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Remembered Today:

XXII Corps at Rheims July 1918


stevebecker
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Mates,

I have finished a rough draught of an article on the XXII Corsp Mounted Regt during the fighting at Rheim in July 1918 and welcome any coment from our British mates as to there imput on this;

"The XXII Corps Mounted Regiment and the 2nd Battle of the Marne"

by Steve Becker

On the afternoon of the 27 July 1918 Corporal Jack Taggart lead a four man mounted patrol from 1 Troop “D” Squadron XXII Corps Mounted Regiment out into the shattered debris of the Ardre River valley to locate the German front line. He followed the Ardre River until encountering a German force of more then 100 men, which forced him to retire, only he dismounted with a Hotchkiss gun and engaged the Germans allowing his three mates with the horses to retire to cover then return to continue the fight. Corporal Taggart and Private Vic Grist then moved to reconnaissance the German position and under heavy fire was forced to jump into the river Ardre to escape the German machine guns. Jack must have wondered at this time, up to his ears in water and mud how he came to be there in the middle of France and why he wasn’t in sunny Egypt and Palestine with the rest of the 4th Light Horse Regiment?

Near the end of June 1918 the Great German offensives had at last slowed down, still numerous German Divisions remained unemployed. Knowing this General Foch, the new created Generalissimo of the Allied Armies in France, gathered a number of allied Divisions to form a reserve for his own offensive.

Only Foch didn’t want to wait for the next German onslaught instead he launched a series of attacks aimed at the large bulge between Soissons and Rheims along the Marne River, which pointed like a knife point at the heart of France and at Paris.

These attacks started around the middle of July 1918 with strikes by the Tenth French Army on the western side of the salient and the Ninth French Army, including American divisions at Chateau Thierry to the south, then the Fifth French Army south west of Rheims on the 18 July 1918.

The attacks by the Fifth French Army soon bogged down and the British XXII Corps entered the battle near Marfaux on the 20 July 1918.

By the 27 July the XXII Corps had advanced along the line of the Ardre River and at last reported that German units were retiring, General Godley the commander of the XXII Corps now ordered his Cavalry to take over the advance and the XXII Corps Mounted Regiment, composed of Australian Light Horseman and New Zealand Mounted Rifleman found themselves in the front line of the Allied Armies.

The XXII Corps Mounted Regiment still contained the Regimental Head Quarters with “B” and “D” Squadrons of the old 4th Light Horse Regiment and with the attached Squadron of the New Zealand Otago Mounted Rifles. This was a new name of an old unit formed from the 2nd Anzac Light Horse Regiment when the II Anzac Corps was disbanded in December 1917 and along with the 1st Anzac Light Horse Regiment (13th Light Horse Regiment) of the 1st Anzac Corps which were used to form the Cavalry for the new Australian Corps, General Birdwood the new Corps Commander didn’t need two Light Horse Regiments for his Corps and Lieutenant General Sir Alexander Godley asked that the 2nd Anzac Light Horse Regiment be retained by the II Anzac Corps when it changed its name to the XXII British Corps forcing the change of name from the 2nd Anzac Light Horse Regiment to the XXII Corps Mounted Regiment.

Since the 5 March 1918 the XXII Corps was still on the Somme when an order from General Foch sent General Godley’s Corps to be loaded on trains and moved to an area outside Chalons south of Rheims. The XXII Corps Mounted Regiment moved on the 5 June to Blendecques and Coupelle on the 6 June, to Wavans on the 7 June, and to Bourdon on the 8 June arriving on the 9 June at Ossie (Oissey) south east of Rheims. There the Regiment waited for over a month as the great German offensive on the Aisne died away. The remainder of the XXII Corps was concentred around Revigny east of Rheims in the Forth French Armies area, with the last units arriving around the 16 July 1918.

On the 18 July the Fifth French Army comprising the 1st French Colonial Corps, the V French Corps, the 1st French Cavalry Corps and the 2nd Italian Corps carried out its part in the battle plan and attacked south west of Rheims from Ormes to Festigny, only all too soon the Italians were in trouble and the corps needed to be replaced. The only allied reserves close on hand was the XXII British Corps near Chalons and rapidly moved replacing the Italians on the night 19/20 July 1918 fitting in between the 2nd Colonial Division (1st Colonial Corps) and 14th French Division (V French Corps).

