First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a World War I battle fought from 6–12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German armies in the west; the battle was the culmination of the German advance into France and pursuit of the Allied armies which followed the Battle of the Frontiers in August and had reached the eastern outskirts of Paris. A counter-attack by six French armies and the British Expeditionary Force along the Marne River forced the Imperial German Army to retreat northwest, leading to the First Battle of the Aisne and the Race to the Sea; the battle was a victory for the Allied Powers but led to four years of trench warfare stalemate on the Western Front. The battle of the Marne was a major turning point of World War I. By the end of August 1914, the whole Allied army on the Western Front had been forced into a general retreat back towards Paris. Meanwhile, the two main German armies continued through France, it seemed that Paris would be taken as both the French and the British fell back towards the Marne River.
The war became a stalemate. It was one of the most important events in the war; the German retreat left the Schlieffen Plan in ruins and Germany had no hope of a quick victory in France. Its army was left to fight a long war on two fronts. Field Marshal Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, began to plan for a full British retreat to port cities on the English Channel for an immediate evacuation; the military governor of Paris, Joseph Simon Gallieni, wanted to organise the French and British armies to counter the weight of the German army's advance. After consulting Lord Kitchener about the use of British forces, Gallieni secured the overall command of the BEF, thus stopping Sir John's planned withdrawal. Gallieni's plan was simple. All Allied units would counter-attack the Germans along the Marne River, thus halting the German advance; as this was going on, Allied reserves would be thrown in to restore the ranks and attack the German flanks. On 5 September, in the mid-afternoon, battle commenced when the French Sixth Army stumbled into the forward guard of the German First Army.
By 9 September, it looked as though the German First and Second Armies would be encircled and destroyed. General von Moltke suffered a nervous breakdown upon hearing of the danger to his two armies, his subordinates ordered a general retreat to the Aisne River in order to regroup. The retreating armies were pursued by the French and British, although the pace of the Allied advance was slow – a mere 19 km in one day; the German armies ceased their retreat after 65 km at a point north of the Aisne River, where they dug in, preparing trenches that were to last for several years. The German retreat between 9 September and 13 September marked the abandonment of the Schlieffen Plan. Moltke is said to have reported to the Kaiser: "Your Majesty, we have lost the war." In the aftermath of the battle, both sides dug in and four years of stalemate ensued. The Battle of the Frontiers is a general name for all the operations of the French armies from 7 August to 13 September. A series of encounter battles began between the German and Belgian armies on the German-French frontier and in southern Belgium on 4 August 1914.
Liège was occupied by the Germans on 7 August. The first units of the British Expeditionary Force landed in France and French troops crossed the German frontier; the Battle of Mulhouse was the first French offensive of World War I. The French captured Mulhouse, until forced out by a German counter-attack on 11 August, fell back toward Belfort. On 12 August, the Battle of Haelen was fought by German and Belgian cavalry and infantry, resulting in a Belgian defensive success; the BEF completed its move of four divisions and a cavalry division to France on 16 August, as the last Belgian fort of the Fortified Position of Liège surrendered. The Belgian government withdrew from Brussels on 18 August; the main French offensive, the Battle of Lorraine, began with the Battles of Morhange and Sarrebourg advances by the First Army on Sarrebourg and the Second Army towards Morhange. Château-Salins near Morhange was Sarrebourg the next day; the German 6th and 7th Armies counter-attacked on 20 August, the Second Army was forced back from Morhange and the First Army was repulsed at Sarrebourg.
The German armies crossed the border and advanced on Nancy, but were stopped to the east of the city. The Belgian 4th Division, the solitary part of the Belgian army not to retreat to the defensive lines around Antwerp, dug in to defend Namur, besieged on 20 August. Further west, the French Fifth Army had concentrated on the Sambre by 20 August, facing north on either side of Charleroi and east towards Namur and Dinant. Additional support was given to the Belgians at Namur by the French 45th Infantry Brigade. On the left, the Cavalry Corps of General Sordet linked up with the BEF at Mons. To the south, the French retook Mulhouse on 19 August and withdrew. By 20 August, a German counter-offensive in Lorraine had begun and the German 4th and 5th Armies advanced through the Ardennes on 19 August towards Neufchâteau. An offensive by the French Third and Fourth Armies through the Ardennes began on 20 August in support of the French invasion of Lorraine; the opposing armies met in thick fog. On 22 August, the Battle of the Ardennes began with French attacks, which were costly to both sides and forced the Fren
The Nivelle Offensive, was a Franco-British operation on the Western Front in the First World War. The French part of the offensive was intended to be strategically decisive by breaking through the German defences on the Aisne front within 48 hours, with casualties expected to be around 10,000 men. A preliminary attack was to be made by the French Third Army at St Quentin and the British First and Fifth armies at Arras, to capture high ground and divert German reserves from the French fronts on the Aisne and in Champagne; the main offensive was to be delivered by the French on the Chemin des Dames ridge, with a subsidiary attack by the Fourth Army. The final stage of the offensive was to follow the meeting of the British and French armies, having broken through the German lines the pursuit of the defeated German armies towards the German frontier; the Franco-British attacks were tactically successful. The British Third and First armies achieved the deepest advance since trench warfare began, along the Scarpe river in the Battle of Arras, which inflicted many losses on the Germans, attracted reserves and captured Vimy Ridge to the north.
