FIVE years after his death, the shade of Joseph Simon Gallieni received the posthumous honor of being created Marshal of France. It was a belated but sincere recognition from the French Government that in the dark days of early September, 1914, he had saved France, and had changed the face of the World War by bringing about the ‘Miracle of the Marne.’
For years the truth was concealed by public ignorance, superficial assumptions, and the jealous dignity of a superior and his entourage, who needed to borrow the laurels of that victory in order to cover the shame of earlier disasters. Moreover, even among the governmental leaders who knew or surmised the facts, it was thought necessary to maintain the fiction in order to sustain the spirit of France and the confidence of her allies, for to the outside world the Generalissimo — Joffre — was the symbol of France triumphant. To-day, when this need has passed with the emergency, justice and gratitude demand that the world should recognize Gallieni, rather than Joffre, as the victor of the Marne.
Joseph Simon Gallieni was born on April 24, 1849, at St. Béat on the skirts of the Pyrenees — yet another of the famous soldiers of France who have sprung from that mountain region. And, if hereditary environment had an influence on his military qualities, there was an extra significance in the fact that his family was Corsican in origin and with a military tradition.
Entering St. Cyr when he was nineteen, he passed out, to a commission in the Marines, on July 15, 1870 — the day of the declaration of war against Germany. This early and bitter experience of war was for most French officers to be followed by forty years of peace soldiering, but not so with Gallieni. The service he had chosen cast his lot in foreign climes and, through a series of colonial campaigns, paved his way to a mission of colonization; for, unlike most of his famous comrades and compatriots, Gallieni would have had a niche in history if a European war had never come again within his lifetime. In the late seventies, as explorer and soldier, he played an important rôle in extending and establishing French influence in the region of the upper Niger, and, after a spell in Martinique, returned again to West Africa to become governor of Upper Senegal. An acute observer and a scientific mind, his work and writings rendered almost as much service to geographical research as to France. In 1893 he traveled east across the Indian Ocean to command a military district in Tongking and secure the French hold on the country. Three years later he was called back to a still greater rôle as governor-general and commander in chief of the new French colony of Madagascar.
Madagascar was in revolt, owing to the weakness of his predecessor.
Gallieni not only crushed the revolt and completed the full subjugation of the island, but by his political measures and development of the island’s economic resources left it peaceful and prosperous. Henceforth Madagascar was to be as closely associated with the name of Gallieni as Morocco later with the name of Lyautey. And like another great colonial administrator in Africa, Kitchener, Gallieni was to be called to the rescue of his motherland in the hour of supreme peril. But if the outcome was perhaps to dim rather than to enhance Kitchener’s wider fame, Gallieni’s niche in the hall of fame was to be enlarged during his life and still more after his death. History has few stranger coincidences than the parallel course of the careers of these two great soldiers. Both were launched into active service in the same year and the same war, — the War of 1870 against Germany, — both carved their fortunes in Africa, both became famous colonial rulers. And they died within ten days of each other, both selfsacrificed on the altar of duty in a war against the same foe they had faced together as boys.
Recalled from Madagascar in 1905, Gallieni became military governor of Lyon and commander of the Fourteenth Army Corps. After so many years in colonial expeditions and administration he had lost touch with the higher study of war and, accustomed to dealing with isolated packets of men in bush and desert fighting, found difficulty in imitating the facile mastery of those who gayly manœuvred armies of millions on paper maps. Like Joffre, he was out of his depth; but, whereas Joffre had been building fortifications, Gallieni had been building men, and, while Joffre drifted with the current, Gallieni’s quicker intelligence enabled him to strike out for a point where he could gain a firm footing. This point was the practical training of the troops. He did not attempt to lay down the law on strategical questions. Indeed, he was modest enough to realize his own handicaps and to say to his predecessor on arrival, ‘ I have come from the tropics: I don’t know in the least what has been happening at home. Let me have a young Staff College graduate to give me lessons.’ And the hero of Senegal, Tongking, and Madagascar sat humbly at the feet of this Captain Galonnier. Even when he had gained sufficient confidence to direct schemes and largescale exercises, he hesitated to be dogmatic in exposition, and so hardly impressed his true powers upon his hearers until he was confronted by a real instead of an hypothetical enemy.
