Debunked British myths of WW1 (Niall Ferguson)

Larrey

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Sep 2011
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France racked up big loses trying to break German positions in 1915 ( Battle of Artois and 2nd Battle of Champagne ) and 1917 ( Nivelle offensive ). The latter even lead to mutinies in French army. They also suffered heavy casualties during Battle of Verdun in 1916, where French were on the defensive for most of the battle. Let's not forget that French losses were high at Somme as well.
Actually the Nivelle offensive caused no outsize losses relative the rest of the situation. 1917 was the lightest year for the French army in terms of casualties overall, with only about 150 000+ killed in that year (300K 1914, 350K 1915, 250K 1916, 250+K 1918).

The real problem with the 1917 Spring Offensive was rather the sheer mismatch between expectations and outcomes. The French army was assured that finally its leadership had cracked how to fight and win WWI without it all turning into a bloody shambles. And they had the general who had first introduced the rolling barrage in 1915, and the followed it up by kicking the Germans out of the ground they had taken at Verdun in the latter half of 1916, with staggeringly low losses. So now, with all new weapons and tactics, all that was needed to upscale these things, and go blow through the German lines in a war-winning offensive. And then inside two days it all turned into a total pigs-ear, precisely the kind of bloody shambles everyone had been promised it wouldn't become. That led to the refusals to attack, which was what the situation mostly involved.
 

Larrey

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Sep 2011
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Their contribution to the battle of the Marne , tough small , was vital
In the sense that if they hadn't made about-face and finally headed back towards the battle, they might hypothetically have lost the French the victory.
 
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Sep 2016
1,352
Georgia
Actually the Nivelle offensive caused no outsize losses relative the rest of the situation. 1917 was the lightest year for the French army in terms of casualties overall, with only about 150 000+ killed in that year (300K 1914, 350K 1915, 250K 1916, 250+K 1918).
That is true. However, my point is that British weren't the only ones who suffered heavy casualties and French themselves botched offensives or lost too many lives for small gains.

I would also argue, that Petain's decision to conduct only small-scale offensives for the rest of the year played a role in casualties figures for 1917 being lighter than in previous years. In fact, French achieved some success with that approach like their victory at La Malmaison in October of the same year.
 
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Vaeltaja

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Sep 2012
3,700
What was the form that the reparations required from Germany took? I'm looking through the wiki link and there's many mentions of "gold and goods in kind" and that Germany had to loan currency to pay the reparations. Finland's reparations were at least facilitated by the USSR basically looking what Finland already produced and accepting payment in the form of those goods. The German reparations look much more complicated and difficult than the Finnish ones, at a glance at least.
The Soviets actually demanded mostly different goods than what Finland produced. Which resulted among other things fair share of the Finnish merchant fleet being given over as the Soviets demanded ships in such quantities which Finland could not produce them. Soviets also demanded locomotives of the type Finland did not even produce prior to 1944. Soviets nominally claimed that they wanted the reparations in (”puutavaraa, paperia, selluloosaa, meri- ja jokialuksia, erilaisia koneita” ~ "timber, paper, cellulose, sea and river going vessels, different machines") but omitted the minor detail that only third would consist of anything related to the 'timber, paper or cellulose' which was pretty much the main industry Finland had. The rest first required quite a bit of work to get it working.
 
Jan 2019
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Finland
The Soviets actually demanded mostly different goods than what Finland produced. Which resulted among other things fair share of the Finnish merchant fleet being given over as the Soviets demanded ships in such quantities which Finland could not produce them. Soviets also demanded locomotives of the type Finland did not even produce prior to 1944. Soviets nominally claimed that they wanted the reparations in (”puutavaraa, paperia, selluloosaa, meri- ja jokialuksia, erilaisia koneita” ~ "timber, paper, cellulose, sea and river going vessels, different machines") but omitted the minor detail that only third would consist of anything related to the 'timber, paper or cellulose' which was pretty much the main industry Finland had. The rest first required quite a bit of work to get it working.
Yes, modifications for some products were needed, like how the locomotives that were made for Finland had to be upgraded for the vast distances of the USSR. But basically what they wanted were things Finland already produced. There's the myth that the reparations industrialised Finland, but I think it's indeed a myth or a narrative to make it seem more worthwhile. All those industries existed before WW2 and often dated back to 1800s. Finland had extensive ship building industry, mostly specialising in sailing ships but they also built warships like the Ilmarinen. Locomotives had been built in Finland since 1890s. An expansion of those industries likely resulted from the demand for paying the reparations, but that might as well have resulted from exporting those goods in exchange for currency in the general post-war economic boom in Europe.
 

