Time for a Fresh Approach
By Elizabeth Greenhalgh
As the battle of the Somme ended and the Battle of Verdun was in its last stages, it was clear to France's leadership that civic-military relations were deteriorating as well as army morale. The army commission of both houses had been worried by the state of defenses at Verdun, and the first secret session of parliament held during the war took place in June 1916, when much criticism of the high command had been aired. The vote of confidence that the government won afterwards contained a clause about “effective supervision over the prosecution of the war.” The deputies had won the right to parliamentary inspection for which they had been pressing. André Tardieu proposed a 30-member commission, which was discussed during July as the Somme offensive failed to achieve a quick success. On 1 August, deputies were elected to carry out the supervision. Joffre was furious that there should be any so-called interference with military matters.
Another secret session of the deputies was held on 21 November over the question of calling up the 1918 class, and this was followed a week later by another, during which it became clear to Prime Minister Aristide Briand that he would have to change the high command if he was to save his ministry. Over ten sittings complaints were aired. Although Briand obtained a (reduced) vote of confidence at the end of the sessions, he moved to ease Joffre out of command. Joffre had already cast off Foch, as responsible for the failure on the Somme, on the (false) excuse that he, Foch, was ill. This was not enough to save his own job, and when Joffre realized that Briand's offer of a role as the government's "technical advisor” was an empty one, he resigned. The pill was sweetened by the grant of a marshal's baton, making Joffre the Third Republic's first Marshal of France. The honor had been tarnished by the performance of Louis Napoleon's marshals during the Franco-Prussian War, and so had been in abeyance ever since. Briand also got rid of his war minister, General Roques, widely seen as Joffre's creature.
On 15 November the Allied military leaders gathered in Chantilly, just as they had done at the end of 1915, to plan the 1917 campaign. Joffre proposed a program that differed little from the previous year's, except for its being on a larger scale. He argued for an early start to coordinated operations to prevent any repetition of the Verdun offensive that had forestalled 1916's offensives. In France he proposed separate British and French attacks on both sides of the German salient—a repetition of 1915's strategy. Before any detailed planning could take place, he was removed from command on 13 December. Joffre's replacement as c-in-c of the French Army was Robert Nivelle, the general who had won the final success in the battle for Verdun.
Read Part II, Why Nivelle? in Tomorrow's Roads to the Great War
Source: Over the Top, December 2016