Ch 8: The Battles of 1915

Along the Franco-German frontier from Switzerland north, the Germans were chiefly entrenched on their own soil, with the French holding a long strip of Lower Alsace, in sight of the Rhine, with guns dominating but sparing Altkirch, and the tricolor again waving over some Alsatian towns on the border. Hartmanns-Weilerkopf and other heights in the mountains were shared by both armies where the French fought their way to the top but were unable to force the Germans down on the other side. The French held Metzeral and maintained the chief approaches to Colmar, points invaluable for pushing the war on German soil. Farther north, the areas so terribly devastated in the early invasion were solidly French again, with farming going on and people repairing homes in reach of the guns, and the Germans holding on the edge of the frontier up to Pont-a-Mousson where the St. Mihiel salient begins. Guns on the outer Metz defences enfiladed the French line and checked all attacks to expel this wedge.
   The extraordinary efforts made to isolate and invest Verdun at long range by driving in south of the fortress, and on the west of the wide ellipse of trenches protecting it, marked the German offensives of 1915. Aiming at Les Eparges, and supported by the Foot Artillery of the Prussian Inspection with heavy guns, the forces from Metz under General Strantz gained important positions early in the year. Gas clouds played the chief part. But the French regained the heights of Les Eparges, enfilading the advance along the valley of Longeau, though much ground was gained by the enemy.
   These efforts were seconded by the army of the Crown Prince on the front extending north of the fortress, through Etain, Montfaucon and Varennes and across the Argonne hogs-back. Unable to make progress against the immediate outworks of Verdun created and maintained by Sarrail, the royal general soon concentrated his efforts on his right wing. After the Marne battle the Fifth German Army had uncovered the railroad from Chalons to Verdun and lost the defile of Les Islettes, Clermont, and control of the Vienna road near their present front far from the main approaches to the fortress and the best roads across the forest, though the French pursuit had ended ten miles south of their present line.
   After many futile assaults the Crown Prince made a determined drive from Varennes on February 16th, which was decisively checked and followed by a counter offensive by the French, who charged the entrenched slope of Vauquois with the bayonet on February 28th and reached the edge of the village, but were forced back. They extended the sphere of their bombardment, and broke down the flanking fire, while the Tenth Division, sworn to get back to Vauquois, fought night and day until March 5th, when they seized the houses opposite the main German line where artillery fire was restricted and counter attacks by the Kaiser’s One Hundred and Twentieth Wurttemberg could not dislodge them. The French communications in the valley were no longer dominated, and their guns could now sweep the Four de Paris road.
   For several weeks comparative quiet reigned on both fronts. More heavy guns reached the east front while in the Argonne; romantic bridle paths were turned into military roads. Von Mudra, Germany's leading military engineer, was in charge of the work. The Crown Prince concentrated his men and artillery on the western edge of the Forest, aiming at the main communications from Champagne to Verdun. On June 20th the old battle was renewed below Varennes with gas and massed attacks, but the operations were a mask west of which the main effort was made.
   General Sarrail had been transferred to the Dardanelles when his defences received their second tribute by the entire change of attack. Miles from Verdun the Crown Prince had concentrated the Sixteenth Army Corps to drive between La Grurie and the Four de Paris. Clouds of deadly chlorine and sulphur chloride, released at dawn, surprised and suffocated the men in the French trenches on a front of four miles. Tons of heavy projectiles rained through the gas clouds, tearing up the wire and breaking up the French reserves.
   Donning their masks, driblets of French reserves, however, reached the trenches, and standing among their writhing comrades, poured determined volleys into the first mass of Germans, stopping desperate charges which had been delayed by the density of the gas. Two mines were exploded at Bagatelle, and only there was the front pierced and two sections of trenches occupied.
   For two weeks the new artillery positions belched heavy shells, during which the French strengthened their reserve positions, brought up fresh field batteries, and withdrew their men secretly from the front trenches. One artillery post alone recorded the receipt of 1,826 large shells, only eleven of which affected the cleverly screened battery. One shell penetrated the dugout of the French staff, but was a dud and did no damage. Then clouds of gas descended on the torn, evacuated trenches on which every French field gun was also ranged, and when the massed Germans delivered the assault they were met and repulsed by the rapid fire of the "75’s," while the soldiers held the reserve lines in comparative security. Charge after charge was broken up, but on a mile front the Germans finally gained a footing at night in the old trenches. But every effort to extend the gain was beaten down by artillery, and the German loss was heavy for a negligible gain.
