Nivelle Offensive
Failed Franco-British offensive
16 April - 9 May 1917
author Paul Boșcu, March 2018
The Nivelle offensive was a Franco-British plan on the Western Front of World War One. Designed by its architect, General Robert Nivelle, to be strategically decisive, the offensive failed to force a decisive battle with the German forces.
The Nivelle offensive was conducted by French and British forces on the Western Front of World War 1. The French intended for the offensive to be decisive by breaking through the German defences in the Aisne area within 48 hours. Although the offensive was tactically successful, with the French and British forces capturing territory previously occupied by the Germans, the Entente forces did not manage to achieve their primary strategic objective: the attempt to force a decisive battle on the Germans failed. The failed offensive led to mutinies in some units of the French Army and the dismissal of Robert Nivelle as the Chief of the General Staff.

Measured against the terrible yardstick of Verdun, the total casualties for the whole offensive were not overwhelmingly high. Nevertheless, because Nivelle had promised so much, the shock of disappointment felt by the French Army and people when the breakthrough failed to materialize was all the more severe. As a wave of unrest and indiscipline engulfed the French Army, Nivelle was dismissed from the post of Commander-in-Chief.

The Nivelle offensive was barely under way when the French Army began to experience its worst internal crisis of the war. That day, 17 soldiers of the 108th Infantry Regiment left their posts in the face of the enemy. This was the first in a series of acts of collective indiscipline which, after reaching a peak in June, continued into the autumn. Sixty-eight out of 112 French divisions were affected by the wave of mutinies.

The British launched their attack round Arras, at the northern extremity of what would have been the German salient. Its role was strictly limited: to pull German reserves away from the River Aisne. Well planned and well executed, it revealed that the learning curve on which the army had embarked in 1915 was now bearing fruit. Restricted to a front of 24 km, the battle was fought as a series of limited and staged attacks, leapfrogging each other, and with pauses to consolidate after each.

The Anglo-French plan for the spring of 1917 was unravelling at two levels. First, the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg line had upset its operational assumptions: the left wing of the French offensive on the Aisne now had no opponent. Second, it would not be part of a coordinated assault on Germany’s central position.

Mutinies began in late April, grew in May, and peaked in June. Concentrated in the sector from Soissons to Reims, many of them involved units which refused to return to the line, having had too little opportunity to recover and rebuild. They can be characterized as soldiers’ strikes: reactions to bad command, inadequate officers and poor conditions of service. The French army, it seemed, was still ready to defend France, but on its own terms.

A great offensive had been planned for 1917 at the meeting of Entente military representatives at Chantilly, French general headquarters, in November 1916. This meeting was a repetition of the Chantilly conference of the previous December which had led to the battle of the Somme and to the Brusilov offensive.

Nivelle was confident that the tactics he had used at Verdun would bring him success on a larger scale. There he had relied on narrow front attacks in which the artillery created a narrow corridor through which the infantry could push forward. Now, at last, he believed the French had enough heavy, long-range guns to attack on a wide front, allowing a single, crunching thrust to be made by the French Fifth and Sixth Armies. The heavy artillery would then be moved forward as quickly as possible to maintain the momentum, forcing a complete breakthrough by the Tenth Army.

One key feature of the offensive was to be surprise; but surprise proved impossible. Nivelle was himself less than discreet in discussing his plans in front of civilians, and security was further compromised by an assortment of French deserters.

Nivelle's preparations had been plagued by problems. Aristide Briand's government fell and the new French Prime Minister, Alexandre Ribot, entrusted the Ministry of War to Paul Painlevé, a Socialist with little faith in Nivelle's ideas. Painlevé’s military thinking was shaped by the defensively minded Pétain, who in turn was unconvinced by Nivelle.

The German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line largely nullified the French Northern Army Group's planned contribution to the offensive. The German retirement did have some benefits for the French since it enabled the Northern Army Group to release 13 divisions and 550 heavy artillery pieces for use elsewhere. It also gave the French the opportunity to assault the flank of the German position north of the Aisne and to direct an enfilade of artillery fire against the western portion of the defences on the Chemin des Dames ridge.

To add to Nivelle's troubles, Joseph Alfred Micheler – whose Army Group was expected to achieve and exploit the breakthrough on the Aisne – had serious misgivings about the coming offensive. In a letter to Nivelle, Micheler pointed out that the Germans too had extra reserves available as a result of their withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. Consequently it might no longer prove possible for the Reserve Army Group to effect a breakthrough as quickly as Nivelle required. Although Micheler's anxieties were shared by the other Army Group commanders, Nivelle would not make any fundamental amendments to his overall plan or chosen tactics.

As a result of the German evacuation of Artois, Nivelle’s front had moved to his right, and he was now attacking out of a cul-de-sac, going from south to north, towards the River Oise. Few roads and railways ran in that direction. The towns on the south bank of the Aisne were too small for the infrastructure now required of them. On the north bank the intersected slopes rose steeply to the ridge, along which ran the Chemin des Dames.

Nivelle had convinced the politicians, but it would not be these august gentlemen climbing out of the trenches. And there is no doubt that there was a fractious mood abroad among the French troops. The ordinary French soldiers were becoming war-weary. In ordering them forward for yet another great new offensive, Nivelle was risking more than he realized.

This is evident in the memoirs of Private Louis Barthas, serving in one of the intended follow-up battalions. Even before the battle they were embittered, as demonstrated by their reaction to the supposedly inspiring ‘order of the day’: ‘They read out an order of the day from that mass-murderer of 16 April, General Nivelle, to inform his troops (that is to say, his victims!) saying amidst other nonsense that, “The hour of sacrifice has arrived and we must not think about leave!” Reading this patriotic nonsense aroused no enthusiasm. On the contrary, it only demoralised the soldiers, who heard nothing but another terrible threat: new suffering, great dangers, the prospect of an awful death in a vain and useless sacrifice, because no one trusted the outcome of this new butchery. However, our commanders did not seem to doubt for a moment that the Germans would be routed.’

French civilian morale also dropped in the first half of 1917. Strikes in January and May spread from textile workers to munitions factories. Most of the protests were reflections of the cost of living rather than of revolutionary sentiment. A survey conducted in June 1917 on the orders of the Ministry of the Interior found morale good in three departments, fairly good in thirty, indifferent in twenty-nine, and bad in eight.

