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Ferdinand Foch
2 October 1851 – 20 March 1929
Ferdinand Foch pre 1915.jpg
Place of birth Tarbes, France
Place of death Paris, France
Allegiance Flag of France.svg France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1871–1923
Rank Maréchal de France
Battles/wars Battle of the Frontiers,
Spring Offensive,
Meuse-Argonne Offensive
Awards Marshal of France (1918)
British Field Marshal (1919)
Marshal of Poland (1920)
Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur
Médaille militaire
Croix de guerre 1914-1918
Order of Merit (UK)
Virtuti Militari (1st Class)
Distinguished Service Medal (US)

Ferdinand Foch (pronounced "Fosh") OM GCB (2 October 1851 – 20 March 1929) was a French soldier, military theorist, and writer credited with possessing "the most original and subtle mind in the French army" in the early 20th century.[1] He served as general in the French army during World War I and was made Marshal of France in its final year: 1918. Shortly after the start of the Spring Offensive, Germany's final attempt to win the war, Foch was chosen as supreme commander of the Allied armies, a position that he held until 11 November 1918, when he accepted the German request for an armistice.

He advocated peace terms that would make Germany unable to pose a threat to France ever again. His words after the Treaty of Versailles, "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years" would prove exactly prophetic- World War II started twenty years later.


Early life

Foch was born in Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrénées as the son of a civil servant from Comminges. He attended school in Tarbes, Rodez, and the Jesuit College in St. Etienne. His brother was later a Jesuit and this may initially have hindered Foch's rise through the ranks of the French Army (since the Republican government of France was anti-clerical).

Foch enlisted in the French 4th Infantry Regiment, in 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, and decided to stay in the army after the war. In 1871, Foch entered the École Polytechnique and received his commission as a Lieutenant in the 24th Artillery Regiment, in 1873, despite not having the time to complete his course due to the shortage of junior officers. He rose through the ranks, eventually reaching the rank of Captain before entering the Staff College in 1885. In 1895, he was to return to the College as an instructor and it is for his work here that he was later acclaimed as "the most original military thinker of his generation".[2] Turning to history for inspiration, Foch became known for his critical analyses of the Franco-Prussian and Napoleonic campaigns and of their relevance to the pursuit of military operations in the new century. His re-examination of France's painful defeat in 1870 was among the first of its kind.

In his career as instructor Foch created renewed interest in French military history, inspired confidence in a new class of French officers, and brought about "the intellectual and moral regeneration of the French Army".[1] His thinking on military doctrine was shaped by the unshakeable belief, uncommon at the time, that "the will to conquer is the first condition of victory." Collections of his lectures, which reintroduced the concept of the offensive to French military theory, were published in the volumes "Des Principes de la Guerre" ("On the Principles of War") in 1903, and "De la Conduite de la Guerre" ("On the Conduct of War") in 1904. Sadly, while Foch advised "qualification and discernment" in military strategy and cautioned that "recklessness in attack could lead to prohibitive losses and ultimate failure,"[3] his concepts, distorted and misunderstood by contemporaries, became associated with the perverse offensive doctrines (l'offensive à outrance) of his successors. To Foch's regret, the cult of the offensive came to dominate military circles, and Foch's books were even cited in the development of Plan XVII, the disastrous French strategy for war with Germany that brought Europe so close to ruin in 1914.

Foch continued his initially slow rise through the ranks, being promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1898. Thereafter, his career accelerated and he returned to command in 1901, when he was posted to a regiment. He was promoted to become a Colonel in 1903, then Brigadier General (Général de Brigade) in 1907, returning to the Staff College as Commandant from 1907–1911. In 1911 he was promoted Major General (Général de Division) and then Lieutenant General (Général de corps d’Armée) in 1913, taking command of XXe Corps at Nancy.

Foch and World War I

Ferdinand Foch.jpg

On the outbreak of the war, Foch was in command of XX Corps, part of the Second Army of General de Castelnau. On 14 August the corps advanced towards the Sarrebourg-Morhange line, taking heavy casualties in the Battle of the Frontiers. The defeat of XV Corps to its right forced Foch into retreat. Foch acquitted himself well, covering the withdrawal to Nancy and the Charmes Gap, before launching a counter-attack that prevented the Germans from crossing the Meurthe.

