On this date exactly one hundred years ago today, French General Joseph Gallieni saved the city of Paris and the combined armies of France and England from encirclement and perpetual Kaiser Wilhelm ass humping in one of the most daring, balls-out military maneuvers of all time – he stripped the entire garrison of Paris down to basically nothing, loaded all of his back-line troops into a fleet of 600 commandeered motherfucking Paris taxi cabs, and then drove them all at top speed straight up the ass of the entire German army when they least expected it.
At the time he did this, the 65 year-old Gallieni was already a national hero of France, a 43-year veteran of the French Colonial Marines who had fought dozens of wars on at least three continents, and the man who established a significant number of counter-insurgency tactics that are still employed by modern militaries to this day.
This guy couldn’t even read the fucking
newspaper without shit exploding around him.
A couple weeks ago I talked about how the Poles and the Turks are two severely-underrated world military powers, but perhaps the most atrociously-maligned fighting force in the world is the fucking French Army. Despite fielding the most hardcore ground forces on the European continent for centuries, throwing down the decomposing corpses of their slain enemies since the days of Charles Martel trampling skulls in 700 AD, for some bullshit reason whenever anyone outside Paris discusses the French military all they want to talk about is how Hitler marched his goons under the Arc d’Triomphe (because apparently being one of a dozen countries that were unprepared for the Nazi Blitzkrieg overrides the French successfully bailing the United States out in the Revolution, occupying the burning ruins of Moscow during the Napoleonic Era, battling to the last man against the Germans at Verdun, and holding the lines against German Panzers to save the British Army at Dunkirk). Fuck that. These guys are as tough as they come.
Joseph-Simon Gallieni was born in the southwest part of France, along the Pyrenees Mountains, in 1849. His father, a retired infantry officer turned wine-grower (fun fact: any time a Frenchman retires from his job he is automatically given control of a winery), taught Gallieni the value of working your balls off from sunup to sundown, then shipped his kid off to military academy at the age of 11 so he could accelerate balls-growing and put some hair on his chest while perhaps building character at the same time. Gallieni attended the best military academies in France, became a devout pro-Democracy Republican (even though he was currently serving in the Empire of Napoleon III), and graduated in 1870 as a Second Lieutenant in the French Colonial Marines.
He graduated just in time to be thrown into the front lines of the Franco-Prussian War.
son of a
Lieutenant Gallieni and his Marines found themselves on the front lines of the Battle of Sedan in 1870, when his regiment was ordered to hold the town of Bazeilles against an onrushing horde of hardcore pointy-helmet-wearing Bavarian German infantry. In some of the most brutal house-to-house fighting of the war, Gallieni and his men battled through the burning streets of Bazeilles, busting out windows and firing from sniper positions despite being outnumbered ten to one by a horde of German troops. With buildings being pummeled to rubble around them by Prussian artillery fire, Gallieni survived a shrapnel wound and continued to command his men to battle even as his regiment sustained massive casualties from enemy gunfire. For seven hours, the Marines held the line, taking and losing ground with bayonets and rifles, until finally, with his 1000-man regiment reduced to just 19 surviving soldiers, Gallieni’s troops ran out of ammunition and were forced to surrender. Gallieni was taken to Prussia and interned in a fucking fortress there, but somehow made the best of it – while he was there he learned to speak fluent German and read every book on German military history that he could get his hands on.
Battle of Bazeilles
Gallieni was released after the war, returned to France, and was given permission to serve overseas in the colonies. After a brief stay on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, Gallieni went to Senegal, where he was given the dangerous and awesome mission to scout and explore uncharted territory through the Sudan, then negotiate with the native Kings and get permission for France to build a railway line through their turf. Despite a couple dangerous situations and harrowing escapes, Gallieni made it work, and for his efforts he got the Legion of Honor.
After Senegal, Gallieni went to Martinique in the Caribbean for a while, but eventually came back to the Sudan as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1886. In his absence, some shit had gone down in the Sudan (as it tends to do). Some native Muslim warlord named Mahmadu Lamine had gone on a rampage, capturing and plundering a few Senegalese towns and threatening the French garrison, so Gallieni was called in to lay the fucking beatdown and show everyone who was boss. Gallieni’s first plan – which at the time was a ground-breaking maneuver – was to make peace with every native tribe except Lamine’s. Before Gallieni, most Euro colonials figured, fuck it, let’s just kill all of these assholes because they’re all inferior to us anyway, but Gallieni made a point of allying himself with the tribes to help him isolate his true enemies. Even though he was still a strong imperialist, his method of dealing with insurgency was basically the same one we continue to use to this day – consolidate one point of strength, cooperate with the locals, adapt your policies to the region you’re operating in, and avoid making war with the entire population because that shit costs you men and money that you can’t afford to spare.
Using these tactics, Gallieni was able to isolate Lamine, crush his forces, drive him into the jungle, then go into the jungle, find him, and have him executed by firing squad.
