17 OCTOBER 1931, Page 20


Foch : The Man of Orleans. By B. H. Liddell Hart. (Eyre and Spottiawoode. 21s.) IN this weighty piece of historical analysis, the most serious and objective work which Captain Liddell Hart has yet written, he has sought to destroy a legend. " Filled with the intoxication of victory, the Allied peoples were not disposed to weigh the factors which had brought it. A discriminating analysis could be left to history. Hence legend had a long start." Foch's war reputation, indeed, was first founded on a legend of the Marne, " among all the legends, the most comprehensive and with the least substance." His own folk never took him at his own or our value. There is the paradox that he was made Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces, but never considered as a possible commander of the French Armies : Gallieni and then " the calm-mannered Dubail " were in the early days chosen to succeed Joffre ; Nivelle and Main were his actual successors. Removed from active command in 1916, Foch was given nominal and advisory posts to keep him out of mischief. Then suddenly the British, at the Doullens Conference, put him into power.

Captain Liddell Hart finds that Foch's military education was founded on too narrow a basis. Appointed an instructor at the French Staff College, he sought to formulate a doctrine of war, or rather to substantiate by historical examples a doctrine he had already adopted. In the lectures embodied in his first book he crystallized his ideas ; in his second book, his last, he was more definite, but in details rather than in funda- mentals. Both the books are carefully analysed for us by Captain Liddell Hart. His doctrine was the " offensive " based on supreme faith in moral power and an underestimation of material factors such as armament. His studies, unfortu- nately, stopped short with the war of 1870-1 ; the South African and Manchurian Wars did not lead him in later editions of his books to change his views. Matters were made worse for the French Army by his appointment to be Commandant of the Staff College. There he trained pupils, amongst them the notorious Colonel de Grandmaison, who not only absorbed his doctrine but " went one better." In their theories—which were translated into Regulations—they ignored bullets and thought battles could be won without artillery support.

In August, 1914, Foch put his doctrine into practice. Warned by his Army commander to wait and entrench, he gave his XX Corps orders for attack. Castelnau reiterated his instruc- tions. Foch disobeyed and was caught at Morhange not only

in front but in flank. In command of the Ninth Army at the battle of the Marne, he was directed by Joffre to cover the

right of the attack of the Allies, which was to be made by Franchet d'Esperey, Sir John French and Maunoury. He was actually told what ground to occupy. Again he disobeyed and pushed forward, with the result that he had to call on Franchet d'Esperey for help. Finally Foch ordered his whole Army, then retiring in disorder, to attack ; "the grand assault dwindled down to the advance of one brigade. . . . But it met no Germans." For, hours before, they had begun their withdrawal for reasons naturally other than Foch's retirement.

He was now appointed to be Joffre's representative in the north and commander of a Group of Armies. The only explanation Captain Liddell Hart can find for his being thus singled out for promotion is that Joffre " felt that Foch was the only one among the higher generals on whose loyalty to himself he could fully depend." Henceforward he had little to do but formulate in words what ought to be done, without considering, as lower commanders must, whether it was possi- ble. Of his activities at First Ypres, the author thinks

" the claim for their influence on the Belgian headquarters may be discounted. . . . On Sir John French the influence is more measur- able, but there the measure of its effect is as inevitably infinitesimal as Sir John French's influence on the battle."

A chapter heading gives the clue to 1915-16, the years of the two Battles of Artois and of the Somme. It is the " Blunt- ing of the Sword of France." Foch's doctrine was evidently not applicable to trench warfare. He himself began to doubt it ; but to the end of the War he believed that enemy machine guns could be brushed away by enterprising advanced guards.

Appointed as co-ordinator, strategic director, and Commander-in-Chief in March, 1918, Captain Liddell Hart dubs him "Busybody-in-Chief." His plans were vague; they were fashioned into realities principally by Haig ; his exhortations were general, not specific, often literally offensive (as in the case of Sir Hubert Gough) ; and his forecasts almost invariably wrong. The surprise at the Chemin des Dames, coming after other miscalculations, nearly unseated him from command. Then the Germans collapsed, and, with the Americans arriving —in spite of General Pershing's "new declaration of indepen- dence "—the rest was easy. Such is the bald outline of the case, which naturally cannot do justice to the author's masterly presentation of it.

In an epilogue Captain Hart considers comparisons of Foch with Napoleon, Dr. Cone and Joan of Arc, deciding that the last is the best (hence the " screen " sub-title of the book). Possibly he was attracted to it by the fact that the Marechal was in garrison at Orleans when called to be head of the Staff College. The comparisons are fanciful rather than happy.

The "yardstick" by which to measure Foch is the character of his great opponent, Ludendorff ; he alone bore the same great responsibilities and faced similar problems. Earlier in the book there is a hint that such a comparison had passed through the author's mind ; for he says, apropos of the First Quartermaster-General losing his nerve :

" Whatever faults may be found in Foch's judgment, it is certain that he would never have suffered a similar lapse. Even if his Armies had melted in his hands, his will would still have been intact so long as he had life in his body."

By Kipling's standard he was " a man " ; as a soldier he won the War ; he could have lost it as Ludendorff did.

J. E. E.