FIGHTS OF THE BRITISH TROOPS, 21st/26th JULY

Thanks to Charles Fair, who sent us this document, part of : "Histoire Officielle Britannique 1918" Vol 3 par Brigadier J.E. Edmonds

CHAPTER 14, THE SECOND BATTLE OF THE MARNE (continued), 2lst-26th JULY 1918

In consequence of the German retirement from the Marne, in the centre of the front, during the night of the 20th/21st, the French Sixth Army (now including the XXXVIII Corps of the Ninth Army) and the right of the Tenth Army, made good progress on the 21st. Although the Ninth Army (now reduced to one corps, the III) could not cross the Marne, part of the XXXVIII Corps did so and re-occupied Chateau Thierry. General Fayolle, in great jubilation, sent forward the 6th Cavalry Division for the pursuit - it did not go farther than the front infantry line - and asked G.Q.G. for the I Cavalry Corps for the same purpose. But on the flanks of the German salient, where a success on either might have brought about a decisive victory, no progress could be made. On the west, the Tenth Army attacked, but the Germans "had brought up a number of new field and heavy batteries", which knocked out the tanks and inflicted heavy losses; whilst the 5th Division, fresh from five weeks' rest after the Chemin des Dames battle, by a counter-attack completed the French discomfiture. General Mangin's first effort was obviously exhausted, and he decided to bring up the British 15th and 34th Divisions to relieve the American lst and French 88th Divisions, which with a relief already in progress would give him four fresh divisions.

On the eastern shoulder of the salient General Berthelot had given orders at 8.20 pm on the 20th for the renewal of the attack. It was to be "poussee sans arrêt" by his troops, including the British 62nd and 51st Divisions, on the whole front between Vrigny and the Marne. "An opportunity", he said, "to obtain important results had arisen; it must not be allowed to escape. Let every man put his heart into it. The general counts upon the will and energy of all to give the enemy a blow which may be decisive."

Lieut-General Godley's orders, issued at 12.30 am after a warning telegram had been sent, directed the continuation of the operation "by a process of successively reducing the enerny's points of resistance until the objectives are gained."

"The enemy should be engaged and worn down by a continuous series of advances undertaken with sufficient deliberation and artillery preparation to secure economy of men, whilst giving, him no rest."

"Successive objectives will be arranged by divisions on the general principle that the enemy strongpoints and machine-gun nests should be kept under fire whilst progress is made in the direction of least resistance. The mopping up of strongpoints should not, as a rule, be undertaken till the posts supporting them in rear can be closely engaged. Divisions will be responsible for arranging their own artillery support with all the artillery at their disposal, both field and heavy (British and Allied)."

Soon after midnight a visit of Brig-General C. W. Gwynn, of the XXII Corps General Staff, to St. Imoges, where both the 51st and 62nd Divisions had their headquarters, made clear what was required: before attempting to advance down the Ardre valley it was necessary, as in mountain warfare, to crown, that is gain possession of, the wooded ridges on either side of it.

Major-General Braithwaite (62nd Division), in consequence, ordered the 187th Brigade - with the 1/9th Durham L.I. (Pioneers) attached since the brigade had lost so heavily on the preceding day - to push through the Bois de Reims as far as a track which passes through the hamlet of Bouilly. The wood, although it gradually narrowed, covered the entire top of the ridge. Half an hour's bombardment by all the available artillery was arranged, followed by a creeping barrage of field artillery, with suitable pauses, whilst the heavy artillery shelled the villages of Chaumuzy and Bligny, whose defenders flanked the projected advance. Zero hour was fixed for 10.30 am, which left none too much time, since the troops were not reported as being ready until 10.20 am. Even then it turned out that a mistake had been made in reporting the position of the front line, so that when the 9/Durham L.I., which was to lead, was brought up, it was halted by the guides six hundred yards in rear of the intended forming-up line for which the barrage had been planned. Nevertheless some progress was made. The Durham L.I. came on at a steady double to catch up the barrage, until the machine guns in the woods, on the left flank, opened fire and held up the advance just as they had done on the previous day. Attempts made by the 2/4th York & Lancaster to approach Commetreuil Chateau, west of Courmas, and by patrols of the 186th Brigade to reach Cuitron and Marfaux, in the Ardre valley, failed, as these localities were found to be still strongly held. There was very little change during the day in the position of the 62nd Division front. The I Colonial Corps on its right remained stationary.