Significantly in those regions with low morale, the behavior of soldiers on leave was cited as a factor. The Gares du Nord and de l‘Est, the railway stations in Paris through which most troops going to and from the front passed, became a focus for pacifist agitators, and symbolized this link between feeling at the front and in the civilian population. The general mood may not have been pacifist, but it was certainly defensive rather than aggressive.

While the Entente were agreeing to reopen the offensive on ground already fought across, the Germans were making the necessary preparations to give up that ground altogether. In September 1916 work had been set in hand to construct a ‘final’ position behind the Somme battlefield, with the object of shortening the line and economising force. By January the new line, collectively known as the Hindenburg Line, was complete and by March it was fully occupied.

There was good reason to be cautious, for the Germans had also scattered booby traps to catch the unwary, with concealed delayed-action bombs timed to go off days afterwards. Throughout the advance the Entente’s sappers were kept busy clearing booby traps and trying to restore basic elements of the wrecked infrastructure.

The defences of the Chemin des Dames, built up over the previous three years, since it was first entrenched during the German retreat from the Marne in September 1914, were among the strongest on the Western Front. From the crest line, the Germans commanded long views into the French rear area. German artillery observers could overlook the positions in which the French infantry were to form up for the assault, as well as those of their supporting artillery.

Fortunately for Nivelle's plan, the Hindenburg Line stopped just short of the Chemin des Dames, where he planned to deliver the blow, as it did also of the Arras-Vimy Ridge sector where the British and Canadians were to attack a little earlier; the Hindenburg Line exactly bisected the base of the salient between them.

A new German defensive doctrine, introduced as a result of Nivelle's own success in recapturing ground at Verdun in December 1916, ensured that the front line would be held in minimum strength, but with counterattack divisions held just beyond the range of the enemy's artillery, so as to be able to ‘lock in’ as soon as the leading waves of the enemy's attacking infantry had ‘lost’ their own artillery's fire.

The Battle of Arras, although a diversionary operation, was a huge undertaking in itself. The plan was that the First Army, commanded by General Sir Henry Horne, would capture Vimy Ridge rising up three miles northeast of the city of Arras. Meanwhile the Third Army, commanded by General Sir Edmund Allenby, would drive forward towards the hill of Monchy-le-Preux with the intent of breaking through the main German defensive lines across the River Scarpe and allowing a thrust southwards towards Croisilles and Bullecourt. Many lessons had been learned from the Somme, and artillery was at the heart of the plans.

The artillery now had both the equipment and the expertise to fight the sort of battle to which it had aspired on the Somme and which was to shape the nature of allied successes for the rest of the war. Nearly 2.7 million shells were fired, over a million more than on the Somme, and 99 percent of them detonated. This firepower was used more discriminately: bombardments elsewhere along the line deceived the enemy as to the true point of attack, and intelligence focused the guns on the key sectors.

Smoke shells were also now routinely incorporated into the barrages to try and mask the attacking infantry from the German defenders. Gas shells were a key part of the barrages: they were less visually dramatic than the clouds of gas released from cylinders, but they were far easier to deploy and much more predictable in their effects.

Progress in the linked tasks of photographic reconnaissance and artillery observation allowed targets to be identified and then destroyed by indirect fire. New techniques of flash spotting and sound ranging also assisted in locating the exact positions of the German batteries. The idea of suppressing the ability of the German infantry and artillery to return fire at vital moments was now central to operations.

Through methodical and imaginative staff work, the extensive system of cellars, caves and sewers under Arras was exploited and developed to provide secure shelters for attacking troops, guaranteeing that they would be fresher for the assault.

The commander of the Sixth Army, occupying the Vimy-Arras sector, Ludwig von Falkenhausen, kept his counterattack divisions fifteen miles behind the front. These dispositions proved calamitous for the Germans. Their unfortunate infantry were pinned in their deep dugouts by the weight of the British bombardment, which had also torn their protective wire entanglements to shreds. Though their sentries heard the sounds of the impending assault two hours before it began, the cutting of their telephone lines meant that they could not communicate with their artillery, which had in any case been overwhelmed by British counter battery fire.

The April weather at Arras was atrocious: rain alternating with snow and sleet, the temperatures relentlessly low; wet and shelling had turned the chalky surface of the attack zone into gluey mud, everywhere ankle-deep, in places deeper. For once, however, the long period of preparation did not arouse fierce German counter-measures.

The Battle of Arras would prove a particular trial for the Royal Flying Corps, charged with photographing the battlefield to record every new development and flying endless artillery observation missions to direct the guns on which the operations depended. The problem for the RFC was that the battle had come too early in the year for them to upgrade their sadly ageing aircraft with new models better able to hold their own against the new German aircraft such as the Albatros scout. The British drove forward, accepting casualties in order to obtain the photographs needed in the run-up to the offensive.

The basic BE2 C army co-operation aircraft had done sterling work since its inception back in 1914, but was now hopelessly outclassed: too slow and unable to maneuver or defend itself. Its intended replacement, the RE8, had been delayed and was only just beginning to arrive on the Western Front in early 1917.

Multi-purpose aircraft like the FE2 B and the Sopwith 1½ Stutter were also showing their age. The British scouts were also lagging behind their German counterparts. The DH2, the FE8 and the Sopwith Pup, were all inadequate and although the French supplied the excellent Nieuport 17 and Spad VII to help in the interval before the next generation of British scouts arrived, the gap still loomed large. The RFC commander, Brigadier General Hugh Trenchard, was livid: ‘You are asking me to fight the battle this year with the same machines as I fought it last year. We shall be hopelessly outclassed, and something must be done. I am not panicking, but the Hun is getting more aggressive. I warned you fairly as far back as last September, and the Chief also warned you in November. And I warned the Air Board personally on 12th December. All I can say is that there will be an outcry from all the pilots out here if we do not have at least these few squadrons of fast machines, and what I have asked for is absolutely necessary.’

The Imperial German Air Service also had its problems. Vastly outnumbered by the British and French in the air, it had no choice but to fight on as best it could. In doing so one of the key figures would be Lieutenant Manfred von Richthofen, an acolyte of Oswald Boelcke – who had been killed in a mid-air collision in October 1916. Richthofen had taken command of Jasta 11 and soon whipped his men into shape. Through a combination of his practical demonstration of superb air fighting skills, astute tactical leadership and his ability to disseminate the lessons of air warfare, Manfred von Richthofen converted pilots previously of no particular distinction into flying aces preying on the British aircraft almost at will. But they could not stop all of them and the RFC continued to deliver the photographs required by the Army.

