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Breaking Point of the French Army: The Nivelle Offensive of 1917

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In December 1916 General Robert Nivelle was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French armies fighting the Germans on the Western Front. He had enjoyed a meteoric rise to high command and public acclaim since the beginning of the war - he was a national hero. In return, he proclaimed he 'had the formula' that would ensure victory and end the conflict in 1917. But his offen In December 1916 General Robert Nivelle was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French armies fighting the Germans on the Western Front. He had enjoyed a meteoric rise to high command and public acclaim since the beginning of the war - he was a national hero. In return, he proclaimed he 'had the formula' that would ensure victory and end the conflict in 1917. But his offensive was a bloody and humiliating failure for France, one that could have opened the way for French defeat. This is the subject of David Murphy's penetrating, in-depth study of one of the key events in the history of the Great War. He describes how Nivelle, a highly intelligent and articulate officer, used his charm to win the support of French and British politicians, but also how he was vain and boastful and displayed no sense of operational security. By the opening of the campaign, his plan was an open secret and he had lost the ability to critically assess the operation as it developed. The result was disaster.


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In December 1916 General Robert Nivelle was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French armies fighting the Germans on the Western Front. He had enjoyed a meteoric rise to high command and public acclaim since the beginning of the war - he was a national hero. In return, he proclaimed he 'had the formula' that would ensure victory and end the conflict in 1917. But his offen In December 1916 General Robert Nivelle was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French armies fighting the Germans on the Western Front. He had enjoyed a meteoric rise to high command and public acclaim since the beginning of the war - he was a national hero. In return, he proclaimed he 'had the formula' that would ensure victory and end the conflict in 1917. But his offensive was a bloody and humiliating failure for France, one that could have opened the way for French defeat. This is the subject of David Murphy's penetrating, in-depth study of one of the key events in the history of the Great War. He describes how Nivelle, a highly intelligent and articulate officer, used his charm to win the support of French and British politicians, but also how he was vain and boastful and displayed no sense of operational security. By the opening of the campaign, his plan was an open secret and he had lost the ability to critically assess the operation as it developed. The result was disaster.

30 review for Breaking Point of the French Army: The Nivelle Offensive of 1917

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dimitri

    "The Germans did not conform to Nivelle's requirements" It's impossible to better A.J.P. Taylor's verdict, as Nivelle's plan to break the Noyon salient was a best-case scenario. It all boiled down to a tenfold increased version of his assault that led to the recapture of Fort Douamont. His skillful orchestration of a fire curtain was worthy of his background as an artillerist, but against the ridge of Chemin Des Dames it performed poorly. The infantry assault went as bad as every pushover plan o "The Germans did not conform to Nivelle's requirements" It's impossible to better A.J.P. Taylor's verdict, as Nivelle's plan to break the Noyon salient was a best-case scenario. It all boiled down to a tenfold increased version of his assault that led to the recapture of Fort Douamont. His skillful orchestration of a fire curtain was worthy of his background as an artillerist, but against the ridge of Chemin Des Dames it performed poorly. The infantry assault went as bad as every pushover plan on the Western Front. The four army groups involved used up all their reserves as they gained footholds on the rain-soaked terrain at great cost. The chaulkstone soil, like at Arras, was honeycombed with refurnished quarries and other subterranean strongpoints which quickly earned nicknames such as the Caverne Du Dragon , belching death and destruction while seemingly invulnerable to anything but a direct hit from a distant railroad gun. Time and again, even ferocious Senegalese and Chasseurs broke under a deadly game of peek-a-boo began when , supposedly suppressed German machine-guns surfaced at their backs. The politics surrounding the cushioned fall of Nivelle are woven discreetly into the events on the ground; the infamous mutinies are dealt with separately. Murphy makes an interesting point concerning the lack of German opportunism. The fact that they pulled back to the Hindenburg Line in February clearly shows they didn't have the manpower to exploit the disarray on the French front with an offensive of their own ; also, for all their refusal to attack and be killed for nothing, it is far from certain that the defiant rankers would've let the enemy pass without a fight. A brief workhorse account of the futile offensive that broke the spirit of the poilu, good enough given the scarcity of books in English dealing with the French offensives of WWI: it always comes down to the troika of the 2000's : - Paths of Glory: The French Army 1914-18 by Anthony Clayton - Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War by Robert Allan Doughty - German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870-1916 by Robert T. Foley. Whichever genius historian France sends into the archives which were barred to researchers in the wake of Guy Pedroncini Les mutineries de 1917 but re-opened this year... will have my gratitude when he publishes his findings somewhere in the 2020's.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    Very informative and highly readable, this book added much to my knowledge of the Nivelle Offensive, and its consequences for an already demoralized and suffering French Army. The author analyses General Nivelle and his plan plus the effects of the infamous mutinies that followed. It is not a long book, but it presents the problems faced by the nation in their desire to end the war in 1917. I would certainly recommend it as a basic look at one of France's darkest moments of WWI. Very informative and highly readable, this book added much to my knowledge of the Nivelle Offensive, and its consequences for an already demoralized and suffering French Army. The author analyses General Nivelle and his plan plus the effects of the infamous mutinies that followed. It is not a long book, but it presents the problems faced by the nation in their desire to end the war in 1917. I would certainly recommend it as a basic look at one of France's darkest moments of WWI.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Russell G Edwards

    .Why too many cooks spoil the broth and perhaps the main reason one principal leader for world war two! this explains why one commander bosses the whole whoa.le show in WW2. Eisenhower was responsible . Though not infallible,his selection eliminated the mistakes of the past.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John Kresser

  5. 4 out of 5

    Adam Gordon

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robby Boucher

  7. 5 out of 5

    robert rooney jr

  8. 5 out of 5

    Slr

  9. 5 out of 5

    MR A J TOPPING

  10. 5 out of 5

    ian jones

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jussi Josefsson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

  13. 5 out of 5

    ANDREWJJUSTICE

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ken Brown

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ka Lo

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brian Loughlin

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael Pearse

  18. 4 out of 5

    Esther Keeley

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elliott

  20. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  21. 4 out of 5

    Don Price

  22. 5 out of 5

    Maureen Burnham

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eurydicegirlgmail.Com

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stormcloud1950

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael Davis

  26. 5 out of 5

    Stan Watson

  27. 4 out of 5

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  28. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kent Crawford

  30. 5 out of 5

    Martha Conner

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