Louis Franchet d'Espèrey

1856-1942
Portrait of Louis Franchet d'Esperey.
Source : l'album de la guerre 1914-1919. © L'illustration

The son of a cavalry officer in the African Chasseurs, Louis Franchet d'Esperey was born in Mostaganem on the 25th of May 1856. On leaving the Saint Cyr military academy in 1876, he served in North Africa in the first regiment of Algerian Fusiliers. He was accepted to study at the Higher Military School in 1881, but did not attend until the following year, so that he could take part in the Tunisian expedition against the Kroumirs. On leaving the school, he joined Tonkin for two years, taking part in the battles of Lang Son and Lao Qay. On returning to France in 1886, he was posted to army headquarters and then to the Cabinet office of Freycinet, the minister for war, before commanding a battalion in Toul and later the 18th Foot Battalion of Nancy. In 1900, commanding the French zone in Peking, he took part in the Chinese expedition against the Boxers. Returning to France, he commanded the 69th Infantry Regiment in Nancy followed by the 77th Infantry Brigade in Toul. Promoted to colonel in 1903, he commanded the 60th Infantry Regiment in Besançon.

In 1912, Major General Franchet d'Esperey served close to Lyautey as commander of the troops occupying western Morocco and took part in various peacekeeping operations in the Tadla, Chaouïa and Grand Atlas sectors. When war was declared, he was in command of the 1st army corps in Lille. During the Battle of the Frontiers he was at Charleroi in Belgium and then led a victorious counter attack against German troops along the Oise river. On the 3rd of September, Joffre entrusted him with the 5th army, which was a deciding factor in the victory of the Marne. He commanded groups of the eastern armies in 1916 and then the northern armies in 1917. In June 1918, he replaced General Guillaumat as head of the allied armies in the Orient, leading them to the ultimate victory. His victorious Moglena offensive in the Balkans, marked by the capture of Dobro Polje, forced the Bulgarians to sign the armistice in September 1918. Within a few weeks this led to the collapse of Turkey and Austro-Hungary and the German armistice request.

At the end of the conflict and until 1920, whilst in command of occupation troops in Constantinople, he led operations in the Ukraine and in Bessarabia. In 1921, General Franchet d'Esperey was promoted to the esteemed rank of Marshall of France. As Inspector General of the North African troops, he devoted his time and skills to the African Army. He also undertook the creation of trans-Saharan railway lines and on the 19th of March 1933 was seriously injured in Gabès, in an automobile accident whilst carrying out a study of a link between Tunisia and Morocco via the south. During this time, whilst representing France at official ceremonies and carrying out missions in central Europe and Africa, he started writing his memoirs and published various reports. Elected to the French Academy in 1934, he founded "les Amitiés africaines" (African friendships), a social group responsible for the "Dar el Askri" (servicemen's homes), which bring together and come to the aid of ex-servicemen. In 1940, he retired to the Tarn area, to Saint-Amancet, where he died on the 8th of July 1942. He was buried on the 24th of October 1947 in the crypt of the church of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides in Paris. He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour and held the military medal and the Cross of War for the 1914-1918 war.