Military Review

Viller - Kotre. Part of 1

A large German offensive in March-June 1918 on the French front of the First World War ended without bringing the expected strategic results.

14 June 1918 The commander of the combined forces of the Entente F. Foch in a letter to the commander-in-chief of the French active army A. Petain pointed out the strategic importance of the Soissons railway junction - offering to ensure this important point. 16 June F. Foch focused his colleagues' attention on the difficulties that the Germans had with regard to supplies, if Soissons was within the reach of French artillery - this made the German offensive under Château-Thierry very difficult. The objectives could be achieved with the help of the offensive of the French 10 Army, located between the rivers Oise and Urk.

1. F. Foch

2. A. Petain

A. Petain ordered the E.-M. armies reserve group. Fayola advance to the line Perian, Misi-o-Bois, Lonpon. In turn, E.-M. Fayol instructed S. Mangene, the new commander of the right-flank 10 th army, to develop a plan of attack.

3. E. - M. Fayol

4. Sh. Manzhen

The 27 of June, the Mangevin Plan was generally approved by A. Petain, and the 28 of June the French 11 and 153 infantry divisions attacked the Germans on the front of Ljaversin, St. Pierre-Aigle. They advanced approximately 1,5 km, capturing prisoners to 1100. Having mastered the eastern slopes of the Kovre ravine, the formations took a comfortable starting position for a future offensive. To distract the attention of the Germans on the north bank, En, the 15-i and 55-i infantry divisions of the 2 and 3 in July conducted two searches - the result was the capture of more 1000 prisoners. Finally, “probing” the enemy, 8 July 87-I and 4-I infantry divisions captured the farm Chavigny (on the eastern edge of the forest Villers-Kotre) - having captured several hundred prisoners, the French seized space on 1 km in depth on the 3,5-km front, improving the starting position for an offensive in the area of ​​Lonpona.

The French 6 Army (the left flank of the central army group) successfully conducted a series of local offensive operations between Urcom and Marna. 25 June, the US Marine Brigade (US 2-I Infantry Division) captured, at the cost of great losses, the Belo forest. And on July 1, the same division, having again suffered heavy losses, took der. In. On the same day, the French 2 Corps achieved success, which, in addition to improving its position, gave 1 500 prisoners.

The French saw that the German divisions were badly battered, their losses were only partially replenished, and, what was most surprising of all, the morale of the Germans dropped dramatically. C. Mangin thought about the coverage of the "bag" at the Chateau-Thierry. And on July 8, A. Petain approved the 10th Army's offensive plan, ordering it to be developed to the southeast, in the direction of Ulshi-le-Chateau. The plan was based on tactical surprise. The concentration of forces and means had to be completed in a very short time. 10th Army were promised, in addition to numerous tank units, 3 infantry divisions from the reserve of the central group of armies, as well as 5 infantry divisions and a 3-divisional 2nd cavalry corps from the reserve of the French High Command.

It was decided that the 5 Army would also take part in the offensive. The forces necessary for the offensive of the 5 Army were to be isolated from the reserve of the central army group, which was expecting a German offensive in Champagne. Set the day the start of the offensive of the enemy failed - they knew only that it was supposed to 15 July.

12 July A. Petain gave the reserve and central army groups an order to attack - with the aim of eliminating the "bag" at Chateau-Thierry with flank attacks from the west, south and southeast. This was supposed to make it impossible for the Germans to use the Suasson railway junction and straighten the front of the Allies between Reims and Marna. 10-I army was supposed to break through the German front south of the river. En in the direction of Ulshi-le-Château, 6-I army - to break in the direction of the heights south of Brevi and Armantier, and 5-I army - at Arcy-le-Ponsard. Both groups of armies were to unite in the region of Fere-en-Tardenois. It was planned to strengthen the 6 Army with a tank regiment and 1-2 infantry divisions. To the front of the 5 Army, at least 5 and, if possible, 7-8 infantry divisions, cavalry corps and 230 tanks were to be deployed.

Sh. Manzhenn found that as a result of local offensive operations of his army, at the cost of insignificant losses, the German divisions were disheveled by 5 - the latter had to be replaced by withdrawn from the front, not rested and not equipped with divisions (the combat strength of the mouths was just 40 - 50 bayonets). And the general insisted on the early start of the offensive.

