B3, some Key Personalities in the Great War
Henri Joseph Eugene Gouraud; 17 November 1868 – 16 September 1946
Introduction: this chapter has been prepared for the book on Great War French Generals, editor Prof. W. Philpott of Kings’ College London, commissioned by the publishers Pen & Sword.
(c) GNA Bailey, 5 July 2012.
A synopsis: motivated to join the military because of the French defeat in 1871 Gouraud graduated from St. Cyr in 1890. Posted to the French Sudan in 1894, he captured the leading rebel Samori in 1898 to great acclaim. Gaining influential patrons he returned to Africa being promoted brigade general in 1911.
At the onset of the Great War in 1914 as the youngest French General at 47 years old he took command of the Colonial Division then Corps in the Argonne where he had affectionately become known as the Lion of the Argonne. Posted in command of the French forces in the 1915 Dardanelles offensive, he was struck by a Turkish shell losing his right arm and breaking both legs. When he recovered he took command in December 1915 of the 4th Army in the Champagne sector. Sent to Morocco in December 1916 he returned to his beloved army in July 1917.
During the Kaiser’s Offensive in the Spring of 1918 he prepared the elastic defence in depth. During the Second Battle of the Marne the Germans exhausted themselves before beginning to be driven back. The 4th Army pursued them back to the German border.
After the War he commanded the Army of the Levant in Syria and the Lebanon before finishing his distinguished career in 1937 as the Military Governor of Paris. On his death he was buried in a vault of the Ossuary at Navarin Farm, near Suippes, Champagne, joining the remains of the unknown soldiers of the 4th Army who lie there.
A soldier of France
Born on the 17th of November 1867 to a medical doctor, Gouraud grew up motivated by the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. His earliest memory had been seeing the Uhlan cavalry of the Prussian Army. He entered the French “Sandhurst” of St. Cyr, graduating in 1890 to join the Troupes de Marin before entering the 21st Foot Chasseur Regiment stationed in France. His father objected to him serving overseas but in 1894 Gouraud was posted to the French Sudan. In 1898 whilst leading a military expedition into the jungle he found and captured Samori, long a resistor to French control. Returning to France, as a young Captain he was feted by Parisian society and acquired influential patrons. Back in Africa he continued his career, being promoted Colonel in 1907 and Brigadier-General in 1912. He served under General Lyautey , the Resident Governor of Morocco, until1914.
The Battle of the Frontiers, 1914
The Schieffen Plan developed in the years before 1914 was designed to propel the right wing of the German armies through Belgium before wheeling southwards into France, encircling Paris and getting behind the French armies manning their northern frontier. Other German armies held back the French forces attempting to recapture Alsace and Lorraine, the spoils of war gained in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. After the initial battles in what became known as the Battle of the Frontiers, General Albert d’Amade was entrusted by General Joseph Joffre, the French Supreme Commander, with the responsibility of defending Northern France from Lille to the English Channel with the 61st and 62nd Reserve Divisions, some 40,000 French reserve troops1. Meanwhile Joffre launched two armies into the Ardennes in the abortive attempt to cut the main bulk of the German armies from their supplies of food and ammunition. Though D’Amade’s forces suffered reverses, they helped delay the turning movement of a German army corps and cavalry division around the rear of the British forces on their right flank retreating from Mons and Le Cateau.. Thus a German manoeuvre likely to be fatal to the British Expeditionary Force was thwarted. D’Amade was already known to the British command as he had been military attaché with the British forces in the Boer War before directing the French operations in Morocco.
Joffre then directed d’Amade to organize a new French 6th Army of four reserve divisions , a regular army corps and the French Cavalry Corps of three divisions 2. But it was not strong enough to resist the enormous pressure being exerted by von Kluck’s great army so had to retire alongside the retreating British forces, leaving Northern France under enemy control. However the French forces including the 6th Division regained their fighting spirit, their élan, on the river Marne and Joffre won the battle which condemned the belligerents to fight trench warfare along what came to be called the Western Front.
After the Battle of the Marne lead to the German retreat to the northern bank of the river Aisne to the east banks with continuing French attacks around St. Menehould to the east of Rheims. This was in response to the army of the German Crown Prince aiming to complete the encirclement of Verdun. General Sarrail with his Verdun Army was holding the Meuse river against the Crown Prince. Between St. Menehould and the Meuse were the woods of the Argonne. There the youngest of the French Generals, Henri Gouraud, aged 47, with his single division of Colonial mountain troops repelled two German army corps3. The quality of his leadership was such that he became affectionately known as the “Lion of the Argonne”, a man idolized by his men. His driver was an Englishman who had volunteered for the Foreign Legion, driving Gouraud around in the 17-20 h.p. Mors staff car. Unfortunately food ordered by the General for Bob Merry one day failed to reach him. When Gouraud asked about this mishap, Bob responded that he could go without food for twenty–four hours. A few days later when Bob said that his boast had been accomplished, Gouraud teased him “Ah! No! Merry, you said forty-eight hours”4.
Under the command of Gouraud, the division was expanded into the Colonial Corps and gradually over time pushed the enemy back. He was seen as a “solid, fearless and imperturbable soldier of the best French type”5, a bullet having passed through his shoulder in January 1915.4 . These qualities were taken into account by Joffre some four months later when looking for a replacement for General d’Amade.
The reasons for creating a Third Front at the Dardanelles
In 1915, the Western Front was becoming consolidated into a war of attrition where attacks gained little or no ground but at an enormous cost in casualties. In Eastern Europe the German armies were consuming Russian manpower at a fearful rate whilst capturing large tracts of land. The Allied High Command began to consider a new strategy, the possibility of a third front to be opened by the Allies with two strategic aims. The first was to force Turkey, the ally of Germany, out of the War by placing a fleet of battleships alongside Istanbul (Constantinople). Secondary to this was to open up a sea pass through the Dardanelles, across the Sea of Marmara and through the Bosporous to the Black Sea to help the faltering efforts of the Russian armies on the Eastern Front with munitions and other supplies. Pressurised by Winston Churchill, Lord Kitchener appointed Sir Ian Hamilton to command the Anglo-French expedition to assault the Gallipoli Peninsula. However there was a flaw to the approach of the two men, whereas the War Minister was known to “like plans to move as fast as his own wishes”, Sir Ian believed that “swiftness in war comes from slow preparations”6. Unfortunately Lord Kitchener did not appreciate views which conflicted with his; thus many of the problems which beset the expedition stemmed from this failing. The lack of forward planning of the whole operation, both naval and military, was recognized from an early stage7. But withdrawal before the expedition was launched was not an option, because of the ‘loss of face’ amongst the undecided countries and those luke-warm to the Allied cause.
