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Battle Of The Aisne

The Third Battle of the Aisne (French: 3e Bataille de l'Aisne) was a battle of the German spring offensive during World War I that focused on capturing the Chemin des Dames Ridge before the American Expeditionary Forces arrived completely in France. It was one of a series of offensives, known as the Kaiserschlacht, launched by the Germans in the spring and summer of 1918.

battle of the aisne

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The defense of the Aisne area was in the hands of General Denis Auguste Duchêne, commander of the French Sixth Army. In addition, four divisions of the British IX Corps, led by Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon, held the Chemin des Dames Ridge; they had been posted there to rest and refit after surviving the "Michael" battle.

The bombardment was followed by a poison gas drop. Once the gas had lifted, the main infantry assault by 17 German Sturmtruppen divisions commenced, part of an Army Group nominally commanded by Crown Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser came to inspect the progress of the battle. He interviewed captured British Brigadier-General Hubert Rees (GOC 150th Brigade, part of 50th Division). The Kaiser was amused to learn that he was Welsh, the same nationality as Lloyd George.[3]

Despite penetrating Allied lines by approximately 34 miles (55 km) and coming closer to Paris than any time since 1914, the Germans were successfully halted by the Allies at the Marne on 6 June 1918. By the battle's end, the Germans had suffered 130,000 casualties while the combined total of Allies casualties reached up to 127,000.[5]

For his poor handling of the British and French troops, Duchene was sacked by French Commander-in-Chief Philippe Petain and replaced as commander of the Sixth Army by Jean Degoutte. The battle also marked one of the first instances where an appreciable numbers of American troops participated and had proven themselves in combat.

The battle of the Aisne began before the Germans had reached their new positions on the ridge. On 12 September the British 11th Infantry Brigade had reached the crest of the high ground at Venizel, in the middle of the Aisne line, but the BEF soon became bogged down in the centre of the line. On 13 September the French Sixth Army had attempted to get around the western flank of the Chemin des Dames ridge near Compiègne, but had been stopped by German resistance.

We visit key battlefields of the First World War on which French, American and British troops all fought and which possess stunning memorials, dramatic scenery and remarkable evidence of battle. The farms and villages where the blue and scarlet-clad French defeated the German advance in the Battle of the Marne survive today as they were in September 1914. In the Chemin des Dames and Champagne sectors, bunkers, caves and ghost villages are testament of fiercely destructive battles of 1915-1918 while a recently rediscovered trench network at Massiges is an astonishing insight into life in the front line. The preserved Belleau Wood battlefield near Châteaux-Thierry commemorates the epic fight by US Marines in 1918 during the 2nd Battle of the Marne. The vast cemeteries bear witness to terrible sacrifice while the memorials are among the most dramatic on the Western Front. The American memorials honour their fallen on a breath-taking scale, while few can match the emotion of the French 'Phantoms of the Marne' depicting warriors risen from the dead above the 1918 battlefield.

The German Schlieffen Plan advance was halted in September 1914 just north of Paris by a vast battle at the River Marne. Forced to retire, the Germans dug in on the Chemin des Dames ridge, overlooking the River Aisne. Trench lines spread north and south, with stalemate ensuing. In spring 1917 a new French commander, Nivelle, claimed he could break the deadlock but his attack collapsed in mutiny. In May 1918, the Germans unleashed a massive offensive on the now quiet Chemin des Dames, overwhelming resting British divisions. Châteaux-Thierry fell, but American forces stopped the attackers at Belleau Wood. When the Germans attacked again, the French were pre-warned and Marshal Foch's counteroffensive in July inaugurated a series of German defeats which ended in Allied victory.

Day 2 The 1914 Marne battlefieldWe begin with the sudden clash between the French and German armies at the Battle of the Ourq, including the graves at the Grande Tombe de Villeroy and the walls still pierced by loopholes at Chambry Cemetery in Marchais-en-Brie: the Battle of the Two Morins where the French exploited the split German armies; and the imposing monument at Mondemont which commemorates the Battle of the Saint-Gond Marshes where Foch counterattacked. We also visit the acclaimed Museum of the Great War at Meaux.

