Hunter: The Great War
Generale Joseph Joffre
Chief of Staff for the French army
The French chief of staff, often criticized for his inability to understand the changing nature of warfare.
Joffre was born in Rivesaltes, Roussillon, the son of a family of vineyard owners. He entered the École Polytechnique in 1870 and became a career officer. He first saw active service during the Siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War, but spent much of his career in the colonies as a military engineer, serving with distinction in the Keelung Campaign during the Sino-French War (August 1884–April 1885). He returned to France and was made commander-in-chief of the French Army (1911), after Joseph Gallieni declined the post. With the revival of the army and a purge of “defensive-minded” officers2 he adopted the strategy devised by Ferdinand Foch, the offensive known as Plan XVII. Joffre was selected to command despite never having commanded an Army, even on paper, and “having no knowledge whatever of General Staff work.” 3
At the outbreak of war, the French plan clashed with the German Schlieffen Plan, much to the detriment of the French. Joffre helped to retrieve the situation through retreat and counterattack at the First Battle of the Marne. He combined the French 9th and 10th armies into the French 6th army in under two weeks before turning it over to Joseph Gallieni in the First Battle of the Marne. His major positive contributions that won the Battle of the Marne were 1) his sustained calm under pressure and the calculated reasoning of an alumnus from Ecole Polytechnique 2) his ruthless dismissal of incompetent generals during the summer of 1914 and 3) his outstanding logistical handling of French infantry divisional movements and artillery ammunition supplies during and after the French retreat of July 1914. Following the enormous losses at Verdun and particularly at the Anglo-French offensive at the Somme which he had championned he was replaced by General Robert Nivelle on 13 December 1916.2
Still popular, Joffre was made Marshal of France, the first man to receive that rank under the Third Republic, but his role was little more than ceremonial.