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


The 27th July witnessed a definite change for the better in the situation on the eastern and southern sides of the salient. An Allied attack planned for that day led to the discovery that the Germans had retired on the front from Vrigny right round to the Butte de Chalmont (exclusive), the latter place being a hill which overlooks Oulchy-le-Chateau on the east.

Conferences had taken place during the 25th and 26th in the Fifth Army (General Berthelot) in order to discuss General Pétain's instructions of the 23rd, and a general advance had been fixed for the 27th. As regards the British XXII Corps (Lieut.-General Sir A. Godley), whose front had been diminished on the 24th to about three miles owing to the I Colonial Corps taking over some 1,200 yards on the right, and the V Corps a similar length on the left, it was agreed that until the ridge south of the Ardre had been secured further advance north of the river was impossible. Accordingly, the 186th Brigade of the 62nd Division (Major-General W.P. Braithwaite), with the 185th in support, continued to hold the line from the Bois du Petit Champ, the southward projecting portion of the Bois de Reims, to the Ardre. The 187th Brigade and the 51st Division (Major-General G.T.C. Carter-Campbell), supported by the artillery of both divisions and the French guns which had been co-operating with them, as well as the French 14th Division, were all to advance south of the Ardre; they were to capture the Bois de Courton ridge as far as a line west of Nappes, about three-quarters of a mile ahead. The order of the troops from right to left was, 152nd Brigade (Br.-General R. Laing), with the 5/Seaforth Highlanders in front line, on the low ground near the Ardre; 187th Brigade (Br.-General A.J. Reddie), with all three Battalions, 5/K.O.Y.L.I., 2/4th York & Lancaster and 2/4th K.O.Y.L.I., in line; and the 153rd Brigade (Br.-General W. Green), with the 7/Gordon Highlanders and 6/Black Watch in the front line.

As the ground over which the 152nd and 187th Brigades were to move was commanded from the edge of the Bois de Courton on the south, and the progress of the 153rd Brigade through the wood must necessarily be slow, it was settled that the advance should be made in echelon from the left, the French 14th Division and the 153rd Brigade starting, after a 10 minutes' bombardment, at 6.10 am, the 187th Brigade at 6.56 am, and the 152nd about 7.30 am (owing to delay in the barrage lifting it did not do so until 7.45 am). The barrage, in view of the difficulties of ground, moved at a rate of only 100 metres in 8 minutes, with three 20 minute pauses, after the first pause quickening to 100 metres in 7 minutes. Twenty-four machine guns of the 51st Machine-Gun Battalion were to fire an intense barrage of 120,000 rounds against the edge of the Bois de Courton, west of Espilly. French tanks were to have taken part, but after the heavy rain of the previous night they were unable to move over the sodden ground.

No opposition worth mentioning was encountered, and the first objective was secured about 8.45 am and the second about 10 am; hostile guns maintained fire for an hour, but no contact was made with the German infantry, in fact the XXII Corps saw little of it and made only one prisoner during the day. It was apparent that the enemy was in retreat - he had, in fact, withdrawn during the night to a new line - and, after consultation, Major-Generals Carter-Campbell and Braithwaite, with covering authority from Lieut.-General Godley, issued orders for an advance by the two divisions at 1 pm to a line which passed through Chaumuzy to the south-eastern corner of the Bois d'Eclisse, between a half and three-quarters of a mile ahead, whence patrols were to be sent out. The artillery and corps mounted troops [Composite Cavalry Regiment (two squadrons of the 4th Australian Light Horse and one of the Otago Mounted Rifles) and 22nd Cyclist Battalion] were moved forward, and the French on either flank were asked to conform, which they agreed to do.

North of the Ardre the new position was occupied by 2.30 pm without opposition; south of the river, Chaumuzy was reached just before 3 pm and an hour and a half later the 152nd and 153rd Brigades were reported as consolidating. The 187th Brigade then reverted to the 62nd Division, and subsequently went into reserve near Chaumuzy.