The initial artillery barrage also marked the beginning of the offensive in the air. The RFC intended to dominate the air above the battle zone and for up to twenty miles behind it – or die trying. Many British air crew would indeed lose their lives as they encountered the deadly guns of Richthofen, popularly known as the Red Baron, and the other German aces. Not for nothing would this become known as ‘Bloody April’ by the RFC.

Lieutenant Peter Warren, accompanied by his observer Sergeant Reuel Dunn, discovered for himself the deadly effectiveness of Richthofen, when he pounced on their Sopwith 1½ Stutter while on a vital mission of photographing defence works to the east of Vimy Ridge: ‘Another burst of lead from behind and the bullets spattered on the breech of my own machine gun, cutting the cartridge belt. At the same time, my engine stopped and I knew that the fuel tanks had been hit. There were more clouds below me. I dove for them and tried to pull up in them as soon as I reached them. No luck! My elevators didn’t answer the stick. The control wires had been shot away. There was nothing to do but go down and hope to keep out of a spin as best as I could. I side-slipped and then went into a dive which fast became a spiral. I don’t know how I got out of it. I was busy with the useless controls all the time, and going down at a frightful speed, but the red machine seemed to be able to keep itself poised just above and behind me all the time, and its machine guns were working every minute. I found later that bullets had gone through both of my sleeves and both of my boot legs, but in all of the firing, not one of them touched me. I managed to flatten out somehow in the landing and piled up with an awful crash. As I hit the ground, the red machine swooped over me, but I don’t remember him firing on me when I was on the ground.’ Both sides risked everything knowing that if they failed in the air the consequences could be disastrous for their comrades on the ground.

Vimy Ridge was a high point commanding the plain to Douai and the east. Its capture was the task of the Canadian corps. Aerial reconnaissance provided the photographic images on which the planning could be based, and later reported progress as the attack went in; beneath it engineers tunnelled into the chalk to lay charges beneath the German front line. The capture of Vimy Ridge was a national triumph for Canada. The deterioration in the weather slowed the attack in subsequent days. However, the battle of Arras achieved its principal strategic objective: the Germans doubled their strength in the sector within a week.

The Canadians had spent the winter training at platoon and section level for the assault, familiarizing themselves with models of the ground, and learning to advance in close conjunction with the creeping barrage of the artillery. ‘All you have to do’, one sergeant instructor explained, ‘is to hang on to the back wheel of the barrage, just as if you were biking down the Strand behind a motor ’bus; carefully like, and not in too much of a hurry.’

The Battle of Arras began as the massed guns blazed out all along the line and two mines ripped open the ground under the German positions. At the same time every German battery identified by the RFC was deluged with high explosives and gas shells: ‘All of a sudden, as though at a single word of command, down came drum fire from thousands of large and small caliber muzzles. Shell fire rose to crazy heights. It was impossible to distinguish the firing signatures from the shell bursts. It was just one mass of fire amidst an extraordinary racket. It was like the final intake of breath before a race. Nerves were stretched to breaking point as we took in these scenes, which were like a painting of terrible beauty. Standing there for just a few seconds, a shell landed just to my left and a fragment hit my left side at chest height. My nerves took another knock. My heart was like lead, the gorge rose in my throat; blood ran into my mouth, taking my breath away. I was at the end of my strength, ready to faint.’ (Second Lieutenant Bittkau, 263rd Reserve Infantry Regiment)

On Vimy Ridge, close behind the artillery barrage came the Canadian infantry, partially concealed by a smoke screen. The summit was far too narrow to allow any practical defence in depth; here the Germans had to hold their front lines or lose the ridge. The Canadians were on the Germans before they knew what was happening. Many, like Second Lieutenant Bittkau, were trapped in their dugouts: ‘Suddenly came a thin shout, seemingly from far off, “The British! Get out! Get out!” They were coming from the left, through the hollow, heading directly for Bonval Wood. Battle was joined – rifle shots – shouts – hand grenades. Hans Voigt came running up carrying ammunition and information, whilst down below secret documents were being burned. “They are coming from the left – here they are!” More bawling and shouting. “They are right above us!” Then it was quieter – completely quiet – until a strange voice called down, “Come out!” The light flickered. Thoughts ran through my numbed head: what were they going to do? Throw down hand grenades? Smash my skull? No, better to shoot myself. But the revolver was lying on the table and I could not move. Should I wait for a counter-attack? A Tommy came through the tunnel, looked carefully round the corner, a large revolver in his hand. “Officer?” he asked, then left to fetch his comrades.’

The Canadians pushed on, seeking to take the whole ridge before the Germans could reorganize themselves: ‘There were several bodies lying in its ruins, and there was no resistance until we had passed it, making for the second line. Then we came under fire from machine guns in pillboxes on the hillside. Still we went forward, losing only a very few men at this stage, until, as if from nowhere, there came a withering burst of fire from hidden machine guns well ahead of us. We were really into it now. We halted for a short time, to get our breath back and plan for the next move. Then a trench mortar group came along, sighted on the machine gun post and secured direct hits on it. We again went forward, slowly and deliberately. When we finally reached the point at which we were to halt and allow other units to continue over our heads, we were surprised to find that we had been in action for three hours. It had been hard slogging but we had reached our objective.’ (Private Magnus McIntyre Hood, 24th Battalion ‘Victoria Rifles’, CEF)

Vimy Ridge was also proof that combined arms tactics and careful preparation could successfully link fire and movement to break into the enemy’s position. As well as the integration of artillery support, each Canadian brigade had eighty machine-guns, including a Lewis-gun section for every platoon. Private Donald Fraser was in the last phase of the attack but still found that as a result of the rehearsal ‘I had absolutely no difficulty in making for my objective without the least deviation’. As the day developed, ‘sleety snow driven by gusts and squalls soon melted making the ground extremely muddy and slippery.’

The storming of Vimy Ridge, one of the truly outstanding operations of the war, had seen the four Canadian divisions attacking simultaneously for the first time. Their success not only gave a huge boost to Canada's growing sense of nationhood but also provided the BEF with a physical bulwark which would prove of immense value in the defensive battles of 1918.

