Primary Documents - French Memorandum to the 2nd Inter-Allied Conference at Chantilly, 6 December 1915

Joseph Joffre At the second inter-allied conference at Chantilly on 6 December 1915 the French, led by Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre, proposed a combined plan of action for the following year.

Reproduced below is the text of a French memorandum presented to the attending Allied representatives.  The memorandum details the French recipe for a combined concerted action in 1916.

Plan of Action Proposed by France to the Coalition

Memorandum Laid Before the Second Allied Military Conference at Chantilly, 6th December 1915

After the comparative failure of the operations against France and Russia, Germany, covered in the West by her main Armies and a powerful defensive system, and on the Russian front by similar dispositions of less strength, is employing in the East such forces as she still has at her disposal.

The aims of the enemy in this new phase of the war are easy to understand:

  1. To husband his resources in men, and by slowing down the process of attrition, to be in a condition to continue the struggle indefinitely : a policy made possible by the intervention of new allies, and by the intensive employment of those he already possesses.
    In attracting its forces to secondary theatres by threats at particularly vulnerable points, to decentralize the efforts of the Coalition.
  2. To pursue the realisation of the German imperial idea contained in the phrase "Drang nach Osten" so as to increase his world prestige, raise the morale of his own people, and acquire so strong a position in the East that, whatever the issue of the struggle, he could not be forced to surrender it.

If we adopt the least favourable view, the war may last long enough to enable Germany to realize this plan, the success of which would give her considerable moral and material advantages, constituting an insurance against final defeat.

To oppose Germany's aims we consider that the Coalition ought:

  1. Pursue its principal objective: the destruction of the German and Austrian Armies.
  2. Foil Germany's attempt at imperial domination in the East.

1. Principal Objective

There must be no indecision regarding the means by which the first of these objectives is to be achieved.

The Allied armies ought to resume the general offensive on the Franco-British, Italian and Russian fronts as soon as they are in a state to do so.

All the efforts of the Coalition must be exerted in the preparation and execution of this decisive action, which will only produce its full effect as a co-ordination of offensives.

It must be borne in mind that an offensive by our troops in France would now be a very considerable undertaking, owing to the large forces of the enemy opposed to us.  This operation would be facilitated if a Russian attack in force caused the Germans to move troops from the Western Front.

Conversely, if Franco-British demonstrations, judiciously carried out, succeed in pinning to their ground the whole of the forces opposed to us, the field will be clear for the reorganized Russian Armies.

Suppose, on the other hand, that there is no co-ordination of effort.  In the present situation the Germans are able to add 10 divisions, no longer required in Serbia, to their forces in reserve - about 12 divisions - on the French front.  Combined with the troops which could with safety be withdrawn from the Russian front, a mass of 25 to 30 divisions could be assembled.  If the enemy is permitted to carry out these movements, he will employ this force, acting on interior lines, on each front in succession.

We consider that, to be successful, our offensive should take place at almost the same time on both fronts - a few weeks hence.

On this point we ask the opinions of the members of the Conference.

When they resume the offensive the Allied Armies will have to overcome the difficult problem of breaking through the fortified positions which confront them on both fronts.  This problem is not the same in both cases.

On the Western Front the enemy has developed and strengthened for more than a year past the strongest possible defensive system, held by very strong forces (110 divisions, all German).  In Russia he occupies lines of vast extent, weakly held, which are probably not so strong owing to lack of time and means to make them so.

In these conditions, it seems that a breach in the German lines on the Russian front could now be easily converted into a strategic "break-through", leading to the disorganization and retreat of the enemy Armies.

From what we know of the conditions of the Allied Armies, they are not ready now to undertake the co-ordinated action which we judge necessary in order to bring about a decision.

It is therefore necessary for each of the Powers to combine their means and increase their resources, pursuing meanwhile an energetic policy of wearing down the opposing forces.

In conclusion, so far as the principal theatres of war are concerned, the Allies must adopt the following policy until such time as it is possible to launch the combined offensive.

Great Britain, Italy and Russia should use every endeavour to wear down their opponents.  France will co-operate so far as her resources in man power permit.

France, Great Britain and Italy should complete their organization and equipment and also supply Russia with the material she lacks, so that the Russian Armies may be raised to their full offensive value as soon as possible.

2. Secondary Objectives

For a long time the Quadruple Entente has realized that in its own interest Germany's policy of Eastern domination must be checked.  It has therefore endeavoured to bar the way to German expansion in the East.

(a) The first attempt was made on Constantinople itself, and success would have had important results, detaching Turkey from the Central Empires.  At all events, the latter would have found themselves unable to develop their Eastern policy.

Unfortunately the expedition did not achieve the hoped-for result.  We can only admit the failure and the impossibility of making a further effort in that direction.

(b) The second attempt was made in the Balkan peninsula, and is in course of execution.

Hesitations and delays have resulted in a situation much less favourable to the Quadruple Entente than would have resulted from more decisive action.

The Serbian Army has been driven into the mountains of Montenegro and Albania, and our expeditionary force has begun to retreat towards the Greek frontier.

Faced by this momentary failure, ought we to consider the game lost, give up the plan and abandon Salonika? This solution should be rejected for the following reasons:

1. The diversity of interests involved may lead at any moment to a change of the Balkan situation in our favour.  We must be in a position to profit by it.

As regards Greece, the presence of our expeditionary force, combined with the action of our fleet, constitutes a powerful influence which has already had a salutary effect.  So long as we maintain ourselves in Greek territory, we shall be able to take advantage of the changes in the political situation of that country, and perhaps to overcome her pusillanimity.

As for Rumania, Germany has begun to bring great pressure to bear on her with a view to securing her economic, and perhaps military, support.

