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Black Dudley

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1st Sherwood Foresters Battalion War Diary:

VENTELAY [Reserve Line]

May 25th              Regiment reached reserve billets in the early morning. Remainder of day spent in cleaning up.

 

1st Sherwood Foresters Killed in Action this Day:

1st Bn. Sherwood Foresters

Private, 7279, R. H. Jodrell

Source: https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/351168/jodrell,-/

 

  

9th Loyal North Lancashires Battaion War Diary:

VANDEUIL [Reserve Line]

25 May                CO’s inspection of Battalion.

 

 

Ventelay-Vandeuil-Map.png.caf77ef96554134ad6be6bb248e6083d.png

 

It is still remarkable to me that my two relatives, (from different sides of the family and so did not know each other), were caught up and directly impacted by the same battle on the same day, 12 hours apart, just a few kilometers from each other.


 

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PJS

1st Sherwood Foresters Battalion War Diary:

VENTELAY [Reserve Line]

May 26th               Sunday Services. In the afternoon received warning of likely enemy attack. 9:20pm Btn moved up to ROUCY.

 

 

9th Loyal North Lancashires Battalion War Diary:

VANDEUIL [Reserve Line]

May 26th             Church Parades. Orders for move.

                              7:15pm Received orders to prepare to move at once.

                              11pm Marched to MUSCOURT.  During latter part of journey Box Respirators were worn owing to gas shelling by enemy.

 

We have already seen from previous postings the Artillery and Infantry positions held by the 8th Division on May 26th. Below is the bridge map for the bridges over the Miette, Aisne and the Aisne Canal in the 8th Division sector.

 

Bridge-Map.png.8ecb2043ebec29422270d477df6f0fd1.png

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Black Dudley
Posted (edited)

Hundred years ago today - 27th May 1918 Ludendorff started the 3rd Battle of the Aisne : Operation Blücher-Yorck.

Early in May Ludendorff had withdrawn thirty-two divisions to be rested and retrained for Operation Blücher-Yorck: The German Aisne Offensive began at 1:00 am all possible targets had a ten minute bombardment of gas followed with heavy shelling of gas and explosives for a hour on artillery positions. The shelling was very effective, the centre of the line was broken, Germans poured across the Chemin des Dames down to River Aisne. By evening most had crossed to Aisne and had advanced as far as the Vesle river. The following map although not so detailed as the previous maps shows how the course of the battle went, over the next few days.

Map 1.jpg

Edited by Black Dudley

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PJS

1st Sherwood Foresters Battalion War Diary:

ROUCY

May 27th               1am: Enemy barrage opened, VENTELAY neighbourhood & transport lines gassed. About 4:30am Battalion ordered forward to AISNE line.  Retiring fight to MONTAGNE de GUYENCOURT.  Casualties heavy & details ordered, under 2nd Lt Greaves, to move up to VENTELAY about 9:30pm. Transport moved to wood S. of MONTIGNY [SUR VESLE] & about later 11:30pm to VANDEUIL.

 

The Big Day!  The rough timeline of events shown in the following maps are taken from various Battalion and HQ war diaries. For the 8th Division, my particular interest lies in what happened in the very first hours of the German attack. By first light, and the clearing of the thick mist that enveloped everything early that day, the events that overtook my Grandfather were played out and the German advance moved on.

8th-Div-Positions-27-May-1918-Timeline.png.a6e305fc39941e95140b12c4747899f6.png

 

The RFA positions and timeline that affected the batteries of the 45th Bde RFA in particular is shown below (Source: 45th Brigade Royal Field Artillery War Diary). The times that each battery was overrun shows a German advance from right to left. 

 

45th-RFA-Timeline.thumb.png.d6061775042b076f4c138b40025885da.png

 

And the bridge map below shows the times that the bridges across the Miette stream, the Aisne and the Aisne Canal were blown by the Royal Engineers. It's clear that the detonation timeline moves from right to left (from Berry au Bac to Pontavert) as the Germans advanced. (Other bridges were destroyed from German artillery in the barrage that preceded the Infantry attack). 

Bridge-Map.png.940395b68d8817fdde3a1ec5f5ad26ee.png

 

Source: Bridge Map is from Headquarters Branches and Services: Commander Royal Engineers War Diary; AISNE and Canal times are from Headquarters Branches and Services: General Staff War Diary. MIETTE bridge times are from Headquarters Branches and Services: Commander Royal Engineers War Diary.

 

Over to the Left of the 8th Division, the 25th Division suffered a similar fate and the war diary entry for the 27 May, 1918 follows:

 

9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment War Diary:

VANDEUIL

27 May                Arrived at camp at MUSCOURT at about 4am.

                              9am       1 Platoon per Coy ordered to proceed to a line along Canal bank, NE of MAIZY, to form a nucleus of defence for that place.

                              12 noon Remainder of Battalion ordered to reinforce at once line already taken up.

                              Total going into action 12 Officers, 496 other ranks.

                              Capt. WF Loudon MC – Wounded. Lieut. A Sumner – Wounded.

                              Capt. PR Shields MC – Wounded and missing. 2nd Lieut. AE Downing - Wounded and missing.

                              Major OS Darby-Griffiths MC – Killed.  2dn Lieut. JBM Lightbody – Wounded.

                              [Capt. RJP Hewetson – Missing]

                              Major Lloyd 105th RE assumed command of Battalion.

 

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PJS

According to the IRC records Private Arthur Slater was captured in the Bois de la Miette (photo below) along with some other 1/Sherwoods. I do not know why these men were still so far forward at this location when the remainder of the Battalion were in reserve at VENTELAY but regardless, they would have been taken prisoner very early in the day. Probably between 6am and 7am.

 

Bois-de-la-Miette-Photo.png.e95c5ab3d35526fdfcd2f73e478ee55a.png

Photo Source: Forum Member bierast

 

Below is a partial listing of 1st Sherwood Forester PoWs and KiA, May 27, 1918.

 

1st Sherwood Foresters Registered PoW May 27, 1918:

1st Btn        Private, 31687, Arthur Slater            Miety Wood
1st Btn        Private, 307460, Percy Wheldon            Miety Wood
1st Btn        Private, 108909, Christopher Geo Zabel        Miety Wood
1st Btn        Private, 109103, Allen Alexander        Pontelay
1st Btn        Sergeant, 17579, Harold Kirk            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Sergeant, 7195, Thomas Margett        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 307228, Fred Woodhatch        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        L/Corporal, 97386, Thomas Stephenson        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 93746, Harry Stanier            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 205454, John Spencer            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 13130, Daniel Slack            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 108955, George Rook            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 109122, James Sanderson        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 109117, Joseph Riley            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 109066, William Richards        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 93158, Albert Pattinson            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 109053, Alfred Hubert Madelry        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 108844, Alfred Mayer            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 70742, Charles Mercer            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 301739, Frank Keeling            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 108901, Richard Jones            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 73160, George Arthur Hughes        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 109133, Thomas Hardy            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 205439, Fred Helenson            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 205435, Horace Holden?        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 10120, Joseph Handley            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Corporal, 205391, Frederick Wm Furniss        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 60596, William Gent            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        L/Corporal, 205474, William Evans        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 235154, James William Ellis        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Corporal, 205391, John Crawford        Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 108903, William Davis            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 109111, Edward Newton Clarkson    Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, 108974, James Beesley            Berry au Bac
1st Btn        Private, Fred Martin                Hill 108
1st Btn        L/Corporal, 205469, Edward Tomlinson        Roucy
1st Btn        Private, 108906, Joseph Taylor            Roucy

Source: https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/en/File/Details/253889/3/2/ 
 

1st Sherwood Foresters Reported Killed in Action, May 27, 1918:

1st Bn.

Private, 11231, Victor William Adams

1st Bn.

Private, 83381, George William Allen

1st Bn.

Sergeant, 8722, H. G. Ansell

1st Bn.

Private,7 2670, George Anstey

1st Bn.

Private, 108900, John James Ashton

1st Bn.

Private, 109007, William Ashton

1st Bn.

Private, 109008, Stanley Harold Atherton

1st Bn.

Private, 109102, Herbert Austin

1st Bn.

Private, 56045, John Bagshaw

1st Bn.