The deployment of the 10 Army began on July 14. But the next day it was interrupted - the beginning of the German offensive and the crossing of the Germans across the Marne created a threatening situation for the Allies. The Kaiser's army dealt the final blow during the Great Offensive - and on July 15 - August 5. The Second Marne Battle developed between the German and French-Anglo-American forces.

A. Petain ordered the reserve army group to put its reserves at the disposal of the central army group. From the composition of the troops intended for the 10-th army, stood out 2-th cavalcore. When F. Foch found out about A. Petain’s order, he realized that this casts doubt on the very possibility of a promising offensive - and, without hesitation, ordered A. Petain to immediately cancel his orders. Thus, the deployment of the 10 Army was interrupted only for a few hours.

On July 17, both corps concentrated on the right flank of the 6 Army south of Marne (38 and 3 Army) were subordinated to the commander of the newly created 9 Army, and the task of defending Marne was removed from the 6 Army, which was completely under the command of the reserve army group.

Deployment between pp. En and Urk was completed on 16 - July 17. Extensive forests and numerous villages were well used as shelters.

The offensive of the 10 and 6, as well as the 9, 5 and 4 armies was to begin on July 18. But in the order issued the day before, the commander of the central army group, General Maistre, ordered that the right-flank group of the 9 Army (3 Army Corps) and part of the 5 Army (reinforced with 1 Corps) launched a July morning 19 attack. Since it was technically impossible to deliver the first order to the front line troops in a timely manner, it was technically impossible to keep the deadlines set by the Maestre. Thus, a series of 9 units, 5 units and 4 units of the July 18 armies took part in the attack only with their artillery fire.

In 10-th Army, located between the pp. Oise and En, the left-flank corps (18-th - as part of the 70-th, 15-th and 55-th infantry divisions) also should not have participated in the July 18 offensive. The overall composition of the 10 Army reached the 16 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions (of which the numbers of the companies were the chimes of the company’s headquarters and the number of the headquarters of the men) 4 bombers).

The mission of the 10 Army was to break through the German front between the En and Urk rivers and develop an offensive in the general direction of Daumier, Vierzi, Arten, Grand-Rosou, Fert-en-Tardenois. There were no serious obstacles in front of the army, and the troops (with the exception of the 162 Infantry Division) were to go on the offensive in 5 hours 35 minutes following artillery barrage without artillery preparation. The average width of the offensive front divisions was 2 km. The 2 th cavalcourse was supposed to be pulled forward - and used depending on the development of the situation, most likely, as soon as the attacking divisions reached the line Berzi-le-Seck, Choden, Vierzi. Then the 4-th cavalry division in the equestrian system had to move through Shodin, Arten - on Fert-en-Tardenois, the 6-nd cavalry division - through the farm Vert-Fey, Vierzi, Saint-Rémy on Ulypi-le-Château, and 2-I Cavalry Division made corps reserve. The advance of the cavalry was to be provided by the fighter squadron.

The forward line of the 6 Army, in addition to artillery and tank units, was reinforced by the American 4 Infantry Division, which was attached to its two corps. The overall composition of the army reached 8 infantry divisions (of which one was in the army reserve), 588 guns, 147 tanks, 562 aircraft.

The advanced units of the 6 Army were to 5 35 minutes minutes suddenly attack German military outposts and enter into contact with the enemy’s main position — and, after artillery preparation, 7 05 XNUMX minutes attack the last.

The 9 Army, which was a left-flank union in the central army group, consisted of only two corps: the 38 Corps (French 39, American 3 Division, part of the American 28 Division) had to maintain close contact with the right wing of the 6 Army and cross the Marne as soon as the latter’s successes allow it. The 3 Corps (in the first line: 73, 20 and 18 Infantry Divisions, and in the intervals between them, parts of the 28 American, 125, 4 and 51 Infantry Divisions) still led defensive battles with right-wing group of the advancing Germans, trying to throw them over the Marne. As a reserve, the 9 Army had the 168 Infantry Division, not deployed units of the 28 American and 4 Infantry Divisions, as well as parts of the battered 125 and 51 divisions already withdrawn from the battle. In addition, the 9 Army had 644 guns, 90 light tanks, and 182 aircraft.