Major General Carter-Campbell (51st Division) similarly arranged to work along the ridge south of the Ardre, which is covered by the wide Bois de Courton and the narrower Bois d'Eclisse. He fixed three objectives: first, the west edge of the former wood; second, a line through the centre of the Bois d'Eclisse; and, third, the road beyond that wood. He detailed the 152nd Brigade for the operation, with the 153rd to protect its flanks as far as the first objective.

Zero hour was set at 8 am in order to co-operate with the French 9th Division, on the left, which was starting at that hour; so there was no time to issue written orders to units. Here, too, the advance was made on a frontage of one battalion, the 1/6th Gordon Highlanders, while a mistake was also made about the forming-up line. When the Highlanders moved forward at 6.45 a.m. they found that the line, chosen in haste and in ignorance of the true situation, lay about seven hundred yards beyond the front strongly held by the enemy. Thus when the barrage opened at 8 a.m. it was of little use. The Gordons managed to advance a little, but the right, owing to enemy infiltration and envelopment, had eventually to fall back to a line some two hundred yards in front of its position of deployment. The support and reserve battalions were put in and gaps filled, but it all ended in indeterminate wood fighting with the French on the left faring no better.

The Germans who expected from the Fifth Army an attack against the vital flank at least as heavy and on as wide a front as on the previous day, were agreeably disappointed on receiving only several strong partial attacks from the British. During the day the enemy brought up to the battle front no less than six divisions, with four more to follow.

Two short paragraphs in the French Official Account deal with the events of the following day. The first is :

"The fighting on the 22nd July, in the course of which the Tenth and Fifth Armies obtained no marked success, showed clearly that the enemy attached a very special importance to the retention of the plateaux south-west of Soissons and the heights of Vrigny, north-east of the Ardre: these two positions were in fact the hinges on which the Army of General von Boehn must be supported if German O.H.L. was forced to draw it back."

The second paragraph states that the III Corps (Ninth Army) forced passages of the Marne near Passy and Courcelles (both about 4 miles below Dormans).

The XXII Corps was ordered to continue the attack, zero hour being fixed by the French at 12.15 p.m.. Twenty-five French light tanks were placed at Lieut-General Godley's disposal, but the soft ground was unsuitable for their use. Each division employed no more than one battalion, and that weak in numbers owing to previous losses. In the 62nd Division the 5/Duke of Wellington's (186th Brigade) was directed to capture a salient of the Bois de Reims which projects southwards between Marfaux and Chaumuzy, known as the Bois du Petit Champ, and believed to be full of machine guns commanding the valley of the Ardre. Owing to the density of the undergrowth and the weakness of the battalion, it was decided to proceed in two columns, each of two companies on the front of a platoon, which were to work along the edges of the Bois de Reims, whilst a heavy artillery barrage combed through it. Each column was to drop posts about every three hundred yards, and from these posts patrols were to be sent into the wood to mop up enemy posts and gain touch with each other. Both attempts encountered severe opposition: the right column of the 5/Duke of Wellington's advanced nearly half a mile, captured two strongpoints one after the other and several isolated machine-gun posts, and reached the centre of the wood. It was then foiled by an unlocated strongpoint; so, withdrawing three hundred yards, it consolidated a line from the northern edge of the wood towards its centre.

The left column came against a strongpoint only fifty yards from the jumping-off line, but captured it and five others in succession on the southern edge of the wood. The leading company was then counter-attacked and retired to a line just outside the wood; but there it came under fire from Cuitron, until in the end only eight survivors managed to fight their way back to the support company. Two companies of the 5/Devonshire were sent up in reinforcement and with their help the line of the support company, about seven hundred yards in advance of the starting line, was consolidated and touch obtained with the right column. To this extent the day had been successful; in addition over two hundred prisoners had been brought in. The operations seemed to show that with larger forces and successive reinforcements the wood might have been cleared and the defenders of the villages cut off.

