At Long Last, a Supreme Commander


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Ninety-five years ago, on 26 March 1918, at a conference in Doullens, the Allies, the French, British, and now the Americans, finally agree to appoint an Allied Supreme Commander for the Western Front.   For three and a half years, neither the British nor the French were willing to countenance placing their forces under command of a General from the other respective nation for any but the most local and temporary situations.   Differences in philosophy, national pride, individual ego, and centuries-old mutual distrust (exacerbated by the very lack of coordination such a situation made inevitable) created an environment where the alliance became, at times, highly contentious and all but hostile.   The result was most often a stunning lack of coordination of effort and vision that played into the hands of the Imperial German commanders, allowing them to defeat in detail discordant Allied offensive efforts that might have otherwise seriously pressed the Germans.

The Great War on the Western Front is a grim and maddening exposition of military incompetence with the most tragic of consequences.   There are myriad reasons for this seemingly endless phantasm which wasted an entire generation.  Elderly, ossified commanders who had neither the energy or mental flexibility to wage modern war.   Weapons technology that rendered a generation of tactics (and tacticians) dangerously obsolete.

To these shortcomings and failures must be added the lack of a single overall commander to coordinate strategy, impart mediation, and provide the vision for fighting the armies of the Western Front.   Unity of Command, one of the nine principles of war,  did not come until very late in the day, and that under extreme and compelling conditions as the German Spring Offensive threatened to break the British 5th Army and capture Paris.

So it would be Ferdinand Foch, erstwhile Chief of Staff for Marshall Petain, who would finally, at long last, command in the West.

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3 responses to “At Long Last, a Supreme Commander

  1. David Navarre

    I’ve been reading ‘Guns of August’ lately and the whole thing is horrifyingly fascinating.

  2. Alas, Foch was nothing to write home about.