Private, 24991, Harry Bailey

1st Bn.

Private, 109105, George Wain Baird

1st Bn.

Private, 109108, Charles Baker

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 12592, Albert Bardill

1st Bn.

Sergeant, 11753, T. Barker

1st Bn.

Private, 108914, John Barnes

1st Bn.

Private, 109011, Joseph William Barratt

1st Bn.

Private, 100056, Thomas Redmond Barrett

1st Bn.

Private, 72075, Robert Barrie

1st Bn.

Private, 95887, James Reginald Batchelor

1st Bn.

Private, 80904, Garry Batting

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 93812, Robert Bennett

1st Bn.

Private, 235151, James Blundred

1st Bn.

Private, 91410, George Bown

1st Bn.

Sergeant, 13907, William Brackner

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 72672, William Bristow

1st Bn.

Private, 108926, Charles Broadhurst

1st Bn.

Private, 91666, Fred Brocklesby

1st Bn.

Private, 109020, Harold Brown

1st Bn.

Private, 109015, Henry Burns

1st Bn.

Private, 90167, Charles Calladine

1st Bn.

Private, 67033, Sidney Chantry

1st Bn.

Private, 95925, Rowland Cheshire

1st Bn.

Private, 70734, Arthur Child

1st Bn.

Corporal, 269228, George Henry Clayton

1st Bn.

Private, 31307, Harold Cocking

1st Bn.

Private, 73901, Frank Bert Cornwell

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 95924, Cris Cotton

1st Bn.

Private, 100061, Cyril Cowdell

1st Bn.

Private, 95807, Clarence Stephen Cox

1st Bn.

Private, 93587, W. Crookes

1st Bn.

Private, 268527, F. H. Crosby

1st Bn.

Private, 91578, William Cummins

1st Bn.

Lieutenant, Lenard Leslie Dawson

1st Bn.

Private, 109023, Allen Diver

1st Bn.

Private,108934, Walter Emmott

1st Bn.

Private, 109028, William Evans

1st Bn.

Private, 267054, Frank Foster

1st Bn.

Sergeant, 4882, Joseph Bernard Freeman

1st Bn.

Private, 107512, Ernest John Ganley

1st Bn.

Private, 107510, James Greenwood

1st Bn.

Private, 95899, William Ernest Hames

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 241519, Henry Harrison

1st Bn.

Private, 109134, William J. Hawkins

1st Bn.

Private, 108979, Thomas J. P. Howes

1st Bn.

Private, 108816, Walter Victor Hudson

1st Bn.

Private, 108942, Robert Hughes

1st Bn.

Sergeant, 74276, John Hulme

1st Bn.

Private, 107521, Archibald Hunter

1st Bn.

Private, 91562, Cyril George Huskinson

1st Bn.

Private, 93868, Joseph George Hutchinson

1st Bn.

Private, 109139, George Edward King

1st Bn.

Private,108830, Edward Henry Knowles

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 205442, Arthur Law

1st Bn.

Lieutenant, Cecil Willie Laws

1st Bn.

Private, 109046, Alfred Lee

1st Bn.

Private, 93678, Francis John Leek

1st Bn.

Private, 108836, Bernard Michael Leonard

1st Bn.

Private, 108837, William Leonard

1st Bn.

Private, 109155, Joseph Lockley

1st Bn.

Private, 108841 ,James Lynagh

1st Bn.

Private, 102107, Thomas Marsh

1st Bn.

Private, 41508, Edwin Joseph May

1st Bn.

Private, 205395, Ernest Mills

1st Bn.

Private, 47679, F. Edwin Millward

1st Bn.

Private, 72152, John William Moore

1st Bn.

Private, 108852, George Murfin

1st Bn.

Private, 102120, Stephen,Naysmith

1st Bn.

Private, 109056, James Nelson

1st Bn.

Private, 102118, Herbert Newstead

1st Bn.

Private, 95749, Ernest Arthur Nielsen

1st Bn.

Private, 109006, Francis Edward Nutter

1st Bn.

Private, 108858, Albert Ormerod

1st Bn.

Private, 109113, John Oxford

1st Bn.

Private, 109114, Herbert Owen Parry

1st Bn.

Private, 242251, Frederick Pease

1st Bn.

Private, 94496, James Peggs

1st Bn.

Private, 108864, Ernest Plumley

1st Bn.

Private, 109116, Joseph Powell

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 108866, Frederick Press

1st Bn.

Private, 109089, John Cleave Riley

1st Bn.

Sergeant,13566, William Roberts

1st Bn.

Private, 109118, Francis Joseph Rogers

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 108878, Arthur Jonathan Sands

1st Bn.

Private, 70718, Thomas Scarfe

1st Bn.

Private, 108879, Albert Scott

1st Bn.

Private, 71940, John Simcock

1st Bn.

Private, 97353, John William Simmons

1st Bn.

Private, 205453, William Spedding

1st Bn.

Private, 109073, John Steel

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 108957, I. Stewart

1st Bn.

Private, 59515, Rupert Smith Stone

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal, 72652, R. H. Strickland

1st Bn.

Private, 93749, Alfred George Sutton

1st Bn.

Private, 109124, Fred Syer

1st Bn.

Private, 307116, John James Telling

1st Bn.

Private, 92326, William Henry, Thompson

1st Bn.

Private, 60678, H. E. Tonks

1st Bn.

Private, 108993, Archibald C. Tyre

1st Bn.

Private, 95970, Gilbert Walter Watson

1st Bn.

Lance Corporal,108965, William Wild

1st Bn.

Private, 109084, H. Williamson

1st Bn.

Private, 109147, Albert Woolley

 

Source: http://www.the-sherwood-foresters.co.uk/day%20by%20day/1918/day_by_day_may_1918.html

 

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PJS

Beauregard-Farm.png.bb198934242d9654ad91821a375bbe00.png

 

9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Earlier in the day, about 9.30 A.M., Germans (of the 28th Division) had reached the Aisne north of Maizy, but were there held up by artillery fire on the river bridge; later some of them managed to cross by an undefended bridge lower down in the French area. The canal bridge was, however, defended by part of the 9/Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, which had just arrived on the scene, and it was not until about 11.30 a.m., after the German artillery had been brought into action on the hill above Beaurieux, to the north, that resistance was overcome. The L.N. Lancashire, with the 74th Light Trench Mortar Battery, 105th Field Company R.E. and a section of machine guns, then swung back and formed a left defensive flank through Muscourt and westward, and the 50th Division Lewis Gun School, coming up with 24 guns to reinforce, extended this flank as far as the hill east of Revillon, on the boundary of the British sector.

 

In the centre and right of Jackson’s sector, the enemy {6th Guard Division) having been checked between Maizy and Concevreux by the destruction of the canal bridges and the good defence of the 11 /Lancashire Fusiliers and 3/ Worcestershire, had begun to work round by the west. As a result, the defenders were driven from Revillon hill, and then, about 1 p.m., from the Muscourt position, when the left flank of the 74th Brigade fell back a mile to the line Meurival — Beauregard Farm. There, in spite of the appearance of German reinforcements, a further stand was made until between 4 and 5 p.m., when the 9/Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and the troops with it fell back to the long ridge which lies 1 1/4 miles South of Meurival and runs north-eastward towards Roucy.

From Military Operations France And Belgium 1918 Vol-III, BRIGADIER-GENERAL SIR JAMES E. EDMONDS:

2nd-Lt-AE-Downing.png.aff1b573e61ddd698a389ab5da85af5d.png

 

The letter below was inside the cover of my Gt Aunt’s bible and found when she passed away in the early 1980’s, 65 years later.

Gt-Uncle-Eddie-Pvt-Kents-Letter.png.537ffea5d32289f94e2ad3d8cace6d82.png

 

He was my Platoon officer (D. XIV) but on 27th May he went up in command of the Company just outside a place called MUSCOURT, between there and ROMAIN.

 

I saw him on that day, lying on the ground, wounded in the chest. I passed right by him. A corporal whose name I do not know, was with him and asked him if he could do anything for him but he said "No" and to carry on. I do not suppose he would live; he seemed too bad.  Time, probably between 5 & 6pm. The Germans were driving us back very fast and came over the ground. I never heard more of him.

 

Pvt. H. Kent, 29453, now in camp in France.

