Who Was Ferdinand Foch?

Before the War

Ferdinand Foch was born 2 October 1851 in Tarbes near the French-Spanish border. He took an interest in the military from an early age and enlisted as an infantryman in the Franco-Prussian War. After the war Foch trained as an officer from 1871-3. He received his commission in 1873 and became a lieutenant in the artillery. Conspicuously able from the outset he rose through the ranks relatively quickly.

Foch taught at the military academy in Paris and published influential works on military theory, he was renowned for his advocacy of offensive strategies viewed with skepticism in France at the time. In 1907 he was made commandant of the École Militaire and later of the Staff College.

The Great War

He was General of French 2nd Army at the outbreak of war and garnered praise for his victories at Nancy and the First Battle of the Marne. In light of his early successes he was commander-in-chief of the Northern Army Group but after defeats at Artois and the First Battle of the Somme he was transferred to Italy.

Subsequently he was recalled to the western front and by 15 May 1917 his reputation had recovered sufficiently that he was made chief of staff. As chief of staff he was a member of France’s supreme war council. He continued to impress and was eventually made commander-in-chief of the allies in Belgium and France. He won a decisive victory at Villers-Cotterêts on 18 July 1918 which pushed the German high command toward the realization that they could not win the war.

After the War

On 11 November Foch accepted the German surrender. He later appeared as a negotiator at the Versailles where he called unsuccessfully for a new French-German border following the course of the Rhine. In recognition of his efforts he was made an honorary marshal of the Polish army and field-marshal of the British army. He went on to receive many further accolades and had numerous places and objects named for him.

Foch died on 20 march 1929 at the age of 77 and was buried with full military honours at Les Invalides alongside other notable French military figures including Napoleon.

Alex is a history student at King's College London focusing on Europe and the Near East in the Middle Ages. He currently works writing and editing content for madefromhistory.