|General Pétain's narrative of the Mutinies, "Une Crise Morale de la Nation Française en Guerre", contains corrections to the typescript in his own handwriting. In all cases I have used the MSS version. Many passages are underlined, and these I have italicised in the English text. I have also adhered to the original in the matter of headings and sub-headings.|
Morale has always been and always will be a vital factor in the conduct of war. Civil and military leaders must never blind themselves to its fluctuations. They must foster it by every means and, in so far as this is practicable, postpone the launching of any major operation until they have succeeded in keying it up to the highest pitch.
This is evident enough, and one need waste no further time in enlarging on or substantiating the proposition itself. It may be interesting, however, to study one particular case, in which the ups and downs to which a nation's morale is subject can be observed in an extreme form. Such an exercise will not attempt to lay down any general laws. That could only be done if a number of situations, of widely differing sorts, were to be analysed in depth. But it may, perhaps, produce some rule-of-thumb guidance on the delicate task of handling soldiers in the mass, on what steps should be taken against a threat to an army's morale, and on the measures to be adopted to restore that morale if it has once been undermined.
Our example will be the crisis of the year 1917, when France was shaken by a short but violent revolt against the hardships of a campaign to which there seemed to be no end.
Terrible though they were, we should not hesitate to recall the events of that painful period. It is known to all the world that our tribulations were such that they brought us at last to the very edge of the abyss. At that moment, indeed, many thought we had come to the point beyond which human nature could resist no longer. Had we sunk into the abyss yawning at our feet, the nations would still have honoured us for the valour we had displayed during three years of war. In the event, our recovery was to be the cause of even greater rejoicing, linked as it was, and as we proudly recall, with that of civilisation itself.
On then, and let us watch the clouds gather and the storm break! How was it, we must ask, that this storm, as it built up, was able to escape the attention of the most highly placed of the country's chiefs, or, at least, that it proved too much for such defences as they could muster against it? We shall examine impartially whatever we may feel is susceptible of throwing fresh light on those events, and we shall observe at close quarters how France's tottering morale recovered and returned to conform to the nation's ideal. This brief review of the past will, no doubt, give us grounds for an encouraging and hopeful outlook on the future.
After the glorious but gruelling ordeals of Verdun and the Somme, it would have been understandable had France decided to suspend the prodigious exertions which she had maintained for more than two years as the spearhead of the Allied war effort. Realising, however, that this was no time to relax, she initiated and took the lead at the Chantilly discussions of the 15th and 16th November 1916 when she won agreement from the rest of the Allied heads to the principle of a general offensive on all fronts to be launched with the maximum forces available from the beginning of 1917.
One's first response to this may be to admire greatly a resolution which seemed to indicate on the part of our leaders an indomitable will to victory and faith in its success. On reflection, one must ask oneself to what extent these leaders were prompted by a desire to make a quick end to an exhausting war at whatever immediate cost? Had they taken the pulse of the country and taken into account its state of health, would they have gone so far and so fast, at least in its application? It is as dangerous to disregard a nation's malady as an individual's, whether the sickness is already apparent or is merely threatening; yet this, it would seem, is just what was done in France when her leaders elected to turn a blind eye to the obvious suffering of the most important elements of the nation, that is, the non-combatants, the other ranks and the officers of the armed forces.
In the light of the well-known consequences of this omission, some interest may attach to a retrospective examination of the pathological state of the body politic in order to reveal the diagnosis that should have been made, and to analyse the means then available to the Government and to the High Command to ensure the safety and the salvation of the country.
A. THE WINTER OF 1916-17 ON THE HOME FRONT: LAUNCHING AND EXPLOITATION OF A PACIFIST PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN
Early stages of the campaign
On the home front confidence was clearly no longer at a level to sustain the great decisions just taken. On the contrary, doubt was spreading and, what was more serious, subversive undercurrents were being allowed to develop unchecked.
The civilian population, during the early years of the war, did not personally suffer the grim ordeal imposed by a daily attrition of body and nerves. Their spirit remained for a long time unshakeable and an optimism nourished by exaggerated newspaper articles kept them far from a sense of reality. They expected every day to hear of "The Breakthrough", and there was much cheerful talk about the devil-may-care poilu cracking jokes among the shell-bursts, sticking out his chest at the machine-gun bullets, and generally cocking snooks at the "Boche".
But by the end of the year 1916 this attitude of mind was a thing of the past and stark reality had shattered illusion. The public were well aware of the disastrously inadequate results of the bloody battles of the past twelve months, and, knowing that fresh waves of attacks were prepared for the coming spring, viewed with consternation the gigantic tasks that lay ahead. As enthusiasm cooled, pessimism began to take root. To many people, victory by military means now seemed impossible.
It was at this point that committees were clandestinely organised throughout the country and a campaign of "pacifism" was launched. The aim was to exploit the mood of discouragement setting in among the better-informed sections of the population and thereby to stir up discontent, or even open revolt and revolution, among the workers. Literature calculated to increase doubts of the justice of our cause and our chances of victory against a too powerful Germany were printed and circulated. Meetings were organised, ostensibly for the discussion of trade union affairs, but at which syndicalist and anarchist agitators developed their subversive theories, promoted strikes, advocated indiscipline in the factories, a reduction in working hours, and a slowing-down of agricultural production.
Self-interest and the ambitions of individuals took precedence over the supreme demands of national defence on the very soil of the invaded homeland.
And what were the authorities doing about it?
The Government turns a blind eye
Looking back at the stricken France of 1917, one must have the courage to admit that those whose duty it was to uphold morale were allowing the country to drift rudderless. To the cries of alarm from the Command, what was the response from the Home Front?
As early as the 29th December, 1916, the Commander-in-Chief was warning the Ministry of the Interior (Security Department) about the circulation of anti-militarist and anarchist leaflets among the troops. He asked to be supplied with full details of the campaign and its sources: lists of groups and centres of agitation and of bookshops supplying the literature; names of known agitators and of members of the forces in touch with them; and, generally, all relevant information on the subject which the Security Department had succeeded in gathering.
On 5th January, 1917, the Minister of the Interior replied that this was an impossible undertaking. He claimed that he knew about the campaign, and was watching it closely. And he suggested that it would meet the case if a liaison officer was dispatched to him once a week to be briefed on any new developments and counter-measures. This amounted to a point-blank refusal to co-operate, since it was not difficult to imagine the hopeless task which would fall to the lot of any such wretched liaison officer precipitated straight from the atmosphere of the front and left stumbling around for a few brief hours in the dark and mysterious corridors of the Security Department.
On 25th January, 1917, the Commander-in-Chief addressed an even more desperate plea to the Minister of War. He said that the whole front was seething with rumours of unrest in the interior, of deliberate restriction of production, of strikes in the munition-works, explosives-factories and other establishments engaged in production for the national defence. Doubts were growing among the troops, who feared a shortage of weapons and ammunitions. The troops themselves were becoming demoralised by the spectacle of their comrades in the factories wasting time on a succession of labour disputes in which the interests at stake appeared to be principally their own. It was essential, the letter continued, that this most serious state of affairs should be made known to the War Cabinet and examined by them as a matter of urgency.
A month later, on 28th February, a fresh warning of these dangers was dispatched to the Minister of the Interior, with copy to the Minister of War requesting his intervention with his colleague. The rash of leaflets, the letter pointed out, was assuming the scale of an epidemic: more were now seized in a fortnight than in three months the year before. They emanated from "Libertaire", from "The Committee for the Resumption of International Relations", from "The Committee for the Defence of the Trade Union Movement", from "The Iron and Steel Federation", from "The Union of Teachers", and from the anarchist, Sebastien Faure. The agitators were in touch by correspondence with the soldiers, and included amongst the principals Sebastien Faure, Merrheim, Hubert, Benoit, Hasfeld, Brion and Mecheriakoff. A campaign of industrial and military agitation was being planned by these men, and was due to become on the 1st May a full-scale pacifist movement. The conclusion of this letter was as follows: "Action should be taken to seize the leaflets at the printing works, to ban all meetings not confined to the discussion of purely professional matters, to stop publication of the revolutionary paper Natchalo, to clamp down on the subversive activities of Sebastien Faure, Merrheim, Hubert, and the dozen other agitators who collaborate with them, to smash the pacifist propaganda campaign and to enforce normal working in the war factories and arsenals.
Faced with this list of categorical demands, the Minister of the interior declined to give a direct reply, since he interpreted them as an insult and a reflection on his competence. "It appears", he wrote to the Minister of War on 3rd March, "that the purpose of this letter is to point out to me the existence of a campaign which I am assumed not to know about, or the causes of which I am thought not to have grasped. This, however, is not the case . . ." There followed a long statement in the course of which was set out, not the steps taken to put a stop to the campaign, but a commendation of the Security Department's prescience. He concluded by expressing the wish that there should henceforth be no direct correspondence between General Headquarters and his Ministry, and that the former would accept the decisions of his Ministry, communicated through the Ministry of War.
It is unfortunate indeed that a discussion of such importance should have been brought to a close because of one man's susceptibilities and should have failed to produce the remedies so urgently required. It may of course be that the Ministry of the Interior, as the Minister claimed in his letter of the 3rd March, saw all that was happening and duly noted it in its files. One can only say that no evidence exists that any of the centres of agitation was ever closed down, that any of the agitators was ever arrested, or that any sort of move to suppress the campaign was made at any time.
Extravagances of the national Press
The Press, whose role in hours of grave crisis should be to give an informed and prudent lead to public opinion, committed every sort of irresponsible folly and every sort of misjudgement and mistake. It fell into the reprehensible habit of laying down the law about the conduct of operations. It expressed its approval or disapproval of changes in the High Command. It printed full reports of questions and debates in Parliament. It also disclosed details of the plans drawn up, and the decisions reached, at the most highly secret conferences.
Some newspapers gave the most extensive coverage to Socialist efforts to resume international relations and to organise meetings at which party members, whether Allied, Russian, neutral, or enemy, were to discuss the prospects of peace. These newspapers played up the economic crisis, the importance of the strikes, and so on and so forth.
Such a pass did matters reach, indeed, that these mouthpieces of the nation were launching the word and the notion of "defeatism" just as the Government, whose job it was to control them, was making an all-out effort for victory.
B. EXHAUSTION AND GRIEVANCES AT THE FRONT
The criminal propaganda campaign conceived in the interior spread gradually to the front, where it found well-prepared soil. For the troops, at the end of two years of a terrible war, were physically and morally in an utterly exhausted state, and needed little urging, if encouraged, to complain of hardships which a spirit of discipline had hitherto caused them to bear in silence.
We will now consider the various grounds of these grievances, which, if dealt with in time, could no doubt have been remedied. At least they should not have been ignored when these pressures began to build up into a dangerous swell.
