Chemin des Dames memorial chapel at Cerny-en-Laonnais (Photo courtesy of Yves Fohlen)

France prepares for Battle of Chemin des Dames Centenary

Posted on on 10 February 2017
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Commemorations will be taking place in the Aisne region at Easter to mark the centenary of the First World War battle that shook French morale to the core.

The villages of Craonne and Cerny-en-Laonnais, as well as the Caverne du Dragon Museum, will be the focus for remembrance of the Battle of the Chemin des Dames, also known as the Nivelle Offensive. 

Instead of the rapid breakthrough promised in spring 1917, French troops suffered tens of thousands of casualties on the first day of their assault on the Chemin des Dames ridge near Laon. Mutinies broke out as unrest took hold in the following weeks, both in the army and on the home front.

100 years after the attack, the main official ceremony will take place in Cerny-en-Laonnais on 16 April 2017. Pre-register through the Aisne Prefecture by February 15.

Centenary events on April 16 also include:

*A guided walk from Craonne at dawn, remembering the opening hours of the 1917 offensive. The official ceremony at Cerny will be broadcast on a big screen in Craonne.

Caverne du Dragon Museum (Photo: Yves Fohlen)

*Unveiling of a new work by sculptor Haïm Kern at the Caverne du Dragon - the museum and memorial located on the site of quarries used as an underground barracks by the German Army.

*An evening procession from Craonne, culminating in a candlelit ceremony at Craonelle Military Cemetery.

Centenary events will also be taking place on April 15, and later in 2017. For more details see the Aisne 14-18 website.

Centenary News background:

The Battle of the Chemin des Dames is also called the Nivelle Offensive, after General Robert Nivelle, the French Commander-in-Chief who instigated the operation.

It was preceded by diversionary British and Commonwealth attacks elsewhere on the Western Front at Arras, where Canadian troops captured Vimy Ridge.

Nivelle, appointed army commander after the successful counter-attacks in Verdun, believed his tactics, notably the use of artillery, could deliver a breakthrough on the Aisne within days.

But the Germans had gained knowledge of French intentions, and their defences were well prepared.

Nivelle's failure cost him his command. As unrest spread in the army, he was succeeded by another General who'd made his name defending Verdun, Philippe Pétain.

Memorial at the Caverne du Dragon to Senegalese troops who fell fighting for France on the Chemin des Dames in 1917 (Photo: Yves Fohlen)

The Aisne was where trench warfare began in September 1914. Germans troops dug in to resist the British and French armies during the retreat from the Marne. A Centenary exhibition, 'Tommies on the Aisne', was held at the Caverne du Dragon Museum in 2014. Historian Paul Kendall reported for Centenary News on the First Battle of the Aisne commemorations. The Aisne was also the scene of a third battle during the last German offensives in 1918.

Event information: Aisne 14-18

All images courtesy of Yves Fohlen

Posted by: CN Editorial Team