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The Nivelle Offensive was a 1917 Allied attack on the Western Front in World War I. Promised as the assault that would end the war within 48 hours, with casualties expected of around 10,000 men, it failed on both counts. It was a three-stage plan. The high levels of casualties rapidly caused unrest throughout the French Army and led to a change of leadership of the French Army.

  1. This was a preliminary attack by the British and Dominion First, Third and Fifth Armies at Arras. See Battle of Arras marker and Vimy Ridgemarker.
  2. French assault at Chemin des Damesmarker ridge. See Second Battle of the Aisne (also known as the Third Battle of Champagne).
  3. A linkup of the British and Dominion and French armies, having broken through the German lines. This didn't happen.

Soupir N° I National Cemetery near the Chemin des Dames.
In this photo, crosses mark the graves of French soldiers, and white tombstones with Arabic script mark the graves of French colonial "Senegalese" (North and West African) soldiers.
When Robert Nivelle took over from Joseph Joffre as French Commander-in-Chief in December 1916 after the costly fighting at Verdunmarker and the Sommemarker, he argued that a massive onslaught on Germanmarker lines would bring Frenchmarker victory in 48 hours. The plan was put into action on 16 April 1917 after support from France's Prime Minister, despite strong disapproval from other high-ranking officials.

The Nivelle offensive was a huge and costly undertaking, involving around 1.2 million troops and 7,000 artillery pieces on a broad front between Royemarker and Reimsmarker. Its main focus was a massive assault on the German positions along the Chemin des Damesmarker ridge, in the Second Battle of the Aisne. From the start, the plan, which had been in development since December 1916, was plagued by delays and information leaks. By the time it went into action in April 1917, the plans were well known to the German army, who took appropriate defensive measures.

The offensive achieved very little in the way of territorial gain, nowhere near the 48-hour breakthrough envisaged. In the aftermath of its end on 9 May 1917, Nivelle was sacked, ending his career. There were over 187,000 French casualties alone, sparking widespread mutiny in the French army, including one famous incident where, as the offensive was winding down, the French 2nd Division arrived on the battlefield, drunk and without weapons.

See also


  • Evans, M. M. (2004). Battles of World War I. Select Editions. ISBN 1-84193-226-4.

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