Kindly translated by John Roberts
Drawn freely from ``American Armies and Battlefields in Europe'', Center of Military History United States Army. 1938. Center of Military History United States Army. 1938.
The Allied counter offensive of the 18th. July marked a turning point in the dramatic events which followed each other rapidly since March 1918. Uptil this counter attack the Allies were submitted to a series of powerful German attacks which could have lead to their victory. It was in the region to the south of Soissons, that the tides of history turned in favour of the Allies and this battle was the first of a series of offensives which made possible, thanks to the rapid arrival of American troops, and in less than four months, the German retreat and request for an armistice.
It is difficult to imagine the peaceful countryside around Soisson in July as a theatre of furious fighting. The fields were covered with cereals, ready to be harvested. The Germans had dug here, not only an elabourate system of trenches, but each hillock possessed it's group of individual holes with rifles or machine guns. The farm tracks, the slopes, the mounds of earth, hid the artillery batteries. The farm buildings and villages were principaly constructed of stone and offered excellent protection, well adapted to a desperate defense.
The spearhead of the attack was comprised of three divisions. On the left, to the north, and towards Soissons the 1st. U.S. Division which was one kilometer to the east of Cutry. This division had fought very well between the 27th. April and the 8th. July 1918, at Cantigny in the region of Montdidier, 90 kms to the North-West. In the center the 1st. Marocan Division, which included a regiment of the Foreign Legion, was at the western limit of Dommiers. To the south, perpendicular to and across the ``National 2'', at the level of the farm of Chavigny, was the 2nd. U.S. Division which had fought remarkably, several weeks before, in the woods of Belleau, 25kms further to the South.
The attack began at 4.35 hours on the 18th July. The assault was made without artillery preparation, in order to benefit from a surprise effect, but behind an advancing barrage of artillery fire, the attack rapidly submerged the foreward German positions.
Towards 7 a.m. the 1st. U.S. Division reached Missy-aux-Bois and the border of its sunken valley. At this time the defense became more determined and the village and it's valley were filled with enemy troops. The assault units launched themselves in the valley against several German gun batteries which fired at point blank range. These guns, the withdrawal of which had been impossible in view of the rapidity of the American advance, destroyed the majority of the tanks accompanying the brigade of the 1st. Division on this flank. Nevertheles, after very hard fighting, the Germans, in the gully, were either killed or made prisoner and the guns captured.
11/2 kms to the north at Mont D'Arly, which was in the zone of action of the leftmost French division, enemy fire blocked the advance of the U.S. 1st. Division. In conjunction with the French the position was taken, after hard fighting by the Americans, as also the farm ``Saint Amand'', equally in the French sector and won by the 1st. Division.
When the major part of the division had reached the other side of the valley, an important group of Germans, hidden in a grotto near Mont d'Arly, reformed in order to attack the Americans in the rear. This group was nevertheless pushed back to the grotto. Towards the end of the afternoon a German officer appeared at the entrance to the grotto with a white flag. 600 German officers and men surrendered.
During the advance in the Missy valley, the left flank of the division captured the farm of Cravançon, on the ``National 2''. The artillery set up a powerful barrage of fire against the road and Hill 166. When the artillery barrage advanced, at 7.53, the infantry continued the attack and encountered fierce and despairing resistance. The borders of Hill 166 were taken and held. The American troops, leaving the gulley of Missy and entering the village, were engaged by violent fire coming from the summit of the hill. Several Americans reached the road but were not sufficiently numerous to be able to hold it.
At 10 a.m. the 1st. U.S. Division had reached the most part of it's objectves, and spent the afternoon preparing the following attack. Fresh troops arrived, the artillery advanced, telephone lines were laid and provisions and munitions were distibuted. During this period, the enemy was more and more vigilant and each movement in the American lines led to a burst of machine gun fire.
The front line of the 1st. U.S. Division, for the night, was established from the valley on the west flank of Breuil, just to the east of Chaudun, across the main ``National'' road, and to the foot of Hill 166. After the loss of their initial positions and the major part of their artillery on the 18th. July, the Germans pushed their available reserves towards this zone. A considerable number of machine guns were put in firing position on the front line and new artillery guns were placed behind the hilltops 4 kms from the main ``National'' road. The troops received orders to hold ground at all costs. The machine guns were to be sacrified if necessary, but were not to retreat.