The main French offensive on the Aisne began on 16 April and achieved considerable tactical success but the attempt to force a strategically decisive battle on the Germans was a costly failure and by 25 April the main offensive had been suspended. The failure of the Nivelle strategy and the high number of French casualties led to mutinies and the dismissal of Nivelle, his replacement by Pétain and the adoption of a defensive strategy by the French, while their armies recuperated and were rearmed. Fighting known as the Battle of the Observatories continued for local advantage all summer on the Chemin des Dames and along the Moronvilliers heights east of Reims. In late October, the French conducted the Battle of La Malmaison, a limited-objective attack on the west end of the Chemin-des-Dames, which forced the Germans to abandon their remaining positions on Chemin des Dames and retire across the Ailette valley; the British remained on the offensive for the rest of the year fighting the battles of Messines, 3rd Ypres and Cambrai.
After the costly fighting at the Verdun and on the Somme in 1916, General Robert Nivelle replaced Marshal Joseph Joffre as the commander of the French armies on the Western Front in December. Nivelle claimed; the Russian Revolution, the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line and the likelihood of a declaration of war by the USA, made some assumptions of the plan obsolete. At a meeting on 6 April, despite the doubts of other politicians, the army group commanders and the British, Alexandre Ribot, the new French Prime Minister supported the plan. Nivelle offered his resignation but it was refused, despite Nivelle's authority having been undermined. Preparing the Nivelle Offensive was a huge and costly undertaking, involving c. 1.2 million troops and 7,000 artillery pieces on a front between Reims and Roye. The principal effort was an attack on the German positions along the Chemin des Dames ridge, in the Second Battle of the Aisne and an eventual link with the British; the plan had been in development since December 1916 but the preparations were plagued by delays and information leaks.
By April 1917, the plans were well known to the German army, which made extensive defensive preparations, by adding fortifications to the Aisne front and reinforcing the 7th Army with divisions released by the retirement to the Hindeburg Line in Operation Alberich. Nivelle left Petain in command of Groupe d'armées de Centre and established a new Groupe d'armées de Reserve for the attack along the Chemin des Dames with the Fifth Army, the Sixth Army and the Tenth Army. Forty-nine infantry and five cavalry divisions were massed on the Aisne front with 5,300 guns; the ground at Brimont began to rise to the west towards Craonne and reached a height of 180 m along a plateau which continued westwards to Fort Malmaison. The French held a bridgehead 20 km wide on the north bank of the Aisne, south of the Chemin des Dames from Berry-au-Bac to Fort Condé on the road to Soissons. German air reconnaissance was possible close to the front although longer-range sorties were impossible to protect because of the greater number of Allied aircraft.
The qualitative superiority of German fighters enabled German air observers on short-range sorties, to detect British preparations for an attack on both sides of the Scarpe. On 6 April a division was seen encamped near Arras and transport columns crowded the streets, more narrow-gauge railways and artillery were seen to have moved closer to the front. British aerial activity opposite the 6th Army increased and by 6 April Ludendorff was certain that an attack was imminent. By early April German air reinforcements had arrived the Arras front, telephone networks had been completed and a common communications system for the air and ground forces built. On the Aisne front German intelligence had warned that an attack on 15 April against German airfields and observation balloons by the Aéronautique Militaire was planned; the Luftstreitkrä
German invasion of Belgium
The German invasion of Belgium was a military campaign which began on 4 August 1914. Earlier, on 24 July, the Belgian government had announced that if war came it would uphold its historic neutrality; the Belgian government mobilised its armed forces on 31 July and a state of heightened alert was proclaimed in Germany. On 2 August, the German government sent an ultimatum to Belgium, demanding passage through the country and German forces invaded Luxembourg. Two days the Belgian Government refused the demands and the British Government guaranteed military support to Belgium; the German government declared war on Belgium on 4 August, troops crossed the border and began the Battle of Liège. German military operations in Belgium were intended to bring the 1st, 2nd and 3rd armies into positions in Belgium from which they could invade France, which after the fall of Liège on 7 August, led to sieges of Belgian fortresses along the Meuse river at Namur and the surrender of the last forts; the government abandoned the capital, Brussels, on 17 August and after fighting on the Gete river, the Belgian field army withdrew westwards to the National Redoubt at Antwerp on 19 August.