The XXII Corps used as a centre line the river Ardre valley with the 62nd Division on the right bank alone the Bois de Reims and the 51st Highland Division on the left bank of the river valley with the Bois de Courton Ridge. Heavy fighting continued for a week as the British fought up the valley along both ridges against the strong German defences of the 123rd German Division with its 178th, 351st Infantry and 106th Reserve Infantry Regiments.

On the morning of the 27 July another assault went in lead by the 51st Highland Division with the 62nd Division in reserve, the advance began at different times due to the terrain with the left flank 153rd Brigade at 6.10 am then the 187th Brigade (62nd Division) in the centre at 6.56 am and the 152nd Brigade on the right flank at 7.30 am.

The creeping barrage moved at 100 metres each eight minutes with three 20 minutes stops. French Light Renault tanks of a Tank Battalion, used in the earlier attacks, were left behind as they were unable to move due the sodden ground from the torrential rains and limited fuel supply.

The first objective was taken by the 51st Division 8.45 am and the second objective at 10 am, along the whole line only one prisoner was taken and it became apparent to the Corps Commander that the Germans were in retreat.

General Godley during the change over of divisions ordered a new advance to begin at 1 pm and the Corps Cavalry moved forward to Nanteuil where Lieutenant Colonel Stanley Hindhaugh received his orders from General Braithwaite, commander of the 62nd Division to “push forward rapidly and seize the line Bligny to Montagne de Bligny, and as soon as this line was in there possion the (62nd) division would move up to relieve them”.

Lieutenant Colonel Hindhaugh was given command of a Composite force comprising the XXII Corps Mounted Regiment, the New Zealand Cyclist Battalion and the French Tank Battalion, and moved to Marfaux to set up his Head Quarters while command of the Mounted Regiment reverted to Major Roy McLeish and “D” Squadron to Captain Burnie.

Both “B” Squadron under Major Thomas Williams and “D” Squadron (less two Troops retained as Head Quarters protection under Lieutenant Colonel Hindhaugh) under Captain Bertram Burnie moved from Nanteuil at 2.45 pm while the Otago Squadron under Major Gordon Mitchell remained in reserve, Major McLeish moved his “RHQ” to north east of Chaumzy.

“B” Squadron covered the Left front of the 185th Brigade as it advanced on Chaumzy while “D” Squadron covered the Right front of the 186th Brigade near the Bois de Rouvroy during the advance to Bligny and Montagne de Bligny they pushed throw the infantry who’s patrols followed on behind the cavalry screen.

At the start Light Horse patrols of four men sections were dispatched to uncover the German strong points and establish the German line of resistance. These would then be cleared by the light horse patrols or these could be reinforced with a larger light horse force or posted and left for the Infantry to destroy.

No sooner then patrols from Lieutenant Claude Apps 1 Troop “D” Squadron left the British front line, when heavy machine gun fire was directed onto them from the right near the Bois des Dix Hommes, Bois de Hyermont and from a number of posts along the German front line, this slowed the advance as the light horse patrols manoeuvred around them or destroyed them.

One Patrol under Corporal Jack Taggart ran into a German force of 100 men on the northern side of the Ardre River and after engaging them discovered there strength and returned with the details to Lieutenant Apps.

Corporal Walter Scott was at work against another position when he was wounded while the Squadron Commander, Captain Burnie and Squadron Sergeant Major, Harry Ayres brought out the Hotchkiss machine gun sections to engage the enemy posts forcing the Germans to retire.

A patrol under Private William Bell avoided the German defences and entered the town of Bligny and found the Germans in some strength and returned with the intelligence.

Mean while on “B” Squadron’s front the Germans were found north of the Nardi Farm and in the Bois de Eclisse by patrols of Lieutenant George Gordon’s 2 Troop, who went out after the enemy defences to scout and secure useful positions until the Infantry patrols came up. As one of these enemy positions were found the Hotchkiss machine gun sections under men like Pte Hugh Newth were dispatched and after an engagement that wounded all his crew he captured the German position allowing the infantry patrols to advance.

Another patrol ran into the German defences and Pte Frank Elliott was sent to see where the enemy machine gun positions were, when completed Elliott returned with the vial information allowing the position to be taken.