 

9th Loyal North Lancashire Battalion War Diary:

Total Casualties During the Month:

Killed     Wounded           Wounded & Missing       Missing

2             6                                         1                           1                            Officers

6             123                                     4                            232                       Other Ranks

 

 

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Black Dudley

Fighting continued 28th May 1918, not everything went the German army's way in the 3rd Battle of Aisne, some small but notable, points of resistance were met, at Pinon on the Canal de L'Oise a I'Aisne, three French Battalions in fortified pillboxes held out for two days. The press photo shows reserve German troops on the canal awaiting the order to go forwards against the French front.

Aisen 1.jpg

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German IR 169

Greetings to WFA members on the remembrance of the events on the Aisne 100 years ago.    For those interested in the German perspective, I thought I would include a portion of my book, Imperial Germany's Iron Regiment of the First World War, History of Infantry Regiment 169, (www.ironregiment169.comthat details the actions of IR 169 as it assaulted over 8th Division lines, participated in the attack at the Bois de Buttes, and attacked over the Aisne between the Pecherie and Pontavert.    The primary German source comes from the memoirs of Leutnant Otto Lais, who served as the Executive Officer for IR 169's 2nd Machine Gun Company during this battle.   In the past few months, I have submitted portions of this chapter on various posts, but I thought there may be interest of members of the entire account given this special day.    

 

Best Regards, John Rieth

 

 

==============================================================================================================

 

German commanders designed 4:40 am (x+160) as the moment for the ground attack. In the 20 minutes before the attack, engineers placed special bridging over the trenches so that the tanks could pass over. Other engineer squads ventured out to no-man’s-land to clear passages through the obstacle fields. At 4:39 am, storm troop commanders raised their hands as a signal for their men to ready their weapons. Hand grenade squads pulled out their grenades and communications wiremen prepared their bulky cargos of rolled field phone wires. Tank engines were started and pitched to high levels of torque. Precisely at 4:40, the commanders’ arms were lowered and the stormtrooper climbed out of their trenches for the 200 meter race to the British trenches. Trust in the Feurewalze was absolute, as supporting artillery fire did not lift from the lead trenches until seconds before the storm troopers reached their objectives.

Opposing British troops, including 1st Battalion, 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment, were stunned. The ferocity of the bombardment blew in trenches, collapsed bunkers and destroyed defensive obstacle fields. The German storm units wasted no time to fully clear the trenches, as this was the job for the follow-on waves of conventional infantry. In moments, the first and second trenchlines were in German hands. The British put up a more determined stand in the third trenches, causing heavy losses on both sides. IR 169’s 9th and 10th Companies participated in this segment of the struggle. Even as the fighting for the third trench raged, German engineers were already putting up bridging over the first trenches to make passage for the tanks, artillery and support wagons soon to follow. The West Yorks attempted a resolute defense, but stood little chance to slow the avalanche pouring over them.

For the commander and staff at the British 8th Division’s Headquarters, the indications of the disaster at the front unfolded with terrible speed:

“The 24th Brigade on the right reported “Enemy advancing up the Miette stream close to Brigade headquarters. Cannot hold out without reinforcements”. Such news was startling in the extreme. But worse was yet to come, and at about 5:30 a.m. the left Brigade, 149th reported “enemy has broken our battle – line and are advancing on Ville au Bois”. Thus before word had come of the front being assaulted, the enemy had turned both flanks and was closing on the Bois des Butts.”

DfufJn3tjLZnwmB4QQy0RvOFI87N0Y2avFbLGFicEq-VZ2abspc_3lPo96ijGgeKOScmqnwDE20j6mbBn6dVd6pKWtMF-4tfwrcqmPi1_YYDRt7mDWf56nPzHjupw_Iame14MQAaOrIWdEQsUw

(PD)

With the front three trenches in German hands, the only remaining form of organized British resistance before the Aisne was the 2nd Devonshire’s Battalion. The Devonshire’s sector comprised the Bois des Buttes, a twin crested hillock about thirty meters high and 500 meters across to the immediate south of the La Villa village. The hill was laced with underground quarries, with deep galleries that were dry and naturally protective to shellfire. The extensive underground network, fortified by both German and French troops over the years, was large enough to protect a brigade headquarters and three infantry battalions. Passages connected the complex to another fortified bunker system for the 5th Field Battery of the Royal Artillery. Of this later feature observed the 8th Division historian “This was at once a tactical and a social convenience – not only were we in close touch with our guns but we never lacked a fourth at bridge o `nights!” The Devonshires, under the command of Lt Col Anderson-Morshead, only rotated into the forest the evening of the attack, having just spent the past week in reserve status training new replacements.

The protection of the quarries enabled the battalion to withstand the German bombardment relatively intact, but with little awareness of the situation outside. Once the shelling lifted, the troops raced to positions in trenches and bunkers with Companies B, C and D forward, with Company A in the reserve. The heavy early morning mist enabled the first groups of Germans, led by storm troops of the 50th Division, to close in at close range. German rifle-fired and hand thrown grenades flew into the trenches. The British repelled three separate attacks, leaving many dead and wounded on both sides. The sun started to burn off the early fog, exposing arriving German formations to Lewis machine gun fire at longer ranges. In one of many instances of heroism, 20 year old Private Borne fired his Lewis gun at ‘German hordes’ while all his comrades were shot down around him. As the Germans close in to 100 yards, he withdrew back a short distance and resumed his fire before falling mortally wounded.

German commanders began to appreciate the extent of the determined resistance, and briefly paused the ground attack to resume artillery fires. Aircraft flew into machine gun, bomb and mark the British positions for artillery strikes. Observations balloons, some tethered to tanks, added to the precision of the artillery fire. The Germans resumed the infantry attacks in such overwhelming numbers that it seemed nearly impossible for the British riflemen to miss a target. Trenches were taken, counterattacked, and taken again. The overpowering weight of the infantry attacks and artillery fires devastated the Devonshire ranks. The few survivors of three front line companies were knocked off the summit of the hill by 7:00 am.

Although Lt. Col. Anderson-Morshead’s command was reduced to a handful of troops, he organized A Company and the battalion headquarters into a last stand defense on the reverse slope of the hill. From this position, they were still able to bring fire on German troops advancing towards the Aisne bridgehead at Pontavert.

IR 169’s recent experience in training with tanks came of use when a pair of German converted Mark IV’s joined the battle. In concert with other German units, IR 169 squads accompanied the tanks in the final series of assaults that wiped out the Devonshires. The British, with no anti-tank weapons available, were powerless to stop the armor. The tanks lumbered forward, firing machine guns and cannons to dislodge the British at the edge of the forest. These tanks were only stopped when they proved unable to climb the steep berms of the last artillery positions. [While the role of the tanks at the Bois des Buttes can hardly be qualified as decisive, it did provide IR 169 with the rare distinction as being one of the few German infantry units in the war to attack alongside their own armor.]

IR 169 squads, augmented by machine gun teams, closed in on the last remaining positions. A newly assigned replacement officer began to direct machine gun fire into a bunker when he was torn to pieces by a hand grenade. A pioneer squad then maneuvered behind the bunker and destroyed it with an explosive charge. Leutnant Spies led a storm troop platoon, supported by machine guns of the 1st and 3rd MG Company, into the bunker complex to wipe out remaining defenders. In another trench, a group of British soldiers raised their hands in surrender. Leutnant D.R. Barth entered the position to take them as prisoners. As Lais described:

“A fanatical scoundrel pulled a Browning pistol and shot Barth in the stomach, leaving him with a grievous wound. The Englishman paid for his treacherous act with his life. The remaining prisoners stood still, with snow white faces as they raised their arms as far as can be stretched. All were evacuated with an audible breath of air from their lungs.”

By 9:30 am, the Bois des Buttes was fully in German possession and the path to the Aisne River was clear of organized resistance. Lt. Col Anderson-Morshead, last observed with pistol in one hand and riding crop in the other, was among the many British dead. The 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment was practically annihilated, with 552 members killed or captured and less than 80 survivors left to regroup with the retreating British forces. The British Army recognized 2nd Devonshire Battalion’s heroism by listing the Battle of Bois des Buttes with an exclusive unit battle honor.