The 51st Division had only to provide one battalion to co-operate with the attack of the French 9th Division against Paradis, which it was not to make until 5 pm; it was later to advance on La Neuville. The 7/Black Watch (153rd Brigade) was detailed to move along the western edge of the Bois de Courton, to the north of Paradis; but, although it was supported by 6/Black Watch, the volume of machine-gun fire was too great, as it also was opposite the French 9th Division; so that a gain of no more than a few hundred yards could be made. During the night the French 14th and 20th Divisions, now on the right of the XXII Corps, which had for a short time been under the command of Italian II Corps headquarters, were placed, for defensive purposes under Lt-General Godley.

On the western flank of the salient the British 34th Division - the infantry had been moved up by lorry - began the relief of the French 38th Division of the XXX Corps, south-west of Hartennes, on the 22nd. Both infantry and artillery completed the relief by 3 a.m. on the 23rd, and at 7 a.m. Major-General Nicholson assumed command of the sector. The infantry of the British 15th Division similarly relieved that of the American 1st Division of the French XX Corps, separated by a two-division front from the 34th Division. The change of artillery should have been carried out on the nights of the 22nd/23rd and 23rd/24th; so that at 10.35 p.m. on the 22nd, when Major-General Reed learnt that his division was to attack at 8 a.m. on the following morning, he found that at zero hour half of his divisional artillery would be in and half of it out of the line. Accordingly he arranged with Major-General C. P. Summerall that the artillery of the American 1st Division (Colonel L. R. Holbrook) should remain for 24 hours and cover the attack. Colonel Maybell, the A.D.M.S. of that division, also lent his motor ambulances and kept his hospitals open in rear of the 15th Division for four days after his own troops had gone out of the line. Without this help the British casualties could not have been evacuated, since the 15th Division had no casualty clearing station, nor motor ambulance convoy behind it. On the other hand, the 15th Division artillery lent teams to the Americans to pull their guns out.

The infantry relief was no easy matter; for the maps provided were of the French small scale, 1:80,000 series, the line was not continuous, and extended along a front intersected by valleys and covered with woods. Here a sad sight lay ahead; for the American dead were lying in swathes in the cornfields, having obviously been cut down by machine-gun fire whilst in thick waves; the British divisions were yet to discover that in standing crops the use of scouts and the application of rifle and machine-gun covering fire may become a very difficult matter.

The enemy was found to have a most striking air superiority over the French in this quarter; German planes were over the French lines at all hours of the day, and at night they bombed the roads. All movements had to be made after dark and the strictest orders enforced during the day as to concealment from air observation.

General Foch possibly heard of General Mangin's arrangements for the hurried engagement of the British divisions; for during the 22nd he sent him a note written by his own hand as follows: "The attention of the Tenth Army is called to the advantage which may accrue if, without checking the offensive for long, it prepares further operations with the new divisions which are reaching the Army every day, so as to produce strong combined action at the moment when the Army wishes to inflict a serious reverse on the enemy."

During the course of the 22nd General Foch also addressed a letter to General Pershing confirming the decisions taken at an interview on the previous day, when it was agreed that an American First Army should be formed on the nucleus of the American I Corps, then in the French Sixth Army west of Chateau Thierry.