Irregularity of Leave
Foremost among the grievances was the irregularity of leave and the inadequacy of leave transport arrangements. In many units the rosters were incomplete or wrongly drawn up, and the mistakes made gave colour to complaints of injustice and unfairness. New intakes were able to get back to their families before veterans who had been far longer in the line. Officers were more favourably treated than the men. From February 1917 on, because of the imminence of the offensive, leave in the majority of units was cut down and sometimes stopped altogether. Then, when the attacks ended, it was impossible to re-establish the normal allocations in the divisions which had been engaged. Thus from the start of the mutinies the soldiers' mail is full of allusions to what the men considered to be a serious injustice: "I expect to be home before the end of the month; that is what the revolt has been about . . ." "For several days nerves in the company had been on edge; there were complaints about the unfair allocation of leave ... " "The most serious grievance which brought this trouble about was the question of leave."
Even the lucky ones who did enjoy a reunion with their families returned with a deplorable impression of the conditions of their journey. They complained of uncomfortable trains, unprotected from the weather, always late and held up for hours in stations without shelters. They reported that there was nothing to prevent men indulging in acts of indiscipline for there were no police to be seen anywhere. The people who had it all their own way were the racketeers, who reigned supreme.
Poor food, increasing drunkenness
The soldier on leave, like the soldier at the front, marches on his stomach; and the fighting man, always hungry and always thirsty, and with a purse bulging with cash that he had no choice but to save, was an easy prey for the shoals of sharks who followed him wherever he went. He knew he was being cheated, but complained, and he held it against the army that his basic rations were so inadequate. What these rations were lacking in, most of all, was variety. They were often especially deficient in green vegetables. They were badly prepared, for the most part by "old sweats", who were chosen as cooks whatever their lack of skill or inclination. In cantonments, the dishes they served to their compulsory customers were invariably unappetising. When it was a question of getting meals up to the trenches, the distances involved and the inadequacy of the equipment available meant that when the food arrived it was congealed, dried up, dirty, and often absolutely disgusting.
The divisional co-operative canteens, instituted on 2nd November 1916, were not yet doing much good and could not supplement the inadequate rations. As soon as the men came out of the line and arrived in camp, they made a dive for the local shops with the intention of buying up whatever foodstuffs were offered them at whatever price, content with requiting those who fleeced them with a few oaths and finding in the experience new fuel for their resentments. The fact was, of course, that they had too much spare cash. Quite apart from the sums dispatched to them by their families, their advances of pay were well above what they really required. The Law of 31st March 1917 accorded special rates of pay to all those who had served two years over the legal minimum period, and a special gratuity to all who had taken part in a battle. In addition to this the Decree of 18th April 1917 guaranteed each man a share in the profit expected to be made from economies in the messing arrangements, when the cost was brought down to five francs a head. Although half this saving was prudently set aside as a nest-egg for those entitled to it, the other half was paid over to them in cash, and this was far too much. It was spent on whatever was available --- especially wine! The craftiest dodges were used by the troops to procure alcoholic drinks, then strictly prohibited, the men being encouraged in this by many of the local inhabitants turned wine-merchants for the duration. Men would not hesitate to walk miles, where necessary, for the purpose of filling their water-bottles with pinard. Drunkenness became general, with the most deplorable effect on good order and military discipline.
Faulty organisation of rest billets
It can be stated that the misuse of the rest periods out of the line was largely due to the discontent which the men felt at the allocation of these, to which they felt they had a right, and which in any case they sorely needed. They felt that by misusing the rest periods when they got them they were making up in some way for the delays they had suffered.
It is undeniable that there were many units which, from Verdun and the Somme onwards, had been kept in the front line almost continuously, with no respite in which battle-shattered nerves could be restored. Other units, on the contrary, were kept in the rear for months at a time, too long not to lose their familiarity with danger and too long not to arouse bitter jealousy in the ranks of units less favoured. Here then were two abuses, at opposite ends of the scale, each involving a genuine and often serious blow to good morale. We shall illustrate their effects in a later part of this study when we show the mutiny working itself out in formations which had either had too much rest or not enough.
Another source of grievance was that the rest-quarters behind the line, usually in villages now three-quarters reduced to rubble, were totally without comfort, while the lack of any permanent staff in these places, and the rapid succession of different units in and out of them, made it impossible for them either to be looked after or kept up, or even for the billets themselves to be fairly allocated. The best were monopolised by permanent personnel, generally belonging to rear formations. These were not prepared to make room for newcomers except with very ill grace and were generally in league with the local inhabitants. The fighting troops were the sufferers both morally and physically from this surly treatment. They thought they deserved better.
Apparent uselessness of the sacrifices undergone
The intense suffering the combatant endured and the continuous nature of his ordeal do certainly seem to have been too often overlooked. Ever since the stabilisation of the front the war had become an obscure plodding grind, with none of the old excitement or idealism left to relieve it. It may be true that it called for a less violent sort of effort than did the fighting in open country. But against this it demanded inexhaustible patience, maintained under constant fire, amid mounds of rotting corpses, now in a sea of filthy mud, snow and rain, now in a desert of sun-scorched chalk, clay and sand. This was a war of constant small engagements, of sorties of men against the barbed wire defences of well-entrenched machine-gun emplacements. The successes achieved were temporary and costly, and the corpses left lying in No Man's Land after each one served to remind the survivors of the futility of their sacrifice. There were more important attacks, made in the hope of achieving "the break-through". But on every occasion, after a few trenches had been overrun, they foundered against carefully prepared second lines of defence, before which it became apparent that their efforts had been in vain and all was to begin again.
With such bitter disappointment as the only result of their sacrifice, it began to be felt by the fighting troops that the High Command had no understanding of what could be done and persisted in courses which experience had shown to be hopeless. A breakout into open country and a resumption of the "war of movement" seemed no longer possible. Confidence in a "military victory" was badly shaken. For a short time "economic victory" was canvassed instead, but this in its turn proved a source of disillusionment and no one could see any hope of ending the war.
In spite of the resounding success of our defence of Verdun and our brilliant counter-offensives at Douaumont, Vaux and the Somme, it was bitterly evident to the front-line troops that the basic position of the two sides remained unchanged. At the beginning of the third winter of the war they felt deeply the burden of their fatigue. They were nervous, impatient and restless. They grumbled. They wrote home that they wondered "if the war would ever end"; that "they were fed up"; that "the amount of ground still to be covered was appalling"; that it was not true to claim that we were stronger than the Boche; that they no longer had any idea why they were fighting; and, finally, that it was time those in command of them explained the reasons for such massacres.
Thus the fighting man whenever the opportunity offered to express his disillusionment (and the postal censorship revealed this) groused about the conduct of the war and protested against the uselessness as well as the scale of its losses and hardships. More than this, he went on to express his conviction that the High Command had simply abandoned him to his fate, that it was totally uninterested in his welfare and morale, that it was treating him, in short, as no better than a soulless pawn.
Defeatist attitude and lack of initiative on the part of certain officers
Faced with all this, what was the attitude of the officers? A handful responded with courage and energy. The great majority bowed before the storm and awaited events.
Practically all the old peacetime officers, who had won the respect and affection of their men and had proved their worth in the handling of their troops in action, had gone. Their replacements had had to pick up what training they could as they went along. They lacked authority to stand firm when the trouble began and to prevent its spreading by the dignity of their attitude and the force of their example. They had been faced with the same tests and experienced the same hardships as their men. They had the same private worries and were beset by the same doubts.
As for the senior officers and generals, the constant threat of being stellenbosched, inhibited and demoralised them. Many commanders were no longer prepared to furnish their superiors with candid and full reports either about events in their sectors or the moral or material condition of their units. To insure themselves against trouble they often descended to suppressing details capable of showing up their units in a bad light, and even to distorting the facts. Some went so far as to carry out a shameless bluff and to exploit the heroism of their men to obtain minor successes out of all proportion to the risks involved.
C. FALSE OPTIMISM AND RASHNESS IN THE DIRECTION OF THE WAR
Adoption of a strategy of boldness and risk
This obsession with rapid results, coupled with disregard of the risks involved, was for some time the characteristic attitude of the French Command. It is here that we approach the most delicate aspect of our study, since it will be largely critical. Yet we feel it essential to speak out unambiguously if the lessons which the crisis of 1917 hold for the future are to be clearly brought out.
It is certainly true that, at this point of the war, there was no reason to doubt that victory could be achieved so long as we confined ourselves to the possible and the practicable --- two words that were constantly on everybody's lips and should have inspired the country's leaders with a suitable programme. Unfortunately the solution decided upon to resolve the crisis in command in December 1916 and the plan of campaign which our Allies agreed to at our insistence were more than ever the product of hysterically high hopes and of fantastic strategic over-confidence.
The offensive fixed for the spring was planned and discussed in the full glare of publicity and presented to all as a campaign of rapid movement and far-distant objectives which was intended to force a decision. This would come, it was claimed, within forty-eight hours: the attackers would be able to sweep without difficulty or impediment through the point of rupture and beyond . . . . Such, however, was not the opinion of those who would have to carry out the plan. The mere conception of such an operation was entirely contrary to the experience acquired in two years of war at the cost of appalling sacrifices.
Weakened authority of the High Command
Graver still, the planners were in extraordinary and strange contradiction with themselves. Having accepted the principle of a policy and a strategy based on boldness and risk, they did not hesitate to undermine the confidence which was so essential to success. The War Council held at Compiègne on 6th April, 1917, was a real blunder, and it would have been wiser not to voice the doubts concerning the plan's success which emerged at the Conference. A ban should at least have been imposed on Press comment, to protect the prestige of those entrusted with the nation's fate. This was not done and the whole Press of every political shade of opinion reported the doubts that had been raised and the agonising questions which had been posed.
Relaxation of the severity of military justice
It was against this background that the refusal to face the likelihood of a crisis in morale and to take the preventive measures the Command was clamouring for revealed itself as the official attitude. And since the campaign for military disobedience was being allowed to develop unchecked, one may fairly ask whether any measures of repression were being taken at all.
On the outbreak of war it had been considered necessary to revise the existing legislation to enable offences against discipline to be energetically and swiftly dealt with.
The Decree of 10th August, 1914, suspended the right of appeal by convicted soldiers.
In addition to this, on 1st September, 1914, the War Minister ruled that, in capital cases, the General Officer who had authorised the indictment could confirm the sentence passed within forty-eight hours, provided he himself had not recommended to the Head of State a commutation of the sentence.
On 6th September, 1914, a new decree set up special Courts Martial to deal with men caught in the act of committing any crime coming under the Code of Military Justice (Code de justice militaire) and certain crimes indictable under the ordinary Code Pénal. These courts consisted of three judges only; no interval was necessary between the charging of the accused and his trial; judgement could be given by a majority of two to one, and was subject neither to revision nor to appeal.