After the assault of the British Royal Marines in late February to silence the forts’ cannons at Helles, understandably the Turks were aroused and, under German supervision, started to fortify the Peninsula. They also mined the Dardanelles with Leon floating mines 8. Shelling the forts by the big guns of the battleships began the naval operation. On March 18, the British and French battleships attempted to ‘force’ the Dardanelles. The Allies were aware that minefields were being sown which were a “real cause of anxiety”9. Admiral de Robeck, speaking at a conference in the presence of Hamilton the day before, wished that the Allies had more powerfully-engined mine-sweepers manned by regular naval commanders and crews, rather than trawlers with their civilian crews, to clear a way through the minefields.
Unbeknown to the commanders a small Turkish steamer had laid a string of some 20 floating mines parallel to the coast in Eren Keui Bay near the entrances to the Dardanelles 10 days earlier. The French battleship Bouvet struck one of the mines, turned turtle and rapidly sank with the loss of six hundred sailors. Shortly after the British pre-dreadnought-battleships Irresistable and Ocean also struck the mines and foundered that night. The uncertainty created in the minds of the Allies by the failure of their efforts lead to the renewal of the attempt being abandoned. The irony was that Turkey had bought these mines from Russia before the War, Russia using mining as a strategic naval policy in the Baltic: perhaps this indirectly helped seal the fate of the Russian Empire and changed the nature of the Great War and possibly the 20th century.
After the failure of the British and French Navies to force the Dardanelles, the military planners were left with their second option; the landing of troops on both sides of the Dardanelles, on the Gallipoli Peninsula and at Kum Kale. The latter was to be a feint to confuse the Turks as to where the main attack was to be made and also to silence artillery fire from the Asiatic side likely to pound the landing beaches at Helles. The French forces were to be commanded by General d’Amade, known by Hamilton from his days as French military attaché in South Africa. He was appointed as the most senior of those generals no longer needed on the Western Front and due to retire at the end of 1915. In preparation for the operation Hamilton had held many discussions with him in Egypt and inspected his French troops in Alexandria10. The assaulting French forces on the Asiatic shore of the Dardanelles “have dealt a brilliant stroke at Kum Kale”11 but were then faced with the reinforced village of Yeni Shahr perched above Kum Kale.
The British forces landed on the Cape Helles beaches and the Australian and New Zealand units at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. Two days later two French divisions, some 17,000 men, came ashore at S beach on the east side of Morto Bay to the right flank of the Helles landing beaches and began their advance towards the Kereves Spur at 0800 hours the next day. The difficulties of the landing at Kum Kale on the other coast of the Dardanelles contributed to the delay in landing on S beach. Though the clearing of the fortified village had lead to some 500 Turks surrendering in the cemetery, it had been at the cost of a quarter of the French soldiers becoming casualties. Faced with the severe obstacle presented by Yeni Shahr d’Amade asked Hamilton12 if he could re-embark his troops rather than embark on more futile assaults against the village. Hamilton agreed remembering Lord Kitchener’s strong, clear order that the Asiatic side was “out of bounds”13. D’Amade left to give out the orders for withdrawal from Kum Kale. The British field commanders then attempted to have the French forces stay another 24 hours in Kum Kale, to assist secure the contested landings at Cape Helles. Hamilton contacted d’Amade to request this delay but it was made too late. He appreciated that instructing d’Amade to revoke the orders would upset the French troops very much and were not enough to warrant changing them. Nevertheless Kum Kale had been cleared, though French casualties were substantial. D’Amade was later considered to have been too pessimistic when he asked to re-embark , a factor in his replacement two weeks later.
The French Government did suggest to General Joseph Joffre, their supreme military commander, on 18 February, that one of the divisions to go to the Dardanelles should be one of the front line units preparing to attack at Artois and Champagne but Joffre replied it was “absolument impossible to consent”. Understandably he did not want to put more effort into the Dardanelles enterprise, as his immediate aim was to drive the Germans out of Northern and Eastern France and recover the strategic resources in coal, iron and steel produced by the coal-fields of Belgium and Northern France and the iron mines of Lorraine. This weakened the military effectiveness of the invading French. Alongside the Metropolitan Brigade with its battalion of Foreign Legionnaires was the Colonial Brigade, but different in its ability to stand firm. Actually drawn from African natives of the French empire in Africa, not Senegal alone, its soldiers also stood firm until their European officers became casualties, when they lost their cohesion and ran. Together they formed the French1st Division.14.
At Helles, taking the Spur was to be the immediate objective for the French. It overlooked the deep water course of Kereves Dere and was an approach to the Achi Baba ridge which dominated the Helles landings. Describing the topography, the now infamous Achi Baba is positioned as on the rim of a ‘saucer’, the approach routes to Kereves Dere to the south west of Achi Baba being the sides of the ‘saucer’ and the Morto Bay and Beach S being the flat bottom of the ‘saucer’.
The French did succeed in capturing the Bouchet redoubt at Second Krithia (6-8 May) but this limited success was not enough to save d’Amade from being ‘Limouged’ because of the disappointing results of his command in the first two Battles of Krithia and at Kum Kale. Whether his removal was justified is debatable for, as has been observed, “the French had failed to take the much more formidable obstacle of the strongly entrenched Kereves Dere.”15 The redoubt became a salient on three sides by Turkish trenches who were able to subject it to enfilade fire.16 Joffre turned to a man with the strong reputation of having captured Samory in the Sudan, served under General Lyautey in the pacification of Morocco from 1912 to the onset of the War, and then become known as the “Lion of the Argonne” for his defensive and offensive skills between August 1914 and May 1915. Major-General Henri Gouraud was selected to replace d’Amade as Commander of the Expeditionary Corps of the Orient on 11 May 1915. Hamilton wrote a kind review of d’Amade as being “most charming, chivalrous, loyal soldier” and “a delightful person and, in the combat, too brave.”17.
Gouraud in Gallipoli
The emphasis now to be given to the French efforts under the command of Gouraud is because their contribution has been largely forgotten in British histiography.