There being fears of a trap, all too easy to lay in the wooded and broken country, a further general advance was not made immediately; when it did take place the brigades moved in depth, ready to meet any counter-attack. At 1.55 pm Major-General Braithwaite had directed the corps mounted troops, which had been placed at his disposal during the morning, to push forward rapidly and seize the line Bligny - Montagne de Bligny. As soon as the mounted troops should report this line to be in their possession the 186th and 185th Brigades were to advance and relieve them. The mounted troops left Nanteuil at 2.45 pm and passed through the line of the infantry; patrols of the 186th Brigade followed them. But both parties came under machine-gun fire from the woods on their right and their progress became very slow. At 7.40 pm, the previous orders to send on only patrols having been modified, the 186th Brigade began to advance to the support of the mounted troops and found them heavily engaged, but still five hundred yards from their objective, so that their relief could scarcely be completed before midnight. The 185th Brigade also moved up, but remained around Chaumuzy.

It was not until 9.43 pm that a report of the situation near Bligny reached the 62nd Division, and until 10.30 pm that divisional orders were issued for a further advance at dawn in conjunction with the French 77tb Division, on the right, which was to clear the woods on that flank.

South of the Ardre, there was little opposition to the second advance. At 4 pm Major-General Carter-Carnpbell ordered the 152nd and 153rd Brigades to send forward patrols to examine the Bois d'Eclisse, and as soon as it might be reported clear to push on and occupy an old French trench line west of the wood. It was after midnight before the patrols of the 153rd Brigade reported the wood to be free of the enemy. The brigade then moved forward until by 6.30 am it occupied a north-south line through the centre of the wood, with outposts on the edge, in touch on the left with the French 14th Division, but not with the 152nd Brigade on the right, so a defensive flank was formed. The latter brigade received no reports from its patrols until early morning, except that the corps mounted troops were held up near Bligny. So, after a short advance in conjunction with the 186th on its right, it halted for the night. The men were so exhausted that although it became known that the 153rd Brigade was advancing to occupy the Bois d'Eclisse, no further move was made. But at 6.15 am on the 28th patrols were sent out, and by 10.30 am the 152nd Brigade had joined up with the 153rd, so that the latter's defensive flank could be withdrawn.

Thus during the 27th some ground had been gained on the eastern wing, whilst on the whole front as far as the neighbourhood of Oulchy-le-Chateau the French divisions had similarly gone forward.

The events of the 28th were somewhat similar to those of the 27th, and another general advance was made, with the addition that, on the western wing, the French XI Corps captured the Butte de Chalmont, overlooking Oulchy-le-Chateau, whilst the British 15th Division took Buzancy, but only to lose it again, as will be related.

The 15th Division (Major-General H. L. Reed) had on the 26th/27th taken over half a mile more front from the French 87th Division on its right, so that its total frontage was over two miles, its right now facing Buzancy. Opposite were the German 50th Reserve and 5th Divisions. The 15th, with the 44th (vice 46th) and 45th Brigades in the line, had orders to attack Buzancy on the 28th. This village, covering, together with its chateau in the northwest, a quarter of a square mile, nestled in a slope of the western side of a large flat hill, yet it stood well above the Allied front line. The objective was the line Villemontoire (exclusive, now in French possession) - high ground east of Buzancy - point where the Allied front line cut the Chateau Thierry-Soissons road, that is, it had to make a bite about two thousand yards wide and twelve hundred deep into the German front. The 44th Brigade (Br.-General N.A. Thomson) was to make the attack, with the assistance of five companies of the French 91st Regiment (87th Division). Zero hour was fixed for 30 minutes after midday, when it was hoped that the Germans would be off their guard. Most careful preparations were made. Every company was given a special task by Br.-General Thomson, and the guns were massed under the commander of the artillery of the XX Corps, who for the operation added to the artillery of the 15th Division that of the French 87th Division, the 253rd Artillery Regiment (3 " groupes ") and 3 batteries of 155-mm. of the 69th Division; but here, as on other occasions, the infantry attack was handicapped by the allotment of the British 4 5-inch field howitzers for counter-battery work. To deceive the enemy bombardments of Buzancy and other villages near the front of attack and of various works were carried out during the afternoon of the 27th and morning of the 28th. The barrage, extending well beyond the flanks of the attack, fell two minutes before zero. Smoke was fired at the same time to screen Buzancy château, the south-western side of the village, three sides of the wood south-west of it and Noyant on the northern side of the Crise, so as to prevent observation from the neighbouring heights. Machine-gun barrages were also arranged and the French provided a section of .flame-throwers. Fifteen minutes after zero a fighting aeroplane patrol flew over the objective to drive off hostile aircraft and engage ground targets.

