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11-08-2015, 16:30


Failure came at a high price. For the British army, bloody and shaken but still intact, the Somme was a way station to equally great sacrifices in Flanders in 1917 as the army survived as a fighting force. In the long run, however, the losses were irreplaceable: the educated and socially prominent volunteers who had rushed to the colors as volunteers in 1914 and 1915 were the leaders of the next generation. At the Somme they died in droves. For the French army, the Chemin des Dames had more immediate consequences, namely, the collapse of the French army. Nivelle had argued correctly that the morale behind the French war effort was precarious. French losses in the battle were modest by the measures of trench warfare: 144,000 killed and wounded. He discovered, however, that his failed offensive began the collapse: much of the French army plunged into mutiny in May and June. As a result of the disaster, a new kind of French general, Philippe Petain, now took command. He shot the leaders of the mutinies, but he won over the rank and file of the army with an improved system of leaves, better rest camps and food, and a policy of remaining temporarily on the defensive. Since 1915 Petain's style of waging war had emphasized small-scale attack and vast artillery preparation. That now became the style of all French operations until, under the urging of Foch and Clemenceau, Petain joined in the vast summer and fall 1918 offensive that closed out the war.