He was still learning when the crisis in the French Command developed in 1911. The reason that led Gallieni to throw the weight of his name and influence in the scales against Michel, the commander in chief designate, was probably less that he distrusted the latter’s strategical policy than that he was disquieted by Michel’s personality. Another factor may have been that his belief in the value of training led him to have little faith in Michel’s project of utilizing masses of reservists. But strategically we shall see Gallieni, shortly after, taking the same view as Michel of the likelihood of a German advance through Belgium. When Michel, thrown down by all his colleagues on the Conseil Supérieur de la Guerre, was forced to resign, Gallieni could have had the succession to his place. Gallieni’s scruples forbade him to reap a personal advantage by his opposition and he declined the prize, on the excuse of his age and the limitation of his experience to colonial warfare. Messimy, the Minister of War, asked him to take two days for reflection. But Gallieni was still firm, saying, ‘It is my duty to repeat that you have a great and cruel duty to perform — that of removing General Michel; but I, who have indicted him in front of you, cannot accept to be substituted for him.’ In the impasse, Messimy asked him for alternative names. Gallieni suggested first Pau, a deeply read and intellectually qualified soldier, but politically suspect for his clerical views; secondly, Joffre, who had served under him in Madagascar; and the Minister of War accepted the latter suggestion.
Gallieni’s recommendation of his former subordinate was the one disservice he rendered to France and the worst to himself. He certainly did not realize that he was merely creating a massive puppet which would dance to the measure dictated by the ‘Young Turks’ of the General Staff, for he was by no means fitted with their blind faith in a victory march to the tune of the offensive à outrance. In 1912 he insisted that war ought to be avoided, as the French Army was unready, and in March 1914 he directed a war game at the Centre of Higher Military Studies which foreshadowed the march of the German armies through Belgium. The danger so impressed him that in his report he urged that Dunkerque, Lille, and Maubeuge ought to be put in a state to act as breakwaters to the German tide, and that a field army should also be disposed on this flank. His warning fell on the deaf ears of leaders who were confident that they had only to advance to conquer, and that it was waste of effort to renovate fortresses in their rear. A month later he reached the age for retirement, and although, in tribute to his prestige and work, he was nominally retained on the active list, he settled down in peaceful repose on a little estate at St. Raphaël. His contentment was soon doubly shattered. For, while the Austrian guns were sounding the tocsin of war on the Danube facing Belgrade, Gallieni was standing by the graveside of his wife.
From his private sorrows and the debris of his dream of a tranquil eveningtide to his life a telegram from the Minister of War came to rescue him. Dated July 31, it notified him that in case of mobilization he would be deputy to the commander in chief, Joffre, and his successor, if the need arose. But when he arrived in Paris he was left to kick his heels in impatient idleness, for Joffre showed no desire to have a potential successor at his side or to keep Gallieni au courant with the operations of which he might be called on to take charge. The Minister of War asked Joffre to attach Gallieni to his headquarters, but was refused. As a courtesy a room in the Ministry of War was given to Gallieni, and there he sat studying maps and such bare information as Joffre chose to send to the Ministry. All Gallieni could do was to utter unheeded warnings against the idea that the German halt at Liége was a serious check, against premature rejoicings over the early superficial success of the Belgian resistance, against any attempt to push forward into Belgium— and the German noose.
On August 15 the Minister, disquieted, sent Gallieni to discuss the situation with Joffre, who merely spoke to Gallieni for a moment in an antechamber and then left him to a staff officer. Five days later alarming telegrams began to flow in from Joffre’s headquarters, and when Joffre admitted the collapse of his rash hopes the Government, panic-stricken, was minded to throw over the commander in chief. A lesser man than Gallieni would have exploited this crisis, for Joffre’s dismissal meant Gallieni’s succession, but instead he joined with the Minister of War in dissuading the Cabinet from swapping horses when actually in midstream.
The defense of the capital was a different question, and on August 26 Gallieni was named military governor of Paris — when the enemy was almost at its gates. As he remarked, ‘They have given me a formidable task. Nothing is ready and the minutes are centuries.’ Having done the best it could for the menaced capital, the Government departed hastily for Bordeaux, leaving Gallieni to issue the famous proclamation, inspiring, yet with an undercurrent of sarcasm: ‘Army of Paris, Inhabitants of Paris, the members of the Government of the Republic have left Paris in order to give a new impulse to the national defense. I have received a mandate to defend Paris against the invader. This mandate I shall carry out to the end.’ The sarcasm was justified and explained by his private comment: ‘The Government has left for Bordeaux and left me alone in the presence of a population which has been deceived until now by lying communiqués.’ And it was significant of a fine sentiment that Gallieni, before accepting this charge to defend the capital, asked if its meaning was fully realized, that it might involve the destruction of historic buildings and works of art which are the glory of Paris.