Captain D.R. Knapp, commanded IR 169’s 2nd Battalion in this action. Lais described Knapp, who was a public prosecutor in Constance before the war, as being respected as a capable leader who possessed a deep sense of intellectual curiosity. A captured British colonel, who was being moved to the rear, took notice of the 2nd Battalion staff and asked if he could speak to their commanding officer. After being presented, he addressed Knapp in perfect German: “Herr Hauptmann, ich begluckwunsche sie zu einer solchen Leistung Ihrer Truppe” (“Captain, I congratulate you for the performance of your troops.”)

When the fighting subsided, Lais remembered pausing to reflect on the stunning battlefield landscape that left such significant milestones to his wartime service. Two miles to the southeast were the ruins of Berry-au-Bac. In the April 1917 battle, the fields beyond the town witnessed the destruction of 24 French tanks, one of which explored on a rainy night from the Juvincourt trenches. Another two miles to the southwest was the village of Pontavert and its stone bridge that crossed the Aisne. A few miles further to his right was the desolate Winterberg, which after so much bloodshed in the summer of 1917 was finally again under German control.

With the Bois des Buttes finally taken, the next objective was to cross over the Aisne River and canal, just a mile to the south past the forest.

The Devonshires stoic defense allowed British engineers time to blow up five small, wartime bridges that spanned the river between Berry-au-Bac and Pontavert. However, they did not have time destroy the main stone bridge at Pontavert. By 9:00 am, German storm troop and infantry units were soon on the near bank of the river, making prisoners of those British troops not able to swim across the river and canal.

A mile to the east of Pontavert and just off the river was a substantial fishery complex, recorded by the combatants as the ‘La Pecherie Ferne.’ On the south bank of the Aisne, disorganized British troops attempted to rally to defend the stone bridge. French reserve forces, described by Lais as ‘grey-bearded elderly men’ took up positions in a wood line across the river from the Pecherie. Another quarter mile south of the river began the Gernicourt Woods, a thick forest one mile wide and a half mile deep. The Gernicourt Woods was still shrouded with traces of the deadly light-green poisonous gas that the Germans used to target the British rear positions. IR 169 assembled for its role in the river assault between the Pecherie and Pontavert.

Lais arrived at the front leading 2nd MG Company’s gun and ammunition wagons. It was a difficult journey, with the wagon convoy having been trapped within an obstacle field for over an hour before it could finally be untangled. Nearing the forward lines, Lais took note of large groups of British prisoners awaiting evacuation to the rear. The faces of the POWs reflected amazement as endless formations of Germans infantry and artillery followed behind the storm troop units.

Lais led the MG wagons behind the courtyard structure of the La Pecherie outbuildings. A large graveyard, filled with dead from the past three years of combat, covered much of the grounds. French troops from directly across the river and British machine guns from Pontavert peppered the Germans with gunfire. The MG Company support troops distributed ammunition and from the wagons and broke out the hardware to set up the heavy machine guns. Leutnant Fahr placed one section of machine guns at a nearby point where the river and canal ran directly alongside each other and opened fire.

With his ammunition supply duties fulfilled, Lais took a few moments to explore the farm buildings. He found one of the rooms being used as a dressing station, still staffed by captured British medical personnel: Lais wrote: “English doctors and medics treat friends and foes. All have respect for these people, who selflessly attend all while the battle rages nearby.” In another building, Lais’ men came across a large pile of bedding material. They gladly took whatever blankets they could carry, leaving stacks of bed posts and frames alone, but noted for future use.

The Germans hurried to improvise ways to cross over the river and canal before the enemy could regroup. As a start, an infantry company found two abandoned barges. Lais wrote how someone from the 2nd MG Company came up the ‘brilliant idea’ to use the abandoned stores of bed frames and posts as framework to construct improvised footbridges. The pioneers quickly got work, lashing together the posts with wires and using wooden planks for the bridging. Within an hour, they had constructed footbridges sufficiently long enough to cross the 40 meter-wide river and canal at this uniquely narrow point.

A collection of IR 169 storm troopers and 6th Company were tasked to lead the river assault. The 9th Company, commanded by Leutnant D.R. Kastner, took position along the north bank to join the machine guns in providing covering fires. One of the 9th Company NCOs, Vice Master Sergeant Howe, was severely wounded but still stayed in line to fire his light machine gun. The enemy marksmanship proved sound, as several others nearby were killed with head shots.

At 10:00 am, the crude foot bridges were complete, and dragged up to the river. A number of the pioneers were shot as they swam into the river to set up the far side of the bridge. A squad of stormtroopers, led by Leutnant Selle, were the first to charge across. Selle and his entire unit were killed within a short distance of the crossing. Lais, who considered Selle a ‘dear comrade,’ was branded with the image of his friend’s corpse lying face down in the mud. Other troops continued on. Crossing the shaky bridge was a perilous affair. Not only did the attackers face a deadly fire from the front and flanks, but they were heavily laden with rifles, assault packs, hand grenades and entrenching tools. A fall into the river would likely result in drowning.

Squad-by-squad, enough Germans made it across the river and canal so that they could maneuver against the French troops immediately before them. One of the German leaders was the red-haired Leutnant Ries, described by Lais as being completely unflappable. Filthy dirty, and with a long stubble of a red beard, he attacked with great fury. Nearing the French position, he yelled with his rich tenor voice ‘a’ bas les armes! (Down with your weapons!) Lais, somewhat sympathetically, recorded the plight of these French reservists:

“Scared of this red devil, the French landstrum commander could not raise his hands fast enough. It was a bad situation for the elderly men, accustomed to the beer and comforts of guarding the depots of Jonchery and Fimes [large French army depots 8 miles south], to be fetched up early in the morning by lorries and thrust into a frenzied battle against this God of Thunder, roaring devil-fire.”

Directly ahead was the ominously silent Gernicourt Woods. Due to the large concentration of the special ‘yellow cross’ gas targeted there, most German units bypassed the woods to open fields on either end. A small storm troop group, wearing well-inspected gas masks, was ordered to scout the center of the woods. There they found that the yellow cross gas indeed functioned as billed. The crews of an entire British artillery battery lay dead. Elsewhere, others were found dying or suffering in horrible agony. Lais reflected: “The Gernicourt Woods was a great cemetery. Gas is a cruel weapon and does not distinguish commands or victims. We were the victors in this murderous location because we had better gas masks.” Foreshadowing the destruction of IR 169 five months later, Lais noted how “we also had to experience our own gas masks failing in a very insidious American gas attack in late October, 1918.”

German small units breached in the Aisne in greater numbers, forcing the British to abandon their defense of the southern end of the Pontavert Bridge. German pioneers quickly set up more substantial bridges across the river and canal that could support wagons and vehicles. The Aisne River was now fully under German control.

The next line of British resistance stood at the small village of Bouffignereux, one mile further south of Gernicourt Woods. At 10:30 am, the 1st Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, came up from reserve positions in an attempt to slow the German advance. The Wiltshire’s established a line in front of the village, with Companies D, B, and A forward, and two platoons of C Company in reserve. The ground between Bouffignereux and the Gernicourt Woods were open fields. To the east was a forest where a mounted British artillery battery paused along path in the midst of a copse of alder bushes.

In addition to the battery, the confused British retreat left a collection of supply, medical and munitions wagons becoming tangled in the small forested pathways. In early afternoon, a squadron of four German planes attacked into the woodlands, sending the some of the wagons crashing into the cover of the undergrowth. Shortly after, salvos of well-aimed artillery exploded on top of the British wagons and artillery sections, panicking men and horses. A section of the hidden artillery battery, with caissons, limbers and guns colliding together, dashed out to the road only to run in to the advancing German infantry. The battery commander and other section leaders were killed in the initial German volley and the remaining artillerymen taken prisoner. Two battery horses were killed and two others badly wounded and shot out of mercy.Nearby, a group of supply wagons tried to make an escape from the woods. The lead crews were also shot down and the rest of the personnel captured.

Lais noted how the English horses, of strong Norman breed, were well fed, had shiny coats and were in excellent condition. The first order of business was to unlimber the newly captured horses to replace the more worn-down German mounts. Some of the horses were unruly, leading the Germans to press the British farriers to assist in getting them under control. Lais wrote that while the Germans would never seek to harm their prisoners, they also did not appreciate the rather ‘insolent attitude’ displayed by this particular batch of POWs.