The German reports of the 22nd speak of lively fighting and the repulse of attacks made by the French with the assistance of tanks near Oulchy. The diary of the Seventh Army puts on record that the crisis was considered to be over, the danger of complete envelopment and annihilation of the Army to be no longer imminent, and its strategic freedom regained. O.H.L. began to consider a counter-attack against Mangin's left flank from the north; but it was found that owing to the bad railway conditions it would require too much time to place the necessary troops in position, while it was impossible to foresee what counter-action Foch might not devise: if he considered that his Soissons offensive, begun on the 18th, had come to a standstill, he might, with the means at his command, launch a surprise offensive at some other place now shorn of good divisions and reserves: even a purely defensive attitude on the part of the Germans would require the provision of fresh and the removal of tired divisions: the transport difficulties, owing to Soissons railway junction being under heavy fire and no longer available, were becoming very great, indeed the diversion line via Missy was now exposed to long-range fire so that very soon its abandonment would have to be faced: the Seventh Army was already reduced to the supplies that road transport could carry, and petrol was running very short. On the 21st the German Crown Prince's Group of Armies had proposed to O.H.L. the withdrawal of the line between Reims and Soissons, so as to shorten the front, provide forces for attack and regain the initiative. Ludendorff was much disinclined to consider the proposal; but on the 22nd be verbally ordered the Chiefs of the Staff of the Seventh and First Armies to make all preparations for a retirement "behind the upper Ourcq with the left flank in the direction of Marfaux [where the British 62nd Division was fighting]": that is for the abandonment of only the southern half of the great salient. Meantime, on the night of the 23rd/24th, the three centre corps (Wichura, Scheeler and Kathen) were to withdraw another stage to the line Verneuil (on the Marne)-Beuvardes-Bruyères. On the 22nd, however, the Seventh Army gave warning of a further retirement, probably on the night of the 24th/25th.

On the 23rd, as on the 22nd, some progress was made by the Sixth Army in the left sector, where the enemy had fallen back; but the German flanks held firm. Only the British 62nd and 51st Divisions on the east, and the 34th Division on the west, together with the French troops near them, gained ground. The French account of the day is: "In the Tenth Army the XX Corps and left of the XXX in vain repeated their efforts, engaging the British 15th and 34th Divisions, which were fresh, in relief of the American 1st Division and the French 38th Division. These attempts yielded little result, in spite of the participation of about a hundred tanks - it is true before their units had completed reorganization; the commander of the Tenth Army therefore ordered the corps to spend the next day in consolidating their positions except the XX Corps [in which was the 15th Division], which was to attack Villemontoire and Tigny. The centre and right of the Fifth Army were in a similar situation to that of the Tenth Army [the left was still held up along the Marne]; the attacks made on the 23rd did not result in the corps making any noticeable progress towards their objectives."

At 9.80 pm on the 22nd the French Fifth Army had issued operation orders reiterating that the mission of the Army remained offensive. After directing the XIV Corps to continue passing "groupes de combat" over the Marne and the V Corps to pursue its mission as before, the orders entered into details as regards the British XXII Corps: "With its left division it will renew its effort between Neuville aux Larris and Nappes with a view to securing the whole of the Bois de Courton and pushing forward to the Bois d'Eclisse and Chaumuzy."

"With its right division it will pursue the success gained today and will keep in close liaison with General Mordrelle, who will attack on its right."

"General Mordrelle, attacking between the Bois de Reims and Point 240 in a north-easterly direction, will arrange for one regiment of the 168th Division to support and prolong the attack."

Lieut-General Godley, who earlier had been made aware of General Berthelot's intentions in order to give plenty of time for preparation, had warned his divisions by telephone, so that although his formal orders were timed 6.40 pm, the divisional orders were out at 4.45 and 5 pm, respectively. The 62nd and 51st Divisions were to co-operate in the capture of Marfaux and the Bois d'Aulnay, south of that village, when sufficient progress should have been made in the Bois de Reims on the northern flank. The advance was to follow the line of the valley of the Ardre. The 82nd Squadron R.A.F. was to provide contact and artillery planes. Zero hour was left to the divisional commanders to settle, and they fixed 6 am. The attack was completely successful except that Espilly, on the extreme left, where the French could not gain ground, remained in the enemy's hands. On the right, however, they made good progress and captured Commetreuil Château.

Major-General Braithwaite ordered the 186th Brigade (Brigadier-General J.L.G. Burnett) with the 9/Durham L.I. (Pioneers), the 8/West Yorkshire (185th Brigade) and two companies of the XXII Corps cyclists attached, to carry out his part of the attack. The last-named battalion was detailed to clear the remainder of the machine-gun posts in the salient Bois du Petit Champ, on the capture of which the success of the attack depended. The first objective was the villages of Cuitron and Marfaux and the road between them; the second, a ridge five hundred yards beyond that road. Five French light tanks were to assist the advance. The divisional artillery (less two batteries) was used to support the attack in the Bois du Petit Champ, whilst French field artillery provided the creeping barrage for the main attack. There was no preliminary bombardment, but the heavy artillery swept the high ground and woods on either side of the Ardre valley.