His task of defense appeared to him, as he said, to comprise three elements — military defense, moral defense, and supply. While he pressed on the work of throwing up trenches and obstacles, pacified the fearful, and suppressed the alarmists, he showed an unusually acute appreciation of the reaction of the three elements of security upon each other. From experience of the 1870 siege he had culled the subtle lesson that in order to spread confidence — confidence particularly in the foresight of their leaders — ‘it was not only necessary that Paris should not want for bread, but that it should eat the same bread.’ To this end he kept a firm hand on the wholesalers and retailers, checked profiteering, supervised distribution, and, as another moral safeguard, started a campaign against drunkenness and the opportunity for it.
This concern with the internal conditions and immediate defense of Paris did not prevent his keeping his eyes on a wider horizon. Thus, by exceeding his duty, he perceived and seized the chance to save not merely Paris but France. On August 25, when he had been warned to take over the military governorship, he had told the Minister of War, Messimy, that it was essential, for the defense of Paris, unprepared for resistance, to have a mobile force of at least three army corps beyond the actual garrison. The Minister telegraphed an order, accordingly, to Joffre; Gallieni wired direct; nothing happened. Two days later there was a reconstruction of the Government and Messimy was replaced by Millerand, to whom Gallieni renewed his urgent pleas. All that Joffre could offer, in response to repeated telegrams, was the statement, ‘The German army will not be before Paris for some days,’ — it was already within gunshot of the outposts,— ‘Maunoury’s army and the territorial troops of the entrenched camp ought to suffice to defend Paris.’ Maunoury’s army was the force which Joffre had hastily assembled near Amiens for an imagined counterstroke, only for it to be engulfed in the ebbing tide of the Allied Armies. Swept back in the general retreat, its course brought it to shelter within the entrenched zone of Paris, and, as it was separated from the main armies, Joffre had no option but to leave it in Gallieni’s hands — a welcome reënforcement, if not all that he had asked for. And the very fact of relinquishing direct control of this force, which had been intended for a counterstroke, appears one of the numerous proofs that Joffre had also relinquished any idea of an early return to the offensive.
On September 1, Joffre issued an order for the retreat of the Allied Armies to be continued to a line south of the Seine, Aube, and Ornain rivers. Not only was the effect of this to take the armies away from and far to the southeast of Paris, but a commander who is contemplating an early counteroffensive does not place the obstacle of a river barrier between himself and the enemy. And a further note to the army commanders next day added that it was Joffre’s intention to ‘organize and fortify’ this line, whence he planned to deliver not an immediate but an ultimate counteroffensive. That same day he replied to a suggestion of a stand on the Marne, made by Sir John French and communicated through the Minister of War, ’I do not believe it possible to envisage a general action on the Marne with the whole of our forces. But I consider that the coöperation of the English army in the defense of Paris is the only course that can give an advantageous result.’ To the Minister of War and Gallieni he repeated the same verdict.
This array of evidence is more than sufficient to dispel the legend that Joffre had any intention of giving battle on the Marne or that he planned the counterstroke which wrenched victory from disaster. But on the evening of September 3 an insignificant action elsewhere was to have momentous consequences. An aviator flying over the area where the German columns were advancing remarked signs of a change of direction. This was reported to Gallieni, who ordered for the next morning fresh reconnaissances by aircraft and cavalry. These confirmed the fact that the German columns, instead of continuing their march south toward Paris, were wheeling southeast past the outskirts of the entrenched camp. Shut up in his office, Gallieni spent an hour in study of the map and in reflection. Then, his plan formed, he ordered Maunoury’s army to get ready to move eastward for a blow against the Germans’ flank, and told Joffre by telephone of the German change of direction and his own preparatory moves, urging the Commander in Chief to consent to a counteroffensive. This consent was necessary, not only to ensure a combined effort, but because Joffre had persuaded the new Minister of War to subordinate Gallieni to himself.
