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Foch in Command: The Forging of a First World War General (Cambridge Military Histories) Hardcover – 4 Aug 2011
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'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 (h-france.net)
This is the first study in English of the French general who led the Allies to victory in 1918. Elizabeth Greenhalgh sheds new light on how Foch grappled with the enemy, with his allies and with his political masters, and how he learned to wage modern industrial war.See all Product description
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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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