The Courts Martial were also empowered to try civilians if their case involved any crime or misdemeanour affecting public order and security.(11) And when a trial was held at the front it was not open to the court either to admit evidence of extenuating circumstances(12) or to give suspended sentences.(13)
These provisions, although unquestionably severe, had been regarded by previous responsible governments as both necessary and just. Now they were or were about to be gradually withdrawn, despite the Commander-in-Chief 's protests.
General Joffre put this view before the Government on several occasions(14) in the hope of preventing what he believed would be a harmful step, and in this connection it may be interesting to quote from one of his letters, dated 8th March, 1916:
"There are occasions when nothing but the fear of immediate punishment can stop a man committing a crime. If a soldier deserts his post, refuses to obey an order, strikes or insults a superior officer, it is essential that immediate retribution be meted out so that none of his comrades shall dare to imitate his behaviour. The example made will produce virtually no effect unless conviction and penalty follow hard on the heels of the fault. . . The reasons which justified the taking of exceptional measures in an hour of grave crisis have not become less valid now ......"
The General might as well have saved his breath to cool his porridge. The desire for the introduction of lenient measures overrode reason. French generosity followed its natural and irresistible bent. The result was that the convictions by Military Courts for offences against military discipline rose from 14,479 in 1915 to 24,953 in 1916, then rocketed the following year, to a new peak figure of 37,842.
The Law of 27th April, 1916 suppressed the special Courts Martial and re-established the admissibility of evidence of extenuating circumstances and the right to give suspended sentences. It further deprived the military courts of their right to try civilians, except for crimes and offences touching on national defence.
A Decree of 8th June, 1916, reintroduced the right of appeal against the death sentence.
On 20th April, 1917, the Minister of War, reversing the decision of his predecessor dated 1st September, 1914, relating to convictions on capital charges, forbade the General Officer who had convened the Court to have the sentence carried out without the express authority of the Head of State.
While a desire to mitigate the harsh provisions of military justice is understandable on humanitarian grounds in normal times, it is certainly unjustified in periods of national crisis such as that through which the French nation was now passing. It may well be that certain mistakes were committed, for which those responsible should be brought to account. But this did not prove that the system as a whole was wrong; nor can it be denied that the Courts Martial administered the Code with unfailing moderation and a constant care for justice.
Towards the end of April 1917, the fortune of war appeared to turn against the Allied armies after having smiled on them for a brief moment. The dazzling hopes of the early spring, which the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, America's entry into the war, and the anticipated impact of the Franco-British offensives had caused the leaders of the Coalition to hold out, were dashed to the ground. The grand strategic triumph on which so much had been staked turned into a series of dearly-bought minor successes in a prolonged campaign of merciless attrition. Russia defaulted and her army began to disintegrate. The newspapers reported, often with approval, the early revolutionary measures --- the setting up of workers' and soldiers' committees, the abolition of saluting and of military ranks. The enemy Command, its confidence restored, directed with dogged determination the battles in Artois, the Chemin-des-Dames, and Champagne, and after holding up our progress, banked on renewing their successes.
The French army was exhausted. Hopelessness and pessimism spread to it from the interior, swamping as it did so the mood of superficial enthusiasm, whipped up from above, which had never really taken root.
The fighting troops were at the end of their tether. Those in authority must have seen this quite well, yet they continued to count on them, so often in the past three years had they witnessed their capacity for performing the impossible. This time, however, there were men in the ranks who not only could not but would not answer the call. This was the crisis. It struck, like a bolt from the blue, among the units due to be sent up the line to the two deadliest of the danger-spots, the Chemin-des-Dames and the Monts-de-Champagne.
First incidents between 29th April and 17th May. Reorganisation of the French High Command. Gravity and rapid extension of the crisis.
On 29th April an infantry regiment(15) stationed at Mourmelon was ordered up the line to the sector of the Moronvilliers Heights, where it had carried out attacks on the 17th April and subsequent days and from which it had been withdrawn for a short period of rest only five days before. It was known to the men that they would be employed in a new offensive. They also knew that their division was being sent back into action when other major formations which had also taken part in the attack of 17th April were still resting far from the front. Two or three hundred men, almost all from the battalion chosen to lead the new offensive, failed to appear when their unit was leaving for the front and then announced that they would not march. The unit's officers and NCOs proved incapable of quelling the outbreak, which, however, was put down by the divisional commander within twenty-four hours.
News of this incident soon got round and other mutinous outbreaks followed. On 4th May a number of sudden desertions occurred among members of an infantry regiment(16) in action in the Chemin-des-Dames area. In the quarters of a colonial regiment (17) due to take part in an attack in the same sector the men noisily refused to fight, an action clearly provoked by the circulation of leaflets on which were blazoned such inflammatory slogans as "Down with the War!", "Death to the Warmongers!", etc. On 16th and 17th May serious trouble of a similar nature broke out in a battalion of Chasseurs,(18) and in an infantry regiment(19) in a reserve position on the Aisne. These unhappy incidents multiplied to a point where the safety and cohesion of the whole army were in jeopardy.
It was precisely on this same date, the 17th, that the French High Command was reorganised. Its first duty was to assess objectively the seriousness of the trouble so as to weigh the gravity of its task. It saw the deadly virus of indiscipline spreading. It received alarming reports from all sides. They poured in --almost uninterruptedly, alas!
19th May: In a Chasseur battalion(20) south of the Aisne three armed companies staged noisy demonstrations in cantonments.
20th May: Two complete infantry regiments(21) in the Chemin-des-Dames sector refused to obey orders. Individual acts of insubordination were reported in an infantry regiment(22) in the same area.
21st and 22nd May: In an infantry regiment(23) resting in the Tardenois district an attempt was made by agitators to stir up trouble among the men. Delegates were elected to present at headquarters a protest against a continuation of the offensives; a group of trouble-makers marched to the divisional depot and created a disturbance. Nearby, in another infantry regiment(24) in the same division, groups of soldiers turned on their officers, sang the Internationale and threw stones at them.
25th May: In the Vosges, up to that time completely untroubled by the outbreaks, one section of an infantry regiment(25) refused to embus for the front. They were incited to this act of defiance by their own sergeant.
26th May: Three infantry regiments(26) of a division recalled to the front after a rest period in the Aisne sent representatives to join in discussions at which plans for an attempted general mutiny were being hatched.
27th May: Demonstrations and disturbances occurred in an infantry regiment(27) out of the line in Lorraine. In the Tardenois district the men of an infantry regiment(28) shouted seditious slogans, sang the Internationale, and insulted and molested their officers while the regiment was embussing.
28th May: A serious extension of indiscipline and mutiny was reported from six infantry regiments,(29) a battalion of Chasseurs, and a regiment of dragoons stationed on the Aisne and farther south.
29th, 30th and 31st May: The situation deteriorated and indiscipline spread to the majority of the regiments of eight divisions(30) and to a colonial artillery regiment,(31) all of which had been in action in the Chemin-des-Dames sector or were about to be sent back there.
1st, 2nd and 3rd June: Zenith of the crisis. In fifteen to twenty units belonging to sixteen divisions(32), either in action or resting in the same area, men of all arms were involved for three days in the most violent outbreaks of disorder.
This catalogue of disturbances, shocking though it is, still gives an inadequate picture of the plight of the French army as the intoxicating madness spread. A detailed examination of some of the most typical cases will help us to understand better the anguish of the High Command under the threat of this appalling danger.
Example of a premeditated and methodically planned mutiny in a regiment: 28th-30th May
This was an example of a type of mutiny conceived in cold blood, systematically organised and obstinately conducted in an infantry regiment (33) which up to that moment had been regarded as quite first class. Planned over a long period, it developed without a hitch, and in an atmosphere of total assurance.
This unit had taken part in May 1916 in the first attempt to recapture Fort Douaumont, where it showed great courage and sustained heavy losses. From June 1916 to February 1917 it was almost continuously in the line in the tough Eparges sector, exposed to constant shelling, surprise attacks and enemy mines. A this point symptoms of serious physical and moral exhaustion became noticeable in its ranks --- symptoms which affected the junior officers as well, and to which their superiors, up to the regimental and brigade commanders themselves, appeared to pay too little regard, whereas it should have made them doubly watchful and active, doubly willing to show themselves and take personal risks, to give encouragement and set an example. Action had been taken against certain of these officers whose grip on the situation had been notoriously feeble, and in February 1917 the unit was withdrawn for a rest. By the spring, there were grounds for hoping that when it returned to the fighting line it would once more justify its former reputation. But this moment was delayed, since the grand plan for a strategic exploitation of the attack of 16th April failed to materialise, and the regiment was left in inglorious inactivity near Paris. There the men, too closely in touch with the rear, were affected by the bad spirit in the interior. They listened to the complaints of a multitude of camp-followers whose attitude reflected the labour unrest and strikes spreading throughout the country. They settled down all too well to their prolonged inactivity, to the absence of danger, and to the enjoyment of the comforts which came their way as a result. And when, on Whit Sunday, the lorries arrived to bring this agreeable and restful existence to an end, and trundle them off to the dreaded destination of Laffaux, the harrowing farewells overcame their sense of duty. It was then that they began to be influenced by the propaganda directed at them at the departure point, and to believe --- what they were always being told --- that they would be fools indeed to go and get themselves killed when so many others had apparently refused to march.
On 28th May, at the end of its journey, the regiment installed itself in three small villages in a sector to the south of Soissons.
After the midday meal, 'la Soupe,' between 150 and 180 men attended a meeting in one of the hamlets, listened to a number of inflammatory speeches, fell in on the road in marching order, and coolly informed their company officers, when these arrived to disperse them, that they refused to go up to the line. They had, they said, had enough of the war. They wanted a cease-fire immediately and thought the Deputies had been wrong in December not to negotiate on the German proposals. They claimed that as Russia crumbled, leaving the German war-machine free to re-mass on the French front, the Government were simply pulling the wool over people's eyes, and that in fact everyone knew that the Americans would not be able to come into the war in time to be of any use. The fighting soldiers, they complained, were not getting proper leave; their rations were inadequate, their wives and children were "starving to death". They were no longer willing to sacrifice their lives when shirkers at home were earning all the money, taking the women around in cars, cornering all the best jobs, and while so many profiteers were waxing rich.
The mood of these demonstrators was calm and resolute. They were not drunk. They wanted their protest reported to the Government. They still respected their officers and dispersed when these told them to do so.
Misled by the ease with which they appeared to have won this round, the officers, from the divisional commander down to the most junior second lieutenants, spent the night of the 28th/29th advising each other that the best line to adopt was one of patience and accommodation. They moved around talking to each other when each officer should instead have returned immediately to exert his authority in his unit. They looked on the mutineers, naïvely, as mere strikers whom words would certainly soon restore to a better way of thinking. Then at dawn on the 29th they all returned to their units, with instructions to put the men to light fatigues around the camp, to give them a few pep talks, but to make no reference to the outbreak of the day before, and, most important, in no circumstances to resort to force, even if individual soldiers or groups of men tried to go off on their own.