He was then selected to command the newly formed Ninth Army, which he was to command during the First Battle of the Marne and the Race to the Sea. With his Chief of Staff Maxime Weygand, Foch managed to do this while the whole French Army was in full retreat. Only a week after taking command of 9th Army, he was forced to fight a series of defensive actions to prevent a German breakthrough. It was then that he spoke the famous words: "Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack." His counter-attack was an implementation of the theories he had developed during his staff college days, and succeeded in stopping the German advance. Foch received further reinforcements from the Fifth Army and, following another attack on his forces, counter-attacked again on the Marne. The Germans dug in before eventually retreating. On 12 September Foch regained Marne at Châlons and liberated the city. The people of Châlons greeted as a hero the man widely believed to have been instrumental in stopping the great retreat and stabilising the Allied position. Receiving thanks from the Bishop of Châlons, Foch piously replied, "non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam." (Not unto us, o Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, Psalm 115:1)

Foch's successes gained him a further promotion, on 4 October, when he was appointed assistant Commander-in-Chief with responsibility for co-ordinating the activities of the northern French armies, and liaising with the British forces. This was a key appointment as the so-called "Race to the Sea" was then in progress. Joffre had also wanted to nominate Foch as his successor "in case of accident", to make sure the job would not be given to Galliéni, but the French government would not agree to this. When the Germans attacked on 13 October, they narrowly failed to break through the British and French lines. They tried again at the end of the month during the First Battle of Ypres; this time suffering terrible casualties. Foch had again succeeded in co-ordinating a defence and winning against the odds. On 2 December 1914, King George V of the United Kingdom appointed him an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.[4] In 1915, his responsibilities by now crystallised into command of the Northern Army Group, he conducted the Artois Offensive, and, in 1916, the French part of the Battle of the Somme. He was strongly criticised for his tactics and the heavy casualties that were suffered by the Allied armies during these battles, and in December 1916 was removed from command, by General Joffre, and sent to command in Italy; Joffre was himself sacked days later.

Just a few months later, after the failure of General Nivelle, General Pétain was appointed Chief of the General Staff; Foch hoped to succeed Pétain in command of Army Group Centre, but this job was instead given to General Fayolle. The following month General Pétain was appointed Commander-in-Chief in place of Nivelle, and Foch was recalled and promoted to Chief of the General Staff.

On 26 March 1918, at the Doullens Conference, Foch was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies with the title of Généralissime ("supreme General") with the job of co-ordinating the activities of the Allied armies[5][6], forming a common reserve and using these divisions to guard the junction of the French and British armies and to plug the potentially fatal gap that would have followed a German breakthrough in the British Fifth Army sector. Despite being surprised by the German offensive on the Chemin des Dames, the Allied armies under Foch's command ultimately held the advance of the German forces during the great Spring Offensive of 1918 and at the Second Battle of Marne in July 1918. The celebrated phrase, "I will fight in front of Paris, I will fight in Paris, I will fight behind Paris," attributed both to Foch and Clemenceau, illustrated the Généralissime's resolve to keep the Allied armies intact, even at the risk of losing the capital. On 6 August 1918, Foch was made Marshal of France.

Along with the British commander Field Marshal Haig, Foch planned the Grand Offensive, opening on 26 September 1918, which led to the defeat of Germany. After the war, he claimed to have defeated Germany by smoking his pipe [7]. Foch accepted the German cessation of hostilities in November, after which he refused to shake the hand of the German signatory. On the day of the armistice, he was elected to the Académie des Sciences. Ten days later, he was unanimously elected to the Académie française. On 30 November 1918, he was awarded the highest Portuguese decoration the Order of the Tower and Sword, 1st class (Grand Cross).

Paris Peace Conference

The monument to Ferdinand Foch in his native Tarbes.

