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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Foch on Gaining Victory in 1918

Foch at Compiègne

As recorded by Marshal Foch's aide Major Charles Bugnet, after his assignment began following the Armistice.

You see how matters stood when I assumed the command of the Allied Armies in 1918? The Germans attacked at the point of juncture between the British armies and our own. The line was dented; one Ally could only see the Channel, the other the capital. They said to me: "There are the Channel ports and Paris. Which are you going to defend, the ports or Paris?"


"But if you have to let one or the other go?"

I shall let nothing go.

"But if you really have to? "

I shall hold on and defend both: nothing shall be let go...There is nothing to be let go...I did not let anything go! What was to be done? We could not afford to lose a yard of ground, and, above all, it was necessary to maintain liaison with the Allies. To do that, the first thing to do was to hold the enemy and to stand fast.

There was only one method of doing this— to reorganize, cost what it might, in the positions which we held and with our feeble resources. Only after that could we think of reliefs. Then we must also counterattack in order to break down offensives...But even this is insufficient; we must conquer, that is to say, attack. To do that, we must have reserves. After that, to build them up.

Haig and Foch
Above all lose no time. "You tell me that you have no men. You have. Their numbers are insufficient? Believe me, go on!" It is with the survivors that battles are won.  Obviously, an undertaking cannot be commenced with no resources, but it is concluded with none left. You know, victorious armies have always been ragged and dirty!

You see, the unified command is only a word. It was tried in 1917 under Nivelle, and it did not work. One must know how to lead the Allies, one does not command them. Some must be treated differently from the others. The English are English, the Americans are another matter, and similarly with the Belgians and Italians. I could not deal with the Allied generals as I did with our own. They also were brave men who were representing the interests of their own country. They saw things in a different light from ourselves. They agreed with reluctance to the unified command; although they loyally accepted the situation, a mere trifle might have upset them and dislocated the whole scheme. I could not give them orders in an imperative manner. One cannot work to a system, especially with them. Anything might have happened. It was necessary to hear their views; otherwise they would have kicked...People only carry out orders which they understand perfectly, and decisions which they have made themselves, or which they have seen made.

Foch and Pershing
Accordingly, when important decisions were involved, I used to see them, or asked them to see me. We talked and discussed questions between ourselves, and, without seeming to do so, I gradually won them over to my point of view. I provided them with a solution, but I did not force it upon them. They were satisfied. I did my best to convince them. Perhaps it was rather a lengthy process, but we always got there. A talk in the morning, another in the evening, for several days if necessary. And, when I had made them see my point, I left them, but with a written note which we had prepared with Weygand's assistance. I gave it to them without appearing to attach much importance to it. This is a summary of my ideas. It agrees with your own in principle. Perhaps you will glance through it; come and see me again and we will go into it together. A few days later they would adopt this decision, made it their own, and became keen on ensuring its success. If handled differently, they would have strained at their chain if I had made them too much aware of it! That is the method which I adopted with [British Commander John] French in 1914, with [Italian Commander Armando] Diaz in 1917, and with the others in 1918. That is the true spirit of the unified command not to give orders, but to make suggestions...They look into the question. At first they are surprised, then they move. Do
you know, I carried them on my shoulders the whole time.

We used to meet Haig twice a week. We met half-way, at Mouchy. That is why, in such circumstances, Weygand was so valuable to me. He was patient. He used to return to them, go into the question again, explain my point of view, and persuade them. Is not that the meaning of Inter-Allied command? One talks, one discusses, one persuades, one does not give orders...One says: "That is what should be done; it is simple; it is only necessary to will it."

Source: OVER THE TOP,  August 2010

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. Reminds me a bit of Eisenhower.

    And this is a really elegant phrase: "one Ally could only see the Channel, the other the capital".