Ferdinand Foch

The French marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929) was commander in chief of the Allied armies in World War I.

Ferdinand Foch was born on Oct. 2, 1851, at Tarbes. His early schooling revealed his "geometrical mind" and mathematical ability. He enlisted in the infantry during the Franco-Prussian War but did not see active service. Resuming his education, he graduated from the École Polytechnique in 1873 and was commissioned a lieutenant in the artillery.

By 1894 Foch had become lieutenant colonel and professor of strategy and tactics in the École Supérieure de Guerre (War School). His lectures were published in two volumes: De la conduite de la guerre (1897; Precepts and Judgments) and Des principes de la guerre (1899; Principles of War). Foch's doctrine of massive attack attracted much attention. He stressed both philosophical and material aspects of war and emphasized the importance of morale and the will to win. In 1900 Foch was transferred to regimental command and then to staff duty with the V Corps. In 1907 Premier Georges Clemenceau appointed him general and director of the War School, where he remained for 4 years.

At the beginning of World War I, Foch was in charge of the XX Army Corps and fought in Lorraine. Next he commanded the newly formed 9th Army and helped check the Germans in the first Battle of the Marne. Gen. Joffre then entrusted him with coordinating troops and operations in the north during the "race to the sea" from the Oise River to the Flemish coast. As commander of the Group of Armies of the North for 2 years, Foch presided over the Artois offensives of 1915 and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The disappointing results of the Somme offensive led to replacement of both Foch and Joffre. After a brief interval Foch was appointed chief of the general staff by Gen. Pétain.

In the spring of 1918, when the Allies were threatened by the German grand offensive, Foch became chief commander of all Allied armies in France. He halted the Germans and launched a counteroffensive which drove them back and ended the war. On Nov. 11, 1918, Foch induced the German representatives to accept his armistice terms, including occupation of the left bank of the Rhine.

Acclaimed by the world after the war, Foch received many honors, including election to the French Academy and to the Academy of Sciences. He bitterly condemned the peace settlement for its failure to detach the left bank of the Rhine from Germany. Foch died in Paris on March 20, 1929, and was interred in the Invalides.


Further Reading on Ferdinand Foch

Valuable memoirs by Raymond Recouly, a friend of Foch, are Foch: His Character and Leadership (trans. 1920) and Foch: My Conversations with the Marshal (trans. 1929). Leading biographies of the marshal are George Grey Aston, The Biography of the Late Marshal Foch (1929) and Basil Henry Liddell Hart, Foch, the Man of Orleans (1932). Another useful work is Cyril Bentham Falls, Marshal Foch (1939). The postwar Rhineland question is explored in Jere C. King, Foch versus Clemenceau: France and German Dismemberment, 1918-1919 (1960).