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

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


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. 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 4:25 AM, 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 AM. They reinforced it during the day and had
RFC patrols in the skies monitoring the enemy, so the Germans decided to withdraw to the
Oppy-Mericourt 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 by the Germans without faltering, and saying
that they didn’t 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. The Official History says the reasons for
failure from Monchy were, “The 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 of 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? 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 ANZAC and 62nd British Divisions
who attacked in wave after wave. The ANZACs 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 OUT 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 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, the MG08/15, with a bipod
mounting, a wooden stock, and a pistol grip. I wouldn’t call it a “great” weapon,
but it was good enough and in 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
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
Lenin’s 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
wouldn’t play much of a part for another whole year. And the reason the US 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
407,302 (Chronology). 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 he’s 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 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. 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 Patrons. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next
week.

100 comments

  1. How much do you have to donate to be mentioned? like if I donated 500 euros and asked you to do a shout out to 420xXx£ye_H8_n0nC3s_XxX_420 (that's my christian name)

  2. At 4:28 , it's so cool how the trenches are integrated with the town, snaking between buildings and tunneling under the main road.

  3. Nivelle honestly sounds like he was a real jerk. Like not the type of guy I would want to be friends with.

  4. It seems like WW1 had very few good generals vs WW2 which had plenty of great generals on all sides.

  5. Robert Nivelle – the French Conrad von Hotzendorf. 😉
    It's not looking good for France. What's going to happen?
    -Jen

  6. I told you guys, the end is near. There are only a few months left before a total Entente collapse and a Central Powers victory by default. Mark my words!

  7. I just found out my great grandfathers father was an Austrian-Hungarian soldier. I assumed since my family is Ukrainian he fought for the Russian Empire. I don't know much of what he did except he was infantry

  8. at 1:48 there is a soldier who appears to have some kind of mohawk fur on his helmet, anyone have any idea what that is all about?

  9. Robert Nivelle reminds me of Donald Trump….both trying to blame everyone else for their mistakes.

  10. I'm looking forward to Indy and crew doing this 2037 to 2045 for the 100th anniversary shows for World War II.

  11. I'm curious what's been happening on the Caucasus front recently… we haven't heard anything for quite a while.

  12. I've been watching this series for years, and when you mentioned desertions I realized I had to think for a minute to even remember what caused this war to start. I can't imagine how miserable it would be to be a soldier in this war, asked to kill and die in terrible ways for what is basically at this point the ego of the commanding officers. Truly awful.

  13. I think the measurement of success for WW1 was forward movement not sadly holding ground or minimizing casualties. One of the great crimes of the war was the disregard most of officers had for their men throwing them into battles apparently not caring that most would be wounded or killed. The idea of looking for ways to achieve objectives with minimal casualties seems to have been an alien idea to the average WW2 officer on both sides. Even with the addition of the Tank little was done to reduce casualties 🙁

  14. In that picture at 7:53, are those German and British soldiers pushing that cart together? Are the Germans prisoners or something?

  15. Hey, Great War team! Would you guys please do an episode on Persia during the First War World?!

  16. Could you put the scale on the battle maps? It would help to feel the strategic importance of the slaughter.

  17. "They had some tangible success, they didn't all die." Now that sums up the Great War pretty well.

  18. Hello Great war,

    Did you also made a contribution about the Genocide on the Armenians, Assyrians, and the Greeks from 1915 ?

    I was very impressed by the film you have made about Ivan Kolev, as a Cavalry enthusiast i strongly believe still in the weapon of Horse Cavalry.

    I am now reading a book about the batlle of Haelen 1914 in Belgium, and a book about the battle of Jaroslawice 1914. Two cavalry battles in the beginning of WWI.

    My son of 16 loves your films, he says it is so nice to see the things of movements on the maps.

    I want to say to mr. Indy Neidell thanks for the fun, sometimes it go's to quick, but it is great to see the films.

    Are bringing them on DVD

    Yours Sincerely,

    Henk Koelewijn

  19. Ummm … 2nd Bullecourt wasn't a 'failure' …that was 1st Bullecourt on April 15th. 2nd Bullecourt saw the Australian (NOT ANZAC!) 6th Bde take TWO lines (OG1 and OG2) of the Hindenburg Line AND hold it! The 5th Bde on the Right failed, but then came up the Central Road to attempt bombing down OG1 and OG2 but despite major gains, were pushed back to the Central Road. 1st Australian Bde relieved the 6th on May 4th and expanded their foothold a little both to the Left and across Central Road to the Right, before the 3rd Australian Bde took their turn on the night of the 4/5th.

