The Nivelle Offensive

The Nivelle Offensive
By Euronews
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1917: April 16


The Nivelle Offensive was a joint operation between Britain and France on the Western front from April 16 to May 9 in 1917. The aim of the offensive was to knock a hole in the German frontline and quickly advance into Germany, ending the war. Robert Nivelle, who devised the scheme, predicted that the offensive would allow the Allies to break through the German lines within 48 hours.

The plan was for the French Third army at Saint Quentin and the British First, Third and Fifth armies at Arras to capture the high ground and divert German reserves from the French fronts on the Aisne and in Champagne. Then the French would launch their main offensive on the Chemin des Dames ridge. The final element was that the British and French troops who had broken through would advance towards the German border and into Germany.

The offensive did complete its goal of breaking through the German lines and advancing further into enemy territory, although overall victory was not achieved. However during the offensive both the British and the French suffered significant casualties: the British suffered 160,000 casualties and France suffered 118,000 casualties and 28,000 deaths. This had a crushing effect on the French morale, which led to mutiny among French soldiers. During the chaotic period that followed 21,000 French soldiers deserted and revolts occurred in 21 battalions.
As a result of this failure Nivelle was relieved of his command and replaced by General Pétain, who had 40-62 mutineers shot, and introduced better welfare for French troops to lift the men’s morale. Overall the Nivelle Offensive had a massive effect on the French army, as from then on the French army reverted to defending their positions, instead of going on the attack.

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