The attack kicked off on April 16, and almost immediately bogged down.
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The Germans had surmised the location of the offensive beforehand and greatly strengthened their forces as a result. Operational withdrawals elsewhere had increased German reserves, which were sent to the threatened sector. To provide resistance in depth, the Germans had built an additional line of trenches out of artillery range.
French failure was evident on the first day when the expected breakthrough to the city of Laon did not materialize. Nevertheless, the French continued their attacks for three weeks.
On May 5, a French division refused to attack any more. Four days later, Nivelle suspended the offensive, but it was too late. More units mutinied and, by the end of the month, 68 divisions were in some form of revolt. His successor, Gen. Henri Petain, barely convinced the dispirited poilus — the French grunts — to stay at the front. In the end, the line had moved forward four miles at the cost of more than , casualties.
As many articles marking the recent centenaries of the start of World War I and its various battles have reminded us, conventional wisdom still views this conflict as a needless and senseless bloodbath orchestrated by incompetent generals and callous politicians too eager to lead an entire generation into the charnel house. Although recent scholarship has taken a more nuanced view, the image of incompetence and lack of innovation persists.
This is both unfair in judging French generalship and unhelpful for understanding the dynamics of innovation in wartime.
It is unfair because it judges participants on information that they did not have at the time. It is easy to look back at events knowing the outcome, to pick the right facts, and to point out what participants should have done. It is unhelpful because it implies that if we were just smarter in the present, we could see clearly enough into the future to avoid stupid mistakes. But that is rarely the case.
The data available in the present are wildly contradictory, and many outcomes seem plausible. For example, someday we will know what happens in Syria. Maybe the self-proclaimed Islamic State will fade away or maybe it will become a global insurgency. Maybe Assad, weakened by years of war, will collapse. Or perhaps his regime will re-consolidate power. Maybe a de facto peace will evolve, as exhausted adversaries hunker down in place.
Maybe civil war will continue for decades. Order of Washington. Pilgrim Edward Doty Society. Pilgrim Francis Cooke Society. Pilgrim John Howland Society. Pioneer Association of the State of Washington. Piscataqua Pioneers. Plantagenet Society.
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Except for a brief foray by the French into the region of Alsace, a German possession in , the remainder of the fighting was conducted on French and Belgian soil Belgium was wholly occupied apart from an enclave situated between Ypres and the French border ; indeed, no Allied soldier set foot on German soil except for those taken prisoner.
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On the Western Front, in an attempt to drive the German Army from the occupied territories, the Allies succeeded in mobilizing a coalition force comprising more than twenty nations with the French and British Armies providing by far the most soldiers and equipment; however the United States, which entered the war in the spring of , played a considerable role in the final days of the conflict, in the summer of , which saw the Allies victorious.
The militarized zone of the front, which separated the zone occupied by the Germans from the rest of France , stretched kilometres from the shores of the North Sea to the Swiss border and varied in breadth from a few hundred metres to several dozen kilometres. It was essentially a line of defensive works comprising trenches, barbed wire entanglements, blockhouses and underground shelters.
Millions of soldiers saw service on the front, where the incessant shelling of both sides transformed the area into a landscape of craters and desolation, and several million of them perished there after enduring the cold, unhealthy and parasite-ridden conditions of the trenches. Throughout the conflict the various sectors of the front experienced periods of calm punctuated by heavy shelling and bloody offensives.
In the final days of July the belligerents were able to mobilize their armies at great speed thanks to the efficient railway network then covering mainland Europe. The principal objective of the Schlieffen Plan , the document which guided German military strategy in the summer of , was to take Paris and thus force a rapid victory on the Western Front. The plan prescribed a surprise attack through neutral Belgium and the plains of Northern France, executed by a considerable force of infantry, cavalry and artillery, while at the same time neutralizing the French initiatives on the Franco-German border.
On 4 August , forty-four German divisions streamed through Belgium in an attempt to attack the rear of the French Army massed in the north-east of the country, mostly in Lorraine.