showed that he had grasped the Napoleonic principle that to handle troops of all arms, such as constitute a division, which of course is a complete army in miniature, a man must know the work and capabilities of each arm and service. Naturally the services of an officer so qualified were before long in request at the Ecole Superieure de la Guerre, which corresponds to our own Staff College. He became lecturer there first on Tactics and later on Strategy. His lectures on Strategy made him famous. They were delivered first in 1900, but the remarkable thing about them was that they predicted the scope and character of the present war with an absolute exactitude. Thanks to this prescience, French officer's were trained and prepared for this war, unlike any other as we in this country considered it to be, and there can be no question but that their training and preparation have been the salvation of France and of Europe. Taking as an axiom that war must be learned from war, and that history is the true-guide theory founded on facts and not spun out of somebody's inner consciousness-Foch as a strategist went back to the ideas and practices of Napoleon, got at their real meaning, and proceeded rigorously to apply them to the conditions of modern Europe. This was the basis of his predictions, correct to the letter.
Principles of Strategy
The principles of strategy, he insisted, are few - economy of forces, freedom of action, free disposition of forces, and surety - but their application is infinitely variable. On that account he preached the value of independent judgment, the art of acting promptly and rightly in difficult circumstances. Further he laid due stress on the immense importance of the moral factors in a struggle of nations. He exploded the merely material theory of war as totally wrong.
Nor is Foch merely a theorist, however brilliant. The outbreak of the war found him in command of the 4th French army, and he proved his qualities in the Battle of the Marne by seizing the fateful opportunity at the bound. He had the true general's eye for the decisive moment.
This great man. is personally simple; brief and direct in speech; without side; economical of time; adverse to parade. As Chief of the French Staff he was "Father" Joffre's right hand. He remains the brain which conceives.
Hero of the Marne
General Ferdinand Foch is the "greatest strategist in Europe and the humblest" is Joffre's laconic definition of his famous countryman. His brightest laurels in this war were won in the Battle of the Maine. To him occurred the idea that the advancing German line had a weak link.
He found it between the Saxon army and the Prussian Guard in the St. Goud marshes, and, wedging between them forced back both the wings.
At Ypres, Foch controlled the first successful fight made by the French, British and Belgians to stop the German rush for Calais. He is one of the most, conspicuous geniuses of the war.
In Workman's Dress
Among the notable duties undertaken by this many-sided genius was the-preparation of a report on the French heavy artillery that has covered itself and its makers with undying fame in the great war. For several weeks he went round the Creusot works in a workman's blouse, testing all the processes of manufacture.
The great war came as no surprise to General Foch, who felt that such a conflict was inevitable, and dwelt so much upon ''preparedness'' that he was looked upon as an alarmist by his less far-sighted countrymen.
Knowledge of Men
Foch is credited with an intimate knowledge of the French soldier and the best method of getting, the most out of him. At the Front, his-first step was a personal visit to each commander. Then he made a first hand acquaintance with the rank and file, an acquaintance which he constantly cultivates, in trench and camp. The divine gift of setting souls afire and arousing, Úlan in the ranks, is one of the attributes of this all-round warrior, who is said to know the human element in the French Army better than any man living.
Work, work, and yet more work, is the-motto of this quiet, modest, hustling, leader of men. His two great works "Principles of War" and "Conduct of War," have been translated into English, 'German, and Italian, and the German General Staff ranks him. high among the few Allied strategists.
A slim but wiry body, full of nervous energy, quick and graceful in action, suggestive of prime middle age rather than sixty-five years of hard, monotonous toil, enshrines the brain that would not have failed Napoleon. Keen, grey-blue eyes complete the portrait of the son of Napoleon Foch. Curiously enough, Foch's brother Napoleon is a lawyer - surely a slip in the shuffling of baptismal names. His other brother entered the priesthood.
When General Foch was in command of the 20th Army Corps at Nancy, in 1913, he said at a staff dinner: "Find out the weak point of your enemy and deliver your blow there."
"But suppose he has no weak point," suggested an officer.
"Then make one," snapped out the General with a conquering gleam in the grey-blue eyes.
It is no derogation of the able men in other Allied armies that the wider strategy of the War should have some such pivot. It is a logical evolution of the circumstances of this gigantic struggle. The desideratum is not to confuse the wider strategy of the War with the tactics to be followed in its battles, but we may say that no first rate soldier would fall into into any such mistake. So far from undervaluing a great general appreciates initiative. What he detests is the refusal to accept responsibility;
"During a battle," writes one of his most graphic interviewers, "General Foch is to be found in the big room at his headquarters. He stands before one of those large scale maps with a pencil in his hand and the telephone receiver at his ear. His staff stands in a semicircle behind him. There is perfect silence, and the only movement is of the General's pencil on the map as he follows the battle and ponders the detail of the district where the fighting is in progress. He has two gestures. One is persistent and constant. It's the hand rising to the end of his grey moustache, not to fondle it, but to tug at it slowly and strongly. The other is seen when the door opens softly and an officer enters on tiptoe.
"Where have you been?' the General asks abruptly. When he is answered 'one hand raises his pencil', to the point on the map and the other makes a quick, backward, underhand sweep, close to his, body and high up, as though he were impatiently brushing a speck from his tunic under his arm. The officer backs into the semicircle and awaits the next demand.
" 'What did you see?'
"And again, when he has replied, he is brushed back to await a new order.
General Foch, like General Joffre, comes from the Pyrenees. He is gallant, picturesque and picaresque, extraordinary, fascinating - d'Artagnan and Turenne."
It is in every way to be regretted that for the purpose of coining political capital out of it, the Versailles arrangement should have been presented under an aspect which is more fiction than fact. The arrangement is desirable in order to meet new conditions, not to repair old mistakes. The new conditions are all in our favour, and the Versailles arrangement will be judged not in the least by any attempted slight cast upon anybody, much less by ill-informed criticisms, but by the practical proofs it affords that it is what is wanted.
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