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


On the 29th activity was mainly confined to the right of the French Tenth Army. The Fifth Army, in which was included the British XXII Corps, was to continue the pursuit: "if the enemy's halt is prolonged, the Fifth Army will take all measures to attack him and throw him on to the Ardre, making its principal effort in the direction Lagery-Crugny", that is northward. Little happened. The divisions of the XXII Corps were worn out by previous fighting and made no advance except to improve the position of the 185th Brigade on the Montagne de Bligny, where another part of the objective was gained, at heavy loss, by the 2/5th West Yorkshire. The French 77th Division also made a small advance in the woods on the right of the XXII Corps, but was driven back next morning. "The French High Command recognized the impossibility, in the circumstances in which the Fifth Army was situated, of mounting fresh attacks with the insufficient means at its disposal."

The French Sixth Army received " as minimum objective to be reached by the end of the day " a line 7 miles ahead and only 3 1/2 miles from the Vesle; its advanced guards were to overlook the river. This Army made no progress whatever.

In the French Tenth Army the XXX Corps, of which the British 34th Division formed part, was to make the principal attack and reach the high ground north of Grand Rozoy, between Servenay and the Bois de St. Jean, the XI Corps coming up on its right, and the XX, in which was the British 15th Division, and I Corps, covering its left. General Mangin had received no reinforcements except the 128th Division from the Third Army in exchange for the tired 1st Division, but the 127th and 17th from the Second Army (Verdun) were expected to begin detraining on the 29th.

The operations of the XXX Corps involved a left wheel, pivoting on Tigny, and the British 34th Division was now on the wheeling flank.

During the afternoon of the 26th Major-General Nicholson had been warned by General Penet (XXX Corps) that the 34th Division would be shifted to the right to take part in the attack on the the 30th. So during the night of the 27th/28th the infantry and the machine-gun battalion of the 34th had been relieved, after considerable difficulties, in the sector opposite Hartennes by the extension inwards of the flanks of the French 19th Division on the right, and the 12th (which had taken the place of the 58th) on the left. With its artillery, withdrawn the same night, it was assembled by 2 am among the woods south of Villers Helon. Verbal orders were received at 11 am on the 28th from the XXX Corps that the division was to concentrate some five miles to the south-east, about the Bois de la Baillette, during the ensuing night, with a view of attacking in the direction of Beugneux and Grand Rozoy on the morning of the 29th. The success of the French XI Corps in capturing the Butte de Chalmont had caused the date of attack to be advanced by twenty-four hours. There was, however, time for reconnaissance.

The 34th Division, with the XI Corps on the right and the 25th Division (XXX Corps) on the left, was to capture the high ground mentioned in the Tenth Army instructions - Cramaille-Beugneux-Orme du Grand Rozoy - now held by German rear guards. The sector allotted to the 34th had its front line in the valley of a small stream, and the objective lay westwards of Servenay for a little over a mile. To reach it the division had to make an advance uphill and then cross the high ground marked by Point 189 and Orme du Grand Rozoy. The troops moved off at 9 pm and reached the position of assembly, west of a light railway, by 1 am on the 29th without incident. Zero hour was 4.10 am

The 103rd and 101st Brigades (Br.-Generals J. G. Chaplin and W. J. Woodcock), each with a machine-gun company attached, were to lead the attack, supported by the divisional artillery and two French field artillery regiments, making a total of 108 field guns and 56 howitzers, under Brigadier E. C. W. D. Walthall, and three batteries of French heavy artillery. The barrage was to move forward, with pauses, at the rate of one hundred yards in 4 minutes. The 102nd Brigade (less one battalion in corps reserve) and the rest of the divisional troops were kept in reserve.

At 4.10 am fog covered the ground, but the leading line, in which were the 1/8th Scottish Rifles and 1/5th K.O.S.B. of the 103rd Brigade, and the 4/R Sussex and 2/4th Queen's of the 101st Brigade, each on a two-company front, pushed forward through a German barrage, which fell two hundred yards in front of the starting line and contained a belt of tear-gas. Good progress of over a mile was made; so towards 6 am a short halt was ordered, during which two 18-pdr. batteries and two sections of howitzers were brought to advanced positions, amid cheers from the French gunners, whose front they had to cross. The French took Grand Rozoy on the left, but did not come up on the right: it subsequently transpired that the French XI Corps did not start until 6 am. So the line ran from Grand Rozoy southeastward. Difficulty in finding artillery support owing to failure of communication now occurred, and the German machine gunners stoutly opposed any further progress. The infantry considered that on this occasion an intermediate halt had been a mistake, as it gave the enemy time to bring up reinforcements. When further advances were made at a number of places, as far as the Bois de Beugneux (west of the village) and Point 189, north-west of the village, the Germans counter-attacked. After a long deadlock and a struggle against machine-gun fire, the troops fell back about 2 pm to the position gained at the first advance, although the 5/Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, the reserve of the 103rd Brigade, had been engaged.

