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11-08-2015, 16:29

APRIL I9I7:THE FINAL DEBATE

Nivelle now faced the doubters: leaders of the French government, notably Minister of War Paul Painleve, as well as his own generals, including Alfred Micheler, who was scheduled to direct the major portion of the attack. A particularly cogent criticism came from General Petain, Nivelle's superior at Verdun. He pointed to the insuperable, unavoidable twin problems of the western front. First, the Allies lacked the huge number of heavy cannon needed to bombard the entire area Nivelle planned to assault. Second, the Germans had created a defensive network of surpassing strength. Nivelle had answers. The situation of France's allies was desperate, and the German defenses were hardly as strong as some believed. His method of attack was novel—and it would succeed. In a final meeting with his critics close to the day of the assault, Nivelle added some final elements to his argument: national morale would never support another large-scale attack; France must move now or, presumably, never to liberate its territory. Besides, if the offensive failed, he would break it off within forty-eight hours. There would be no repetition of the prolonged bloodletting at the Battle of the Somme. Nivelle had the advantage of momentum: now that the French had made extensive preparations for an attack, the vast gathering of men and materiel, combined with fervent hopes for a huge victory, made a force that was virtually unstoppable.

 

 

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