Gallieni’s fiery and inspired pleas, however, had difficulty in making an impression on the slow-thinking Commander in Chief. That was not surprising. Four days before, a staff officer with the Fifth Army, Captain Fagalde, had found in the wallet of a dead German officer the German order for a change of direction, and sent it to G. Q. G. on the morning of September 2. Yet even this vital piece of information, earlier and more definite than any Gallieni gleaned, had evoked no active response from Joffre. To save time while Joffre was making up his mind, Gallieni rushed off by motor to Melon to explain the new situation to the British, and if possible gain their cooperation. Unhappily, Sir John French was absent from his headquarters, and at first Gallieni could not even find the Chief of Staff. It was a curious scene. Gallieni, on his side, found the British staff unsettled and depressed, not hesitating to say that had England known the situation of the French army she would certainly not have entered the war. The British officers, on their side, were hardly in the mood to discern the underlying qualities of this most unmilitary-looking military genius, bespectacled and untidy, with shaggy moustache, black buttoned boots, and yellow leggings. Little wonder, perhaps, that one eminent soldier with a pungent gift of humor remarked that ' no British officer would be seen speaking to such a — comedian.'
Gallieni pointed out to the Chief of Staff that it was vital to seize the opportunity which the Germans had given by offering their right flank; told him that the ‘Army of Paris’ was already in motion against the German flank, and begged that the British should cease to retreat and join with his forces in an offensive next day. The British Chief of Staff showed ‘une grande répugnance ... à entrer dans nos vues,’and declared that he could do nothing in the absence of his Commander. After waiting three hours in vain for Sir John French’s return, Gallieni had to leave with no more than the promise of a telephone message later. This brought no satisfaction, for its purport was that the British would continue their retreat next day. Their decision had been confirmed by receiving a letter, written that morning, from Joffre, who said, ‘My intention, in the present situation, is to pursue the execution of the plan that I have had the honor to communicate to you — that of retiring behind the Seine — and only to engage on the selected line with all forces united.’ The only influence which Gallieni’s morning message to Joffre had achieved was shown by a subsequent paragraph, which said, ‘In the case of the German armies continuing their movement toward the S-S-W . . . perhaps you will agree that your action can be most effectively applied on the right bank of this river, between the Marne and Seine.’ This casual qualification of the definite opening statement gave the British little encouragement to fall in with Gallieni’s audacious suggestion. There is a dramatic contrast between the sluggish working of Joffre’s mind, gradually but all too slowly veering round, and Gallieni’s swift coup d’œil and instantaneous reaction.
Yet, if Gallieni’s coup d’œil gained the opportunity, it was, as he himself said, ‘coups de téléphone which gained the Battle of the Marne.’ For on returning to his headquarters in Paris he had found a belated message from Joffre which was favorable to his proposal for a counterstroke, but preferred it to be delivered south of the Marne — where it would have lost the greater effect given by a blow against the enemy’s flanks and rear.
Gallieni seized the telephone, got through to Joffre, and by the fervor and force of his arguments at last won the latter’s sanction for the Army of Paris to strike north of the Marne as part of a general counteroffensive by the leftwing armies. Joffre promised to obtain the coöperation of the British. Gallieni promptly issued orders (10.30 P.M.) to Maunoury’s army, which he reënforced, and a few hours later Joffre’s telegraphic orders for the general offensive arrived, fixing the date for the sixth of September — it was too late now for the fifth. The delay had worse consequences. Next morning, while Maunoury’s troops were moving east toward the enemy, the British were marching leisurely south — away from the enemy — in accordance with their original orders. When they turned about on the sixth, they had much ground to recover, and were not as quick in retracing their steps as the situation demanded. This lack of pressure enabled von Kluck, commanding the German flank army — the First — to leave only a cavalry screen facing the British and to pull back the two army corps from this sector to reënforce the one hard-pressed army corps which was trying to hold off Maunoury’s menacing advance against the German rear. The arrival of these fresh forces began to check Maunoury’s advance on the seventh, and Gallieni pushed forward every possible reserve he coxilcl scrape up in order to strengthen Maunoury.
Here occurred the immortal episode of the Paris taxicabs. The Seventh Division had just detrained in Paris, but it was forty miles from the battle front. If it marched thither it would be too late, and there was insufficient rail transport to take the whole division. That afternoon the police held up taxicabs in the streets, bundled the passengers out, and, after collecting six hundred cabs, filled them with soldiers. During the night this forerunner of the future motorized column swept, as only Paris taxicabs can sweep, through the suburbs and past their amazed inhabitants, making two journeys, and next morning the whole division was concentrated on the battlefield.