   Undeterred by his casualties, telegraphing his father "We are resuming the offensive that we love," and telling his troops that they would celebrate the war's anniversary by breaking through, the Crown Prince resumed operations in the Argonne on August 1st. The front was now more complicated, the opposing trenches frequently close, and the Germans employed the new "flammenwerfer" which poured blazing liquid on the French while a shell curtain checked the reserves. The inferno defies the imagination. The German infantry rushed the trenches, and ended the misery of men who fought in blind frenzy with eyes burnt out, or squirmed in helpless agony with flesh scorched off to the bone. Masses of troops poured into the lines, and on two sides assailed and captured Hill 213, and a strong footing was gained in the French lines toward St. Hubert.
   But the French infantry saw some of their burned comrades and were stirred to fury. Their attempts to regain the hill were swept away, but they recaptured all their main trenches, and restored the line. Desperate bravery, huge losses, and barbarous tactics signalised the futile efforts to invest Verdun. But farmers within the bastion of fieldworks and forts with a face of seventy-two miles, gathered the second harvest in the lines, hardly hearing a gun, and the only casualty in the city was one girl killed by an aeroplane bomb.
   The great French effort, extending over 1915, was aimed at the huge tangle of defences and earthworks pushed westward between Arras and Lens along the series of hills and ridges in an almost impenetrable barrier. For eight months the Germans had laboured to link up every natural and artificial defence in the district to form a barricade to the plains of Douai and its vital communications by road and rail, at which the French were aiming. Trenched ridges, hills, quarries, steel-clad forts hidden in the face of cliffs, tunnels for communication, concrete defences and catacombs dug deeply in chalk with only embrasures for guns opening on the face of the ridges, machine guns and batteries hidden for cross-fire at every possible angle, and miles of barbed wire, created the tangled Gibraltar of the western front. Between Vermelles and Arras a blunt salient pointed west, its edges embracing the heights of Lorette, Ablain, Carency, and La Targette, across the terrible Labyrinth to Arras, with the massif, Vimy Ridge, as a backbone.
   Only a bloody fortress war could hope to succeed. General d'Urbal succeeded Maud'huy in command. Terrible and futile fighting had occurred at various points. In May a new plan was tried under the personal supervision of Foch. After sunset on May 8th guns were concentrated round the curved nose of the salient which bulged across the Bethune road, and at daybreak on Sunday the 9th, unusually sultry, a heavy bombardment burst on the chosen front. But the Bavarians were alert, having noticed that wire had been removed from gaps in the French positions.
   For three hours the French guns continued, notably before Ablain and Carency, which received 20,000 shells before 8 am., when huge mines were exploded at two points and selected battalions from the Twenty-first and Thirty-third Corps broke through the German line, while the Ninth Corps launched a covering attack farther north before Loos.
   General Foch had now trained his armies to new, scientific offensive tactics. The Germans rapidly concentrated on their main position, before Souchez, but the French broke through midway between the strongest advanced positions at Ablain and Carency, and moved north and south behind them, practically isolating these strongholds. The attack was perfectly planned. Before the first phase could be dealt with, fresh mines were exploded toward La Targette and Ecurie, and again the French broke through, enfilading and rolling up the first lines farther south. The Landwehr from the lower Rhine, reinforced by Bavarian cavalry (dismounted), were unable to check the French onslaught. The attack here was led by the Second Regiment, First Foreign Legion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Cot, with a company of Americans fighting for France. The first battalion was terribly mauled getting through the wire, but the three remaining battalions captured La Targette, and, joining the Turcos, swept on through Neuville St. Vaast, where every house was fortified. In these operations the Legionnaires lost 2,000 men, including many Americans. Carency and Ablain were now isolated except for communicating tunnels, and in the rear the Zouaves, raked by two fires, moved to the north and gained a footing in the end of the trenches at the foot of the Lorette heights. The Germans fought desperately but could not eject the French from their communication trenches.
