Louis Franchet d'Espèrey

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Louis Franchet d'Esperey
Louis Franchet D'Esperey.jpg
Born (1856-05-25)25 May 1856
Mostaganem, French Algeria
Died 8 July 1942(1942-07-08) (aged 86)
Saint-Amancet, France
Allegiance  France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1876–1920
Rank Marshal of France
Commands held 5th Army
Allied Army of the Orient
Battles/wars Boxer Rebellion
World War I
Awards Marshal of France
Field Marshal of Yugoslavia (Voivoda)
Grand Cross of the Légion d’honneur

Louis Félix Marie François Franchet d'Espèrey (French pronunciation: ​[lwi feliks maʁi fʁɑ̃swa fʁɑ̃ʃɛ dɛpɛʁɛ]; Serbo-Croatian: [frǎnʃe deperê(ː)] (25 May 1856 – 8 July 1942) was a French general during World War I. As commander of the large allied army based at Salonika, he conducted the successful Macedonian campaign which caused the collapse of the Southern front and contributed to the armistice.

Early years[edit]

He was born in Mostaganem in French Algeria, the son of an officer of cavalry in the Chasseurs d'Afrique. He was educated at Saint-Cyr and graduated in 1876. After being assigned to a regiment of Algerian Tirailleurs (native infantry), d'Espèrey served in French Indochina, in China (in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, during which his cousin the German plenipotentiary Clemens von Ketteler was killed) and Morocco. Franchet d'Espèrey subsequently commanded various infantry regiments in France. He received command of I Corps in 1913.

First World War[edit]


Corps Commander[edit]

In 1914, Franchet d'Espèrey did well as a corps commander at the Battle of Charleroi. On 23 August, the third day of the battle, with the German Second Army pressing the French centre, Franchet d’Esperey saw an opportunity for his I Corps to counterattack from the French right. Despite repeated pleas from 10am onward, Lanrezac refused him permission to do so.[1] On 23 August Fifth Army was attacked again, this time also on the flanks, by Bulow’s German Second Army to the north and Hausen’s German Third Army against Franchet to the right.[2]

At the Battle of Guise (29 August) the day was won by a successful attack by Franchet d’Esperey’s I Corps in the north– leading his men on horseback, d’Esperey is said to have called out “how do you like this advance, Mr Staff College Professor?” to Colonel Petain, who was then commanding an infantry brigade.[3] At that battle he was ordered to rally III Corps on his left and X Corps on his right. [4]

Army Commander[edit]

On the eve of the First Battle of the Marne, Franchet d'Espèrey was given command of the Fifth Army. When asked by Joffre whether he was willing to accept the command he replied equivocally “the same as another”, adding that the higher a man is promoted the more staff he gets. Despite being a naturally kindly man, he affected a tyrannical demeanour to galvanise his officers. Spears, then a lieutenant liaising between the BEF and the Fifth Army, wrote than Franchet physically resembled a howitzer shell, and of the “galvanic effect” which he had on his staff on taking command. He ordered that any man not doing his duty was to be shot, including staff officers. When General de Mas Latrie protested at an order, Franchet took the telephone from the staff officer Hely d’Oissel and told Latrie “marchez ou crevez” (march or die) before putting the phone down on him. He would break up roadblocks by firing his revolver out of the window of his car. President Poincaré noted that Franchet d’Esperey was “a stranger to depression”.[5][6][7]

Conscious that his predecessor Lanrezac had had poor relations with the BEF commander Sir John French, d'Espèrey immediately sent the British commander a telegram signed “Franchet d’Esperey KCVO” promising cooperation.[7] On 4 September Joffre asked Franchet (and Foch, commanding the newly formed Ninth Army) if they would be willing to give battle tomorrow or the day after. Franchet met with Wilson (BEF Sub Chief of Staff) and Macdonogh (Head of BEF Intelligence) at Bray (simultaneous with Gallieni and Maunoury’s meeting with the BEF Chief of Staff Murray). Franchet’s plan reached Joffre at 6.30pm as he was eating his dinner with two Japanese officers. Franchet impressed Joffre by presenting a plan for a concerted attack by the Allied armies on 6 September – provided Maunoury’s Sixth Army reached a certain position on the Ourcq at a certain time (“if not the British will not march”). If not, he would retreat a little further, south of the Grand Morin with the Sixth and the BEF striking von Kluck (German First Army) in flank. This was to become the basis for Instruction Generale No 6: the Allied plan of attack at the Marne.[8][9]

When asked by Franchet be ready to attack on 6 September, General Hache of III Corps “looked as if he had been hit on the head with a club”. De Mas Latrie was sacked and replaced by Maud’huy, from Castelnau’s Second Army. Fifth Army had seen replacement of three out of five corps commanders and seven out of thirteen division commanders, and a similar proportion of brigade commanders. [10]

Mid War[edit]

By March 1916, Franchet d'Espérey was in command of the Eastern Army Group and by January 1917 the Northern Army Group. He was badly defeated by the Germans at the Battle of Chemin des Dames in May 1918.


