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"I'm ordering you back to the front! To prepare for an attack on Fort Douaumont!"
―General Nivelle[src]

Robert Nivelle was a French general, who led France's 2nd Army at the Battle of Verdun in World War I. He strongly supported General Joseph Joffre's strategy to "attack to the utmost", and replaced Henri Philippe Pétain, who had clashed with Joffre's strategy.


In September 1916, Nivelle was promoted by Commander-in-Chief Joffre to command the 2nd Army, replacing General Pétain, who had been promoted upwards out of the way. At the 2nd Army Headquarters in Souilly, Nivelle celebrated his promotion with General Charles Mangin, and Nivelle planned a new attack on the north face of Fort Douaumont. General Joffre arrived and authorized the attack, reminding Nivelle that he expected results from his new Verdun commander, selected because he was unafraid to attack at all costs. One of Nivelle's new orders was to replace the existing couriers with fresh Belgian troops, as the French couriers had been infiltrated by German spies. After signing a new order to attack, Nivelle passed the orders to Major Marat, who dispatched Henri Defense (Indiana Jones) to the front.

That evening, Pétain was at the senior officer's dinner at the headquarters, joking with Mangin, when Major Marat arrived with the results of the day's attack: no gain, and 600 casualties. Neville blamed the failure on Colonel Barc and the cowardice of the troops, and demanded that Barc appear the next morning in person. Pétain grew upset and stormed out of the meal.

Two days later, while at the billiards table, Nivelle received intelligence from Barc and Defense, who had returned from a night time spy mission, that the Germans were bringing in two Big Bertha guns. Nivelle questioned Defense and reminded him that traitors would be shot, but Pétain stepped in and made it clear that he felt that Defense was telling the truth. Not believing that the Germans were bringing in larger guns, he dismissed Barc to return to the front to prepare for another assault on the fort. Knowing that the guns would massacre the attackers, Pétain tried to get Nivelle to cancel his attack, but Nivelle left for a breakfast appointment.

After breakfast, he and Mangin learned that Pétain had confirmed Defense's intelligence with some aerial reconnaissance photos. Pétain tried to get Nivelle to cancel the attack, but Nivelle refused, stating that he had his orders to attack. Pétain wrote new orders to cancel Nivelle's previous orders, and gave Marat the orders to pass to a courier.

After the courier went out, General Joffre arrived and noticed that the French artillery had stopped, though it was not time yet for the attack. When Joffre questioned Nivelle, Nivelle gave terse replies which prompted Pétain to admit that he had stopped the artillery barrage and canceled the attack. Furious at Nivelle for going along with Pétain, Joffre re-authorized the attack, and called Barc to re-start the attack. Having received Pétain's written cancellation order and not willing to have his men needlessly slaughtered, Barc reminded the commander-in-chief that a written order could only be changed by another written order, as per Joffre's own regulations. Enraged, Joffre wrote out a new order, and it was given to Defense to bring to the front lines. In the end, the attack was not started, as Defense had secretly destroyed the orders by feigning a German airstrike on his motorcycle.

In 1917 Nivelle ordered the 124th Squadron to take pictures of a reported arms build-up at the railroad yard in Hamme, 40 kms behind the lines.

Behind the scenes[]

Igor De Savitch played the role of General Nivelle in the episode "Verdun, September 1916" of the The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

In real life, Nivelle, as a gunnery officer, had participated in key defensive victories prior to his role at Verdun. When Joffre needed to replace Pétain as head of the 2nd Army, he promoted Pétain to sector commander, and gave command of the 2nd Army to Nivelle on May 1, 1916 (the episode uses September instead for dramatic purposes). Nivelle went on the offensive, and his first attempt to assault Fort Douaumont was a complete failure, and lost a second French fort in the process. Nivelle's assaults proved disastrous in higher casualties and lower soldier morale. In October 1916, with the Germans closing down the Verdun operation, Nivelle and Pétain mounted a counteroffensive and retook the forts, making Nivelle a national hero. In December 1916, Nivelle was made commander-in-chief, replacing Joffre. After the Nivelle Offensive, which made little progress on the Western Front though resulted in high casualties and soldier mutinies, Nivelle was eventually replaced by Pétain as commander-in-chief in May 1917.


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