The Battle of Arleux Robert Nivelle Gets Fired I THE GREAT WAR Week 145

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Just Five Months Ago He Was Hailed As

the Savior of France for planning the counter attacks that won at Verdun and he was raised to French Army Chief of Staff as Joseph Joffre was put out to Pasture, and now.. . it s all over.

This Week Robert Nivelle Is Fired.

I m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week, the Bulgarians held off the British in the Balkans, the British beat the Ottomans on the Tigris, but lost a lot of men on the Western Front providing a diversion for the French. France had serious morale issues after complete disaster in the field, and in Russia the situation grows ever more chaotic as Vladimir Lenin has returned from exile.

Here

s what happened next. The Western Front was the scene of the week s heaviest action, as it had been for the past three weeks. For the British, the Battle of Arleux began on the 29th and lasted a day.

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This was a part of the Battle of Arras, which was still going on in fits and starts. This was also another opportunity for the Canadian Corps to Shine, as they did back on April 9th at Vimy Ridge. See, one position that was now a trouble spot for the British was the Arleux Loop,, which was a German salient jutting in between two British held salients that had been formed by action last week. The British wanted to link together their salients, thus eliminating the German one and British Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig sent three divisions to attack by the River Scarpe, another to attack near Oppy, and the Canadians were to assault the loop itself.

I

ll just say right off the bat that in the words of the British Official Historian. The Canadian operations were, the only tangible success of the whole operation .

At Uknk] Three Canadian Battalions Of The First

Division attacked on a front of about three kilometers. Straight away, the 8th Battalion, attacking in the center, lost all of its officers to machine gun fire and was checked by barbed wire, but the two flanking battalions managed to make good enough progress and tie up the enemy so that reserves could be brought in to the center and the village could be secured by 6 UK They reinforced it during the day and had UK patrols in the skies monitoring the enemy, so the Germans decided to withdraw to the UK Line in front of Fresnoy. . I have to be honest; I think it s a bit unfair what the Official Historian said, since the British positions at Gavrelle, for example, withstood a multitude of tough counter attacks.

Attacks By The Germans Without Faltering,

and saying that they didnt have any tangible success. is sort of silly since they didn

T All Die And They Were Still There At

the end of the two-day battle. And a lot worse happened the to the British army later in the week anyhow at the 3rd Battle of the Scarpe, another engagement of the larger battle. This was a two-pronged attack, with the British attacking east from Monchy hoping to take Wotanstellung, a German defensive position, while the Australians again attacked Bullecourt. . The Attacks were failures with heavy casualties, with estimates of up to 5,900 dead for one day.

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The Official History says the reasons for failure from Monchy were, UK confusion caused by the darkness, the speed with which the German artillery opened fire, the manner in which it concentrated on the British infantry almost neglecting the artillery, the intensity. its fire-the heaviest that many a soldier had ever witnessed, seemingly unchecked by British counter-battery fire and lasting without slackening for 15 hours, the readiness with which the German infantry yielded to the first assault and the energy of its counter attack, and, it must be added, the bewilderment of the British infantry on finding itself in the open. . .

The last part is interesting, because we know the new German defensive doctrines that go with their new defenses. These were deep and they were flexible and the idea was to draw the enemy into a deep killing zone, which they certainly did here-the German infantry yielded to the first assault and fell back, and if the British wanted to take any ground they had to move ahead, right into the killing zone. How were they going to beat this system, because this obviously didn t work.

Didn

t work And they d better get used to being in the open, because when the Germans fall back that s the only way forward. Another side note here-Haig supposedly wrote in his diary The day before the attack, May 2nd, that he had misgivings about it.

Haig Had Misgivings About One Of His Offensives;

that says something right there. The Bullecourt attack had actually been planned to go off a couple of weeks ago, but kept on getting pushed back. There. It was 1st UK and 62nd British Divisions who attacked in wave after wave. The UK broke through the barbed wire to find many of their dead comrades still lying there from last month

S Attack, But They Couldn

t really break UK of the barbed wire, though one brigade managed to take around 400m of the German first line. The end result of the first day was pretty much. much the same tragedy as last month, but the end of the week saw the British again strengthening their positions for further assaults. .

