Maurice Sarrail

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Maurice Sarrail

Paul Maurice Emmanuel Sarrail (born April 6, 1856 in Carcassonne , † March 23, 1929 in Paris ) was a French general of the First World War . He gained notoriety as the unsuccessful Commander in Chief of the Allied Army Group on the Saloniki Front .

Early military career

Sarrail entered the Saint-Cyr Military School in 1875 and chose to train as an infantry officer . Sarrail served with the hunting force in the Vosges until 1877 . In 1881 he took part in the expedition in southern Tunisia as a sous lieutenant , after which he fought with the Foreign Legion in Algeria. From 1887 he was captain , in 1905 he was promoted to colonel and on March 25, 1908 to général de brigade . Between February 1901 and February 1902 he was a teacher at the Saint-Maixent Military School . 1902 to 1904 he served as an orderly officer of the Republican-minded Minister of War General Louis Joseph André . From March 1907 he was appointed to the position of infantry director in the War Ministry , and for several years he was in command of the military guard of the House of Representatives . Sarrail made a quick career in the upper class of the Third Republic of France because of his bourgeois background and openly flaunted socialist outlook . For many members of the upper army command (who at the time were still largely of aristocratic origin) the rise of a bourgeois officer was still a nuisance. On March 27, 1911 Sarrail was promoted to Général de division , at the same time he took over the leadership of the 12th Division and from October 1, 1913 for a short time that of the 4th Division. On November 1, 1913 he took command of the VIII. Corps in Bourges and on April 24, 1914 the leadership of the VI. Corps in Châlons-sur-Marne .

In the first World War

At the beginning of the war in August 1914, his VI. Corps, which belonged to the French 3rd Army under Pierre Ruffey , assembled in the Vigneulles-lès-Hattonchâtel area . It then formed the right wing of the 3rd Army in the Battle of Longwy against the German 5th Army and kept up with the neighboring Armée de Lorraine under Joseph Maunoury . After the 3rd Army had been pushed back on the Longwy - Montmédy line across the Meuse section, Ruffey was dismissed on the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Joffre . On August 30, 1914, General Sarrail received the supreme command of the 3rd Army, which just went back in heavy fighting against the Germans in the Ardennes and on the fortress arch of Verdun. Although his successful resistance in the run-up to the Verdun fortress of the German 5th Army during the first Battle of the Marne was able to stop, in Joffres eyes Sarrail remained a bourgeois upstart.

The loss-making battles in the Argonne from June 20 to July 14, 1915, in which the Germans gained ground against the 3rd Army, ultimately formed the background to Sarrail's dismissal as Army Commander. The occasion was the criticism of General Augustin Dubails , the Commander in Chief of the Eastern Army Group and Sarrail's direct superior. Its leadership has led to failures and high losses. Joffre requested a detailed investigation from Dubail, which the latter carried out and sent two reports to GHQ. Both were extremely critical and in their conclusion called for Sarrail to be replaced. Joffre followed suit on July 22, 1915, replacing Sarrail with General Georges Humbert .

The dismissal of Sarrail quickly became a political issue as he was one of the few generals close to the political left. The MP Paul Bénazet (later Minister under Briand) stated publicly: “Sarrail is a symbol, it should never have been attacked. To remove him from his command is to slap Parliament in the face for hitting the only general from the Republican camp. ”The following appointments of Sarrail must be viewed against this background.

Commander in Chief in the Dardanelles and in Macedonia

On August 6, 1915, Sarrail was appointed as the successor to the seriously wounded General Gouraud as commander in chief of the French troops on Gallipoli . When the Central Powers opened the offensive against Serbia in October 1915 , France immediately sent military aid to the beleaguered ally. The first divisions brought to Salonika were two French from Gallipoli. The aim was to set up a new front against Bulgaria , which had joined the Central Powers . The Allied High Command agreed on the appointment of General Sarrail as Commander-in-Chief of the so-called Orient Army that was emerging here. The first French advance went through the Vardar valley to the north, where it was stopped by a counterattack by the Bulgarian 2nd Army in early December 1915; aid for Serbia was scheduled too late. On January 16, 1916, Sarrail officially became Commander-in-Chief of all Entente troops on the new Salonika Front . Although Greece was neutral in 1914 because of its German-friendly monarch, in February 1916, under pressure from Sarrail and the Royal Navy , it had to agree to the Allies taking over the port city of Salonika. After the complete evacuation of Gallipolis in January 1916, Sarrail's forces were quickly increased to 80,000 men. A British corps under General Sir Bryan Mahon and the Serbian units of General Mišić , who were fleeing to the Adriatic, were added to his army group that was forming on the northern Greek border. By March 1916, his front extended from the Belasica Plateau - Dojransee - via Gevgelija - Florina - through all of South Macedonia via the Prespa and Ochridasee to Albania, where it joined the Italian 16th Corps, which had landed near Valona . Sarrail's headquarters remained in Saloniki, the only supply port of his army, now composed of almost ten nations. In March 1916, the first German forces under General Hippel appeared on the hostile side at the hotly contested Cernabogen and near Monastir. Together with the Bulgarian 1st Army they were subordinated to the German General Otto von Below . His most successful offensive led to the capture of Monastir ( Bitola ) in November 1916 .

Meanwhile, under its anti-German politician Venizelos , Greece was forced to join the war on the side of the Entente. King Constantine I was forced to abdicate on July 12, 1917, the country had to declare war on the Central Powers and surrender troops for Sarrail. As a result, Sarrail's army grew to an inhomogeneous mix of peoples of 350,000 soldiers, but all other offensives remained without much gain in terrain. All intentions to break through Sarrail on the eastern section of the front on Lake Doiran, in the center near Monastir and on the Cernabogen were foiled in 1917, only a small amount of terrain was gained with high losses. The defensive front of the Bulgarian 1st Army stabilized on the line Prespa - Florina - Kajmakcalan - Nidze plateau. On December 14, 1917, under pressure from the new French Prime Minister Clemenceau, Sarrail was recalled from Macedonia; General Adolphe Guillaumat took over the Orient Army , but was likewise unsuccessful.

End of life

Sarrail was put up for disposal on April 6, 1918, but continued to be used in the army because of his political influence. In 1919 he ran unsuccessfully for the Socialists in the parliamentary elections in Paris. On November 29, 1924, Sarrail was appointed High Commissioner of the French Republic in the League of Nations mandate for Syria and Lebanon , replacing General Weygand as Commander-in-Chief of the Armée du Levant . After the Druze uprising and for his brutal way of restoring order in Damascus by bombarding the city, he was recalled to France. His successor in Beirut was General Henry de Jouvenel . Sarrail returned to France and died of pneumonia in Paris in 1929. His heart was buried in the Invalides Cathedral.


  • Dr. Georg Strutz: Autumn Battle in Macedonia - Battle of the Cernabogen 1916 . Gerhard Stalling Verlag Berlin 1924.
  • Anton Wagner: The First World War. A look back. Ueberreuter Verlag, Vienna 1981. (Troop service pocket books, Volume 7).

Web links

Commons : Maurice Sarrail  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Robert A. Doughty: Pyrrhic Victory - French strategy and operations in the Great War , Cambridge 2005, pp. 187f
  2. Frédéric Guelton: General Joseph Joffre, the Grand Quartier Général and the Government of France 1914 to 1916 , in: Christian Stachelbeck (Hrsg.): Materialschlachten 1916 - event, meaning, memory , Paderborn 2017, p. 73