Page 3760

3760 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE MODERN WORLD.

could be whirled behind granite walls

whenever necessary to avoid destruction

by the concentrated French fire. They

were the strongest defenses I have ever

seen. They made every other fortress,

every trench line, every concrete abri

I have visited seem weak."

According to one account, the French

failure was due to political interference.

The story runs that some French politicians

who were unacquainted with the actualities

of war were permitted to view the battle

and were so horrified by the French losses

that they persuaded the Government to

stop the offensive. The losses had, indeed,

been heavy, but the gains were great,

and many Germans had been killed or

captured. It is said that Premier Lloyd

George and General Haig implored the

French Government to persevere in the

attack, pointing out that the German

reserve was almost exhausted, and that,

in a short time, the Teutons would be

compelled to retreat. The German situation was, beyond question, hazardous,

and the German newspapers of the time

revealed deep apprehension. A retirement

would have involved tremendous losses.

Had the French been willing, at this time,

to sacrifice a small fraction of what subsequent battles cost them, it is not improbable that a great victory could have

been won and the war materially shortened.

The Allied forces considerably outnumbered the Germans on the West Front,

but this advantage was subsequently lost.

But the French Government decided

to call off the offensive. For reasons

that were not explained General Nivelle

was removed from command, together

with some subordinates, including the

celebrated General Mangin. General Petain was substituted for Nivelle, and General Foch became Chief of Staff. General

Petain had won his chief reputation by

stopping the force of the first German

drive at Verdun. He was an able officer,

but his taking command meant that

France had abandoned the effort to force

a decision that year. A pall of gloom

settled down over the country. Some

French units informed their officers that

they would not attempt another offensive

and would fight only on the defensive.

"Defeatism" reared its head, and probably

only the hope of American assistance

prevented, at this time, a French collapse.

By the French and British offensives

the whole German position in France

had been dangerously imperiled, and if

the Russians had been doing their part

at this juncture, it is entirely probable

that the war could have been brought to

a speedy end. But Russia was torn by

dissensions, and her army was so badly

demoralized that it could not attempt

a real offensive. The Germans were able

to send hundreds of thousands of men

and great numbers of guns from the

Eastern to the Western Front. In order

to gain time to build new lines, they

hurled immense forces against both the

British and French positions, but were

almost invariably thrown back with tremendous slaughter. Some of the most

bitter fighting of the whole war took

place in and around the village of Bullecourt, possession of which would threaten

the German hold on their reserve "switch

line" running from Drocourt to Queant,

but, in the middle of May, the Germans

were finally expelled from the village.

In this fighting Australian troops greatly

distinguished themselves.

The British advance also recovered

some of the French coal mines which had

been occupied by the Germans since 1914.

By holding these mines the Germans

had caused immense embarrassment to

their enemies. The coal mines in the

unoccupied parts of France were inadequate to supply the country with fuel,

and not only was industry greatly hampered but the population in the winter

suffered greatly from cold. The amount

of coal that could be sent from England

to France was limited, and the French

consequently were forced to use it in

sparing quantities. Prices of coal rose

to incredible heights, and Paris and other

French cities shivered throughout the

winters. It had been hoped that the whole

of the Lens coal district would be recovered, but though the British managed