   Artillery could not reach the deep recesses of the machine guns in the quarries of Carency, and for three days the French had to advance yard by yard, bombing their way along the German communicating trenches. On the afternoon of the 12th the Zouaves charged across an open field, tore down the barbed wire and reached a deep cutting and tunnel leading to Lorette. At sunset a white flag was raised over Carency, and a thousand troops surrendered. But 1,200 French bodies were tangled in the wire which was torn down by hand in the last advance.
   The French maintained steady progress. The Crown Prince of Bavaria had flung forward every spare man in the district, but Carency, Neuville, the historic heights of Lorette, and afterward Ablain, became solid rewards for Foch's new tactics of advancing by the German communicating trenches after the troops had broken through the outer tangle of positions and hills that constituted the advanced line.
   Until June 12th the operations were continued, the Baden regiments holding on stubbornly, the French sapping, mining and bombing their way forward through the entrenchments toward Souchez. From the 12th to the 16th the French carried on a desperate offensive in which the African divisions and the Foreign Legion again played a part. The fortified sugar refinery was taken in a furious rough and tumble fight, and the railroad station was surprised, captured, and held against violent counter attacks. But here the French were pinned down for three months before the final capture of the fortified town and cemetery held by the Iron Corps of Brandenburg to lines enfiladed by heavy artillery on the heights of Angres. In the Labyrinth, however, steady progress was made by patient tactics, for several hundred yards.
   South of Arras other successes were planned and directed by General Petain. Colonel of the Thirty-third Infantry, then a brigadier under Maud’huy, he was promoted Joffre-fashion, for his ability, to a corps commander and finally attained the supreme command. Petain is of the infantry, a superb athlete, cool in danger and tested as a leader of men in battles where he went ahead of his men and personally directed the fighting. De Castelnau now directed all operations from Noyon to Verdun, and Petain took over his army.
   He took a mixed force from Amiens and struck a surprise blow south of Arras in June to relieve pressure. Bretons, a battalion of Alpines, and middle aged Reservists from the historic Vendee, without strong backing of artillery, moved unseen into the outer trenches between Serre and Hebuterne. Covered by the mist of dawn on June 7th, they rushed the trenches held by the Seventeenth Baden Infantry on a crescent-shaped front of a mile. The first men to get through occupied the communicating trenches that supplied the salient, cutting off retreat and support. All the defenders of the first line were killed or captured. In the centre the attacking battalions gained three-quarters of a mile of ground and three lines of main trenches. Though forces were rushed up from the Albert sectors, and the Ninety-ninth Infantry were sent south from Arras in motor trucks, the French dug in and joined the ends of their new front with the original line. Petain had no reserves to spare to follow up the success, but it drew big enemy forces from the Arras front.
   As the French ambulance service was overtaxed, the wounded on the new field would have fared badly but for the providential arrival in Amiens of an American Ambulance train under Richard Norton. For four days and three nights these splendid volunteers worked under fire with little sleep or rest. Farther north also various detachments from Paris did splendid work, and any car bearing the words "Ambulance de l'Hopital Americain" was cheered by villagers and soldiers.
   The British right, which had been steadily nibbling its way toward Lille, north of La Bassee, supported the French attack above Arras by continued pressure. On May 9th a drive was suddenly made against the Bavarian trenches on the Aubers-Fromelles sector. After exploding two mines, part of the Fourth Corps attacked. They broke through on a narrow front above Fromelles, swept over the reserve trenches, and fought and defeated the supports in the open ground. But this gap was narrow, and by a natural impulse the troops poured through and rushed forward, making the fire of the British batteries as they swept on in open order. Before forces could be organised to enfilade the exposed ends of the German trenches to widen and secure the opening, a party of Bavarian pioneers threw up a barricade of sand bags in the main trench, and machine guns were installed which swept the flanks of the gap. In vain the British tried to silence the fire with hand grenades. In the confusion fresh German reinforcements with sand bags and machine guns were pushed along the other trenches and the breach through which the British had poured was swept on both sides with rapid fire. The gap was soon closed up solidly with two British battalions well inside, cheering as they drove the Germans from a farm. Expecting reinforcements to follow, some companies started up a road to Lille.
