Louis Franchet d’Esperey,
Commander of the French Fifth Army from Sep.1914


Biographies and Glossary

King Albert I (1875-1934) - King of Belgium from 1909, commander of the Belgian Army from August 1914.  Vigorous; capable political and military leader, although his power was limited until the war broke out.  His overriding goal was to maintain Belgian independence, and to avoid domination by either Germany or the Allies.

Duke Albrecht of Württemberg (1865-1939) - Commander of German 4th Army, 1914-1917; commander of Army Group Albrecht on the left of the German line, 1917-1918.  Moderately but not remarkably competent.

Herbert Asquith (1852-1928) - British Liberal Prime Minister, 1908-1916.

BEF - The British Expeditionary Force; that is, the British Army in France

Karl von Bülow (1846-1921) - Commander of 2nd Army on the German right, 1914-1915.  Experienced, but showing signs of age.  In the invasion of France in August, 1914 he was supposed to determine the pace of the advance of the right wing, but he proved to be cautious and pessimistic.  It was Bülow who initiated the German retreat from the Battle of the Marne in September, 1914.  Retired after a heart attack in Mar.1915.

Nöel Marie-Joseph Edouard, Vicomte de Currières de Castelnau (1851-1944) - Commander of French 2nd Army in Lorraine, 1914-1915.  From an old military-aristocratic family; was Joffre’s deputy, 1911-1914.  Commanded Army Group Center and directed the Champagne offensive, 1915; Chief of Staff to Joffre, 1915; briefly sent to Salonika, 1915-1916; revitalized the defense of Verdun and placed Pétain in charge, Feb.1916; after a hiatus, commanded Army Group East in Lorraine in 1918.  Highly aggressive without being foolish, he was an excellent officer, but his zealous Catholicism and conservatism made him suspect to the leaders of the Third Republic.  

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) - First Lord of the Admiralty, 1911-1915.  The still-young Churchill ably held several important posts in the Liberal government from 1905 to 1915, and played a major role in British military policy in the early stages of the war. 

Crown Prince… see Wilhelm

Louis Franchet d’Esperey (1856-1942) - Commander of the French I Corps in Aug. 1914; and of French 5th Army from Sep 1914.  Long and varied experience in colonial wars.  Replaced Lanrezac as 5th Army commander on Sep.03.1914; he immediately drew up a brilliant impromptu outline that served as the basis for French plans in the 1st Battle of the Marne.  Normally amiable, he deliberately transformed himself in response to the crisis of 1914, becoming ruthlessly tough and determined.  Commanded Army Groups East and then North, 1916-1918; defeated in the Aisne offensive in spring 1918; sent to Salonika, he crushed the Bulgarian Army in Sep. 1918; led French occupation forces in the Balkans until 1920; remained on active service until his late seventies; associated with the French fascist movement in the 1930’s.

Deuxiéme Bureau - French intelligence 

de Langle… see Langle

Augustin Yvon Edmond Dubail (1851-1934) - Commander of French 1st Army in Lorraine, 1914-1915; commanded Army Group East, 1915-1916.  Scapegoated by Joffre for Verdun; Military Governor of Paris 1916-1918.  

Erich von Falkenhayn (1861-1922) - Prussian War Minister, 1913-1915.  German Chief of Staff Sep.1914-Aug.1916; conceived Verdun offensive and was demoted after its failure; commanded 9th Army 1916-1917, conquering Romania; defeated by Allenby in Palestine, 1917-1918; commanded 10th Army in Lithuania, 1918-1919.  Perceptive, confident, and hard-working, he was a capable administrator and strategist, but not a great field commander.

Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929) -  Commander of XX Corps in Lorraine, Aug.1914; commander of French 9th Army, Aug-Oct.1914.  Before the war he was a highly influential instructor and administrator at the École de Guerre who promoted the ‘offensive spirit’ doctrine that would become French military dogma by 1914, but he also more sensibly encouraged flexibility and adaptability.  Though he’d never been in combat before, he successfully endured desperate fighting in Lorraine in Aug.1914 and in the Battle of the Marne in Sep.  Commanded Army Group North, Jan.1915-Dec.1916.  After a brief hiatus, became Chief of Staff to Pétain in May.1917;  organized Allied relief to Italy, fall 1917; named Allied Supreme Commander in spring 1918, though with limited powers. Credited as the mastermind behind the successful Allied offensives in the last months of the war.  Foch favored a tough settlement with Germany, and predicted a second world war when one was not imposed.  Intelligent, resolute, cool, and supremely aggressive.  One of the most remarkable personalities of WWI.

