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 (1914-1918) WWI Battles    
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anemone
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1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/19/2017 2:32:38 AM
The Centenary of one of the most doleful episodes (IMO) in the Annals of the French Army is fast approaching.I offer this short intro in the hope that it will evoke some interest.


Quote:
On 9th May 1917, the French had finally reached the crest of the ridge en masse, capturing the Plateau de Californie and the Laffaux Mill, but at a cost of more than 187,000 casualties to the German’s 168,000. It was an intolerable defeat for an army that had registered few victories during the war, Nivelle lost his command on 15th May and the French were left in a state of abject despair- with units mutinying in the battle zone.


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Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/19/2017 3:22:46 PM
Jim,

Judging by the casualty figures, the French did remarkably well in this offensive : I allude to the near parity in the exchange rate....it's clear that the Germans took a heck of a beating, too.

The British offensive at Arras achieved nowhere near this success in the exchange rate, Vimy Ridge notwithstanding .

That article you cited mentioned that the British rotated their units, whereas the French did not.

Not so, surely....at Verdun , Petain had used the Noria system of rotation, which kept the French divisions being taken out and replaced before they had taken excessive losses.

One of the things that tipped the morale of the poilus over the edge in this offensive was inadequate evacuation and care of the wounded : it was reported that three thousand French wounded died in the frontline who might have survived if they had been decently evacuated and looked after....at least, even if they were bound to die, their sufferings would have been alleviated if they had received better and more prompt care.

Decent food and medical care count for so much in the maintenance of morale ; to have failed in these respects was a monstrous culpability.

Hopes had been raised to fever pitch ; subsequent failure was amplified in effect .

Security was a joke : people were talking about the imminent offensive in the cafes of Paris ; the German withdrawal pre-empted the offensive and threw plans out of kilter.

Above all, there was, I reckon, a deep socio political fragility in France, apparent on the Home Front as well as in the zone des armees .

The spectre of Revolution was beginning to impinge ; events in Russia made their mark.

There was a brigade of Russians deployed in this offensive, and they were badly bloodied. Perhaps their fate had some bearing on the way things developed.

One of the most astonishing things of all was the failure of the Germans to exploit this crisis .

That said, even in the depths of their outrage, the French soldiers were adamant that they would fight to defend their home soil ; no more prodigal offensives would be tolerated...but woe betide the Germans if they themselves pressed forward.

And then of course, the British and Dominion troops could be counted on to take the burden. Haig proved himself very compliant in this respect !

Those are my random thoughts.

Editing : Those random thoughts of mine are pretty well a reiteration of what the article says - with one or two significant differences - so apologies for not being more useful in expanding on the topic.

Remember Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory ?

The French banned that film when it came out ...was that in 1957, the 40th anniversary ?

Food for thought !

Regards , Phil


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Michigan Dave
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/19/2017 8:01:39 PM
Viva la France!?
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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

anemone
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/20/2017 5:07:55 AM
Another -quite alarming feature that he French authorities seemingly disregarded was desertion from the ranks.This feature rose from 509 in 1914 to 21,174 in 1917.So general was this rot- that only two Divisions in the Champagne sector could be relied on.In many places in the line- the trenches were scarcely guarded.

NB.It was the French who concluded that this offensive was another defeat among too few victories- despite casualties being more or less even.

I did see the film Paths of Glory many years ago.The story line revolved around the incessant attacks on a feature called The Pimple and when the CO (Douglas)called off the attacks -the higher command started a witch hunt as I recall.The whole thing was so sad as it indicated a vindictiveness in the higher authorities ,who as usual- did no fighting-


Quote:
The British Army was "quick"?? to realise that if men were kept in the frontlines for too long they rapidly became ineffective and accordingly men were regularly rotated in and out of the trenches. But it was "not the same" in the French army, where in general, "conditions were worse than they were for the British" and in 1917, after three years of total war, something snapped amongst the poilu stationed on the Chemin des Dames sector of the Western Front.


Strictly speaking Phil-this statement does not directly state that French troops were not rotated-however I have to admit that the implication is there


Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/20/2017 5:35:16 AM
Jim,

Do you think we might reflect on the coincidence that this centennial comes at a crucial time in French political life today ?

