Thanks to Mr Paul Greenwood, who wrote and gave us this texte
In the four weeks up to April 15th the Division had suffered almost 7500 casualties, and replacements had to be drafted from reserves of inexperienced men.
By July 11th the Division was moving towards Monchy, as part of Haig's response to Foch's request that four British divisions be placed across and below the Somme, replacing four French divisions to be moved east to meet Ludendorff's threatened attack round Reims. On July 13th Foch further requested that these four divisions should be placed completely under his control. In spite of his doubts (Rupprecht was poised to make his "Hagen" attack against the British) Haig one more agreed, and the15th, 34th, 51st and 62nd Divisions were formed into XXIInd Corps under the command of Lt. General Sir A. Godley, and were ordered to move south to the French front.
The 51st moved by train with Chalons sur Marne as its objective. From 5pm on July 14th to 3am on July 16th, 34 trains left at hourly intervals to make the estimated 30 hour journey. Even before the first train reached its destination, the Germans struck. They did not have overall success, but as enemy forces were making their way down the Ardre valley towards Epernay, the 51st was diverted to Nogent sur Seine, starting to de-train on the evening of the 15th July. As each train arrived, its occupants were moved by lorry to the Marne's south bank round Epernay during the night of the 16th/17th. By the night of the 17th, the 3 Infantry battalions (152nd, 153rd and 154th) were in camp, the Royal Engineers and Field Ambulance sections were marching from their de-training areas while the Artillery were still unloading their guns from the train. On the 18th (the day of Mangin's counter attack) the artillery had still to arrive, but all other units were assembled.
That night the original plan of using the 51st Division on the Marne's south bank was altered: instead the Division was now to go the the Forêt de la Montagne deReims to meet the threat of the German advance there. The troops crossed the river at Epernay, climbed the steep slopes round Hautevillers and setting up Brigade headquarters round Champillon and Romery.
All this took place in hilly contry in intense heat that caused violent thunderstorms to break out. After 9 weeks of continuous trench warfare, it was a trying move. The artillery in particular had a difficult task, having to move storm-felled trees to make their way to the battle area.
During the 19th July heavy fighting continued in the Forêt de Reims; the French managed to hold most of the area, though German patrols reached Nanteuil. The Division advanced through the French 14th and 120th Divisions, taking up positions in the Bois de Courton and the Ardre valley. Its orders were to advance, together with the 62nd Division the next morning, and drive back the Germans.
The British sector was divided by the Ardre (little more than a small stream at the point where the move forward began). The most formidable feature on the west bank (the 51st's sector) was the Bois de Courton, stretching about 3km in the direction of the attack, with a tangle of trees and undergrowth through which "rides" ran both longitudinally and latitudinally. The floor of the valley was open to enfilade fire from hamlets on the slopes, and the land gave ample cover from corn, farm buildings and sunken roads for a spirited German defence. The fighting that day raised hopes that the Germans would be driven back, and in turn demanded an advance deep into enemy held territory. The final objective was a line about 9km. from the start point. The first objective was the old French front line varying from 4 to 6km from the start line. In the 51st's sector this ran from north to south along the western edge of the Bois des Eclisses.
The 51st were to attack on a two Brigade, 2km front from the Ardre to a point in the Bois de Courton a kilometre south east of Paradis. The 62nd Division was to advance along the other bank of the Ardre, while the 7th French Division worked its way forward on the 51st's left. Artillery support consisted of the 51st's own guns, two groups of French 155mm, and seven groups of 75s. Opposite were three German divisions - the 103rd Hessian, the 123nd Saxons on the German right and the 22nd Sachsen Meinigen on the 103rd's left. The Saxons had been badly mauled in the previous day's fighting and were gradually being relieved astride the Ardre by units of the German 50th Division.
After a difficult move through the 14th and 120th French divisions, the 51st were in position by 4am. The barrage opened at 8am and the advance stared. The enemy outposts were taken without too much trouble, but in front was a large, partly wooden hill. As the Scots came down the slope on the other side they were exposed to view from German positions in Marfaux and came under fierce fire that checked the advance. The right hand company managed to reach Bullin Farm, but the center, having mistaken Marfaux for Chaumuzy (the true objective) edged right and became mixed with the right section. On the left, the troops reached the sunken road running from Espilly to Bullin Farm, but because of difficulties in dealing with machine gun nests, had fallen behind the rolling barrage. That meant the advance could not continue until Marfaux, Espilly and the Bois de l'Aulnay had been taken in an infantry attack.