French Marines in Africa.
Ok, well at this point the dudes in France realized that Joseph Gallieni was awesome at kicking the asses of badass guerilla warriors, so in 1892 they sent him to French Indochina (modern-day Vietnam) to deal with a hardcore revolutionary Viet warrior named De Tham who had been beating up on the French military in the region since 1887. Gallieni got there, went nuts, defeated De Tham in several battles, recaptured several rebellious Cantons for France, and then had to give up trying to kill the guy when France made peace with him in 1895 (someone else did it for him a few years later). After this, Gallieni was sent to Madagascar, where he put down an anti-French revolt through diplomacy, brute force, and by using his now-perfected tactic of arming loyal locals and using them to beat the shit out of non-loyal locals. Before leaving the island in 1905 he deposed Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar (who wasn’t nearly as cool as Ranavalona I) and decided, nah, fuck this Queen shit, this place belongs to us now.
Having now fought tooth-and-nail against German infantry, Muslim insurgents, Vietnamese revolutionaries, and African warlords (thereby allowing him to recreate all of American military history in about 25 years), in 1911 the now-62-year-old General Joseph Gallieni returned to France as a national hero. He was given a high administrative position in the French military, but then promptly pissed everyone off by suggesting that France should bolster the defenses on the northern part of the country and alter the military uniform so the soldiers no longer had to wear red pants. Overall French commander Joseph Joffre, who completely fucking hated Gallieni’s guts (mostly because a lot of people thought Gallieni should have been overall French commander instead of Joffre), responded by saying all of these ideas were retarded and then sticking Gallieni with the prestigious-yet-pointless position as military governor of the Paris garrison.
Three years later, the Germans initiated World War I by launching a full-scale invasion of France. By attacking from the North, which was lightly defended. The French were still wearing red pants, which kind of made it hard for them to hide from German machine guns.
The results weren’t pretty.
A lot of us think of World War I as being a hardcore never-ending slog of Trench Warfare, but in the opening days of the campaign there was a lot more open-air maneuvering than you’d think. The initial German onslaught, launched from the north thanks to the Kaiser’s complete disregard for Belgian neutrality, caught the combined French and British defenders completely-off guard. Massive casualties were sustained all across the Allied lines as the Germans stormed through huge gaps in the line, routing the British and French and driving them back into something now known as The Great Retreat.
By early September, Joseph Gallieni received word that the entire German army was just a few days’ march from Paris. You could see them from the top of the Eiffel Tower. The French government shit a brick and withdrew to Bordeaux. The rest of the army fell back beyond the Marne, leaving Gallieni and his small garrison as the only thing standing between the Kaiser’s forces and the city of Paris. Gallieni swore to defend the capital to the last man.
But then, just as the Germans were looking like they would waltz right into Paris, something weird happened.
They turned south.
Apparently, the German First Army, located at the extreme right of the German lines, didn’t view Gallieni and the Paris garrison as a threat. The German commander, General von Kluck, knew that it would be dumb as hell to leave the city completely undefended, so what he decided to do first was to bypass Paris, swing his entire army around the flank of the retreating French army, surround them, fuck them up royally with a few million artillery shells, then come back and storm Paris whenever the fuck he felt like it.
On paper, this kind of makes sense. What kind of moron would leave Paris, a city of four million people, completely undefended and attack the entire German First Army with just a few thousand reserve troops?
With complete disregard not only for his direct orders from General Joffre, but also against pretty much every military doctrine on earth, Joseph Gallieni ordered his men to charge into the flank of the German army. They crashed into their foes along the Ourcq River on September 5, 1914, catching von Kluck’s Prussians completely by surprise and forcing them to wheel their entire force around to face the new threat. Even though Gallieni’s men weren’t able to punch through the Germans or fuck them up too bad in a straight-up duel, his tactic was massively successful on a strategic level – by pinning von Kluck in place, Gallieni had saved the fucking French and British Armies and bought them the opportunity to stop retreating, turn around, and sucker-punch the Kaiser in the ballsack. The entire Allied force attacked in the First Battle of the Marne, stopped the relentless German advance, and forced the Kaiser to order his men to retreat back from Paris.
When he heard the attack was going forward and the Germans were starting to falter, Gallieni commandeered 600 Paris taxi cabs, loaded them up with every single fully-armed troop he had left, and shipped them all out to reinforce the attack.
He didn't stop attacking until the entire goddamn German army was in full retreat. They wouldn't so much as sniff a freshly-baked Parisien baguette for the rest of the war.
For his actions at the Battle of First Marne, General Joseph Gallieni became a hero of France. He remained the governor of Paris despite requesting multiple transfers for field commands, and then resigned in 1916 due to poor health. He died later that year and was posthumously named a Marshal of France in 1921.
Nowadays there’s a French Metro station named after him, which seems appropriate.