Before this hour, as the fog cleared, it had become evident that the attack had come to a standstill, and at 10.50 am Major-General Nicholson had ordered the 102nd Brigade (two battalions) and the 2/4th Somerset L.I. (Pioneers) to move forward at 2.30 pm against the original objective and outflank Beugneux from the west, whilst the 103rd Brigade attacked the village from the south. This operation was anticipated by the Germans, who launched a heavy counterattack at 2.10 pm, driving the French 25th Division out of Grand Rozoy and uncovering the left of the 101st Brigade. A defensive flank was formed and the counter-attack driven off, but, as the right was also open, the 103rd and 101st Brigades fell back to the position of the Second Paris Line, half-way back to the jumping-off line. At nightfall the outposts were pushed up to the 6 am line and the 2 /L North Lancashire (101st Brigade) - whose commander Lieut.-Colonel C. E. A. Jourdain was killed during the morning - was sent up to protect the left flank. But matters on that flank were put right at 6 am next morning when the French recaptured Grand Rozoy. As further sign of his retirement the enemy during the night shelled the 34th Division with mustard gas, and caused much inconvenience.

Disappointed with the progress made on the two wings, but encouraged by the relative success of the centre (Sixth Army), due to the retirement of the enemy, General Pétain on the 29th had issued a new Instruction to the Groups of Armies, of which the following is a summary.

"The enemy appears to be too strongly established on the plateaux south of Soissons and on the heights between the Vesle and the Ardre to admit of any hope that these two pillars of resistance can be broken and the German forces south of the Aisne destroyed. Henceforward our object must be to hustle their retreat so as to upset their plans of evacuation and devastation of the country, and hasten the moment when the Marnne railway can be made ready again for traffic."

"The Sixth Army possesses the largest resources, is charges with the principal role: it will push forward vigourously without interruption on its whole front in the general direction of Fismes and Bazoches [3 miles west of Fismes], its left establishing itself in the Saponay area, so as to facilitate the advance of the right wing of the Tenth Army towards Cramaille. From midnight of the 29th/30th the Sixth Army will take over the III Corps, the left of the Fifth Army, so that the boundary between the Groups of Armies of the Centre and Reserve will be Verneuil - Ste. Gemme and thence northwards to the east of Fismes."

"The Tenth Army, which cannot count on any more reinforcements after receiving the 17th Division, will continue to act in the direction of Braine. It will make its principal effort with its right; but the centre will participate in the movement so as to occupy progressively the heights on the left bank of the Crise."

"The Fifth Army, which not only cannot count on any reinforcements but must also release the British XXII Corps on the 31st, will act preferably south of the Ardre northwards on the axis Lagery-Crugny, so as to support the right of the Sixth Army."

"The commanders of Groups of Armies are requested to see that the forces are methodically employed, to insist that each Army engaged is echeloned in depth so as to facilitate the employment of reserves and to guard against enemy action, which might entirely compromise our advance by a counter-offensive suddenly launched either between Oise and Aisne, or against the Reims salient."

By a telegram timed 7.10 pm, General Pétain withdrew the two cavalry corps into reserve pointing out that the form which the battle had assumed precluded any possibility of employing cavalry corps in the fighting. He was aware by now that General Foch had in his mind operations on another part of the front, as will be related later. Where this would be, even he, in the interest of secrecy, had not yet been informed; he had been personally and specially warned on the 25th by General Weygand, on behalf of the Generalissimo, not to come to a conference at Sarcus, Foch's headquarters. But in the afternoon of the 28th Colonel Desticker, Foch's Assistant Chief of the Staff, had brought to him a copy of a short Special Directive from which he learnt that the new offensive would be carried out by the French First Army and the British Fourth Army. The Generalissimo had come to the conclusion that the enemy in the Soissons salient "will without doubt occupy a defensive position behind a river, which we cannot attack immediately; this in all likelihood will permit him to reorganize his forces, so that in the course of time he may make some of them available for use elsewhere".