Owing to the woods and the broken nature of the ground, the close support of the infantry was difficult, but was most satisfactory in the initial stages of the attack. The French companies advanced against the wood south-west of Buzancy, which had "Grenade Work", a strongpoint, in front of it, and the 8/Seaforth Highlanders and 1/5th Gordon Highlanders against Buzancy, with the 4th/5th Black Watch in reserve. Although the ground to be crossed was destitute of cover, the château was taken at once, but the village proved very troublesome, explosive charges carried by the engineers and flame-throwers having to be used, and the houses with their cellars cleared one by one; in a single cellar two offlcers and a hundred men were captured. The strongpoints north of Buzancy were also secured after a sharp bombing fight. By l.30 P.M. the 44th Brigade had captured its objectives, but on its right there was no news or sign of the French, and the situation was obscure, so a second company of the reserve was sent to support the liaison company on that wing, and later a defensive flank was formed at Buzancy.

At 1.35 P.M. Major-General Reed received information from the French 69th Division, on the left, that a column of Germans could be seen moving north-eastward through Septmonts (1 3/4 miles N.N.E. of Buzancy), and it was at once engaged by the heavy artillery, with good results. At 2.10 P.M. he heard by wireless from the French artillery that German reinforcements (reserves of the 5th and the 50th Reservc Divisions) were advancing on Buzancy from the east. Forty minutes later he learnt by wireless that the progress of the French 91st Regiment was slow, and at 8.35 P.M. by message from his own troops that the French were back on their original starting line and could not renew their attack; lastly, came the news that the 44th Brigade was being subjected to heavy counter-attacks.

Major-General Reed made this known to General Berdoulat (XX. Corps), requesting him to find out the exact position as regards the French 9lst Regiment; he instructed Br.-General Thomson to hold on to Buzancy and the château and strengthen his right. Before any action could be taken on this instruction, Br.-General Thomson heard direct from the 9lst Regiment that it had not been able to advance at all from its original line; simultaneously at 4.35 P.M. the S.O.S. signal went up in the south-eastern corner of Buzancy. Outflanked and outnumbered, the Highlanders were driven first from the village, then from the château, but only got clear of artillery fire to find enemy machine gunners in rear of them. These they bombed with hand-grenades taken from a German dump in the château grounds, and, after having sent back as prioners six offlcers and over two hundred others ranks, they regained their starting line soon after 6 P.M. The 15th Division, which had been in most of the heavy encounters of the War since Loos in September 1915, regarded the action on this day as the severest and "most gruelling" of them all.

At 5.45 P.M. Major-General Reed had been informed by the XX. Corps that a new barrage would be fired, and that the 91th Regiment would launch a fresh attack at 6.45 P.M. This was of course all too late and the operation was cancelled. The attempt to extend the pressure upon the enemy to the northward which began so well had failed for want of co-operation.

At 6 P.M. Major-General Reed was also warned by the liaison officer of the XX. Corps that his division was to change places with the 87th Division (which the British had known as a Territorial division at Ypres in October 1914), with a view to further operation. It was that night to take ground to the right as far as Tigny, relieving parts of the 12th and 87th Divisios, and then, during the following night, to hand over its left sector to the 87th Division; the artillery was to remain where it was. An immediate relief at such short notice was a formidable task, as many of the units were in confusion after the fight - and there was, as ever, the language difficulty - but the first relief was carried out.

