Conrad Loses His Job – Nivelle’s Coup I THE GREAT WAR Week 136

Over the past few months we’ve seen political
shakeups and changes in the High Commands of pretty much all of the warring nations. Hirings, firings, and devious machinations. And another big one came this week, when the
French tried to take control of the British Army. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the British attacked Ottoman positions
on the Tigris River, forcing the Ottomans to withdraw from both Kut and Sanniyat. The Toplice Rebellion, by Serbs in Bulgarian
controlled territory in the Balkans, began. British troops advanced on the western front
to surprisingly little German resistance, and a telegram emerged that showed Germany
was trying to manipulate Mexico into war with the US, though it was not made public. It was made public this week, though, and
a lot of people denounced it as a forgery since they couldn’t believe it to be true. But German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann
– who had sent the telegram – soon announced that it was genuine and Germany was indeed
offering loads of cash and Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona if Mexico would go to war with
the US. There was a big outcry in the states, as you
may imagine, and the US and Germany were one step closer to war. The Japanese government denied receiving a
similar proposal. But things had gone from bad to worse between
the US and Germany all month, since the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, and the
U-boats were in action this week. On the 24th, the Athos was torpedoed in the
Mediterranean; 543 Chinese laborers heading for the Western Front drowned. On the 25th, the Cunard liner Laconia went
down. 4 Americans were among the drowned. The next day, President Woodrow Wilson asked
Congress to establish armed neutrality and arm merchant shipping. This was passed at the end of the week, though
it was filibustered for the time being in the Senate. It wasn’t just the states that had an issue
with German conduct of the war, though. Austro-Hungarian Emperor Karl I, who had been
on the throne since November, was dismayed that his empire was so bound up in German
conduct of the war and he felt that a day might come when his army would be the last
stabilizing factor on the home front, so he wanted a stronger role in army leadership
and to re-design the high command to make it more of a personal instrument for him. He had by now the Prime Minister he wanted,
and the Foreign Minister he wanted, what he did not have was a malleable Chief of Staff. He had Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who had
no liking for Karl whom Conrad thought was useless militarily. Conrad’s supporters also just happened to
be either retiring or dying this winter. At the end of February, Karl asked Conrad
to take over command on the Tyrol front and, after being convinced of the glory that a
new punishment offensive against the Italians with German aid would bring, Conrad accepted
and the man who had been Austrian Chief of Staff since the beginning of the war, during
which time ally Germany had gone through Moltke, Falkenhayn, and Hindenburg, relinquished his
post. The new Imperial Chief of Staff would be General
Arthur Arz von Straussenburg. The Allies were also having problems with
their High Commands. On February 26th was an Anglo-French conference
at Calais and some major stuff came to a head there. Now, since General Robert Nivelle had become
French commander in chief in December, he had been making plans for a big spring offensive. He had shared his ideas with British Prime
Minister David Lloyd George and had won him over. (Generals on western front), “Here was a
general he (Lloyd George) could work with, here was a general who understood the problem,
here was a general who promised victory and had already demonstrated that he could deliver
on that promise. So far as the British Prime Minister was concerned,
whatever Nivelle wanted he could have, and when Lloyd George grasped that what Nivelle
really wanted was complete control over Field Marshal Haig and the British armies in France,
that seemed a solution to both their problems.” So this week’s conference, which was supposed
to resolve problems with railways allocations, turned into an ambush for Haig and William
Robertson, the Chief of the British General Staff. Lloyd George asked Nivelle to write down his
ideas for a “system of command”. Those ideas blew a few minds. From March 1st, Nivelle would have authority
over the British armies in France for everything having to do with operations, plans and their
execution, allocation of supplies and reinforcements, and the strength and boundaries of the armies. The five British armies would come under Nivelle’s
direct control, though the British would retain control of personnel and disciplinary matters. This would leave Haig with no armies to command
and Robertson with literally nothing to do. Haig and Robertson were stunned and Robertson
