Doullens

A Commander in Chief

By the end of 1917 it was evident to the German High Command (Though not necessarily to Kaiser Wilhelm II himself) that the entry of the United States into the war on the side of the Allies would mean that eventually the German Army would simply be outnumbered.

Following the treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Lenin's Russian government on 3 March 1918 von Ludendorff found himself with an extra 700 000 German soldiers for use on the Western Front. Troops that were more accustomed to movement than their counterparts in the trench bound stalemate in the west.

Operation Michael

On 21 March 1918 von Ludendorff launched Germany's last gambit - the Kaiserschlacht or Kaiser's Battle.

The first part: Operation Michael, smashed against the British on the Somme driving them back ever closer towards the all important rail link at Amiens, and thus opening the way to Paris.

For a moment there was panic in the air as French and British armies became separated.

The discussion outside

The gathering of the leaders at Doullens

A supreme commander was needed to coordinate the movements of all the Allies.

 

Doullens Town Hall

The Hôtel de Ville at Doullens

The Hôtel de Ville at Doullens

On 26 March 1918 a meeting was called at the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) in Doullens.

The 90th Anniversary The 90th Anniversary

Senior political as well as military figures were there from France and Britain, including Field Marshal Haig, Generals Pétain and Foch. The French President: Poincaré presided over the meeting with Lord Milner, the Secretary of State for War, representing the British Government.

It became immediately obvious that the two Armies had very different priorities as the British were more interested in defending the coastal ports (their lifeline) and the French Paris.

General Foch

General Foch explains how Amiens must be held

Eventually it would be Sir Douglas Haig who suggested that he would follow any advice that General Foch would care to give.

Clémenceau proposed and it was agreed by both parties that Foch would act as an overall commander in chief to ensure that the two Armies collaborated and worked towards the common goal - defeating the German Army.

Foch made it immediately clear that the first thing that had to be undertaken was the defence of Amiens - it would not be lost under any circumstances.

Haig however pointed out that making Foch commander only in the Amiens sector was self defeating, so Clémenceau altered his proposal to include all theatres of war.

Inside the Hotel de Ville

The grand staircase - the conference room is upstairs

 
The Stained Glass Window

Visiting the Hôtel de Ville

This rather splendid town hall is open during all working days of the year between 10-12:30 hours and from 14-18:00 hours. Entry is free.

It is well sign posted (Commandement Unique - in French), but parking is difficult. Nowhere though, is more than a few minutes walk away.

The chamber is on the first floor and signs lead the way.

There is a small brochure available explaining a little about the history of the chamber.

Around the walls there are a number of paintings and a stained glass window showing scenes from the day.

Portraits of the important figures also adorn the walls.

The table is set and place names indicate who sat where - though I can't see that they compare with the painting.

In the centre of the table is a copy of the draft order scribbled by Clémenceau (He should have been a doctor with writing like that) making Foch supreme commander.

The Conference Table

The Conference Table

 

Also to be seen

The Belfry

Doullens is a pleasant small town located on my own river the Authie. It would be about half an hour away from the battlefields of the Somme or Arras.

The Tourist Office is located in the old Belfry around the corner from the Town Hall.

There is an interesting story as to how the Doullenais stole the bells from Auxi le Chateau. This ended up in court in Paris with the rather unusual decision that Doullens could keep the bells but would have to pay for them.

Near the market place you will find the historic church of St Pierre consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170.

There is a small town war memorial and garden, within walking distance to the left and behind the Market Place.

Right opposite the market and on the corner of the main street is a small boutique: the Gout d'ange, which sells beers and spirits. They have a nice collection of ornate bottles and gift ware. The prices are reasonable.

The XVI century citadel is open for walking.

The Citadel The Citadel
 
The Calvaire Foch

The Calvaire Foch

At the roundabout heading for Arras you will see a sign for the Calvaire Foch which sits high on the hill overlooking the town.

It is situated where the first 240mm shell fell on the town. You would probably want to drive this one but the view is worth it.

 

Also near to the roundabout (Direction Amiens) is a small road leading up to the town cemetery and two large CWGC enclosures.

Doullens Communal Cemetery Doullens Communal Cemetery