This made it possible for the demonstrators of the day before to assemble again on the morning of the 29th and form themselves into a column --- this time some 400 strong. Most of these had got themselves up to look like strikers, and appeared with walking sticks, flowers in their button-holes, and unbuttoned jackets. They marched in turn to the quarters of each of the two other battalions. There they were joined in the course of the morning by several hundred more supporters. By the end of the midday meal there were more than 800 of them, from every unit in the regiment. They answered to a bugle, and in due course moved off to rally support from the regiment next in line. Their discipline was excellent. They had been told by their leaders to do nothing which might provoke violence and to confine themselves to signifying their fixed and unalterable determination to take no part in any further costly attacks. They made this point firmly to the Divisional Commander. "You have nothing to fear, we are prepared to man the trenches, we will do our duty and the Boche will not get through. But we will not take part in attacks which result in nothing but useless casualties . . . ." They maintained the same position when harangued by the Corps Commander, who upbraided them, offered them fatherly advice, and threatened dire punishments in his various attempts to move them. All to no avail. With unshakeable politeness they repeated their complaints against the Government and what was happening in the interior, adding that they would hold the line but would refuse to take part in any new offensive and demanded immediate peace. About midafternoon they reached the quarters of the neighbouring regiment. Here the mutineers were fewer in number but much wilder. They urged them to be calm and to maintain respect for their officers. Then, led on as usual by some extremely skilful organisers, who seem from the evidence to have acted like true mob leaders throughout, they decided to continue their impressive march round the other units of the division and then to go on and capture some trains in which to set off for Paris with their own crews in the drivers' cabs. But, if necessary, they were prepared to march on the capital by stages in order to bring their demands before the Chamber of Deputies. Meanwhile they returned to their own cantonments for the night.
At dawn on the 30th, under orders from the High Command, motor convoys arrived at the camps to act as transport for the three battalions. This time all the officers were at their posts, and with tougher instructions. They shouted louder than the agitators and made their men obey them. The mutineers put up some resistance but did board the lorries. On the journey they continued their attempts at incitement, and tried to stir up the troops they met on the way. They made "hands up" and "thumbs down" signs. They whistled. They sang the Internationale. They waved bits of red cloth. They distributed leaflets containing the text of their refusal to fight and encouraged others to follow their example.
On the evening of the 30th and on the following days the regiment was halted in isolation from other units, then moved to the Verdun sector by train. The rebellious spirit persisted, but the demonstrations became less frequent. The High Command split up the battalions, and during the month of June Courts Martial were held. A corporal and three privates were sentenced to death for "deserting their post and refusing to obey orders in the presence of the enemy". The regiment itself supplied the firing squads and several detachments for the expiatory ceremony, which took place without incident on 28th June. On 29th June, the regiment was stripped of its colours. The battalion to which the leading spirits of the mutiny had belonged was disbanded on 16th July, and the necessary new postings among the officers took place.
That was the end of it. In July the two remaining battalions gave an honourable account of themselves at Verdun. In 1918 the regiment was reconstituted. It was twice mentioned in dispatches, received back its colours, and was decorated with the lanyard of the Croix de Guerre on the very spot where the 1917 mutinies had taken place.
Example of a violent outbreak in a regiment of the line: lst-3rd June
Another type of outbreak was violent in character and the spirit animating it was revolutionary.
Here again our example is an infantry regiment,(34) with a first-class record and reputation and forming part of a crack division. After much hard fighting during the battle of the Somme, it was not sent back to rest as it had been led to hope that it would be. Instead, it was moved to the Argonne sector, where it suffered heavy casualties during the winter of 1916-17. It took part in the April offensive, achieving an appreciable but exceedingly costly success. It was then kept for five weeks in the line, although nearly all the neighbouring units were sent back to be reconstituted. Finally, it was sent to rest in the Tardenois area and was looking forward to catching up on its arrears of leave, when, after only a few days, on the afternoon of 1st June, the order came to return to the trenches.
At 1 pm on that day, angry protest broke out in the camp. The Colonel and the other officers rushed to the scene, but their attempts to control the disorder had little or no result. At 5 pm a procession was formed and moved off to the strains of the Internationale. The Brigade Commander, who acted with energy, was given a violently hostile reception and greeted with cries of "Kill him!" Insults were hurled at him. He was pushed and jostled. The stars on his cuffs and his epaulettes were ripped off, as was the flag on his car. The Divisional Commander succeeded with difficulty in forcing his way to the town hail, in front of which the mutineers were assembled. He was unable to make himself heard above the shouts and was forced by threats to postpone the regiment's departure for the front. Meanwhile, some of the mutineers had armed themselves with wire cutters and cut the barbed wire round the punishment centre. The prisoners were released and one of them, a lawyer, and editor of a trench newspaper, became the guiding spirit of the revolt. "Friends," he told his rescuers, "I am delighted that our movement has met with such success. We shall not be alone. I have channels of information which enable me to tell you as a fact that this evening twelve divisions have taken the same action as ourselves. Cars from Paris have set out for every sector with the mission of bringing this good news to all our comrades." The mutineers, still shouting murderous threats against their Brigadier, broke the windows and doors of the town hail with paving stones, overturned the lorries in the streets, broke the windows of houses and forced the occupants to join them.
The morning of the 2nd June began rather more calmly, though crowds of drunken soldiers were still milling about in disorderly mobs, singing the Internationale and sporting red flowers in their jackets. The organisers of the outbreak had had numerous posters stuck up on the walls bearing the words: "Vive la Paix au nom de toute l'Armée!" ("Long live Peace, in the name of the whole Army!") with the result that, that evening, a new mob of demonstrators, about 2,000 strong, were repeating the exploits of the evening before, with red flags flying and shouts of "Long live the Revolution! Down with the war! Long live Peace! Down with tyrants!"
On 3rd June and during the next few days the regiment was moved in lorries to another camp, and the trouble subsided ---far more quickly than could have been hoped --- as the principal trouble-makers lost their hold over the men. Very soon the agitation had died down altogether and the men had returned, without exception, to the path of duty.
Further examples of violent outbreaks among fighting units and on the trains: 2nd-8th June
Other scenes of violent mutiny. On the evening of 2nd June, in the same area, there were rumblings of unrest in the cantonment of a battalion of Chasseurs(35). The commanding officer and a captain who stepped in vigorously were repulsed with stones and sticks and forced to take refuge in the CO's lodgings. The front of the house was sprayed with bullets from the mutineers' automatic rifles, and the Adjutant and another officer who attempted to come to the rescue of their superior officer were chased across the neighbouring gardens. The insurgents set fire to the huts of a company which attempted to oppose the revolt, and engaged in a veritable running battle, in which several NCOs and Chasseurs were wounded. As night ended, they retired exhausted to their huts, and no repetition of this outbreak occurred next day.
On the evening of 7th June, an incident took place at Château-Thierry station, where men off a leave-train returning from Paris threw stones at the lamps in the entrance, sang the Internationale and shouted anti-war slogans. A railway official, a man in his fifties, was savagely struck. A posse of policemen hurried to the scene and found themselves involved in a real battle. Their chief was wounded and had to be rushed to hospital. When an effort was made to get the train on its way, the men jammed the brakes on, then charged onto the platforms and rushed the station manager's office to demand the release of two of their number who had been placed under arrest. They did not return to their carriages until a company of armed troops had arrived to restore order, and then not before they had successfully demanded that the latter sheathe their bayonets. And when the train did move, it was with the shouted threat: "We'll be back soon --- with grenades!"
The same thing happened at Esternay on 8th June. The men of the leave draft, shouting noisily, rushed at the RTO, who attempted to arrest two of them and get them back on to their train. They beat him with sticks, punched him in the face, knocked him down, and only let him go when he was no longer physically in any condition to exert his authority. They manhandled another officer in the outer entrance of the station. They invaded the station master's office after breaking the windows, shouted and hurled insults at the station master when he tried to interfere, then gradually dispersed and got back into the trains bound for their various destinations.
General character of the crisis from June to September
The mutinies took many forms, of which examples of the most typical have been given above, and reached their peak on 2nd June, when seventeen outbreaks were reported. The situation remained serious up to 10th June, with an average of seven incidents a day. During the rest of the month the daily average was one. In July the total fell to seven incidents altogether, in August to four, and in September to one.
Altogether, 151 incidents were recorded and examined, of which 110 were concerted outbreaks of genuine gravity. Out of the total of 151, 112 took place in the Aisne area behind the Chemin-des-Dames sector of the front (plus five on the other parts of the front but among units which had come from the Chemin-des-Dames sector). Eight occurred in the Monts-de-Champagne district (plus two which took place in other parts of the front but involved troops from Champagne), and twenty-two occurred in various other parts of the army zone.
A total of 110 units were affected. Sixty-eight of them were present (in the line or in reserve) on the Aisne on 16th April, and six were before Monts-de-Champagne. Between them they consisted of:
76 Infantry Regiments
2 Colonial Infantry Regiments
21 Chasseur Battalions
1 Territorial Infantry Regiment
8 Artillery Regiments
1 Regiment of Dragoons
1 Senegalese Battalion
These units belonged to fifty-four different divisions --- that is, more than half the total number of divisions in the French army at that time.
Disturbances also occurred on 110 trains and had repercussions in 130 stations due to repeated acts of indiscipline along the whole length of the lines. These disorders were an extension of those in the interior of the country, and all converged to reach their point of greatest intensity in the areas just behind the line. Angoulême, Bordeaux, Nantes, Toulouse, St Pierre-des-Corps, St Etienne and Limoges had all been centres of serious unrest. This spread along the lines of communication towards the army zone until it reached the main lines, of which the principal was the line Paris --- Châlons --- Nancy.
Such was the storm of madness which for several weeks swept a harassed and distracted France, threatening to blind her both to her objectives and to her duties.
Since it was they who had allowed this evil to well up and reach the proportions of a flood, it was now the responsibility of the civil power to cut it off at its source and to make good the damage which it had caused to the national interest. While still reeling from the shock of their disillusion in the spring of 1917, they appeared determined not to fail in this task, the difficulty as well as the importance of which they fully recognised. Having reorganised the High Command of the armies, they gave it their full confidence. It was for the High Command to take the necessary steps to restore the balance of our fortunes in face of the enemy. It was the responsibility of the Government to supply it with the means it required, and to give it unfailing support; and this it promised to do.
The High Command lost no time in setting to work. It had a clear understanding of the causes of the crisis, and was determined to tackle them one after the other in whatever order circumstances might dictate.
The aims of its immediate measures were as follows:
To reaffirm the authority of military law and to secure the immediate arrest of the principal trouble-makers;
To stiffen the morale of the officers and to lay down a line of conduct which they must follow in order to regain the confidence of their men;
To protect the armies against contamination from the interior;
To draw up a new set of operational directives in conformity with what could actually be achieved.