Brussels was occupied the following day and the Siege of Namur began on 21 August. After the Battle of Mons and the Battle of Charleroi, the bulk of the German armies marched south into France, leaving small forces to garrison Brussels and the Belgian railways; the III Reserve Corps advanced to the fortified zone around Antwerp and a division of the IV Reserve Corps took over in Brussels. The Belgian field army made several sorties from Antwerp in late August and September to harass German communications and to assist the French and the British Expeditionary Force, by keeping German troops in Belgium. German troop withdrawals to reinforce the main armies in France were postponed to repulse a Belgian sortie from 9 to 13 September and a German corps in transit was retained in Belgium for several days. Belgian resistance and German fear of francs-tireurs, led the Germans to implement a policy of terror against Belgian civilians soon after the invasion, in which massacres, hostage taking and the burning of towns and villages took place and became known as the Rape of Belgium.
While the French armies and the BEF began the Great Retreat into France, the Belgian army and small detachments of French and British troops fought in Belgium against German cavalry and Jäger. On 27 August, a squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service flew to Ostend, to conduct air reconnaissance between Bruges and Ypres. British marines landed in France on 19/20 September and began scouting unoccupied Belgium in motor cars. On 2 October, the Marine Brigade of the Royal Naval Division was moved to Antwerp, followed by the rest of the division on 6 October. From 6 to 7 October, the 7th Division and the 3rd Cavalry Division landed at Zeebrugge and naval forces collected at Dover were formed into the Dover Patrol, to operate in the Channel and off the French–Belgian coast. Despite minor British reinforcement, the Siege of Antwerp ended when its defensive ring of forts was destroyed by German super-heavy artillery; the city was abandoned on 9 October and Allied forces withdrew to West Flanders. At the end of the Great Retreat, the Race to the Sea began, a period of reciprocal attempts by the Germans and Franco-British to outflank their opponents, extending the front line northwards from the Aisne, into Picardy and Flanders.
Military operations in Belgium moved westwards as the Belgian army withdrew from Antwerp to the area close to the border with France. The Belgian army fought the defensive Battle of the Yser from Nieuwpoort south to Diksmuide, as the German 4th Army attacked westwards and French and some Belgian troops fought the First Battle of Ypres against the 4th and 6th armies. By November 1914, most of Belgium was under Allied naval blockade. A German military administration was established on 26 August 1914, to rule through the pre-war Belgian administrative system, overseen by a small group of German officers and officials. Belgium was divided into administrative zones, the General Government of Brussels and its hinterland; the German occupation lasted until late 1918. The 1839 Treaty of London recognised Belgium as an neutral state; until 1911, Belgian strategic analysis anticipated that if war came, the Germans would attack France across the Franco-German border and trap the French armies against the Belgian frontier, as they had done in 1870.