Franchet d’Esperey… see d’Esperey

Sir John Denton Pinkstone French (1852-1925) - Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, 1914-1915.  Cavalry background; illustrious record in the Boer War; Chief of the Imperial General Staff, 1912-1914.  He performed poorly in World War I: he was over-cautious, prone to panic, and uncooperative with his allies in the opening campaign and was fumbling in the trench fighting that came later.  Replaced by Haig in Dec.1915.  Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the troubled years 1918-1921.

Joseph Galliéni (1849-1916) - Military Governor of Paris, 1914-1915.  Long and very distinguished career as a colonial soldier; declined the offer of command of the French Army due to ill health, in favor of Joffre, 1911.  Energetically organized Paris’s defenses in the crisis of Aug-Sep 1914 and played a key role in French planning for the First Battle of the Marne.  As War Minister, Oct.1915-Mar.1916, he clashed with Joffre but was forced to resign due to illness, dying soon afterwards.  Resourceful, dynamic, and acute; one of France’s most able generals.

GHQ - British General Headquarters

GQG - Grand Quartier Général; French headquarters

Loiseau de Grandmaison - Extreme proponent of the disastrous French doctrine of ‘offensive to the limit’, which he popularized an instructor at the War College in 1911.  Appropriately enough, he died leading an infantry charge in the first weeks of WWI.

Sir Douglas Haig (1861-1928) - Commander of I Corps of the BEF, 1914-1915.  Saw action in the Sudan and the Boer War; Indian Army Chief of Staff, 1909-1912.  Commanded British 1st Army in 1915; successfully intrigued against the inept John French and replaced him as commander of the BEF, from Dec.1915.  Responsible for the extremely bloody Somme (1916) and 3rd Ypres (1917) offensives; was dramatically but indecisively defeated by the Ludendorff offensives in early 1918; successfully pushed back the weakened Germans later in the year.  British home forces commander, 1919-1921; on his retirement in 1921 he was very richly rewarded for his services.  Unimaginative and distant, he was promoted above his level of competence, at heavy cost to the British Army.

Richard Haldane (1856-1928) - British Secretary for War, 1905-1912.  An outstanding administrator, he was responsible for the major reforms that modernized and strengthened the British Army, and for first planning the creation of a British Expeditionary Force.

Max Klemens von Hausen (1846-1922) - Commander of the German 3rd Army, 1914.  Relieved of his command not long after the Battle of the Marne.

Richard Hentsch (1869-1918) - Envoy from the German General Staff who played a key part in the German decision to retreat from the Marne in 1914; although he was later partly blamed for the defeat, the withdrawal was almost certainly necessary by the time of his intervention.  Hentsch was a lucid, articulate, and highly trustworthy officer.

Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre (1852-1931) - Commander of the French Army, 1911-1916.  Engineering officer with extensive colonial experience; a protégé of Galliéni.  Appointed chief of the General Staff over better-known colleagues, 1911; strongly encouraged the offensive doctrine that was in vogue at the time.  In Aug.1914, his initial refusal to admit the failure of his opening offensives and to grasp the strength of the German invasion nearly cost France the war at the very outset, but in the crisis of the Long Retreat Joffre’s strengths emerged: he remained imperturbable, kept a tight grip on his armies, and struck back hard when an opportunity appeared.  His victory at the Marne was incomplete - the Germans were stopped, but not broken - but it was enough to give the authoritarian Joffre the prestige to assume almost dictatorial powers for a time.  His 1915 offensives were bloody failures, the German attack on Verdun in 1916 revealed serious deficiencies, and in Dec.1916, he was effectively removed from power by being kicked upstairs to ceremonial and figurehead roles.  Joffre was purposeful, very strong-willed, and profoundly self-confident - but he was also stubborn, autocratic, and imperceptive.  In the first weeks of the war, it can be said that he saved France, after putting France in the position of needing to be saved.

Kaiser… see Wilhelm II

Horatio Herbert, Earl Kitchener (1850-1916) - British Secretary for War, 1914-1916.  The pre-eminent military leader of the British Empire, greatly admired by the British public, he was on leave from his post as Viceroy of Egypt when WWI erupted.  He was immediately put in charge of the British war effort.  He was one of the first European leaders to recognize that the conflict would be long and arduous, and his quick decisions to recruit and equip a mass army were invaluable for Britain.  But Kitchener was too autocratic and too unwilling to delegate authority to be an effective administrator of the growing war establishment - he soon became a hindrance, and during 1915 was stripped of much of his power.  He drowned when the cruiser carrying him on a visit to Russia was sunk in 1916.   Stern, enigmatic, and efficient, Kitchener was always decisive but not always right.

