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11-08-2015, 16:28


The politicians who heard Nivelle's proposals stood in no position to control him closely. By now the war had gone on for two and a half years, and both Britain and France had suffered millions of casualties. Yet no political leader had the popular support or the military expertise to disregard the advice of his country's military experts. The weak French government, headed by the aged Alexandre Ribot, was one in a series of cabinets that had let military leaders conduct the war more or less as they chose. The British government was a new one. Its ambitious leader, David Lloyd George, had just come to power pledging that the war would be conducted more vigorously and decisively than it had been under his predecessor. Douglas Haig was pushing for an attack in Flanders, but Lloyd George had no enthusiasm for the British commander who had performed so badly at the Somme in 1916. Stretching for an alternative to Haig's plan, the British prime minister showed that he too was susceptible to Nivelle's optimism. For his political audiences, Nivelle pointed to the map. The German front in northeastern France, with all its strengths, had a conspicuous flaw: a bulge stretching from Arras in Artois to Reims in Champagne. Let the British strike the northern face of the bulge to distract and unsettle the Germans; then the French would launch their war-winning offensive against the southern face. Victory would come in the form of a breakthrough on the River Aisne near Soissons, followed by a general offensive on much of the western front.