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A century ago General Joffre, as Chief of the French General Staff, led the armies that blocked the German invasion at the First Battle of the Marne. He saved Paris from occupation and France from probable defeat. His calm demeanour when faced with a disaster, his ruthless dismissal of incompetent subordinates, and his skilled redeployment of his forces contributed to a historic victory. At the time many saw him as the saviour of the nation, but what should we make of him now?
For Joffre contributed to the failures of the French army and its strategy before the war and during the first battles of 1914. Also his conduct of the war after the Marne – futile offensives that cost thousands of lives and gained no ground, followed by near defeat at Verdun - undermined his position and led to his dismissal.
Although he remained immensely popular in France, his reputation has been under a cloud ever since, and he has been overshadowed by the French generals - Pétain and especially Foch - who commanded the French army at the time of the final victory over Germany.
André Bourachot, in this lucid and highly readable study of Joffre's career, focuses on his performance during the opening phase of the Great War. He offers a fresh and carefully considered view of the man and the soldier.
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