   German guns now opened on them at close range. Their advance still curtailed their own artillery, but they secured what cover they could and fought against superior numbers until their ammunition gave out. Then they made a desperate effort to fight their way back with the bayonet, but found that they were relentlessly surrounded and that no quarter would be given. A terrible scene was enacted as the trapped men turned at bay and fought desperately.
   After dark the Bavarians used their knives, in a hideous frenzy. Wounded had their throats slit. A group stalked scattered survivors hiding in shell holes or other cover. Their leader went in advance, asking in a low voice, in perfect English, "Is that you, Alfred? Where are you?" When men replied, the Bavarians crept among the unsuspecting British and used their knives. "Is that you, Alfred?" became a joke on the German front in Artois, and by that ruse scores of soldiers were murdered. Some who surrendered had their brains dashed out with rifle butts. When the ferocity died down, out of 1,800 men 140 were picked up next day, nearly all seriously wounded. Read German diaries afterward captured, describing this slaughter. Add the evidence of the official report which boasts of burying the bodies of 143 English officers and over 1,500 men, of capturing 140 prisoners and 7 machine guns. The Crown Prince of Bavaria knows the details of this shambles. He knows also that some of his surgeons protested.
   Day after day the British continued the pressure by holding attacks along their front, and, as reinforcements had arrived, they took over the positions held by the French in Belgium, toward Boesinghe, and extended their right from Vermelles south below Grenay, enabling the Tenth French Army under d'Urbal to concentrate its forces for the important Souchez front.
   July, August and September passed with steady preparation for a great offensive which took place at daybreak on September 25th, aiming to break the lines below Lille and on the Champagne front simultaneously. For weeks ammunition was gathered at all depots, and early in September a steady stream poured up to the British and French batteries on all fronts in general, and between Rheims and the Argonne and between Arras and Belgium in particular. A bombardment then gave the German lines no respite for twenty-four days and nights. Six months before, the Germans were able to expend ten heavy shells to one round of a British field gun. But in this phase adequate explosive shells poured from the Allies without a halt.
   On September 24th Vice-Admiral Bacon with a squadron made a feint on the Belgian coast. Right across Belgium and France threats of attack were made, which kept German forces busy all night, and early next day. After dark thousands of troops moved to the front between La Bassee to the Labyrinth, and across Champagne ready for assault on both sides of the great rectangle pushed into France, where success would jeopardise the maintenance of the entire front.
   In North France all watches were synchronised by field telephone at 1:30 am. on the 25th, while battery commanders reviewed their instructions, and the supply of shells was checked up. At 4:25 a great cannonade roared on the selected fronts, rousing people and shaking windows forty miles away. For half an hour the appalling deluge of shells searched out every yard of ground within range.
   Above Arras, the British, between La Bassee and Grenay, and the French from Carency and the Labyrinth, made simultaneous drives aiming above and below Lens junction. From the British lines a new and merciful stupefying gas was tried, more merciful but effective in reprisal, which missed the main part of the German line and drifted back.
   At 6:30 am., with two corps, the British stormed the opposing trenches on a five-mile front, north and south of Vermelles. The crumbling advanced lines were all rapidly taken. But forces operating on the left (the Ninth Division) were checked by two strong redoubts. In the centre, also, fortified slag heaps in the coal district had to be stormed by the First Division. The French on the extreme right succeeded in breaking through only after considerable delay.
   But on wide sections the British swept over every obstacle, and were soon a mile and a half beyond the serried first lines. Here they surprised and stormed strongholds on the second line. Some units swept a mile beyond this, ironically singing a free translation of the "Hymn of Hate," ending with a stentorian "Whom do we hate? England!" But after these successes there arose the complicated tactical situations which seriously reduce the chances for a decisive victory under modern conditions.
   Adequate forces must build defensive walls on both sides of the new path of advance, to enable reserves and artillery, with flanks and communications secure, to push forward the invasion of the occupied territory, and carry on effective warfare inside the lines. Speed is essential to snatch a victory before the enemy can gather reinforcements. At the gap, forces must also enfilade and roll up the first trenches from the broken ends to widen effectively the entrance.
