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"When the public is shaken, the politicians have a problem... and when the politicians have a problem, I have a problem."
―General Joffre[src]

Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre was a French general, who served as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army between 1914-1916 during World War I. He was a strong proponent of the strategy to "attack to the utmost". After his success at the First Battle of the Marne, he was popularly called "Papa" Joffre[1]. As commander-in-chief, he was accountable to the French politicians.


Earlier in the war, Joffre ordered that Fort Douaumont and other forts in the Verdun area be stripped of much of their weapons and men for their use elsewhere. The nearly-empty Fort Douaumont was captured early by the Germans in the Battle of Verdun, and one of Joffre's goals was to retake it as a matter of national pride.

In September 1916, because of clashes over strategy, General Joffre decided to promote General Philippe Pétain to sector commander, taking Pétain away from leading the 2nd Army, which was fighting at Verdun. Command of the 2nd Army was given to General Robert Nivelle, who had agreed with Joffre's strategy style. Arriving at the 2nd Army Headquarters in Souilly, Joffre met briefly with Nivelle, Charles Mangin, and Pétain, and authorized Nivelle's plan to attack Fort Douaumont, despite Pétain's need for greater detail. Ignoring Pétain and placing his confidence in Nivelle, Joffre departed for the ballet, as was expected by the politicians. Nivelle's attack ended in failure.

Joffre returned two days later, as Nivelle had ordered a new attack, though intelligence gathered by Henri Defense (Indiana Jones) had indicated that the Germans were bringing in two Big Bertha guns, which would annihilate any attackers. When Joffre arrived, he realized that the French artillery had stopped, though it was not time yet for the attack. Questioning Nivelle, Pétain admitted that he had stopped the artillery barrage and canceled the attack. Furious, Joffre re-authorized the attack, and called Colonel Barc to re-start the attack. Having received Pétain's written cancel order and not willing to have his men needlessly slaughtered, Barc reminded the commander-in-chief that a written order could only be changed by another written order, as per regulations that Joffre had written. Enraged, Joffre wrote out a new order, and it was given to Jones to bring to the front lines. While waiting for the attack to resume, Joffre was not interested in Pétain's reconnaissance photos, which verified Jones' intelligence, but explained that larger forces dictated the need to attack, despite the odds. While Pétain was more concerned about the lives of the soldiers in a battle that couldn't be won, Joffre explained that he was under pressure from the politicians who needed to shore up public morale after the loss of the fort. In the end, the attack was not started, as Jones had secretly destroyed the orders and fled from Verdun.

Behind the scenes[]

Bernard Fresson played the role of General Joffre in the episode "Verdun, September 1916" of the The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

In real life, because of the losses at Verdun and the Somme, Joffre was replaced as commander in chief by Robert Nivelle in December 1916, who had eventually won at Verdun. The antiquated rank of Marshal of France, which had not been used since 1870, was revived in order to disguise Joffre's removal from command as a promotion.



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