    More major attacks along OG1 and OG2, both to the Right and Left ar eupcoming in the next few days.

    The Australians were never defeated or pushed out of their position and held it, expanding until the Bullecourt eventually fell.

  20. Indy and crew do you do have copies of Charles Bean official history of the Australian Imperial Forces.

  21. When I travel, The Great War – Online is the only YouTube subscription I play. Indy, Flo, Toni, and others — you all do outstanding work!

  22. Hi TGW Shout out from INDONESIA! Are you doing gaming series too about WW1, I mean like BF1, Verdun etc. If you dont, I really do recommend it cuz its so damn great! If you have any please let me know! Btw i love ur videos bout histories you guys should be on NAT GEO! LOVE YOU GUYS!

  23. I just noticed something. Doesn't General Haig bear a striking resemblance to Blackadder's General Melchett or is it just my imagination?

  24. it's amazing that your doing this, i love the World wars and But WW1 is Hardly talked about in my school because the U.S was only in it for about a year

  25. The 08/15 is still a number said if you want to describe something as being average/Standart. Its called 08/15 Standart in germany and comes from that gun

  26. I haven't heard about good ok hotzi in a while. And can you guys do a release of just the music you use and pictures sometime?

  27. Export each frontline as shown on the maps as a .kmz so those can be imported and displayed on Google Earth Pro?

  28. did the Ottoman Empire gas in warfare and what types of austro Hungarian troops were in the western front

  29. Just caught up with the entire series and looking at the special episodes. 10/10. I'd like to know what kind of weapons the US troops,Japanese,Russian,Polish, and Canadian troops used though. I'd also would love to know more on where one could find historical archives of ranks for each nation during the First World War.

  30. What was the role of Gypsies during the war? Obviously they were spread across Europe, but did many serve in the war and if so which side did they mainly fight for?

  31. In reading Liddel-Hart on the war, he makes the comment that the army made little use of engineers in planning and that the exception was at Messines. Was this just for the British Army or was it for all forces in the war ?

  32. i came here from the end of second season, on the map only romania changed. italy… lol dont want spoilers so going back. this is like watching game of thrones with the knowledge of jon snow being a targaryen. still worth it. i feel a little bitter about germans will eventually lose, but actually whats hurting is that this tragedy continued 4 years… and hundreds of thousand, nope, i cant 🙁

  33. Just finished the first 145 weeks through this one, suddenly realizing that the war is still going on 🙂 I had prepared to watch 60+ more. A sort of a small epiphany.

    This is simply an outstanding series, and the entire idea of making a weekly review with a 100 years delay is brilliant. The whole production is amazingly professional; I am really impressed.

    Thanks for educating me on this great war. It has really given me a whole new understanding of the events that shaped the political landscape of the 20th century and beyond.

  34. Anyone who knows what are these nest- or shrubbery-like things the infantry carries in their hands, as they advance through no-man's land? You see it in one of the footage, as they get up from a hole.

  35. I caught up in time nooooo….. no more binge watching. On a positive note I get to watch all the special episodes now 😁

  36. Not to nitpick, but…the soldier at 5:16 making a dramatic enough pose with the chauchat looks a lot better than the 4-man German machine gun crew in the opening titles (Why do they need four guys to a gun anyway?)

  37. A small point. It's not "chomping at the bit" it's correctly 'champing at the bit'. Seriously, horses champ not chomp.

  38. Finally Caught up! I have been binge watching this series since i found it last week, I can finally get back to life. I have literally seen indy's face more than any other persons in the past week lol feel like I know this dude. I know this isn't over yet but can it just be 2042 already?

  39. Hi! Indy and co. Greetings from the Philippines I am doing a research about ww1 and thinking what could happen if Philippines joined the alliance instead of the entente but I can't find some of it so for out of the trenches I would like to ask how long we're the training for soldiers in all countries before ww1? And if possible some numbers of the armies of european and asian countries before ww1? Lastly, at that time if I have a dollar what would that buy? Hope you could help me. Sorry if I have too many questions and excuse if I have some grammar mistakes cause I'm only a student. Love your show and looking forward for more episodes. Thanks

  40. I've handled a MG08/15. Fricking sucks, even by the standards of the time. Not the worst but far from the best.

  41. Hey, what is the story behind the picture at 7:53? There is a British soldier AND a German one pulling the same cart?