Michael Volkheimer, in the 3rd Bavarian Reserve Regiment at the southern end of Vimy Ridge, saw the advancing waves almost on top of his trench, shouted to a comrade, ‘Get out! The English are coming!’ and then ran to warn his regimental commander that ‘unless strong reinforcements were available to be thrown from our side, the entire regiment would be taken prisoner ... no such reinforcements were available, so the entire Ridge ... fell into the hands of the enemy and of our regiment [of 3,000] only some 200 men managed to get away.’ The first day of the battle of Arras was a British triumph.

The assault by the Third Army up the Scarpe Valley to the hills around Monchy-le-Preux is a more dramatic story. The counter-battery arrangements had worked perfectly and the British troops crashed through the initial German defences. As the first wave of the assault divisions began to slow to a halt so the next wave pushed on for a total of three and a half miles. But then the advance faltered. For all their technical and tactical improvements, the British still had neither the method nor the means to completely break through the German defence system.

There were German hold-ups of course, but the new artillery ‘Zone Call’ technique could bring down an awesome concentration of shells on any worthwhile target. Surviving German batteries made for ideal targets: ‘My job was to direct the artillery and let them know which enemy batteries were in action. This was done by sending down what was known as a “Zone Call”; by this signal a certain number of Batteries would fire on the target indicated and go on firing till I told them to stop or they had expended their quota of ammunition. It was grand to see them answering and the Hun getting hell. I managed to send down fourteen calls on active batteries which was great fun. After ten minutes shells could be seen falling all round the located batteries, the gunners are bursting with joy. I should think that our casualties from German artillery must be small as every time a Battery opened fire it was immediately “zone called” and shelled to hell.’ (Captain Eric Routh, 16th Squadron, RFC)

The advance faltered as it moved beyond the range of the field artillery. Some batteries were rushed forward in support, but were given little chance to establish their communications and register their targets. This considerably reduced their effectiveness. Tanks were quite incapable of providing any desperately needed stimulus, so Allenby turned to his only available mobile force – his cavalry – in an attempt to break through. But by the time they had moved forward the Germans had plugged the gaps and reorganized.

The Battle of Arras then moved into the depressing secondary stage which seemed to blight so many British offensives. The snowy weather helped to slow down attempts to capitalize on the moment and by the time they made a fully fledged renewed assault the Germans were ready for them. The fighting centered on the villages of Monchy-le-Preux, Wancourt and the old Roeux chemical works, but the Germans held firm.

The first day had seen a carefully prepared plan; this was a purely ad hoc attack. It failed totally. One reason for the initial British success in this sector was the Germans’ failure to employ a defence in depth. Now that they had corrected that mistake, the Germans could hold their ground.

Haig was expected to keep up the pressure, with the upshot that a huge nine division attack was thrown together with the bare minimum of planning and preparation for the Second Battle of the Scarpe. It may have been a major offensive but it was woefully under-resourced in comparison with the original attacks. The Germans had by this time learned most of the lessons that could be gleaned from the earlier fighting. The fighting was bitter; in essence the British made a painful blood sacrifice in the cause of diverting attention from the French offensive further south.

In particular, the Germans realized that when acting in a purely defensive capacity their artillery batteries could be located further back. From there they could still slaughter troops crossing No Man’s Land, but were themselves safely out of range of most of the British guns. This made generating sufficient counter battery fire a nigh-on impossible task for the Royal Artillery. The Germans had also moved up fresh divisions and re-organized their defences.

Even worse was an attempt by General Sir Hubert Gough’s Fifth Army, who had only just struggled through the wasteland left by the retreating Germans, to launch an attack on the new Hindenburg Line in the Bullecourt sector. By the time the aftershocks had died down it became clear that the British were not going to break through to achieve any more major tactical objectives. In any event, they had already performed their diversionary role for Nivelle’s great offensive at Chemin des Dames.

Although the British took the town of Bullecourt after a second attack, they suffered heavy casualties in the process and few of the initial objectives had been met. Although the Australians captured much of the trenches between Bullecourt and Riencourt-lès-Cagnicourt, they were unable to capture Hendencourt.

Here General Hubert Gough rashly endorsed a last-minute suggestion from a junior officer that a dozen tanks should breach the German wire for the infantry in a surprise attack, without any previous rehearsals or supporting barrage. Gough displayed poor judgement by allowing this ill-prepared venture to proceed. All but four of the tanks failed to appear at the start line on time and most were eventually hit or broke down, leaving the attacking brigades of the 4th Australian Division to advance against the largely uncut wire of the Hindenburg Line with no accompanying barrage.

Australian troops reached and entered the second line of German trenches but were denied direct artillery support because of highly misleading reports about the headway made by the tanks and equally false information that men of the British 62nd Division had been spotted in Bullecourt village. The surviving Australians were forced to withdraw.

The dominating village of Monchy le Preux, perched on high ground in the center of the battlefield, was captured, although the British were unable to make immediate progress eastwards, beyond Monchy, to Infantry Hill. As German reserves closed gaps in the line, the British advance lost momentum.

The problems of communicating on the battlefield and of moving artillery forward across broken ground quickly enough to deal with German rear positions remained largely insoluble. British junior officers and other ranks did not yet possess the tactical skill to adapt to semi-open warfare once the initial assault had breached the enemy line.

The growing German resistance was reflected in the change in tone in Edmund Allenby's orders to the British Third Array. On 11 April he stressed that 'risks must be freely taken' in pursuing 'a defeated enemy'. The following day he merely directed that pressure on the Germans must be maintained to prevent them from consolidating their positions. However, the imminence of the Nivelle offensive made it impossible for Haig and Allenby to shut down the Arras operations at this point.

The German defences were primed and ready when nineteen divisions of French infantry attacked on a wide front all along the Chemin des Dames front stretching from Soissons to Reims. To make matters worse for the French, the artillery barrage was ineffective as their observation flights had been dogged by the severe wintry weather, while the Germans were protected from much of the shelling by their plethora of deep shelters, supplemented by deep quarries scattered around the sector. On top of the Chemin des Dames above the Aisne River the French at first made only trivial gains.

Both sides were using new weapons. Technology was on the march and the Germans had developed a lighter version of the original Maxim 1908 machine gun. Instead of the heavy-sled mounting that had rendered it almost unmoveable in battle conditions, the new MG08/15 had a bipod mounting, wooden stock and pistol grip for firing, all of which made it relatively lightweight. Although not a great weapon, it was present in increasing numbers and gave the Germans appreciably greater firepower than the French might have expected. The parameters of battle were changing all the time.

