May 5, 1917 - French 21st Division Mutinies, Unrest Spreading in the French Army
Pictured - Fed up.
The French army suffered grievously during the Nivelle Offensive. Despite promises of swift victory, the French incurred over 40,000 casualties when well-prepared German defenses blunted their assault. One Senegalese battalion was wiped out to a man.
The French army had borne the brunt of combat on the Western Front, and its famous élan was beginning to run dry. Soldiers were fed up with their lot: bloody attacks for mere meters of ground, miserable trenches, a huge divide in conditions for the officer corps and la troupe. In early May entire divisions started to revolt.
On May 3 the 2nd Colonial Division simply refused to return to the front. Soldiers threw down their packs and told their officers to shove off. “Down with the war!” On May 5 the 21st Division did the same thing. Eventually, a handful of well-liked officers in both cases appealed to duty and convinced the soldiers to take their place in the line. But the mutineers had won their point: they refused to make any more doomed attacks. For now the line could hold, but mutiny was spreading, and the situation was beginning to look uncomfortably close to the one in Russia.