Gouraud arrived at Cape Helles three days later with his Chief of Staff, Colonel Girodon. Another French division also disembarked with General Maurice Bailloud in command to supplement the divisions that had landed on 27 April.19 . This French 2nd Division had a composition very similar to the 1st with its Metropolitan and Colonial Brigades. It was positioned to the left of the French lines with the Ist remaining close to the Kereves Dere ravine.20 That day d’Amade brought Gouraud to meet Hamilton who described him as “a resolute, solid looking gaillard is Gouraud. He brings a great reputation with him from the Western Front.”21, he being tall and with a beard. Before d‘Amade left on May 16 he told Gouraud that every effort had made to drive back the Turks. But then Gouraud discovered that the Turkish defences were more formidable than he had been led to believe, constant shelling from cannons positioned on the hill of Achi Baba and from the opposite shore of the Dardanelles making the situation in the French trenches perilous. Even before his official appointment Gouraud on 3 May was suggesting that two batteries of 155-mm cannons and 24 trench guns be taken to the Dardanelles.22 They arrived in time to support the attack of 4 June.
On 20 May rumours began to circulate about Winston Churchill, the champion in the British War Council of the Dardanelles front, leaving the Admiralty and next day both he and Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Jacky Fisher, the First Sea Lord, resigned. Hamilton suggested to Kitchener that he should come to Helles and see for himself what was being attempted by the Allied forces23. Three day later HMS Triumph was sunk by a U-boat and the other battleships ‘skedaddling’ back to shelter in Mudros harbour on the island of Lemnos, some 40 miles from Helles. On 31 May HMS Majestic was sunk by a U-boat in broad daylight leading to morale being raised amongst the Turkish troops having watched the destruction of two battleships with their complements of guns.24. The removal of the other battleships meant that the Turkish forces making assaults across No Man’s Land or sheltering within their trenches were no longer to experience shelling from heavy naval guns. For example, one shell fired from one of the 15 inch guns of HMS Queen Elizabeth showered 10,000 shrapnel bullets on hitting its target.25 In particular the firepower from the cruisers was lost, as was lighting the trenches with powerful searchlights from the battleships to foil enemy assaults at night.. There would be no more high explosive shells fired in the Dardanelles from the Aegean sea. Supplying the forces on Cape Helles and at Anzac Cove became far more difficult, the supplies having to be brought from Lemnos in small boats, shallow bottomed to avoid the possibility of being torpedoed. The menacing presence of one or possibly two German submarines changed the whole operational efficiency of the Dardanelles campaign.
Gouraud and his staff lunched with Hamilton at Sedd-el-Bahr on the 22 May when Bailloud came in bursting with news to tell them that his division had captured the formidable Haricot redoubt overlooking Kereves Dere. Unfortunately his joy was premature, as so often during the Allied campaign the Turkish forces mounted a massive counter-attack to recapture it.26.
Gouraud’s first assault in command led to the capture of the Gouez stronghold on the night of 28 May which was the held against powerful Turkish attempts to recapture it two nights later.27 Then he found himself having to plan a third Krithia battle with the notorious British Lieutenant-General Hunter-Weston who favoured the direct full frontal broad daylight charge, not sensible against the machine-gun nests prepared by the Turkish enemy as advised by their German officers. The French were given the objective of taking the Spur, getting across the Dere and obtaining a footing on the far bank. The attack was launched on 4 June, Gouraud meeting Hamilton on the pier at Helles and they watching from a command post on the left of the attack, dug out by the troops of Hunter-Weston. This post gave them a view over the battlefield but not of the battle because of a dust storm raging at that time.
Though better planned than before, there was general failure because of the restricted artillery support. Restricted because some trenches being only 100 metres apart, the decision was taken to avoid ‘friendly fire’ casualties by shelling beyond the Turkish trenches. The land being open and virtually flat, the French suffered some 2,000 casualties, the British over 5,200. The French soldiers managing to again capture the Haricot redoubt, but the survivors were bombed and shelled out of it later. Despite the grievous losses, Hunter-Weston decided on another attack but Gouraud informed him that his troops were so shattered he was not prepared for them to have to undertake another frontal assault.28 It is not surprising in retrospect for Hunter-Weston to have expected success from his troops when charging in a frontal assault across No Man’s Land in a dust storm against machine-guns being fired on fixed lines where limited vision prevented the soldiers seeing where the bullets were coming from. His reputation was based on being a ‘thruster’. The battle faded away for, as Hamilton later wrote “battalions became companies and divisions brigade.”29
On 7 June Hamilton met with Gouraud and they spent an hour discussing matters and discovering the “hesitations” of both the British and French Governments . One issue of concern was the provision of artillery. The normal complement of the cannons for two divisions in Flanders had to cover five divisions on Helles – 40 % of what should be expected.30 Hamilton wrote of Gouraud as being a “coadjutor rather than as a subordinate.”31 and the French troops bearing the brunt of the enemy fire from the Asiatic guns. On 13 June Gouraud sent Hamilton a letter which was his detailed analysis of the Gallipoli operation. He recognized that the Turkish fortifications were comparable to those on the Western Front with the German commanders applying the same techniques as they employed in France. He thought the heavy cannons installed between Eren Keui bay and Yeni Shahr could be dealt with by the guns of the British monitors. He then provided his analysis of the options available within the strategic overview of the countries surrounding the Dardanelles.32
Gouraud went with Hamilton to Imbros on 15 June to discuss the operational situation. The Allies were not prepared to supply the quantities of high explosive shells and the number of howitzers needed to support the infantry during assaults. Rather than modern 4.5-inch howitzers, only 5-inch howitzers of Omdurman vintage with their inaccuracy at reaching targets were made available because there was more ammunition available for them than for the modern howitzers. Meanwhile the Turkish forces were receiving more heavy guns. Hamilton noted that they must decide whether they wanted to “score in the East or in the West”.33 Furthermore the supply of munitions being offered by the War Office was breaking the scale of supply agreed with Joffre when settling on the participation of French units in the campaign. Even more galling was to find the excellent trench mortars, supplied by Japan, had run out of shells and that the British War Office had failed to order more.34 This was bad for the morale of the Allied troops as the shells were good at penetrating the deep Turkish trenches. Accepting the reasoning of Gouraud, Hamilton recognised that passive defence on the Dardanelles was not possible, and if the Allies had not the nerve to fully support the campaign, then it should be wound up. The limits to helping the campaign even applied to finding acceptable corps commanders which eventually lead to the disastrous appointment of Lieut. General Sir Frederick Stopford to be placed in charge of the landing at Sulva Bay from 6 August.