From the 5 Army, the 1 Cav. Corps, which had the 77 Cavalry Infantry Division, 5 Cavalry Division, 131 Cavalry Division and 3 Cavalry Division (1-I squadron squadron, was in the second line, was to participate in the attack. ). The hull was supported by 96 light and 84 heavy guns, 45 light tanks and 20 airplanes.

The 5 Army Corps had 10 th colonial, 7, 9 and 40 infantry divisions in the first line. The corps had 84 field and 144 heavy guns, 40 aircraft; In addition, 5 heavy artillery shells were located in the 56 corps.

The 2 Italian Corps had the French 14 and 120 Italian Infantry Divisions in the first line. The compound had 3 field guns and 180 heavy weapons (in addition, 84 heavy army artillery guns were located in its lane) and 48 aircraft.

The 2 Division of the 1 Colonial Corps, with 54 field guns, 72 heavy guns, and 20 aircraft, was located east of Cleriise on the sector.

The command of the 5 Army also had 266 aircraft (70 artillery spotters, 144 fighter and 52 bomber).

In total, the 5 Army deployed 12 Infantry Divisions, 3 Cavalry Divisions, 902 guns, 45 light tanks, 376 aircraft on the offensive front.

From Reims to Argon, the right-flank group of the 5 Army and the 4 Army were located. The latter had 14 divisions in the first line and 3 divisions in the second (in reserve).

6 infantry divisions were deployed as reserves for the reserve and central army groups, as well as for the French High Command: the 87-I and 125-I infantry in the rear of the central group, the British 15-I and 34-I infantry in the rear of the right-flank group reserve army group, British 51-I 62-I infantry divisions (British 12-i corps) - for the left flank of the central army group. The French High Command could have used both the 12 and 25 infantry divisions — they were in the Eastern Army Group, but preparations were under way for their transfer.

Thus, for the offensive against the Marnian arc of the German front, the 50 infantry and 6 cavalry divisions of the allies were concentrated.

The Germans had divisions in the first line of the 26 (9 and 7 army) (8 against the French 10 army, 4 against the French 6 army and 14 between Zolgon and Vrinyi). In the second line were still 9 divisions.

Between Reims and the Argonnes, the 22 of the German divisions of the 1 and 3 armies was in the first line. 8 divisions were in the second line - in the region of r. En

At the disposal of the army group of the German Kronprinz, there were still 11 divisions, which could also potentially be involved. The allies had to take into account the reserves of the army group of Crown Prince Ruprecht, in the rear of which the 31 division was concentrated - for the offensive planned by the Germans in Flanders.

5. Positions of opponents between pp. En and Marne by the morning of July 18.

What happened in the camp of the Germans?

After the final cessation of the May-June offensive, the 7-I army defended. In June, Army Commander Colonel-General M. von Ben ordered his corps to take up defensive positions.

6. M. von Ben

Because in the first line there were still divisions that were supposed to be used as shock in the attack on “Reims to support the Marne”, they were partially replaced, and partially removed from the front (sections of neighboring divisions were expanded) and stationed in the rear lane - for recreation and staffing. After these events, 4 divisions left between Uaza and En, 12 between Enna and Marne (from 2 July - 11), Marne (between Château-Thierry and Verne) and 2 between Marne and the eastern edge of wooded heights to the south west of Reims - also 2 divisions. In the rear, as corps and army reserves, 7 divisions were located. In addition, relatively close to the front there were several divisions that were at the disposal of the command of the army group of the German crown prince and the High Command.

It was clear that the equipment of systems of defensive strips, similar to those that existed on the fronts that had been created for several years, was impossible. Preparation for further offensive actions, frequent change of divisions, the need to use the time available for combat training and rest, and, most importantly, the insignificant composition of the units and the lack of workers, did not allow for the creation of strong defensive positions. Exceptions to the above rule were possible only where, such as, for example, between Oise and En, it was possible to include in the defensive zone the old systems of trenches. Therefore, the defensive capacity of the new defensive fronts was inadequate - and yet they had to confront the large resources and the new technology of the allies - the tanks.

The Germans tried to get out of the situation due to high-quality communication, the “chess” location of machine guns, the saturation of the defense with anti-tank guns and anti-tank barriers. But, according to the command of the group of armies of the German Kronprinz and the High Command, the main thing was the strong separation of troops in depth. Therefore, instead of the former “predpole” with a depth of several hundred meters (which proved itself well in well-equipped positions), a deep forward line was to appear on new unfortified fronts - reaching several kilometers in depth. The question of whether (and to what extent) it was necessary to defend or re-seize the front line in the event of an enemy attack depended on the nature of the terrain and on the strength and depth of penetration and had to be solved for each individual case.