The Germans had been here since September 1914, and their positions were both strong and deep. The main line was hidden on the reverse slope, and behind that and out of artillery range a fourth line was under construction.

Nivelle intended to be on positions 8-9 km deep by the end of the first day. In anticipation of a major breakthrough, the infantry carried rations for three days. They were so encumbered that those with light machine-guns frequently ended up dumping their weapons.

If the Germans had been surprised at Vimy-Arras, it was to be the other way around on the Aisne, where evidence of a great offensive in preparation had alerted the Germans to what Nivelle intended. Then, too, there had been failures of security. Documents had been captured and there had been loose talk behind the lines.

The French had also taken a step forward and were using tanks for the first time. Their Schneider CA (Char d’Assaut) tank was armed with a 75 mm gun and two Hotchkiss machine guns, had a crew of six and a theoretical speed of 5 miles per hour. In all, eight battalions consisting of 132 Schneider tanks were employed in the assault on Berry-au-Bac, but they suffered heavy losses from the German artillery.

Although these imposing-looking machines raised the spirits of the long-suffering French soldiers, the tanks had not yet been properly integrated into French tactical doctrine and they had not been tested on the battlefield. This made it doubly unfortunate that the Schneider CA design had a fatal flaw: its petrol tanks were not only inadequately armored but, worse still, they were positioned at the front of the vehicle. Any direct hit by a shell would cause a disastrous fire, spraying the crew members with burning petrol.

In all, fifty-seven French tanks were put out of action by the German guns and a further nineteen broke down. Modifications were set in train but the Schneider CA remained an ineffectual tank incapable of coping with the wide German trenches introduced after the British launched their tanks on the Somme in 1916.

‘The tank on the left suddenly becomes an inferno. In front of it is the still smouldering shell which set it alight. Two torches escape: two torches making a mad, frenzied dash towards the rear, two torches which twist, which roll on the ground. A tank blazing to the right; another one behind. And on our left, it looks as if someone is setting our line of steel tanks alight like a row of flares. Fires, explosions. All at once the tanks are enveloped in flames, and immediately, with a terrible crackling sound, everything is blown apart, thrown up into the sky. Sixty shells exploding and thousands of bullets!’ (Lieutenant Charles-Maurice Chenu, 4th Battery, 5th Special Artillery)

The French tanks were still too heavy and too underpowered to be able to survive on the battlefield, no matter how many were deployed. Of course, it didn’t help that the Germans had been given seven months to ponder the problem. Not only were they designing their own tanks (which would appear in due time) but they now had the measure of what defensive tactics worked: objects nearly three meters high and two meters wide moving along at a maximum speed of six kilometers an hour made wonderful targets.

As the Nivelle Offensive continued, some gains were made over the next few days. But such gains as were made still came at a great cost. The aims of the operation had to be scaled down, with no more wild talk of ending the war, but rather of completing the far more localised objective of capturing the Chemin des Dames Ridge. Further progress was made and the French took the Ridge, along with an impressive 28,500 prisoners and 187 guns.

Such a huge concentration of armies, the mass deployment of artillery, the millions of shells and the sheer determined effort: all of this could not be held back everywhere. Indeed, on the left, the Sixth Army ultimately advanced up to four miles as the Germans retired from exposed positions.

The Nivelle offensive was not as big a disaster as its aftermath suggested. The French had advanced up to 7 km on the west of the front. But in relation to Nivelle’s own declared objectives, trumpeted throughout the army as well as in allied councils, the effects were disastrous.

Nivelle's personal influence on events began to diminish before the French offensive was a week old. Micheler persuaded Nivelle to scale down the offensive to a more limited operation designed to secure the whole of the Chemin des Dames ridge and drive the Germans away from Reims. Nivelle himself became increasingly depressed as every decision and order was subjected to intense scrutiny by the government. His authority was further undermined when Pétain was appointed Chief of the General Staff and given powers which, in effect, made him the government's main military adviser.

A fresh series of French attacks was undertaken. The Sixth Army thrust deep into the German-held salient opposite Laffaux and took the German positions on a two-and-a-half-mile sector along the Chemin des Dames. Meanwhile, troops of the Tenth Army captured the remainder of the Californie plateau at the eastern extremity of the ridge. These successes were not sufficient to repair Nivelle's crumbling reputation.

That the French were still attacking three weeks later was a surprise, since Nivelle had assured the entire government that the attack would be called off within forty-eight hours if there was no breakthrough. But despite the lack of progress, Nivelle was determined to keep on. Adjustments had been made, progress was announced, and the offensive was not stopped until it was painfully clear that there was no conceivable set of circumstances under which a breakthrough could be foreseen.

In Champagne, the Central Army Group also opened its subsidiary offensive and its Fourth Army, commanded by General François Anthoine, took several important heights over the next four days. These were impressive results by the standards of previous years but there was no decisive breakthrough on the Aisne.

The vast expenditure of shells by the French soon led to a worrying shell shortage and, by 25 April, French casualties totalled 96,125. The French medical services broke down under the strain and the growing delays in evacuating wounded from the forward zone further demoralized front-line troops.

The failure of the French offensive freed Haig from the formal shackles of Nivelle’s leadership. Yet at the same time the scope of the French defeat, coupled with the scale of the mutinies, forced his hand. The difficulties of combining the theoretical necessities of good generalship with the draining, insistent pressure of events are neatly demonstrated by the planning process for the Third Battle of the Scarpe and Second Battle of Bullecourt, both launched in May. Even where there were localized successes, the high casualty rate meant that such victories were pyrrhic indeed.

Pétain had been less than forthright in his descriptions of the scale of the problem, but the British had their own intelligence sources and rumors filled the gaps. It was evident that the British must fight on at Arras in order to help give the French Army time to recuperate. The attacks continued and the casualty lists expanded dramatically as the fighting raged on for another fortnight. The faltering start to Nivelle's offensive made it all the more vital for the BEF to continue operations at Arras, if only to deter the Germans from moving additional reserves to the Aisne.

When the attack began, the BEF realised that, under Fritz von Lossberg's direction, the German Sixth Army had at last grasped the principles of flexible zonal defence. A fortnight earlier the German artillery had been overpowered but it was now present in greater strength. Furthermore, German battery positions were less precisely identified than before and many were beyond the range of British heavy guns, rendering the BEF's counter-battery fire much less effective.

