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Second Battle of Aisne - 1917

April 16 – May 15, 1917

Aisne bank between Roye and Reims, France – Western Front

Allies – France
Central Powers – German Empire

Robert Nivelle, a French officer, had taken charge of the French Army in the Battle of Verdun in May 1916.
In December 1916, he took over as commander in chief of the French Army from Joseph Joffre and launched what came to be known as the Nivelle Offensive. Despite still opposition from Herbert Lyautey, the French War Minister and Sir Douglas Haig, commander of the BEF, Nivelle went ahead with his offensive with the support of Aristide Briand, the prime minister of France.

On April 16, 1917, the French Fifth and Sixth Armies, led by General Charles Mangin launched an assault on the German Seventh Army, along the Aisne River. The German troops led by General Max Von Boehn fought back with relative ease since the positions were safeguarded by the natural terrain. The Germans were armed with over a hundred machine guns, and were entrenched on a higher ground than the French. The creeping barrage provided the French soldiers little cover.

On April 17, General Francois Anthoine led the French Fourth Army to attack the German First Army, led by General Fritz von Below, located east of Reims. This attack was also easily fended off by the Germans.

The French lost over 40,000 soldiers on the first day of the battle. Over 150 Char Schneider tanks were also lost in the offensive. Despite the losses, General Nivelle persisted with the offensive until May 1917. Portions of the Chemin des Dames Ridge were recovered by the French troops. The battle was called off on May 16, 1917.

The Second Battle of the Aisne was a costly one, and the French lost over 187,000 soldiers. The aftermath of the Nivelle Offensive has resounding effects on the French Army. The great losses and General Nivelle’s refusal to call off the battle led to a mutiny among the French troops. General Nivelle was dismissed on May 16, 1917, and the French Army went on the defensive for many months to come.

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