I wonder if any French commentators are alluding to this as the candidates line up for the Presidential Election over the next week or so.

How would Marine Le Pen depict the events of the spring and summer of 1917 ?

The triumph of the French individual over the Establishment ? Or would she cite it as a disgraceful episode of left wing agitation, vindicated by the intervention of Petain, doyen of the Right ?

Nivelle was out of his depth.

He had succeeded brilliantly at one level of operations ; but that is different from supreme command at the strategic level.

He was a very smooth talker : he must have been, if he convinced that slippery Welsh Prime Minister of ours !

The fact that he had an English mother might have counted for something.

Regards , Phil
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

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anemone
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/20/2017 6:25:41 AM
Phil sfter an extensive search on the internet-I came up empty vis a vis French attitude today re.the Nivelle Offensive.However i did come across reaction to Kubrick's film Paths of Glory which I quote below :-


Quote:
On its release, the film's anti-military tone was subject to criticism and censorship.

In France, both active and retired personnel from the French military vehemently criticized the film—and its portrayal of the French Army—after it was released in Belgium. The French government placed enormous pressure on United Artists, (the European distributor) to not release the film in France. The film was eventually shown in France in 1975 when social attitudes had changed.

In Germany, the film was withdrawn from the Berlin Film Festival to avoid straining relations with France; it was not shown for two years until after its release.

In Spain, Spain's right-wing government of Francisco Franco objected to the film. It was first shown in 1986, 11 years after Franco's death.

In Switzerland, the film was censored, at the request of the Swiss Army, until 1970.

At American bases in Europe, the American military banned it from being shown
Wikipedia- for which apologies.

Whether the French attitude has changed -I know not-the current news is all about Marie Le Penn and the coming election.I recall seeing that there were two ceremonies to be held-one CWGC and the other the French authorities; but these are repeated year on year.


Quote:
Nivelle was an exponent of aggressive tactics, unrealistically believing that he could win the war on the Western Front in 48 hours by the use of his innovative creeping barrage attacks. Politically his ideas were popular, not least with the under-siege Prime Minister Aristide Briand, but were effectively discredited during the Nivelle Offensive.
WW1 Who's Who

Between April 1917 and January 1918 as many as 40,000 men were involved in the uprising. As a result, 554 men were condemned to death by the Command, although ultimately only 26 were actually executed.

Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 6:45:37 AM
If you compare the gains and losses of Nivelle's offensive with those of Joffre's huge efforts in 1915, the difference is very striking.

For example, in the same area of Champagne in the autumn of 1915, the French suffered nearly double the loss they inflicted when they attempted to breakthrough.

The fighting skills of the French had clearly increased in the intervening year or two ; but their morale was fragile.

Regards , Phil
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 7:13:39 AM
By 1917 the French poilu had completely lost faith in their leaders.Continual orders to make frontal attacks against enemy lines loaded with machine guns was seen as a complete lack of thought by those giving such orders which were virtually ordering their men to their deaths.

The poilu was faced with the only way of telling their commanders that Enough was Enough-they stopped fighting and mutinied.As you suggest-this was a build up- with nearly every division being present at one time or another having served in the bloodbath of Verdun.

Mind you the French were not the only ones-the British followed their bloodbath of the Somme with the utterly useless Armageddon of 3rd Ypres.

Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 7:27:41 AM
You have to ask yourself : why didn't the Germans mutiny before the final collapse ?

If the French had suffered more than three million casualties by the end of the Nivelle Offensive, then the Germans had probably suffered four and a half million - at least fifty per cent more.

The German population was larger, of course, which implied that the proportionate damage to the French might have been worse.

Was there such a thing as " national temperament " or " character " that accounts for the French reaction ?

Regards, Phil
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 8:13:55 AM

Quote:
You have to ask yourself : why didn't the Germans mutiny before the final collapse ?

If the French had suffered more than three million casualties by the end of the Nivelle Offensive, then the Germans had probably suffered four and a half million - at least fifty per cent more.

The German population was larger, of course, which implied that the proportionate damage to the French might have been worse.

Was there such a thing as " national temperament " or " character " that accounts for the French reaction ?

