Sacre bleu, there’s so much to cover today that I’ve had to divide it into trois seperate posts! This is for the French Army at Second Champagne and Third Artois. For the story of the BEF at the Battle of Loos, see this post. For the story of the BEF’s diversionary attacks at Hooge Chateau and Aubers Ridge, see this post. Now, en avant!
The line by the end of today will look like nothing so much as a giant sine wave. Both the army of General de Langle and the army of General Petain will enjoy incredible successes, which in terms of ground far outstrip the British advance past Loos. One thrust in Petain’s sector shoots out from Perthes, destroying the German wire, suppressing the German infantry, and getting far enough forward to mostly avoid the retaliatory artillery fire.
Another thrust from de Langle does much the same thing from Souain, getting halfway to Somme-Py and its bridges over the River Py. This one is spearheaded by a colonial corps, Africans getting a chance to demonstrate once more that when properly supported, they’re just as capable as anyone else in the French Army.
Here’s that line at the end of the day. Both the successes have won an advance of about two and a half miles.
Why does the line look like this when there have been such successes? A later account from a French trench newspaper provides the answer.
We caught up to our friends, but to our horror, we met a barbed wire barrier, still intact and more than thirty metres deep. All this time the enemy machine guns carried on, while to right and left we could see our comrades falling.
Then the third and fourth waves arrived. A handful of men had slipped under the wire and reached [the German trench]. They jumped in, but we never saw them again. There just weren’t enough of them. We couldn’t get across the wire.
Up went the shout. “Tools!” We scrabbled like fury and had soon dug ourselves in right up against the Boche wire. Shots whistled overhead and we clung onto the ground we’d gained. If the wire had been cut…if we hadn’t lost our commanding officer, our captain, my lieutenant, and so many pals…
It’s all very well punching salients in the German line, but ahead of them lies a German reserve line, this one heavily occupied. Of course, they will now try to reinforce success, but the undamaged strong-points will allow the Germans to pour enfilade fire onto men advancing without the benefit of communications trenches to shield them. Fully exploiting their success will be easier said than done…
Any hope of success at Third Artois disappears about 30 minutes after zero hour, when the rain returns with a vengeance. Once again, trenches and shell-holes turn into rivers and pools. There’s a short advance in front of Neuville, and a slightly larger one towards Souchez, but nothing more than the odd hundred yards or so.
There was no “sun of Austerlitz,” but rather heavy showers which fell intermittently, without our having the slightest shelter under which to keep ourselves out of it. There were fine shelters in the village, but only the officers found refuge there.
Right behind us, on the other side of the river, on a railroad track, an armored train with naval guns began firing right at daybreak, with a clockwork regularity as if at a target-shoot. At each detonation it seemed like our guts and our brains were going to burst.
During all this, bits of encouraging news were circulated, to inspire our warrior spirit and our patriotic zeal.
In Champagne they were making marmalade of the Boches. On our left, the English had taken Loos in a single grab. In front of us, the first enemy line was captured in one bound; now they were going to attack the second line. Watch out, our turn was coming soon!
They spend most of the afternoon and evening slogging forward through the rain and mud.
They made us stop in an old, abandoned trench, where the whole regiment dug in. This was an historic trench: We were in what had been the German front line at the time of our May offensive, when the nearby villages of Neuville-Saint-Vaast and Ablain-Saint-Nazaire were retaken. Would we be in this trench for a day, a night, an hour? No one knew.
General Niessel, right then, gave an order which was terrible for the rear-echelon shirkers. Orderlies, cooks, rationers, etc., received the order to rejoin their units. That’s how the 13th Squad was reinforced with the Peyriacois François Maizonnave, who carried out the precious duties of assistant cook and rationer at the officers’ mess. Niessel wanted everyone to get a share of the glory, but if you saw the terrified and discomfited faces of these slackers, you would see that they’d have a thousand times preferred to stay with their pots and pans.
It could, in fact, be worse; he’s dodged being sent to attack the Labyrinth, which surely would have been a death sentence. I’d do before-and-after maps for Third Artois, but really there’s so little difference it’s hardly worth it.
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