Who's Who - Henri Berthelot

Henri Berthelot Henri Mathias Berthelot (1861-1931) served for much of the First World War on the Western Front as French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre's Chief of Staff, and twice spent periods in Romania.

Having graduated from St Cyr in 1883 Berthelot initially saw service in Algeria, Tonkin and Annam.  In 1907 he began the first of 12 years attached to the general staff, a period which encompassed the whole of the First World War.  During this time Berthelot was heavily involved - along with Joffre - in developing France's aggressive blueprint for war, Plan XVII.

The outbreak of war in August 1914 brought Berthelot an appointment as Joffre's Chief of Staff, acting closely with the latter throughout the First Battle of the Marne.  In November the same year he was handed command of reserves in Soissons before being given charge of 53rd Division and then XXXIII Corps the following year.

During Berthelot's wartime alliance with Joffre he assisted the Commander-in-Chief by dealing with criticism levelled at Joffre's conduct of the campaign by politicians and local commanders alike, leaving Joffre the freedom to concentrate upon military strategy,

Action during the Verdun battle in 1916 was followed by a posting to struggling Romania as head of the French military mission, there to assist with the latter's defence on the Arges.  This appointment roughly coincided with Joffre's effective removal as Commander-in-Chief, replaced by the disastrous Robert Nivelle.

Inevitable defeat of the Romanian army saw Berthelot return to the Western Front in command of Fifth Army, located west of Reims during the crucial Second Battle of the Marne.  Berthelot's handling of his command was distinguished by a stubborn determination to hold to French pre-war principles of the offensive.  His predilection for ignoring Commander-in-Chief Henri-Philippe Petain's policy of elastic defence in depth would probably have cost him his command in the wake of the marked setback of July 1918 were it not for stern U.S. resistance at the Marne, halting the German advance.

Returning once more to Romania with the latter's openly opportunistic return to the war at the end of October 1918, Berthelot acted as Commander-in-Chief of the Danube Army.  Following the armistice Berthelot was appointed governor at Metz and awarded a seat on the French Supreme War Council.

He died in 1931.

A 'Toasting Fork' was a bayonet, often used for the named purpose.

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