Géraud Réveilhac

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General Réveilhac presenting the Médaille militaire to soldier Derrien who saved the life of an officer
(published in Review Le pays de France[1] N°27 - April 22, 1915

Géraud François Gustave Réveilhac (16 February 1851 – 26 February 1937) was a French career officer, Général de division during World War I. After trying unsuccessfully to take a German position, he ordered artillery to fire on his own troops to force them to attack, and after being refused, he had four corporals executed for cowardice, in order to set an example. He was made Commandeur of the Légion d'honneur at the end of the war. His actions were one of the inspirations for the Humphrey Cobb novel Paths of Glory and the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name.[2][3]

Early life and career[edit]

Born on 16 February 1851 in Aurillac, France, Réveilhac went on to graduate from the Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr in August 1870, as a sub-lieutenant.[4] He became a prisoner of the Prussians in December the same year, but was released on 8 January the following year. He took part in putting down the uprising in Limoges in April 1871, garnering praise from his superiors. Réveilhac was subsequently regularly promoted, being sent to Indochina to command a company in 1889, and was made Général de brigade on 21 December 1909 as commanding officer of the 42nd Infantry Brigade. He was preparing for retirement by 1914 when World War I broke out.[2][3]

World War I[edit]

At the beginning of World War I, Réveilhac was commanding the 119th Infantry Brigade, part of the 60th Infantry Division, under General Joppé,[5] whom he replaced on 25 September 1914 as commanding officer of the division. Réveilhac was promoted to acting Général de division on 6 October 1914.[3]

In February 1915, after three attempts to take a strong German position near Souain-Perthes-lès-Hurlus failed, showing disregard of the life of his men,[6] Réveilhac ordered the divisional artillery to shell a French trench, to force his troops to attack. However, the artillery commander, Colonel Raoul Berube, refused to obey without a written order. Réveilhac would not provide this but subsequently ordered thirty men of the infantry units involved to be tried by a council of war on charges of cowardice. The council condemned four corporals to death as an example, including Théophile Maupas, an exemplary soldier chosen by lot.[3] On another occasion, he ordered his troops to relaunch an attack, asserting that the percentage of acceptable losses had not been reached for that day.

He was relieved of duty in February 1916, and forced by the General Staff to take three months' leave. According to a confidential letter from General Joffre, he "seem[ed] to have arrived at the limit of his physical and intellectual capacity." On his return he was given command of a reserve section for the rest of the war.[3]

Post-war[edit]

At the end of the war, General Réveilhac was made Grand Officier of the Légion d'honneur.[7] He retired to his country estate in Nantes, and died in his bed on 26 February 1937.[3]

Reputation[edit]

Réveilhac's actions in Souain were revealed in 1921 to much scandal, and he was condemned even in the military press. Réveilhac wrote a letter defending his actions, but it was censored by Minister of War Louis Barthou who believed publishing it would only increase the considerable notoriety of the affair.[3]

The widow of Théophile Maupas, one of the corporals executed, fought to restore her husband's reputation, and was successful after twenty years.[3]

Humphrey Cobb's 1935 novel Paths of Glory, and Stanley Kubrick's 1957 film of the same name, were partly based on these events.

Further reading[edit]

  • Les damnés de la guerre – Les crimes de la justice militaire (1914–1918); Roger Monclin (1903 Reims – 1985 Saint Laurent du Var); Paris; Mignolet & Storz; 1934
  • Le Crapouillot; 1915.

References[edit]

  1. ^ (French) Le pays de France , a weekly publication issued from 1914 to 1919
  2. ^ a b (French) Military Directory of 1913 web.genealogie.free.fr
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Kléber (30 November 2009). "Ganache month: Réveilhac". Les Septembriseurs (in French). Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  4. ^ "Historique de la 54e promotion de l’École impériale spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr (1869-1870), promotion du 14 août 1870, olio promotion du Rhin" (PDF) (in French). 25 June 2011. Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  5. ^ Général de division Maurice Joppé (November 29, 1852 – January 4, 1927).
  6. ^ (French) Les damnés de la guerre – Les crimes de la justice militaire (1914–1918)
  7. ^ Paris Muckraker www.time.com, Time Magazine (2 December 1935)