By this time there was complete confusion. The Seaforths tried to come to grips with the enemy but the volume of fire was so great the attempt had to be given up. Two companies to the Gordon Highlanders were sent up in support, while two more advanced along a track leading to Espilly. Those two filled the gap between the two brigades and became heavily involved in the fighting as they approchaed the heavily defended Bullin Road that ran north to south across the position about 600meters east of Espilly. The Gordons drove the Germans from the road in a charge, and Lt. Colonel Bickmore, seeing the company's officers were all casualties, took charge and led another attack on the enemy who had pulled back into the woods above the road. Met with a hail of fire and rifle grenades, the men had to pull back to the sunken road they had captured, Bickmore himself being mortally wounded.
In spite of more attempts during that day's continuous fighting no real advance could be made against the ferocious enemy fire, although a small party managed to reach the outskirts of Marfaux. The troops occupying the sunken road were under such heavy fire they had to withdraw behind the cover of the hill, only moving forward again late in the day.
On the left of the Divisional front the 153rd Brigade captured the enemy outposts and entered the wood, only to find their own barrage falling on the jumping off line. This meant the supporting troops at once moved forward to escape. The advance through the wood was difficult to say the least, tangled undergrowth and hidden Geman positions delaying a uniform move forward. On the extreme left the Scots, together with some Senegalese troops, reached the southern edge of the Bois des Eclisses, but pulled back because of heavy fire and lack of support.
Again, on the other flank, the barrage outpaced the infantry, making it impossible for Espilly to be captured by infantry alone, though a small unit reached the La Neuville-Les Haies road.
Any success that day must include mention of individual acts of braery. Lt. Colonel Miller and Second Leutenant Cable were among those who rallied the men and enabled advances to be made. As by now the 153rd's battalions were seriously mixed up, Brigade ordered the line to be consolidated and contact with the flanking troops to be set up.
In the early evening the Germans mounted a fierce counter attack that forced the Scots back to the La Neuville-Les Haies road, altough the Seaforth Highlanders themselves monted a conter attack that drove the Germans on their sector back in disorder.
In spite of the Germans being expected to withdraw, where that withdrawal took place, it took place step by step. This was due to the fact that the enemy had been forced to pull back across the Marne, and the flanks from Reims to the Marne had to cover the withdrawal. Indeed, further German Counter thrusts that night forced the Scottish line almost a kilometre south of the Neuville-Les Haies road.
The attack was to be resumed, the final objective being the northern slopes of the Bois des Eclisses. On the other bank of the Ardre the 62nd Division was still trying to encircle Marfaux, while the 9th Division on the Scots's left was making another attempt to capture Paradis.
The artillery barrage fell south of the Neuville-Les Haies road as planned, but the German outposts had moved forward as theScots withdrew and their machine gun posts were very near to the jumping off line. As a result the barrage overshot the Germans' forward positions and the Scottish advance was immediately deluged in a hail of bullets. The right flank fought its way to 150m. from the edge of the Bois de Courton, but again, resistance was fierce, the Germans trying to infiltrate weak points in the line to such a degree that the flank had to withdraw to a point only 150m. from the original jumping off line. The left flank, too, had to pull back as another French attempt to capture Paradis again failed, leaving the Scottish flank vulnerable.
Heavy fighting went on all day, both sides bringing up reinforcements. The fact that Paradis was still in German hands obliged the line to curve round the eastern side of the village, about 200m away from it. The right flank, after dealing with a series of German machine gun nests, managed to set up a line facing north about 600 metres below Espilly.
Efforts went on throughout the day to advance further with little if any success.
No serious action took place until 4 in the afternoon, when again the Division tried to advance on Espilly. The morning had seen plans made for the left flank to establish a position on the South West edge of the Bois de Courton: from there covering fire could be given for yet another French attack on Paradis. The Germans had brought forward more weapons and despite every effort the plan could not be carried out. At 5pm the French attacked again, but were brought to a standstill after only a few steps. However, on the right bank of the river, the 62nd Division succeeded in clearing the Bois du Petit Champ of the enemy.
Again it was intended to advance the line from the Bois d'Aulnay to Espilly, overcoming the defences to the west of that village. A covering barrage was to be provided by French guns, as well as the Divisional artillery, starting by shelling a point 150 metres ahead of the assembly lines, then lifting and progressing 100m. every five minutes. Unfortunately a good percentage of the opening barrage fell short among the assembling troops, and from then on the progress of the attack varied with the distance the attackers were from the village. Opposite Espilly the Gordon Highlanders worked their way forward under heavy fire. The Pioneer battalion of Royal Scots for once used as infantry managed an advance of about 400m. into the Bois de Courton.
As the barrage moved forward the Germans defending the Bois d'Aulnay put up little resistance, and by 8.30am the Seaforth Highlanders reached the edge of the wood. A defensive flank was set up, as the Germans still controlled the opposite bank of the Ardre. The Scots held the sunken road running from the wood to Espily, but all attemps to move on Espilly were driven back by heavy fire. However, contact was made with the West Ridings, who had advanced their line on the far bank.
During the day the Artillery suffered badly from shelling - particularly from mustard gas causing casualties to men and horses.