The pressure on the Germans gained extra force from the fact that it was directed against the enemy’s rear. If Gallieni had received the two further army corps for which he had asked days before, and which were only just arriving piecemeal, the German forces south of the Marne might well have been cut off and the battle been as decisive tactically as it was strategically. Even in the actual situation the menace was such that von Kluck called back his two remaining army corps, thus creating a twenty-milewide gap between him and the neighboring army of von Bülow. The consequences were fatal. Although he was able to hold and even force back Maunoury’s troops, the gap in the southern front gave Franchet d’Espérey’s army the chance to overlap von Bülow’s exposed flank; and when, on top of this, news came that the British, who lay between Maunoury and Franchet d’Espérey, were advancing into the centre of the gap, it was the signal for the German retreat, which began on September 9. If the continuance of the British withdrawal on September 5 had marred the chance of a crushing victory, it was a pleasant irony of fate that their very withdrawal made possible the victory as actually achieved.
This victory might have been more decisive — to the shortening of the war — if its creator had not been removed from control at the beginning of the pursuit. For on September 11 Joffre informed Gallieni that he would resume direct control of Maunoury’s army, leaving Gallieni to fret his soul within the confines of Paris while watching the fruits of victory slipping from the grasp of his slow-thinking superior. Throughout the battle Gallieni’s governing idea had been to direct all reserves to the north, toward the enemy’s rear, although several times frustrated by Joffre. With Gallieni’s disappearance the advance became purely frontal, giving the Germans the breathing space to reorganize and stand firm on the line of the Aisne. Not until then did Joffre’s slow mind awake to the idea of concentrating by rail a fresh mass of manœuvre behind the German flank. As a result, in the so-called ’Race to the Sea,’ the French were always ‘twenty-four hours and an army corps late,’ until the trench front stretched to the sea, with ten fair provinces of France locked in on the German side.
The question has often been posed whether the trench stalemate would have come to pass if France had possessed a Napoleon. Although the unappreciated defensive power of modern weapons and the unwieldy masses of 1914 weighted the scales against the mobility and decisiveness of warfare, the Gallieni interlude raises a doubt.
For not only did Gallieni afford the one instance of ‘Napoleonic cou’p d’œil witnessed on the Western Front in 19141918, but his intuition, his boldness of manœuvre, and his swift decision were so vivid a contrast to the conduct of the other leaders, French, British, and German, as to suggest, that it was possible to snatch a decision by manœuvre from the jaws of trench warfare, before the artisan swallowed the artist.
The hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that Gallieni’s influence was exercised under the most shackling conditions. The command of a fortress was governed by rules and limitations which ordained a strictly defensive rôle, even gave the governor power to refuse assistance to the field armies, and discouraged him from any wider horizon than that of his immediate responsibility for the defense of the fortress. It was the irony of fortune that the commander in chief in the field should have led the way to universal siege warfare, that the commander of a fortress should have conceived and launched the most decisive manœuvre of the war. Yet war is a game where the joker counts, and when Joffre withheld the trump Gallieni played the joker. As he remarked later, half humorously, half bitterly, ‘There has not been a Battle of the Marne. Joffre’s instructions ordained a retreat on the Seine and the evacuation of Verdun and of Nancy. Sarrail did not obey: he saved Verdun. Castelnau held on to the Grand Couronne: he saved Nancy. I have taken the offensive. As for asserting now that it was the Commander in Chief — who had gone back far to the rear while I advanced — who conducted, foresaw, and arranged it all . . . it is hard to believe!’
For, from the moment that the Battle of the Marne was waged and won in spite of him, Joffre’s satellites industriously propagated the legend that the battle was the fruit of a masterly and foreordained strategic plan, and Joffre himself showed no inclination to discourage the legend or reject the stolen laurels. Yet he had been eager to divest himself of blame if failure had been the result. At the opening of the battle he had telegraphed to the President of the Republic and the Premier: ‘General Gallieni having attacked prematurely,’ — later revelations have shown that even a day’s delay would have meant the collapse of the French centre, — ‘the Commander in Chief has given the order to suspend the retreat and return to the offensive.’