The requirement for a long bombardment was now forgotten; there was no time for detailed operational planning. The larger strategic situation demanded an immediate offensive from the British at Arras; so, ready or not, over the top they went on a 16-mile front from Vimy Ridge to Bullecourt. The collated experience of the Western Front hitherto would have left few doubts as to the likely outcomes of ill-prepared attacks on strong defensive positions: ‘Our orders didn’t get through until the last minute and then they were all garbled. No one, including our officers, seemed to know what we were supposed to be doing, or where we were going. Officers were supposed to have synchronized their watches in so far as it was possible at that time of day. At a certain time, our barrage was supposed to lift and we were to climb out of the trenches and go forward. Well, we did – but it wasn’t all at the same time! We were given false information and told the artillery had smashed the enemy defences and we would get through the wire – did we hell! ‘ (Sergeant Jack Cousins, 7th Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment)

British and Dominion staff officers were still unaccustomed to improvising once the set-piece assault phase was over, so all too often increasingly weary divisions were supported only by weak or patchy barrages as they advanced into the teeth of fearsome German artillery and machine-gun fire north and south of the River Scarpe. The British pushed the Germans out of Guemappe and captured Gavrelle, facilitating the seizure, within two days, of around two miles of tactically valuable ground near the Roeux-Gavrelle road. For the infantrymen involved, however, the fighting was some of the toughest of the war.

By now Haig had cause for serious concern about the French offensive. He was prepared to press on at Arras to prevent the initiative from passing to the Germans. Aiming to divert German attention away from both Flanders and the Aisne, to exhaust enemy reserves and secure a tenable defensive line east of Arras, Haig ordered a third big set-piece attack. Efforts to extend the gains at Bullecourt led to a savage struggle in which seven British and Australian divisions became enmeshed before they finally cleared the village.

In many ways Nivelle’s Offensive was not a disaster per se, but it seemed so because of the damaging hyperbole he had used to promote it. The 48-hour pledge in particular made him a hostage to fortune. The French politicians were, of course, horrified. This was not the outcome they had intended when they had dismissed Joseph Joffre. Philippe Pétain was appointed Commander in Chief of the French Army, while the ebullient Ferdinand Foch was appointed Chief of General Staff.

Pétain was intent on pursuing a far more defensive strategy than Nivelle, sensibly influenced by the collapse of the Russians on the Eastern Front and the desire to let Britain and the new ally, America, take their share of the burden. This in turn caused a degree of consternation in the British High Command, which feared the consequences of the French taking a back seat for up to a year. At a conference of military leaders it was agreed that the British would carry forward the offensive role for the rest of 1917.

Nivelle’s ultimate fall was probably inevitable. Under his tenure, the French Army had finally reached the end of its endurance. Too many Frenchmen had already died for their country and, if the war continued, many more would share their fate. In just over a week from 16 April another 30,000 had been killed, 100,000 wounded and 4,000 were missing. More than a million French families had been thrown into mourning by the war; millions more had to face the return of their badly wounded sons.

One of them was Second Lieutenant Jean-Louis Cros, who had the misfortune to be hit by shrapnel and was lying abandoned in a shell hole on 16 April 1917 when he painstakingly wrote a last card to his family. He had not been particularly lucky in life; two of his three daughters had died of tuberculosis and only one, Lucie, survived. His last note is a poignant document: ‘My dear wife, my dear parents and all I love, I have been wounded. I hope it will be nothing. Care well for the children, my dear Lucie; Leopold will help you if I don’t get out of this. I have a crushed thigh and am all alone in a shell hole. I hope they will soon come to fetch me. My last thought is of you.’ Very shortly afterwards he died, probably as a result of a haemorrhage. When his corpse was found, his stiffened fingers were still clutching the card. It was sent on to his grieving family.

In three weeks of fighting the French lost at least thirty thousand men killed in action. A simple comparison: in three months of fighting on the Somme the death toll had been slightly over fifty thousand. The army had expected a victory and gotten a massacre.

Even in the months leading up to the Nivelle Offensive, morale had not been good in several regiments, particularly in the infantry, which had borne the brunt of the carnage. Now many soldiers looked abroad to the recent Russian Revolution for inspiration as to what could be done. As the Nivelle Offensive fell apart, the French Army began to boil over. Discontented mutterings and vehement complaints led to incidents of indiscipline that contravened all military regulations. The level of desertions increased rapidly, with thousands of individuals absenting themselves from the line.

‘These Slavic soldiers, until just yesterday enslaved by an iron discipline and going to their slaughter like lemmings, had broken their yoke, declared their freedom and imposed peace on their masters – their persecutors. The whole world was stunned, petrified of this revolution, the collapse of the vast ancient empire of the Tsars. These events had repercussions on the French front blowing a wind of revolt through almost every regiment. There were, besides, reasons for the unrest: the painful failure and frightful carnage of the Chemin des Dames offensive, the prospect of more long months of war with no guarantee of a decision and finally the long wait for leave – it was that I believe that most irritated the troops.’ (Private Louis Barthas, 296th Infantry Regiment)

In the 296th Infantry Regiment, in which Private Louis Barthas served, the mass disobedience, or mutiny, began in a fairly typical manner: ‘At night the men had taken to giving enthusiastic renditions of revolutionary songs and shouting slogans. But then events took a more serious turn. At noon on May 30 there was even a meeting outside the village to form a Russian style “Soviet” composed of three men from each company to take control of the regiment. To my amazement they offered me the presidency of the Soviet, that is to say to replace the Colonel, no less! Of course I refused, I did not want to know the power of the firing squad to ape the Russians. However, I resolved to give a veneer of legality to these revolutionary demonstrations. I drew up a manifesto to convey to our company leaders in protest against the delay in our leave. It began, “The day before the offensive General Nivelle had an order read to the troops saying, «The time has come for the sacrifice!» We have offered our lives as a sacrifice for our country but we in turn say that the time has come for our vastly overdue leave!” The revolt was thus put into a context of law and justice. This manifesto was read by a poilu in a sonorous voice, perched astride an oak tree branch and wild applause greeted the last lines. This didn’t flatter my vanity much, because we learned afterwards that whoever wrote this protest, moderate though it was, their fate would be clear: a certain court martial and very likely twelve Lebel bullets destined to dispatch me to another world before my destined time.’ He was lucky that no one gave away who had written the ‘manifesto’.

The widespread unrest manifested itself in a variety of forms, including peace demands, the singing of revolutionary songs, stone-throwing and the breaking of windows. Far more serious were cases of incendiarism, mass demonstrations and the refusal by substantial numbers of men to return to the front line. Many indicated that while they were ready to hold defensive positions they were no longer willing to participate in apparently futile assaults.