About 4 o'clock in the morning on the 19th. July, the 1st. Division, supported by tanks, attacked on all of it's front line, behind a rolling barrage of artillery fire. The troops which came out of the gulley of Missy, advanced in face of devastating machine gun fire and climbed the bare slopes of Hill 166 and captured it. The progression on the left was blocked by intensive firing; All the accompanying tanks were put out of action. To the right, despite strong opposition, the division advanced 800 meters.
At 17.30 hours, in conjunction with the French division on the left, the 1st. U.S. Division attacked from the road in the direction of Ploisy, 1500 meters away, across fields lashed by the fire of machine guns, and took the village. The right of the division advanced again 800 meters, despite determined resistance.
The next day, the attacks of the 1st. Division continued. In addition to the murderous fire of the machine guns and the artillery, enemy planes flying at low level machine gunned and bombed the troops. The Germans desperately attempted to stop the allied advance, but despite everything, the left wing of the division advanced again, this 20th. July, 800 meters, to attain the railway line, 1 km. from the road Soissons/Château-Thierry.
On the 21st. July the fighting continued fiercely. Berzy-le-Sec was taken and the 1st. U.S. Division reached the western border of Buzancy, on the other side of the Soissons - Château-Thierry road thus cutting the most important line of communications of the German salient. After this remarkable demonstration of the attacking possibilities of the division, it was relieved during the night of 22nd. to 23rd. July. The losses of the division, during the five days of exceptional fighting, mounted to 6 870 officers and men. Three-quarters of all the infantry officers serving in the front lines were killed or wounded, and a regiment was lead, the last day, by a captain with less than two years service.
The spearhead of the attack was comprised of three divisions. To the left, towards the North in the direction of Soissons, the 1st. U.S. Division which was 1 km. to the East of Cutry. In the center The 1st. Marocan Division, which comprised a regiment of the Foreign Legion, at the western limit of Dommiers. To the South, perpendicular to and across the main ``National 2'' road, on a level with the farm of Chavigny, the 2nd. U.S. Division, which had fought so remarkably well, several weeks earlier in the Belleau woods 25 kms further south.
Certain units of this same 2nd. U.S. Division had marched all the night of 18th. July, in order to be on the front line at 4.35 hours at the moment of the attack. The machine gun companies were unable to reach the lines of departure on time, also the tank support was was not complete as they too arrived late.
At about 5.45, the French tanks had caught up with the front line and encircled the farm of La Verte Feuille, and The Marine Brigade, charging from the woods, captured the farm after fierce fighting. The farm of Beaurepaire which had been converted into a veritable fortress by the Germans, was in the line of progression of the 2nd. U.S. Division and was taken early in the morning by the Infantry Brigade of the Division. At least a hundred prisoners were captured in or around the farm.
The German artillery batteries, hidden in the wheat fields of this zone, fired at point blank range on the advancing Americans and before the tanks could destroy them they themselves destroyed several tanks which accompanied the attack. To increase even more the confusion caused by the terrific artillery fire, the airplanes of both sides, flying at low level, machine gunned and bombed the troops of their enemy.
The Americans progressed in the wheat by crawling and were often not spotted by the Germans, whom they surprised. The tanks forced the Germans out of their hiding places and lead them to being discovered. 1500 meters to the east of the farm of Beaurepaire was a narrow and wooded valley, to the north of Vauxcastille. The men of the 2nd. Division were sufficiently numerous in this valley to be able to oust the Germans at about 7.00 hours after despairing fighting.
Numerous Germans were encircled at Vauxcastille and found refuge in the grottos. A German airplane threw them a message ordering them to retreat. In the afternoon they attempted a breakthrough towards their lines, but were made prisoner.
Equally at around 7.00 hours, the first Americans reached the first houses of Vierzy, 1500 meters to the east of Vauxcastille. At 9.30 the village was taken, but because of the lasting presence of gas it was later abandonned.
In the evening, the 2nd. U.S. Division attacked from the surrounds of Vauxcastille and after tough fighting in Vierzy, where numerous Germans were made prisoner, it advanced and about midnight it found itself 1500 meters to the east of Vierzy. The desperate counter attacks launched during the night against the Division were fruitless.
The 19th. of July, about 9.00 hours, the 2nd. U.S. Division attacked. The Germans were repulsed until 10.00 hours, when the American troops approached Tigny, 3500 meters to the east of Vierzy. There, a German counter attack threatened the left flank of the Division, which was unprotected, but it was fought off.
During the night of the 19th. to 20th. July the 2nd. U.S. Division was relieved by the 58th French Division. In the two days of continuous attacks it had brilliantly attained all of it's objectives; It's losses amounted to 4300 men.
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