   The Seventh Division had soon advanced two miles, capturing Hulluch and scores of mining pits and slag heaps defended by a surprised and temporarily demoralised enemy. But its flanks were exposed. South of Vermelles when the First Division was checked, the Fifteenth Division broke through below it, stormed strong positions before Grenay, and went cheering into Loos, where severe fighting took place in the streets and houses. Several companies went on a mile beyond, capturing Hill 70. The Forty-seventh Division (London Volunteers) on the far right also broke through, and built up a protective barrier from Grenay through Loos, where the advanced brigade stormed and captured the cemetery held by machine-gun detachments. But as the French attack farther south was developing slowly, the path of the British advance was soon being assailed on that flank.
   The first attack had succeeded so rapidly that a vital victory, with the strategic prize of Lens itself, was within sight. But the first phase was too quick for the development of the second. Earlier rain, and ground cut up by trenches and shells, made artillery advance difficult; time was consumed in checking opposition on the flanks and centre and heavy shelling from the north caused delay on the communications. At 9:30 troops, scattered and victorious on the advanced front, were eagerly waiting for orders and reinforcements to push on again against the reserve positions and capture the city. Men sat and smoked in the open, and Tommy Atkins fired at the heavy batteries unsupported on the hills, rounded up fugitives, and prayed for the guns and men necessary to push on to Lens while the chance was his. Some companies reached and for a time held part of its suburb, the "Cite St. Auguste," where they chased and overturned trucks loaded with bombs for Hulluch, and encountered little opposition until attacked and practically exterminated by armoured cars as they waited for reinforcements.
   When effective support reached the new front, German troops and artillery were pouring through Lens, and motor lorries from Lille brought down machine guns and men. The British could go no farther and were forced to consolidate their gains. By night furious counter attacks were made on all sides of the rectangular salient which had broken the first and second German line and reached part of the third system of defences.
   The inhabitants of Loos were free after a year of German occupation. But sharpshooters still lurked in many attics and picked off the officers undetected. Emilienne Moreau, a young school teacher, attacked by a party that was shooting at the British wounded from her twice looted home, seized a revolver and killed three Germans. She has been decorated by both the French and British.
   The French operations on the right met with a strenuous resistance from the outset. Mines were exploded before Souchez and at certain sections the French broke through and captured the first trenches. But artillery on the heights of Angres enfiladed the advance and for some hours the French were pinned to the first line. Three weeks' pounding had not affected communicating tunnels, and a single machine gun detachment inflicted serious losses on the entire army, especially the divisions encompassing the Souchez wood, which were soon facing strong reinforcements. The cemetery was captured by direct assault.
   In perfect order the advanced battalions were withdrawn to enable the French batteries to sweep the woods. On the 26th the French advanced again, storming forts with low revolving turrets, cleverly screened on the ridges. A terrible hand-to-hand struggle took place in the Fond de Buval. When the French had gained the ascendancy and were removing wounded and prisoners, German machine guns swept the ravine, killing friend and foe indiscriminately in the desperate effort to stem the tide.
   The Prussian Guards had been rushed from Russia to meet the threatened offensive. Several companies held the Chateau of Carleul until it was battered to pieces, and gradually the crumbled stones that marked the remains of Souchez were invested on three sides and taken, while in the woods 1,500 prisoners were rounded up. On the third day the Zouaves stormed trenches on the Arras-Lille road, which was finally uncovered, while another desperate assault captured the ridge of Ecurie. In the Labyrinth also the French gained the last mass of tangled defences and were able to straighten their new front and hold it in the face of furious counter attacks.
   Thus the Artois offensive had reached its limit with Lens menaced and with Vimy and other strongholds yet to be stormed before the barrier to the Douai plains was broken. Attacks were delivered everywhere by the Germans with little success except on Hill 70, where the defenders were isolated by artillery fire, swept by machine guns, and expelled. On the 27th the British Guard Division was sent up. They retook Hill 70 and occupied the crest, though they were unable to reach redoubts on the eastern spur.
   In the Loos operations the British lost 2,378 officers and 57,288 men. Major General Capper, who led the Seventh Division in its fight across Belgium, General Thesiger and General Wing were killed. And 3,000 German prisoners, 5 batteries and 40 machine guns were captured. Wireless from Berlin stated that the total German losses at Loos were less than 700, which evidently referred to the battalion holding the town itself, a concrete example of their official juggling. The French losses on the right were also heavy.
