Who's Who - Joseph Joffre

Joseph Joffre Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre (1852-1931) was born on 12 January 1852 in Rivesaltes in the Eastern Pyrenees.

Joffre, known as 'Papa Joffre', first saw service during the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, serving afterwards in the French colonies.  He was appointed Chief of the French General Staff in 1911 upon the recommendation of his mentor, Joseph Simon Gallieni.

In this capacity Joffre was responsible for the development of the deeply flawed Plan XVII blueprint for the invasion of Germany, which did not take account of the likelihood of a German invasion of France through Belgium.  He also acted to purge the French army of 'defensively-minded' officers prior to the outbreak of war.

Responsible for the French war effort, Joffre's remarkable qualities of magisterial calm and an absolute refusal to admit defeat proved vital during the early days of the war, particularly during the First Battle of the Marne, after which he was declared the saviour of France, although others since claimed credit for saving France at the Marne, including Gallieni.

After two and a half years as Chief of Staff, Joffre was effectively dismissed on 13 December 1916 (although Joffre remained too popular for it to be represented as such) following the initial success of the German offensive at Verdun and other failures.  He was made Marshal of France on the same day.

His lack of preparation for Verdun, plus his advocacy of Plan XVII, which resulted in setbacks during the August Battles for the Frontiers, tainted him in the eyes of many, as did French breakthrough setbacks at Champagne and Artois.  He was replaced by Robert Nivelle.

Subsequently reduced to a ceremonial role, Joffre served in 1917 as head of the French military mission to the U.S. and as president of the Supreme War Council in 1918, retiring from military and public life thereafter.  In 1919 he was made a member of the French Academy.

Joseph Joffre died on 3 January 1931 in Paris.  His memoirs, in two volumes, were published posthumously in 1932.

Click here to hear Joffre welcome the arrival of U.S. troops to France in 1917, following the U.S. declaration of war against Germany.

Click here to view brief film footage of Joffre taken before war began in 1914; click here to view footage of Joffre in Paris following the declaration of war; click here to view footage of Joffre on the Western Front.

A 'Baby's Head' was a meat pudding which comprised part of the British Army field ration.

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