All went according to plan in the 62nd Division, in spite of German artillery fire which caused seventy casualties, mostly in one company of the 9/Durham L.I., before zero hour. The barrage, being particularly accurate, intense and effective, allowed the first objective to be reached by 6.50 am, and the final one by 8 am, at the cost of a hundred casualties, and the loss of two tanks knocked out by gunfire. But, although shortly after 11 am the French 77th Division came up on the right and immediately went into action, it was evening before the Bois du Petit Cbamp was entirely cleared at the cost of 44 further casualties, including all the officers of one company of the 8/West Yorkshire. Nearly two hundred prisoners and 12 field guns (which turned out to be French 75's) were captured.

In the 51st Division (Major-General G.T.C. Carter-Campbell), the advance of the 152nd Brigade (Brigadier-General R. Laing), with parts of two battalions of the 154th on its left, was covered by a barrage fired by the divisional artillery and French field artillery. It was equally successful; so that the final objective, the Bois d'Aulnay including the sunken road east of Espilly, was reached by 8.20 am in the face of a heavy German barrage and of machine-gun fire, and in spite of much short shooting by the barrage guns. The occupation of Espilly, although renewed efforts were made throughout the day, proved impossible to achieve, as the open slope down to the village was swept by fire from the northern edge of the Bois de Courton. German bombardments hampered all movement, but the 152nd Brigade maintained its position.

Thus the result of the day's operations in the XXII Corps was an advance of about twelve hundred yards on a 2 mile front. Some British soldiers wounded on the 20th were found in Marfaux; their wounds had been dressed and they had been given water, but no food, by the Germans.

On the Soissons side of the salient General Mangin had issued orders on the 22nd for the XXX Corps (1st, 19th and British 34th Divisions) and XX Corps (58th, 87th and British 15th Divisions) to make the principal attack at 5 am and reach the line Orme du Grand Rozoy-Taix-Buzancy; the XI. Corps (41st and 5th Divisions), on the right, was to render what assistance it could to the XXX, the Butte de Chalmont being assigned as its objective. As ulterior objective the line Saponay-Arcy-Maast was mentioned.

For carrying these orders into effect the corps arranged that attacks, after a bombardment lasting ten minutes, should first be made against the flanks of the woods which lay on the front: the 19th Division, with the 1st covering its right, should first turn the Bois de St. Jean from the south, whilst the 87th and British 15th Divisions, after a 40 minutes bombardment, were to capture Villemontoire, Buzancy and Chivry Farm, so as to threaten the line of the woods from the north. This done, on signal from the Army, the centre, the British 34th and the 58th Divisions, the connecting link between the two attacks, was to join in and move forward.

It was not until 9.20 pm on the 22nd that General Berdoulat's orders (XX Corps) reached Major-General Reed, who was to take over command of the former front of the American 1st Division at midnight. Consequently not until 11.55 pm could the 15th Division orders be issued. The infantry relief was completed by 3 am, as already mentioned, under the superintendence of French officers, but this was accomplished only after strenuous exertions, which left only two hours to zero, and had the result of attracting enemy artillery fire. Then a second difficulty arose: the line taken over, which was without trenches, did not coincide with that shown on the map, and when the bombardment fired by the artillery of the American 1st Division opened at 4.15 am it was not only thin, but also several hundred yards ahead of the line from which the infantry was to start, so that the enemy's advanced machine-guns were untouched. At 4.55 am, when the barrage moved forward, after resting in front of the supposed jumping-off line during the last five minutes of the bombardment so as to enable the infantry waves to come close up to it, the 15th Division at once encountered fire.

