Joseph Gallieni

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Joseph Gallieni
Joseph-Simon Gallieni.jpg
Joseph Simon Gallieni
Born 24 April 1849
Saint-Béat, France
Died 27 May 1916 (aged 67)
Versailles, France
Allegiance  France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1868-1916
Rank Général de division
Battles/wars Franco-Prussian War
World War I
Awards Marshal of France (posthumous)
Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur

Joseph Simon Gallieni (24 April 1849 – 27 May 1916) was a French soldier, most active as a military commander and administrator in the French colonies and finished his career during the First World War. He was made Marshal of France posthumously in 1921. Historians such as Georges Blond, Basil Liddell Hart, and Henri Isselin credit Gallieni with being the guiding intelligence behind the French victory in the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. Gallieni is infamous in Madagascar as the French military leader who exiled Queen Ranavalona III and abolished the 350-year-old monarchy on the island.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Gallieni-Eugène Pirou-img 3151.jpg
Frieze of Gallieni near the Rova of Antananarivo in Madagascar

Gallieni was born in Saint-Beat, in the department of Haute-Garonne. He was educated at the Prytanée Militaire in La Flèche, and then the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, becoming a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Marine Infantry Regiment before serving in the Franco-Prussian War. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1873 and Captain in 1878. He was later posted to Africa in the mid-1870s, taking part in explorations and various military expeditions.

After serving in Martinique, Gallieni was made governor of French Sudan, during which time he successfully quelled a rebellion by Sudanese insurgents under Mahmadu Lamine. From 1892-96 he served in French Indochina commanding the second military division of the territory. In 1894 he led successful French action against the nationalist leader Đề Thám, but further military action was overruled by colonial administrators after Đề Thám was accorded a local fiefdom. He was then dispatched to Madagascar, where he served as governor until 1905. There he again suppressed a revolt, this time by monarchist forces. In Madagascar, Gallieni unlawfully abolished the monarchy and exiled the reigning queen.[2] He implemented the "oil spot" method, which continues to influence counterinsurgency theory to this day.[3]

A favored choice for supreme commander of the French Army in 1911, Gallieni declined the position in favour of Joseph Joffre, pleading advancing age and ill-health.

First World War[edit]

Retiring from the army in April 1914, Gallieni was recalled in August to assist in the defence of Paris prior to the First Battle of the Marne. Joffre, wary of Gallieni's influence and reputation, marginalised Gallieni's role to an extent. Joffre kept him at arm's length from headquarters, although it is widely believed that Gallieni's energy and foresight was what saved Paris from the Germans. While credit for the successful defense of Paris was largely assigned to Joffre, the fact that some believed Gallieni had actually won the battle once prompted Joffre to remark famously, "Je ne sais pas qui l'a gagnée, mais je sais bien qui l'aurait perdue." (I do not know who won it [the battle], but I know well who would have lost it.").[4]

Gallieni saw an opportunity to attack when the German First Army turned east in early September, sending the Sixth Army to strike its flank, and subsequently rushing reserves to the front by commandeered taxis in response to German counter-attacks. Upon seeing the "taxicab army" ferrying troops to the front, Gallieni made one of the most oft-quoted remarks of the First World War: "Eh bien, voilà au moins qui n'est pas banal!" ("Well, here at least is something out of the ordinary!"). The actual effects of the "taxicab army" on the French victory at the Marne may have been more modest than the myth.

Gallieni subsequently served as Minister of War in October 1915 before retiring, again citing ill-health in March 1916; his relationship with Joffre had proved a quarrelsome one, particularly over the tactics used at Verdun. The strain of high office having broken his already fragile health, Joseph Gallieni died in May 1916. He was posthumously made Marshal of France, in 1921. He was buried in Saint-Raphaël. Camp Gallieni in Kati was named after him.[5]


  1. ^ Basset, Charles (1903). Madagascar et l'oeuvre du Général Galliéni (in French). Paris: A. Rousseau.
  2. ^ Roland, Oliver; Fage, John; Sanderson, G.N. (1985). The Cambridge history of Africa 6. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-22803-9.
  3. ^ Thomas Rid. "The Nineteenth Century Origins of Counterinsurgency Doctrine". Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol 33, Iss 5, p. 727-758. doi:10.1080/01402390.2010.498259. 
  4. ^ André Adamlien (1966). Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée 1(1): pp.254-258.
  5. ^ Mann, Gregory (April 2005). "Locating Colonial Histories: Between France and West Africa.". The American History Journal 110 (5): 409–434. 
Preceded by
Alexandre Millerand
Minister of War
29 October 1915 – 16 March 1916
Succeeded by
Pierre Roques