Positional divisions had to fight for the main defensive line to the last — after all, the bulk of artillery, also heavily echeloned in depth, was located behind it. The withdrawal of positional divisions was not allowed. Rear defensive lanes were chosen - they had to be occupied by divisions assigned to counterattacks. But a strong separation of troops in depth led to some dispersion of forces. In addition, due to the continued reduction in the combat strength of the units, it led to the fact that the defense had to be led by separate small groups of fighters separated by relatively large intervals, and with any significant losses even by single fighters who had almost no connection with each other. And this easily caused a feeling of isolation - which affected the moral state that was already not very stable by the end of the fourth year of the war.

The positions between En and Marnah were not equipped in accordance with the established canons of positional warfare: there were no continuous lines of trenches, solid and deep wire barriers. The main resistance line was equipped more thoroughly - but since the mid-June the Allied strikes forced the main resistance line back and began to work on its equipment again, its defense capability could not be considered very high.

On the front section between Oise and Marne, lively hostilities continued. On June 14-18, a series of allied attacks followed - in some areas leading to tactical success. So, on June 15, large French forces, after an hour and a half of artillery preparation and with the support of tanks, attacked the 14th Bavarian infantry and 45th reserve divisions, which were replaced at that time, managed to push the Bavarians under Lyversin and Kövre-e-Valseri. On June 18, an allied attack (also supported by tanks) near Saint-Pierre-Aigle in the position of the weakened 45th reserve division led to the ousting of the latter by 1 km. The 5th Guards Infantry Division was also pushed back. In total, from June 19 to 27, the Allies conducted at least six offensive operations of small or medium size - 3 of them were successful. The most powerful attack followed on June 28th - with the support of tanks and assault aviation. The German 34th and 14th Infantry Divisions were pushed back, and the heights north and south of Kyutri were lost.

The local offensive of the Allies, carried out by fresh units with the support of powerful artillery fire, quickly exhausted the forces of the German divisions — and there were not enough fresh combat units to replace the latter. The command of an army group was unable to assist the 7 Army by its own forces. In addition to the divisions intended for the offensive "on Reims to secure the Marne," Crown Prince William did not have free reserves. The use of these divisions, naturally, would have reduced the strike force of the offensive — and this was out of the question.

The High Command also could not give the 7 Army additional forces - without weakening other sectors of the front or without touching the divisions concentrated in the rear of the front of the army group of Crown Prince Ruprecht and intended for the planned offensive in Flanders. Therefore, the request of the command of the 7 Army on strengthening its front remained unfulfilled.

General M. Ben believed that the enemy needed a springboard for hitting Soissons - and it was necessary to once again seize the lost space with the help of a counterattack. Kronprinz passed the proposal of the commander of the 7 Army to the High Command, but he himself opposed it - after all, the counterstrike led to increased expenditure of forces, especially on the eve of the offensive. In addition, the commander of the army group was convinced that after the start of the offensive "on Reims to ensure Marne" the situation under Soissons would improve significantly. The supreme command supported the commander of the army group: the counterattack had to be abandoned. The 7 Army was ordered with the help of a carefully thought-out defense organization to maximally strengthen the Staats and Vatter groups (39-th Reserve and 13-th Army Corps).

7. the commander of the 39 th reserve corps General of the infantry G. von Staabs

8. Commander of 13 Army Corps General of the infantry T. von Vatter

M. Ben objected and asked for reinforcements - but without success. He was promised only 1 new division - to ensure the junction between the groups of Staabs and Vatter (the commander demanded 3 division plus replenishment) and attached 27 field batteries (requested 54 field and 18 heavy).

The lack of artillery army softened that took 5-e and 6-e guns (a significant part of the field gun batteries and light field howitzers on the German western front were supplied from the reserve of the material part of the High Command 5-e and 6-e-guns - without gun crews and bolts) for batteries assigned to positional divisions on the Marn front, to reinforce the batteries located on the western end of their front.

