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Jacques Césaire Joffre
Commander-in-Chief of the French Army during World War I
Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre [zO' fr] was born on January 12, 1852, in the town of Rivesaltes, in the Eastern Pyrenees. He graduated from the college of Perpignan with high honors in mathematics, and then attended the École Polytechnique in Paris.
Joffre first saw military service during the siege of Paris, during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. He resumed and completed his education after the war, and then, in 1872, entered the engineering corps of the French Army. The death of his first wife led Joffre to request a transfer to French Indochina, which was duly granted. He participated in the 1885 occupation of Formosa, and then spent three years as chief of engineers in Hanoi. He was sent to build a railway in Senegal in 1892, led a successful attack on Timbuktu in 1894, and was transferred to Madagascar in 1897. At Madagascar, he oversaw construction of a naval base at Diégo-Suarez. By 1905, Joffre had risen to the rank of Major General.
In 1911, Joffre was appointed Chief of the French General Staff. In this position, he was responsible for drawing up plans for a possible pre-emptive invasion of Germany. He assumed command of all French armies upon outbreak of World War I, and was made Commander-in-Chief of the French Army on December 2, 1915. As Commander-in-Chief, Joffre won praise for his ability to remain calm in crisis, as well as for his absolute refusal to admit defeat. His counterattack against the German armies that had invaded France at the beginning of the war (First Battle of the Marne, September 1914) made Joffre a national hero. But his inability to make any further progress against the Germans gradually lessened his popularity. In 1915, he launched massive attacks against German defenses in the Champagne and Artois regions, in which his forces took severe losses but gained little reward. This failure, combined with his inability to defend Verdun in February of 1916, along with a series of other setbacks, led to his being dismissed as Commander-in-Chief on December 13, 1916.
Although Joffre had lost favor with the French military and government establishments, he remained popular with the general public, so he was given the title Marshal of France the same day he was relieved of his military command. The title was purely ceremonial, however, and his participation in the war effort was effectively over. His only other contributions came in 1917, when he served as head of the French military mission to the United States, and in 1918, when he served as president of the Supreme War Council.
Joffre spent the rest of his life in retirement, and working on his memoirs. He died in Paris on January 3, 1931. His memoirs were published in two volumes in 1932.
This page was last updated on March 25, 2017.