Text Box: http://penhey.name/omiwxb262Div14(p).htmText Box: © 2006 R.J.PENHEYRounded Rectangle: The British 62nd Division

Rounded Rectangle: In the Great War


RJP: 62 Div: 2nd Marne     Latest edit 16 Mar 2012                                                                                                 

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14.     Second Battle of the Marne

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14.1 Background

After the MICHAEL and GEORGETTE (Battle of the Lys) offensives, that had been directed against the BEF, the third, codenamed BLUCHER, fell on the French VI Army – which at that time included the British IX Corps (21, 50, 8 and 25 Divs, later reinforced by 19 Div) – on the Chemin des Dames front. The battle lasted from 27.5.18 to 4.6.18 and created a salient on a base of 80 km from Noyon to Reims, and extending south to Château-Thierry on the River Marne, a depth of 50 km. The salient was enlarged somewhat during the course of the two subsequent (and less successful) German operations viz the GNEISENAU offensive between 9 and 13.6.18 and the FRIEDENSTURM offensive between 15 and 17.7.18. The latter was the last of the German offensives. It entailed attacks each side of Reims in an attempt to isolate the city. The right arm of the pincer movement included a drive up the valley of the River Ardre, which rises in the Reims Forest to the south of the city and flows for 30 km in a north-west direction to join the River Vesle at Fismes. This drive was opposed by the Italian II Corps1, which was incorporated in the French V Army. The drive was halted on 17.7.18 and the exhausted Italian Corps was relieved by 51 and 62 Divs, which were part of the British XXII Corps seconded by the BEF at the request of Gen Foch, then C in C of the Allied Armies in France. The subsequent allied offensive, known in the British nomenclature as Second Marne and designed to eliminate the BLUCHER salient, began on 18.7.18 with attacks on its western and southern flanks, followed two days later by others  on its eastern flank. The attack and advance of 7 km down the Ardre valley by 51 and 62 Divs was part of the French offensive of 20.7.18 and is known in the British nomenclature as the Battle of Tardenois.

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14.2     The Move to the Marne (See Map 3)

After 62 Div had been in GHQ Reserve for three weeks, orders were received transferring it  from IV Corps to XXII Corps, which would then consist of 15, 34, 51 and 62 Divs. The Corps was to travel south to the French sector, where 15 Div would join the French XX Corps and 34 Div the French XXX Corps, both in the French X Army located on the western flank of the BLUCHER salient, while 51 and 62 Divs were to constitute a depleted British XXII Corps and join the French V Army on the eastern flank of the salient. On 14.7.18 62 Div began entraining at Doullens and Mondicourt (See Map 1); on 16.7.18 they reached Mailly-le-Camp and detrained at Mailly, Arcis and Sommesous. When detrained, the division moved by bus to billeting areas at Juvigny, Recy and Aulnay, in the French IV Army area and close to the River Marne. On arrival there they received orders to go to the French V Army the next day. Accordingly, on 17.7.18 they moved on, some by bus, others by marching, to Tours-sur-Marne, Plivot, Athis, Cherville, Bisseuil and Mareuil. By 19.7.18 they were in their concentration areas for the forthcoming operations, viz Saint-Imoges, Germaine and Ferme-d’Éceuil near Chamery. XXII Corps’ headquarters was at Vertus.

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14.3 XXII Corps Operations in the Ardre Valley (Battle of Tardenois - See Map 4)