Regards, Phil
--Phil andrade


The difference being that the German purpose was to invade and take control of France and up to 1917 had not lost sight of this objective.The French objective was to defend the homeland and eject the invaders.Herein lies the subtle difference-the Germans were militaristic with Teutonic stubbornness, whereas the French were more hsirsprung and emotional in there national character.

I accept that Germany had a larger reservoir of manpower; but I do not think that the Germans would have fielded more men eg.the movement of active divisions in France in 1914 that were sent East to bolster that front.

!918 saw massive changes in British Infantry tactics but whether the French radically overhauled their Infantry Tactics-well maybe- during the Last Hundred Days-when the Germans were at last retreating.

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 8:49:12 AM
Trevor has told us that the Germany of 1914 was made up of several different groups of different attitudes and behaviours.

So is it fair to use a term like "Teutonic" stubbornness?

So if my impression of a Prussian is that he is emotionless and militaristic, does that apply to all Germans from all of the regions? I would doubt that.

Similarly, it seems as though the French have been stereotyped as well as overly emotional and too quick to react characters and from a country whose history has encouraged rebelliousness.

I have considered that within a culture, there may be a dominant group within the culture that exerts undue influence. Was that the case in Germany?


Perhaps we should examine the people management approaches of the two militaries to see whether that would account for the French response.

e.g. how were the troops living? Trench conditions? Hygiene? Were they well fed?
Had the French progressed with devolution of the command structure so that the men did not feel that they were just cogs in a meat grinder machine? Did they have a clear sense of mission?

The emotional state of an army at a specific time in the war is likely to be the product of numerous factors and we should not simplify the analysis by generalizing that the French are emotional while the Germans are stubborn.

Just some random thoughts.

Cheers,

George

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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 9:46:07 AM

Quote:
Trevor has told us that the Germany of 1914 was made up of several different groups of different attitudes and behaviours.

So is it fair to use a term like "Teutonic" stubbornness?

ANS.It is my impression that "Teutonic" appertains to the Teutons or the Germans and stubbornness is a Germanic trait

So if my impression of a Prussian is that he is emotionless and militaristic, does that apply to all Germans from all of the regions? I would doubt that.

ANS Fair Comment so far as I am aware

Similarly, it seems as though the French have been stereotyped as well as overly emotional and too quick to react characters and from a country whose history has encouraged rebelliousness.

I have considered that within a culture, there may be a dominant group within the culture that exerts undue influence. Was that the case in Germany?


Perhaps we should examine the people management approaches of the two militaries to see whether that would account for the French response.

e.g. how were the troops living? Trench conditions? Hygiene? Were they well fed?
Had the French progressed with devolution of the command structure so that the men did not feel that they were just cogs in a meat grinder machine? Did they have a clear sense of mission?

ANS Not IMO

The emotional state of an army at a specific time in the war is likely to be the product of numerous factors and we should not simplify the analysis by generalizing that the French are emotional while the Germans are stubborn.

AnS.Now then George-that is not what I said nor meant-I was asked whether national temperament came in to the equation when a result was examined and I think it does.Of course there are other factors in play-conditions under which soldiers fight- which includes environment ,food and clothing,weapons and of course the similar factors appertaining to your enemy

Just some random thoughts.

Cheers,

George
--George


Thank you for your post George-maybe I should have been more illumative but I was answering Phil's question as it was posed.

Regards

Jim
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anemone
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 10:07:16 AM

Quote:
May 9, 1917
Second Battle of the Aisne
Facing mutiny and immense casualties, the French Army abandoned the Nivelle Offensive on May 9.
The French sustained 187,000 casualties in the battle while the German army lost around 163,000 men. The offensive was likely going to be a failure, regardless of the German reinforcements from the Eastern Front, but the new reinforcements made this an even worse defeat for the French troops, especially towards the end of the battle. The French did advance a few km in some places, but, by and large, they made very little progress against the German front and suffered immense casualties in the process.
WW1 Battles

NB Phil you did mention additional troops produced by the Germans, and I thought not -obviously I was wrong.

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 10:21:14 AM

Quote:
Thank you for your post George-maybe I should have been more illumative but I was answering Phil's question as it was posed.


Far too defensive Jim. I was trying to expand the scope of the conversion if the topic had to do with German resolve and French reluctance to continue. And yes, I quibbled with generalizations.

