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11-08-2015, 16:27


The possibility of victory was persoiTified by General Robert Nivelle. He had taken command at Verdun during the last phase of the fighting there in the closing months of 1916. In carefully planned and rehearsed offensives, albeit on a small scale, he had won notable victories at minor cost in lives. Forced to choose a new commander-in-chief to replace Joffre, who had been discredited by the lack of preparation at Verdun, the French government picked the relatively junior general, Nivelle, jumping him over the heads of more experienced commanders. Nivelle offered spectacular results. He claimed that the techniques perfected in the fighting at Verdun would permit the longed for breakthrough into open country, outflanking the enemy, and producing decisive victory. With his unaccented English—he was the child of a French father and an English mother—he was even more impressive for the leaders of the British government than he was for French politicians. Nivelle worked with the two tools available: the heavy guns of the artillery and the striking force of the infantry. Like other generals before him, he hoped they could be used together in a new and effective way. Concentrate enough artillery, he said, to bombard the enemy lines from the immediate front to rear area regions; then send in infantry trained to move forward at rapid speed to penetrate all layers of the German line. His attack, unlike earlier ones, would be characterized by (his words) violence, brutality, and rapidity. It would bring the essential, illusive breakthrough.