Gouraud prepared another assault to be launched on 21 June 1915. This time there was to be heavy and concentrated artillery fire on a narrow front of some 650 metres. Both French Divisions attacked. The limited objective of the crest of the Spur (named Hill 83 by the Turks) was taken as well as the head of the Ravine de la Mort and including a series of trenches. The Haricot redoubt was secured. Now the French trenches were able to overlook those of the Turks but 3,200 casualties – including Colonel Girodon – had been suffered by the Zouves, Foreign Legionnaires and the French Class of 1915, as against some 6,000 Turkish casualties. For a week the Turkish forces counter-attacked gaining a transient footing between two of the lost trenches. Then in the early morning of 30 June the Colonial troops successfully stormed the defences of the subterranean Quadrilateral fortress under cover of massed cannon fire. Seven deeply-cut trenches connected by shrapnel- protected communication trenches and defended by machine-guns were over-run. In the afternoon the Turks counter-attacked in large numbers but their assaults failed, leaving the fortress firmly in French hands.35 There was now only one line of trenches left to the Turkish forces.
A ‘random’ shell fired at the French enclave on 30 June 1915 changed the course of the Gallipoli campaign and possibly also of the Great War. Both Gouraud and later Bailloud, his successor in command, wanted to have the seizure of the Asiatic coast of the Dardanelles as a means of silencing the Turkish batteries as the pounding had become unbearable. It was from there that the 8-inch shell was fired. The shell exploded close to the General. As was his practice carried out on a regular basis he was visiting an ambulance on ‘V’ beach carrying the wounded, soldiers injured in capturing the Quadrilateral. The blast of the explosion hurled him over a 2 metre high wall; both his legs were broken and his right arm damaged. As soon as he heard on 1 July Hamilton went to visit him already being treated on a hospital ship There gangrene set in and his arm had to be amputated. Once out of danger Gouraud was transported to France in the battleship Tchad. His abilities as a commander were sorely missed. Hamilton was badly affected by the loss, having seen Gouraud as a coadjucator more than a subordinate. He said that “we could more easily spare a Brigade.”36 King George V sent a telegram to Hamilton regretting the loss of Gouraud to the Allied armies.
Bailloud, who succeeded Gouraud, asked Hamilton on 7 July to be allowed to cancel the French attack the next day, an attack already fully planned by Gouraud. The French had suffered a loss of confidence from the injuries both to Gouraud and Girodon. Bailloud remained deeply worried by the shelling the French troops were receiving from the Asiatic guns. In ‘The Great War’ there is a photograph taken in 1918 of Gouraud, bare headed, astride his speckled white horse addressing his mounted dragoon cavalrymen of the French 4th Army on the eve of the German assault which became known as the Gouraud Manoeuvre.37 There is not evidence that he was left handed before the explosion so he had to adjust to the awkwardness of controlling the horse with his ‘trailing’ arm.
The value of Gouraud to the Gallipoli campaign was not lost altogether. From his hospital bed on 19 July he alerted the French Government that the shelling was putting the French Corps in jeopardy. He continued into September expressing his view that leaving the soldiers exposed to the shelling from Kum Kale was “sheer folly”. Then he and Girodon were invited on 29 November to meet with Kitchener, the supreme British warlord. They supported the British view that evacuation of the Peninsula would be most difficult, they also favoured the liquidation of the Balkan venture. However Kitchener recognized the French wish to land at Salonika in support of the Serbian Army; and the failure to open up the sea route to Russia. He decided that the Allied evacuation had to be carried out. By 8 January, the evacuation was complete
After Gouraud’s wounding the French efforts diminished under the control of Bailloud, a commander described by Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the British War Council, as “the most confirmed pessimist I have met since the war began….He is a stupid old man and ought to be superseded.38 Unfair though this was it showed the British no longer had confidence in the French despite their being up against the most formidable part of the Turkish defences since 25 April and the most exposed to the Asiatic cannons of the Turkish defenders. Following Gouraud’s loss to the Dardanelles campaign, French political and military interest focused instead on Salonika until the time came to evacuate the Peninsula. French politics had become dominated by ‘l’affaire Sarrail’. General Maurice Sarrail had gained great popularity by commanding the French 3rd Army which acted as a pivot at Verdun during the German wheel through the Ardennes and the advance to the river Marne in August 1914.
Unfortunately he then ran foul of Joffre as he was believed to be intriguing to replace Joffre. Joffre’s prestige won on the Marne was seen to be waning as the result of the fruitless frontal assaults in Artois and Champagne which achieved little but long casualty lists. Joffre relieved Sarrail of his command but could not sack him outright because of Sarrail’s popularity as a Republican General. What to offer Sarrail? Preferably not the command of a French army on the Western Front! This problem intensified when he did not consider Gallipoli sufficiently important. The French Prime Minister Viviani resigned on 25 October to be replaced by Aristide Briand. General Joseph Gallieni, the instigator of “the ride of the Parisian taxis” to take the German forces in the flank at the Battle of the Marne, replaced Alexandre Millerand as Minister of War. Sarrail was offered the command of the Salonika venture and accepted, a command independent of Joffre.
The French evacuation was conducted within the plans of the Allied evacuation. By 21 December the 2nd French Division holding the heights of Kereves Dere had been transferred to Salonika and replaced in the line by the British Royal Naval Division. On 2 to 4 January the remaining French infantry moved out leaving their artillery loaned to the British VIII Corps. The 75-mm guns were evacuated with the British artillery when it was withdrawn. Six badly worn heavy guns and one British 6-inch were destroyed on the last night of the evacuation.
Although it is speculation, the rolling up of the Turkish left flank at Kereves Dere leading to the capture of the Achi Baba hill might have been achieved as a result of overcoming the last line of the Turkish defences coupled with the inspired leadership of a Gouraud. This could not have happened under Bailloud with his reputation of being “a pessimist, stupid and too old”. Breaking through at Kereves Dere might have secured the Achi Baba position and saved the continuing Anzac agony on the heights above Anzac Cove. Hamilton had recognized the need to capture Achi Baba and methodically destroy the Turkish trenches and gun lines. Taking the hill would have provided support to the troops fighting at Anzac Cove and offered a much shorter distance towards the Narrows of the Dardanelles. Destroying the Turkish defences at Nagara Point and Chanak would have opened the passage to the Allied naval forces.
