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Nivelle Offensive, April 1917

Listed under Battlefields in North East France, France.

Photo of Nivelle Offensive, April 1917
Photo by flickr user Wolfgang Staudt
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Continuing my reviews of great battlefields of the Great War’s Western Front I give you the Nivelle Offensive. After the blood baths at Verdun and the Somme the thinking from the top of the French Army was that an all out push on the German lines (the Hindenberg line) would be enough to end the war in 48 hours. Considering the failures of similar schemes at the Somme it’s interesting how this conclusion could possibly have been drawn by Robert Nivelle the new French Commander in Chief. The decision was made at the beginning of 1917 but it took till 16th April for the million men and thousands of pieces of artillery to be manoeuvred into place along the line from Royle to Reims and by this time the Germans were well informed and prepared. Like at the Somme not much ground was gained and this time it was the French forces who suffered the greatest losses - around 180,000 casualties, 30,000 deaths. Large numbers of tanks were deployed though more than half ended by written off, destroyed or bogged in the mud.

The reason this battle is worth noting is for the French mutinies that followed. The infantry were worn of fighting painfully slow battles of attrition and there was talk of the contagion of madness spreading - tales of men wandering drunk into battle without their weapons and going sick…

Nivelle was sacked. The trenches still mark the countryside around Vimy Ridge, even aside from the huge cemeteries. This is one of the best of the poppy fields if you’re interested in that side of it.

Written by  Anthony Harrison.

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