Then would follow longer-term measures to be applied systematically to cure the disease and prevent its recurrence.
These would be as follows:
With regard to the morale of the troops, no pains would be spared in providing for the welfare of the men who were bearing so much, in keeping them contented and raising their spirits by a fair allocation of military honours and leave, by improving the rations, combating drunkenness, and encouraging saving; and also, finally, by the efficient supervision of rest arrangements and rest camps;
In general, the spirit prevailing in the country at large and the lead to be given to the national Press would both continue to be closely studied;
On the tactical level, efficient training would be reintroduced, so that the troops engaged in future operations could look forward to achieving greater successes with fewer losses and would be given fresh confidence that they possessed the means to win.
It may be of interest to take the items of this list in order, and to study how the High Command's measures made themselves felt and the support afforded it by the Government.
A. IMMEDIATE MEASURES
Re-establishment of the authority of military law and action taken against the guilty
In the grave circumstances of the moment, the most urgent necessity was that the activity of the principal trouble-makers should be broken on the spot. Mutineers, drunk with slogans and alcohol, must be forced back to their obedience, and every means must be used to reduce to impotence the criminals who had exploited the distress of the fighting troops.
The Commander-in-Chief, from the moment he took up his post, directed all his activities to this end, and, first by word of mouth, in the course of his tours of inspection, and afterwards in his written orders, demanded an attitude of inflexible firmness. One of the most forcefully worded of his directives was that of 8th June:
"At the time of the recent incidents, certain commanders do not appear to have done their duty. Some officers concealed from their superiors the signs of a spirit of unrest in their regiments. Others failed to tackle the trouble with the necessary initiative and energy. It is essential that officers should understand fully the responsibility they bear in such a situation. Inactivity here is equivalent to complicity. The Commander-in-Chief will mete out appropriate punishment to all who have shown weakness. He will, by contrast, uphold with his authority all those who display vigour and energy in suppressing the disturbances. . . Certain officers or NCOs, as an excuse for not doing their duty, claim that since the outbreaks are collective in character it is difficult for them to single out the leaders. This argument is unacceptable. It is, in fact, always possible to turn collective disobedience into disobedience by individuals. All that is necessary is to tell certain men, starting with the most disaffected, to carry out some order. If they refuse, such men are at once arrested and handed over to the law, which should take its course as swiftly as possible."
In the spirit of this directive, the penalties imposed were severe. The first to feel their force were the commanders of all units who had shown weakness incompatible with their duty and had failed to react after the first moment of surprise. Two generals, nine lieutenant-colonels, fourteen battalion commanders and eighteen lieutenants or second lieutenants were deprived of their commands, being either relegated to less important posts, stripped of their temporary ranks, or posted elsewhere.
At the same time, on its own initiative or by goading the Government into action, the High Command worked to reestablish most of the measures for suppressing indiscipline in the armies which had been gradually whittled away in 1916 and 1917.
On 1st June, with the Government's authorisation, it ruled that, wherever the gravity of the crime demanded prompt and exemplary punishment, an accused man should be brought straight before a Court Martial, without the benefit of preliminary proceedings, and that proof of guilt supplied by direct examination of the accused should be deemed to be sufficient. In a capital case, once the sentence had been confirmed, either through the failure of the accused to lodge an appeal within the limits of the time allowed by law, or because his appeal had been rejected, it was laid down that the formation to which the Court Martial was responsible should telegraph to GHQ stating its reasons for demanding immediate execution of sentence; and that this sentence should be carried out as soon as the Commander-in-Chief had telegraphed giving the agreement of the Head of State.
On 8th June a Presidential Decree limited the right of appeal against the death sentence. Traitors convicted of inciting and aiding troops to go over to the enemy or join an armed rebellion were deprived of the right of appeal, as were the instigators or leaders of mutinies who had committed acts of violence during armed disturbances, refused to disperse or persisted in their indiscipline.
On 11th June the Minister of War notified the Commander-in-Chief that the military authority would no longer be required to submit the transcript of a capital trial to the President of the Republic, if the requirements of discipline and national defence absolutely demanded that a sentence be carried out without delay and if the sentence in question was for concerted or collective crimes, inciting men to go over to the enemy or join in an armed rebellion, dereliction of duty, usurpation of authority, or, finally, the commission of any destructive act endangering defence, the supply of provisions, or munitions of war. In any of these cases, sentence of death would be carried out as soon as the authorisation of the Commander-in-Chief had been requested and obtained by telegram. It was necessary, however, that the request should indicate how the votes of the Court Martial had been cast, which articles of the Code were cited in the indictment and whether one or more of the judges had been in favour of granting leave to appeal or had made a recommendation for mercy. In this way the possibility of swift action was guaranteed, while at the same time care was taken to leave intact certain safeguards for the benefit of any man who had had the misfortune --- or would in future have the misfortune --- to expose himself to the consequences of his own act of criminal folly.
The exceptional measures agreed to by the Civil Power for the emergency were only conceded for a short period. On the 14th July they were revoked and the milder legislation introduced in 1916 and 1917 was revived. The emergency measures were, however, in force long enough to enable the most urgent measures of repression to be taken and to bring the crisis under control.
Altogether, between May and October, 412 men were condemned to death by the Courts Martial, 203 of whom were sentenced in June, 386 for offences against military law or for acts of rebellion and twenty-six for common law offences. In consequence of the large number of free pardons and commuted sentences, only seven men were, in fact, executed immediately, by order of the Commander-in-Chief, and only forty-eight after the Head of State had confirmed the sentence.(36)
The stern penalties imposed on the self-confessed leaders of the mutiny, on trouble-makers and those convicted of serious acts of violence, had a deterrent effect which was all the more striking in that they followed so swiftly on the heels of the crimes themselves. They were also enough, though comparatively few in number, to put a stop to the dangerous activities of the agents of revolutionary propaganda.
In a note to the armies dated 10th June the Commander-in-Chief drew the attention of senior Commanders to the necessity not to give suspended sentences except in the case of convicted men whose conduct and record had been such as to justify the belief that they would not continue to be trouble-makers in their units. The Commander-in-Chief gave this warning because of the number of cases in which Courts Martial had given only lenient sentences to mutineers. He went on to state that it might even be necessary to revoke the suspension of sentences in the case of convicted men whose attitude and bad example undermined discipline. This would make it possible to remove from their units (deciding each case on its merits so that the manner of their removal did not serve merely to spark off further trouble) men of a specially corrupted or dangerous sort whose conviction had been for crimes against the common law or for such misdemeanours as assault and battery, offences against public decency, robbery, fraud, false pretences, subversion of morals, procuring, rebellion, acts of violence against the agents of constituted authority, black-market deals in food, vagrancy, begging, and incitement to desertion and disobedience.
Finally, in the exceptional cases where the punishment and weeding out of individuals proved ineffective, it was necessary to resort to the weapon of collective sanctions. We have mentioned one such case, where a regiment was deprived of its flag and a battalion which was found to be seriously corrupted by the spirit of rebellion was disbanded. Happily, such cases were exceedingly rare and the deprivations invariably temporary, since the units affected all recovered a healthy spirit within a very short time.
By 18th June the Commander-in--Chief was already able to inform the Minister of War that, so far as discipline at the front was concerned, severity could from now on be gradually relaxed: "I began by taking immediate steps to put down all acts of serious indiscipline .... I shall continue this policy, never forgetting, however, that it is being applied to soldiers who have spent three years with us in the trenches and are 'our soldiers'."
Measures to restore a proper spirit among the officers and confidence among the men
To influence the healthy elements in the army and to restore the lost confidence of the officers, the Commander-in-Chief published a Note on 19th May. This read:
"I consider it time to draw the attention of all officers to the importance of maintaining high morale in the commissioned ranks.
"Officers who have displayed heroic courage for almost three years hesitate to inform their superior officers of the difficulties they face in carrying out their duties, for fear of being taxed with faint-heartedness.
"The result of this timid reluctance to speak out is that senior commanders persist with plans which would unquestionably have been altered or postponed had they been better informed. Often, preparations for an attack have been made in the absence of such necessary information.
"It is up to commanding officers to adopt an attitude which will abolish this tendency.
"A superior officer, in his relations with his subordinates, must at all times show himself approachable and friendly, willing to help them in finding solutions to the difficulties that hamper their work, ready to pass on any useful information and even to invite it.
"In present-day conditions of warfare the murderous fire-power of modem weapons means that nothing can be left to chance. Planning for even the smallest operation must be undertaken in the minutest detail, and demands the co-operation and goodwill of all concerned.
"Once, however, the preparations are complete, the decisions made and the orders given, the operation must be carried through with a vigour and determination which holds nothing back.
"An attitude of kindliness and goodwill on the part of commanders is in the noblest tradition of the French army and in no way excludes firmness.
"It is when such an attitude is lacking in a unit that an unfortunate and blameworthy spirit tends to arise. Men with a chip on their shoulder confide their bitterness to the don't-cares and the incompetents, and a discontented, restless and potentially dangerous mood is gradually built up.
"The proper person to receive an officer's confidence is his chief. The chief must justify the confidence reposed in him --- a confidence founded on mutual respect and on a common love of country.
"I regard it as a matter of first importance that all relationships between officers should be guided by these principles."
At every level, immediate efforts were made to spread these ideas by word of mouth, using the medium of frequent, informal chats, unconstrained by considerations of rank. The Commander-in-Chief himself took the lead in this, visiting a different unit at the front every day. After inspecting it, he would gather around him the officers, NCOs, and a number of other ranks, talk to them frankly and as man to man, inviting them to forget about his rank for a few moments and to speak to him openly in their turn. He would give them his views on the general situation, speaking of the confidence in victory which their Allies possessed, until his listeners really felt it for themselves, and painting a picture of innumerable American troopships looming up on the horizon and making for the coasts of France. He brought within the compass of each man's understanding the basic aims of his strategy and how he intended to change the character of operations in order to make them less costly to our own troops and more deadly to those of the enemy. Then he would pass on, with an abrupt change of tone, to show how he intended his orders to be carried out. Turning to address the officers in particular, he would emphasise their duties and responsibilities, mercilessly castigating any failures in command but encouraging by his advice and citing as examples those who had shown firmness and courage.
Finally, he concluded these talks by giving tangible tokens of his goodwill to the fighting men. He distributed the Croix de Guerre, the Military Medal and the Cross of the Legion of Honour lavishly to all those he wished to distinguish, calling them out from the ranks and decorating them on the spot without further formalities or citations. He also distributed souvenirs, small gifts of practical value, tobacco, and so forth. Then he would tour the camp, telling the local CO to make this or that improvement. He inspected the kitchens, to make sure that the food was adequate in quality as well as quantity to satisfy the men's needs. He checked the leave rosters. In fact, in every one of these matters, he endeavoured to spur the officers on to greater efficiency while at the same time taking care not to degrade them in the eyes of their men by the way he put his questions or made his comments.