One should beware of exaggerating the extent of the mutinies or their revolutionary intent. Long-felt grievances about front-line conditions, envy of the relative comfort enjoyed by industrial workers on high wages, and a sudden and spontaneous tide of despondency after the failure of the spring offensive all seem to have played a more fundamental role than political agitation or pacifist subversion in fomenting unrest.

The mutinies seemed to be a very precise episode, linked to the fiasco on the Chemin des Dames. However, they need to be set in a context which is both chronologically longer and socially broader. Verdun had taken its toll. Desertion rates were already rising in the first three months of 1917. On the military side of the equation, therefore, the consequences of Nivelle’s offensive represented the culmination of a process begun in 1914.

France’s generals, while ready to address the problems with military palliatives, were quick to blame them on the mood of pacifism and political uncertainty at home. In doing so, they were of course side-stepping their own responsibilities. But they were also reflecting the fundamental social truth of a mass army in a major war: citizens who had become soldiers for the duration of the war had not thereby lost their civilian identities. They would become conscious of the degree to which that had happened only when they got home (if they got home) after it was over.

At the time, French commanders admitted the mutinies to be ‘acts of collective indiscipline’. Later, historians have called them ‘the mutinies of 1917’. Neither form of words exactly defines the nature of the breakdown, which is better identified as a sort of military strike. ‘Indiscipline’ implies a collapse of order. ‘Mutiny’ usually entails violence against superiors. Yet order, in the larger sense, remained intact and there was no violence by the ‘mutineers’ against their officers. There were also specific demands: more leave, better food, better treatment for soldiers' families, ‘peace’ and an end to ‘injustice’ and ‘butchery’.

Civilian discontent fed military discontent, just as the soldiers' anxieties for their families were reinforced by the worries of wives and parents for husbands and sons at the front. The French crisis of 1917 was national. It was for that reason that the government took it so seriously.

The demands were often linked to those of participants in civilian strikes caused by high prices, resentment at war profiteering and the dwindling prospect of peace. Civilian protesters were certainly not demanding peace at any price, let alone that of a German victory, but they complained that ‘while the people have to work themselves to death to scrape a living, the bosses and the big industrialists are growing fat’.

A strange mutual respect characterized relations between private soldiers and the commissioned ranks during the ‘mutinies’, as if both sides recognized themselves to be mutual victims of a terrible ordeal, which was simply no longer bearable by those at the bottom of the heap. Soldiers lived worse than officers, ate inferior food, and got less leave. Nevertheless, they knew that the officers shared their hardships. Even in units where there was direct confrontation, as in the 74th Infantry Regiment, the ‘mutineers’ made it clear that they wished their officers ‘no harm’. They simply refused to ‘return to the trenches’. That was an extreme manifestation of dissent.

Soon most of the French Army was affected. When the crackdown began in early June there were mass court martials at which 23,385 men were convicted of various degrees of mutinous behaviour, of whom around 500 were given death sentences, although the vast majority of these were commuted. Pétain favored a reasonably moderate approach as he sought to repair the morale of the long suffering soldiers by the twin means of ending large attacks – at least in the near future – and introducing regular, longer and more equitably distributed leave.

A fair amount of tact was needed in handling the recalcitrant units: ‘The powers that be deemed it prudent to isolate the three battalions of the 296th Regiment from each other and we were quartered in widely separated locations. Our battalion was placed in barracks 4 kilometres from Sainte-Ménehould. It was only when we got there that we realized we were missing the other two battalions. The next evening at seven o’clock, we gathered to start off for the trenches. Noisy demonstrations took place: shouting, singing, screaming, whistling and, of course, the singing of “The Internationale”. If the officers had made a gesture, or said a word against this noise, I sincerely believe that they would have been ruthlessly massacred, so high was the tension. They took the most sensible course, waiting patiently until calm was restored. You cannot shout, whistle and scream for ever and there was no leader among the rebels capable of making a decision, or of giving us direction. So we ended up heading off towards the trenches, although not without grumbling and griping. Soon, to our great surprise, a column of cavalry reached us and we walked alongside them. They accompanied us to the trenches like slaves being led off to hard labour! Greatly upset and suffocated by the dust raised by horses, it was not long before there were altercations between the infantry and cavalry. Fights soon broke out – there were even a few blows with rifle butt on the one hand and the flat of the sword on the other. To avoid a real battle, we had to get away from the cavalry – which probably did not displease them.’ (Private Louis Barthas, 296th Infantry Regiment)

Pétain eventually managed to repair the morale and fighting capacity of the French Army with a combination of reform, understanding and iron discipline. At the same time, Pétain renounced the concept of the offensive at all costs, ruling out further large-scale attacks until the United States Army reached France in strength and weapons production had considerably increased. 'I am waiting for the Americans and the tanks', Pétain frequently declared. Pétain also took rapid action to address the most common complaints of front-line soldiers, by improving medical services, welfare facilities, accommodation and food as well as granting additional leave.

For all his outward abruptness, Pétain understood his countrymen. As the crisis deepened he set in train a series of measures designed to contain it and return the army to moral well-being. He promised ampler and more regular leave. He also implicitly promised an end, for a time at least, to attacks. He could not say this directly, for that would have spelled an end to the status of France as a war-waging power, but emphasised that the troops would be rested and retrained.

While the front was being reorganized, the army's officers, with Pétain's approval, were attempting to win back the men's obedience by argument and encouragement. ‘No rigorous measures must be taken,’ wrote the commander of the 5th Division's infantry. ‘We must do our best to dilute the movement by persuasion, by calm and by the authority of the officers known by the men, and acting above all on the good ones to bring the strikers to the best sentiments.’ His divisional commander agreed: ‘we cannot think of reducing the movement by rigour, which would certainly bring about the irreparable.’

Nevertheless, the mutiny was not put down without resort to force. Both high command and government, obsessed by a belief that there had been ‘subversion’ of the army by civilian anti-war agitators, devoted a great deal of effort to identifying ringleaders, bringing them to trial and punishing them. A particular feature of the legal process was that those sent for trial were selected by their own officers and NCOs, with the implicit consent of the rank and file.

