Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Recommended: Foch After the Somme

At the end of the Battle of the Somme, there were mixed feelings. Gradually the BEF took over Sixth Army’s front down as far as the river Somme, amid a lot of ill-tempered disagreements over dates (yet again) and the state of the trenches. Foch believed that it would be dangerous to leave the only offensive area, that is to say the northern bank of the river, in British hands. He pointed out to Joffre "the dangers of leaving to the large British Army the area north of the Somme which constitutes a magnificent domain bounded by the Somme and with easy access to England…deliver[ing] up provinces which constitute the only offensive front of the French armies without ensuring that we will be able to return and use them as the route of an offensive of liberation which we cannot entrust entirely to our Allies."

Foch Monument, North of Peronne, French Sector, Somme Battlefield

The frequent complaint that the British were fighting to the last Frenchman re-surfaced. A French Army morale report of mid-November stated, "The idea that the British owe it to us to extend their front in order to allow us to shorten ours is spreading." On the other hand, a letter home from a soldier of 69 Infantry Regiment asserted, after seeing the British at work, "I assure you that this mix of British tenacity and French furia was not unconnected to our success, which is only a beginning."

Finally, on 15 December, Foch was sacked from his command of the Northern Army Group. Even more frustrating was Haig’s reward of a field marshal’s baton. The circumstances of Foch’s removal are somewhat mysterious, but it is clear that there was a campaign of denigration mounted against him, and Joffre had not defended him.

Joffre too had lost the confidence of the government and the parliament, and he was promoted to a shadowy powerless position, from which he resigned. Foch was furious, but he had the sense to bend before the storm and obey orders. He would not be long in the wilderness.

Source: "General Ferdinand Foch and the French Contribution to the Battle of the Somme," Elizabeth Greenhalgh, British Journal for Military History, July 2016

Read the full article here:


  1. That's a very useful and insightful piece. A good corrective to the usual Anglo-centrism of the Somme, and a valuable glimpse into Foch's career.

  2. Foch despite his abrasiveness was also a political animal. When Nievelle's 1917 offensive failed and the grand German offensive a year later brought Foch to the fore and elevated him to the Supreme Command of the armies.

  3. I always wondered if the football player, Marshall Faulk, was named after him?