In December 1916 Robert Nivelle replaced Joseph Joffre as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army. Nivelle argued that a massive onslaught on German lines would bring victory in 48 hours. The French War Minister, Hubert Lyautey, General Henri-Philippe Petain and Sir Douglas Haig were all opposed to the plan. When Aristide Briand, the French prime minister supported Robert Nivelle, Lyautey resigned from office.
The Nivelle Offensive was launched in April 1917 and involved a million French soldiers on a broad front between Royle and Reims. This included a massive assault on German positions along the River Aisne. On 16th April, 19 divisions of the French Fifth and Sixth Armies, under the command of General Charles Mangin, attacked the German frontline. The German Seventh Army had little difficulty defending its entrenched positions and the French suffered over 40,000 casualties on the first day. The French Army also lost 150 Char Schneider tanks. Nivelle's use of a creeping barrage failed to protect his advancing soldiers.
Nivelle refused to accept his strategy was not working and full-scale attacks continued until 20th April. Small gains were made by General Charles Mangin, west of Soissons, but the major breakthrough that Nivelle expected did not take place. Further attacks were ordered and by 5th May, a 4km stretch of the Chemin des Dames Ridge was secured. By the time the 2nd Battle of the Aisne came to an end on 9th May, the French Army had suffered 187,000 casualties. Robert Nivelle was sacked a week later.