Thanks to Mr Paul Greenwood, who wrote and gave us this texte
After the traumas of March and April the Division was sent south to rest in a quiet area as part of the IXth Corps.
Since March 23rd 390 officers and 8,200 o.r. had become casualties, and time was needed to absorb and train replacements..
The move began on May 3rd and by next day HQ had been set up south of the Vesle.
Within a matter of a few days, the French Sixth Army Commander ordered the 8th Division to take over a section of the front line, as, he reasoned, the sector was so quiet that training could continue at the same time. The British disagreed. It seemed likely , because reserves had been sent north to meet the German Lys attack, that the next enemy assault might well be against the southern flank along the Chemin des Dames. However, there was no alternative but to obey orders.
On May 13th the Division relieved the French 71st round Berry au Bac in what seemed to be ideal conditions.. Only a week later the situation began to change: German ranging shots were searching out the British battery positions, but still there were no intelligence reports of a likely offensive.
By May 26th the front line units had noted a considerable increase in German activity, and battle stations were manned even before the expected telephone call warned of the expected attack on the 27th.
The 8th Division held the central sector of the IXth Corps front with the 21st on its right and the 50th on its left. The 25th Division was in Army Reserve. The defence consisted of an outpost line (ordered to fight to the last) and a battle line (to be held at all costs). The guns to support the infantry were also sited well forward - such a dangerous situation that the British Commanders protested. The protests were ignored.
At 1 a.m. on the 27th the German barrage opened. The whole of the IXth Corps area - outposts, battle line, railheads, battery positions, were drenched in HE and Gas. By 4 a.m. tanks were flattening the wire and storm troops were dealing with the outpost line. The battle line was overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers.
Attempts were made to blow the bridges in spite of orders that this was not to be done without orders from French Sixth Army HQ. The fact that the Germans were able to break through on the right meant that before long the centre was under attack from the rear. As dawn broke, German observation balloons were rising from the British front line trenches, the flanks of the 149th Brigade had been turned and the Germans were advancing on the Bois des Buttes.
The 2nd Devonshires, holding that position and attacked on three sides, gradually withdrew towards Pontavert. When they were still west of the town their Commander decided to make a stand and defend the crossing, but by that time the Germans were in Pontavert, and the Devonshires were cut off. They fought to the last, perishing en masse: 28 officers, 552 other ranks and their CO.
Their stand enabled a few survivors from other brigades to set up a defensive position on high ground below the river.
The artillery found themselves attacked by storm troopers infiltrating the line, and were forced into fighting retreat. One battery, the 45th (Gibraltar) held its ground until overwhelmed.
By now the Germans were across the river in strength and strongpoints intended to delay the advance were merely being bypassed.
In view of the speedy enemy advance the Divisional Commander was using his few remaining reserves by 10 a.m. to hold a second position further back. The fighting died down during the afternoon, but observation balloons, towed forwards by motor vehicles, showed that another assault was being made ready.
Between 4 and 5 p.m. the attack was renewed, the line was pierced and Bouffingnereux was captured. This forced a further withdrawal and by midnight Ventelay and Bouvancourt were lost. The next morning saw some sort of line established along the Vesle on either side of Jonchery using stragglers from the 8th, 50th and 25th Divisions, but again the position was outflanked and had to withdraw.
During the morning the French troops on the left were under severe pressure, and soon Fimes and the ground to the south was lost.
By 8 p.m. a counter attack regained some high ground, but so few troops were holding the line that the 8th Divisional Commander was told to take control of the whole sector, including the remnants of the 50th Division and French troops of the 154th Reg. Troops from the 19th Division were by now on their way from Chalons.
By 11 a.m. on the 29th the enemy attack was renewed in strength, and the Allied troops were forced to pull back to high ground between Faverolles and Courcelles.
Fortunately 19th Divisional troops began to arrive round Tramery, and the new line had the advantage of being over the hillcrest, so when the Germans reached the skyline they were given a very warm reception from what was by now a motley, bedraggled, weary group of men from three British and one French Colonial Division.
The Germans countered this by sending up observation balloons and at 3 p.m. a devastating barrage fell upon the Allies, caught in the open and without cover. By 5 45 they were driven back to another ridge north of Bouleuse. The position was far from ideal, but the arrival of more stragglers and some machine gunners ensured it was held through the night.
By next day (30th) the Commander of the 19th Division took over responsibility for the situation, and the remaining 8th Divisional troops became attached to his force.
30/31st May the 21st Division was to be relieved. This left so few British troops left in that particular sector that they were placed under French control.
During May 30th the Germans advanced to Romigny but on the 31st the Allied line started to stabilise, the British holding the sector Aubilly - Chambrecy - Boujacourt (including the Montagne de Bligny) The Germans made several attempts to take the Montagne, and were still trying as late as June 6th. After that date there were no more serious attacks.
The Aisne battle was at an end.
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