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Short Rounds

Joseph Joffre Sacks the French Generals

France began the Great War in August of 1914 with 93 divisions, a figure that shortly peaked at 101.  Of the 101 men who began the war in command of a division, only two still had the same assignment by November of 1916.  Fully 65 division of the original division commanders been relieved or shunted into administrative posts, about 30 others wee promoted to other operational commands, seven had become permanent casualties (four killed, one captured, and two disabled), while had died of natural causes, and one had committed suicide.

Joseph Joffre, the French  supreme commander from the outbreak of the war until December of 1916, probably holds the world's record for sacking generals.  Even before the war he had been known to can generals who turned in a poor performance during maneuvers.  In fact, he actually sacked seven division commanders during mobilization, before the shooting began. 

During the first 90 days of the war Joffre not only sacked 65 division commanders, but also 22 of the 65 replacement generals (33.8 percent), and then 6 of these 22 "third-generation" commanders (27.3 percent).  Nor were senior officers immune, for in that same 90 days he also sacked two of the five army commanders and 19 of 37 corps commanders.  Adjusted for casualties – in 1914 generals still often led from the front – only 3.5 percent of the French  generals holding divisional or higher command in 1914 still held posts of equal or greater responsibility at the end of the war, in 1918.  

 

Kremlinology

During the Cold War, "Kremlinologists" had a hard time determining who was what in the Soviet hierarchy, because mere titles mattered little in the complex bureaucratic mess that was the Soviet political system.  After all, one could have a rank in the government such as "president' or "premier," but there was also one's rank in the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.  For example, from 1924 until 1941, Joseph Stalin was officially "only" General Secretary of the Communist Party, and held no particularly important post in the Soviet government.  Yet there was no doubt who was boss.  Figuring out who among lesser Soviet leaders was "up" and who was "down" in influence was trickier.

So some specialists in Soviet affairs came up with the notion that the order in which the principal leaders lined up on top of Lenin's tomb for the annual May Day and October Revolution observances might reveal something about their degree of influence in the regime.

This became something of a cottage industry, especially after Stalin's death, in 1953, because with his passing "collective leadership" became the norm.  So every time there was a formal parade in Red Square, the pundits would carefully scrutinized the order in which the top Reds lined up on Lenin's Tomb, and would then disseminate their conclusions in learned papers, newspaper columns, or TV interviews.

This went on until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Whereupon it was discovered that, with occasional exceptions, the order in which the guys lined up usually depended upon what job they had at the moment.  And that exceptions may have been inspired by the desire of the Soviet leaders to have a little fun with the pundits.

 

Scorecard: Anglo-French Wars, 1123-1815

In his 1915 poem "France," Rudyard Kipling speaks of England and France as "Fretting in the womb of Rome to begin the fray," reminding us of the long history of hostility between the two countries.  But actually, in the centuries following the fall of Rome, as both nations began to form, there was no conflict between them.  It was not until the Norman Conquest in 1066 that England and France were brought into regular political contact, and that largely because the Dukes of Normandy, newly installed as Kings of England, were at best reluctant vassals of the Crown of France.  Naturally, when the Duke had a problem with his overlord of France, he would often draw upon his resources in England.  But these were essentially conflicts between a vassal and his overlord.  Not for a couple of generations were there issues of substance between England and France, beginning with the importance of Norman lands to the crown of England.

From the early twelfth century until the early nineteenth century, England and France repeatedly went at it hammer-and-tongs.

War

Began

    

Years

Henry I's French War

1123

    

2.0

Henry II's French War

1186

    

2.5

King John's First French War

1199 

    

0.5

King John's Second French War

1202

    

11 .0

War of the Bastards

1224

    

9.0

War of Saintogne

1242

    

0.3

War of Saint-Sardos

1324

    

0.3

Hundred Years’ War, Act I

1339

    

21.0

Hundred Years’ War, Act II

1368

    

52.0

Hundred Years’ War, Act III

1422

    

49.0

Henry VII's French War

1489

    

3 .0

Third Italian War/League of Cambrai/Catholic League

1512

    

2.0

Fourth Italian War

1522

    

5.0

Seventh Italian War

1542

    

4.0

Eighth Italian War

1557

    

2.5

First French War of Religion

1562

    

2.0

Third Huguenot Rebellion

1627

    

2.0

Anglo-French War

1666

    

1.0

Glorious Revolution/Nine Year’s War

1688

    

10

War of the Spanish Succession

1702

    

12

War of the Austrian Succession

1744

    

4.0

Seven Years’ War

1756

    

7.0

War of the American Revolution

1778

    

5.0

War of the French Revolution

1793

    

9.0

Napoleonic War

1803

    

11.0

The “Hundred Days”

1815

    

0.3

Now since we’ve probably missed a few of the shortest conflicts, the two countries seem to have been at war for about 230 of the 692 years between 1123 and the end of 1815, roughly one-third of the time.   

Prior to the Hundred Years' War, the matter at issue between England and France was usually questions of feudal rights over the King of England's fiefs in France.  During the Hundred Years' War the issue became a claim by the Kings of England to the throne of France, a matter that continued to be mentioned loudly as late as the reign of Henry VIII, and thereafter more politely into that of George III.  After the Hundred Years' War, however, the issues between the two countries began revolve around the balance of power, control of trade, and overlapping colonial claims. 

Of course, during some of those years there wasn’t much action, such as during long periods of the Hundred Years’ War, even when there weren’t truces or a "peace" in force. 

Now this omits “unofficial wars” and proxy wars.  For example, there were frequent hostilities between the respective colonies of the two countries, notably in India and America, which didn't quite escalate into full scale war involving the homelands, although the French and Indian War, which began in the colonies in 1754 did merge into the Seven Years' War in 1756.

And, by the way, on rare occasions, England and France did find themselves on the same side . . . usually because they were both at war with Spain, and, of course, over the last century or so, because of Germany, in the second of which there was a British-Vichy French War that lasted from June 1940 until November 1942.

 


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