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Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (30 ноя 1874 - 24 янв 1965) Part III 1916–1918 (1923-31)

To All Who Endured

CHAPTER XI

GENERAL NIVELLE’S EXPERIMENT

But Painlevé’s objections to Nivelle were not limited to the personal aspect. Painlevé, and the political forces which at that time he embodied, were the declared opponents of the great offensives on the Western Front. He agreed with Pétain that France should not be bled to death, that the life of the French Army must be husbanded, that there was no chance of the break through (la percée) in that year in that theatre, that the gradual capture of limited objectives was the only prize within reach, and that moderation of aim and economy of the lives of French soldiers were the key-notes of the immediate military policy. Nivelle stood at the opposite pole: the offensive on the largest scale, the French in the van; the armies hurled on in absolute confidence of decisive victory; the rupture of the German line on an enormous front; the march through the gap of great armies of manœuvre; the re-establishment of open warfare; the expulsion of the invader from the soil of France. Nor were these differences of principle academic. Nivelle was actively planning the most ambitious offensive ever undertaken by the French; and Painlevé was the Minister who had to take responsibility before Parliament and before history for all that Nivelle might try to do. It is not easy to say which of the two men was in the more unpleasant position.

To resist the plan, to dismiss the Commander, meant not only a Ministerial and a Parliamentary crisis—possibly fatal to the Government—but it also meant throwing the whole plan of campaign for the year into the melting-pot, and presumably, though not certainly resigning the initiative to the Germans.

I shall not attempt to describe the course either of the French offensive which began on April 16 nor of the brilliant preliminary operation by which the British Army at the Battle of Arras captured the whole of the Vimy Ridge. Numerous excellent accounts—French, English and German—are extant. It will here be sufficient to say that the French troops attacked in unfavourable weather with their customary gallantry. On a portion of the main front attacked they penetrated to a depth of 3 kilometres; they took between the 16th and the 20th, 21,000 prisoners and 183 guns, lost over 100,000 soldiers and failed to procure any strategic decision.

The battle was indeed continued, and during the next fortnight both Craonne and the Chemin des Dames were captured. But upon the very day of the conference in Paris, there had occurred a deeply disquieting incident. A French division ordered into the line refused to march. The officers succeeded in recalling the soldiers to their duty, and the division took part in the fighting without discredit. It was the first drop before the downpour.

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CHAPTER XII

AT THE MINISTRY OF MUNITIONS

Not allowed to make the plans, I was set to make the weapons.

When the munitions crisis of May, 1915, had overwhelmed the War Office and the Liberal Government, the Admiralty had not been found wanting in any important respect. All supplies for the Fleets were at hand or coming forward in abundance in consequence of the orders we had placed at the beginning of the war, and which had received a further expansion during my partnership with Lord Fisher. The Admiralty therefore had been able to retain their separate and privileged position. They had their own great supply departments, their own factories, their own programmes, and their own allegiances. In a period when a general view and a just proportion were the master-keys, they vigorously asserted their claim to be a realm within a realm—efficient, colossal, indispensable, well-disposed, but independent.

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