12/12/1916 Nivelle succeeds Joffre as France reshuffles its generals

France’s political leaders have had enough of Joseph Joffre, the army’s commander on the Western Front. Joffre’s calmness arguably saved France from defeat after the disastrous early battles of August 1914, but he appears unable to prosecute the war to victory. Now the politicians want a more vigorous approach to the fighting on the Western Front, so Prime Minister Briand has Joffre sacked. Or, rather, he has Joffre promoted to a meaningless position as general-in-chief (not commander-in-chief) of the French army and technical adviser to the government.

Joffre’s replacement as commander of the French armies on the Western Front is Robert Nivelle, the commander of the recent French counter-attacks at Verdun. Nivelle has leap-frogged over more senior commanders, including his own commanding officer, Philippe Pétain, who had commanded at Verdun during its desperate early stages. Unlike Pétain, Nivelle is an attacking general who has recaptured much ground from the Germans at Verdun, albeit at considerable cost. The politicians hope that his offensive vigour will now be applied to the French army as whole in their efforts to drive the Germans from France next year.

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