That was not to be as it was later not to be at Chunuk Bair. The New Zealand troops of the Wellington Infantry Battalion commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Malone captured the heights on 8 August and found themselves overlooking the Narrows. Thirty six hours later the Turks recaptured the heights and, like the 30 June at Kereves Dere, momentum was lost and the stalemate of trench warfare ensued.38
The French forces which began with 17,000 troops suffered 9,874 killed in action or died of their wounds, greater than the number of Australian casualties (some 8,709). However few British and Commonwealth authors give credit for their efforts on a part of the Peninsula recognized as having the most formidable of the Turkish defences,39 some even failing to acknowledge their involvement. It has to be remembered that at the same time the French forces on the Western Front were also suffering enormous casualties as they tried unsuccessfully to expel the Germans dug in at Artois and on the Champagne heights.
Champagne and Morocco
When he was sufficiently recovered for active service in December 1915, Gouraud was appointed the Commander of the 4th Army in Champagne. Not the part with the vineyards growing the grapes for the world’s most celebrated drink but lousy Champagne, a region north–east of Rheims, where the poor soil sits on the chalk of the Moronvilliers heights and the rolling hills north of Suippes. He brought his troops to a state of readiness whilst attritional battles raged at Verdun and on both banks of the river Somme. In the December of 1916 General Lyautey, now Minister for War, asked his former deputy to become the new Governor General of Morocco. Without joy at leaving his Army, Gouraud departed for Morocco. However his stay was not long, for in June 1917 he returned to the command of his army.
Capturing the Moronvilliers heights, from April 1917
The Nivelle Offensive has gone down in military history as a military disaster. In the Spring of 1917 the French assaulted the heights north of the river Aisne along which ran the Chemin des Dames. between Soissons and Rheims. Meanwhile the British were fighting the Battle of Arras and the Canadians were successfully capturing Vimy Ridge. Even today the commander of the French forces is cursed for the enormous rate of casualties for what is judged as little return.
General Nivelle decided to extend his front from Rheims to Auberive, when planning his offensive on the Aisne, to include the Moronvilliers heights. They had been garrisoned by the Germans after the Marne and from them in the 1915 battles of Champagne their heavy artillery enfiladed the French forces to blunt their attacks. These heights, with their hills of some 200 metres above sea level, tower over the plain to the south.
The army began its offensive on 17 April, the day after the main attack to the west of Rheims. The late April snowfall linked to the appalling conditions of the muddy ground made advancing up the slopes very difficult The foggy weather restricted artillery counter-battery fire from the French cannons to known or suspected sites whilst the Germans fired shrapnel over likely approach routes and positions known to have been captured by the French. Aircraft were grounded because of the high wind thus limiting aerial observation. Nevertheless Mont Cornillet (208 metres) was captured and the German counter-attacks repelled.
In two days of terrible fighting the main hills making up the heights as well as the immensely strongly fortified village of Auberive were captured by the four French regiments of African troops and Foreign Legionnaires. Six days and nights of German counter-attacks by Saxony troops were repelled before the few remaining Legionnaires were relieved. Again the Legion had been all but destroyed and, as after Trou Bricot in the Septermber 1915 Battle of Champagne, it was rebuilt. The superb monument to the Foreign Legion in the Campe Militaire de Suippes commemorates the sacrifices of the Foreign Legion in Champagne.
Berru north east of Rheims remained in German hands to compensate for the observational capabilities of Mont Haut though not part of the Moronvilliers heights.as did the valleys north of the heights. From field-artillery batteries and howitzers sited there the Germans were able to prevent the French forces advancing down the reverse slopes of the heights they had captured.40
The fiasco of the Aisne offensive with the mutinies of French units which followed finished the military career of Nivelle. He was dismissed and Petain became Commander-in-Chief. He sanctioned the plan to resume the attack on 30 April with a heavy artillery barrage before his infantry advanced on the left flank from Mount Cornillet towards the hamlet of Nauroy. Before the soldiers had to contend with the mud, now they were held up by the thick pine woods harbouring the German machine-gunners. Behind the German line were artillery cannon firing shrapnel and gas shells. In the centre the infantry advanced from Mount Haut towards the village of Moronvilliers but were stalled by the German forces holding onto Mounts Casque and Teton. On 1 May the Germans twice tried to recapture the lost ground around Mount Casque but were unsuccessful. On 20 May an intensive French bombardment of the two hills was answered by German artillery firing counter-battery. Meanwhile the French infantry managed to take most of the two hills and one thousand prisoners. A violent German bombardment followed by attacks of storm-troopers and infantry support units came to nothing. In the pause that followed both armies then burrowed down into the chalk and began driving mines towards the enemy lines.
Petain recalled Gouraud to the command of the 4th Army. In the first week of July1917 the German General Ludendorff planned a massive effort to retake the whole of the Moronvilliers heights. Three new divisions were moved up and new heavy guns hauled by tractors into positions by night. When the troops were seen practising assaults Gouraud decided to pre-empt the German offensive. Beginning a bombardment on 12 July and varying its intensity on an extensive front of some miles he was seeking to deceive the Germans as to where the French would attack. At 20.00 hrs on Bastille Day, 14 July, French infantry assaulted and carried the saddle between Mont Haut and Mont Blond despite the furious barrage from the German guns. More of Mount Teton was also taken losing the Germans the observation-posts they had fought bitterly to retain. That night a series of counter-attacks were repulsed by French gun fire so by the morning the German forces were spent and the heights firmly controlled by the French. An indicator of the failure of the German efforts was the removal of much of their artillery to Verdun. Thereafter the fighting moved to west of Rheims and to the Verdun salient with the German forces benefiting from the release of soldiers from the Eastern Front following the collapse of the Russian autocracy.
The intensity of the fighting resulted in the villages of Moronvillers and the hamlet of Nauroy being razed to the ground. Together with Perthes-les-Hurlus, Hurlus and le Mesnil-les-Hurlus they remain a century later ‘the destroyed villages of Champagne’. The ruined chapel of Nauroy still shows the destructive force of sustained shell-fire with its stone walls reduced to piles of powdered chalk.41
The Kaiser’s Offensive, 21 March 1918
By the winter of 1917 the Allied forces were exhausted after the relative failures of the Nivelle Offensive, Passchendaele and the stalemate of the Battle of Cambrai. The collapse of the Eastern Front was likely to release many German divisions for supplementing their forces on the Western Front. The British armies then began to prepare an elastic defence-in-depth seen put into practice by the defending German units in early 1917.