In January 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference Foch presented a memorandum to the Allied plenipotentiaries in which he stated:

Henceforward the Rhine ought to be the Western military frontier of the German countries. Henceforward Germany ought to be deprived of all entrance and assembling ground, that is, of all territorial sovereignty on the left bank of the river, that is, of all facilities for invading quickly, as in 1914, Belgium, Luxembourg, for reaching the coast of the North Sea and threatening the United Kingdom, for outflanking the natural defences of France, the Rhine, Meuse, conquering the Northern Provinces and entering the Parisian area.[8]

In a subsequent memorandum, Foch argued that the Allies should take full advantage of their victory by permanently weakening German power in order to prevent her from threatening France again:

What the people of Germany fear the most is a renewal of hostilities since, this time, Germany would be the field of battle and the scene of the consequent devastation. This makes it impossible for the yet unstable German Government to reject any demand on our part if it is clearly formulated. The Entente, in its present favourable military situation, can obtain acceptance of any peace conditions it may put forward provided that they are presented without much delay. All it is has to do is to decide what they shall be.[8]

However the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and the American President Wilson objected to the detachment of the Rhineland from Germany, but agreed to Allied military occupation for fifteen years, which Foch thought insufficient to protect France.

Foch considered the Treaty of Versailles to be "a capitulation, a treason" because he believed that only permanent occupation of the Rhineland would grant France sufficient security against a revival of German aggression.[9] As the treaty was being signed Foch said: "This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years".[10]

Post-war career

Ferdinand Foch's tomb in Les Invalides.

Foch was made a British Field Marshal in 1919,[11] and, for his advice during the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920, as well as his pressure on Germany during the Great Poland Uprising, he was awarded with the title of Marshal of Poland in 1923.

On 1 November 1921 Foch was in Kansas City to take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Liberty Memorial that was being constructed there. Also present that day were Lieutenant General Baron Jacques of Belgium, Admiral David Beatty of Great Britain, General Armando Diaz of Italy and General John J. Pershing of the United States. One of the main speakers was Vice President Calvin Coolidge of the United States. In 1935 bas-reliefs of Foch, Jacques, Diaz and Pershing by sculptor Walker Hancock were added to the memorial.

Foch died on 20 March 1929, and was interred in Les Invalides, next to Napoleon and many other famous French soldiers and officers.

Hitler (hand on side) staring at Foch's statue before signing the armistice, at Compiègne, France (22 June 1940).

A statue of Foch was set up at the Compiègne Armistice site when the area was converted into a national memorial. This statue was the one item left undisturbed by the Germans following their defeat of France in June, 1940. Following the signing of France's surrender on 21 June, the Germans ravaged the area surrounding the railway car in which both the 1918 and 1940 surrenders had taken place. The statue was left standing, to view nothing but a wasteland.

Statue of Foch near Victoria railway station, London, UK

A heavy cruiser and a aircraft carrier were named in his honor, as well as an early district of Gdynia, Poland. The latter was, however, renamed by the communist government after World War II. Nevertheless, one of the major avenues of the town of Bydgoszcz, located then in the Polish corridor, holds his name as sign of gratitude for campaigning for an independent Poland. Avenue Foch, a street in Paris, was named after him. Several other streets have been named in his honor in Lyon, Krakow, Grenoble, Quito, Beirut, New Orleans, Leuven, Cambridge, Williston Park, Milltown and Foch Road in Singapore. Fochville in South Africa was also named in his honor. A statue of Foch stands near Victoria station in London. Foch also has a grape cultivar named after him.



  • Des Principes de la Guerre (On the Principles of War) (1903)
  • De la Conduite de la Guerre (On the Conduct of War) (1904)
  • Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la guerre 1914-1918 (The Memoirs of Marshal Foch) (Posthumous, 1931)