We note that those "stubborn Teutons", even though they engaged in a fighting retreat that cost the allies many good men, also surrendered in their thousands from Aug. 8, 1911 to Nov. 11.

Far less stubborn, I suggest and with far less resolve than during the Nivelle offensive. How do we explain this sudden departure from the described personality of the culture?


Cheers,

George

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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 10:54:05 AM
Trouble here George- is my mind set -My previous answers that you questioned were those prepared for the previous poster- who brought up the subject of temperament.

Yes- I have to agree the German temperament when the Entente had the upper hand and they now were fighting in retreat- would be subdued; as I guess the boot was very much on the other foot during the Last 100 Days- when they were fighting the indomitable Dominion troops backed by sound British Infantry Divisions all backed by Mk5 tanks.

The difference being that the Germans were firstly dug in in 1st class trenches with oodles of machine guns to annihilate suicidal French frontal attacks in the Nivelle Offensive.but in retreat with no advantage against determined opposition-all the Germanic stubbornness just leaked out of their britches-they knew the end was nigh.

Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 10:55:18 AM
Should I repent of my invitation to discuss this in terms of national characteristics - or caricature ?

Perhaps....we must beware of generalisation ; although there are times when it's apt.

Nous sommes trahis !

This has been identified as a characteristic French reaction to failure : the search for scapegoats, the looking over the shoulder, and the insistence that there has been treachery.

It's been used too many times by Frenchmen in military crises : - 1815, 1940 and, I daresay, 1917 - for it to be overlooked as a trait that has recurred.

No doubt other nationalities have had recourse to it : but it has a singular association with the French.

Regards , Phil



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anemone
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 11:51:20 AM
Hi Phil-Yes "we are betrayed"- usually by Perfidious Albion-I do remember 1940.No- you should not repent your suggestion of discussing national temperaments and traits; but as you say beware of generalisation.Undoubtedly has a lot to do as to how soldiers fight-1)stick it out to the end,2)tacticsl withdrawal or 3)flight syndrome (Bug Out).

Regards

Jim
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scoucer
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 11:55:39 AM

Quote:
Should I repent of my invitation to discuss this in terms of national characteristics - or caricature ?
Perhaps....we must beware of generalisation ; although there are times when it's apt. Regards , Phil--Phil andrade


Yes.

Trevor
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 1:10:33 PM
The saviour of this distressing situation was General Petain and his solution- a change of policy based on what he found out.

For a month he travelled by car along the front line-visiting almost every Division,inviting both officers and men to discuss their complaints.He was paternalistic but never familiar.

Tours of duty in the trenches were rostered,regularity of leave set down and agreed,rest camps improved. Within the month calm was restored.

However there was a price to pay 23 executions and more than a hundred ringleaders were deported to the colonies; and so for a short while the French Army convalesced.

regards

Jim


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scoucer
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 10:39:37 PM

Quote:
That article you cited mentioned that the British rotated their units, whereas the French did not.
Not so, surely....at Verdun , Petain had used the Noria system of rotation, which kept the French divisions being taken out and replaced before they had taken excessive losses. Regards , Phil--Phil andrade


Phil,
In May 1916, as Petain was pushed upwards out of the way and was replaced by Nivelle, both Joffre and Nivelle discontinued the Noria system at Verdun.

Trevor
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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie

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scoucer
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/21/2017 11:14:49 PM

Quote:
You have to ask yourself : why didn't the Germans mutiny before the final collapse ? Regards, Phil--Phil andrade


Phil,

talk about trying to fit a doctorate into a MHO post .

Trevor
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Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.

Phil andrade
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 4:53:55 AM

Quote:

Quote:
That article you cited mentioned that the British rotated their units, whereas the French did not.
Not so, surely....at Verdun , Petain had used the Noria system of rotation, which kept the French divisions being taken out and replaced before they had taken excessive losses. Regards , Phil--Phil andrade


Phil,
In May 1916, as Petain was pushed upwards out of the way and was replaced by Nivelle, both Joffre and Nivelle discontinued the Noria system at Verdun.

Trevor

--scoucer


Please check this, Trevor.

I think you'll find that French divisions were still being rotated in September, despite dramatically reduced casualties at Verdun.