Work began on modifying the trench system which had been in place for much of the previous three years. The Blue Line or “Forward Zone” was to be filled by a third of the infantry in a division and its purpose was to blunt the initial charge of the German units. Some two miles behind was to be the Red Line or “Battle Zone” where the main British forces would engage the by now tired German survivors of the Forward Zone. Further back was to be the Brown Line or “Rear Zone” where the British troops would eliminate any German who would have managed to push through the Battle Zone. However in reality the Rear Zone was for lengths of the system merely a line on a map.
On 21 March 1918 the German divisions surged forward led by their elite storm-trooper units, aided by the fog. Overwhelmed by the violence of the assaults, communications soon broke down between the British units: some resisted with superb gallantry, other capitulated. Operation Michael continued its success until it began to slow as a result of increasing resistance, the tiredness of the depleting forward German units and the logistical failure to replenish these units with replacement troops and the supplies of food and ammunition to sustain them.
Six days later Marshal Foch was appointed Generalissimo to coordinate the Allied efforts. Next day began Operation Mars but with less effectiveness though initially there was success. Strategically the German commanders were trying to split the Allies thereby forcing the British Armies back to the Channel ports. Once Mars had run out of steam the commanders revised their strategy by Operation Georgette on the 9th of April and Operation Archangel on the 6th, this attack was against the French forces along the river Aisne sector which began to create a huge bulge in the French lines and threaten Paris. Operation Blucher on the 27th May began an assault on the Chemin de Dames and with Operation Gneisenau on the 9th June cost the German forces another 130,000 casualties. The trench warfare then stabilised with the exhaustion of both sides caused by the flailing of German punches which failed to achieve the strategic objective of the two German commanders, Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff. The successful Australian attack on the village of Hamel on 4 July 1918 accomplishing its capture in just over an hour demonstrated that the Allies were beginning to recover from the pressures of the previous three months
The Gouraud Manouevre.
On the 15th of July the Germans tried again with Operation Marneschiitz which became known as the Second Battle of the Marne. 43 divisions were brought to a state of readiness on either side of the city of Rheims. In the west side the French commander had packed too many of his troops into the forward trenches so, following the intensive bombardment by German artillery, the German storm-troopers soon overwhelmed them.
In the ensuing ferocious action the British divisions behind the line, located there to rest and recuperate after their punishment further north, suffered heavy casualties. However the American troops defended valiantly at sites such as Belleau Wood and the lines again stabilised but well south of where they had been at the beginning of the battle.
On the eastern side of Rheims between the village of Biene and the Argonne forest42 the story was different. The 4th Army had ceded the least ground of any French army since 21 March.43 The German Generals von Below and von Einem tried to break through the lines of trenches using tactics successful to the west of Rheims. However they were facing a tactically sophisticated leader, General Gouraud who was in command of his beloved French 4th Army which included the US double-strength 42nd ‘Rainbow’ Division, so named because its National Guard units were drawn from all over the United States. He was encouraged to plan its defences by Petain’s Directive Number 4 of 24 January 1918, the defence in depth.
The Champagne and Moronvilliers heights were denuded of French troops leaving behind a thin screen of volunteers, a forlorn hope, to deceive the Germans that the heights were still held in depth. His Forward Zone was manned by a small number of French teams who accepted that their task was to create as many German casualties as possible until overwhelmed. The soldiers called it their “sacrificial trench”. Their machine-guns were positioned in folds in the ground like lice sheltering in the folds of a garment, making them very hard to “squash”. The surrounding French trenches were left empty so that the intense bombardment of high explosives and poison gas of the German artillery was simply disturbing earth. Gouraud was extremely confident that the tactics would work. As he said to his horsemen when addressing them on the eve of the battle, “You will break the assault, and it will be a great day.”44
His defensive action began when the artillery, based on intelligence received, carried out pre-emptive counter battery firing upon the German trenches packed with storm-troopers whilst organizing to attack in the early daylight. Enough machine-gun ‘nests’ survived the German rolling barrage to surprise the advancing storm-troopers with ferocious machine-gun fire. Some nests were quickly surrounded and their soldiers fought to the death, others managed a gradual fighting retirement pursued by the enemy troops but their fire had delayed the Germans so destroying the precise timing of the rolling barrage. The remaining storm-troopers then found themselves in a wasteland but one sown with anti-personnel mines.45 Struggling across this land they were exhausted, disorientated, uncoordinated and scattered, and were incapable of going forward without being reorganized and reinforced. The French artillery then began their execution. The quick-firing 75s raked the enemy troops in front of the main French lines and laid a line of fire along the original French trenches. When seven waves of attacking soldiers finally faced the main French forces, fresh and eager for battle, alongside their American comrades, no wave could break through this second line. Only at Perthes-les-Hurlus and Prunay did the German infantry manage to get into this line Not being able to advance or retreat, the stormtroopers died under the heavy bombardment of the French howitzers laying shells between the two lines. Later in the day the French infantry and the infantry from the Rainbow Division were to recapture most of the battlefield together with part of the ‘sacrificial trench’.
The Germans had put into the battle 25 divisions with another 15 in support. Some 50,000 soldiers became casualties against light French casualties including those of the ‘sacrificial trench’. The Germans were stopped from crossing the Marne. The extent of the disaster was compared to the Prussian defeat by the Napoleonic army at Auerstadt in 1805.46. The vinters of Rheims from their wine cellars rewarded the French soldiers with many thousand bottles of fine wine for having saved them. What was to become known as the Gouraud Manoeuvre showed that a careful plan well implemented could resist the power of the German storm-troopers.
The British Commander-in-Chief, Field-Marshal Haig, heard that day that success had been achieved. He noted in his diary for that Monday “East of Rheims the attack was held and the Enemy only gained the ‘outpost zone’.”47 Two days later Gouraud sent to G.Q.G.A. a report about the ‘plus brilliante’ results of the Manoeuvre.48 It was brief compared to those from armies which had not performed so well. On the 20 July he sent another report setting out the relief of regiments which had fought on the 15th and their replacement by fresher units.49 On 26 September his troops surged into attack in a general offensive along 10 miles of line. The French Fantassins and two American divisions drove through the German trenches. Between then and the 1 October the 4th Army reached as far as the railway junction in Challerange, so important in the battles of 1915 for supplying the German troops holding the Champagne heights.50 There the Army halted whilst other French and British armies retook the areas around Chateau-Thierry, Roye and Albert, lost in the Kaiser’s Offensive and the Operations Blucher and Gneisenau, to straighten out the bulges in the Allied lines. Further offensives by the 4th Army began the final German retreat which ended when Gouraud reached Sedan on Armistice Day. On 22 November he entered the city of Strasbourg to free it from a Soviet ‘government’ proclaimed on 11 November. Sadly for him his mother, with whom he had maintained a very close bond, died that day.