The main assault on Bouffignereux line took place at 5:30. The Wiltshire Regimental diary records that the attack struck with overwhelming artillery and machine gun fire, compelling the Wiltshire troops to retreat in small groups through the village to fight trailing, rear guard actions.

Lais arrived in Bouffignereux just after the village was stormed. The intensity of the fighting was evidenced by the many dead British soldiers lying throughout the village streets. Still-warm corpses were dragged to the sides of houses so wagons would have free passage. At dusk, a large group of prisoners, described by Lais as having a more polite demeanor than those taken in the forest, gathered unguarded in the village center, waiting for evacuation to the rear. Artillery units entered the village with a heavy battery taking position in the church courtyard. Lais’ MG wagons also set up near the church’s high walls and occupied a house after feeding and watering their horses.

Elsewhere in IR 169’s advance that day, infantry companies reached the high ground near Bouvancourt, two miles further south. Leutnant Spies, after leading his storm troopers in clearing British bunkers in the Bois des Buttes that morning, captured a unique prize – a functioning British tank. The popular Spies recounted his tale with great relish. It began with his leading a reconnaissance patrol two kilometers past the forward-most German lines. The patrol came across the lone tank and surprised its crew, killing two men and capturing the rest. Realizing the opportunity at hand, Spies man-handled the driver back into the tank and through a combination of gestures and sharp pokes to his ribs, guided him back to German lines. As he neared German forward positions, he realized that tank would likely be perceived as vanguard of a British counterattack, and risk drawing friendly fire. With his heart pounding furiously, Spies ordered one of his men take off his shirt and wave it wildly above the tank hatch. The ploy worked and Spies and his men returned to a jubilant welcome as all explored the four-man tank with great interest.

That evening, the Germans in Bouffignereux feasted on British rations. They had not had the opportunity to sample British food since taking prisoners in the 1916 Somme Campaign. With great delight, Lais’ orderly, Dirksen, filled any extra space in the wagon limbers with such delicacies’ as white bread, butter, peach jam and corned beef. The best of these gourmet items were the dark coffee beans. Lais remembered how their mouths had longed for coffee that didn’t taste like it was a by-product of German acorns.

It was a remarkable moment in IR 169’s wartime journey. For the first time since September 1914, the regiment was attacking on a front with no enemy trenches, entanglements of barbed wire obstacles or clouds of poisonous gases immediately before them.

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Black Dudley

Hundred years ago today 29th May 1918 - The British 19th Division came into the line. The battle developed into a struggle for the heights South of Reims, a forested area that had to be held if Reims wasn't be abandoned. Press photo shows a burned down French depot near Fismes with German soldiers foraging through the ashes.

Aisne 2.jpg

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robins2

excellent thread ,especially with the accompanying photos, keep it coming

 

regards

 

Bob R.

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Black Dudley

31st May 1918 - Hundred years ago today

The intoxicating success of the assault had taken Ludendorrf's troops in five days across the Aisne and Vesle to the Marne river. Ludendorff turned his eyes to Paris less than hundred kilometres away - who would stop him ?

Press photo - during the retreat, the French were forced to leave behind provision trains, the German soldiers are putting their bounty to good use.  

 

Aisne 3.jpg

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Black Dudley

The French and British had no fresh troops to bar the way, it was to fall to the Americans to stop the advance, which they did at Chateau-Thierry with the help of machine-gun battalions. Feldpostkarte showing German troops taking cover.

Aisne 555.jpg

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Interested

At the end of May the 8th North Staffords (part of 19th Division, 56th Brigade) had taken up a position on the ridge near Chambrecy but were pushed back by a German advance on the front and on the flanks.  During the fighting the commanding officer Lt. Col. Dakayne DSO and four other officers were wounded.

On the 6th June the Germans made a determined attack on the British position as described by one of the surviving officers:

 

"At 3-15 a.m. heavy artillery fire was opened by the enemy on the French position on our right, the overlap of which fell on our B. and D. Companies. At the conclusion of the bombardment (about two hours later) the enemy could be seen, in several waves, attacking the French, who were compelled to give ground, which left our right flank exposed. The enemy was not slow to take advantage, and turned his attention to our position in a determined attempt to work round our flank, which was countered by D. Company adopting a position facing more or less half right to the original line. Lewis gun detachments were despatched to the right flank, and did wonderful work. A special word of praise is due to section leaders who so admirably chose their positions. The effect of their work was the means of breaking down this attempt to take us in flank. An attack now developed on the left of our position. C. Company was unable to hold this in check and was compelled to make a fighting withdrawal for some two hundred yards. Although forced back, they still maintained a hold on the key of the position, the MONTAGNE DE BLIGNY, and were thus able to prevent the enemy from exploiting his success on this side.

 

About 1 p.m. the fighting died down, and the Cheshire Regiment were observed forming up to attack the MONTAGNE DE BLIGNY. C. and D. Companies also advanced on their right. Our two Companies succeeded in re-taking our original front line, but the Cheshires were not successful. Under these conditions we were again obliged to fall back. Later this operation was repeated without support. Again the objective was reached, and again we were forced back by weight of numbers. During the second of these attacks 2nd Lieut. Ede, who was commanding D. Company, was mortally wounded. When it was found impossible to do anything further these two Companies dug in about two hundred yards from their original front line.

 

This was the situation when the Reserve Battalion of the 56th Brigade, the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, attacked the main position. They succeeded in re-capturing the whole of the MONTAGNE DE BLIGNY and restoring the original line. It was the excellent work performed earlier by our Battalion that materially assisted the complete success of this operation.
“Later the French troops re-organised and re-took their part of the line in front of the village of BLIGNY. During this operation a number of Germans, who had succeeded in getting to the rear of our position, found their escape cut off, and were made prisoners.  We were relieved by the 150th Composite Brigade during the night of the 6th....

 

An Order by the General commanding the 5th French Army Corps published about this time, is worthy of reproduction.
“The 56th Brigade, under the command of Brigadier-General Heath.
“On the 6th June, 1918, charged with the defence of the important position of the MONTAGNE DE BLIGNY, they maintained position for many hours against the attacks of an enemy m superior numbers, and who had almost surrounded them.
“Obliged by the last attack to give ground, they counter-attacked immediately. This attempt being checked, a new counter-attack, led with magnificent dash by the Battalion in reserve, threw the enemy from the BLIGNY mountain, took thirty prisoners, and re-established entirely the line, which was then maintained, in spite of violent bombardment.

" (Signed) PELIE, Commanding 5th Army Corps."

 

A few days later Brig.-General R. M. Heath was presented with the Croix de Guerre on behalf of the 56th Brigade for the gallant work performed by the Brigade on the MONTAGNE DE BLIGNY. This is one of the highest awards that can be made to a formation, and speaks for the gallantry, tenacity, and general fighting qualities of this Brigade. No other Brigade in the British Army ever before had this unique distinction conferred upon it."

 

(Extracted and edited from the History of the 8th North Staffords)

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Black Dudley

Although the Americans continued fighting in Belleau Wood for a further 18 days. By the 6th June 1918 the big German effort towards the Marne had been halted at the end of the first week, with the help of American machine gun battalions and the arrival of the marines at Lucy-le-Bocage. The campaign in the region 27th May - 6th June had cost the allies dear - over 98,000 French, 28,700 British, 474 Americans, this figure grew by the time they took Belleau Wood to nearly 10,000, the Germans suffered similar casualties over 130,000. This was the last of the spring offensives, although Ludendorff's attacks were not finished yet. 

 

A couple of American postcards from WW1.

America 1.jpg

Amercia 2.jpg

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nigelcave
On 22/04/2018 at 22:38, Interested said:

Hi PJS,

I first read Haig's message of 11th April in a copy of the "History of the 8th North Staffords" to which the comment was made at the time.....

"What Bl...y wall?"

The pbi knew there was nothing between their backs and the Channel coast.

Trench humour, of course and not a comment on those at the top being out of touch!

Actually, not quite true: there was a GHQ line being prepared and work had got well under way - see Directing the War Underground, when it sees the light of day.