Petain continued to exert his influence on the battle, even after he was kicked upstairs ; Nivelle was happy to advocate continued rotation.

Joffre riled at Petain's approach : he saw him as too fixated on the tactical challenges of local battle and being unable - or unwilling - to countenance the big picture.

There was a lot of resentment and recrimination : The French Minister of Munitions, Albert Thomas, referred to the atmosphere of intrigue that engulfed political life at the end of the year.

This was extant in other countries too - you are our expert when it comes to the German situation.

There was, I believe, something especially pernicious in the French experience of this : something that Falkenhayn sought to exploit through Operation Gericht.

A lot of these chickens - or should I say poules ? - came home to roost in the summer of 1917.

Regards , Phil




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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 6:56:59 AM

Quote:
The French did not benefit from the British attitude to rotation, home leave was regularly cancelled and when men were moved out of the frontlines they were not properly rested before they were sent back in. Rations were appalling and the faith in the Command had evaporated. Nivelle, the hero of Verdun, had failed his men.


Source Original Article included in first post

NB.Looking further afield the answers were the same-either no rotation or if so- badly administered

Regards

Jim
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 8:54:22 AM
Jim,

That article goes on to say that, in general , conditions were worse for the French soldiers than they were for their british counterparts.

I'm sure that we agree on that, my quibble about rotation notwithstanding .

I wonder why this was so.

I'll put my head over the parapet now, and suggest that the British Army performed outstandingly well in providing for its soldiers.

This will bring howls of outrage from those who like to depict the British military 1914-18 as being run by callous and incompetent commanders.

Food, rest and recreation were more assiduously adhered to in the British army. Hygiene was upheld meticulously.

This might reflect the fact that the French were under much greater pressure, fighting for survival on home soil and suffering their principal losses - both in manpower and territory - during the earlier part of the war, and, as a result, finding it harder to get off the back foot.

Regards , Phil
---------------
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 9:18:13 AM
Phil -I could not agree with you more re. the welfare of the British soldier in the Great War-there were times of heavy rains where trenches got flooded but Tommy Atkins had ways of dealing with such nuisances-diversion and pumps.The howls came with the "virtually useless" Somme and 3rd Ypres (Haig's Folly) Offensives-the tactics of which caused far too many casualties.

The French poilus were treated as cannon fodder by autocratic officers who seemingly were not concerned that they were without either comfort ,good food ,rotation out of the line and home leave.Good enough to die; but not good enough to be looked after.


Quote:
General Petain's strategy in late 1917 was to wait for the deployment of the American Expeditionary Forces and the introduction in battle of the new and highly effective Renault FT tanks. Hence his statement at the time : "J'attends les chars et les américains" (I am waiting for the tanks and the Americans).
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Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 11:33:48 AM
Tim Cook's latest book, "Vimy" does refer to the Nivelle Offensive and the general failure of allied attacks, other than at Vimy Ridge.

Nivelle's initiative beginning on April 16 was aided by the actions of the British and Dominion forces in the Battle of Arras which includes the Vimy Ridge battle.

Cook did say that while the French armies did rebel, they did not leave their positions. To do so would have abandoned their country to the Germans and the soldiers knew that.

If so, clearly they were protesting the appalling treatment that they had received at the hands of officers. Nivelle pressed home this attack well beyond the point that it should have been called off. The battered poilus knew as much and understood better than their commander.

Is there any evidence that the French left the lines en masse or did they stay put and refuse to attack into a certain death?


Cheers,

George

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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 11:58:34 AM
There is no real evidence of French troops leaving their lines en masse George-the undermentioned seemed to be the generality :-


Quote:
The troops of the 18th Regiment, after receiving orders to attack, told their Colonel that they had nothing against him personally, but they would not follow those orders.

Another French unit sent a written message to their commander: "You have nothing to fear, we are prepared to man the trenches, we will do our duty and the Boches will not get through. But we will not take part in attacks which result in nothing but useless casualties."

The French troops did not resist with violence or threaten their officers--instead, they simply sat down in their trenches and refused to go over the top.
Mutiny in the Trenches 1917

regards

Jim
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 1:12:09 PM
I have checked Phil. Throughout May 1916, the Noria system was being run down and by the end of June was completely stopped. There was rotation but only within the French Second Army.

