Merci à Malcolm G Fergusson qui nous a transmis cette carte postal.
Thanks to Mr Paul Greenwood, who wrote and gave us this texte
The Divisional Diary for May 12th, 1918, reported morale high, sick rate low, and the casualty rate light ....
However, before long, Influenza, combined with shortage of reinforcements to replace illness and battle casualties forced a change in the organisation of the Division's brigades. Eight divisions of the British army had already been broken up, the men used to train new recruits, or to reinforce other divisions under strength (of which the 15th Division was one).
By June 9th the changes announced in May had taken place. 4/5th battalion, Black Watch, transferred from 51st Division on May 16th absorbing the 9th battalion, and was transferred from 46th to 44th brig. Similarly the 1/6th Gordons from 61st Division absorbed 8/10th battalion.
7th Camerons absorbed by 6th Battalion, 45th brig.
Similar changes took place in 45th and 46th Brigades as well as 44th.
The Division, however did remain entirely Scottish, the Black Watch, Gordon Highlanders, the Camerons, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Seaforths and the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) all being represented.
Selected training staffs were then sent to help train arriving American troops alongside 39th division.
Next Pyrexia infection had affected around 1700 men of division by the end of June. Fortunately, effects were not long-lasting.
Trench duty in Fampoux area continued from May into July.
July 11th the division relieved by Canadian troops withdrew to rest north of Arras. Three days later, orders came to move to an "unknown destination".
July 15th/16th, Division entrained in pouring rain.
* * * * * * *
During the 15th's relatively quiet spell east of Arras, Ludendorff launched a heavy attack on May 27th against the French Sixth army and British IX. Corps N.W. of Reims. Another attack started on June 9th on the Matz, and by opening of July, continuous fighting, involving British, French, Italian and American troops was going on in the Aisne/Marne area.
Foch, thinking German attacks might spread further east, relocated French forces and asked Haig to move 4 divisions south to replace the French troops he had moved eastwards. In this way the British XXIInd Corps was formed under the command of General Godley, and ordered to move south.
On July 13th Foch asked that the XXIInd Corps be placed under his control and a further four divisions sent to take its place. Haig agreed, but a change of plan meant that 15th Division now arrived on 18th at Clermont, Liancourt, Laigneville and Pont St. Maxence, at first coming under the control of the French Third Army. The troops caused considerable interest among the civilian population, as it was the first time they had seen Scottish troops.
18th July saw the beginning of Mangin's counter-attack. General Reed received orders late that night to move at dawn the following day to join Mangin's 10th army, XX Corps (Gen Berdoulat) engaged alongside American troops south of Soissons.
The men endured a hot, dusty, 12hours' long journey by omnibus to Montigny, Haute Fontaine and Breuil area. Each town and hamlet was packed with jubilian French and American troops as news of the attack's success spread.
By the evening of the 20th, the move was completed and orders came that night to join XX Corps at Montgobert the next day. This was later changed to a move to St. Pierre Aigle Le Jardin, and this commenced on July 21st, 9pm. It was a difficult move. The moon was full; the weather fine, and dust rising from the march attracted German Bomber planes round Coeuvres, and caused casualties. By 6am on 22nd the whole Division concentrated in villages round Coeuvres.
The Division was now in close support of the French and Americans who were attacking the heights between Tigny and Belleu. Losses had been heavy and fresh troops needed to exploit success.
The Divisional Commander, General Reed, received only short notice that the 15th would be needed. On July 22nd orders came at 9 20pm that the French Tenth Army would resume the attack on the 23rd, and the 15th Division, taking over from American 1st Division (Gen Summerall) was to attack enemy positions between Berzy-le-Sec and NW corner of Buzancy. Zero Hour was set for 5am. The Scots found that the Americans had not had time to bury their dead, so that became their first task, the identity discs being sent on to the American Commander.
There was no time to reconnoitre. An officer of the 1/8th Argylls taking over a over section of the French line south of Berzy village was pointed vaguely in various directions, told "Mitrailleuse là, et là. Boche là ... Moi, je vais...." and his opposite number went. The Scottish men saw even less of the troops they were to relieve, and found the German position by walking right on top of it. This resulted in the Divisional front being drenched by artillery and machine gun fire. Nevertheless the relief was completed on July 23rd two hours before zero.