  42. Keep repeating 'this is modern war' for three years, and you end up with 'they didn't all die and they were still there' being a 'success'.

  43. Did you know, that the german MG 08/15 was used so much in the germany army, that the expression "08/15" became an expression for something is common in the german language? The expression is still used today like in: "That is so 08/15" or in german "Das ist 08/15". But most people today don't now that the expression comes from the weapon of the WW I.

  44. May 3rd. We moved up in the night & joined the 22nd Battalion, we arrived in the trenches at 22 yard intervals without the loss of a man. We hopped over at 4 o’clock in the morning, it was zero hour so we have been busy & our losses were fairly heavy. Tim Healy a mate passed out early in the attack (Seymour Arris Healy , known as “Tim” 9838, killed about 10am). He was a loss because of his devotion to duty at all times. The action is going well for it’s mobs of German prisoners coming in, I am now right in the outskirts of the village.

    Aug 8th There has been a big lapse in my diary, I have been badly wounded & have been in a dangerous condition for some time so I could not keep my notes up. I received my wounds on the afternoon of 3rd of May. I have been in hospital ever since, my right arm was badly smashed along with bad body wounds & I was also shot through the leg below the knee. I could not write. I am doing well now – – –

    Field Ambulance member, Australian 2nd Division.

  45. I've come up with another idea for several episodes, accounts of all general officers killed in action from all sides.

  46. What was Croatia's relationship with Bulgaria? They were the only two Slavic powers within the Central Powers coalition and I wonder if they got along with each other. Did Croatian units fighting in Serbia coordinate well with their Bulgarian allies?

  47. When everyone around you are less than what you expect while your enemies are more, it's your own fault for not noticing it.

    Having lower quality troops than you wish for and no suppport is bad. Not realizing it and/or not planning accordingly is plain lack of vision. It's the responsibility of those in command to do what they can with what they have. So, they must understand exactly what is at their disposal and what is against them.

    Blaming subordinates for not following through means lack of understand in the first place. If you push them too hard, it's your fault for not realizing their limits. If you attack a stronger enemy, it's your fault for not assessing it correctly in the first place.

  48. Haha! "Paul Painleve elevated Philippe Petain…." I see what you did there! Very clever verb choice! Keep up the good work 🙂

  49. Great work folks. Love the channel. The French seemed to have more command problems than other nations, but everyone had plenty. Except maybe the USA, once we got involved (but we had problems with the French). I wonder how much this piir command is studied in military academies today?

  50. Recommended viewing: Stanley Kubrick's 1957 movie, "Paths of Glory". About mutiny in the French army. Best WW1 movie there is IMO.

  51. "08/15", read "Null Acht Fünfzehn" ("zero eight fifteen") is the german expression for bog standard. Now you know where it comes from. A machine gun.

  52. What annoys me so much about the french commanders is how they get fired for failing with hundreds of thousands of casualties while the troops at the front face exemplary executions for their failure.
    I know this happened in any army but the french at some point in the war went apeshit crazy and executed actual brave men for no good reason other than "to keep moral up"

  53. Fun fact: In german speaking culture, "08/15" – pronounced "nullachtfünfzehn" (oh eight fifteen) – is still used to describe something as "standard", "run out of the mill" or " nothing to write home about".

  54. Question about the numbers. You state Canadian overseas enlightenments now total 407,000. Does that number include casualties (injured, sick, missing soldiers)?

  55. Why couldn't they say it into his face like…
    "Nivelle, YOU'RE FIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"?

  56. I hadn't noticed before but at around 0:40 southern Sweden is in a light red but the north is in a deep blue, why?
    Neither side had occupied us.
    Soooo?

  57. Is it finally time to admit that Allied losses in Western Front have been twice higher than those of Germans? Actually almost half of German military losses during WW1 came from outside Western Front.

  58. I'm surprised the Germans and Austrians haven't started pushing on the Eastern front to take advantage of the trouble in Russia

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