   During this thrust for Lens, which had fallen short of sanguine expectations, a greater assault was made by De Castelnau with the augmented Fourth and Second Armies on the formidable tangle of field fortifications traced across the Champagne chalk hills between Auberive and Ville sur Tourbe on the front controlled by General von Einem.
   While the guns had thundered for three weeks on the entire front, special preparations were carried out in Champagne, while every available aeroplane was used to keep away inquisitive fliers. An enormous concentration of men and supplies was effected at Chalons. Miles of screened artillery positions were created; saps were pushed up by night toward vulnerable points, and advance trenches excavated from which the attack could be launched and the reserves deployed for support. The German staff was partly misled by the British pressure in Flanders and the threatened front was not strongly reinforced.
   By night new batteries were concentrated on every sector until September 22nd, when an unprecedented fire was opened on the German lines, a fury which shattered organised defence. Fresh enemy troops and guns were then sent down from Craonne, but they were gathered north of Chalons, where the French reserves were waiting to march eastward for the final hour.
   At sunrise on the 25th, the guns ceased suddenly. Every range was checked, every watch set by wireless. Across Champagne every branch of the service had moved into place five separate battering rams to push forward simultaneously, each instructed in detail regarding the work to be done in their immediate sectors. A signal sent every gun crashing against the main points of attack for three hours, while the infantry waited.
   At eight o'clock von Fleck, commanding the centre, grew alarmed at the fury and made a personal report to the "Hauptquartier," the great war brain near Sedan, which ruled every part of the concentric front. The great General Staff had also heard that the British were attacking in the north; the Crown Prince reported that activity across the Argonne was holding all units of the Fifth Army; pressure, too, was reported from the Somme, and on the Aisne. Von Fleck must await developments. The "Armee-Gruppe" on his left was also stunned by the intensity of the French artillery. But the Germans were able to put in five thousand men per mile-section of their serried defences. They could await attack with complacency.
   At 8:30 am. a cloud of French aeroplanes swept over every section of the Champagne, bombing light railroad junctions, stores, and depots. At 09:00, the order flashed along the French line, "Prepare yourselves!" At 9:10, "Standby!" At 9:15, "En want!" The commands were inaudible in the din of battle, but the relief from the tension made the reply of the eager divisions ring above the Vulcan thunder: "Conquer or Die! Forward!" as five steel-blue tidal waves of twenty living miles surged forward against the first lines of the Germans.
   The chief object of the offensive was to reach the Bezancourt-Challerange railroad, the vital artery of the German front between the Aisne and the Argonne, linked by miles of light railroads which fed the line. The chief objective was the Somme-Py sector. Joffre had learned the bitter cost of narrow wedges, and he had gathered his men, guns, and shells for attack on a wide front so that at the base the breach should be broad, to keep pressure off the immediate flanks if the attack broke completely through. Masses of reserves and cavalry were ready to force their way in the gaps and if possible carry the war beyond the trench lines to open country.
   Briefly, the German front ran slightly south from near Rheims along the ugly hogs-back of Moronvilliers eastward to Auberive, across to Ville sur Tourbe. The chalk hills of the Champagne Pouilleuse are ideal for defence. For a year the Germans had laboured to make the front impregnable. Seven rows of linked trenches, like a huge gridiron, protected by masses of barbed wire, faced the French. Behind this maze, miles of communicating trenches linked every fortified foothill. Woods, flattened in earlier battles, formed impenetrable barriers tangled throughout with barbed wire. Fire trenches ran at every commanding angle; redoubts with machine guns dominated every approach. A backbone of formidable ridges gave a perfect second line of defence parallel to the vital railroad, and afforded a series of positions from which artillery could dominate every foot of the ground below. These impressive defences were garrisoned by over 120,000 men when the attack started.
   On the extreme left, the reinforced sector of the defence, the French rushed and captured the strong, advanced trenches intact, but were checked by unbroken wire on ground which in peace had fringed their great manoeuvres. They were soon pinned down by machine guns, and with their own first trenches ranged to a foot, German artillery on the Moronvilliers plateau pounded the captured positions, inflicting heavy loss on the French and their own men who had been captured. Here the attackers at first could only hold on grimly while the assault developed on their right.