British and French guarantees of Belgian independence were made before 1914 but the possibility of landings in Antwerp was floated by the British military attaché in 1906 and 1911, which led the Belgians to suspect that the British had come to see Belgian neutrality as a matter of British diplomatic and military advantage, rather than as an end in itself. The Agadir Crisis left the Belgian government in little doubt as to the risk of a European war and an invasion of Belgium by Germany. In September 1911, a government meeting concluded that Belgium must be prepared to resist a German invasion, to avoid accusations of collusion by the British and French governments. Britain and the Netherlands were to continue to be treated as potential enemies. In 1913 and 1914, the Germans made inquires to the Belgian military attaché in Berlin, about the passage of German military forces through Belgium. If invaded, Belgium would need foreign
Battle of Dinant
The Battle of Dinant was an engagement fought by French and German forces in and around the Belgian town of Dinant in the First World War, during the German invasion of Belgium. The French Fifth Army and the British Expeditionary Force advanced into Belgium and fought the Battle of Charleroi and Battle of Mons, from the Meuse crossings in the east, to Mons in the west. On 15 August 1914, German troops captured the Citadel of Dinant. French troops spent the next few days fortifying the Meuse crossings and exchanging fire with German troops on the east bank. A German raiding-party drove into Dinant on the night of 21/22 August but the attack degenerated into a fiasco, in which Germans may have fired at each other. Rather than assume that the small-arms fire had come from the French on the west bank, the Germans blamed Belgian civilians, killing seven and burning down 15 to 20 houses in reprisal; the raiders ran away, with 117 wounded. On 23 August, the Germans attacked Dinant again, under the impression that the town was full of francs-tireurs and massacred 674 unarmed Belgian civilians, while fighting the French, who were dug in along the west bank and on the east end of the bridge.
The massacre was a systematic attack on assumed civilian resisters and was the largest German atrocity perpetrated during the invasion, which became known as The Rape of Belgium. In 1914, the town had a population of 7,000 people and was an important strategic crossing on the Meuse, where the river flows through a south–north gorge. Three roads and a path converged on the town from the east, over an escarpment and down into the town, along which an attack from the east would come; the wooded ridge on the east bank was topped by the Napoleonic era stone Citadel of Dinant overlooking the town and the Meuse bridge, 100 m below. In 1914 there was a ribbon of streets about 4 km long on a few hundred metres wide. Before the battle, the Mayor of Dinant urged the population to not take part in the fighting and forbade manifestations in support of the Allies; the initial operations in the German invasion of France began with the Occupation of Luxembourg and the invasion of Belgium on 4 August. Five German infantry brigades, three cavalry divisions with horse artillery and machine-gun detachments and ten Jäger battalions crossed the Belgian border.
The 5th Cavalry Division and the Guard Cavalry Division advanced through Luxembourg and entered Belgium on 10 August, with orders to advance 60 km north-west to Dinant and scout the Meuse as far as the French border near Givet. The town of Dinant was close to the French border, between Liège and Mons on the east bank of the Meuse. On 6 August, Belgian engineers dispersed a patrol of German hussars at Anseremme and on 12 August, French infantry at Dinant destroyed a cavalry patrol. By 14 August, the French Fifth Army had occupied Dinant and the west bank of the Meuse with two divisions and next day, the main force of the German 3rd Army arrived. On 15 August, troops of the German 3rd and 4th Cavalry divisions, five battalions of Jäger and three field artillery groups, attempted to take Dinant by coup de main; the French I Corps held the west bank of the Meuse and at Dinant, the 2nd Division had a battalion of the 33rd Infantry Regiment, two companies of the 148th Infantry Regiment and a section of machine-guns in the citadel and in the exits from Dinant, towards the St. Nicolas and Leffe suburbs.
At 6:00 a.m. German cavalry guarded the flanks as the 12th Freyberg Jäger Battalion and the 13th Garde-Jäger Battalion supported by horse artillery and machine-guns, attacked the town and citadel; the Germans got a machine-gun into the citadel around 11:45 a.m. and the French retreated through a small stairway along the cliff, having had 50 percent casualties. Jäger descended the stairway and advanced into the town by 1:30 p.m. The French, with no artillery, were forced out of the citadel and back over the bridge to the west bank. Parties of Jäger crossed the bridge in pursuit, as Germans on the high ground on the east bank and in the citadel, engaged the French at the end of the bridge with machine-gun fire; the French retired to the slopes on the west bank, where there was good cover and towards 2:00 p.m. French artillery were heard, as the 8th and 73rd Infantry regiments counter-attacked down the slope with great determination; the Jäger were forced back across the Meuse and by 5:00 p.m. the French had climbed the 408 stairs to the citadel and retaken it.