On the eastern wing the British were again the spearhead. The 62nd Division had issued orders at 10.30 P.M. on the previous evening for a further advance to take place at 4.30 A.M. by the 186th and 185th Brigades, the latter south of the Ardre, covered by the mounted troops, to the old trench line beyond Bligny and the Montage de Bligny held by the 19th Division on the 4th June. Rain fell all night, making the fields and even the roads heavy going, while a cold mist formed in the morning; but when the 186th Brigade, with the 2/4th Duke of Wellington's and 2/4th Hampshire in front line, deployed on the starting line at 4 A.M. it was immediately struck by machine-gun fire, particularly from the Bois des Dix Hommes on the right, whilst the ground over which the advance was to be made was swept by an artillery barrage besides other fire. Touch could not be obtained with the French 77th Division on the right, for it stared later, it did not inform the 62nd Division of the caputure of the Bois des Dix Hommes until 4 P.M. Nevertheless, by persistent pushing forward of small parties under covering fire, ground was slowly gained. Bligny was entered during the morning but not entirely caputred until 4 P.M., when the 77th Division came up and then the whole of the brigade objective was secured.

The 185th Brigade had better luck. The 5/Devonshire soon came under fire, but, advancing swiftly in the mist, by 7 A.M. had got to its objective between Bligny village and dhe Montagne. The 8/West Yorkshire, without a barrage, reached the slopes of the Montage before it was quite light, surprised the Germans and drove them off the top of the hill by a charge, takin forty prisoners and three machine guns; but it could not complete the capture of the whole position.

In the 51st Division a warning order was sent out at 8.35 A.M., that as soon as the 152nd Brigade came up in line with the 153rd, although the German artillery was shelling the villages and had obviously registered the ground, the advance would probably be continued. At 11.5 A.M., in consequence of an erroneous report that the French 14th Division was in Chambrecy, the 153rd Brigade was ordered to advance in touch with it, and the divisional artillery, 255th and 256th Brigades R.F.A., moved forward trough Chaumuzy under shell-fire.

An attack made on Chambrecy by the 14th Division at noon failed to capture it, and General Baston then sent information that it would attack Ville en Tardenois, farther to the west, at 3 P.M.; but this movement when initiated was soon checked by artillery and machine-gun fire. The 1/7 Gordon Highlanders and 1/6th Black Watch, of the 153rd Brigade, advanced about half a mile from their morning line - squeezing out the 152nd Brigade as the front was narrowed by the left boundary of the XXII. Corps, which turned northward, but the two battalions then ran into the German barrage and heavy machine-gun fire from the north-western slopes of the Montage de Bligny. Though losing heavily, they continued to push on, and in the end the 6/Black Watch entered Chambrecy and took up position, entirely isolated on its northern side; but the 7/Gordon Highlanders came up on the right to the lower western slopes of the Montage de Bligny, on top of which the 8/West Yorkshire was established. By now it was dark and the situation of the two battalions in contact with the enemy with the men dead tired was full of danger. Major-General Carter-Campbell dealt with it by sending up two battalions of the 154th Brigade to relieve both the 153rd and the 152nd Brigades. As the 7/Gordon Highlanders had not consolidated any line, the wing of the 1/4th Gordons which took its place decided to occupy the old trench west of the Bois d'Eclisse and fell back to it. All reliefs were completed by 8 A.M. (29th).

Thus a general advance of about a mile had been made by the XXII. Corps. The French 77th Division was up on the right and the 14th on the left, but the latter had not taken Ville en Tardenois, although farther west as far as Oulchy le Château the leading French units had closed up to the new German line. No change had taken place on the important western wing. Bad weather and continuous fighting had greatly fatigued the troops; not withstanding, General Fayolle telegraphed to his Army commanders that the moment to stop had not yet come : that, whatever the state of fatigue of the troops, the Tardenois plateaux - the wide open stretches on the east and west of Fère en Tardenois - must be carried and the enemy prevented from effecting an undistrubed retirement : advanced guard of infantry and cavalry must follow him so as to keep close contact and secure all the ground which he abandoned.