The 46th and 45th Brigades (Brigadier-Generals V.M. Fortune and N.A. Orr-Ewing), whose front was facing ground cut into by the valleys of the Crise stream and its affluents, had, respectively, one and a half and two battalions in front line in waves; the 44th (Brigadier-General N.A. Thomson) was in reserve. Neither the 15th Division nor the French 87th Division could make any real progress, since they suffered not only from frontal fire at short range, but enfilade heavy-gun fire from the Soissons direction. The 7th/8th K.O.S.B., with two companies of the l0/Scottish Rifles, of the 46th Brigade, advanced about one hundred and fifty yards. The 6/Cameron Highlanders (right of the 45th Brigade), moving down the steep slope to the Crise, suffered heavily, but captured the sugar factory in the valley, and then extended to the left to cover the whole brigade front and form the defensive flank. The Highlanders beat off a counter-attack launched about 6 pm; but at night, the sugar factory being in advance of the general line, the men holding it were withdrawn. The French 87th Division, on the right of the 15th, had failed to capture either Villemontoire or Buzancy, and had come back on its original line.

On the right wing of the attack, the French 19th Division had likewise made no progress.

In the centre the attack was made by the British 34th and French 58th Divisions. The former, as already mentioned, had just taken the place of the French 38th Division. The commander of that division, General Guyot d'Asnières de Salins, had made every possible preliminary arrangement and handed to Major-General Nicholson draft orders for the attack founded on his knowledge of the ground. He left in position the 82nd and 41st Field Artillery Regiments (each of three "groupes") and a "groupe" of twelve 155mm howitzers, under Colonel Béranger, which were all placed by General Penet (XXX Corps) under the command of Brigadier-General E.C.W.D. Walthall C.R.A. of the 34th Division, when he found that the latter spoke French well. The 101st and 102nd Brigades (Br.-Generals W.J. Woodcock and E. Hilliam) with machine-gun companies, were each to attack on a one-battalion front, the former on a 500-yard and the latter on a 300-yard frontage, while a second battalion was to come up later on the right in order to encircle the Bois de Reugny. The rearward battalions were subsequently to pass through the front battalions. Two battalions of the 103rd Brigade (Br.-General J.G. Chaplin) and half a machine-gun company were in corps reserve, and the third, with half a machine-gun company and the 2/4th Somerset L.I. (Pioneers), in divisional reserve.

At 6.30 am, when reports tended to show that the attack on either wing was going well, a warning order was telephoned to the brigades to be ready to move at short notice. Three-quarters of an hour later the executive corps order was received. The divisional signal, timed 7.20 am, was at once transmitted by telephone, wireless and rocket; twenty minutes after that hour the infantry was to advance. But the rockets were not seen, the lines were down and the runners became casualties to a man, so that, although the artillery opened fire as arranged five minutes after the signal and the 102nd Brigade started at 7.40 am, the 101st did not get off until 8 am, and therefore lost the barrage. When its leading battalion, the 2/L. North Lancashire, did move forward the Germans were ready, but owing to the many woods and copses and the standing corn little could be seen of them. The leading wave of the right company, after advancing fifty yards, was almost annihilated by the fire of an advanced line of machine guns and by an artillery barrage; the remnants fell back. The left company, overcoming the advanced machine guns, went nearly a thousand yards, but the 2/4th Queen's, which attempted to come up on the left, was forced back; and about 9.30 am a counterattack compelled the advanced party of the 2/L. North Lancashire to return to the starting line.

In the 102nd Brigade both front line battalions, the 1/7th Cheshire and 1/1st Herefordshire, followed the barrage closely and reached a line twelve hundred yards from the starting point; they were then stopped by enfilade fire from right and left as well as by frontal fire from the Bois de Reugny. But the position gained was consolidated and the flanks extended rearwards to connect with the 101st Brigade and the French 58th Division. Neither of the divisions on the flanks of the 34th had been able to make any progress, though they were seen to advance gallantly, only to be cut down by machine-gun fire. Corps orders for the preparation of an attack against the Bois de Reugny by the 34th Division, in conjunction with one directed against Tigny by the French 58th Division, were given in the afternoon, but subsequently cancelled owing to the losses of the latter division.

There was no result to show for the day except the advance made by the 102nd Brigade.

