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Louis Franchet d'Esperey
Born (1856-05-25)25 May 1856
Died 8 July 1942(1942-07-08) (aged 86)
Place of birth Mostaganem, French Algeria
Place of death Saint-Amancet, France
Allegiance  France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1876–1920
Rank Marshal of France
Vojvoda of Yugoslavia
Battles/wars Boxer Rebellion
World War I
Awards Marshal of France
Yugoslavian Vojvoda
Grand Cross of the Légion d’honneur

Louis Félix Marie François Franchet d'Espèrey (French pronunciation: ​[lwi feliks maʁi fʁɑ̃swa fʁɑ̃ʃɛ dɛpɛʁɛ]; Serbo-Croatian: [frǎnʃe deperê(ː)] (25 May 1856 – 8 July 1942) was a French general during World War I.

Early years

He was born in Mostaganem in French Algeria, the son of an officer of cavalry in the Chasseurs d'Afrique. He was educated at Saint-Cyr and graduated in 1876. He served in French Indochina, China (in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, during which his cousin the German plenipotentiary Clemens von Ketteler was killed) and Morocco before 1914. He received command of I Corps in 1913.

First World War


In 1914, Franchet d'Espèrey did well as a corps commander at the Battle of Charleroi. On 23 August, the third day of the battle, with the German Second Army pressing the French centre, Franchet d’Esperey saw an opportunity for his I Corps to counterattack from the French right. Despite repeated pleas from 10am onward, Lanrezac refused him permission to do so.[1] On 23 August Fifth Army was attacked again, this time also on the flanks, by Bulow’s German Second Army to the north and Hausen’s German Third Army against Franchet to the right.[2]

At the Battle of Guise (29 August) the day was won by a successful attack by Franchet d’Esperey’s I Corps in the north– leading his men on horseback, d’Esperey is said to have called out “how do you like this advance, Mr Staff College Professor?” to Colonel Petain, who was then commanding an infantry brigade.[3]

On the eve of the First Battle of the Marne, Franchet d'Espèrey was given command of the Fifth Army. When asked by Joffre whether he was willing to accept the command he replied equivocally “the same as another”. Despite being a naturally kindly man, he affected a tyrannical demeanour to galvanise his officers. Spears, then a lieutenant liaising between the BEF and the Fifth Army, wrote than Franchet physically resembled a howitzer shell, and of the “galvanic effect” which he had on his staff on taking command. He ordered that any man not doing his duty was to be shot, including staff officers.[4][5]

Conscious that his predecessor Lanrezac had had poor relations with the BEF commander Sir John French, he immediately sent him a telegram signed “Franchet d’Esperey KCVO” promising cooperation.[5] On his first day (4 September) he met the BEF Sub-Chief of Staff Wilson to agree a plan of attack and ensure good relations with the BEF, and as Joffre was eating his dinner at 6.30pm impressed him by presenting a plan for a concerted attack by the Allied armies, which became the basis for Instruction Generale No 6, the Allied plan of attack at the Marne.[6]

Mid War

By March 1916, Franchet d'Espérey was in command of the Eastern Army Group and by January 1917 the Northern Army Group. He was badly defeated by the Germans at the Battle of Chemin des Dames in May 1918.


Removed from the Western Front, he was appointed commander of the Allied armies at Salonika.

Between 15 and 29 September 1918 General Franchet d'Espèrey, in command of a large army of Greeks (9 divisions), French (6 divisions), Serbs (6 divisions), British (4 divisions) and Italians (1 division) - staged a successful offensive in Macedonia that knocked Bulgaria out of the war. General Franchet d'Espèrey followed up this victory by overrunning much of the Balkans and by the war's end, his troops had penetrated well into Hungary.

During this final campaign, he was given the nickname "Desperate Frankie" by the British officers.

Post World War I career

After World War I ended, General Franchet d'Espèrey directed operations against the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. He was made a marshal of France on 19 February 1921 and was given an honorary title of Vojvoda (equivalent of Field-Marshal) from the Yugoslav's.

In 1924 Franchet d'Espèrey was inspector-general of North African troops, and became interested in the strategic potential of the "grand axis" north-south route. He joined a trans-Saharan expedition led by Gaston Gradis that left Colomb-Béchar on 15 November 1924 in three six-wheel Renaults. Other members were the journalist Henri de Kérillis, commandant Ihler, the brothers Georges Estienne and René Estienne, three Renault mechanics and three legionnaires.[7] The expedition reached Savé in Dahomey on 3 December 1924 after a journey of 3,600 kilometres (2,200 mi).[8] The expedition leaders took the train south, and reached Porto-Novo on the Atlantic on 14 December 1924.[9]

Franchet d'Espèrey represented France at the coronation of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa on 1 November 1930. He was elected to the Académie française on 15 November 1934.


He died in Albi, France, on 8 July 1942, with his country under the rule of the same German enemy he had fought against in the Great War.


Franchet d'Espèrey had drive and great energy and his victories against Bulgaria and the remnants of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies were independent of the situation on the Western front, demonstrated by the fact that they came before the main assault on the Hindenburg Line and against a still capable army that offered strong resistance to the British and Greeks in the Battle of Doiran. As a consequence of his generalship Bulgaria signed armistice on 29 September, thus becoming the first Central Power to sign an armistice. In terms of personality, he was vain and pompous, if able. In terms of politics, Franchet d'Espèrey was a nationalist Royalist whose loyalty to France outweighed his loyalty to the Bourbons.

British troops, unable to pronounce his name properly, nicknamed him "Desperate Frankie."

Several French cities and towns have boulevards and roads named after d'Espèrey, among them Dijon, Reims, Saint-Étienne, Versailles and Lorient. The Belgian city of Dinant has an Avenue Franchet d'Esperey. In the Serbian capital Belgrade, a boulevard has been named after him, as well as a street in the center of Thessaloniki, the second largest city of Greece.




  1. Terraine 1960, pp. 87-88.
  2. Terraine 1960, p. 97.
  3. Terraine 1960, pp. 158-160.
  4. Terraine 1960, pp. 181-3, 186-787-88.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Holmes 2004, p. 237.
  6. Terraine 1960, pp. 186-7.
  7. Mondet 2011, p. 287.
  8. Mondet 2011, p. 288.
  9. Bourgin 2011, p. 318.


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