See also


  1. ^ a b Shirer, p. 81
  2. ^ Michael Carver (editor), The War Lords: Military Commanders of the Twentieth Century, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976), p. 123. ISBN 0-297-77084-5
  3. ^ Shirer, p. 80
  4. ^ London Gazette: no. 29044, p. 601, 19 January 1915. Retrieved on 2008-05-30.
  5. ^ Keegan, John, "The First World War" (Vintage Books, 1998), p. 403.
  6. ^ Ferdinand Foch at Project Gutenberg
  7. ^ " 'How did I win the war?' Foch will say chaffingly to André de Marincourt, many months later. 'By smoking my pipe. That is to say, by not getting excited, by reducing everything to simple terms, by avoiding useless emotions, and keeping all my strength for the job.' " Frank H. Simonds, History of the World War, Vol. 5, Ch. 3, III. Doubleday, Page & Co., 1920.
  8. ^ a b Ernest R. Troughton, It's Happening Again (John Gifford, 1944), p. 17.
  9. ^ Anthony Adamthwaite, Grandeur and Misery: France's Bid for Power in Europe, 1914-40 (Hodder Arnold, 1995), p. 57.
  10. ^ Ruth Henig, Versailles and After, 1919-33 (Routledge, 1995), p. 52.
  11. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31481, p. 9809, 29 July 1919. Retrieved on 2008-05-27.

External links

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Melchior de Vogüé
Seat 18
Académie française
Succeeded by
Philippe Pétain


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.

Ferdinand Foch OM GCB (1851-10-021929-03-20) was a French soldier and writer. During the final months of the First World War he was the supreme commander of Allied forces.



The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.
One does simply what one can in order to apply what one knows.
None but a coward dares to boast that he has never known fear.
  • Les avions sont des jouets intéressants mais n'ont aucune utilité militaire
    • Airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value.
      • Said in 1911 as quoted Time : A Traveler's Guide (1998) by Clifford A. Pickover, p. 249
  • One does simply what one can in order to apply what one knows.
    • The Principles of War (1913)
  • Mon centre cède, ma droite recule, situation excellente, j'attaque.
    • My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.
    • Message to Marshal Joseph Joffre during the First Battle of the Marne (8 September 1914), as quoted in Foch : Le Vainqueur de la Guerre (1919) by Raymond Recouly, Ch. 6
    • Variant (American spelling): My center is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.
  • The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.
    • As quoted in The 32d Infantry Division in World War II (1956) by Harold Whittle Blakeley, p. 3
  • I am conscious of having served England as I served my own country.
    • As engraved on the statue of Ferdinand Foch on Grosvenor Square, London.
  • This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.
  • None but a coward dares to boast that he has never known fear.
    • As quoted in Encarta Book of Quotations (2000) by Bill Swainson and Anne H. Soukhanov, p. 338
  • The will to conquer is the first condition of victory.
    • The Book of Positive Quotations (2007) by John Cook, Steve Deger, and Leslie Ann Gibson, p. 370

Precepts and Judgments (1919)

