The Battles of the Marne, 1918

20 July – 2 August 1918: the Battles of the Marne, 1918. A British force takes part in Foch’s very large scale and highly successful counter offensive of the Marne, which proves to be the start of an unbroken series of Allied successes.

Part of map included in British Official History of Military Operations, France and Flanders 1918. Allied Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch's concept of four operations to squeeze out enemy-held salients on the Marne (1), Somme (2), St Mihiel (3) and Flanders (4). Offensive operations begin with the attack on the Marne.
Part of map included in British Official History of Military Operations, France and Flanders 1918. Allied Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch’s concept of four operations to squeeze out enemy-held salients on the Marne (1), Somme (2), St Mihiel (3) and Flanders (4). Offensive operations begin with the attack on the Marne.

On 28 June 1918, the French Intelligence Bureau issued an appreciation of the strategic situation and forecast a renewal of the German attack in the area of the Oise and Marne. Allied Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch ordered the French and British armies to make preparations for mutual assistance. The British XXII Corps, which had been moved in early June to the Somme SW of Amiens, was made available for a move to assist the French, and the 15th (Scottish) and 34th Divisions were sent from First and Second Army areas respectively to make it up to four divisions. These two divisions entrained for Chalons on the night 15/16 July but were kept at the disposal of Foch. The Corps was moved to Vitry-le-Francois, in the area of General de Mitry’s Ninth Army, in reserve. 15th (Scottish) Division was detrained at Clermont, going to French Third Army and headquartered at Liancourt; 34th Division concentrated at Senlis.

Preparatory move

General Mangin’s French Tenth Army attacked successfully in the area of Villers-Cotterets on 19 July. The British XXII Corps was now placed at the disposal of French Fifth Army (Berthelot) with a view to making an effort to stop German reserves being moved to face Mangin. Berthelot ordered an attack on 20 July.


The German advance of late May and early June 1918 had succeeded only in pushing a deep salient into Allied lines. It had reached the River Marne. The eastern pincer of Foch’s counter-attack, in which the British divisions would take part, lay along the face of the salient NE of Epernay and attacked in a north-westerly direction.


The Battle of the Tardenois, 20 – 31 July 1918

French Fifth Army (Berthelot)
XXII Corps (Godley)

51st (Highland) Division, which fought for the Ardre Valley
62nd (2nd West Riding) Division, which also fought for the Ardre Valley.

In view of Mangin’s success and a German withdrawal from the Marne on the night 20/21 July, the other two British Divisions were assigned to French Tenth Army. The British formations relieved one French and one American Division in the front line on 22 July.

From the British Official History: “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 Petain’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.

Battle of Tardenois. Infantry men of the 62nd Division looking out for the enemy in the Bois de Reims. Imperial War Museum image Q11089
Battle of Tardenois. Infantry men of the 62nd Division looking out for the enemy in the Bois de Reims. Imperial War Museum image Q11089

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 1.55pm 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 7.40pm, 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 9.43pm that a report of the situation near Bligny reached the 62nd Division, and until 10.30pm that divisional orders were issued for a further advance at dawn in conjunction with the French 77th 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 4pm 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 6.30am 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 6.15am on the 28th patrols were sent out, and by 10.30am 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 chateau, 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 chateau 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 1.35pm 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 8.35pm 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 91st Regiment; he instructed Br.-General Thomson to hold on to Buzancy and the chateau and strengthen his right. Before any action could be taken on this instruction, Br.-General Thomson heard direct from the 91st Regiment that it had not been able to advance at all from its original line; simultaneously at 4.35pm the SOS signal went up in the south-eastern corner of Buzancy. Outflanked and outnumbered, the Highlanders were driven first from the village, then from the chateau, 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 chateau grounds, and, after having sent back as prioners six officers and over two hundred others ranks, they regained their starting line soon after 6pm. 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 5.45pm Major-General Reed had been informed by the XX. Corps that a new barrage would be fired, and that the 91st 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 6pm 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 Divisions, 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 4.30am 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 4am 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 captured until 4pm 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 7am had got to its objective between Bligny village and the 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, taking 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 11.5am, 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 3pm; 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 8am (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 Chateau 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 Fere en Tardenois – must be carried and the enemy prevented from effecting an undisturbed retirement : advanced guard of infantry and cavalry must follow him so as to keep close contact and secure all the ground which he abandoned.

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.”

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”.

Phase: the Battle of the Soissonais and of the Ourcq, 23 July – 2 August 1918

French Third Army (Horne)
French XX Corps
15th (Scottish) Division, which attacked Buzancy
French XXX Corps (Penet)
34th Division, which captured the Bagneux Ridge.
From the British Official History: “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 Petain 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 Petain 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 Compiegne; 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 Petain 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 role, 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”.

Summary from Official History

The net result of the operations of the XXII Corps between 8am on the 20th July and 10pm 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 (Highland) Division 115 officers and 2,950 other ranks;
62nd (2nd west Riding) 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.


Battles of the Western Front in France and Flanders