The US Rainbow Division
The relationship between Gouraud and the Division could not have started on a worse footing. His driver ran over the first ‘doughboy’ of the Division they met in the village of Tilloy. Though Private Burnett suffered a serious leg injury, he survived the War to return to his home in the United States.51 Fortunately this accident did not sour relations for after the War Gouraud became the honorary president of the Rainbow Veterans Association and retained strong links with it until his death in 1946. Travelling to the United States he enjoyed the ‘ticker tape’ reception in New York dressed in his military uniform as a General of France.
Gouraud becomes Commander of the Army of the Levant
Immediately afterwards Gouraud was appointed to take Command of the Army of the Levant and on 21 November 1918 reached Beyrut. His task was to assist in the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire and govern the French-occupied countries of Syria and Lebanon under the mandate of the League of Nations. It was a time of religious and ethnic turmoil in the Middle E and he had to fight battles and put down rebellions sometimes brutally. Whereas he had displayed great prowess in military management, controlling the unruly tribes proved to be different, a problem that continues to be found by so many military commanders of civilian populations. His reputation was somewhat tarnished by the methods the French forces used to maintain governance of these countries before he left his post in 1923.
The Military Governor of Paris
Gouraud completed his military career by becoming the Military Governor of Paris, following on from distinguished French Generals like Galieni. In 1937 he retired, three years before Nazi Germany completed what he had foiled the Kaiser’s Germany achieving in 1918, the occupation of Paris. The French Armies and the British Expeditionary Force having been routed, the French government retreated south to Vichy where Marshal Petain became its figure head in the collaboration with its former enemy.
The Navarin Farm Ossuary
Two years after the Germans were driven out of France by the British, Free French and American forces Gouraud passed away on 16 September 1946. Aged 79, he had lived long enough to see the final destruction of the German attempt to gain military hegemony over Europe.
On the rolling slopes of the Champagne heights there is a large memorial building positioned where the Navarin Farm used to be. This site, to the north-west of Suippes, had seen bitter fighting during the battles of 1915 and 1918. Its purpose is to to provide a final resting place for unknown Frenchman, and also Germans, whose bones can still be found on the battlefields of Champagne, even in the 21st century.
With the US Ambassador to France, Gouraud laid the first stone on 4 November 1923. He is now interred in a vault within the Ossuary and lies with the remains of the soldiers who died fighting with his beloved 4th Army.
General Henri Gouraud: an appreciation
Gouraud gained the respect of his contemporaries in the Allied armies and it is appropriate to summarise and conclude his contribution to the winning of the Great War in the words of his contemporaries
General Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli 1915: Describes Gouraud as a “coadjutor than a subordinate.” On hearing of his wounding Hamilton wrote “we could more easily spare a Brigade.”
Colonel Douglas MacArthur of the US Rainbow Division in 1918, and the American victor of the Pacific War in 1945, said of his personal qualities, he “was without a weakness.” MacArthur also wrote that “with an arm gone, and half a leg missing, with his red beard glittering in the sunlight, the jaunty rake of his cocked hat and the oratorical brilliance of his resonant voice, his impact was overwhelming, He seemed almost to be the reincarnation of that legendary figure of battle and romance, Henry of Navarre. And he was just as good as he looked. I have known all the modern French commanders, and many were great measured by any standards, but he was the greatest of them all.”
President Poincare of France in 1922 said of his military and political skills, “the pacifier and the organizer of Syria.”
1. Wilson, H.W. & Hammerton, J.A. (1914), The Great War: The standard history of the all-Europe conflict. The Amalgamated Press London, vol.2, chap.XXVII, p.36.
2. Wilson, H.W. & Hammerton, J.A. (1914), The Great War: The standard history of the all-Europe conflict. The Amalgamated Press London, vol.2, chap.XXIX, p.69.
3. Wilson, H.W. & Hammerton, J.A. (1915), The Great War: The standard history of the all-Europe conflict. The Amalgamated Press London, vol.4, ch.LXXIII, p.186.
4. Merry, R.G.. (1915), News from the Front, The Autocar, January 30th, 1915.
5. Cassar, G.H. (1971), The French and the Dardanelles, George Allen and Unwin.
6. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.28.
7. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.91.
8. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.89.
9. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.22.
10. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.78.
11. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.137.
12. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.151.
13. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.9.
14. Travers, T. (2001), Gallipoli 1915, Tempus, Appendix II.
15. Pugsley, C. (1984), Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story. Houghton and Stoughton, p.189.
16. Ministe de la Guerre (1923), Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 8 Premier Volume, Imprimerie Nationale Paris, Chapter 6, p.76.
17. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1, p.222.
18. Wilson, H.W. & Hammerton, J.A. (1915), The Great War: The standard history of the all-Europe conflict. The Amalgamated Press London, vol. 4, ch. LXXXIII, p.420.
19. Travers, T, (2001), Gallipoli 1915, Tempus, Appendix III.
20. Ministe de la Guerre (1923), Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 8 Premier Volume, Imprimerie Nationale Paris, Map 12.
21. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1, p.226.
22. Ministe de la Guerre (1923), Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 8 Premier Volume, Imprimerie Nationale Paris, p.70.
23. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.242.
24. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.250.
25. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.166.
26. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.244..
27, Ministe de la Guerre (1923), Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 8 Premier Volume, Imprimerie Nationale Paris, p.79.
28. Rhode James, R. (1965), Gallipoli. B.T.Batsford Ltd, p.214..
29. Ministe de la Guerre (1923), Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 8 Premier Volume, Imprimerie Nationale Paris, p.85.
30. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.287.
31. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.295..
32. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.297.
33. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.304.
34. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.317..
35. Wilson, H.W. & Hammerton, J.A. (1915), The Great War: The standard history of the all-Europe conflict. The Amalgamated Press London, vol.4, ch. LXXXIII, p. 428.