In addition the enemy front lines were not where they were shown on the map and the barrage overshot the German machine gun nests, so as they advanced the Scots suffered heavy casulaties. There was no trench system .... neither for front nor support lines. It was "open warfare" and a completely new situation to the troops.
The front taken over from the Americans extended from the western outskirts of Buzancy to the west edge of Noyant. About two miles behind the front line was a cultivated plateau, open, with no cover apart from being crossed by sunken roads. It sloped gently down from the Villers-Cotterêts road on the north west to rolling country some five miles to the south east. Its forward, or north eastern slope was sharper and being split by two valleys, the slope was broken up into several steep spurs running out to the north east. Facing the ridge along the whole front was the similar plateau of Buzancy which at its northern end falls back sharply to the east and looks down on the valley in which lie Noyant and Septmonts, Buzancy itself lying in a small side glen.
The Divisional front was therefore divided into two sectors not marked by any natural boundary feature. On the right the line followed the crest of Buzancy ridge and looked out over the plateau while the reserves sheltered in the re-entrant below. The ground in the left sector sloped gently down from right to left (Buzancy to Noyant) and included the only striking feature - a railway cutting - which formed the northern boundary of the Divisional front. French troops were on both flanks, in touch with the Division's flank posts.
On the right the Divisional boundary between the 15th and the 87th (French) Division almost due east and west from Visigneux to about 200 yds north of Buzancy. On the left the boundary between the 15th and the 69th French Division followed the course of the Crise river from the northern outskirts of Berzy-le-Sec to the south of Septmont. As General Reed had been instructed to attack on a two brigade front, he fixed the brigade dividing line from Anconin Farm due east to the river Crise, south of Noyant.
The objectives were the village of Rozières and the high ground from there to Buzancy for the 46th brig on the right, and on the left for the 45th the caputure of Le Sucrerie S.W. of Noyant and the crossings of the river Crise east and north of it. In reserve was the 44th Brigade just east of Cravancon.
Brig. Gen Fortune used the 7/8th KOSB and 10th Scottish rifles on their left .... the 9th Royal Scots in reserve to attack the right hand sector. On the left the 45th brigade had the 6th Camerons in line and 8th Argylls with the 13th Royal Scots in reserve S of Ploisy.
For the first time in history American, French and British artillery acted jointly to provide the supporting barrage.
The assault started at 5am and was straight away held up by machine gun fire the barrage had not touched. The barrage itself was poor ... the 10th Scottish Rifles were not covered by it at all. Again much of the problem was that the French/American line was 600 yds short of where the map showed it to be, and much of the shelling landed behind the German front line.
The right hand sector advanced a little way but had to halt because of heavy losses and a lack of Artillery support. On the left the Camerons took Le Sucrerie, but finding their flank exposed had to extend their line north until they held the 45th brigade sector as far as the railway crossig over the Crise.
Further north the Argylls could only advance a 100 yds and even then they were under constant fire in an exposed position. Taking into account the circumstances under which they had taken over the sector, it is understandable that little was known of the relative positions of the front lines at the time. At the other end of the sector the remnants of the other two companies held the outskirts of Berzy and were in touch with the French troops there.
When Gen Reed heard the advance was making no progress, he asked from another artillery barrage. The French were not able to provide this, and so the attack was cancelled.
By 10 am it was found that the French divisions on both flanks were unable to advance and the Scottish flanks were "in the air" as a result. A company of the 10th Scottish rifles (who hadn't suffered the same losses as the other companies) was sent to form a right-hand defensive flank with the 7/8 KOSB - the flank being further reinforced later by trench mortar troops. The centre part of the line was held. The Sucrerie section (being further forward than the others) was withdrawn to the railway embankment late in the evening to straighten the divisional front.
About 6 in the evening a German counter-attack was driven off and the front line troops were able to reorganise and consolidate. During the night they were relieved by other battalions of the brigades.
Gains that day had been small. Yet, to take over the line from the French and Americans in such circumstances and still gain ground and inflict heavy casualties on the enemy was to say the least, commendable.
General Reed wrote to General Summerall of the American 1st, thanking him for assistance in evacuating casualties, and in particular for the support provided by the American artillery which had elected to stay and provide a support barrage.
No infantry action took place on the 24th or 25th, though the Divisional area was subjected to constant shelling.
