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11-08-2015, 16:29


The attack began on the morning of April 16. In a matter of minutes, Nivelle's plans proved faulty. As at the Somme, machine guns and machine gunners survived the bombardment and cut down the attacking forces. More and more French troops were sent forward—Nivelle's plan had called for fresh forces to pass through the ranks of those who had exhausted themselves in the first attack—and newcomers and the day's veterans were packed together. As Petain had predicted, the French lacked enough heavy guns (would even twice as many have been enough for a full-fledged breakthrough?) to bombard all of the enemy's positions in the attack zone. Bad weather made it impossible for airplanes to direct artillery fire. The rolling barrage, designed to strike the areas directly in front of the attacking infantry, was transformed into random firing. In the end, the French attackers barely penetrated the German defenses. This futile battle at the Chemin des Dames brought nothing of what Nivelle had pledged. The promise of winning a decisive victory sank without a trace into no man's land. So too did Nivelle's pledge to break the fighting off in forty-eight hours. His scattered forces, many of them placed in perilous positions along the front, could not simply pull back. And the fighting went on.