Day 4 The Champagne OffensivesWe travel east of Reims the Champagne, the scene of four major battles. Here we find the fascinating trench system at Massiges, Navarin Farm ossuary, French and German cemeteries at Souain, Russian Cemetery and chapel at St Hilaire-le-Grand, the Sommepy American Monument on Blanc Mont, and the excellent Museum of Fort de la Pompelle. Dinner at your own expense this evening.

Day 5 The Marne 1918 and the Turning PointToday we examine the German attack of 1918 which was met by Foch's counteroffensive with visits to: the epic battlefield upon which US Marines famously fought at Belleau Wood, the trenches on Hill 193, Buzancy which was fought over by the 15th Scottish Division, the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, and the British, New Zealanders and Germans buried and commemorated at Marfaux.

Simon Jones MA, formerly curator at the Royal Engineers and King's Liverpool Regiment Museums, has guided at battlefields around the world since 1997. The author of books on tunnelling and gas warfare during the First World War, he has taught the First World War at Liverpool and Lancaster Universities and has Masters Degrees from Liverpool and Leicester Universities. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

The battle involved tanks, bombers, poison gas attacks, aircraft-directed artillery, storm troops, snipers, and hand- to-hand combat. Ten United States Divisions took part in what was to become a turning point of the war.

The village of Vailly-sur-Aisne was the point at which the 3rd Division crossed the river Aisne on 13 and 14 September 1914 during the Allied advance from the Marne. It fell to the German forces in 1915, was retaken by the French during the Chemin des Dames Offensive in April 1917, lost again to the Germans in June 1918 and finally captured by the French on 15 September 1918. Vailly British Cemetery was established after the Armistice when the remains of Commonwealth soldiers were brought here from other burial grounds and battlefields throughout the region.

In heavy rain and dense mist, brigades of the 1st and 2nd Divisions of the BEF began advancing toward the German lines between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. on the morning of 14 September. They had hoped to seize as much enemy ground as possible before day break, but despite some early successes German resistance was determined and by 7 a.m. British troops were coming under heavy rifle, machine-gun and artillery fire. Thick fog, combined with the sheer number of units deployed and the unexpected strength of the German forces, caused much confusion on the battlefield. The British battle plan was also frustrated by the unexpectedly accurate fire of German howitzers on the heights. As the day wore on, the battle descended into a series of attacks and counter-attacks and both sides suffered heavy casualties.

The Aisne-Marne Operation changed the complexion of the war. A German offensive had been stopped suddenly in mid-onslaught, and the advance changed to a retreat. The Marne salient had ceased to exist, and the Germans were never again able to undertake a serious offensive. The addition of hundreds of thousands of American troops to the Allied cause made further German resistance futile. In November, facing economic collapse at home and the combined forces of Britain, France, and the United States on the battlefield, Germany finally surrendered.

"We remember the battles that raged here in the fields, the forests, and the towns," Lengyel said. "We also remember the sacrifice made in the cause of freedom -- because the United States honors her war dead."

For the command sergeant major, most of whose career was spent serving in the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard, it was standing on the 1926 Memorial Bridge in the small town of Fismes, a bridge honoring men who came from his home state and fought the Battle of Fismes in these narrow streets. They had come to the aid of an ally; they found themselves in a special, bloody hell where the fighting was house-to-house, where gains were measured in feet and inches, where the wounded sometimes lay untended, covered in dust, and where the ferocity of battle delayed the burial of the dead for days. Thousands of American Soldiers were wounded or killed here.

Yesterday we visited the american cemitery in Aisne Marne. I realy enjoyed it going through the battle field and seeing the trenchs, foxholes, and bomb craters. I learned that over 2800 soliders were buried there.

Yesterday my class and I traveled to the Aisne-Marne cemetery. Although the Great War occured almost a cenury ago, the thousands upon thousands of losses of American soldiers loomed heavily upon me. I learned that over 2,000 Americans rested in this very cemetery! It was a treat to be able to visit the Belleau Wood, the very place where a battle occured! We visited the chapel, saw trenches, foxholes, and bomb craters, and solemnly strided through the many rows of white crosses and Star of Davids. It was quie amazing to see trees with shrapnel in them and the dent in the chapel, and the war almost came alive for everyone, I think. Although many soldiers went missing or are unknown, we will never forget the honor that they are owed by America and Europe. 041b061a72


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