36. Hamilton, Sir I. (1920), Gallipoli Diary, Edward Arnold, Vol. 1., p.360.
37. Wilson, H.W. & Hammerton, J.A. (1919), The Great War: The standard history of the all-Europe conflict. The Amalgamated Press London, vol.12, ch. CCLX, p.136.
38. Pugsley, C. (1982), The New Zealand Story, Hodder & Stoughton.
39. Rhode James, R. (1965), Gallipoli. B.T.Batsford Ltd, p.232.
40. Wilson, H.W. & Hammerton, J.A. (1918), The Great War: The standard history of the all-Europe conflict. The Amalgamated Press London, vol.10, ch.CCII, p. 223.
41. Michelin (2006), Atlas of France.
42. Ministe de la Guerre (1923), Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 7 Premier Volume, Maps, Map no.4, Imprimerie Nationale Paris,
43. M.S. Neiberg (2008), The Second Battle of the Marne, Indiana University Press, p.108.
44. Wilson, H.W. & Hammerton, J.A. (1919), The Great War: The standard history of the all-Europe conflict. The Amalgamated Press London, vol.12, ch.CCLIX, p. 136.
45. Cooke, J.J. (1994), The Rainbow Division in the Great War 1917-1919, Praeger, Westport, p.104.
46. Wilson, H.W. & Hammerton, J.A. (1919), The Great War: The standard history of the all-Europe conflict. The Amalgamated Press London, vol. 12, ch. CCLX, p.125.
47. Sheffield, G. & Bourne, J., editors (2005), Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters, 1914-1918, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p.430.
48. Ministe de la Guerre (1923), Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 7 Premier Volume, Annexes to 1st Volume, Imprimerie Nationale Paris, p.132.
49. Ministe de la Guerre (1923), Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 8 Premier Volume, Annexes to 1st Volume, Imprimerie Nationale Paris, p.236.
50. Ministe de la Guerre (1923), Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 7 Premier Volume, Maps, Map no.34, Imprimerie Nationale Paris.
51. Cooke, J.J. (1994), The Rainbow Division in the Great War 1917-1919, Praeger, Westport, p.98.
Various documents in ‘Les Armees Francaise dans le Grande Guerre, Tome 8 Premier Volume’ of the official French war records were consulted to establish the French positions on the Gallipoli peninsula. These are listed to assist those wishing to further their understanding of the French contribution.
Photograph no.1: region of Kereves Dere as filmed from an aircraft.
Map no.5: showing the relationship between Kum Kale and Yeni-hehr.
Map no.10: progress made between 15 May and 30 June whilst Gouraud was the Commander.
Map no.12: showing the sectors held by the 1st and 2nd Divisions.
Map no.13: progress made between 1 July and 4 October whilst Bailloud was in command.
Sketch no.1: region of Achi Baba showing the topography from Krithia to Kereves Dere.
The Imperial War Museum has films taken which include General Gouraud. They are listed as:
IWM344, IWM440-03, IWM508-32, IWM508-70 and IWM508-75.
IWM344; Reel 01: frames 0-185, Gouraud introducing Sir John French to French officers and soldiers. Mostly the sequences are of Ypres in ruins, especially the Cloth Hall, so probably filmed in late 1915 or early 1916 as Gouraud’s right arm is missing and he walks with a slight limp holding his stick in his gloved left hand.
A British film of some 11,600 frames.
IWM440-0; Part 3: frames 13207-13413, same sequence as filmed in IWM344; frames 13423-13538, Gouraud and Sir John French walk along the platform beside a waiting train.
A British film of some 14,900 frames.
IWM508-31/32; frames 11316-11556, Gouraud walking to and entering the church for the funeral of General A. Baratier, killed in a front-line trench on 20 October 1917; frames 12337-12491, Gouraud walking towards the cemetery for the burial of General Baratier.
A French film of some 16,500 frames.
IWM508-70; July 1918: ‘In Champagne with Army Gouraud’; frames 6779-7193, Gouraud riding on his white horse inspecting a cavalry troop of French lancers, doffs his cap in salute using his left hand; frames 7201-7888, on foot presents the Croix de Guerre to the standards of the 6th and 23rd Dragoons, embracing then kissing on the cheek the standard bearers; frames 7889-8053, salutes soldier cyclists marching past (the march past continues with squadrons of galloping cavalry, mounted artillery and armoured cars).
A French film of some 9,700 frames.
IWM508-75; 14 August 1918: Rewarding his troops for the Manouevre on 15 July 1918; frames 1008-1271, Gouraud saluting the standards as he marches by them; frames 1311-2186, Gouraud smiling, embracing the standard bearers, but helped by another senior officer as he has difficulty in pinning the medals and ribbons on to the flapping standards with only one hand; 2272-2364, Gouraud continues to award the honours.
A French film of some 9,000 frames
Note: all films are likely to have been shot at 18 frames per second, hence the duration of these sequences can be calculated.
Further comments: On 23 August 2001 I made an authorised visit to the former battlefields within the Camp Militaire de Suippes and was guided around by Major Jean-Claude Cassant. At the destroyed village of le-Mesnil-les-Hurlus the top section of a human skull was discovered amongst the wild plants in the village cemetery. Major Cassant placed it in an iron funeral urn there to be taken later to the Navarin Farm Ossuary.
I drove Major Cassant around the tracks of the battlefields in a white car. When we finished the car was completely white, including the wheels and the tyres, from the chalk powder. He told me the troops training there sunk to their knees in the pulverised chalk in the summer but up to their thighs during the rainy part of the winter.
The next day the extent of Nivelle’s continuing disgrace was revealed to me. When a French Customs unit stopped and searched my car on the road bordering the military area, a young officer spotted a paper on the passenger seat with the word ‘Nivelle’ typed in block letters. He then turned to me and said using his limited English “Nivelle, a bad general !” My passport was checked and I was then waved off on my way to take photographs at the Hand of Massiges.
Postscript: After writing this appreciation of Gouraud I was given a copy of the first US film to win the Oscar for Best Film. ‘Wings’ was a silent film starring Clara Bow as the girl who falls in love with two men who become American fighter pilots in the Great War. At a military ceremony on an airfield in France the pilots are awarded gallantry medals by a French general for shooting down enemy aircraft. He wears a kepi, has a bushy beard and is missing his right arm – the precise features of Gouraud. After the War, the Americans admired him so much they made him President of the 42nd Division veterans. Clearly his fame spread to Hollywood as a supreme example of a French general.