Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (7/15/2018 3:59:13 AM)
15 July 1918
What would be Ludendorff’s final offensive kicked off, but with French artillery getting in the first blows:
At last! A mad artillery fire started. I looked at my watch: 1 o'clock in the morning! Had our artillery made a mistake? It wasn't supposed to begin till 1.10 in the morning!
Out of the holes in which we sat - and back into them fast! Before and behind us the missiles struck. The enemy had begun! Ten minutes later we began, not like one blow, as we had been ordered, but starting out here and there; our fire swelled to a mighty strength for ten minutes, so that we had the hope: now everything will turn out all right!
Then it grew weaker again and weaker. Frequently the enemy fire was much stronger than ours.
Soon telephone lines forward and backward were destroyed. If only the program is carried out right! At 3.50 in the morning no report. From the rear you are pressed: "Report how things are! Has the infantry crossed the river?"
[ . . . ]
The first battalion, which was to attack to the right, has been caught terribly in the narrow path that leads down to the river, by enemy fire. Only parts have reached the river. The pioneers have given up. The pontoons have been left 100 metres before the Marne; it is impossible to cross here, as strong enemy infantry is defending the other shore stubbornly with numerous machine guns.
To the left things look a little better. The fusilier battalion has reached the river with two companies and is crossing. Strong parts of the IInd battalion, which were to follow as reserves and which have been led forward very skillfully by Cavalry Captain von Plehwe, the victor of May 30th, have already arrived at the other shore of the river and are holding the railroad embankment which lies about 600 m to the south of the river.
[ . . . ]
The clearing over there is caught every five minutes by a light battery and in a short time is a black crater. And the small path to the right is spread over with shrapnel, which glow fiery in their courses, like comets. Our men run aimlessly hither and thither; no cover!
And again roaring, dull reports: gas grenades! Put on the gas masks! One could not see anything before -- now still less! Many are seized with a dull despair. They feel helpless: if it would only be day! The wounded scream.
At last a hoarsely gasped command from the leader of the company, even now seriously conscious of his duty: "Begin! Has every man a gun?"
Now forward on the narrow paths which are struck so fiercely, which, nevertheless, are the only ways that lead down to the river. The pioneers stand somewhat lower down. Their leader does not know what to do. He has only a few men. The infantry take hold themselves and carry the pontoons the several hundred metres to the river.
[ . . . ]
Down by the river, the pioneers of the fusilier regiment have worked better. Two pontoons are ready, six should be there. Overladen the first man crosses. A machine gun shoots from over there, but too high. All duck, throw themselves down.
[ . . . ]
Our men feel their way. It is still quite dark. One of them steps on something soft, which suddenly gives way, and now the hand-to-hand fight has come.
The enemy is entrenched here and has till now taken cover against our artillery fire. One moment - and then we have the upper hand. That is always the way with all "bitter hand-to-hand fights" - that fear of the cold steel seizes the one or the other and he runs away.
The crossing is comparatively quick. We look at the time. "For heaven's sake, the firing body is already marching!" - "Form positions!"
The companies are assigned new aims, as everything has turned out differently than as it was planned.
The railroad tracks are crossed, the railroad station Varennes taken after a short fight, we go on past the road Moulins-Varennes - already 1,000 m south of the Marne! - and up the southern slopes of the valley.
Suddenly from the right there are sounds of sharp firing and screams. In the morning mist, in the high grain field, one can see storm columns advance, dressed in brown - Americans!
Now and then they stand still and shoot. Our men come running back. The situation is extremely critical. Where are our neighbours, the 6th grenadiers? The attack must have been given up.
[ . . . ]
All able to shoot, aim against the enemy on the right flank.
One must admit he is courageous unto death. Not till the machine-gun fire and the desperate shooting of our infantry had reaped a bloody harvest in his lines, did he halt and run back. But we take breaths of relief. Yet it is clear to each one of us: our own attack has failed! We must see to it that we can hold the position we have won with our weak forces, numerically much smaller than the enemy's.
[ . . . ]
On the afternoon of July 15th it was possible to improve the line somewhat, as the enemy on the Marne, probably from fear of a double flanking movement, drew back its position somewhat; but this did not change anything in the final result of the day. It was the severest defeat of the war!
One only had to descend the northern slopes of the Marne: never have I seen so many dead, nor such frightful sights in battle. The Americans on the other shore had completely shot to pieces in a close combat two of our companies.
They had lain in the grain, in semicircular formation, had let us approach, and then from 30 to 50 feet had shot almost all of us down. This foe had nerves, one must allow him this boast; but he also showed a bestial brutality.
"The Americans kill everything!" That was the cry of horror of July 15th, which long took hold of our men.
--Report of the Grenadier Regiment No. 5, 36th Infantry Division
To the southwest of Reims, the Germans had managed to cross the Marne River. Roughly 50,000 Germans established a pocket about 6 km (4 mi) deep. It was not as wide as Ludendorff would have liked. Especially, the American 3rd Division was still holding its position. For all that, it was an extraordinary achievement, for the Allied defenders fought ferociously and exacted a heavy toll.
To the east of Reims, however, the French defenders under General Henri Gouraud (below) had entirely halted the German assault. Gouraud’s artillery had opened up even earlier, so much so that for a short time his staff was afraid that they had needlessly revealed their cannons' positions. The German attack was launched, but took such a pounding crossing the "Battle Zone" that they could not breach the rear trenches. Again, the Allies had foiled an attempted pincer move of the Central Powers.