As translated by Hilaire Belloc (1920) Full text online
In tactics, action is the governing rule of war.
There is but one means to extenuate the effects of enemy fire: it is to develop a more violent fire oneself.
The distribution of troops devoted to the defence of a place includes a garrison, an occupying force, numerically as weak as possible...
To be disciplined does not mean being silent, abstaining, or doing only what one thinks one may undertake without risk...
Everything in war is linked together, is mutually interdependent, mutually interpenetrating.
  • In tactics, action is the governing rule of war.
    • p. 79
  • To inform, and, therefore to reconnoitre, this is the first and constant duty of the advanced guard.
    • p. 83
  • The laurels of victory are at the point of the enemy bayonets. They must be plucked there; they must be carried by a hand-to-hand fight if one really means to conquer.
    • p. 105
  • Against what should fire be opened? Against the obstacles which may delay the march of infantry.
    The first obstacle is the enemy gun. It will be the first objective assigned to artillery masses.
    • p. 108
  • There is but one means to extenuate the effects of enemy fire: it is to develop a more violent fire oneself.
    • p. 110
  • An army is to a chief what a sword is to a soldier. It is only worth anything in so far as it receives from him a certain impulsion (direction and vigour).
    • p. 138
  • When the moment arrives for taking decisions, facing responsibilities, entering upon sacrifices — decisions which ought to be taken before they are imposed, responsibilities which ought to be welcomed, for the initiative must be secured and the offensive launched — where should we find a man equal to these uncertain and dangerous tasks were it not among men of a superior stamp, men eager for responsibilities? He must indeed be a man who, being deeply imbued with a will to conquer, shall derive from that will (as well as from a clear perception of the only means that lead to victory) the strength to make an unwavering use of the most formidable rights, to approach with courage all difficulties and all sacrifices, to risk everything; even honour — for a beaten general is disgraced for ever.
    • p. 140
  • The distribution of troops devoted to the defence of a place includes a garrison, an occupying force, numerically as weak as possible; a reserve as strong as possible, designed for counterattacking and for providing itself, at the moment it goes into action, with a security service which will guard it from any possible surprise.
    • p. 147
  • To be disciplined does not mean being silent, abstaining, or doing only what one thinks one may undertake without risk; it is not the art of eluding responsibility; it means acting in compliance with orders received, and therefore finding in one's own mind, by effort and reflection, the possibility to carry out such orders. It also means finding in one's own will the energy to face the risks involved in execution.
    • p.
  • In a time such as ours when people believe they can do without an ideal, cast away what they call abstract ideas, live on realism, rationalism, positivism, reduce everything to knowledge or to the use of more or less ingenious and casual devices — let us acknowledge it here — in such a time there is only one means of avoiding error, crime, disaster, of determining the conduct to be followed on a given occasion — but a safe means it is, and a fruitful one; this is the exclusive devotion to two abstract notions in the field of ethics: duty and discipline; such a devotion, if it is to lead to happy results, further implies besides… knowledge and reasoning.
    • p. 150
    • Variant translation: 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.
      • As quoted in "A Sketch of the Military Career of Marshal Foch" by Major A. Grasset
  • In war there are none but particular cases; everything has there an individual nature; nothing ever repeats itself.
    In the first place, the data of a military problem are but seldom certain; they are never final. Everything is in a constant state of change and reshaping.
    • p. 152
  • This absence of similarity among military questions naturally brings out the inability of memory to solve them; also the sterility of invariable forms, such as figures, geometrical drawings (épures), plans (schémas), etc. One only right solution imposes itself : namely, the application, varying according to circumstances, of fixed principles.
    • p. 154
  • The truth is, no study is possible on the battle-field; one does there simply what one can in order to apply what one knows. Therefore, in order to do even a little, one has already to know a great deal and to know it well.
    • p. 175
  • Every manoeuvre must be the development of a scheme; it must aim at a goal.
    • p. 175
  • Men called to the conduct of troops should prepare themselves to deal with cases more and more varied upon an ever-increasing horizon of experience. They can only be given the capacity to arrive at a prompt and judicious position by developing in them through study their power of analysis and of synthesis; that is, of conclusion in a purely objective sense, conclusion upon problems which have been actually lived and taken from real history. Thus also can they be founded through the conviction that comes from knowledge in a confidence sufficient to enable them to take such decisions upon the field of action.
    • p. 199
  • The unknown is the governing condition of war.
    • p. 209
  • Far from being a sum of distinct and partial results, victory is the consequence of efforts, some of which are victorious while others appear to be fruitless, which nevertheless all aim at a common goal, all drive at a common result: namely, at a decision, a conclusion which alone can provide victory.
    • p. 209
  • A war not only arises, but derives its nature, from the political ideas, the moral sentiments, and the international relations obtaining at the moment when it breaks out.
    This amounts to saying : try and know why and with the help of what you are going to act; then you will find out how to act.
    • p. 211
  • The military art is not an accomplishment, an art for dilettante, a sport. You do not make war without reason, without an object, as you would give yourself up to music, painting, hunting, lawn tennis, where there is no great harm done whether you stop altogether or go on, whether you do little or much. Everything in war is linked together, is mutually interdependent, mutually interpenetrating. When you are at war you have no power to act at random. Each operation has a raison d'etre, that is an object; that object, once determined, fixes the nature and the value of the means to be resorted to as well as the use which ought to be made of the forces.
    • p. 214


  • A radish will never stand in the way of victory.
    • As quoted in M*A*S*H, Season 3, Episode 1, "The General Flipped At Dawn"; this seems to be a humorous misattribution.

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