On the night of the 25th/26th the 46th brigade was replaced in the front line by the 44th, and became Divisional reserve.
On July 26th the French XX Corps ordered the Division to extend its line southwards taking over part of the line held by the 91st regiment of the French 87th division immediately west of Buzancy. This time the move was made without difficulties, and Gen Reed wrote thanking Gen Dehers for his division's assistance. When completed, the relief meant that the Divisional boundary on the south ran east to west just below La Foulerie to Just north of Bois l'Evêque, and the inter-brigade boundary from Aconin Farm to Ecuiry. The 44th Brigade on the right was situated behind a wood opposite Buzancy.
The 27th was quiet, until 7pm, when General Reed passed on orders from XX Corps to the 44th Brigade for an attack on Buzancy the following day. The 87th French Division had captured Villemontoire that morning and Buzancy and the high ground east had to be taken before a further advance was possible. Five companies of the 91st French regiment were to co-operate on the right, two advancing from Villemontoire to occupy the ground south of Buzancy up to the road leading from the village to Bois l'Evêque. Another was to clear the wood S.W. of the village and a fourth, to the immediate right of the 44th Brigade, to capture the "Grenade Work" on the high ground south west of Buzancy and clear the wood between that position and the village. The fifth French company was to stay in Villemontoire as reserve. If these arrangements had been followed, the result that day might well have been different.
The 44th Brigade (Brigadier General Thomson) was to carry out the main attack. Thomson ordered two companies to attack Buzancy, first moving north of the Château, then clearing the village. From there, they were to move south east and link up with the French 91st regiment. Another company was to clear the Château and its grounds. Three more were to attack from the Buzancy/Bois l'Evêque road. Additional troops were provided from the 10th Scottish Rifles of the 46th Brigade, a section of Royal Engineers from the 91st Field Company, Trench Mortar troops from the 45th Trench Mortar battery and some French Flamethrower troops (who were determined to show the Germans how this weapon they had invented should be used). Artillery support was additionally provided by some guns from the 87h French division.
After consultation with the French Corps Commander, Gen Berdoulat, Zero hour was fixed for 12 30pm for reasons of surprise and better air observation. During the morning there were "stonks" (British slang for short artillery barrages) from time to time, making the Germans expect attacks - so that when none came they would be unlikely to expect an attack after the one preceding the main assault. In addition the hour chosen was the Germans' lunch-time and a heavy barrage was put down to coincide with this.
The attack was mounted at 12 30 after a heavy two minutes barrage. Initially things seemed to be going well. German prisoners began to arrive and the 45th Brigade sent a message that troops could be seen on the plateau SE of Buzancy. An hour later the 60th French division on the left reported large numbers of the enemy making their way through the village of Septmonts. The artillery took full advantage and pasted the area.
The first indication that things were not going to plan was a message dropped by a French observation plane and brought to General Reed's badly-lit dug-out. With difficulty, the message was seen to be written on the back of a photograph of a charming young lady together with an apology that the French aviator had lost his notebook, and would be obliged if the photograph could be returned: a second message from the same observer coming shortly after was also written on the back of a photograph .... of a second lady, even more charming than the first. Both photographs were returned the following day.
Various strong-points in the village were at last neutralised. The French flamethrowers dealing with one and the REs blowing up another. In spite of heavy machine gun fire and fierce fighting throughout the village, the position was taken by 1pm and Captain Murray of the Seaforths was consolidating the high ground east of the village, but then by mid-afternoon it was obvious that the French had been unable to achieve all their objectives ... indeed by three thirty they were back on their starting line and that the troops holding the village were in extreme danger.
By 3 45 the battle had swung back in the Germans' favour: any further attack by the French would have been too late, as the Scottish troops were forced to pull back both from the village and the Château to their original positions, being outflanked by the failure of French troops on the right to carry their objectives. In justice, the French troops had been fighting hard for a considerable time, the men strained almost to breaking point, and they had a difficult task to perform over difficult country.
To sum up: the Brigade made up of Highlanders took Buzancy and the plateau to the east. The 45th Brigade also achieved its objectives. Both brigades, although suffering heavy losses, inflicted heavy losses on the enemy who, in addition to killed and wounded, lost half a dozen officers and more than two hundred other ranks as prisoners to the Scots.
