General Joffre (left) with his British counterpart, General Sir Douglas Haig, and General Ferdinand Foch at Chateau de Beauquesne, Haig's forward headquarters on the Somme, August 1916 (Photo © IWM Q 951)

100 Years Ago: Joffre loses French army command to Nivelle

Posted on on 17 December 2016
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General Joseph Joffre was replaced as French army chief in December 1916, in the latest leadership shake-up among the big powers midway through the First World War.

Joffre's successor was Robert Nivelle, a general who'd impressed with his defence of Verdun and the campaign of autumn counter-attacks that ensured a hard-won French victory.

'Papa' Joffre, army chief since 1911, had been a commanding presence among Allied military leaders from the outset of the Great War, credited with repelling the German threat to Paris at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914.

But his reputation waned amid the following two years of attrition and deadlock on the Western Front. 

There was criticism of France being caught unprepared for the German onslaught at Verdun, its fortresses stripped of many of their guns for use in Joffre's offensives elsewhere.


Political differences over the conduct of the war intensified in both France and Britain as 1916 drew to a close.

Germany had already overhauled its high command. Erich von Falkenhayn was dismissed as Chief of the General Staff in August, replaced by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff.

In the UK, David Lloyd George took over as Prime Minister on December 7 after Herbert Asquith was forced to resign.

The French Government removed Joffre from effective command days later, although he was rewarded with the highest rank of Marshal of France and sent on a goodwill mission to America in 1917.

General Robert Nivelle lasted only months as army chief.  

His failed promises of a breakthrough during the so-called Nivelle Offensive on the Aisne in April 1917, cost him his job. Amid the ensuing mutinies among French troops, he was succeeded by Philippe Pétain, the general who'd also made his name commanding the defence of Verdun.

Also in Centenary News:

Sir Douglas Haig becomes British commander in France, December 1915.

Gerrman high command reshuffle puts Hindenburg & Ludendorff in charge, August 1916.

Lloyd George succeeds Asquith as UK Prime Minister, December 1916.

Sources: Wikipedia/various

Images courtesy of Imperial War Museums © IWM (Q 951)

Posted by: CN Editorial Team