Trevor
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 1:15:50 PM
Thanks Jim. My post was poorly worded. I knew the answer to the question and had indicated so in my reference to Cook's book and other sources.

Let me try again. I was hoping to promote a discussion surrounding military orders and rightful refusal.

Is it fair to accuse the French soldiers of cowardice during the Nivelle offensive?

Is it ever correct for a soldier or an officer to refuse an order from a superior and if so, under what conditions?


I can think of one of two instances in the early days of the history of the Canadian Corps when a battalion commander refused to renew an attack, knowing that he would be sending his men to near certain death. I don't recall any courts-maritial but many battalion commanders were replaced throughout the war.

I recall an incident during the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941 when a Canadian officer refused to send another company forward to counter attack because it was clear that that company would be cut to pieces, like the first one that he sent. He was also sure that the British officer was having a nervous breakdown and was behaving erratically.

So were those officers or the men morally correct in refusing to obey an order or should they have been praised.

By their actions, did those French soldiers save the lives of thousands more?


George

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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 1:49:19 PM

Quote:
Is it fair to accuse the French soldiers of cowardice during the Nivelle offensive?


IMO it is not fair to accuse the French soldiers of cowardice-one division refused to go over the top nut changed their minds and were annihilated


Quote:
Is it ever correct for a soldier or an officer to refuse an order from a superior and if so, under what conditions?


Strictly speaking-in the Armed forces -IMO No and I cannot think of any occasion when such an action would be acceptable


Quote:
So were those officers or the men morally correct in refusing to obey an order or should they have been praised


Again I am sorry- but IMO- No to either option


Quote:
By their actions, did those French soldiers save the lives of thousands more?


Undoubtedly -Yes

Regards

Jim



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George
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 2:05:42 PM
There are situations when an order may be given in the military that is unlawful. In those cases, it is permissible to do so.

In fact, in some countries, a soldier who obeys an unlawful order could be prosecuted.


But the case in France during the Nivelle offensive is different. Those orders to attack would be considered lawful I think.

So the refusal to fight was wilful disobedience. Morally, I see the mutiny as justified.

Now you cannot function as a military when the soldiers get to vote on whether to fight or not. We know that.

So what would be the correct procedure to follow if an officer or group of officers felt that the orders to attack were unreasonable and were given without due diligence and examination of conditions on the battlefield?


George



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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 2:26:59 PM
I can think of an incident in WW2- where a new CO of the 6th Btn Duke of Wellington Regt was so stressed at losing so many junior officers attempting to get their men to fight-they were shell shy near Caen somewhere-that he wrote to his Senior Officer asking to be replaced- because he could not get his men to fight; and thought the Btn may have operated better if commanded by another Lt Col more experienced than he.This letter went all the way up the line to Montgomery- who said that this CO " was not a proper chap"and sent him back to the UK and the Btn demoted to AA duties.

I do realise that this does not directly address your question George but it does indicate the difficulty of a unit CO- who feeling out of his depth- "goes public" about it.

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Jim
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George
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/22/2017 3:21:54 PM
Jim I am not so much seeking an answer to a question as much as a discussion about the morality of sending men forward toward sure death or wounding. When horrible and irresponsible command errors are being made repeatedly, why is there no mechanism to make it stop.

The Nivelle offensive wasn't a short battle whereby it ends in a couple days, casualties are counted and then an analysis made to determine what went right and what went wrong.

In this case the poilus were subject to pig headedness on the part of the commander who had bragged to everyone that he would blow this battlefield open and a victory would follow. The writing was on the wall before the men mutinied and yet it took so long for the French to put a stop to it.

I can only speculate that the rebellion gave them pause to think about what they were asking their men to do and whether it was reasonable.

In that sense, it seems like a righteous act but then I am not a soldier.

It cost the lives of the "ring leaders" who brought the officers to their senses. They were executed.

I wonder whether there was a cadre of officers who were telling Nivelle that the offensive was a failure.

Did Pétain ever comment on the dismissal of Nivelle when he took over? To be a fly on the wall as the commanders of the French forces discussed Nivelle would have been interesting.


