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Foch in Command
The Forging of a First World War General


Part of Cambridge Military Histories

  • Date Published: January 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107633858
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About the Authors
  • Ferdinand Foch ended the First World War as Marshal of France and supreme commander of the Allied armies on the Western Front. Foch in Command is a pioneering study of his contribution to the Allied victory. Elizabeth Greenhalgh uses contemporary notebooks, letters and documents from previously under-studied archives to chart how the artillery officer, who had never commanded troops in battle when the war began, learned to fight the enemy, to cope with difficult colleagues and allies, and to manoeuvre through the political minefield of civil-military relations. She offers valuable insights into neglected questions: the contribution of unified command to the Allied victory; the role of a commander's general staff; and the mechanisms of command at corps and army level. She demonstrates how an energetic Foch developed war-winning strategies for a modern industrial war and how political realities contributed to his losing the peace.

    • The first detailed assessment in the English language of Foch's command based on previously unused French archive material
    • The book looks beyond national concerns to present an even-handed and balanced treatment of the Allied forces and coalition warfare
    • Charts the learning processes which led the Allies to cope with and succeed in a revolutionary modern war
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Relying on detailed archival work, Elizabeth Greenhalgh provides new insights into the depth of Foch's character and the quality of his thinking and leadership. She deserves much praise for having written the best work about Foch in any language and for having resurrected his reputation as the finest general of the war.' Robert A. Doughty, author of Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War

    'The coalition dimensions of military operations on the Western Front are all too often underplayed. Foch in Command is thus a very welcome study of the commander who emerged as Allied 'generalissimo' in 1918. Elizabeth Greenhalgh is a combative and readable historian, and her book will reshape the debate on the military history of the First World War.' Gary Sheffield, University of Birmingham

    'With this book Elizabeth Greenhalgh has constructed a fascinating portrait of an improbable commander-in-chief who led a coalition of democracies to victory. A hot-headed chief who consistently exasperated the commanding officers of the Allied national armies, Foch pursued his own objectives founded on deep national preconceptions, convinced that determination was the key to controlling reality.' General André Bach, former head of the Service Historique de la Défense

    'Few, I believe, would disagree with this assessment of Ferdinand Foch, and fewer still would hesitate to welcome this high-resolution snapshot of a military commander in wartime crisis.' H-France (

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    Customer reviews

    23rd Jun 2014 by Robbo

    Within the English speaking world, volumes have been written on Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, with seven books devoted solely to him being published in the last nine years alone, one of which attributes him as “The Architect of Victory”. This is not surprising given the Anglo-centric view of the war among the peoples of the former British Empire, and the dearth of books in English on Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces on the Western Front. Elizabeth’s Greenhalgh’s Foch in Command is one of only three books, by English speaking authors, devoted to Foch that have been published in the last 70 years, and anyone reading it would contest that Haig was the architect of victory in 1918. What a tour de force this book is - it is likely to stand as the pre- eminent English work on Foch during the Great War for decades to come. This is not, however, a biography of the man. Instead it is a fine analysis and study of Foch’s evolution as a general during the war, of his command and leadership approach, of his views on conducting the war, his relationships with his fellow commanders and political masters, and his strong beliefs, from France’s perspective, of the requirements to guarantee the peace that followed the great catastrophe. Above all it demonstrates the pivotal part he played in guiding the Allied armies to victory in the last year of the war, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Greenhalgh considers Foch’s journey as a senior officer from his time as a corps commander in Lorraine at the outbreak of war through to his time as Generalissimo, discussing his performance, views and development into the man chosen to direct the Allied armies during the dark weeks of March 1918 and beyond. This falls into three distinct phases: his rapid advancement from corps commander in Lorraine to commander of the Northern Army Group in 1915-1916 his fall from grace after the Battle of the Somme and eventual appointment as Chief of Staff of the French army and finally his time as Generalissimo of the Allied armies during 1918 and 1919. The picture emerging from these pages is of a hard driving, energetic, optimistic, and supremely confident general with a strong belief in victory, and one who clearly developed and grew in stature from each experience. Greenhalgh argues, convincingly, that while Foch may have preached the offensive a outrance prior to war and in 1914, he quickly recognised the requirements for victory on the entrenched battlefield, had a clear vision of the war, and developed and drove the strategy that led to victory in November 1918, strongly advocating his views against opponents, both political and military. After each distinct period of Foch’s experience within each of the above phases, Greenhalgh reflects on his performance, and what he drew from it to contribute to his development as a general. What brings credibility to her work is the sheer depth of research utilizing a wide range of primary sources, not the least of which are Foch’s notebooks written during the war, and his letters to his wife. The notebooks are a rich source of his thoughts about the war, and the means to achieve victory. But this book offers more than simply a detailed and comprehensive insight into Foch. It provides a window into the political machinations driving the war effort, both military and civil, and the difficulties surrounding coalition warfare, especially when a Supreme Commander’s authority is not clearly defined and national expectations are not aligned. In an atmosphere of bickering, backbiting and perfidious politicians, Foch’s achievements are even more remarkable, and marks him out as a man of high moral courage. As with most biographies, the author is certainly pro-Foch, although not hagiological as she readily presents commentary on the man from his contemporaries that is far from laudatory. In the disputes with Haig, Petain and Pershing she invariably takes Foch’s side, often with good cause, a good case, and able to see his faults. However, one wonders if she had researched the other three as extensively and thoroughly as she has Foch, whether she would have been less critical of them, Haig and Pershing in particular, given the national interests they had to consider. Nonetheless, Greenhalgh’s work is essentially balanced and objective, and she presents her case based on sound evidence, careful thought and an eye on the big picture. This is a very detailed study that may not appeal to all aficionados of the Great War. However, for anyone wanting to gain not only a thoroughly researched and thoughtful understanding of Foch during the war, but also a fascinating insight in the higher direction of the Allied war effort this is the book to read.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107633858
    • length: 570 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 29 mm
    • weight: 0.75kg
    • contains: 15 b/w illus. 20 maps 1 table
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. From Theory to Practice:
    1. From the Ecole de Guerre to August 1914 in Lorraine
    2. 'He held to the last quarter hour': with Ninth Army on the Marne
    3. Commander-in-Chief's deputy in the north, October–November 1914
    4. The end of the war of movement and reflections on 1914
    5. Second Artois, January–June 1915
    6. Third Artois, June–October 1915
    7. The scientific method: planning the Somme, 1916
    8. Fighting on the Somme, July–November 1916
    9. In disgrace: reflections on two years of command
    10. Intermezzo 1917
    Part II. Supreme Command:
    11. At the Supreme War Council, November 1917–March 1918
    12. Michael and Georgette, March–April 1918
    13. BLÜCHER and GNEISENAU, May–June 1918
    14. Marneschutz-Reims and Second Marne, July 1918
    15. 'Les Boches sont dans la purée': the Huns are really in the soup
    16. 'Tout le monde à la bataille'
    17. Waffenstillstand, October–November 1918
    18. Losing the peace
    Conclusion: 'supreme command is less than people think'.

  • Author

    Elizabeth Greenhalgh, University of New South Wales, Sydney
    Elizabeth Greenhalgh is a QEII Research Fellow based in the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. Her previous publications include Victory Through Coalition: Britain and France during the First World War (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

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