Allied local offensives continued - and in most cases they were successful. In addition to the loss of space, this led to a weakening of the combat capability of the German troops. Located between the Oise and the Marne, the German divisions, which had been in almost continuous battles for several weeks, were largely exhausted. The number of combat personnel, and so falling every month, decreased due to a strong flu epidemic.

Because, the 7 Army could not count on the transfer of fresh divisions to it, and before the expected improvement in the overall situation as a result of the offensive "on Reims to ensure the Marne", it would take a long time, M. Ben ordered his troops to detect signs of the impending enemy offensive to retreat in a timely manner - in order to reduce casualties. With the inevitable loss of space had to put up.

Viller - Kotre. Part of 1

9. German soldiers on the Western Front.

10. French foot soldiers.

To be continued
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  1. XII Legion
    XII Legion 18 January 2018 06: 38
    The battle of Soissons was a watershed during the 1918 campaign.
    And Ville-Kotre became that point of support, starting from which, the Allies on the Entente turned the Western Front. Gathering enormous forces, they acted cautiously - at first shaking the German defense and trying the forces.
    The Germans also undermined their forces in the battles of March - June 1918. Material and moral.
    Significant events were brewing.
    Thank you!
  2. parusnik
    parusnik 18 January 2018 07: 27
    The war did not end “childishly” with the massive use of tanks, aircraft ...
  3. soldier
    soldier 18 January 2018 08: 33
    When F. Foch learned about the order of A. Peten, he realized that this casts doubt on the very possibility of a promising offensive - and, without hesitation, ordered A. Petan to immediately cancel his orders.

    Still, Foch was an excellent commander of the Entente forces on the Western Front. And, unlike Ludendorff, not only an excellent tactician, but also a strategist. Matured as they say in the root.
    The Allies were very lucky - that they had such a Foch in the 1918 campaign. And no luck - that there wasn’t such in the 1940 campaign: only the Petans remained.
    1. Blue cop
      Blue cop 18 January 2018 08: 52
      Yes, again pure tactics:
      The Germans tried to get out of the situation due to high-quality communications, the "chess" arrangement of machine guns, saturation of the defense with anti-tank guns and anti-tank barriers.

      Strategic factors even within the framework of one front shifted to the scales of the Entente
  4. Blue cop
    Blue cop 18 January 2018 08: 55
    I was once impressed by the film "Ant Hill" or "Path of Glory" with Kirk Douglas in the title role - the regiment commander who was supposed to take the hill - because ... Without much special need.
    The generals are very prominently displayed.
  5. Streletskos
    Streletskos 18 January 2018 11: 51
    Speaking in German, the Soissons became the “davit” of the French Front of the 18th
    The Germans ran out of steam, and the Allies pulled themselves up and waited for the noticeable volumes of the arrived Yankees
  6. Some kind of compote
    Some kind of compote 18 January 2018 13: 48
    The situation and the balance of power are clear
    We look forward to continuing good
  7. soldier
    soldier 18 January 2018 16: 23
    The local allied offensives continued - and in most cases they were successful. In addition to the loss of space, this led to a weakening of the combat effectiveness of the German troops.

    And the Allies could well afford it - having achieved tangible superiority in forces and means. Including thanks to the respite that was given to them by the operations of the Russian troops on the Eastern Front.
    equipping defensive-line systems, such as those available on fronts that have been created over several years, is not possible. Preparations for further offensive operations, the frequent change of divisions, the need to use the available time for combat training and recreation, and, most importantly, the insignificant combat strength of the units and the lack of working hands, did not allow creating strong defensive positions.

    One of the reasons for the local offensive operations of the Anglo-French, pushing the Germans from their established echelon positions. Weak equipment of the new defensive positions is one of the reasons for the failure of the German troops in the upcoming battles.
      BRONEVIK 18 January 2018 19: 46
      It turns out that even tactically the Allies outplayed the Germans.
      The foothills, the chess arrangement of machine guns, etc., passed in front of the new tactics of infantry and infantry in cooperation with tanks
      1. soldier
        soldier 18 January 2018 19: 51
        Definitely. The strategies of parallel attacks by F. Foch, based on superiority in forces and means, were opposed to the Germans in the summer - in the autumn of 1918 there was already nothing.
  8. Lieutenant Teterin
    Lieutenant Teterin 25 January 2018 21: 06
    Great and very informative article. The author — my sincere gratitude for the work done!
  9. The comment was deleted.