Gallieni waited in vain for further scope now that the tide of battle had rolled back from Paris. The neglect caused wide comment and a visitor to Joffre was bold enough to mention it. Joffre’s noncommittal reply was: ‘He is difficult to place, but if he waits he will probably be given an important post.’ Joffre’s idea of this was to offer Gallieni the succession to Maunoury, his subordinate of the Marne. This was well calculated to provoke the refusal that it met. At last the Government proposed to give Gallieni the command of a group of armies, but Joffre refused.
What made Gallieni’s enforced passivity more trying was his conviction of the futility of the Allied strategy. As early as October 1914, on returning from a visit to the front, he remarked: ‘We shall not break through; we shall not make a gap. Joffre is too content to be in trenches.’ A year later, after the abortive September offensive of 1915, he remarked: ‘I doubt whether it will ever be possible to make a serious offensive on the Western Front: too many trenches, too much barbed wire, concrete, artillery, on one side and the other. What is called the “breakthrough,” what the public sees in this word, I don’t believe in it. As for the war of attrition, are we making it against, the Germans or they against us?’
His prescience was equally striking in other directions. When the Goeben and Breslau sailed through the Dardanelles, he declared: ‘We ought to follow immediately on their heels. If not, Turkey will be in arms against us.’ As early as February 1915 he proposed the expedition to Salonika — to use it, however, not for an advance into the mountainous Balkans, but as a base for a march upon Constantinople with an army strong enough to encourage the Greeks and Bulgars to join with the Entente. This, one may remark, was the route which Milne took in October 1918 — a menace which hastened the surrender of Turkey. After taking Constantinople, Gallicni proposed an advance up the Danube into AustriaHungary in conjunction with the Rumanians. Moreover, he gave the warning that if the Allies did not go in force to Salonika the Bulgars and Greeks would turn against them. In October the Bulgars attacked Serbia.
The project of this expedition, for the command of which Gallieni was naturally designated, collapsed through the opposition of Joffre, who declared that he could not be answerable for the security of the Western Front if troops were taken away — although he found ample for the prodigal assaults in Artois and Champagne. Consulted by Briand, he even said that the idea was due to Gallieni’s personal ambition to have a command. ‘I will not give a man. Why seek elsewhere and far away for what I shall obtain in March? I am certain to break through and drive the Germans back to their own country.’ But in the autumn the futility of the Western Front operations combined with the entry of Bulgaria and the sacrifice of Serbia to bring about a political crisis, forcing a reconstruction of the Government in order to inspire public confidence. Gallieni was called to be Minister of War, although protesting that he had neither the political finesse nor the health to stand the strain.
Only a few weeks before, Joffre had issued a belated citation of Gallieni’s service at the Marne, a citation so diminuendo that it could only have been intended to damn by faint praise and to check the volume of public acclamation of Gallieni’s services. It sought to give the impression that Gallieni had been merely a cog in the machine directed by the Commander in Chief, contributing a useful but minor share as assigned. But it was too subtle, thwarting its own purpose by the storm of indignation which its slighting phrases raised. Many urged Gallieni not to accept the citation, but he replied that indiscipline was the inherent fault of the time and the nation, and that France could only be saved if those in high places set an example in reëstablishing discipline.
A few weeks later the position was reversed and Gallieni became Joffre’s superior. What a turning of the tables, what a chance for revenge! And if ever reprisal was justified it was in Gallieni’s case. Yet, as four years before he had refused the succession to Michel because he had helped to unseat him, so now he refused to use his power against the man who had treated him so badly, although a large section of opinion was clamant for Joffre’s dismissal and Gallieni had only to raise his finger to bring it about. Instead, his moral grandeur was attested by the way he not only strove to meet all Joffre’s material needs but generously defended him in the Chamber of Deputies. Gallieni’s scrupulous sense of responsibility not to abuse his power was a handicap, leading him to make extra allowance for the failings of one who had used him badly. At the same time, his loyal support was also due to the opinion that Joffre’s world-wide prestige, however ill deserved, was an asset not lightly to be discarded. Knowing the tide of criticism which was rising against Joffre, Gallieni tried to reason with this stubborn and jealous despot, to induce him to make reforms which would pacify the critics and contribute to greater efficiency. As a further step Gallieni caused Joffre to be named Commander in Chief of all the French armies and appointed Castelnau Chief of the General Staff, sending him to headquarters as a means of conserving Joffre’s prestige while enabling a quicker brain to influence operations. But this remedy was marred by the passive resistance of Joffre and his entourage, who ignored Castelnau’s presence as far as possible.