Little action took place during the night, apart from the Argylls eliminating two machine gun nests and advancing a further 60m or so into the woods.
By now French and American advances further west were making the German salient dangerously narrow. It had been planned to attack the Bois de Courton that day and to capture the line of the Haies-Neuville road, but the plan was delayed until Espilly was captured. By now the casualties were such that the 5th Seaforths reorganised into two companies, and the 6th Seaforths had only enough men left to form one. Each battalion exchanged 100 of its most exhausted men for reinforcements that had arrived during the night. During the night the 153rd Battalion was relieved by the 35th Regiment of the French 14th Division, and pulled back into the woods near St. Imoges.
The Germans had been given ammunition and guns sufficient for the original offensive, and now in these altered circumstances were able to use them not only for the defence of the front, but also to saturate the Allied rear areas, disrupting the arrival of supplies and reinforcements. The fire, both from artillery and from machine guns, was so fierce it was compared by veterans of the Division to the volume of fire they had experienced at High Wood on the Somme. New recruit reinforcements found the shelling difficult to bear. The 153rd brigade, for instance; had lost 30% of its members up to the relief on the 24th, yet after 24 hours' rest was able to fight on without further rest for four more days, during which 500 more men and officers were lost.
No attacks were made during the two days, though pressure continued against the enemy by means of patrol activity. The 26th was the last day the Germans stood their ground in Espilly and in the Bois de Courton. On the north bank of the Marne, their salient was now restricted to an area between Belval sous Chatillon and the Forêt de Ris, and it was evident they would soon have to disengage. A further attack had been planned for the 26th, but by now the men were so exhausted 24hours' rest and recuperation was essential. Even so, there was little rest because of heavy rain all night long.
It was planned to attack on a three Brigade front: the 152nd on the right, the 187th Brigade from the 62nd Division in the centre, and the 153rd on the left. This was an unusual arrangement, but by now; co-ordination between the Divisions was so good that there were no difficulties. There were two objectives: the Moulin de Voipreux-Neuville, and the second a line, including the village of Nappes, 500 metres beyond it. Z hour was 6am. The artillery and both Divisions was joined by French guns and the Divisional machine gun sections. There was only light returning fire, and moderate to heavy shelling of the river banks and of the Bois d'Aulnay, but apart from long-range machine gun fire, there was no infantry engagements. The entire sector, including the stronghold of Espilly, had been given up.
The final objective was reached by 10am, the troops just in time to see the last of the Germans leaving Chaumuzy. It soon became clear that this was only part of a general retreat, and patrols were sent forward to keep up pressure on the enemy rearguard. By early afternoon the entire Division (well covered by strong infantry patrols and cavalry) was on the move. The advance was practically unopposed. Chaumuzy was occupied at 2pm, and the artillery was shelling the Germans who were on the Bligny-Chambrecy road.
By late afternoon the Germans line ran from the Montagne de Bligny down to south of Chambrecy. Orders were given that once the woods were clear, the Division would occupy the old French trench line, facing west. By midnight the woods were reported cleared, and the Division advanced in a downpour, suffering some casualties from enemy shelling.
By 11am the 62nd Division had gained a footing on the Montagne, and the Scots were in touch with them and with the French right wing. Reports came that the French had taken Chambrecy. These proved to be false, so the proposed advance to the village could not be carried out. The French were to attack Ville-en-Tardenois at 3pm. The Scottish artillery was ordred to give support, and had to advance at the gallop to the high ground north of Chambrecy. The attack failed, but the Scots managed to advance to within 200 metres of Chambrecy, and even beyond towards Michel Renault farm, but the flanks being without support, had to retire to a line 100metres south of the village. Chambrecy was now in noman's land, and every attempt to occupy the place brought down heavy shelling; patrols went out to prevent the Germans making an unobserved withdrawal.
The day passed without any significant gain of territory, though by the evening the Divisional front was extended to include the Montagne. Enemy bombardements by gas shells were an uncomfortable feature of the day.
The situation was still static, though patrols continued to probe the enemy defences as they had done for the last ten days. The Argylls on the exposed slopes of the Montagne had spent the night digging in, and at eight in the evening repulsed a German counter attack.
Preparations were made during the day for the Division's relief by the 14th French Division. The 62nd, too, were to be relieved that evening.
The Division continued to patrol until dusk. The French 14th Division took over the line at 10pm. During its period in the Ardre valley, the Didvision had lost 38 officers and 417 other ranks killed. The total casualties, including wounded and missing, were 173 officers and 3690 men - probably the largest number the Division suffered in any one period in the line. The eleven days in the Forêt de Reims had seen the Division (many of its members young recruits in action for the first time), as part of Foch's plan to prevent the Germans extricating themselves from an increasingly awkward situation, halt the German advance, engage six German divisions and drive them back seven kilometres.
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