Gazetteer of the Western Front: Hargicourt

Location

Hargicourt is a village North West of Saint-Quentin in the Department of Aisne, France.
Lat: 49° 57′ 41 ” N
Lon: 3° 10′ 50 “E

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Background

Hargicourt traces its roots back to the Middle Ages and even to pre-Roman times. By 1914 it was one of the larger villages in the Saint-Quentin area of Picardy.

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A 1916 British map of the area.

A 1916 British map of the area. Note that a metre-gauge railway line ran past the village, which had a station.

1914-1917

Hargicourt fell into German hands during the initial fighting of 1914. This was shortly after the British 3rd Division had passed through the village on 27 August 1914, on its southwards journey in the “Retreat from Mons”. From then until the spring of 1917 Hargicourt was well behind the fighting front of the Somme sector. In common with all occupied areas in France, the village was stripped of useful materials by the occupying force, and many of its inhabitants sent to work as forced labour in Germany and elsewhere. The village was used for billeting German troops. The area of the railway station was developed: huts and stores were built.

During 1916 the Germans constructed the formidable defences of the Siegfried-Stellung, eventually known to the British as the Hindenburg Line. Russian and Romanian prisoners of war are known to have been pressed into service in the Hargicourt area, to aid the construction of these works.

April 1917: capture by British forces

During March 1917, the German High Command ordered an operation to withdraw eastwards from the Somme sector and to fall back to the Siegfried-Stellung. In the map below, the solid black line represents the front line before the withdrawal began, and the dashed line the position to which the Germans retired. The entire area between the two lines was razed by the Germans, in order to make the area as inhabitable and militarily difficult as possible. Those local people who remained were now removed from the village. Hargicourt, shown by a red dot, now found itself in the new front line area.

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The two principal defensive lines of the Siegfried-Stellung lay to the east of Hargicourt, which was within the deep outpost system.

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As the British Army advanced in the wake of the German retirement, it eventually encountered the outposts of the Hindenburg Line. On 13 April 1917, 144th Infantry Brigade of 48th (South Midand) Division captured a spur of high ground north of Hargicourt, but only at the cost of more than 400 casualties. By 27 April 1917 178th Infantry Brigade of 59th (2nd North Midland) Division was attacking Cologne Farm and the quarry east of Hargicourt. It made limited progress, and in effect this was the high water mark of the British advance towards the main Hindenburg Line position in this area.

Operations now became those of static trench warfare once again. On 20 November 1917, the 2nd Leinsters and 9th East Surreys of 24th Division mounted large raids east of Hargicourt as diversionary operations to the main attack of the Battle of Cambrai, some miles away to the north.

March 1918: loss in the “Kaiserschlacht”

On 21 March 1918 when the Germans launched their immense Operation “Michael” offensive, also often known as the “Kaiserschlacht”, Hargicourt quickly fell. Defended by the 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division, the village was blanketed in thick fog and came under exceptionally heavy artillery fire with high explosive and poison gas shells. German infantry occupied the village by about 10.30am that morning, killing and capturing large numbers of the British troops in the area. The German 25th Division made the attack in this area.

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British artillery doused Hargicourt with poison gas after it had been captured by the enemy, but the continued German advance pushed the fighting front many miles to the west. Hargicourt was once again well behind the fighting sector.

September 1918: recapture by Australian forces

In late July 1918, the Allies commenced what turned out to be a more or less continuous series of offensive actions that recaptured the ground lost in March; broke the Hindenburg Line; and forced the Germans to an Armistice. On 18 September 1918 Hargicourt was recaptured by the 1st Australian Division, passing through it during a large scale attack on the outer defences of the Hindenburg Line.

An oblique aerial photograph of Templeux-le-Guerard and Hargicourt. Note the trenches in the foreground. AWM image P01277.002, with thanks.

An oblique aerial photograph of Templeux-le-Guerard and Hargicourt, taken on 11 September 1918. Note the trenches in the foreground. AWM image P01277.002, with thanks.

Soon after the capture of the village, the area was taken over by the United States forces, which used the village as part of their assembly for the attack on the Hindenburg Line. Eight Whippet tanks and 17 Armoured Car Battalion of the British Army were also employed, advancing from Hargicourt towards Bony.

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1 October 1918. The 28th Battalion marching past the village of Hargicourt, on their way to the front line trenches in the Hindenburg Line. The horses of various artillery units may be seen grazing on the hillsides. AWM image E03493, with thanks.

1 October 1918. The 28th Battalion AIF marching past the village of Hargicourt, on their way to the front line trenches in the Hindenburg Line. The horses of various artillery units may be seen grazing on the hillsides. AWM image E03493, with thanks.

Battlefield visits

Hargicourt British Cemetery and the military plot in Hargicourt Communal Cemetery Extension are in the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There are no memorials within the village, but plenty within the area: see the Long, Long Trail’s guide to touring the Saint-Quentin area for details.

Hargicourt has no hotels but there is a B&B (“La Campagne”) and a number of gites in the area. It has a cafe and (I understand) a small pizza restaurant. Saint-Quentin is well provided with accommodation, restaurants and other facilities.

Links

Gazetteer of the Western Front