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Louis Félix Marie François Franchet D'esperey Edit Profile

general , Military

Louis Félix Marie François Franchet d'Espèrey was a French general during World War I. As commander of the large Allied army based at Salonika, he conducted the successful Macedonian campaign, which caused the collapse of the Southern Front and contributed to the armistice.


He was born in Mostaganem in French Algeria, the son of an officer of cavalry in the Chasseurs d'Afrique.


He was educated at Saint-Cyr and graduated in 1876. After being assigned to a regiment of Algerian Tirailleurs (native infantry), d'Espèrey served in French Indochina, in China (in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, during which his cousin the German plenipotentiary Clemens von Ketteler was killed) and Morocco. Franchet d'Espèrey subsequently commanded various infantry regiments in France. He received command of I Corps in 1913.


In 1900 d'Esperey participated in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion and returned to France to command first a regiment, then a brigade. The two years preceding the First World War he spent under General Lyautey in the pacification of Morocco. In addition to his official travel, d'Esperey made extensive private tours of the Balkans and eastern Europe, including areas of subsequent strategic significance like the Greek and Dalmatian coasts. Fifty-eight years old in 1914, he struck colleagues and acquaintances as a particularly energetic and resolute officer a man who retained some of the unsophisticated manner and hotheadedness of a lieutenant on African service.

D'Esperey led the I Corps of the Fifth Army during the opening weeks of the war, holding his battered units together during the retreat from Charleroi and taking the lead in the important counterattack at Guise on August 29, 1914. Promoted to command the Fifth Army on the eve of the battle of the Marne, he adopted the innovative artillery tactics of his talented subordinate, General Pétain, in preparing the way for a speedy advance. His army played a crucial role at the Marne, liberating Reims and establishing d'Esperey as a senior commander for the remainder of the war. In October 1914, as the western front was degenerating into stalemate, he used the occasion of a visit by President Raymond Poincaré to suggest that a major Allied offensive take place in the Balkans. D'Esperey envisioned a thrust up the Vardar valley to Belgrade and on to Budapest. The idea was quietly turned aside.

By 1916 d'Esperey was an army group commander and was considered as a candidate to succeed General Joffre as commander in chief, but his political orientation and religious affiliations removed him from serious contention. He distinguished himself once again in October 1917, leading the first major offensive by French troops in the period following the spring and summer mutinies, the politically and militarily sensitive offensive at Malmaison. In May 1918, however, d'Esperey's Northern Army Group was the victim of a successful German advance of thirty miles from the Chemin des Dames southward to the Marne. He was "demoted upward" and sent to command the diverse Allied units gathered in Macedonia.

In September 1918, d’Esperey launched an offensive with his force of French, British, and Serbian units that advanced to Skopje, Belgrade, and on into Hungary. Alert to the strategic possibilities that his successes had brought he had among other things forced the Bulgarians to sue for an armistice d'Esperey urged the Supreme War Council at Versailles to permit an advance to Vienna, Prague, and Dresden. Marshal Foch remained wedded to the need to maintain the bulk of the Allied armies on the western front, however, and the November 1918 armistice put an end to these ambitious strategic musings.

D'Esperey remained in the Balkans for two years in the de facto role of Allied pro-consul in southeastern Europe. He supported extensive Yugoslav territorial claims at the Versailles peace negotiations, and aided in the suppression of Béla Kun's Soviet government in Hungary. He returned to North Africa in 1920 and was promoted from general to marshal of France in 1922. He was severely injured in an automobile accident in 1933, still on active duty in Tunisia at the age of seventy-seven. He died at Albi in southern France on July 8,1942.