Meanwhile the French had not come up on the left flank and a patrol under Corporal Christopher Christofferson was sent to establish the left flank and find the French, this he did allowing the British 153rd Brigade (51st Division) to come up and clear the woods of the Bois de Eclisse by the end of the day gaining touch with the 14th French Division.

In the late afternoon most of the German covering positions had been destroyed or had retired to their main defences around Bligny and the Montagne de Bligny, this allowed a number of deep patrols in force to move to our objectives.

The first, 2 Troop under Lieutenant Joseph Nott “D” Squadron, moved forward with his Troop to Bligny through the Bois de Rouvroy, where they found the Germans in some strength and were forced to retire. 1 Troop under Lieutenant Apps moved out to support Lieutenant Nott along the river Ardre only to be held up by strong German defences and Sergeant Bill Smith’s 4 Troop “B” Squadron came to his support.

Lieutenant Arthur Lord’s 3 Troop “B” Squadron was sent to find a crossing place of the Ardre River to enable the cavalry to move from the south side of the river to the north along the Bligny to Montagne de Bligny line.

Sergeant James Stevenson’s 1 Troop “B” Sqn was ordered to secure the left flank of the Corps on the Montagne de Bligny. There he gained a lose hold on the hill under very heavy German pressure which force him to retire a less exposed position, there the Troop held on until the Infantry came up during the night.

Lieutenant Gordon’s 2 Troop “B” Squadron advanced to support Sergeant Stevenson and captured a German 77mm gun only the Germans attacked in force and Gordon could make little progress against a stiffening resistance.

Some time around 8 pm the Otago Squadron was called forward to support the light horse around Bligny and Montagne de Bligny. They reached the line around 9 pm and took there place in the line between the town of Bligny and the Montagne de Bligny to hold back the German counter attacks. During the struggle Trooper’s Angus MacGibbon, Bill Hornell and Dave Williamson were active in the fighting while Sergeant John Weaver brought up food and ammunition keeping the squadron in the fight.

At 7.40 pm the 185th and 186th Brigades advanced to support the Cavalry only to find the Light Horse were short of their objectives by around 500 meters and the town of Bligny and the Montagne de Bligny were still in enemy hands. The infantry were to complete the relief of the cavalry by midnight only this relief was not completed till around 2.14 am when the 2/4th Hampshire Battalion came up delayed due to the rain and darkness. The Hampshire Battalion along with the 1/5th Devonshire Battalion was fresh from Palestine having recently joined the 62nd Division before this battle.

The German defences during the afternoon were the rear guards of the 123rd German Division who fought a delaying action as they retied from the battle area being replaced by the newly arrived 240th German Division (a third Class (low quality) formation. This division had not long arrived from the Argonne front where it was resting following the fighting around Bethune in April and where the Division suffered heavy casualties. Elements of the 469th, 470th and 471st Infantry Regiments pushed forward to take up positions around Bligny and the Montagne de Bligny during the day and ran into Light Horse patrols during the evening and night.

On the morning of the 28 July the advance began at 4 am covered again by the XXII Corps Mounted Regiment. Rain had fallen all night as the 186th Brigade steeped off only to be again struck by fire from the Bois des Dix Hommes on the right. This slowed movement on that front until the French 77th Division came up on that flank and cleared the wood.

At 4 am Lieutenant Nott’s Troop had moved forward past Bligny with patrols to Ausilly and Sarcy where they found the enemy in strength. The Otago Squadron had replaced “B” Squadron during the night and patrols of New Zealanders went out past the Montagne de Bligny to discover the German defences. One patrol with Signaller Peter Weaver went on a reconnaissance of the village when they came under heavy fire during which one of the men was wounded. The village was found to be strongly held by the Germans and Signaller Weaver despite being himself wounded recovered his mate and brought him back to our lines.

Bligny was entered during the day by the 2/4th Duke of Wellington’s and 2/4th Hampshire Battalion (186th Brigade) but not captured and fighting went on there all day and was not completed till 4 pm in the afternoon.