After such a day orders came in at 11pm for the Division to relieve sections of the 87th and 12th (Fr) Division .... half the relief to be carried out that night and the remainder by 3am on the 30th. Any relief carried out at a day's notice is bound to cause difficulties, but without notice at the end of the battle when the units were still intermixed, when two sections of two different divisions were to be relieved .... not to mention the attendant language difficulty, was asking a great deal.
Anyhow, that night the 7/8th KOSB and 9th Royal Scots relieved one battalion of the 72nd Regiment (87th Div) and one of the 67th Regiment and a company of the 54th Reg. (both from the French 12th Division). The following night the remainder of the relief took place, the 44th Brigade moving west of Lechelle and Chazelle into Divisional support. Both nights, because of being bombarded by gas-shells respirators had to be worn throughout.
The new line ran from the Bois de Tigny north to a point just south of Gailet Farm. The whole front was overlooked by the enemy. On the extreme right there was a ridge almost a kilometer long with three hillocks given the name "Les Trois Mamelons", and once the word "Mamelon" had been translated by more knowledgeable members of the 15th, the hills were soon given a name in British vernacular.
To the north of these hillock-strong-points, the Divisional line followed that of the main road passing east of Villemontoire facing the slope that rose to the south part of the Buzancy ridge ... open and providing non cover for any attack. On the German side two ravines to the east gave shelter for support troops and a hidden way of approaching their front line.
During the morning of the 29th July French XX Corps HQ gave orders that the 15th Division, along with the 12th French, would attack these positions the following day.
The plan was for the 15th Division to work round the north side of the Bois d'Hartennes while the French 12th division moved round its south. This scheme depended on an attack further south being successful. That was to take place on the 30th, and if it did succeed the Bois d'Hartennes itself would be attacked the following day, the 15th Div. being ready to move forward and take a series of wooded hills between Tigny and Villemontoire before reaching the main objective of the Soissons road. Eventually after discussion, it was decided that the operation should be in conjunction with the attack further south, and consequently was fixed for August 1st.
General Reed met with his brigade commanders on the 31st. His plan was for the 46th Brigade to take the two wooded hills west of Soissons then advance to Taux, forming a defensive flank along the German trenches that ran south east from that road. On the left the 45th Brigade was to keep in line with the 46th's advance, their objective being the Villemontoire-Soissons road as far as the German trench that crossed the road to the south. When the 46th had captured Taux the 44th in close support would move through and take the final objective ... the north end of the Bois d'Hartennes where they would link up with the French coming from the south.
The most difficult part of the operation for the 44th Brigade was moving to their assembly points, as the area was in full view of the enemy occupying the woods between Buzancy and the Bois d'Hartennes. Accordingly it was agreed they should move into position during the night and use the cornfields as cover. The signal that the French attack to the south had been successful would be dropped by aeroplane, and half an hour after a salvo of heavy guns announced the signal had been received, the troops would go into action.
The troops were all in position well before dawn on August 1st and French air activity made sure the German spotter planes had not observed the build-up.
The French attack to the south had been so successful that by 8 30 the signal was given and the troops of the division started to advance at 9am. They came under heavy atillery and machine gun fire from the start, the worst casualties being caused by German machine guns mounted in derelict tanks in front of the 46th Brigade. Artillery fire made no impression and the right sector of the attack ground to a halt. On the left sector the Camerons reached the main road about the same time that the Royal Scots reached their objective of a hedge bordering the same road furher to the north. Both sections consolidated.
Realising the right attack was held up, Gen. Reed ordered a further artillery and mortar bombardement on the tanks and the knolls north of Tigny. A second assault was to take place under its cover.
Initial reports indicated that the French assault on Tigny was going well, but at a quarter to three SOS flares went up from the village and French troops were seen to retreat driven back by fire from the same knolls that had held back the right of the British advance. Artillery fire was again brought to bear, but apparently without effect and the Germans, attacking in force, drove the French back and by about 5pm the Camerons had had to pull back to their morning's start line.
Private Owenson of the Scottish Rifles through the day repeatedly went out in a hail of fire to see to the wounds of his comrades, and was later decorated by both French and British for his bravery and dedication.
By now few of the battalions in the 44th or 46th brigades numbered more than 250 all ranks, and the French Corps Commander decided that the 15th division would be pulled from the attack, and told merely to keep in touch with the flanking divisions. Reinforcements were sent up to each battalion during the night from the last available reserve of troops.