The only indications of future action so far visible were that General Foch, in spite of the battle, had accumulated two groups of reserves, one of 4 divisions behind the left of the G.A.R., around Conty (12 miles S.W. by S. of Amiens), and the other of 3 divisions behind the centre of the G.A.R., behind Compiègne; six tired divisions and the Italian Corps from the G.A.C. were in the course of transport to, or reorganizing behind, the G.A.E., where also the American 1st and 2nd Divisions were being sent to relieve French divisions and reorganize, after having been the spearhead of General Mangin's attack of the 18th July. Meanwhile the American Army of two corps (I and III, the II being with the British) was being constituted in the area of the French Sixth Army, where the American 3rd, 28th, 42nd, 32nd and 4th (portion) Divisions had taken part in the operations of the 28th and 29th July.

What General Pétain had in his mind in issuing his Instruction of the 29th July is best explained by a telegram which he sent on the 31st to Generals Fayolle and Pershing: "The state of the forces at our disposal at the moment obliges us to give the battle a new turn ('allure') which will economise infantry to the maximum. . . . In consequence regulate your efforts by your resources. The object to attain is to throw back the enemy on the Vesle gradually by successive efforts in accordance with my directive of the 29th July, giving the American forces of the Sixth Army more and more the principal rôle, so that towards the 15th August they will hold all the front of that Army."

There was no need, as it turned out, for any special effort to throw the Germans back on the Vesle, for in two great retirements on the nights of the Ist/2nd and 2nd/3rd August they withdrew behind it.

On the eastern wing, in the French Fifth Army, little further happened on the 30th. In order to relieve the two divisions of the British XXII Corps as quickly as possible General Berthelot arranged that the 77th and 14th Divisions should extend inwards, and on the night of the 30th/31st the former took over the front of the 62nd Division. But about 8 pm on the 30th, after heavy shelling lasting all day and culminating in fifteen minutes intense bombardment, the Germans attacked the Montagne de Bligny held by the 154th Brigade, now the only infantry of the 51st Division in the front line. Thanks to a very good artillery barrage the attack was driven off by the 7/Argyll. After dusk on the 31st, the 51st Division was relieved by the French 14th. The divisional artillery began entraining for the British area on the 31st July, the remainder of the division on the 2nd August. In the 62nd Division, the artillery entrained on the 1st and 2nd August and the rest of the troops on the 3rd and 4th.

The net result of the operations of the XXII Corps between 8 am on the 20th July and 10 pm on the 31st had been an advance of about four miles commencing on a frontage of 7,000 yards which decreased to 4,000. The captures were 21 officers and 1,148 other ranks of seven different German divisions, with 135 machine guns and 32 recovered French and Italian guns.

The gross casualties were reported as 51st Division 115 officers and 2,950 other ranks; 62nd Division 118 officers and 3,865 other ranks. [The strength (excluding artillery) at 6 pm on the 30th July was: 51st Division 220 officers, 5,598 other ranks; 62nd Divison 226 officers, 5,536 other ranks. The reinforcements received were: 51st Division 60 officers and 1,065 other ranks; 62nd Division 69 officers and 1,712 other ranks.]

The German losses are not yet available, but must have been very heavy: never had British divisions seen such a number of enemy dead as they found in the Woods. French calculations place the total German casualties on the Marne battle front in July at 168,000 (Paquet p 132).

In an Order of the Day General Berthelot specially thanked the divisions of the XXII Corps for their success; involved in heavy fighting in extremely difficult country, they had certainly done well.

The French Sixth Army on the 30th, whilst preparing for future attack, made contact with the enemy on its whole front. But from the Bois Meunière, between Villers Agron and Ronchères, to the Ourcq it encountered lively resistance and made hardly noticeable progress. On the 31st this Army made an advance on the right averaging about a thousand yards on the front between Villers Agron and Seringes, occupying the greater part of Bois Meunière. In the Tenth Army General Mangin decided not to renew the attack of the XI and XXX Corps (in the latter of which was the British 34th Division) supported on the left by the XX Corps (in which was the 15th Division) until 1st August, and this decision met with the approval of General Foch, who visited him during the day.