Petain rather than Nivelle

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by AdA, Jan 16, 2012.

  1. AdA Well-Known Member

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    Excuse if you've done this before, but WI Petain rather than Nivelle had taken command of the French Army in December 1916. Petain would probably not order the disastrous assault on Chemin des Dames but rather a more limited ofensive in the Reims area. Even considering that this would be at best a limited success, the French army would have been spared the morale busting efects of Nivelle's offensive, and the allies would be in much better shape to counter german offensives while they waited for US numbers to be felt.
     
  2. BlairWitch749 Banned

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    it probably avoids the french mutiny, since Petain was at least willing to coddle the rank and file a little bit as opposed to niville who treated them like digits, and continued the previous regime of bad food, bad housing, poor treatment and benefits to soldiers families, intense censorship and of course poorly planned and coordinated offensives

    the butterflies are immense because a Petain offensive in 1917 will be more effective and take less casualties than the disasterous Nivelle offensive and could reduce central powers strategic options on other fronts
     
  3. wiking The One and Only

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    How though? He was tainted by his defeatism, leaving Verdun before the French counterattack, and his lack of political allies. Nivelle also got Petain's credit for beating the Germans during the Verdun counteroffensive. Maybe Petain stays on? Still, its hard to get Petain in office until Nivelle screws up so badly that Petain is the only option left.
     
  4. BlairWitch749 Banned

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    Maybe the mutiny comes early against Nivelle and Mangin for the more disasterous of their attacks at Verdun (along with Papa Joffre being deposed earlier).... the only attacks that went well at Verdun were the ones with Petain's troops and artillery scripts, Mangin and Nivelle, when left to their own devices launched several gigantic 75 casualty disasters... although TBH it's not impossible that without the BIG mutiny the more circumspect; but certainly more competent Fayolle would be put in charge which would still be a gigantic boon versus Nivelle who was so incompetent as to actually be considered a traitor
     
  5. AdA Well-Known Member

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    Better understanging of attrition

    Nivelle was the product of a general failure to realize that the classical offensive model was not going to work on the conditions of the Western Front. It would be necessary that the French learned the right lessons from Verdun, rather than foolish ideas of all conquering artillery fire. And with the US entering the war, the realistic aproach should have been to keep up the pressure until the US forces were in France in large battle ready numbers rather than seeking decisive breaktrough battles. Nivelle demonstrated that the French had learned nothing from their own failures in 1915 and from the british failures in 1916.
    I would have liked to see Petain handling the whole of the French army in the way Gen Plummer handled the British 2nd Army, with careful planning, concern for morale and realistic tactics. This may be asking too much, but Nivelle did so badly it would be difficult not to do better...
    And the general prejudice against Petain resulting from his WW2 record makes him a rather unpopular alternate choice for CO, but he might have been the right man in early 1917.
     
  6. BlairWitch749 Banned

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    Nivelle was much more than that; he was a monster

    his idea was to launch a pincer attack against the saliant... fine enough in theory

    BUT poor operational security by himself 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 enjoying higher ground

    His subordinates where dead sure the offensive couldn't succeed under the new real circumstances and cried foul to the politicians; but only Petain had the balls 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 launch the suicide attack, the government, realizing they would fall if Nivelle left, also took the cowards 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
     
  7. AdA Well-Known Member

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    Demonstering

    Pretty much. I hesitate on using words like monster and coward, but at the very least he was blinded by his own limited percepcion to the point were he was unware of how inconpetent he was. One wonders how a democratic country allowed itself to be defend by a military systhem that was so vulnerable to incompetence.
    Wich makes me want to be more provocative in my WI. Let's have a December 1916 Anglo French conference in wich the governements place Petain as CiC of the French Army and Plummer as CiC of the British Army in France. The breakthrough operations would be abandoned and replaced by a series of "bite and hold" limited offensives all along the front, well planed and executed.
    German response to this?
     
