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French History

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Since 1918 historians have considered Plan XVII the embodiment of French strategy in 1914 and have seen French thinkers such as Ardant du Picq and Ferdinand Foch as providing the primary intellectual force behind the offensive a outrance. A more careful examination of French documents and experience, however, leads one to a different view of French strategy and the sources of their strategic thinking and doctrine. In reality Plan XVII was nothing more than a concentration plan and an expression of alternatives, and French strategy in 1914 was devised and controlled personally by General Joseph Joffre. Just as Joffre dominated the formulations of strategy, he also dominated the development of French doctrine and more so than any other person was the "father" of offensive a outrance.


To understand Joffre's influence over French strategy and doctrine, it is necessary to recall the political and strategic environment in July 1911 when he was appointed Chief of the General Staff. Beyond the second Moroccan crisis and the arrival of the German gunboat Panther off Agadir, the French High Command experienced considerable turmoil in 1910-1911 with General Victor Michel becoming the Vice President of the Superior Council of War in 1910 and Andre Messimy becoming Minister of War on June 30, 1911. Adding to the tension, Lieutenant Colonel Louis Loyzeaux de Grandmaison, the head of the Third Bureau of the General Staff, gave his famous lectures on tactics in February 1911 criticizing the "nearly complete atrophy" of the offensive spirit in the French army and calling for a renewal of that spirit. When Messimy forced Michel's resignation in July 1911, he did so because of his complete lack of confidence in Michel as a leader and as a strategic and doctrinal thinker. Ironically, Michel had called not only for the integration of active and reserve forces but also for a new strategy permitting



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