The French Also Launched A New Attack On

the Western Front. This week. At the very end of the week,, taking Craonne. However,. This was not a massive attack on the scale of the last month

S Nivelle Offensive,, Though It Was Technically Still Part

of it. Since. The initial phase of that offensive had been so disastrous that the French had taken casualties at a rate not seen since autumn 1914, they were now taking on more limited objectives. One. Minor reason for more casualties was that the Germans had a lighter version of the 1908 Maxim machine gun, theNK] with a bipod mounting, a wooden stock, and a pistol grip.

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I Wouldn

t call it a great weapon, but it was good enough and in sufficient. sufficient numbers that the Germans had much better firepower than the French had expected.

The French Disasters Of April Had

also provoked a change in the high command. On April 28th, French Minister of War Paul Painlevé elevated Philippe Petain to Chief of Staff of the French Army and asked General Robert Nivelle to resign as Commander in Chief-in the French Army They could actually be different positions,, but Nivelle refused to resign. He even continued to refuse after Petain replaced him as commander in chief, still assigning blame to everyone but himself. Petain, though, had bigger things to worry about. Though, as the rumblings of mutiny in the French Army were growing Louder and Louder.

There Were Also Such Rumblings In The Russian

Army. On. The 29th, Russian Commander in Chief. Mikhail Alexeev told the Minister of War that information indicated that the Russian army was falling. falling apart, and by May there were as many as two million deserters.

Still, At The Beginning Of The

month 50,000 wounded Russian soldiers demonstrated in favor of the war and on the 4th, and to Vladimir Lenins Chagrin, the Petrograd Soviet gave its support to the Provisional Government by a narrow margin. But. If Russia wasn t leaving the war, they weren

T Very Active, And Allied Morale Fell All

over as everyone realized the Americans wouldnt play much of a part for another whole year. . And the reason the UK had finally joined the war, Germany.

S Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, Was Going On At

sea near with impunity. In April. They had sunk 373 ships, for a total tonnage of 873,754 tons, the highest of the war. But yet another a side note here; if the Americans weren t there in force, the Canadians were by this time.

Their Total Overseas Enlistments.

Now number 407,302NK] And yet another week of war comes to an end, with heavy death at sea, possible mutiny growing in the French Army even as it has a small success in the field, and a day that will go down in history as a day of disaster ending the week for the British Army. And yet another Chief of Staff for the French. And oh, how the mighty have fallen. Remember.

The Optimism The French Government Had

felt in December when they gave Nivelle the job, even though the actual soldiers were already worried about his lack of concern for high casualty lists Remember how this whole year hes been chomping at the bit to get his offensive off the ground Not even considering the possibility that the Germans had taken the time to develop new defenses and tactics We ve seen arrogance and Hubris like this on. on both sides throughout the war, and it seems it will not end. And now Nivelle refuses to take any of the blame for his failure.

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Let s just remember that it was Nivelle who had organized the offensive and Nivelle who had promised it would break through the Germans in 48 hours with an estimated casualty list of 10,000. The Reality had been some 20 times that and he still refused to call it off for days until the men just would not fight any more. Imagine the state of the French army by this week.

Good Luck, Philippe Petain.

If you want to learn more about the new French Commander, click here for our episode about Philippe Petain. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Imran-one of our Patrons who is supporting us for over 2 years. Now. Thank you so much to you and the other.

Other Patrons.

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Summary

The Western Front was the scene of the week’s heaviest action, as it had been for the past three weeks . The Battle of Arleux began on the 29th and lasted a day . The Canadian operations were, &the only tangible success of the whole operation&. At UKNK] three Canadian battalions of the First Division attacked on a front of about three kilometers. The 8th Battalion, attacking in the center, lost all of its officers to machine gun fire and was checked by barbed wire, but the two flanking battalions managed to make g a gaunt . The British wanted to link together their salients, thus eliminating the German one and the Canadians were to assault the loop itself. The British Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig sent three divisions to attack by the River Scarpe, and the . British Commander In Chief Sir . Haig was to . attack by . the . Canadians were . to attack near Oppy, and . the Canadians attacked the ….. Click here to read more and watch the full video