Alexander von Kluck (1846-1934) - Commander of German 1st Army, 1914-1915.  An experienced officer, still very active despite his age, the grim Kluck pursued his role as the driving force of the German invasion with ferocious zeal, pushing 1st Army to the limits of its endurance.  But he underestimated the Allies’ resilience, overextended his forces, and brought the Germans close to disaster at the Battle of the Marne.  His command ended when he was seriously wounded in 1915.

Ferdinand Louis Armand de Langle de Cary (1849-1927) - Commander of French 4th Army, 1914-1915.  Experienced and forceful.  Commanded Champagne offensive, 1915; Commander of Army Group Center, 1915-1916; blamed for deficiencies in Verdun’s defenses; retired in 1916. 

Charles Louis Marie Lanrezac (1852-1925) - Commander of the French 5th Army, 1914.  A highly regarded strategist and advocate of offensive warfare, he was awarded with the command of the army in the most critical position on the French left.  When war came, his belligerence quickly deflated when he sensed the immense power of the German forces moving against him; his subsequent withdrawal order began the long retreat of the Allied left.  The crisis of Aug.1914 overwhelmed him - he never lost control, but he often veered into apathy or excitability and made little attempt to liaise with the British on his left flank.  Joffre sacked him on Sep.03, on the eve of the Marne.  Whatever Lanrezac’s shortcomings, his decision to fall back from the Sambre on Aug.23 saved the French from utter disaster at the very beginning of the war.

Gérard Mathieu Leman (1851-1920) - Commander of the Belgian fortresses at Liège, 1914.  An engineering officer, his very determined defense of Liège was a major impediment to the German advance into Belgium at the outbreak of the war.  

Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) - German officer who distinguished himself at Liège, Aug.1914.  Sometimes brilliant, but often erratic.  General Staff officer, 1895-1913.  Penetrated the ring of forts at Liège and personally captured the citadel within the town, becoming one of the first German heroes of WWI.  Sent to the Eastern Front, he teamed with Hindenburg to achieve a string of victories, 1914-1916; became Hindenburg’s deputy chief of staff (1916-1918) and virtual co-dictator of Germany; launched powerful but costly offensives on the Western Front which fatally weakened Germany, Mar-Jul.1918; ousted, Oct.1918.  In early 1920’s was active in extreme right-wing politics and joined the Nazis; withdrew from public life late 1920’s and devolved into crackpotism.  

Charles Mangin (1866-1925) - Future French Army commander, renowned for his aggressiveness and disregard of causalities.

Michel Joseph Maunoury (1847-1923) - Commander of French 6th Army, 1914-1915.  Calm, courteous, and dependable; long military career.  In Aug.1914, he briefly commanded the newly forming Army of Lorraine, which was transferred to the French left wing to defend Paris and redesignated the 6th Army.  Maunoury was involved in desperate fighting in the Battle of the Marne, Sep.1914; was seriously wounded in 1915 and retired.  

Adolphe Messimy (1869-1935) - Pre-WWI French War Minister.  Former career officer who enthusiastically attempted to reform the prewar French Army, without much success.  He did somewhat improve the weak structure of the French high command in 1911.  Active in strengthening Paris’ defenses, Aug.1914, but ousted late that same month.

Victor Constant Michel - De facto pre-war commander of the French Army.  In 1911, he presciently guessed that Germany would invade through Belgium and advocated defensive measures; he was promptly sacked for lack of offensive spirit and was succeeded by Joffre.  Appointed Military Governor of Paris in Aug.1914, Michel proved to be indecisive and was replaced by Galliéni.

Count Helmuth Johannes Ludwig von Moltke the Younger (1848-1916) - German Chief of Staff, 1906-Sep.1914.  Intelligent but high-strung nephew of the great Prussian Chief of Staff Moltke the Elder; served under his uncle and under Schlieffen; succeeded the latter as Chief of Staff in 1906, a role he was ill-suited for.  In response to changing political realities, he was forced to modify Schlieffen’s master plan for the invasion of France.  Moltke’s health began to decline from 1911; though he had often expressed a desire for war, he was physically and mentally unable to cope when hostilities actually began in 1914.  His control of operations was limp; for the most part he simply let the Schlieffen Plan unfold with little direction from headquarters until his armies plodded into an Allied counteroffensive at the Battle of the Marne.  By the end of the battle, Moltke was a wreck; he was relieved of command in Sep. and replaced by Falkenhayn.

Robert Nivelle (1856-1924) - Future supreme commander of the French Army (1916-1917), responsible for the bloody and disastrous Chemin des Dames offensive.
OHL - Oberste Heeresleitung; German Supreme Headquarters

Paul Marie Pau (1848-1932) - Commander of the Army of Alsace in Aug.1914.  Prominent French general, almost chosen for supreme commander in 1911.