The Germans withdrew from the town and the heights with their prisoners, towards the main body of the 3rd Army. During the battle, the French Cavalry Corps, attempted to attack the German flank on the east bank but was held up by German infantry; the French retired to the west bank having lost 1,100 casualties and occupied the bridge and houses nearby. Two battalions of the 148th Infantry Regiment in Leffe and St. Nicolas retired to the west bank. In Dinant a civilian had been killed, one had been wounded and the hospital and houses on the east bank had been hit by shells. On 16 August the French fortified the west bank of the Meuse at Dinant; the bridge was blocked with barbed-wire entanglements and the streets near the river were barricaded. The railway station and the level crossing on the Dinant–Onhaye road were garrisoned and the Hotel de la Poste and houses along the Meuse were loopholed to command the riverbanks and the approach roads. On the east bank the French built barricades and put up barbed-wire in front of the bridge-pier
Battle of Liège
The Battle of Liège was the opening engagement of the German invasion of Belgium and the first battle of the First World War. The attack on Liège, a town protected by the Fortified position of Liège, a ring fortress built from the late 1880s to the early 1890s, began on 5 August 1914 and lasted until 16 August, when the last fort surrendered; the siege of Liège may have delayed the German invasion of France by 4–5 days. Railways in the Meuse river valley needed by the German armies in eastern Belgium were closed for the duration of the siege and German troops did not appear in strength before the Fortified Position of Namur at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers until 20 August. Belgian military planning was based on an assumption; the likelihood of a German invasion did not lead to France and Britain being seen as allies or for the Belgian government to intend to do more than protect its independence. The Anglo-French Entente had led the Belgians to perceive that the British attitude to Belgium had changed and that it was seen as a British protectorate.
A General Staff was formed in 1910 but the Chef d'État-Major Général de l'Armée, Lieutenant-Général Harry Jungbluth was retired on 30 June 1912 and not replaced until May 1914 by Lieutenant-General Chevalier de Selliers de Moranville who began planning for the concentration of the army and met railway officials on 29 July. Belgian troops were to be massed in central Belgium, in front of the National redoubt of Belgium ready to face any border, while the Liège fortress ring and Namur fortress ring were left to secure the frontiers. On mobilisation, the King chose where the army was to concentrate. Amid the disruption of the new rearmament plan, the disorganised and poorly trained Belgian soldiers would benefit from a central position, to delay contact with an invader but it would need fortifications for defence, which were on the frontier. A school of thought wanted a return to a frontier deployment in line with French theories of the offensive. Belgian plans became a compromise in which the field army concentrated behind the Gete river with two divisions forward at Liège and Namur.
German strategy had given priority to offensive operations against France and a defensive posture against Russia since 1891. German planning was determined by numerical inferiority, the speed of mobilisation and concentration and the effect of the vast increase of the power of modern weapons. Frontal attacks were expected to be costly and protracted, leading to limited success after the French and Russians modernised their fortifications on the frontiers with Germany. Alfred von Schlieffen, Chief of the Imperial German General Staff from 1891–1906, devised a plan to evade the French frontier fortifications with an offensive on the northern flank, which would have a local numerical superiority and obtain a decisive victory. By 1898–1899, such a manoeuvre was intended to pass swiftly through Belgium, between Antwerp and Namur and threaten Paris from the north. Helmuth von Moltke the Younger succeeded Schlieffen in 1906 and was less certain that the French would conform to German assumptions. Moltke adapted the deployment and concentration plan, to accommodate an attack in the centre or an enveloping attack from both flanks as variants, by adding divisions to the left flank opposite the French frontier, from the c. 1,700,000 men which were expected to be mobilised in the Westheer.
The main German force would still advance through Belgium to attack southwards into France, the French armies would be enveloped on their left and pressed back over the Meuse, Somme, Oise and Seine rivers, unable to withdraw into central France. The French would either be annihilated by the manoeuvre from the north or it would create conditions for victory in the centre or in Lorraine on the common border. At midnight on 31 July – 1 August, the German government sent an ultimatum to Russia and announced a state of "Kriegsgefahr" during the day. On 1 August the British government ordered the mobilisation of the navy, the German government ordered general mobilisation and declared war on Russia. Hostilities commenced on the Polish frontier, the French government ordered general mobilisation and next day the German government sent an ultimatum to Belgium, demanding passage through Belgian territory, as German troops crossed the frontier of Luxembourg. Military operations began on the French frontier, Libau was bombarded by a German light cruiser SMS Augsburg and the British government guaranteed naval protection for French coasts.