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Robin Garrett

On 6th June, about 100 people, including 70 from the King's Shropshire Light Infantry Officers' Association, the Maires of Chambrecy, Bligny and Chaumuzy and a number of relatives involved in the counter-attack conducted by 1/4KSLI one hundred years before, gathered at the 19th (Western) Division on the summit of the Montagne de Bligny. Lt Bright's grandson read his grandfather's account of the action for which the battalion was awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, a service was held, wreaths laid and the Last Post sounded before a Vin d'Honneur was held in Chambrecy Church. A memorable day. I have attached a photo of the ground up which the battalion attacked and a photo of the 19 Div Memorial taken last year (hence no crowd around it).

 

The day before a smaller group of about 40 from the KSLIOA studied the battalion's part in Op Michael from 21 - 26 March 1918 and the same group went on to hear about the battalion's operations from 3 - 8 November 1918 from Maresches to Taisnieres. There last operational action was a recce patrol which crossed the battlefield of Malplaquet.

 

D3 S3 Montagne de Bligny 19 Div Mml.JPG

P1000791.JPG

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David_Blanchard
On 28/05/2018 at 14:34, German IR 169 said:

Greetings to WFA members on the remembrance of the events on the Aisne 100 years ago.    For those interested in the German perspective, I thought I would include a portion of my book, Imperial Germany's Iron Regiment of the First World War, History of Infantry Regiment 169, (www.ironregiment169.comthat details the actions of IR 169 as it assaulted over 8th Division lines, participated in the attack at the Bois de Buttes, and attacked over the Aisne between the Pecherie and Pontavert.    The primary German source comes from the memoirs of Leutnant Otto Lais, who served as the Executive Officer for IR 169's 2nd Machine Gun Company during this battle.   In the past few months, I have submitted portions of this chapter on various posts, but I thought there may be interest of members of the entire account given this special day.    

 

Best Regards, John Rieth

 

 

==============================================================================================================

 

German commanders designed 4:40 am (x+160) as the moment for the ground attack. In the 20 minutes before the attack, engineers placed special bridging over the trenches so that the tanks could pass over. Other engineer squads ventured out to no-man’s-land to clear passages through the obstacle fields. At 4:39 am, storm troop commanders raised their hands as a signal for their men to ready their weapons. Hand grenade squads pulled out their grenades and communications wiremen prepared their bulky cargos of rolled field phone wires. Tank engines were started and pitched to high levels of torque. Precisely at 4:40, the commanders’ arms were lowered and the stormtrooper climbed out of their trenches for the 200 meter race to the British trenches. Trust in the Feurewalze was absolute, as supporting artillery fire did not lift from the lead trenches until seconds before the storm troopers reached their objectives.

Opposing British troops, including 1st Battalion, 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment, were stunned. The ferocity of the bombardment blew in trenches, collapsed bunkers and destroyed defensive obstacle fields. The German storm units wasted no time to fully clear the trenches, as this was the job for the follow-on waves of conventional infantry. In moments, the first and second trenchlines were in German hands. The British put up a more determined stand in the third trenches, causing heavy losses on both sides. IR 169’s 9th and 10th Companies participated in this segment of the struggle. Even as the fighting for the third trench raged, German engineers were already putting up bridging over the first trenches to make passage for the tanks, artillery and support wagons soon to follow. The West Yorks attempted a resolute defense, but stood little chance to slow the avalanche pouring over them.

For the commander and staff at the British 8th Division’s Headquarters, the indications of the disaster at the front unfolded with terrible speed:

“The 24th Brigade on the right reported “Enemy advancing up the Miette stream close to Brigade headquarters. Cannot hold out without reinforcements”. Such news was startling in the extreme. But worse was yet to come, and at about 5:30 a.m. the left Brigade, 149th reported “enemy has broken our battle – line and are advancing on Ville au Bois”. Thus before word had come of the front being assaulted, the enemy had turned both flanks and was closing on the Bois des Butts.”

DfufJn3tjLZnwmB4QQy0RvOFI87N0Y2avFbLGFicEq-VZ2abspc_3lPo96ijGgeKOScmqnwDE20j6mbBn6dVd6pKWtMF-4tfwrcqmPi1_YYDRt7mDWf56nPzHjupw_Iame14MQAaOrIWdEQsUw

(PD)

With the front three trenches in German hands, the only remaining form of organized British resistance before the Aisne was the 2nd Devonshire’s Battalion. The Devonshire’s sector comprised the Bois des Buttes, a twin crested hillock about thirty meters high and 500 meters across to the immediate south of the La Villa village. The hill was laced with underground quarries, with deep galleries that were dry and naturally protective to shellfire. The extensive underground network, fortified by both German and French troops over the years, was large enough to protect a brigade headquarters and three infantry battalions. Passages connected the complex to another fortified bunker system for the 5th Field Battery of the Royal Artillery. Of this later feature observed the 8th Division historian “This was at once a tactical and a social convenience – not only were we in close touch with our guns but we never lacked a fourth at bridge o `nights!” The Devonshires, under the command of Lt Col Anderson-Morshead, only rotated into the forest the evening of the attack, having just spent the past week in reserve status training new replacements.

The protection of the quarries enabled the battalion to withstand the German bombardment relatively intact, but with little awareness of the situation outside. Once the shelling lifted, the troops raced to positions in trenches and bunkers with Companies B, C and D forward, with Company A in the reserve. The heavy early morning mist enabled the first groups of Germans, led by storm troops of the 50th Division, to close in at close range. German rifle-fired and hand thrown grenades flew into the trenches. The British repelled three separate attacks, leaving many dead and wounded on both sides. The sun started to burn off the early fog, exposing arriving German formations to Lewis machine gun fire at longer ranges. In one of many instances of heroism, 20 year old Private Borne fired his Lewis gun at ‘German hordes’ while all his comrades were shot down around him. As the Germans close in to 100 yards, he withdrew back a short distance and resumed his fire before falling mortally wounded.

German commanders began to appreciate the extent of the determined resistance, and briefly paused the ground attack to resume artillery fires. Aircraft flew into machine gun, bomb and mark the British positions for artillery strikes. Observations balloons, some tethered to tanks, added to the precision of the artillery fire. The Germans resumed the infantry attacks in such overwhelming numbers that it seemed nearly impossible for the British riflemen to miss a target. Trenches were taken, counterattacked, and taken again. The overpowering weight of the infantry attacks and artillery fires devastated the Devonshire ranks. The few survivors of three front line companies were knocked off the summit of the hill by 7:00 am.

Although Lt. Col. Anderson-Morshead’s command was reduced to a handful of troops, he organized A Company and the battalion headquarters into a last stand defense on the reverse slope of the hill. From this position, they were still able to bring fire on German troops advancing towards the Aisne bridgehead at Pontavert.

IR 169’s recent experience in training with tanks came of use when a pair of German converted Mark IV’s joined the battle. In concert with other German units, IR 169 squads accompanied the tanks in the final series of assaults that wiped out the Devonshires. The British, with no anti-tank weapons available, were powerless to stop the armor. The tanks lumbered forward, firing machine guns and cannons to dislodge the British at the edge of the forest. These tanks were only stopped when they proved unable to climb the steep berms of the last artillery positions. [While the role of the tanks at the Bois des Buttes can hardly be qualified as decisive, it did provide IR 169 with the rare distinction as being one of the few German infantry units in the war to attack alongside their own armor.]

IR 169 squads, augmented by machine gun teams, closed in on the last remaining positions. A newly assigned replacement officer began to direct machine gun fire into a bunker when he was torn to pieces by a hand grenade. A pioneer squad then maneuvered behind the bunker and destroyed it with an explosive charge. Leutnant Spies led a storm troop platoon, supported by machine guns of the 1st and 3rd MG Company, into the bunker complex to wipe out remaining defenders. In another trench, a group of British soldiers raised their hands in surrender. Leutnant D.R. Barth entered the position to take them as prisoners. As Lais described:

“A fanatical scoundrel pulled a Browning pistol and shot Barth in the stomach, leaving him with a grievous wound. The Englishman paid for his treacherous act with his life. The remaining prisoners stood still, with snow white faces as they raised their arms as far as can be stretched. All were evacuated with an audible breath of air from their lungs.”