The officers, inspired by this example, acquired a better understanding of the importance of the part assigned to them and recaptured an enthusiasm which many of them had lost. The officers, at all levels from the generals and the staff down, now looked after the men's needs and took care not to send them into action without insuring that they had adequate support and that when they withdrew from the line to rest camps both their rations and their billets were as good as they could be. The NCOs, in the fulfilment of their duties, were once more able to look to their officers for the backing which had too often failed them when the discouragement was at its height. Given this sort of support and direction, they recovered a taste for acting on their own initiative and tried once more to work with their superiors as useful members of the team.
There was a danger that the Commander-in-Chief's campaign of explanation and encouragement, primarily directed at the officers and NCOs, might take too long to make its effect felt on the rank and file. They would no doubt in time come to appreciate its results but not the reasons which had inspired it. It was essential that the private soldier should grasp this, for it was on such an understanding by the whole army that the achievement of a unified effort depended. Accordingly, the Commander-in-Chief made a direct appeal to the good sense and intelligence of every soldier, in a lengthy document, summarising the main matters dealt with in his talks, and strongly emphasising the hope of a French victory, which was published by his orders in the army "Bulletin" in early June.
Protection of the armies against contamination from the interior
This restoration of confidence would only bear fruit if means were found to protect the combatants from the effect of propaganda from the interior.
As trouble spread from unit to unit, a strict watch was organised on doubtful elements in the army and an attempt made to extend this surveillance to cover the whole country. Telegraphic warnings were issued by GHQ to all formations concerned, naming suspects on whom the Special Service had information and giving details of their positions. The actions, contacts and correspondence of these men were watched with care, in an effort to prevent them from launching or continuing their work of pacifist propaganda and from passing on orders from organisers at home. For without question the danger came chiefly from the rear, and the Commander-in-Chief considered it essential that the Government should launch an action parallel to his own to extirpate on the home front known centres of infection. On the 22nd, 25th, 29th and 30th May and on 2nd June he informed the Minister that leaflets protesting against the continuation of the war had been distributed in large quantities to men on leave so that they could be distributed in the trenches and stuck up in stations and billets. Their texts constituted a whole programme of subversion. "Enough have died: Peace... Our womenfolk claim peace and their rights . . . etc. . . . etc.." They were printed by the "Unions of Building Workers and Navvies" and distributed by "The Committee for the Defence of the Trade Union Movement" and "The Committee for the Resumption of International Relations", which had its headquarters in Paris, at 33 rue Grange-aux-Belles. The most energetic measures were urgently needed, the Commander-in-Chief declared, "to suppress this intolerable propaganda at its source and the most energetic measures must be taken to this end".
The last of the letters cited above, that of June 2nd, listed the steps which the Government must take:
(a) It should control and discipline the home-front organisations whose aim was to stir up disturbances in the army and cause it to revolt and mutiny; expel suspected neutrals; imprison the nationals of enemy powers who were still moving freely about the country; and arrest all agitators and bring them to trial.
(b) Exercise censorship and direction of the Press; forbid it to criticise the High Command, the shortages of equipment, the system of allocating periods of leave and rest; see that more discretion was exercised in reporting the Russian revolution, strikes in France and peace propaganda; and emphasise the great advantage to be expected from the intervention of the United States.
(c) Hasten the review of capital sentences by the Head of State.
(d) The gangs of condemned prisoners, the companies of Bulgarian and native labourers, all of them centres of indiscipline and demoralisation, must be sent to southern Algeria and Tunisia.
Anticipating the Government's decisions, the Commander-in-Chief took it on himself to send a telegram on 27th May putting Paris out of bounds to all men on leave from the African battalions, the Foreign Legion and other special formations too easily led astray and liable by their mere presence to aggravate any unrest either in the city itself or on the trains. As regards other formations, he ordered leave in Paris to be restricted to those who would be staying there in their own homes. He made all necessary provisions so that men without families or unable to reach them who had formerly been put up in the capital itself by various welfare organisations should be offered similar hospitality in the provinces by the same organisations or their equivalents on the spot, by local families, or by farmers prepared to bring home with them comrades in the same walk of life.
At all his interviews with members of the Government, whose measures he considered both too feeble and too slow, the Commander-in-Chief never ceased to call for speed in closing down dangerous committees and groups of trouble-makers, in particular to prohibit trades union activities by mobilised men, which were illegal, and intolerable from the disciplinary point of view, and for the banning in the interior of all meetings not held for strictly professional purposes. In his interviews with Ministers he insisted that however repugnant such measures might be to politicians profoundly attached to democratic principles and the defence of freedom, they were none the less essential at this critical hour, when the task was to save democracy itself from enslavement, which would certainly ensue if the weakness of the French nation continued and grew worse!
His activities were dictated by the fact that he was face to face with one of the worst dangers ever to threaten a Commander-in-Chief, and by his need to see remedies like those he had applied in the army adopted throughout the country, and that without delay. He reminded the Ministers directly concerned of their responsibility for giving an impetus to the war effort and supplying what was lacking in the organisation of our armed forces. It was impossible and wrong that they should allow themselves to be swayed by the inopportune impatience of public opinion. Their duty was clear: to wrest power from the hands of the international agitators and fomenters of revolution who, by weakening the morale of the soldiers at the front, were doing the enemy's work for him.
Return to a realistic strategy
Finally the Commander-in-Chief considered it most urgent to prescribe the scope of future operations which would follow the disastrously ineffective spring offensives. It was with this objective that he issued his Directive No. 1 of 19th May: "The balance of opposing forces on the northern and north-eastern fronts", he wrote, "means that a break-through followed by strategic exploitation is not at present a practical possibility. For the moment, therefore, we must apply our efforts to wearing down the enemy with the minimum of losses to ourselves."
But how, in battles which always ended in stalemate, was it possible to spare our own forces while inflicting heavy losses on the enemy? In the first place, no large-scale attacks in depth would be undertaken until adequate manpower and material were available. Such attacks require an excessive amount of preparation, spread the effect of the artillery bombardment over too wide a target area, and thus expose the attacker to coming up against undamaged defensive positions held by an enemy who has not been taken by surprise. They are also costly in men's lives, for in such unfavourable conditions the attacking troops suffer heavier casualties than the defenders.
Instead, there would be a series of thrusts, limited in depth so as never to push our men into a salient within the reach of the enemy's reserves and exposed to his flanking fire. These thrusts would be launched in rapid succession against many different points of the front, using the element of surprise to catch the enemy at a disadvantage and taking care throughout to keep down the losses of the infantry and give them the backing of other arms.
In commenting briefly on this Directive, which formed the basis of the new strategy, it must be pointed out that, contrary to what has often been said, its key idea was not to restrict the range of attacks to a few limited objectives, but to open the way for a large number of thrusts along the whole extent of the front, each one capable of being rapidly launched, with the advantage of surprise and with a superiority of means. By mobility and an intelligent use of the resources available, we intended to shake the walls of the enemy's defence at as many different points as possible, wearing out the patience of his High Command and the fighting capacities of his reserves, while refusing ourselves to undertake any major attack until the moral, material and physical exhaustion of the enemy had reduced him to a condition of obvious inferiority.
In short, the aim was to obtain from a flexible strategy results hitherto sought from the tactical engagement of the troops. In modern warfare, even more than in that of the past, much bloodshed can be avoided where several battles are skilfully and systematically directed in combination rather than where everything is staked on the hazard of one brutal and murderous attempted breakthrough, developed at length and with blind obstinacy at a single point. With their limited but soundly-based experience in matters of warfare, the soldiers of 1917 understood this very well. They enthusiastically welcomed these operational reforms, and from the moment they felt the first practical effects of Directive No. 1 their morale rose strikingly.
B. LONG-TERM MEASURES
Reform of the system of incentives to good conduct: awards and leave
While giving priority to the most urgent matters, the Commander-in-Chief also took immediate steps to encourage the men and sustain them in the efforts required of them by initiating a whole series of long-term reforms. Most valuable of these in his eyes was the institution of a fair system of awards to units and individuals. Between May and October he persuaded the Minister to authorise the award of the lanyard of the Médaille Militaire to units which had received four mentions in despatches, and the lanyard of the Légion d'Honneur to those which had received six. To give the citations themselves more prestige, he decided in September to announce them publicly to all the local authorities --- county councils, town councils, parish councils and the rest ---in the places of origin and in the garrison towns of the units so honoured. Their own folk were thus given the opportunity to appreciate the valiant conduct of units drawn from their midst; and the soldiers themselves were encouraged by the feeling that at home their courage was known and applauded. Finally, in December, a decision was announced whereby all those mentioned in Army Orders would receive a diploma signed personally by the Commander-in-Chief.
The introduction of fairer arrangements regarding leave completed these measures of rewarding good conduct. By an order of 2nd June all troops irrespective of rank were guaranteed seven days' leave every four months, with provision, as necessary, for making up any backlog and reconstituting the rosters which in many units had been disrupted by the recent operations. On 6th September came a Ministerial note codifying the Commander-in-Chief's various regulations and enactments, and, in agreement with him, extending the three-monthly leave period from seven days to ten. In circulating these regulations in their final form to the Army, the Commander-in-Chief once more recommended units to issue passes on a "percentage" basis, as generously as they could at any given time, so as to reconcile the men's entitlement to leave with operational necessities.
Great efforts were also made to improve the transport situation, so that the leave drafts, particularly on their return to the front, should be able to travel in some degree of order and comfort. This was the theme of a number of Notes issued in May and June and summarised in an Instruction of 8th July.
The principal marshalling yards were to be equipped with the following:
--- A reception centre for men going on or returning from leave;
--- Railway transport and movement offices;
--- A leave camp equipped with shelters and with the following facilities: time-table notice boards, telegraph offices and letterboxes, a canteen, a military co-operative, food and wine counters, tobacco and newspaper kiosks, dining halls, wash basins and showers, latrines, recreation rooms, clocking-out gates; in addition, a free canteen run by voluntary organisations should be attached whenever possible.
--- A camp for the permanent staff, complete with sick bay and visiting room, delousing and disinfection centres, police station and cells, offices and various amenities for the staff, equipment stores, and so forth.
Within a very short time a considerable number of these improvised stations had come into being. Around and alongside them real villages sprang up, little clusters of wooden buildings gaily painted in bright colours, where the soldier on leave was welcomed when he left his train and where, as well as obtaining any information he might need, he was able to enjoy a rest that really did him good. Women of the voluntary organisations --- the Society for helping wounded soldiers, the YMCA, the 'Goutte de café' --- lavished on the men their inexhaustible fund of devotion and generosity, so that the soldier returning to his unit after a spell of leave at home was plunged back into the hard conditions of the front with less shattering abruptness than before. This humane cushioning process was much appreciated by the men, who had never resigned themselves to being treated as mere cyphers.