Cheers,

George

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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/23/2017 3:01:54 AM
One view of Petain on Nivelle, and how the French Government was tied to Nivelle


Quote:
Poor operational security by Nivelle and his staff- saw the plan being talked about in the Chamber of Deputies; and in cafe's in Paris, which necessarily leaked it to the Germans

The Germans then evacuated the target salient; leaving a dead zone in between covered by pre-registered artillery and dug into the 1917 unbreakable Hindenberg Line, rendering the entire concept of the offensive pointless

Nivelle moved up into the death zone, which saw his assembly areas being constantly harassed by German howitzers which enjoyed higher ground

Nivelle's subordinates where absolutely certain that the offensive could not succeed under the new real circumstances; and cried foul to the politicians; but only Petain had the savvy to say that even if they broke through- that they didn't have enough reserves to advance, but that he didn't think they could break through anyway

Nivelle, cornered like the coward and idiot he was, threatened his resignation- if he could mot launch his suicidal attacks, the government, realising they would fall if Nivelle left, also took the coward's way out and let it go forward, the only caveat being that if the offensive didn't break through in 48 hours it would be stopped; yet Nivelle was allowed to send more than 30 thousand frenchmen to their deaths over three weeks with many thousands more wounded until the army had to mutiny to defend itself


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Regards

Jim


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Phil andrade
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/23/2017 3:30:10 AM
If this battle was " suicidal" for the French, it's clear from statistics that it was suicidal for the Germans, also.

John Keegan ventured a suggestion that there was a theme discernible in the breakdown of armies' morale in WWI : when the number of battle deaths ( note - here he alludes to killed , not total casualties), equated to the number of infantry deployed in the frontline, then there was a crisis and episodes of collective indiscipline .

Keegan identifies this point as being reached with the Russians in early 1917 ; the Italians in the autumn of that year ; and the French, of course, in the summer.

He speculated that, by this point, French casualties had reached in excess of one million killed, with another two million plus wounded or captured, and that the number of infantrymen actually deployed in the front line equated to around that one million figure, with additional millions in LOC or rear area service.

He went on, controversially, to identify this point being reached with the British army in March 1918.

The Germans, for reasons we can only guess at, appeared to buck the trend.

Regards, Phil
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/23/2017 3:56:10 AM
Following this fearful debacle the French Army was convalescent for virtually the rest of 1917-this the Germans were well aware of; and despite their own grievous losses- were determined to stay put.Coming back to "suicidal"the continuous French attacks were suicidal- thus the German defence had to match this force with the same determined vigour; but at great cost-they were at that time- still there to stay.

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Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/23/2017 4:14:36 AM
The image we have been given of this fighting is so very one sided : the plan being flawed ; the security being non existent ; the Germans pre-empting the offensive by their surprise withdrawal ; the failure of the artillery ; the Senegalese troops advancing into a snow blizzard to be slaughtered by machine gun fire ; the persistent suicidal attacks....one has to ask oneself, why did the Germans lose so many men if they enjoyed all the tactical advantages and the French command committed such stupefying folly ?

Regards , Phil
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Re: 1917 Nivelle Offensive and subsequent Mutinies in the French Armies
Posted on: 4/23/2017 4:49:51 AM
In 1919, Pierrefeu gave French casualties from 16–25 April as 118,000 of whom 28,000 were killed, 5,000 died of wounds, 80,000 were wounded, 20,000 of whom were fit to return to their units by 30 April and 5,000 were taken prisoner.

In 1962, Nicholson the Canadian official historian, recorded German losses of c. 163,000 and French casualties of 187,000 men. Most of the new French Schneider tanks were destroyed by artillery fire. In 2005, Doughty quoted figures of 134,000 French casualties on the Aisne from 16–25 April, of whom 30,000 men were killed, 100,000 were wounded and 4,000 were taken prisoner, the casualty rate being the worst since November 1914. From 16 April – 10 May the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Tenth armies took 28,500 prisoners and 187 guns. The advance of the Sixth Army was one of the largest made by a French army since trench warfare began.

This gives a singularly unclear picture of the German losses due to dates not being the same- German losses 163,000 including 28,500 POws giving 134,500 K,DOW,Missing and Wounded.However the French losses are now inflated to 187.000 total.

Whatever the Germans repulsed the French suicidal attacks and yes ay great cost


Regards

Jim
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