By 9:30 am, the Bois des Buttes was fully in German possession and the path to the Aisne River was clear of organized resistance. Lt. Col Anderson-Morshead, last observed with pistol in one hand and riding crop in the other, was among the many British dead. The 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment was practically annihilated, with 552 members killed or captured and less than 80 survivors left to regroup with the retreating British forces. The British Army recognized 2nd Devonshire Battalion’s heroism by listing the Battle of Bois des Buttes with an exclusive unit battle honor.

Captain D.R. Knapp, commanded IR 169’s 2nd Battalion in this action. Lais described Knapp, who was a public prosecutor in Constance before the war, as being respected as a capable leader who possessed a deep sense of intellectual curiosity. A captured British colonel, who was being moved to the rear, took notice of the 2nd Battalion staff and asked if he could speak to their commanding officer. After being presented, he addressed Knapp in perfect German: “Herr Hauptmann, ich begluckwunsche sie zu einer solchen Leistung Ihrer Truppe” (“Captain, I congratulate you for the performance of your troops.”)

When the fighting subsided, Lais remembered pausing to reflect on the stunning battlefield landscape that left such significant milestones to his wartime service. Two miles to the southeast were the ruins of Berry-au-Bac. In the April 1917 battle, the fields beyond the town witnessed the destruction of 24 French tanks, one of which explored on a rainy night from the Juvincourt trenches. Another two miles to the southwest was the village of Pontavert and its stone bridge that crossed the Aisne. A few miles further to his right was the desolate Winterberg, which after so much bloodshed in the summer of 1917 was finally again under German control.

With the Bois des Buttes finally taken, the next objective was to cross over the Aisne River and canal, just a mile to the south past the forest.

The Devonshires stoic defense allowed British engineers time to blow up five small, wartime bridges that spanned the river between Berry-au-Bac and Pontavert. However, they did not have time destroy the main stone bridge at Pontavert. By 9:00 am, German storm troop and infantry units were soon on the near bank of the river, making prisoners of those British troops not able to swim across the river and canal.

A mile to the east of Pontavert and just off the river was a substantial fishery complex, recorded by the combatants as the ‘La Pecherie Ferne.’ On the south bank of the Aisne, disorganized British troops attempted to rally to defend the stone bridge. French reserve forces, described by Lais as ‘grey-bearded elderly men’ took up positions in a wood line across the river from the Pecherie. Another quarter mile south of the river began the Gernicourt Woods, a thick forest one mile wide and a half mile deep. The Gernicourt Woods was still shrouded with traces of the deadly light-green poisonous gas that the Germans used to target the British rear positions. IR 169 assembled for its role in the river assault between the Pecherie and Pontavert.

Lais arrived at the front leading 2nd MG Company’s gun and ammunition wagons. It was a difficult journey, with the wagon convoy having been trapped within an obstacle field for over an hour before it could finally be untangled. Nearing the forward lines, Lais took note of large groups of British prisoners awaiting evacuation to the rear. The faces of the POWs reflected amazement as endless formations of Germans infantry and artillery followed behind the storm troop units.

Lais led the MG wagons behind the courtyard structure of the La Pecherie outbuildings. A large graveyard, filled with dead from the past three years of combat, covered much of the grounds. French troops from directly across the river and British machine guns from Pontavert peppered the Germans with gunfire. The MG Company support troops distributed ammunition and from the wagons and broke out the hardware to set up the heavy machine guns. Leutnant Fahr placed one section of machine guns at a nearby point where the river and canal ran directly alongside each other and opened fire.

With his ammunition supply duties fulfilled, Lais took a few moments to explore the farm buildings. He found one of the rooms being used as a dressing station, still staffed by captured British medical personnel: Lais wrote: “English doctors and medics treat friends and foes. All have respect for these people, who selflessly attend all while the battle rages nearby.” In another building, Lais’ men came across a large pile of bedding material. They gladly took whatever blankets they could carry, leaving stacks of bed posts and frames alone, but noted for future use.

The Germans hurried to improvise ways to cross over the river and canal before the enemy could regroup. As a start, an infantry company found two abandoned barges. Lais wrote how someone from the 2nd MG Company came up the ‘brilliant idea’ to use the abandoned stores of bed frames and posts as framework to construct improvised footbridges. The pioneers quickly got work, lashing together the posts with wires and using wooden planks for the bridging. Within an hour, they had constructed footbridges sufficiently long enough to cross the 40 meter-wide river and canal at this uniquely narrow point.

A collection of IR 169 storm troopers and 6th Company were tasked to lead the river assault. The 9th Company, commanded by Leutnant D.R. Kastner, took position along the north bank to join the machine guns in providing covering fires. One of the 9th Company NCOs, Vice Master Sergeant Howe, was severely wounded but still stayed in line to fire his light machine gun. The enemy marksmanship proved sound, as several others nearby were killed with head shots.

At 10:00 am, the crude foot bridges were complete, and dragged up to the river. A number of the pioneers were shot as they swam into the river to set up the far side of the bridge. A squad of stormtroopers, led by Leutnant Selle, were the first to charge across. Selle and his entire unit were killed within a short distance of the crossing. Lais, who considered Selle a ‘dear comrade,’ was branded with the image of his friend’s corpse lying face down in the mud. Other troops continued on. Crossing the shaky bridge was a perilous affair. Not only did the attackers face a deadly fire from the front and flanks, but they were heavily laden with rifles, assault packs, hand grenades and entrenching tools. A fall into the river would likely result in drowning.

Squad-by-squad, enough Germans made it across the river and canal so that they could maneuver against the French troops immediately before them. One of the German leaders was the red-haired Leutnant Ries, described by Lais as being completely unflappable. Filthy dirty, and with a long stubble of a red beard, he attacked with great fury. Nearing the French position, he yelled with his rich tenor voice ‘a’ bas les armes! (Down with your weapons!) Lais, somewhat sympathetically, recorded the plight of these French reservists:

“Scared of this red devil, the French landstrum commander could not raise his hands fast enough. It was a bad situation for the elderly men, accustomed to the beer and comforts of guarding the depots of Jonchery and Fimes [large French army depots 8 miles south], to be fetched up early in the morning by lorries and thrust into a frenzied battle against this God of Thunder, roaring devil-fire.”

Directly ahead was the ominously silent Gernicourt Woods. Due to the large concentration of the special ‘yellow cross’ gas targeted there, most German units bypassed the woods to open fields on either end. A small storm troop group, wearing well-inspected gas masks, was ordered to scout the center of the woods. There they found that the yellow cross gas indeed functioned as billed. The crews of an entire British artillery battery lay dead. Elsewhere, others were found dying or suffering in horrible agony. Lais reflected: “The Gernicourt Woods was a great cemetery. Gas is a cruel weapon and does not distinguish commands or victims. We were the victors in this murderous location because we had better gas masks.” Foreshadowing the destruction of IR 169 five months later, Lais noted how “we also had to experience our own gas masks failing in a very insidious American gas attack in late October, 1918.”

German small units breached in the Aisne in greater numbers, forcing the British to abandon their defense of the southern end of the Pontavert Bridge. German pioneers quickly set up more substantial bridges across the river and canal that could support wagons and vehicles. The Aisne River was now fully under German control.

The next line of British resistance stood at the small village of Bouffignereux, one mile further south of Gernicourt Woods. At 10:30 am, the 1st Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, came up from reserve positions in an attempt to slow the German advance. The Wiltshire’s established a line in front of the village, with Companies D, B, and A forward, and two platoons of C Company in reserve. The ground between Bouffignereux and the Gernicourt Woods were open fields. To the east was a forest where a mounted British artillery battery paused along path in the midst of a copse of alder bushes.

In addition to the battery, the confused British retreat left a collection of supply, medical and munitions wagons becoming tangled in the small forested pathways. In early afternoon, a squadron of four German planes attacked into the woodlands, sending the some of the wagons crashing into the cover of the undergrowth. Shortly after, salvos of well-aimed artillery exploded on top of the British wagons and artillery sections, panicking men and horses. A section of the hidden artillery battery, with caissons, limbers and guns colliding together, dashed out to the road only to run in to the advancing German infantry. The battery commander and other section leaders were killed in the initial German volley and the remaining artillerymen taken prisoner. Two battery horses were killed and two others badly wounded and shot out of mercy.Nearby, a group of supply wagons tried to make an escape from the woods. The lead crews were also shot down and the rest of the personnel captured.

