Fernande de Langle de Cary, 1867-1927

Fernande de Langle de Cary was a French general who performed well during the first battle of the Marne, and during 1915, but who was made a scapegoat for the early failures at Verdun in 1916 (full name Fernande Armand Merie de Langle de Cary). He graduated from St. Cyr as a cavalry officer in 1869, and almost immediately distinguished himself during the Franco-Prussian War. He rose steadily through the ranks, reaching brigadier general in 1900 and major general in 1906. From 1912 until his first retirement in July 1914 he was on the Supreme War Council and was earmarked to command a field army at the outbreak of war.

In August 1914 he was called out of retirement and given command of the Fourth Army, with orders to advance through the Ardennes. In company with the Third Army (de Ruffey) he ran into the Germans, also advancing through the Ardennes, and suffered a serious defeat (battle of the Ardennes, 20-25 August 1914). The Third Army retreated back to Verdun, while Langle de Cary’s Fourth Army retreated to Sedan, and then further south towards the Marne.

During the first battle of the Marne, Langle de Cary’s job was simply to hold the eastern part of the French line, between the Third Army (now under General Sarrail), and the new Ninth Army (General Foch). To do this he had to hold off attacks by the German Third Army (von Hausen) and Fourth Army (Württemberg). Despite repeated German attacks, Langle de Cary was able to hold his line, with the help of reinforcements arriving from quiet sectors of the front. The last serious attack came on 8 September, after which Joffre ordered a general advance, to start on 11 September.

This advance bogged down on the Aisne (first battle of the Aisne, 13-28 September 1914), where the Germans had prepared a defensive line. Langle de Cary and the Fourth Army remained on this front for the next year, taking part in the first battle of Champagne (20 December 1914-17 March 1915), where little was achieved, and the second battle of Champagne (25 September-6 November 1915), where they made a little more progress.

On 11 December 1915 Langle de Cary was promoted to command the Centre Army Group. This gave him command of the line from Verdun west through the Champagne region. Verdun itself was initially under the command of General Dubail, commander of the Eastern Army Group, but in January 1916 Langle de Cary was given direct operational command of the fortress. This addition to his command wrecked his career.

Over the previous year Verdun had been a quiet part of the front, and Joffre had removed many of the fortress guns to support his offensives elsewhere. When the Germans attack on 21 February 1916 (battle of Verdun), they made quick easy gains, capturing a series of the outlying forts. Langle de Cary recommended a retreat to more defensible higher ground away from Verdun, but he was overruled by Joffre. The decision was made to defend Verdun, and General Pétain was appointed to command the defence.

Langle de Cary was quickly sidelined, and in March 1916 he was finally relieved of his command, officially because of his age (he was sixty six, only three years older that Joffre himself). His last mission was an inspection trip to North Africa, and in December 1917 he was removed from active service. In retirement he wrote memoirs that were particularly hostile to Joffre. He died in 1927. Langle de Cary was a competent commander, who did not deserve to take any of the blame for the state of the defences of Verdun. He had only been in command of the Centre Army Group for two months when the German attack began, and had only had command over Verdun for one month.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 September 2007), Fernande de Langle de Cary, 1867-1927 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_langle_de_cary.html

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