Besides being made much less unpleasant by these improvements, the waiting-periods at the stations were reduced to a minimum by a better organisation of the train schedules themselves. On 7th June the Commander-in-Chief asked the Under Secretary of State in whose province these matters fell to bring together representatives of the railways, from the interior and the army networks, to work out revised schedules of halts at the marshalling yards and to organise more and speedier trains. This was done to his satisfaction. On 16th June he ordered the armies to stagger departures of leave drafts so as to regulate numbers according to the seats available on each train. On 1st July he organised road transport to take the men from their billets to the stations. On 21st July he organised "assembly points" and information services at the junctions and marshalling yards so that men who were travelling on their own or had got lost could be directed to the sectors where their units were stationed. On 23rd July he issued a Note setting out in detail the duties of commanding officers and RTOs. Next he had copies of the 'Guidebook for the Use of Those Going on Leave(37) distributed to all the men, to supply them with information on routes and railway time-tables.
In short, a normal leave system was now able to function, and although to operate it involved great difficulties, the High Command was able to reap the benefit of having reformed it. This question of leave properly organised was perhaps the most powerful means it possessed for maintaining morale at a high level among the troops. The men on leave were released from the strict discipline of their units, but not from the framework of an orderly and disciplined routine. The police at the stations and the trains met with no trouble, and maintained authority all the more easily in that everything on the journey served to remind the men of the High Command's constant attention to their welfare.
Improvements in the rations; the fight against drunkenness; incentives to saving.
The same care was also apparent, as we shall now show, in the improvements which the High Command was anxious to make in the material conditions at the front, to the hardships of which the soldier was now returning.
In the first place, rations. As a result of living continuously in the open, of hard physical exertion and insufficient sleep, the troops, as is well known, developed prodigious appetites; and we have seen that during the disturbances of the spring there were frequent complaints about the inadequacy of the rations, both in quantity and quality. The Commander-in-Chief intervened frequently to remedy this. On 2nd June he urged commanding officers to pay personal attention to the training of cooks, and when their unit was in billets to provide them with the means of preparing more elaborate dishes than would be possible from travelling kitchens. On 12th June he ruled that in company commanders' courses a predominant place should be given to teaching the practical aspects of catering, and that the officers should receive instruction in such subjects as what rations their men were entitled to, the quality, preparation and serving up of foodstuffs, and the preparation of mess accounts. On 8th June he wrote urgently to the Minister of Food, telling him of the inadequate supplies of green vegetables sent to the front and demanding the regular dispatch to the army of 100 lorry-loads a day, even if this meant severely rationing those at home.
In a detailed Note of and July he reminded junior officers that "it is by paying personal attention to these details, trifling though they may appear, that they will win a deep and lasting influence over their men and will be amply repaid for their trouble when the time comes to lead them in action". They were told that they must contrive to have soup, meat and vegetables served at each main meal, and that breakfast must also be organised as a light meal, consisting of coffee, soup, cold meat, pâté, sausage, sardines or cheese, according to what was available, and that they must do their best to see that food was cooked as near the lines as possible, so that the men should be able to eat it hot, or at worst still warm.
All through the second half of 1917, notably on 23rd July, 5th August and 8th and 20th November, further letters streamed into the Ministry of Food about ensuring the regular flow of supplies and the need to reorganise the great provision centres of the interior so as to "free them from delays and the complications of red tape and accountancy".
To improve the organisation of the "co-operatives", those indispensable means of supplying the ever-hungry soldier with a supplement to his normal rations, the Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Supply was asked on 9th October to set up a central supply depot for the army. This proposal was immediately agreed to in principle. The depots were formed and their functions precisely defined in an Instruction of 24th November. Since they were allowed to deal with the trade and to buy in bulk, the depots were able to supply the divisional co-operatives on exceptionally favourable terms. The latter set up branches nearer and nearer the front line. From day to day, therefore, and almost immediately behind their trenches, the soldiers were able to purchase a wide variety of foodstuffs and other items at tç lowest possible price, and thus, when they arrived at the rear for a rest, they did so with the extreme edge of their hunger already blunted and no longer felt impelled to blue all their money in the first few hours as they had done in the past, to the great detriment of their discipline and health.
The supply of regular and reasonable amounts of wine was another way of fighting the greatest of all dangers resulting from this appetite, that of drunkenness. Thus on 1st June the Commander-in-Chief gave orders that, when the supplies of wine sent up from the rear for sale to the troops in the army zone were in excess of the amounts required, these should be requisitioned. This prevented the retailers, professional or amateur, from encouraging the troops to drink too much, and the wine requisitioned could be used for the normal ration, which, by the terms of a Note of 8th November, was set at a litre per man per day.
Another way of protecting the soldier from the indulgence of his excessive appetites was by encouraging him to save. Half the men's pay, including their battle zone gratuity and share in the profit of mess economies, was advanced to them in cash, as has already been explained, the other half being put aside to form a nest-egg on demobilisation. The amount made immediately available to them was, however, still too large, considering the limited chances they had of spending it while in the line and the danger of its being simply squandered when they reached a rest area. On 7th June the Commander-in-Chief demanded the right, which was granted him by a Decree of 14th June, to have the men's savings accounts, when circumstances called for it, credited with the whole of their share of the profits accruing from economies made in the mess, and also the right to raise the ceiling of those profits from five francs a head to ten, thus halving the amount the men could spend. That done, he started discussions with the Minister about a savings book for the use of men on leave in which stamps could be affixed representing the value of half their special rates of pay and battle gratuities, such sums to be cashable only at the bank or post office where the leave was to be spent. However, this reform could only be put through by legislation, and nothing had come of it by the end of 1917.
Reorganisation of rest periods
The High Command was concerned not only with ensuring that rest periods did the men the maximum good, in restoring and consolidating both their physical health and their morale; it also wished to see them more rationally administered.
The essentials were laid down in an instruction of 2nd June. So far as operational necessities allowed, units were to take turns in the line and at the rear, so that each in succession might have the benefit of a month's rest --- not more, or they might grow too unused to the sense of danger. Released from the immediate strain of the fighting and installed as comfortably as possible, they would be left to relax completely for two or three days, then launched on a course of progressive retraining which would keep them up to the mark and well occupied without exhausting them.
Directive No. 3 of 4th July, which completed the strategic reforms begun in Directive No. 1, returned to this question of the organisation of rest periods when it dealt with the employment and quartering of reserves. It advised army group commanders to give their major formations equal periods in and out of the line, and to arrange things in such a way as to ensure that the rest periods were never of less than a fortnight's duration.
As can be seen by comparing these different Instructions, the rest periods were to vary between a minimum of a fortnight and a maximum of a month. A Note of 6th August laid down in detail the conditions to be guaranteed, so far as circumstances allowed, when troops were stationed in "rest zones", "transit zones", "advanced zones", or "army reserve zones". The "rest zones" were to be fully equipped with all the amenities and facilities of a proper barracks (individual sleeping quarters, permanent kitchens, water points, latrines, wash basin, showers, wash houses, drying rooms, ovens, incinerators, and so forth).
On 3rd August an emergency demand for 400,000 beds was sent to the Minister. In addition, on 9th August, the rear section of GHQ set up a factory which turned out 5,000 beds a day. On 27th September the order went out that the major formations stationed in rest areas were themselves to give a hand in the preparation of these zones by putting their engineers and territorial units at the disposal of the "zone majors" and "camp majors". Lastly, on 22nd November, orders were given to lay in stocks of bedding-straw and fuel, and to get out information leaflets to enable the troops to discover what amenities were available in their rest camps as soon as they arrived in them.
The Commander-in-Chief completed his work by encouraging sport and entertainments such as army theatricals, which refreshed the men physically and allowed them to relax their minds. Unit commanders were able to offer "prizes" which the Commander-in-Chief had procured for them in cash or in kind from many groups of businessmen and other generous donors, official or private.
Let no one be surprised at this attempt to alternate the horrors of war with the relaxation of light-hearted amusements! It was truly what was required by both the minds and bodies of these men, who, if they were not to crack under the strain of their ordeal, needed from time to time to be able to blot out completely the painful vision of the terrible drama in which they had now played their parts for almost three whole years.
General supervision of the country's morale
Despite all these precautions, the armies would still be exposed to contamination from the interior if a strict watch was not continually kept on the rear. There the convalescence would be even longer than at the front, and unless they were kept up to the mark the authorities would soon be nodding off to sleep on top of a volcano they wrongly thought to be now extinct. We will therefore add a few words in explanation of all the letters exchanged, the discussions held, and the decisions taken on the subject of keeping an over-all watch on affairs at home.
On 23rd June the Commander-in-Chief wrote to the Minister of the Interior to inform him of a serious recurrence of the pamphlet propaganda campaign: "Enough have died: Peace!". . . "The Russian Revolution and what Socialists should be doing about it" . . . "Spreading the Gospel ". . . "A Call to the People of Paris: Peace without Annexations!" . . . "Down with the War" . . . etc... etc. "The Committee for the Resumption of International Relations and the Committee for the Defence of the Trade Union Movement", the Commander-in-Chief concluded, "seem to me to be playing a particularly harmful role. I call upon you urgently to take the necessary steps to suppress this renewed agitation."
On 9th July he asked the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of War to see that he was supplied with regular information about subversive activities in the interior, so that he would be able to take steps to prevent them spreading among the troops or at least to counter their effects without delay. In letters of 12th and 23rd July the two Ministers replied that they agreed to this request in principle.
In practice, the information supplied to the Commander-in-Chief was both spasmodic and incomplete, and he complained about this to the Minister of War on 28th July: "I am thus left in total ignorance of the present direction of the pacifist propaganda campaign and of the demonstrations in support of it .... I remain powerless against its machinations .... I ask you to put pressure on the Minister of the Interior to have the exchange of information about the pacifist campaign between the Security Department and my Intelligence Branch resumed . . . . When winter starts, the knowledge that the campaign is going to drag on must be expected to produce a feeling of weariness among the troops, and we must take steps to prevent the pacifist organisations from taking advantage of this temporary mood as they did before. . ."
The clash between the Commander-in-Chief and the Minister of the Interior, which occurred for a short time in the days which followed the disturbances and was concerned with the steps needed to prevent their return, sprang from the difference between the two men's points of view. Both, no doubt, were equally concerned for the safety of the country, but the one had seen the danger at less close range than had the other, had not measured its full importance, and had bowed once more to the Frenchman's unshakeable habit of putting respect for the liberty of the individual above all else, of wanting to let bygones be bygones and show mercy to those who had failed. But the hour when such an attitude could be countenanced had not yet struck, and those at the front were determined to oppose it with unremitting persistence and vigour. These things deserve to be said, and to serve as lessons for the future.