Vaeltaja

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Sep 2012
3,700
Yes, modifications for some products were needed, like how the locomotives that were made for Finland had to be upgraded for the vast distances of the USSR. But basically what they wanted were things Finland already produced. There's the myth that the reparations industrialised Finland, but I think it's indeed a myth or a narrative to make it seem more worthwhile. All those industries existed before WW2 and often dated back to 1800s. Finland had extensive ship building industry, mostly specialising in sailing ships but they also built warships like the Ilmarinen. Locomotives had been built in Finland since 1890s. An expansion of those industries likely resulted from the demand for paying the reparations, but that might as well have resulted from exporting those goods in exchange for currency in the general post-war economic boom in Europe.
It went quite a bit beyond that. It is true that Finland was industrializing from 1930s on wards but the reparations forced this process through in a very swift pace. It was kind of a situation where Finland had small workshops but not actual industries and in some aspects fully lacking some required components. For example with ships before and during the WW II Finland had no capability of building engines of the size needed to power ships. Soviets also demanded plenty of products which Finland did not produce at all but could adapt or gear up industries to producing them.

You can check the 'tilastollinen vuosikirja' of say 1939 (it has data for 1938 - page 129) or earlier and it is quite clear that Finland exported pretty much just products of very few categories - and very little of those the Soviets mainly demanded. Instead Finland had relied on imports for those goods. For 1938 - of exports 41% paper and paper products (including paper mass), 40% timber and wood products, 8% animal based foodstuffs, 3% of metals (but only 0.4% of machines). In contrast to imports - 17% metals, 13% machines, 8% rock & soil & ore 7% colonial goods & spices, 6% vehicles/transports... and so on. Soviets demanded vehicles - of which Finland itself imported 15 x more (in value) than what it exported, Soviets demanded machines - of which Finland imported over 30 x times as much (in value) than what it exported...
 

sparky

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Jan 2017
5,633
Sydney
Larrey " Actually the Nivelle offensive caused no outsize losses relative the rest of the situation "

are you kidding !!!! .......in five days of slaughter the French lost 30.000 men dead and 65.000 wounded
the colonial units used as shock troops were particularly hit hard , the Senegalese division loosing 7000 men in two days
within three weeks the French commander in chief was sacked and the Soldiers refused orders

it was an abject failure made all the more painful for shattering the great hopes put in its success
before the offensive , there had been few attacks and after the new C in C , Petain took the strategic defensive
leaving the British to conduct a series of bloody assaults in Flanders just to keep the pressure on the Germans

the losses number for the year are an average but the combat was anything like average ,
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
6,094
Larrey " Actually the Nivelle offensive caused no outsize losses relative the rest of the situation "

are you kidding !!!! .......in five days of slaughter the French lost 30.000 men dead and 65.000 wounded
the colonial units used as shock troops were particularly hit hard , the Senegalese division loosing 7000 men in two days
within three weeks the French commander in chief was sacked and the Soldiers refused orders

it was an abject failure made all the more painful for shattering the great hopes put in its success
before the offensive , there had been few attacks and after the new C in C , Petain took the strategic defensive
leaving the British to conduct a series of bloody assaults in Flanders just to keep the pressure on the Germans

the losses number for the year are an average but the combat was anything like average ,
You mean unlike fx how Joffre literally threw away the lives of the pretty magnificent Chasseur Alpin regiments en bloc in the Vosges in a couple of days in 1915? Etc., etc.

What I'm trying to point out is that the disconnect between how it turned out and the new expectations the troops had was the problem.

Certainly French army lost 80 000+ killed in April-May 1917.

And my point is that in the grand scheme of things that compares to the 329 000 killed in August-September of 1914, 143 000 in the three months of the spring of 1915, or still 82 000 in June-July 1916. (The French army lost 27 000 killed on August 27 1914.)

So no, compared to previous experience the Nivelle Offensive as combat was not that outrageous, horrific as that might be. It's just that it wasn't good enough anymore by 1917.

The Nivelle offensive, compared to previous experiences, wasn't somehow outstandingly bloody in itself. The problem was that the French army had been learning, among other things how to fight WWI in such a way as to reduce casualties even in offensive operations. And what Nivelle, and his chief of staff Alençon, had cooked up had specifically promised victory without the previous massive culling of their own troops. And as I also said, it turned into the same kind of bloody shambles at record pace. But it wasn't actually bloodier than previous attempts. It's just that by 1917 that kind of thing was no longer supposed to happen, and not acceptable since there were viable alternatives. Pétain picked up the pieces and returned to what had previously worked, and still worked, that Nivelle had been on of the principal architects of.
 
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sparky

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Jan 2017
5,633
Sydney
in no way shape or form would I ever have anything good to say about Joffre
a murderous arrogant pomposity under the guise of Santa Claus
history has been very kind to him , too kind