1917: ‘Mere Unspeakable Suffering’
The new methods got their baptism when the British attacked at Arras in support of the main French offensive. Building on his limited success at Verdun, Nivelle promised to break through the German defences. In essence, his secret was to expand the formula he had used at Douamont – increase the front of attack, so that the Germans could not pinch in the ﬂanks with reserves, increase the number of troops in the ﬁrst wave of the attack, and protect the advance with a creeping barrage. More than just these tactical improvements, however, Nivelle promised to restore the offensive spirit that had permeated the army in the early days of the war. He spoke perfect English and captivated Lloyd George, so much so that in February Lloyd George secretly agreed to subordinate the British army to Nivelle’s command. After the British generals protested, the arrangement was limited to the period of the joint offensive, but relations between the British politicians and generals only got more poisonous.