said he would resign rather than agree to this. Lloyd George said perhaps Nivelle had gone
too far. But you know, all national loyalty aside,
some kind of unified command was pretty clearly needed on the Western Front, as we’ve seen
from lack of coordination and co-operation many times since 1914, but this wasn’t a
unified command like in WW2 under Eisenhower. Nivelle was proposing to put the British armies
directly under French control, increasing his armies by 1.5 million men. Nobody bothered to ask what the British soldiers
would feel about this, let alone what the Canadian, Newfoundland, Australian, South
African, Indian, or New Zealand governments would think about their men being under French
command. Well, this was scaled down to where Haig was
only bound to obey Nivelle for the coming offensive. The British War Cabinet and the King were
against all of this, which they had no prior knowledge of, and Haig wrote in his diary,
“It is too sad at this critical time to have to fight with one’s allies and the
Home Government in addition to the enemy in the field.” The real long-term result of this conference
was to destroy any trust between Haig and Lloyd George, and if you think it’s a problem
when the commander in chief can’t deal with his political boss, then you’re right. Earlier in the war British Field Marshals
French and Haig had in fact deferred to French General Joseph Joffre when directed to do
so, since the British were fighting on French soil and the French army was so much larger
than the British. But now Joffre was gone, the British army
was much larger, better equipped, and more experienced than ever and the French performance
over the past two years had not impressed the British, to say the least. Handing over control of five armies to the
French was unthinkable. And Nivelle’s and Haig’s offensive plans
were going to have to change anyhow. The past couple of weeks the British have
been pressing the Germans on the Western Front with surprising success and this week they
found out why. Early in the month the order had gone out
for the German army to secretly pull back to what they called the Siegfriedstellung
and the Allies would call the Hindenburg Line. This was the brilliant defensive brainchild
of Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff. It shortened the front line by 40 kilometers
and released 13 German divisions to fight elsewhere. It had also been built to create an enormous
killing zone in which to trap the Allies. The Germans had given up a lot of hard won
territory, yes, but this they devastated, leaving nothing for the allies but a blasted
ruined landscape. The German hope for the deep new defenses
was that the allies would suffer such terrible casualties that no attack could succeed, and
no attack could even take place anyhow until they had built roads, water supplies, communications
points, and the support lines necessary over the ruined land. This week the withdrawal was in full swing
from the River Ancre as the British advanced. The British were also advancing in Mesopotamia. On the 24th on the Tigris River, the British
took Kut-al-Amara, and 1,730 Ottoman prisoners. Ottoman losses in Mesopotamia since mid December
are 20,000 men. Load of supplies and arms were also captured
or destroyed, but should British General Sir Stanley Maude carry on to Baghdad? Could his four divisions handle the Turks? He didn’t want a repeat of last year when
the British had outpaced their supplies and reinforcements and were forced to surrender,
but he had faith, and the pursuit to Baghdad began. And we reach the end of the week, the British
advancing on the Western Front and in Mesopotamia. The Serbian Toplica Rebellion taking Kurshumlija,
Lebane, and Prokuplje in the Balkans. Nivelle trying to take the British army, some
major U-Boat action, and the US and Germany sliding closer to war. And Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf lost his
job. Which with just a short break he had held
since 1906. That’s a long time, as we’ve seen, for
a Chief of Staff. To our regular viewers and fans, Conrad is-
maybe together with August von Mackensen- the most popular wartime character on this
channel, and we’ve played up his failings quite a bit. He was, in many ways, a ridiculous character,
but never forget that it was Conrad who, in the months leading up to the war, petitioned
the Emperor two dozen times to make war on Serbia, Conrad who dreamed of an empire that
stretched across the whole Balkans and possibly the Middle East, and Conrad who was undoubtedly
one of the major architects of this war with its casualties in the tens of millions. The construction and following retreat to
the Hindenburg Line was a bolt and unprecedented move by the German Army. You can learn all about the elaborate defense
system right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Omer
Grigg – help us out on Patreon to get even cooler animations than that of the Hindenburg
Line. See you next time.

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