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Unity of Command Among the Central Powers
ON JULY 14, 1922, there was unveiled at the City Hall of Beauvais, a French town midway between Paris and Amiens, a memorial tablet commemorating the fact that in this place, on the 3rd of April, 1918, General Foch was charged with "the strategic direction of military operations." The French are well advised in commemorating that day, and the celebration at Beauvais is fraught with special significance. The act of conferring upon General Foch the supreme command over the Allied forces marks a turning point in the World War, the importance of which may well be likened to that of the battle on the Marne.[i]
On both sides the World War had the character of a coalition war. The military history of all ages teaches how extremely difficult it is in a war of that type to subordinate to the higher demands of a unified command the rarely harmonizing interests of the individual allies. In the campaign of 1866, Moltke had figured that the interests of the Austrians and the South-German states would clash on a good many points, and subsequent events showed that he was right. In the World War, the German offensive of March 21, 1918, in the region of St. Quentin, was directed against the British right wing and the point of junction where the French section of the front joined that of the British. This was indeed the most vulnerable point of the enemy. The same course of action had already been followed by Napoleon in Italy when, in 1796, he broke through the Piedmontes-Austrian line, calculating that the Piedmontese would, in such an event, retreat toward their capital Turin, whereas the Austrians would follow their line of communication and retreat toward Milan. So in March, 1918, after the German attack had opened a breach, there was indeed danger for the Entente Allies that Field-Marshal Haig would fall back in the direction of the Channel ports and General Petain upon Paris.