Removed from the Western Front, he was appointed commander of the Allied Army of the Orient at Salonika.[11]

Further information: Macedonian front (World War I)

Between 15 and 29 September 1918 General Franchet d'Espèrey, in command of a large army of Greeks (9 divisions), French (6 divisions), Serbs (6 divisions), British (4 divisions) and Italians (1 division) - staged a successful offensive in Macedonia that ended by taking Bulgaria out of the war.[12] General Franchet d'Espèrey followed up this victory by overrunning much of the Balkans and by the war's end, his troops had penetrated well into Hungary. This collapse of the Southern front was one of several developments which effectively triggered the November 1918 Armistice.[13]

During this final campaign, he was given the nickname "Desperate Frankie" by British officers.

Post World War I career[edit]

On 8 February 1919, General Franchet d' Espèrey entered Constantinople on a white horse, emulating Mehmed II's entrance in 1453 after the Fall of Constantinople, signifying that Ottoman sovereignty over the imperial city was over.

After World War I ended, General Franchet d'Espèrey directed operations against the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. He was made a marshal of France on 19 February 1921 and was given the honorary title of Voivoda (equivalent of Field-Marshal) by the Yugoslavian monarchy on 29 January 1921.

In 1924 Franchet d'Espèrey was appointed inspector-general of France's North African troops, who had made up a substantial portion of the French forces serving under him on the Macedonian Front. He subsequently became interested in the strategic potential of the "grand axis" north-south route across the Sahara.

He joined a trans-Saharan expedition led by Gaston Gradis that left Colomb-Béchar on 15 November 1924 in three six-wheel Renaults. Other members were the journalist Henri de Kérillis, commandant Ihler, the brothers Georges Estienne and René Estienne, three Renault mechanics and three legionnaires.[14] The expedition reached Savé in Dahomey on 3 December 1924 after a journey of 3,600 kilometres (2,200 mi).[15] The expedition leaders took the train south, and reached Porto-Novo on the Atlantic on 14 December 1924.[16]

Franchet d'Espèrey represented France at the coronation of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa on 1 November 1930. He was elected to the Académie française on 15 November 1934.


He died in Albi, France, on 8 July 1942 and is interred at Les Invalides.


Franchet d'Espèrey had drive and great energy and his victories against Bulgaria and the remnants of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies were independent of the situation on the Western Front, demonstrated by the fact that they came before the main assault on the Hindenburg Line and against a still capable army that offered strong resistance to the British and Greeks in the Battle of Doiran. As a consequence of his generalship Bulgaria signed armistice on 29 September, thus becoming the first Central Power to sign an armistice. In terms of personality, he was vain and pompous, if able. In terms of politics, Franchet d'Espèrey was a nationalist Royalist whose loyalty to France outweighed his loyalty to the Bourbons.

British troops, unable to pronounce his name properly, nicknamed him "Desperate Frankie."

Several French cities and towns have boulevards and roads named after d'Espèrey, among them Dijon, Reims, Saint-Étienne, Versailles and Lorient. The Belgian city of Dinant has an Avenue Franchet d'Esperey. In the Serbian capital Belgrade, a boulevard has been named after him, as well as a street in the center of Thessaloniki, the second largest city of Greece.




  1. ^ Terraine 1960, pp. 87-88.
  2. ^ Terraine 1960, p. 97.
  3. ^ Terraine 1960, pp. 158-160.
  4. ^ Tuchman 1962, p369
  5. ^ Tuchman 1962, p369, 405-6
  6. ^ Terraine 1960, pp. 181-3, 186-787-88.
  7. ^ a b Holmes 2004, p. 237.
  8. ^ Tuchman 1962, pp411, 413
  9. ^ Terraine 1960, pp. 186-7.
  10. ^ Tuchman 1962, pp413-6
  11. ^ Lazarski 2008, p. 119.
  12. ^ Sondhaus 2011, p. 416.
  13. ^ Keegan, John. The First World War. p. 442. ISBN 0-09-180178-8. 
  14. ^ Mondet 2011, p. 287.
  15. ^ Mondet 2011, p. 288.
  16. ^ Bourgin 2011, p. 318.


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