Henri-Philippe Pétain (1856-1951) - Future French commander at Verdun (1916), supreme commander of the French Army (1917-1918), chief of state of quasi-fascist Vichy France (1940-1944), and prisoner, serving a life sentence for treason (1945-1951).

Raymond Poincaré (1860-1934) - President of France, 1913-1920.  Conservative nationalist, fiercely anti-German.  Premier, 1912-1913.  Intending to be a strong president, he was active in foreign policy and played a large role in the July Crisis, but lost power first to Joffre and then to Clemenceau.  Was premier again, 1922-1924 and 1926-1929.

Pierre Xavier Emmanuel Ruffey (1851-1928) - Commander of French 3rd Army, Aug.1914.  Defeated in the Ardennes, he was soon replaced with Sarrail.
Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria (1869-1955) - Commander of the German 6th Army in Lorraine, 1914-1917.  Imposing, competent, and generally realistic.  He launched powerful but unsuccessful attacks in Lorraine in Aug-Sep.1914.  Commanded Army Group North, 1917-1918, and fought the British at 3rd Ypres, Cambrai, the Ludendorff offensives, and the final Allied offensives.  

Maurice Sarrail (1856-1929) - Commander of French 3rd Army, 1914-1915.  Veteran of colonial wars.  Replaced Ruffey at 3rd Army in time for the 1st Marne, Sep.1914; sacked by Joffre for political reasons, 1915; ineffectively commanded at Salonika, 1915-1917; sacked by Clemenceau, 1917.  Unsuccessful French High Commissioner in Syria, 1923-1925.  Sarrail was a political radical, a rarity among French generals.

Count Alfred von Schlieffen (1833-1913) - German Chief of Staff, 1891-1906, and author of the Schlieffen Plan.  Highly professional and intelligent, but cold and narrow-minded.  His plan called for a quick knock-out blow against France via a massive invasion through Belgium.  The Schlieffen Plan became unquestioned German doctrine, though in many ways it was unrealistic; Schlieffen himself was said to have doubts about it.

Horace Smith-Dorrien (1858-1930) - Commander of British II Corps, 1914-1915.  Long and distinguished record in British Imperial wars; involved in pre-war military planning.  Named commander of II Corps on the sudden death of his predecessor (Aug.17.1914); fought very ably against great odds at Mons and Le Cateau; commanded 2nd Army, 1915; justifiably objected to Sir John French’s futile tactics, and was sacked, May.1915.  Sent to command in East Africa, Dec.1915, but fell seriously ill, effectively ending his role in the war.  The outstanding British field commander in the early stages of WWI, his talents were squandered thanks to French’s personal animosity.

Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) - Emperor of Germany, 1888-1918.  Intelligent but unbalanced.  His bellicose foreign policy was a major factor in bringing on WWI, but once war started he lost most of his policy-making powers to the generals.

Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany (1882 - 1951) - Commander of the German 5th Army, 1914-1915.  Eldest son of Wilhelm II and heir to the German Imperial throne, he was a feckless youth who was associated with the extreme right-wing German nationalists before the war.  Appointed figurehead army commander despite his lack of experience, he did develop some military skills.  Commanded central German army group 1915-1918; led Verdun offensive in 1916 and Aisne offensive in 1918.  Exiled 1918-1923; he later supported the Nazis.

Henry Hughes Wilson (1864-1922) - British Deputy Chief of Staff, 1914-1915.  Saw action in the Boer War; involved in pre-war planning, cultivating close contacts with Foch and strengthening Anglo-French ties; Director of Military Operations, 1910-1914.  Wilson’s performance in Aug.1914 was not impressive.  He was a diplomatic general rather than a field commander; his usual role in the war was chief British liaison to the French.  Allied with Lloyd-George against Haig; British representative to Supreme War Council in 1917; Chief of the Imperial General Staff, 1918-1922.  Became involved in Irish politics and was assassinated by the IRA in 1922.  Extremely tall, strikingly ugly, good-natured, clever, full of enthusiasm, uneven in judgment.  

Photo of General d'Esperey courtesy of
Photos of the Great War (World War I Document Archive)

1st Marne Campaign: Introduction   //   (1)  Background, to Aug.02.1914

(2)  The Opening Moves, Aug.03-19   //   (3)  Battles of the Frontiers, Aug.20-24

(4)  The Long Retreat, Aug.25-Sep.04   //   (5)  1st Marne & Aftermath, Sep.05-15