Who's Who - Noel de Castelnau

General de Castelnau Noel de Castelnau (1851-1944) was, along with French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre, and other notable commanders, such as Lanrezac and Mangin, a leading exponent of the 'offensive spirit' which dominated French war policy until the dismissal of Robert Nivelle in May 1917.

Born in Gascony, Castelnau entered the French army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.  Twice serving as Joffre's Chief of Staff, from 1911-14 and again from 1915-16, Castelnau helped develop the French pre-war Plan XVII war strategy document.

Underpinning Plan XVII was the assumption that the French Army would recapture the lost territories of Alsace and Lorraine - essentially at any cost - en route to conquering Germany; both had been ceded to Germany as a consequence of France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

Whilst the clear failure of his Second Army's invasion at Lorraine in August 1914 indicated early flaws with French strategy, Castelnau persisted with the offensive doctrine during the Battle of Albert the following month and subsequently while serving as French Central Army Group Commander through 1915, a position he held until his second stint as Joffre's Chief of Staff.

Having served at the defence of Verdun in 1916, during which he recommended the appointment of Petain as local commander whilst opposing his mooted withdrawal from the fortifications, de Castelnau lost his command once Joffre was replaced by the notoriously aggressive Robert Nivelle in December 1916.

With the ascendancy of Ferdinand Foch to Supreme Allied Commander - who served under de Castelnau at Lorraine - de Castelnau was recalled to active service in 1918 to command the French Eastern Army Group, ironically back into Lorraine, scene of his initial debacle.

Noel de Castelnau died in 1944.

The Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was the first ever delivered by telegram.

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Who's Who