Mean while the 185th Brigade moved between Bligny and Montagne with the 1/5th Devon Battalion on the right and the 8th West Yorkshire’s on the left with the 2/5th West Yorkshires in support and captured part of the Montagne de Bligny slopes by 7 am capturing 69 prisoners and nine machine guns, but failed to drive the Germans completely from the hill.

Around 8.25 am the 51st Highland Division with the 153rd Brigade on the left and 152nd Brigade on the right took up the advance during which the 6th Black Watch took Chambrecy. The 7th Gordon’s relieved the 8th West Yorks on Montagne de Bligny allowing the 14th French Division to move up and take over Chambrecy.

Small numbers of Light Horse and Mounted Rifle patrols continued to be sent during the day, only not on the same scale as the day before. German resistance was growing as they fought to allow there formations to retire from other areas of the salient. The Germans had decided to retire from the salient on the 26 July and the first stage had started at 11 am on the same day with a limited withdrawal. The withdrawals would be by stages and would take place over a week. Still German doctrine allowed continued counter attacks to slow the enemy forces so they couldn’t exploit the withdrawal.

On the 29 July fighting continued on the Montagne de Bligny by “D” Company 2/5th West Yorks 185th Brigade who attacked at 7.45 pm to clear the remainder of the feature. The hill was taken by two platoons from “D” Company while the two other platoons disappeared when they lost there way in the darkness and where captured, the company lost one officer and six other ranks killed and a further 20 men were gassed, one officer and 45 men were missing believed prisoners. Other Brigades restricted their actions to consolidating their gains due to the poor weather and fatigue. The 154th Brigade 51st Division replaced the 185th Brigade 62nd Division later that night.

On the 30 July the elements of German 50th Division counter attacked at the Bois les Houleux against the 186th Brigade which made some ground in a gap between the 62nd Division and 77th French Division until driven back in the late afternoon. The 62nd Division and most of the British XXII Corps was relieved by both the 14th and 77th French Division’s during the night 30/31 July leaving only the 154th Brigade 51st Division in the line.

On the 31 July the elements of German 50th Division counter attacked at 8.00 am at Montagne de Bligny held by the 154th Brigade (51st Division) only to be again driven off.

The remainder of the 51st Division left the front later that day with the French now in all positions as the XXII Corps moved for a rest and renew its strength for future operations.

The British Divisions reported the following casualties during the battle when in action between the 20 to the 31 July 1918;

51st Div – 115 officers and 2950 other ranks

62nd Div- 118 officers and 3865 other ranks

The Germans lost 21 officers and 1148 men as prisoners with 135 machine guns and two guns captured. These men were found to be from seven different divisions used in the fighting.

The 22nd Corps Mounted Regiment lost the following casualties during the battle;

KIA

Pte William Bell D Sqn

S/Smith Roger Pay D Sqn

F/Sgt William Hitchings Otago Sqn (NZEF)

WIA

Pte Charles Demby D Sqn

Sgt Vincent Dunne B Sqn

Pte Archie Gunn B Sqn

Pte George Henderson D Sqn

Pte George Hughes D Sqn

L/Cpl John Ingram D Sqn

Cpl Percy Maidment D Sqn

Pte John Mellington B Sqn

Pte Archie Morrison B Sqn

Cpl Walter Scott D Sqn

Sig Peter Weaver Otago Sqn (NZEF)

Unknown Otago Sqn (NZEF)

Cheers

S.B

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Steve

Great article - had never come across a detailed account of the NZ or Mounted Regiment actions in the Ardre. From ongoing work on the Devons, 185th Bde and the 62nd I have some details on their actions and your article gives some good cross ref's.

I have had todate conflicting ref's to German forces engaged and especially to the relieving of the German 123rd Div. I either have 20th (doubtful) but more likely the 23rd July depending upon the ref. Like you I believed them to have been replaced by the 240th Div. However I show the 240th in action retreating to the Montaigne de Bligny on the 27th not the 123rd. Do you have anything to confirm or correct this ?

The other signifcant variance from my records todate is where you cite the Gordons relieving the West Yorks on Montaigne de Bligny. I have no previous ref's to this. Can you share any detail here.

Regards

Dave

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Mate,

Yes as to the 7th Gordons you may be right, the Gordons joined the 8 Yorks on Mont de B during the night, but didn't relieve them, the 1/4 Gordons appear to have during the night when the 154th Bde took over, this being completed by 3 AM on the 29 July.