The plan was for XXII Corps to attack down the Ardre valley at 8 am on 20.7.18 with 51 Div on the left side of the river and 62 Div on the right. 62 Div’s start line was Pourcy to Bois de Pourcy. French and Italian2 artillery were to support them. Above the start line the valley was heavily wooded and difficult to penetrate, while below, it was 2 to 3 km wide with corn-fields near the river and enclosed by steep, heavily-wooded hills each side. The attack began on time, and after a hard day’s fighting Courmas had been captured, and the XXII Corps front passed just east of Espilly, Marfaux and Cuitron, thence through the woods, west of Courmas and on to the cross-roads between Bouilly and Onrézy. Next day, 21.7.18, attempts were made to clear the woods on the right of the 62 Div sector of enemy machine guns so that Marfaux and Cuitron could be assaulted, but they failed with heavy casualties. That evening the XXII Corps cyclist battalion, from the New Zealand Cyclist Corps, was placed under 62 Div orders. On 22.7.18 further action was taken to clear the woods and this time was partially successful. Fighting patrols were sent against Marfaux but could not enter it. On 23.7.18 the woods were finally cleared of the enemy with assistance from the French on the right, whereupon Marfaux and Cuitron were captured. During the night of 23 to 24.7.18, 62 Div HQ moved up to Hautvillers. The 24.7.18 was a relatively quiet day, though Marfaux and Cuitron were heavily shelled by the Germans. During the day the 62 Div front was shortened by the French on the right taking over the responsibility for the wooded upper slopes of the valley. During the night of 24 to 25.7.18 there was a very heavy German air attack on Épernay and the area as far as Châlons-en-Champagne, during which the French ammunition and petrol dumps were hit and destroyed. One account says that 62 Div’s ammunition column was attacked on the Reims to Épernay road during this raid and suffered damage. On 25.7.18 a XXII Corps conference was held at which an attack was decided on for 27.7.18. On 26.7.18 Marfaux, Cuitron and Pourcy were heavily shelled by the enemy but the front was otherwise quiet. During the day a divisional commanders’ conference was held to plan the attacks on the 27th. The main attack was to be made by 51 Div, aided by one brigade of 62 Div, transferred to the left bank of the river for that purpose, while the left flanking brigade of 62 Div was to advance and keep in touch with the right flank of 51 Div. The French would attack La Neuville and Paradis in their sector on the left of 51 Div. During the night of 26 to 27.7.18, on orders from OHL, the German front was withdrawn to the line Vrigny to Ville-en-Tardenois. In the Ardre valley this meant falling back to and holding Bligny and Montagne de Bligny. On 27.7.18 the planned attack took place, but, because of the overnight German withdrawal, met little opposition. In the morning Espilly and Nappes were taken, as was Chaumuzy in the afternoon. Bligny and Montagne de Bligny were reached but were strongly held by the enemy rearguards. The same day 62 Div HQ moved to Nanteuil, from which practically the whole of the battlefield could be seen. On 28.7.18 Bligny and Montagne de Bligny were captured by 62 Div despite renewed German resistance. (Later 8 WYR was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for the latter operation). During the night of 28 to 29.7.18 contacts were made with the French on the right of 62Div and there was some patrolling beyond Bligny and around Montagne de Bligny. The next day, 29.7.18, there was some further fighting near Montagne de Bligny and 62 Div received notification that XXII Corps was to be pulled out for entrainment to another area. On 30.7.18 62 Div was relieved by the French and retired from the line, and on 31.7.18 one brigade from each of 51 and 62 Divs made a farewell march-past before Gen Berthelot, commander of the French V Army.

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Footnote

1.^  Details of the Italian units engaged in the Battle may be found in Basola’s account (in Italian). The artillery was armed with French 75mm guns.

2.^  Italian fourth Field Artillery Regiment (Basola).

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Other Links

This satellite photograph (with thanks to Google) shows part of the Ardre Valley with Marfaux at the centre.

This satellite photograph (with thanks to Google) shows the Montagne de Bligny near the D386 road, at the top left of centre. Bligny is to the top right and the Italian cemetery to the middle left. The Montagne rises to 198 metres from 110m, where the D980 crosses the river.

This website gives details of the operations on the Ardre in the summer of 1918 including details of units on the Entente side. It is in French.

This map shows the salient and the advances made as part of the larger operation, by some American units, to the west of the Ardre.

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