During the afternoon of the 23rd General Foch visited General Pétain at Provins and handed to him, and discussed, a long letter in which he laid down his conception of the situation. It may be summarized thus: Owing to the tactics of the enemy the battle was slowing down: it must be set going again vigorously: the tactics employed by the enemy were to strengthen his flanks by means of fresh divisions supported by artillery, whilst attempting to delay progress against his front by the use of rear guards well provided with machine guns: to overcome this method of resistance one, at least, of the flanks must be broken, whilst everywhere else the troops were to push on as fast as they were able, in accordance with the Instruction of the 19th July: the western flank near Soissons was that to be attacked: all available means (fresh divisions, artillery, tanks, etc.) should be allotted to the Tenth Army, and this Army, in conjunction with the left of the Sixth, must be ordered to prepare to execute the attack towards the region of Fère-en-Tardenois: the Fifth Army on the eastern flank, consequently reduced as to combatant resources, should act by successive concentrations "alternately north and south of the Ardre", and, above all, avoid the dispersal of its forces evenly along its whole front.

The Generalissimo then informed Sir Douglas Haig that the two British divisions which he had requested on the 12th July might be sent south of the Somme were now free to go to any part of the British front.

As a fresh measure, General Pétain made arrangements to collect reserves, and he directed General Maistre (G.A.C. Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Armies) to transfer to his general reserve two divisions from the right of the Fourth Army, to prepare three more to follow, and to send the Italian II Corps to the Second Army (on the right of the Fourth) in order to relieve two more French divisions.

At 11.45 pm General Pétain addressed secret and personal instructions to General Maistre and General Fayolle (G.A.R. Sixth, Tenth, Third and First Armies). In these he modified his orders given on the 20th July in accordance with the points raised by General Foch. Each group was to make one principal attack with the maximum of forces. The G.A.R. with the whole of the Tenth Army and the left of the Sixth was to carry out its effort southeastwards instead of eastwards, towards the north of Fere-en-Tardenois instead of Braine, "between the upper Crise [marked by Chacrise] and the Longpont [6 miles N.N.E. of Villers Cotterets]-Fère-en-Tardenois road, covering the attack by action south of the Ourcq in the direction of Fère-en-Tardenois via Villeneuve sur Fère [8 miles south-west of Fère-en-Tardenois]". The Fifth Army of the G.A.C. was to pursue its advance by successive attacks on both banks of the Ardre, so that it might finally reach a line through Tramery. Between the two attacks, and in conformity with them, the centre was to press on with tenacity, taking care to guard against enemy counterattacks which might easily be attempted to throw parts of it back into the Marne. Finally both Groups of Armies were to maintain reserves on the flanks to guard against enemy local counter-strokes.

These orders were passed on by the G.A.C. and G.A.R. to the Armies, but did not cause any modification in the conduct of the operations in hand.

The Germans considered that the 23rd had been a satisfactory day which had "created favourable conditions for a further retirement of the centre, and during the night Schoeler's, Kathen's and Wichura's corps fell back without any interference from the foe". The front being thereby reduced, General von Kathen handed over his sector to General Wichura as from 5 am on the 24th. The eastern wing was strengthened by the 240th Division relieving the 50th during the night of the 23rd/24th.

The German retirement allowed the French left centre to make a small advance on the 24th between Dormans and Oulchy-le-Chateau, but elsewhere little happened, because, except for a single division sent to General Mangin, no reinforcements reached the fighting Armies. The Sixth Army, pressing on in the evening near Coincy (4 miles south-west of Fère-en-Tardenois), did force back the Germans, capturing ten field guns; but, as a battle, except for a few local affairs and a final "flare-up" on the 1st August, the Allied offensive was over, and it became no more than a "follow-up", the Germans retiring in their own time "behind the Vesle and the Aisne below Condé", covering their night marches by bombing of the Allied bivouacs, and leaving behind gas "booby traps" in the numerous large caves to be found in this part of the country.

On the 25th a little more ground was gained near Oulchy, Villemontoire was captured, and a German counter-attack from the eastern shoulder on a front from Vrigny down to Marfaux was repulsed after an initial success; but otherwise on that day and during the 26th there was a pause in the Allied offensive.

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