  8. teg The Worst Unionist

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    Without the Nivelle offensive, or at least one that is better fought and with no mutinies, the French army will be in better shape in 1918. That means either Germany will not launch its spring offensive or it will go bad for Germany quicker than it would otherwise. That in turn means France will probably be able to play a bigger role in the final victory than it did in OTL (a rather telling statistic on the state of the French army, is that the combined Belgian, American and French armies in 1918 only just managed to capture more prisoners than the British Army did in the same period).

    After the war, its difficult to tell. It is possible France is less divided and has a bigger say in the peace negoiations, which could mean an independent Saarland or Rhineland in the post-war years. Alternately not, simply because Britain and America by this point were not having to deal with a devestated homeland and had considerably more industry at this point.

    teg
     
  9. rast Well-Known Member

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    Now, as an Entente offensive the Nivelle Offensive really wasn't that bad, it didn't cause worse losses than Joffre's offensives in 1915 and 1916, and it did gain quite some ground. (In 1915, it certainly would have been trumpeted out as a major success.) - The problem was that the French nation had been promised a decisive victory, which did not occur. Army morale had been bad before the Nivelle Offensive, had gone enthusiastic in expectation of victory - and then slumped to very bad when victory failed to show up.

    Blaming everything on Nivelle doesn't really help. Miserable treatment of French soldiers was not his invention; and French artillery capabilities had improved considerably, something that the gunner Nivelle knew very well. Waiting for the Americans wasn't possible, they were far from ready yet. Russia was about to stumble out of the war; unconditional submarine warfare seemed to favour the Central Powers; Romania had just been overrun - and the Italians obviously were more of a liability to the Entente than a danger to the Austro-Hungarians.

    Pétain certainly was too pessimistic and obstinate to promise something like 'decisive victory', but that would also mean that bad army morale would continue to be bad. The 1917 spring offensives were a joint Franco-British manoeuvre, France couldn't stop and do nothing - they had to attack. Pétain might have attacked on both sides of Reims, but the results of his offensive would hardly have been better than those achieved by Nivelle.
     
  10. BlairWitch749 Banned

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    The army learned it's lessons in 15 and 16 though; you could see it in the French portion of the Somme Offensive, and the Petain organized Verdun counter attacks

    There was no reason for them to repeat a massacre on the scale on the Champagne and Artois offensives in 1917 except for Nivelle's arrogance

    It's hard to fathom army morale being worse than it ended up being; and the more limited well planned type offensives Petain would conduct would almost certainly turn out better than what was tried

    Miserable treatment of soldiers should have been one of his priorities to clear up once they booted out Joffre; it was a reason for many of the army's problems
     
  11. rast Well-Known Member

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    The French success at the Somme was mainly due to the German commander opposing, who came from the Eastern Front and still tried to fight with Eastern Front methods in the west - i.e.: surrendering ground for gaining time and then fixing the situation by counter-attack. (The counter-attack part obviously failed...)

    The French offensive successes at Verdun were due to Nivelle and Mangin; Pétain's contribution was that Verdun held and the heights east of the Meuse were not abandoned (plus artillery build-up, logistics, etc.).
     
  12. BlairWitch749 Banned

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    Whilst the French sector was less defended at the Somme, they still used much better artillery to space ratio's than they had previously, the infantry didn't advance with packs, and they used swarm/skirmish lines/fire and maneuver which were obviously missing in their offensives the year before; regardless of how less manned the Germans where at the start in that sector, Fayolle's 6th and 10th armies advanced 2x the distance of their british counterparts, with 1/4x the casualties only employing about .4x men

    I've understood Petain's contribution to be far greater in organizing the artillery and making the sure the men were properly trained and the offensives/counter attacks where well rehearsed; and that the items that went on without his supervision lead to things like Mangin's disasterous attempt with the two brigades to use scaling ladders at Vaux which lead to the forces being annihilated by mortars and machine guns whilst the men stood on top of the fort with nowhere to go