Accordingly, repeating his reply of 3rd March to the urgent requests which the Commander-in-Chief had submitted previously on 28th February, the Minister of the Interior produced a lengthy memorandum dated 20th August defending himself to the Minister of War against the charges he felt were being brought against him for his negligent direction of the Security Department. While it might, he agreed, be true that over the past few weeks the amount of information supplied to the Commander-in-Chief had decreased, this was because "since the outbreaks in June, the state of morale in the country had happily improved and the propaganda efforts of the pacifists had very significantly diminished . . . ." Then, repeating his attempt of 3rd March to break off all direct contact with the Commander-in-Chief, he proposed that all information in future should be supplied by his services to a Liaison Officer attached to the Ministry of War and that the Special Commissioners --- except, of course, those in the army zones --- should no longer submit reports to the military authorities direct, the Prefects alone being qualified to do this. These measures, he observed, should do whatever was required "to dispel all traces of the misunderstanding which appeared to have arisen between the High Command and the Security Department, for reasons unknown to the latter. . ."
Having read this apologia, which the Minister of War reported to him in a letter of 23rd August, the Commander-in-Chief returned to the charge in a letter of 27th August --- not in any useless attempt to define his responsibilities but to bring home the incompetence of a vitally important service and to see it speedily reformed. He stated that he had received no reports from the Security Department during the months of May and June when the crisis was at its height. Nor had he had those of the Prefect of Police, the Prefect of the Loire and the Prefect of the Bouches-du-Rhône, which were extremely important and contained specially valuable information about centres of unrest in the interior. All he knew about the pacifist meetings was what he was able to read about them in "L'Humanité" and the "Journal du Peuple". The criminal propaganda of the news-sheet "Vague" was not made known to him, and he was not able to take stock of the harm it was doing, until its extensive circulation among the men had already contaminated the army at many points.
As for the proposal that the Commander-in-Chief should have no further communication with the Security Department except through a Liaison Officer attached to the office of the Minister of War, this would mean a sacrifice on the Commander-in-Chief's side of all the advantages which he could expect from personal contact: the power to ensure that no document would be delayed by those transmitting it: rapidity of information; the benefit of verbal explanations.
Despite his repeated efforts, it was only gradually that the Commander-in-Chief obtained acceptance of his principal demands. He managed to preserve his right to direct weekly access to the Minister of the Interior, but had no success, throughout the whole of the summer, in getting the centres of agitation extirpated root and branch. Thus it was that on 23rd September he was once more addressing the Minister of War on the harm done at the front by the circulation of the "Bonnet Rouge", and the bad effects of this journal on the morale of its regular readers.
Control of the national Press
Being powerless to take the firm action he would have liked against these organs of defeatism, the Commander-in-Chief turned his attention to the national Press, fortunately the largest and most influential section of newspapers, and attempted to steer it along the right path. His aim was to persuade it to ban all pessimistic articles and, while obviously not overdoing it, to act as the mouthpiece of a spirit of healthy optimism.
To this end, "Press missions" were set up in July. Journalists and writers, with officers acting as guides, were taken on visits to units at interesting points of the front. Their articles, which gained in accuracy as a result, were submitted at GHQ to the scrutiny of officers appointed by the Commander-in-Chief and acting on his directions. The "copy" then passed to the Censor's office in Paris, now reorganised on lines acceptable to the Commander-in-Chief and in accordance with his views.
Since the Press did not always take kindly to this guidance and control, the Commander-in-Chief had to return to the subject on many occasions in his letters to the Minister of War. "It is essential", he wrote on 23rd August, "that what the troops read in the newspapers should provide them with grounds for perseverance and enthusiasm and not for scepticism and bitterness .... Tactful direction must be applied to the Press to persuade it to be less critical and more factual in its reports, and to remember that the blank spaces resulting from the Censor's excisions only leave the reader free, in a very harmful way, to imagine goodness knows what . . . ." On 20th October he expressed a wish that the newspapers should devote less space to their favourite theme of "our victorious army" and more to articles which placed due emphasis on "the ever increasing weight of our allies' contribution and the certain prospect of a victorious peace which could alone be counted on to bring general prosperity and ensure the recovery of our industry, trade and agriculture". On 30th November he underlined the danger of giving too much publicity to the Courts Martial then in progress, and to events in Russia, which had a demoralising effect.
The Commander-in-Chief continued to send the Government such suggestions right up to the end of the war, in a constant effort to prevent the nerves of the soldiers, now raw with weariness, from being harmfully worked upon. And when publications detrimental to morale slipped through the Censor's net in Paris and percolated through from the interior to the armies, they were seized in accordance with detailed regulations brought to the notice of Army Group commanders in Notes of 7th and 15th October, 1917.
Reform of tactical training
Gradually cured of an illness which had almost destroyed it, and protected against a recurrence of the disease, the army now needed to be brought up to concert pitch for the next round of the struggle.
Its retraining to a point where it was once more fit for battle was the object of Directive No. 2 of 20th June. To indicate the substance of this document in a few words, it declared that, as the latest operations had once again proved, a unit will give what its training has equipped it to give. Nothing is more calculated to inspire the soldier with confidence than his ability to handle his complex equipment with ease and skill, but if the necessary progress was to be made in this direction the assistance of specialist instructors would be required, since no unit commander can be an expert in everything, nor will his duties leave him sufficient time to make a detailed study of all the new weapons. Courses for specialists, on essentially practical lines, would, accordingly, be conducted in "schools" or "classes" attached to training centres equipped with all the necessary resources. The training would be completed by participation in large-scale joint exercises. The units involved in these would wherever possible be sent to camps where they could carry out manoeuvres based closely on battle conditions and leaving as little as possible to the imagination. The specialists would operate with their units in the normal way, and detailed study would be given in particular to liaison between the various arms.
Senior officers, regimental and brigade commanders and general officers, would also have the opportunity to brush up their technical knowledge by taking part occasionally in exercises in "centres" set up for the purpose, under the direction of the army group commanders, on 1st July.
In this way, the training of all officers would be reorganised from top to bottom of the scale, restoring the army's self-confidence after its recent tribulations and enabling it to profit by the experience gained from its misfortunes.
The Commander-in-Chief followed from day to day the progress of the cure he had prescribed to put the army firmly back on its feet, and behind it the nation.
By the middle of June there was already an improvement, manifested by the decrease in the number of acts of indiscipline, and a sharp reaction among those who had remained sound throughout and who condemned the folly of the mutineers. "After three years of fighting, hardship, and misery," ran one soldier's letter, "it would really be too bad if these outbreaks of impatience were permitted to lead to the escape of our prey, just when he is on the point of falling into our hands!"
In August only four cases of indiscipline took place at the front, though unrest still continued to a certain extent at stations and on leave trains. Most important, however, the Paris region was now calm, and the improvement there seemed complete a fact to which the Commander-in-Chief drew the War Minister's attention in a letter of 14th August.
By September, confidence in the High Command was apparent everywhere.
The Intelligence Service of GHQ reported in October that the postal censorship produced the following information: "Morale excellent in 24% of all units; good in 71%; mediocre in only 5%. Inadequate quantity of the rations complained about in only 15% of units; quality in 12%. Standard of clothing criticised in only 10% of units; camps and billets in 12%; dugouts in 5%. The new leave system is proving extremely popular." The cheerful behaviour of the men in rest areas exerted a good influence on the civilian population and was reflected in a corresponding improvement in morale at home.
On 23rd October a definite turning-point was marked by the brilliant tactical success at Malmaison, planned and carried through in accordance with the methods laid down in Directive No. 1.
812 field guns, 862 heavy guns, 105 long-range guns and 66 trench batteries supported six divisions placed in advanced positions along a front of 10 to 12 kilometres. Bombardment on an almost unlimited scale continued solidly for four days before the attack, cowing the defenders, isolating them from their rear, depriving them of sleep and making it impossible for rations, reinforcements or reliefs to be sent up to them. The French Air Force was out in strength and dominated the battlefield completely.
When the infantry advanced to attack in accordance with a meticulously planned time-table, it had, in addition to its own machine-gun effectives, a supporting force of 37-millimetre guns, Stokes mortars with their trench gun crews, and tanks --- all capable of wiping out any pockets of resistance which had survived the effects of the preliminary barrages.
In less than forty-eight hours, all the objectives had been attained. Our losses, it is true, amounted to 14,000 men, including the lightly wounded. But the German killed and wounded were estimated at 40,000, to which must be added 11,500 prisoners brought in by our men, with 200 guns, 222 minenwerfer, and 720 machine guns.
During the last few days of October, immediately after this action, the postal censorship showed that the units who had participated were quite intoxicated by their victory. They were thrilled to have made such an excellent catch, "with light losses considering the extent of the success". As one of them wrote: "The morale of the troops is wonderful .... There is singing on the march and we are all very cheerful .... The Boches are completely demoralized .... If the war was as successful along the whole front as it is here, there'd soon be no Boches left .... We are filthy, muddy, we stink to high heaven, but we are proud .... This is a victory all right!"
In short, by adapting our methods to the circumstances of the hour, better training, more confident team-work by commanders and their subordinates in accomplishing their common task, such remarkable results were achieved that the crisis was now definitely and permanently at an end.
There were, however, one or two troubles still ahead..
The end of November saw a sharp new assault on morale. The Pope's peace moves, the Stockholm, London and Berne conferences, and the Bordeaux congress revived pacifist undercurrents, and the army was once more flooded with leaflets. This evil propaganda exploited the approach of winter, the deplorable impression made by the treason trials,(38) the situation in Russia, the disastrous defeat of the Italian army,(39) the delay in the arrival of American reinforcements, and the severe restrictions imposed on the civilian population. The enemy did all in his power to encourage these efforts, for if the first signs of the earlier crisis had escaped his attention, this time he knew everything. He managed to see to it that his pamphlets and newspapers --- such as the celebrated "Gazette des Ardennes" --- were circulated in the French front line and at the rear. He instigated conversations with the men in the trenches opposite. He erected placards in front of our lines. He sent over rockets and miniature balloons to bring us news of the armistice on the eastern front and the joint manifesto of Lenin and Trotsky on the subject of immediate peace terms.
In fact, however, the very gravity of the threat only threw into relief the effectiveness of the cure. Acting this time in full accord with each other, the French Government(40) and High Command took energetic counter-measures, having learned from the lessons of the summer of 1917 how morale should be maintained.
Indeed, the spirit of the army was barely ruffled by this storm, and righted itself without having suffered any damage.
Our armies were now ready to be launched into the fierce battles of the spring of 1918. They would withstand the ordeals of 21st March and 27th May without a single moment of weakness; and they would then march steadily and victoriously forward, from 15th July to 11th November, 1918, with a resilience and strength of spirit which should serve as an example to all future generations of Frenchmen.
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