Pétain saw the summer of 1917 as a period of healing and rebuilding; the French Army was not yet broken and, under his careful stewardship, it would regain much of its martial ardor within a matter of months. Pétain accepted that an entirely defensive posture would benefit only the Germans. But offensives in future would be strictly limited, relying heavily on artillery and designed to incur the minimum possible losses. Development work also continued on the tank.

The French were also pushing ahead with the concept of a light two-man tank, armed with a machine gun or 37 mm cannon, which could be manufactured cheaply and quickly in large numbers. The design was revolutionary, with a central rotating turret which prefigured the ‘classic’ shape of the tank for much of the twentieth century. Relatively light, this new tank, the Renault FT, had a speed of just under 5 miles per hour and was capable of crossing a 6-foot trench. The idea was to have swarms of these tanks which collectively would provide a far more difficult target to the German gunners than their lumbering predecessors.

Pétain adopted a system of defence in depth, ensuring that the main line of resistance was set back beyond the range of the German field artillery, while reserve divisions were held back ready to counterattack any serious incursions. The developments in German tactics were being closely studied and, where necessary, mimicked; in war there is no disgrace in copying ideas no matter where they come from.

The French Army recovered sufficiently by late August to deliver a well-planned assault at Verdun which led to the recapture of the heights of the Mort Homme and Cote 304. Another attack, at Malmaison in October, saw the French win possession of the crest of the Chemin des Dames ridge on the Aisne. Nevertheless these were limited affairs in the overall context of the struggle in France and Belgium.

One of the most significant results of the French mutinies was that, from the summer of 1917, the British and Dominion forces under Haig had to shoulder the main burden of responsibility for Entente offensive operations on the Western Front.

In general, the objects of the mutinies had been achieved. The French army did not attack anywhere on the Western Front, of which it held two-thirds, between June 1917 and July 1918, nor did it conduct an ‘active’ defence of its sectors. The Germans, who had inexplicably failed to detect the crisis of discipline on the other side of No Man's Land, were content to accept their enemy's passivity, having business of their own elsewhere, in Russia, in Italy and against the British.

‘Live and let live’ was not a new phenomenon, either of the First World War or any other. It had prevailed in the Crimea and in the trenches between Petersburg and Richmond in 1864-5, in the Boer War, where the siege of Mafeking stopped on Sundays, and on wide stretches of the Eastern Front in 1915-16.

Soldiers, unless harried by their officers, have always been ready to fall into a mutual accommodation in static positions, often to trade gossip and small necessities, and even to arrange local truces. There was a famous truce between the British and the Germans at Christmas 1914, in Flanders, while the Russians organized Easter as well as Christmas truces as late as 1916.

The British high command fiercely disapproved of ‘live and let live’ and sought by many means – the ordering of trench raids, the despatch of trench-mortar units to particular sectors, the organization of short artillery bombardments – to keep sectors ‘active’, with tangible results. The Germans found trench duty opposite British units, which consistently accepted casualty rates in trench warfare of several dozen a month, unsettling. The French, by contrast, were less committed to raiding than the British, rewarding those who took part in ‘patrols’ with leave, whereas the British regarded raiding as a normal duty.

More generally, both sides on the Western Front, once they had properly dug themselves in, were content to fall into a non-offensive routine on the sectors unsuitable for major offensives, which included the flooded zone in Flanders, the Belgian coal-mining area, the Argonne forest, and the Vosges mountains. In places, the proximity of the enemy made anything but ‘live and let live’ intolerable; legend describes a sector of ‘international wire’, defending trenches so close that each side allowed the other to repair the barrier separating them. Even in places where No Man's Land was wide, opposing units might tacitly agree not to disturb the peace.

After the Nivelle offensive, though divisions which had been affected by indiscipline took trouble to organize raids and report their activity to higher headquarters, the majority in practice relapsed on to the defensive. The cost of their effort to win the war, altogether a million fatalities out of a male population of twenty million, had deadened the French will to fight. Defend the homeland the soldiers of France would; attack they would not. Their mood would not change for nearly a year.

The Battle of Arras marked a midpoint in the development of British offensive tactics. They had learnt a great deal but they still had much to discover. And what of the cost? The Battle of Arras was an exceptionally painful experience for the BEF. It had begun so well but then the desperate flailing to distract attention from the French failure led to terrible losses of around 150,000. For the French Army, Nivelle’s offensive had proven to be more than it could bear: it needed to be reorganized, rested and the soldiers’ morale had to be improved.

Although the artillery was rapidly expanding with more of the crucial heavy batteries and promising advances in munitions, collectively it still had not perfected all the complex techniques that they would need. And there were still not enough guns to allow the smooth switching of offensives up and down the front; the batteries had to be laboriously moved into place. The time would come when each of the five armies of the BEF had enough artillery to launch a major offensive using its own artillery resources, but that time had not yet arrived in 1917.

The infantry tactics also needed work, and much more had to be done to augment their firepower in the form of more Lewis guns, Stokes mortars and rifle grenades. Despite all the promises, the BEF remained desperately short of tanks, as production lagged behind requirements.

In the sky the lot of the RFC was beginning to improve with the advent of large numbers of the new corps machine, the RE8. It was still relatively slow and unmaneuverable, but it was a good deal better than the tottering BE2 C. The new generation of scouts that could match the German Albatros were also coming on stream; too late for the Battle of Arras, it was true, but the success of the Sopwith Camel and SE5 A boded well for the future.

The BEF’s average daily casualties for the duration of the battle would prove to be the highest of the war – worse, even, than the Battle of the Somme.

Nivelle’s attempt to win the war at a stroke had failed. On 1 May, Haig had restated his views on the underlying situation on the Western Front: ‘The guiding principles are those which have proved successful in war from time immemorial, viz., that the first step must always be to wear down the enemy’s power of resistance and to continue to do so until he is so weakened that he will be unable to withstand a decisive blow; then with all one’s forces to deliver the decisive blow and finally reap the fruits of victory. The enemy has already been weakened appreciably, but time is required to wear down his great numbers of troops. The situation is not yet ripe for the decisive blow. We must therefore continue to wear down the enemy until his powers of resistance have been further reduced. The cause for General Nivelle’s comparative failure appears primarily to have been a miscalculation in this respect, and the remedy now is to return to wearing down methods for a further period, the duration of which cannot be calculated.’

Haig’s view of the situation at the end of the battle may have been depressing – indeed, distressing – to politicians and others seeking an easy way to victory, but the grim reality was that the German Army had not yet been eroded to the point whereby there was much chance of victory in the immediate future.