   Before Souain, a trident of clever saps in the salient enabled the assault to be delivered rapidly at three vulnerable points between the ridges, each of which cleanly pierced the German front. The leading units made amazing progress, the supports following practically in column. In an hour, several ugly positions had been cut out on the Somme-Py road by forces which fought their way between, joined hands in the rear, and took the fortifications intact in reverse. By ten o'clock one division was nearly three miles in the German front and had approached the last line defending the railroad. On the right of the entrance, however, the series of natural bastions defied the bombardments and assaults for three days and took heavy toll of supports as they pushed up the salient.
   West of this sector, the forces attacking Perthes smashed through without a pause. The French batteries here were able to cover their infantry advance fully; the German batteries were silenced and the resistance of a triangular work full of machine guns was so masked that the troops crossed the trenches on either side and fought their way behind it, taking it with all its defenders. Supports then poured up through the gap, moved east behind other fortifications, and with a cheer flanked and captured three batteries and the camp of the German reserves waiting in dugouts in the Bricot woods. The French artillery limbered up and followed the infantry into practically open country behind the outer German positions. Between this gap and the breach forced in above Souain, however, the enemy maintained a rectangular series of defences, and this flanking fire had to be overcome before the splendid advances could continue to push north to the railroad, the approach to which was then barred only by the strong trench line linking the Buttes de Souain and Tahure. The French staff had done its work perfectly, and in the centre a stupendous victory was in sight when night fell. Considering the extent of the gains, the losses of the Colonial forces and the Eleventh Corps engaged here were comparatively light. General Marchand of Fashoda fame, who led the Colonial Division in person, was shot down early in the advance, but before he was carried from the field vital successes had been gained and a decisive victory seemed in sight.
   In the adjoining sectors of Mesnil and Beausejour farm the same thing had occurred. From the height of Le Mesnil the attack had swept over the famous and difficult "Ravin des Cuisiners" victoriously, only to be enfiladed and checked by a mass of machine guns implanted in a salient of small hills which the artillery had been unable to silence. Yet in the blood-stained and more formidable area of Beausejour the first waves of attack smashed through the dreaded Le Bastion, gained the communication trenches, and swept on to surprise and capture the German batteries on the Maisons de Champagne.
   On the extreme right, two battalions led the attack in a dash through the mist from Hill 180 before Massiges, across 700 yards of fury, and gained the track leading to the height. After rough and tumble fighting with grenade and bayonet, the survivors reached the crest, where the flag was planted by a St. Cyr cadet celebrating his baptism of fire, with only a colonel and three junior officers left to rally the shattered command and hold out while reserves bombed their way along communicating trenches in this maze of defences. The reserves and artillery on the flank held up reinforcements tardily sent over by the Crown Prince, which marched with no apparent reason down the Cernay-Ville sur Tourbe road.
   It is obvious that the irregularity of the battle front soon made a French curtain fire difficult to maintain. At three points the attack had smashed through the main German positions. Between them, the enemy held two definite sections firmly, menacing the flanks of the advance. A few more hours of daylight or fine weather would have altered history. Above Beausejour the artillery and reserves moved forward across practically open country, prepared to force the fighting across the final heights, only a mile from the railroad. Wireless messages from Laon, too urgent for coding, proved how severely the Germans were menaced. French guns were smashing the light railroad from Ripont, and three German batteries thrown forward at this point were captured before the gunners could unlimber.
   Reinforcements rushed by motor lorry from Vouzies advanced down the strip below Tahure and moved through the disarranged shell curtain to menace the rear of one advanced brigade, and a fresh battery also worked around the flank and came into action directly behind the French. Light cavalry, champing impatiently in reserve, instantly rode out. Guns greeted them from the flank, and men and horses fell writhing among the astonished reserves holding captured trenches, but two squadrons galloped across country and charged the new arrivals, while even the desperately wounded cheered. The troopers then dismounted and finished the fight on foot, helping to capture the new battery and rounding up a battalion as it was deploying. At the Navarin farm on the Souain road west of Tahure and within range of the railroad below Ripont, the French were firmly established in the afternoon. Heavy artillery could have pierced the lines on the final ridge while the defenders were disorganised. But rain followed the bombardment and made artillery progress difficult, and darkness checked further operations. All night the French rescued their own and thousands of enemy wounded, magnificently aided by American Ambulance units. But the rain increased and the work of bringing up the heavier batteries was retarded. At every point now the Germans were strongly reinforced.