On 3 August the Belgian Government refused German demands and the British Government guaranteed military support to Belgium, should Germany invade. Germany declared war on France, the British government ordered general mobilisation and Italy declared neutrality. On 4 August the British government sent an ultimatum to Germany and declared war on Germany at midnight on 4/5 August, Central European Time. Belgium severed diplomatic relations with Germany declared war on Belgium. German troops attacked Liège. Liège is situated at the confluence of the Meuse, which at the city flows through a deep ravine and the Ourthe, between the Ardennes to the south and Maastricht and Flanders to the north and west; the city lies on the main rail lines from Germany to Brussels and Paris, which Schlieffen and Moltke planned to use in an invasion of France. Much industrial development had taken place in Liège and the vicinity, which presented an obstacle to an invading force; the main defences were a ring of twelv
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was established by the Acts of Union 1800, which merged the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom, having financed the European coalition that defeated France during the Napoleonic Wars, developed a large Royal Navy that enabled the British Empire to become the foremost world power for the next century; the Crimean War with Russia and the Boer wars were small operations in a peaceful century. Rapid industrialisation that began in the decades prior to the state's formation continued up until the mid-19th century; the Great Irish Famine, exacerbated by government inaction in the mid-19th century, led to demographic collapse in much of Ireland and increased calls for Irish land reform. The 19th century was an era of rapid economic modernisation and growth of industry and finance, in which Britain dominated the world economy. Outward migration was heavy to the United States; the empire was expanded into much of South Asia. The Colonial Office and India Office ruled through a small number of administrators who managed the units of the empire locally, while democratic institutions began to develop.
British India, by far the most important overseas possession, saw a short-lived revolt in 1857. In overseas policy, the central policy was free trade, which enabled British and Irish financiers and merchants to operate in many otherwise independent countries, as in South America. London formed no permanent military alliances until the early 20th century, when it began to cooperate with Japan and Russia, moved closer to the United States. Growing desire for Irish self-governance led to the Irish War of Independence, which resulted in most of Ireland seceding from the Union and forming the Irish Free State in 1922. Northern Ireland remained part of the Union, the state was renamed to the current "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" in 1927; the modern-day United Kingdom is the same country as the one from this period—a direct continuation of what remained after the secession—not an new successor state. A brief period of limited independence for Ireland came to an end following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which occurred during the British war with revolutionary France.
The British government's fear of an independent Ireland siding against them with the French resulted in the decision to unite the two countries. This was brought about by legislation in the parliaments of both kingdoms and came into effect on 1 January 1801; the Irish had been led to believe by the British that their loss of legislative independence would be compensated with Catholic emancipation, that is, by the removal of civil disabilities placed upon Roman Catholics in both Great Britain and Ireland. However, King George III was bitterly opposed to any such Emancipation and succeeded in defeating his government's attempts to introduce it. During the War of the Second Coalition, Britain occupied most of the French and Dutch overseas possessions, the Netherlands having become a satellite state of France in 1796, but tropical diseases claimed the lives of over 40,000 troops; when the Treaty of Amiens ended the war, Britain agreed to return most of the territories it had seized. The peace settlement was in effect only a ceasefire, Napoleon continued to provoke the British by attempting a trade embargo on the country and by occupying the city of Hanover, capital of the Electorate, a German-speaking duchy, in a personal union with the United Kingdom.
In May 1803, war was declared again. Napoleon's plans to invade Great Britain failed, chiefly due to the inferiority of his navy, in 1805 a Royal Navy fleet led by Nelson decisively defeated the French and Spanish at Trafalgar, the last significant naval action of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1806, Napoleon issued the series of Berlin Decrees, which brought into effect the Continental System; this policy aimed to eliminate the threat from the British by closing French-controlled territory to foreign trade. The British Army remained a minimal threat to France. Although the Royal Navy disrupted France's extra-continental trade—both by seizing and threatening French shipping and by seizing French colonial possessions—it could do nothing about France's trade with the major continental economies and posed little threat to French territory in Europe. France's population and agricultural capacity far outstripped that of the British Isles, but it was smaller in terms of industry, mercantile marine and naval strength.