Encouraged by our presence in Salonika, and by the concentration of the Russian Army in Bessarabia, Rumania seems little disposed to yield to German demands.  Indeed, there seems to be a revival of feeling in our favour at Bucharest.  It is expedient to study events in this quarter.  In order to keep Rumania detached from Germany, the Coalition must take the appropriate economic measures which are examined in a special appendix.

It is for Russia to take military action, either by the direct support of her Army in Bessarabia, or by vigorous attacks upon the Austrians in Galicia; or even by a vigorous attack upon Bulgaria across Rumanian territory.

It is obvious that the Franco-British forces at Salonika are advantageously situated to facilitate Russian military action ; for, so long as Bulgaria feels the threat of the Allies to her flank and rear, she will not be able to engage all her forces against Rumania ; nor will a German winter campaign against southern Russia be possible.

The field will remain open for secret diplomatic action to influence Tsar Ferdinand, who, according to certain information, is impatient of German tutelage.

3. We are in favour of increased Italian efforts on the Albanian coast.  It ought to be possible to reassemble the Serbian Army when it arrives on the Adriatic coast, and to reorganize it.

4. Finally, we should prevent the Central Empires from controlling Greece, either by force or persuasion, and so utilizing all the Greek ports and islands as bases for the maintenance of submarines, which would soon wrest from us our control of the Mediterranean Sea.

For all the above reasons the Quadruple Entente should remain in the region of Salonika, and wait upon events, directing them, if possible, to conform to its interests and ready to profit by them.

If, as a result of her consolidated position in southern Serbia, or in Greece, and in Albania, the Quadruple Entente succeeds in attracting to its side Rumania and Greece, there is no doubt that the Balkan situation in the following spring would be most favourable, and would permit a complete check to all German enterprises in the East.

On the contrary, if events do not take a favourable course, and if the presence of our expeditionary force at Salonika becomes useless, we shall have to go further afield in order to block the path of German imperialism.  At that moment, but only at that moment, we should evacuate Salonika, and consider the opportunity of arresting enemy progress in the direction of Egypt.

(c) In the present situation the presence of our forces at Salonika is sufficient to bar the way to German enterprise in the East.

The Germans have displayed an intention to threaten Egypt, and, though it is impossible to estimate the precise importance of this intention, it must not be overlooked.

In any case, the Allies ought to take all necessary steps to counter this threat.  Egypt must be put in a proper state of defence and troops sent there.

But we cannot disperse our forces in a series of divergent operations without playing into the enemy's hands.  In principle, the troops actually in the East should suffice for this secondary theatre.

In order to ensure the defence of Egypt in an economical way, it will be necessary to draw for troops upon one of our expeditionary forces which, for the reasons indicated above, can only be that at Gallipoli.

Consequently, we foresee the evacuation of the peninsula and the transfer of the British troops there to Egypt.

Moreover, the situation of the expeditionary force at Gallipoli presents no prospect of improvement.  It may even become critical now that the Turks are supplied by the Germans with munitions and material of all kinds.  The most experienced officers on the spot are of opinion that evacuation will be forced upon us when the enemy makes a properly mounted attack on our positions.  It is better to bow to the inevitable and withdraw our troops before they are closely invested.  We propose, from this moment, the total evacuation of the peninsula, to be carried out progressively.

The British forces on the peninsula will be sent to Egypt for rest and reorganization.

The defence of Egypt will be assured by these troops, and by a powerful defensive system to be organized immediately east of the Suez Canal.

To recapitulate, we propose that the Coalition adopt the following plan:

A. In the Principal Theatres

1. Great Britain, France, Italy and Russia will deliver simultaneous attacks with their maximum forces on their respective fronts as soon as they are ready to do so and circumstances seem favourable.  This is our essential aim, the principal means by which we expect to force a decision.

2. Until this can be done, the Austro-German forces will be worn down by vigorous action, to be carried out principally by those powers which still have reserves of man power. (Great Britain, Italy and Russia).

3. Each of the Powers will unceasingly continue to accumulate material and equipment.  Russia and Serbia will be helped by their Allies to reorganize their armies in this respect.

B. In the Secondary Theatres

The Allies will allot to the secondary theatres only the minimum forces required - in principle, those which are already in the East - and will use them to bar the way to German expansion, conforming to the programme given below.  One commander-in-chief for all the Allied forces in the East will be charged with its execution:

1. The Coalition will first try to establish in the Balkans the effective barrier which they failed to form at Constantinople.  With this object it is necessary:

  1. To continue in occupation of the Salonika region, in default of southern Serbia (Franco-British Expeditionary Force, remnants of Serbian army).
  2. To occupy Albania in force (Italy), to reassemble and reorganize the Serbian army.
  3. To continue pressure on Greece (France, Great Britain, Italy), in order to obtain the maximum co-operation from her, and to organize on her coasts operations against enemy submarines.
  4. To take economic and military action (Coalition and Russia) to keep Rumania free from German control.
  5. To follow closely the trend of events in the Balkans and profit by all opportunities to bring neutrals over to our side, and take advantage of changes which are always possible in view of the diverse interests at stake.

2. At the same time, the Coalition must provide for the adequate defence of Egypt.  With this object it is necessary

  1. To evacuate Gallipoli by degrees and send the British troops thus relieved to Egypt for rest and reorganization.
  2. To create a strong defensive system east of the Suez Canal.

C. Economic War

The economic war will be organized and carried out to its fullest extent, the necessary steps being taken at once by common Allied agreement.

A Kite Balloon was an observation balloon controlled by a cable from the ground.

- Did you know?

Primary Docs