Lais noted how the English horses, of strong Norman breed, were well fed, had shiny coats and were in excellent condition. The first order of business was to unlimber the newly captured horses to replace the more worn-down German mounts. Some of the horses were unruly, leading the Germans to press the British farriers to assist in getting them under control. Lais wrote that while the Germans would never seek to harm their prisoners, they also did not appreciate the rather ‘insolent attitude’ displayed by this particular batch of POWs.

The main assault on Bouffignereux line took place at 5:30. The Wiltshire Regimental diary records that the attack struck with overwhelming artillery and machine gun fire, compelling the Wiltshire troops to retreat in small groups through the village to fight trailing, rear guard actions.

Lais arrived in Bouffignereux just after the village was stormed. The intensity of the fighting was evidenced by the many dead British soldiers lying throughout the village streets. Still-warm corpses were dragged to the sides of houses so wagons would have free passage. At dusk, a large group of prisoners, described by Lais as having a more polite demeanor than those taken in the forest, gathered unguarded in the village center, waiting for evacuation to the rear. Artillery units entered the village with a heavy battery taking position in the church courtyard. Lais’ MG wagons also set up near the church’s high walls and occupied a house after feeding and watering their horses.

Elsewhere in IR 169’s advance that day, infantry companies reached the high ground near Bouvancourt, two miles further south. Leutnant Spies, after leading his storm troopers in clearing British bunkers in the Bois des Buttes that morning, captured a unique prize – a functioning British tank. The popular Spies recounted his tale with great relish. It began with his leading a reconnaissance patrol two kilometers past the forward-most German lines. The patrol came across the lone tank and surprised its crew, killing two men and capturing the rest. Realizing the opportunity at hand, Spies man-handled the driver back into the tank and through a combination of gestures and sharp pokes to his ribs, guided him back to German lines. As he neared German forward positions, he realized that tank would likely be perceived as vanguard of a British counterattack, and risk drawing friendly fire. With his heart pounding furiously, Spies ordered one of his men take off his shirt and wave it wildly above the tank hatch. The ploy worked and Spies and his men returned to a jubilant welcome as all explored the four-man tank with great interest.

That evening, the Germans in Bouffignereux feasted on British rations. They had not had the opportunity to sample British food since taking prisoners in the 1916 Somme Campaign. With great delight, Lais’ orderly, Dirksen, filled any extra space in the wagon limbers with such delicacies’ as white bread, butter, peach jam and corned beef. The best of these gourmet items were the dark coffee beans. Lais remembered how their mouths had longed for coffee that didn’t taste like it was a by-product of German acorns.

It was a remarkable moment in IR 169’s wartime journey. For the first time since September 1914, the regiment was attacking on a front with no enemy trenches, entanglements of barbed wire obstacles or clouds of poisonous gases immediately before them.

No German tanks were used against the British positions in the Bois des Buttes- see Rainier Strasheim’s book on Beute Panzer based on tank detachment reports of the battle. There are also a number of post war debriefs of officers in the 2 West Yorks, 2 Middlesex and 2 Devons who report no tank attacks in this sector of the 8 Div. The terrain here in the woods would have prevented their deployment- there were a number of German tanks that attacked across the flatter terrain to the west on the front occupied by the 50 Division 

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German IR 169
Posted (edited)

Thanks for the comment and I appreciate the feedback.  My sourcing on the tanks came from the following:  The first is from the Keep Military Museum Website:  https://www.keepmilitarymuseum.org/history/first+world+war/the+devonshire+regiment/the+second+battalion/the+battle+of+bois+des+buttes.  A paragraph in this article notes that two German tanks were active on D Company front at the edge of the woods.

 

"Mention should be made of the German use of tanks during this offensive. The Germans had up to fifteen of their forty, ton giant A7Vs available for use. The tanks had a 57mm (6-pdr) gun and six machine guns, two engines, 30mm armour and a crew of sixteen men. In addition the Germans had twenty five captured British tanks of various types. The tanks crossed the line and made their way forward in groups of four with the infantry. At least two of them were active on D Company's front. The tanks were useful in helping to dislodge the British troops from positions at the edge of the wood but they had limited mobility in very heavily shelled or wooded areas. The Battalion had no anti-tank weapons so could do little about the tanks that shelled and machine-gunned them from the open ground."

 

 My primary German source came from Leutnant Otto Lais' memoirs.  He sketched the below German infantry attack alongside the tanks and titled it "Attack in the La Viller Woods", which refers to the sector defended by the Devons.    Lais was quite specific in how the tanks were eventually stalled when they reached the steep berms of an artillery position. 

 

You make an good point in how the terrain would have restricted movement directly into the woods, so as you suggest, those IR 169 troops that attacked with the tanks most likely advanced on flatter terrain outside the woods.

 

Thanks again.   John

  

 

image.png.5b4225c328a3d7e900555593e60cfd95.png

 

Edited by German IR 169

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David_Blanchard

I am afraid the source from the Devonshire Museum is completely redundant. There were definitely no German A7V tanks involved in any of the attacks on the Aisne on either 27 May or later on 1st June on the Marne- all were British Mark IV tanks taken in the German counter attack at Cambrai.

 

I would suggest that the German unit mentioned in your above post most likely attacked the 50 Division not in the Bois des Buttes but at the Butte L’Edmond - held by the stubborn resistance of Infantrymen of the Northumberland Fusiliers. (See my book Aisne 1918)

 

Regards, 

 

David 

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German IR 169

David, thanks again for weighing in.  I very much look forward to buying your book and appreciate your bringing it to my attention.  I do hope to visit the battlefields in the next couple of years, and your book will no doubt be an invaluable guide.    Regarding the employment of German tanks, I certainly defer to your expertise on this battle and knowledge of the terrain.    Lais also confirms the tanks in the action were Mark IVs.  Just to ensure I understand this as topic as best possible, I welcome your opinion on the likely avenue of advance of IR 169.    IR 169 was in the 52 ID, which was to the immediate left flank (east) of 50 ID.   We know from Lais that IR 169's 2nd Battalion launched their attack from near Juvincourt, and reached Aisne at the Le Pecherie.  He also writes of IR 169 infantry troops fighting at the La Villa Woods, but the sequencing of their fighting there is not as specific as British sources.  

 

Best Regards,   John

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David_Blanchard
Posted (edited)

Hello John,

 

I will get back to you on this enquiry in a couple of weeks- busy at present- am talking on Aisne Battle this weekend at a History Festival near Salisbury.

 

Suffice to say I have come across of a number of reports by men of 6 Northumberland Fusiliers fighting against tanks on the edge of Bois des Buttes - the first unit to the west of the 23 Brigade 8 Division- so I suspect that the IR 169 may have fought in this area with other companies of the Regiment fighting in the wood against the Devons and Middlesex before moving to La Pecherie near the Aisne. 

 

David 

Edited by David_Blanchard

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Black Dudley

"The Black Day of the German Army"

 

Hundred Years Ago - 8th August 1918 referred to by Ludendorff as “the black day of the German Army” the Western allies had attacked on the Somme Front – Five German divisions were broken, official German reports estimated their losses were about 30,000. It showed the German High Command beyond any doubt, the decline in their army's fighting powers. German soldiers were demoralized, mass surrenders took place, often to individual Allied soldiers or tanks.
Here’s a couple of photos from a German soldier's Eduard Husser military pass who fought that day on the Somme front and survived the day’s fighting.

Husser 11.jpg

Husser 22.jpg

Husser 3.jpg

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Black Dudley

10th August 1918 the allies continued pushing eastwards, fighting took place around the Roman Road (Römerstrasse) which lasted two days. Reserve Feldartillerie Regiment Nr.19 a unit that fought there, included the fighting in their battle honours, shown on this regimental plate. A militärpass belonged to Martin Oswald, a artilleryman with 1st Bavarian Füßartillerie Regiment shows he also fought in the battle of Römerstrasse. More I’ve not been able to find out, if any member has more information, I’d be grateful to hear it.

Teller 1.jpg

Romerstr 2.jpg

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