In December Colonel Driant, a Deputy, returned on leave from the front and exposed the neglected state of the Verdun defenses. Gallieni, who had already been disquieted by similar reports, wrote to Joffre for an assurance that the deficiencies would be rectified. Joffre replied in such a tone of pontifical infallibility and rebuke that even Gallieni was nettled and would have asserted his authority if his colleagues in the Cabinet, anxious not to precipitate a crisis, had not persuaded him to send a soothing answer for the moment. France paid heavily for postponing this political crisis. Gallieni, however, had worries enough, striving on the one hand to protect the Higher Command from continual parliamentary and press attacks, while, on the other, working to reform it without an upheaval, and also occupied in trying to speed up the supply of munitions and the training of fresh troops. A sick man, he drove himself unsparingly in order to ‘simplify and accelerate’ the cumbrous machinery of his own Ministry of War, fighting the civil servants in the battle against red tape, cutting down the mass of ‘paper’ which so often replaces action in the offices of a bureaucracy, ensuring a greater interchange between the staff and the trenches, giving a human touch to the military Moloch.
The clouds on this horizon were just beginning to disperse when the storm broke at Verdun — and the vivid play of the German lightning revealed beyond concealment the unreadiness and negligence of Joffre. The country cried out, but the Cabinet could only quiver, discuss, and adjourn. Gallieni could no longer bear to watch them shivering on the brink of a decision, and resolved to push them in. Through sleepless nights, racked by pain, he had been thinking out his scheme for the reorganization of the system of command, and on March 7, 1916, he brought the memorandum to the Cabinet. It laid down that the Government ought to assume the higher control and coördination of the war in the financial, economic, diplomatic, and military aspects; that the war must be recognized as a gigantic siege and treated accordingly; that the administration of the military resources should be restored to the Ministry of War, leaving the command of the field armies free to concentrate on the conduct of operations in conformity with, but not as hitherto in disregard of, the war policy laid down by the Government. The memorandum dealt with principles and not with persons, but to fulfill these principles Gallieni proposed to bring Joffre, as Commander in Chief of all the French armies, back to Paris, and to place Castelnau in executive command of the field army on the Western Front. The Cabinet, although many had been vociferous in their complaints about Joffre, were panic-stricken when asked to translate their opinions into action. When he found they would not take his advice, Gallieni resigned, showing them a medical certificate, hitherto disregarded, stating that it was essential that he should have two months’ complete rest. Instantly they were full of protests, declaring that it was impossible: ‘Think of Verdun! We are in the midst of battle.’ Gallieni scathingly replied: ‘Pardon, we have been at war for eighteen months, and all that time at war has been battle. Moreover, it was in the midst of battle that the executive Command at Verdun has been changed. It was also in the midst of battle that in August 1914 the military government and defense of Paris was entrusted to me. One can take, one has always taken such measures in the midst of battle.’
His colleagues’ arguments beat in vain against his inflexible determination. They suggested that he should take his rest, merely dealing with vital papers, and return when fit. He told them that he was undergoing an operation which, if successful, would restore his full powers and make him fit for active service; then the Government could make use of him as it wished — but he would never return to the Ministry of War. They begged him to take two days for reconsideration; he told them that they could have an interval of grace to find a convenient explanation to tell the public. Ten days later his resignation was officially announced on the ground of ill health. Eight months later, after a summer and autumn during which hundreds of thousands of lives had been fruitlessly sacrificed, the Government carried out the reform of the Higher Command which he had pleaded. But Gallieni was gone. Although the doctors had declared that he needed four or five months’ rest to become fit for the operation, he could not bear to remain idle while France was at war, could not bear to delay his return to her service. ‘Head high’ — his favorite phrase — as always, he entered the hospital to be operated upon, faced the pain of successive operations without a murmur, aided the doctors by his will power in the battle for his life, and with calm fortitude announced his passing.
Many eulogies have been pronounced over his grave; in 1921 he was created Marshal of France posthumously in recognition of the fact that ‘without Gallieni victory would have been impossible’; but the finest epitaph, and that most acceptable surely to him, is also the simplest: ‘Gallieni — la tête haute.’