Napoleon expected that cutting Britain off from the European mainland would end its economic hegemony. On the contrary Britain possessed the greatest industrial capacity in the world, its mastery of the seas allowed it to build up considerable economic strength through trade to its possessions and the United States; the Spanish uprising in 1808 at last permitted Britain to gain a foothold on the Continent. The Duke of Wellington pushed the French out of Spain, in early 1814, as Napoleon was being driven back in the east by the Prussians and Russians, Wellington invaded southern France. After Napoleon's surrender and exile to the island of Elba, peace appeared to have returned. Napoleon reappeared in 1815; the Allies united and the armies of Wellington and Blücher defeated Napoleon once and for all at Waterloo. To defeat France, Britain put heavy pressure on the Americans
Second Battle of the Aisne
The Second Battle of the Aisne was the main part of the Nivelle Offensive, a Franco-British attempt to inflict a decisive defeat on the German armies in France. The strategy was to conduct sequenced offensives from north to south, by the British Expeditionary Force and several French army groups. General Robert Nivelle planned the offensive in December 1916, after he replaced Joseph Joffre as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army; the objective of the attack on the Aisne was to capture the prominent 80-kilometre-long, east–west ridge of the Chemin des Dames, 110 km north-east of Paris, attack northwards to capture the city of Laon. When the French armies met the British advancing from the Arras front, the Germans would be pursued towards Belgium and the German frontier; the offensive began on 9 April. On 16 April, the Groupe d'armées de Reserve attacked the Chemin des Dames and the next day, the Fourth Army of Groupe d'armées de Centre, near Reims to the south-east, began the Battle of the Hills.
The Chemin des Dames ridge had been quarried for stone for centuries, leaving a warren of caves and tunnels which were used as shelters by German troops to escape the French bombardment. The offensive met massed German machine-gun and artillery fire, which inflicted many casualties and repulsed the French infantry at many points; the French still achieved some substantial tactical successes and took c. 29,000 prisoners in their attacks on the Chemin des Dames and in Champagne but failed to achieve their strategic objective of a decisive defeat over the Germans. The failure had a traumatic effect on the morale of the French army and many divisions mutinied. Nivelle was superseded by General Philippe Pétain, who adopted a strategy of "healing and defence"; the new French strategy was not one of passive defence. In June and July the Fourth and Tenth Armies conducted several limited attacks and the First Army was sent to Flanders to participate in the Third Battle of Ypres; the British prolonged the Arras offensive into mid-May, despite uncertainty about French intentions, high losses and diminishing success as divisions were transferred northwards to Flanders.
The British captured Messines Ridge on 7 June and spent the rest of the year on the offensive in the Third Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Cambrai. The difficulties of the French armies became known in general to the Germans but the cost of the defensive success on the Aisne made it impossible to reinforce the Flanders front and conduct more than local operations on the Aisne and in Champagne; the French conducted limited attacks at Verdun in August, which recaptured much of the remaining ground lost in 1916 and the Battle of La Malmaison in October, which captured the west end of the Chemin des Dames and forced the Germans to withdraw to the north bank of the Ailette. While the Germans were diverted by the British offensive in Flanders, French morale recovered, after Pétain had 40–62 mutineers shot as scapegoats and provided better food, more pay and more leave to improve the welfare of French troops. Nivelle believed the Germans had been exhausted by the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and could not resist a breakthrough offensive, which could be completed in 24–48 hours.
The main attack on the Aisne would be preceded by a large diversionary attack by the British Third and First armies at Arras. The French War Minister, Hubert Lyautey and Chief of Staff General Henri-Philippe Pétain opposed the plan, believing it to be premature; the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, supported the concept of a decisive battle but insisted that if the first two phases of the Nivelle scheme were unsuccessful, the British effort would be moved north to Flanders. Nivelle threatened to resign if the offensive did not go ahead and having not lost a battle, had the enthusiastic support of the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George; the French Prime Minister Aristide Briand supported Nivelle but the war minister Lyautey resigned during a dispute with the Chamber of Deputies and the Briand government fell. The Second Battle of the Aisne involved c. 1.2 million troops and 7,000 guns on a front from Reims to Roye, with the main effort against the German positions along the Aisne river.
The original plan of December 1916 was plagued by delays and information leaks. By the time the offensive began in April 1917, the Germans had received intelligence of the Allied plan and strengthened their defences on the Aisne front; the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line Operation Alberich left a belt of devastated ground up to 25 mi deep in front of the French positions facing east from Soissons, northwards to St. Quentin. Alberich freed 13–14 German divisions which were moved to the Aisne, increasing the German garrison to 38 divisions against 53 French divisions; the German withdrawal forestalled the attacks of the British and Groupe d'armées du Nord but freed French divisions for the attack. By late March, GAN had been reduced by eleven infantry, two cavalry divisions and 50 heavy guns, which went into the French strategic reserve; when Hindenburg and Ludendorff took over from Falkenhayn on 28 August 1916, the pressure being placed on the German army in France was so great that new defensive arrangements, based on the principles of depth and immediate counter-action were formally adopted, as the only means by which the growing mater