Who was Joseph Joffre?
Marshal Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre was a commander of the French Army during the World War I. He got recognition for his noteworthy success during the First Battle of the Marne in which the French Army defeated the Germans. His successful application of military tactics in battle ground earned him the nickname, “Papa Joffre”. After joining the French Army at a young age, he proved his potentiality as a leader by taking command of a military group during the Paris Uprising. He served in Indo-China and later in North Africa. He proved his organizational skill when he was the Director of Engineers. During the World War I, he got recognition as a person who preferred offensive strategy to defensive tactics. The unique feature of his character was that, he knew how to maintain a calm disposition of mind even under the constant pressure and horror of war. That is the reason why, the soldiers of the French Army nicknamed him as “Gandpere”. He, however, faced severe criticism for his failed military techniques when the French faced defeat at Verdun. Despite his failures on several occasions, his popularity remained intact and he rose to the rank of Marshal of France.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in Rivesaltes, Roussillon, France, Joseph Joffre was the eldest of eleven children of a provincial cooper. He completed his graduation from the college of Perpignan with honours in mathematics.
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He started his military career by fighting in defence of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War from 1870 to 1871. During the Sino-French War from 1884 to 1885, he played a significant role in the Keelung Campaign.
In 1885, he was responsible for the military control of Formosa. Later, he served as chief of engineers for three years at Hanoi. As part of his military job, he went to Senegal in 1892, to build a railway.
It was Joffre, who successfully led the French Army to attack on Timbuktu. After his transfer to Madagascar in 1897, he built the naval base of Diego-Suarez. Due to his hard work and efforts, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel.
In 1903, he came back to France and took the command of the Thirteenth Brigade. After three years, he took-up the responsibility to control the Sixth Division. In 1908, he was in charge of controlling the Second Corps at Amiens.
During the opening battles of the World War I, he successfully adopted Plan XVII, a military doctrine by General Ferdinand Foch to defend France from Germany.
The French Army’s success during the First Battle of Marne made him a national hero. Due to his noteworthy contribution in this battle, he became Commander-in Chief of the French Army.
Later, in 1916, he was replaced by Gen. Robert Georges Nivelle due to a disagreement between him and the minister of war Joseph Gallieni regarding Joffre’s failure on the fortification of Verdun. Despite his failure at Verdun, he got promoted as the Marshal of France.
In later years of his life, he served as the head of the French Military Mission. The purpose of the French Military Mission was to reform the struggling Romanian Army. After working for one year as the head of this Mission, he acted in the same position in the United States
During his tenure in the United States, he was selected as leader of the Supreme War Council in 1918. He retired from the military service in the following year. After his retirement, he became a member of the Academie francaise.
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During the Battle of the Frontiers in 1914, he issued his Instruction Particuliere No. 10 after receiving repeated warning from Charles Lanrezac, a French general, regarding German cavalry spotted at Dinant on the Meuse.
He was confident that the German cavalry could be held by the British and Belgians. As part of his order, French Third and Fourth Armies were making preparation to attack into the Ardennes.
Unfortunately, the French and British were forced to fall back by the German forces towards the Marne, east of Paris for his erroneous military tactics.
During the First Battle of Marne in 1914, he successfully applied his military tactics by issuing his Instruction Generale No. 4. As part of his order, Gallieni, the Military Governor of Paris, took the command of the Sixth Army.
To empower the French Army, he formed a new cavalry corp under Conneau to fill the gap between Fifth Army and the BEF. To ensure success in the battle, he dismissed several unsuccessful generals and replaced them with powerful military personalities like Franchet d’Esperey, Foch and so on.
By remaining calm under the constant pressure of war, he skilfully handled the French infantry divisions and efficiently supervised artillery ammunition supplies at that time.
In 1915, he made a series of unsuccessful offensives against the German lines in Champagne and Artois. Without considering the weak state of defence of the French Army, he gave priority to his offensives and removed most of the heavy guns from the fortress of Verdun.
Personal Life & Legacy
After the death of his wife, he expressed his willingness to accept an offer of transfer to Indo-china. He had a daughter.
He breathed his last in Paris and was buried on his estate in Louveciennes, in north-central France.
During his visit to Romania in 1920, Casa Capsa, one of the renowned restaurants of Bucharest, prepared Joffre cake in honour of this mighty military personality. This cake was nothing but a chocolate buttermilk layer cake.