(British Offical war history page 279)

As to the Germans, the "British Offical History" map Battle of Tardendis 20 to 31 July shows the 123rd Div in the front line with the 50th Div in suport.

But on checking the "History of 250 German Divisions" we find that the 50th Div was sent down south on the 19 July and didn't come back into the line untill the 30 July.

The 123rd Div (page 622) part 2 1918 - your right I missed its relieved on the 20 July, I only saw part 3 1918 - "On the 27 July it marched to Novion-Purcen ----" my mistake.

Althought the 240th Div page 736 part 5 1918 - "On the 23 July the division engaged in the bois de Rheims."

I surpose I will have to change that, thanks for the pick up, but I did wonder who took over between the 20 July when the 123rd Div left and the 240th Div on the 23 July?

Thanks mate thats why I posted this to find the small details.

I would like to know more about the German formations and fighting on this front but so far I have hit a brick wall. I would also like to ID the French Tank battalion attached to the XXII Corps?

Cheers

S.B

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Steve

Cant be of much more help. Best ref I have on the German side is Paul Greenwood's "The Second Battle of the Marne" which I have a copy of and would be happy to look up anything specific for you. However he encompasses the whole battle rather than the activities of XX11 corps or the Vth French Army so specific's on local actions are a little vague.

Re the tank side : Only detailed ref I have is for the 501st Regiment of Artillery of Assault and I understand they were active on the western side of the salient under Mangin and with the American forces rather than in Berthelot's sector so probably not much help.

Regards

Dave

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Mate,

I was rereading your coments and you mention the withdrawal of the 240th Div on the 27 July.

"History of 250 german divisions" page 736 part 5 1918 gives the best outline of this.

"After the 27 july it retreated on the Mont de Bligny and later toward Aubilly- Bouleuse".

I read that as the with drawal during the attack of the 51st Div and 62nd Div including the Mounted Regt on the 27 July on to the main defence line in Mont de B and the village of B.

The 240th Div didn't leave the area untill "later". But either way the village of Aubilly was just noth west of Bligny past the Bois les Houleux. this area was used to counter attack by the 50th Div on the 30 July.

As to my writting of the staged withdrawal by the German Army my reading was at fault also as the withdrawl was at a meeting on the night 26/27 July and that began at 11 AM on the 27 July. Only the only forces to retire at that time was those German formations in the south facing the French Ninth Army (including the Yanks),

Cheers

S.B

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Steve

Have been re-reading the French and German translations of the 2nd Marne on

http://batmarn2.club.fr.

Double checking positions on the German map's available there wrt dispositions give some further insights. The French V Army was therefore fighting the following :

Borne Group :

• 86th Div

• 1st Div

• 123rd Div

• 50th Div.

Schmettow Group :

• 103rd Div.

• 22nd Div.

• 12th Bavarian Div..

• 195th Div.

Conta Group :

• 2nd Guards Div.

• 10 Res. Div..

• 113th Div.

• 37th Div.

The XXII Corps relieving the IInd Italian Army Corps would then have been facing :

Borne Group :

• 86th Div shown as being at Bligny from 6th June being relieved by TBD on the 21st Jul

o 1st Div joined the line at Vrigny on 20th Jul. Part of the Borne Group current thinking is they relieved the 86th Div. This not substantiated by "251 Divisions" which state they were relieved by the 50th Div.

• 123rd Div shown as joining the line at Bligny and being relieved on the 20th Jul

o 50th Div shown joining the line on the 19th Jul "SW of Rhiems". Part of the Schmettow Group current thinking is they relieved the 123rd Div.

Schmettow Group :

• 103rd Div. joined the line on the 14th July retreated behind the 195th Div (Schmettow) and 2nd Guards Div. (Conta)

• 22nd Div. served throughout being relieved on the 7th August.

More confusion though as the 240th Div is shown as being in reserve from the 15th Jul and not in subsequent fighting. So my current hypothesis is now that the 123rd carried out a fighting withdrawal to Montaigne de Bligny where they were relieved by the 50th Div.

From a laymans perspective there would appear that there are omissions / errors in "251 Divisions" which confuse the picture somewhat.

What do you think ?

Regards

Dave

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