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 Front page of the Newspaper Le Miroir, 26th  November 1916

At the head of the French armies, since the beginning of the war, General Joffre was replaced on 13th December 1916 by Robert Nivelle. But after the failure of the offensives of Artois and Champagne in 1915 and in the Somme in 1916, he had prepared the plan of a new offensive between Soissons and Reims for the beginning of 1917.


Taking partly sides for Joffre’s plan, Nivelle promised to make a decisive breakthrough on the Chemin des Dames “in 24 or 48 hours”.


The offensive was postponed several times, after the strategic withdrawal of the Germans on Hindenburg (or Siegfried) line, and was even called into question (on 6th April, Nivelle proposed to give his notice, but it was refused), the offensive was finally fixed on 16th April at 6am.


More than a million of men are gathered on the 40-kilometer front between Soissons and Reims : put aside, the 10th army was put in charge of taking advantage of the 5th and 6th armies that had to break the front. On the French side, for the first time, tanks would enter the war.

A long and intense preparation of artillery, which started on 2nd April, compromised any element of surprise, and above all only partly destroyed the German defences. On 16th April, when the first waves attacked the Chemin des Dames, they came up against barbed wire most of the time intact, and were mown down under the fire of the machine guns.

Bad weather (rain, snow and cold) played an important role, in particular in the battalion of the tirailleurs Sénagalais (Senegalese skirmishers), troops that actually had been recruited in all the French western Africa, from Cotonou to Bamako and from Abidjan to Timbuktu .


Right from the first hours, the offensive appeared to be a bitter and bloody defeat.


Nevertheless, despite particularly important human losses (30,000 dead and 10,000 injured) and despite his promises, Nivelle persisted beyond the “24 or 48 hours” he had previously announced.


The regiments who have participated at this Battle 

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