"The Nivelle Offensive was many things.
"It was the French army's answer to Verdun (i.e., the Germans had mounted their great offensive in Verdun in 1916, nearly broken the French line but had been held). And the Nivelle Offensive, in a way, was to demonstrate that the fighting spirit of the French army was still intact. It was also a genuine attempt at a breakthrough, or an attempt to open the front up and bring the end of the war that much nearer.
"It was also supposed to be a demonstration of new methods by new commanders – because old Joffre, Papa Joffre, who'd commanded since the outbreak of the war, had been retired – and Nivelle, who was supposed to be an expert in new methods of coordinating artillery to break a hole in the enemy front, was the new man.
"And Nivelle made promises.
"He made assurances to the troops that this time it was going to work and that they would break through the German line at little cost. All that was untrue. They did not break through, at very heavy cost to themselves, heavy casualties on the first day. The Nivelle Offensive bogged down, and it clearly failed."