Realising that the 15th's units were by now severely strained by eight days of almost continuous battle, General Reed was told by a liaison officer from the French Tenth Army that his Division would be relieved during the nights of August 1st and 2nd.
Although the day's fighting had brought no apparent success the effect on the enemy's morale was such that, in conjuction with the French succcess further south, their line opposite the 15th Division and to the north and south of it, was straitened during the nights of 1st/2nd August by a retreat. About 8 30am on the 2nd news reached the division that the 12th French Div. with cavalry in front, was pushing east and that the enemy was giving ground before them. Orders were at once given for strong patrols to push forward from the front line in an attempt to keep in touch with the enemy.
By 11 30 the Tenth French Army has issued orders for a general advance. The 44th Brigade was therefore given orders to advance through Taux and make contact with the French to the east. From that point the advance would continue north east with the River Crise as its first objective. By 3 30 reports came in that the 45th Brigade had reached the edge of the Bois de Concrois. Headquarters were at once moved to Vierzy and the 46th Brigade instructed to advance to Villemontoire.
As night fell the day's results exceeded all expectations. The dash forward so quickly became general with no time for delay. The Crise was crossed, touch with the French was regained and units "dug in" in open fields on high ground east of the road between the two villages. Rain fell in torrents during the evening, but neither that, nor intermittent shelling drenching the whole area with gas could take away the day's success.
Late that night orders for a further advance reached the Division, but in view of the situation it was decided that the relief ... originally planned to take place over two nights, should be completed in one. British guides were posted to meet the relieving regiments of the 17th (French) Division at the cross roads south of Villemontoire and bring them forward. Two companies of machine gunners stayed with the French until the afternoon of the 3rd then withdrew to join the rest of their battalion at Vierzy.
The relieving troops of the 17th (French) Division were from the Nancy area, and of high quality. Even after being hurried from Verdun and subjected to a long march, they arrived as spick and span as if on parade. Their commander, General Gassoins, himself immaculate, obviously expected the same standards from his men.
Motor transport which had been hoped for, did not arrive, so the 15th Division route-marched back to the area round Liancourt, south of Clermont. That same night the Division was ordered to entrain and return to the Arras front and the British First Army. The move, delayed sufficiently to allow artillery and transport to rejoin the Division, took place on the night of the 5th/6th and by morning on the 8th of August the Division was again under the orders of the XXIInd Corps in the Le Cauroy area.
The French were obviously satisfied with the Division's performance as members of Gen Berdoulat's XXth Corps ("corps de fer") and eleven Legions d'Honeur, 20 Medaille Militaire, sixty Croix de Guerre avec Palme and one hundered and twenty of that award (avec étoile) were awarded for work "on the field of battle".
From General Gassoins to General Reed:
Mon General ... After relieving your division in the pursuit on the Vesle, I established my Headquarters at Buzancy. I found there the traces still fresh of the exploits of your Scottish soldiers, and the officers of my staff were able to see clearly what hard fighting you had to gain possession of the village and, above all, the park.
Wishing to leave on the spot some lasting tribute to the braver of your soldiers, I entrusted to one of my officers, Lieutenant Réné Puaux, the task of erecting there, with the material at hand, a small monument, emblematic of the homage and admiration of my Division for yours.
The monument has on it a medallion, on which are inscribed thistles and roses, and beneath the words -
HERE THE NOBLE THISTLE OF SCOTLAND WILL FLOURISH
FOR EVER AMONG THE ROSES OF FRANCE
and beneath -
17TH (FRENCH) DIVISION
15TH (SCOTTISH) DIVISION
The monument was erected on the highest point of the plateau, where we found the body of the Scottish soldier who had advanced the farthest (on July 28th, 1918 - Buzancy).
The photograph of this monument has appeared in the last number of the journal "L'Illustration". I thought you would be glad to have a few copies of the photograph, which I send you herewith. They convey to you together with the memories I have kept of our short meeting at Vierzy, the expression of my esteem and my admiration for your valiant Division.
Will you please accept, my dear General, the expression of my sincere regards.
(Signed) C. Gassoins
Commanding 17th (French) Division.
The total casualties during the 15th Division's involvement in the Marne Battle were 3516.
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