   At daybreak the struggle was resumed to expel the enemy from the defensive positions maintained in the regained territory. A dozen isolated battles raged for three days. Sapping, mining, direct assault, and isolation broke down most of the resistance. Perhaps the most picturesque of these battles was fought by the Foreign Legion. Depleted by heavy losses in the Argonne and Artois and the transfer of the British and Garibaldian units to their own armies, the rest were consolidated in two regiments as part of the army of Morocco. While the Colonial forces were winning much ground, the Legion formed the reserve and acted on the right flank of the Souain advance, where the Germans firmly maintained their strongholds. For two days the artillery failed to affect these earthworks shaped like a horseshoe on curving foothills on the Bois Sabot.
   Colonel Cot volunteered to take the position by direct assault on the afternoon of the 28th. The moment the Legion broke cover, the German artillery fire opened. The first battalion charged straight for the centre of the curve, but the leading companies were checked by wire and annihilated as they tore their way through. The succeeding waves, however, followed, the American contingent being rallied by the Stars and Stripes, which changed hands five times during the advance. The survivors of the leading battalion penetrated the curve of the horseshoe and gained shelter in the pot-holes and craters dug by the French bombardment, while the other battalions worked their way around the flanks to the communication trenches.
   At a signal, the Legion made the final rush with the bayonet and was victorious after a terrific combat with the garrison, which resisted to the end. Forty per cent, of the Legion were killed or wounded in the fight which cleared the flank when every hour was enabling the Germans to renew their barriers to the north and nullify the early promise of the offensive. Many Americans were killed in the capture of this almost impregnable position among them, Lieutenant Sweeny, a West Pointer; John Casey, the artist; Dugan, Soubrian, Scanlon, Charles, Dowd, Capdeville, Egan, Zinn, and Nelson. Among the wounded were Dr. Wheeler, the Arctic explorer; Thoran, Trinkhead, Genet, Pavidka, and Musgrave, who received the Croix de Guerre for conspicuous gallantry.
   The sequel was interesting. A captured anti-aeroplane gun now manned by the Legion shot down an inquisitive aeroplane hovering low for observation, so the German artillery innocently continued their curtain fire before the lost fortification, while the French forces safely within it swarmed unseen and unshelled through the woods in the rear. They captured all lines of communication and cleared the region right to the main artillery position on the reverse of the final heights. Incidentally, the Legionnaires captured a sizeable quantity of gas apparatus stamped 1908.
   For a decisive success, all advantages must be promptly followed up. With a large section of ground above Souain solidly French, an assault before Vedegrange on September 28th cleared another large section of the second German line, capturing forty-five guns and the survivors of five battalions. On the main sectors of the assault, the French front was now consolidated before the ridge parallel to the railroad. But while the French slaved with their bogged artillery, miles of new trenches and thousands of reinforcements had strengthened the final German line, and close to their objectives the French advance was held up. The blow had captured 41 square miles of territory, 316 officers, 17,055 unwounded men, and 61 guns, but it just failed to break through.
   For a month the French struggled on and finally captured the Tahure heights. General Gouraud had been appointed to command the special army of the Champagne to continue the operations. Two German army corps were brought from Russia, and as winter became severe, the French offensive died down and again the front remained unbroken.
   On every sector through the winter Belgians, British and French had held their exposed lines. Day by day the signal flashed, R. A. S. (rien a signaler), nothing to report. But men in thousands were being blown to pieces in the freezing, water-logged trenches, enduring, facing death in a hundred ways, but grimly holding on. The record of trench raids, local attacks by both sides, and bitter fighting on many sectors during 1915 would fill many volumes.

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To Kumass with Scott Under Three Flags in Cuba In South Africa with Buller The Peking Legations Under Four Flags for France Cuba - Land of Opportunity

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