Second Battle of Champagne
|Second Battle of Champagne|
|Part of the Western Front of World War I|
Western front 1915–1916
|Commanders and leaders|
| Philippe Pétain
| Erich von Falkenhayn
Karl von Einem
450,000 men in 27 divisions
220,000 men in 19 divisions
|Casualties and losses|
(25,000 taken prisoner)
The Second Battle of Champagne was a French offensive against the invading German army beginning on 25 September 1915, part of World War I.
Twenty divisions of the Second and Fourth armies of Groupe d'armées du Centre, attacked at 9:15 a.m. with each division on a 1,500–2,000 yards (1,400–1,800 m) front. A second line of seven divisions followed on, with one infantry and six cavalry divisions in reserve. Six German divisions held the line opposite, with a front position and a second position (R-Stellung) further back. Good weather made French artillery observation possible but on the night of 24/25 September heavy rain fell until midday. The German front position was broken through in four places and two of the penetrations reached as far as the German second position, where uncut wire prevented the French from advancing further. The French captured 14,000 prisoners and several guns were captured but French casualties were high; the Germans had anticipated the French attack, having been able to watch the French preparations from the commanding ground they occupied and used the first position as an outpost, with the main defensive effort made in the second position, behind which the bulk of the German field artillery had been withdrawn. A supporting attack by the Third Army on the Aisne took no ground.
Joffre allotted two reserve divisions to the Groupe d'armées du Centre and ordered the Groupe d'armées de l'Est to send all 75mm field gun ammunition, except for 500 rounds per gun to the Second and Fourth armies. On 26 September the French attacked again and closed up to the German second position on a 7.5-mile (12.1 km) front and gained a foothold at one place. Another 2,000 German troops were captured but attacks against the second position from 27–29 September broke through the second position on 28 September.A German counter-attack on 29 September recaptured the ground, most of which was on a reverse slope, which had deprived the French artillery of ground observation; Joffre suspended the offensive until more ammunition could be supplied, ordered that the captured ground be consolidated and the cavalry units to be withdrawn. Smaller French attacks against German salients continued from 30 September – 5 October
The battle had led to Verdun being stripped of its artillery, drawing the attention of the German commanders. French success was due largely to the weakness of German defence in the Champagne region. The offensive had given the local German commanders a severe fright as their defences were overwhelmed but prompt reinforcement contained the French advance and it was noticed that the improvised positions of fresh artillery and machine guns had a greater effect on French attacks than the original ones, a finding that was incorporated into German defensive thinking as was the ability of relatively small bodies of troops to hold ground when supported by enough artillery and machine guns. The course of the battle added to Falkenhayn's pessimism about the feasibility of a breakthrough on the western front. The strategy pursued at Verdun was a consequence.
The offensive had been disappointing for the French. Despite their new 'attack in echelon' they had only made quick progress during the time it took for the Germans to strip reserves from elsewhere and rush them up. They had lost 145,000 men, while the Germans had 72,500 casualties, (Foley gave 97,000 casualties based on the German Official History.) The French had taken 25,000 prisoners and captured 150 guns. In the German Official History, French casualties in the Fourth, Second and Third armies from 25 September – 7 October were recorded as 143,567 men, with 48,230 more casualties in the Tenth Army from 25 September – 15 October and 56,812 casualties in the British First Army from 25 September – 16 October, a total of c. 250,000 casualties against c. 150,000 losses in the German armies, of which 81,000 casualties were suffered in the Champagne battle from 22 September – 14 October. The French Official History recorded 191,795 casualties in the fighting in Champagne and Artois.
- Doughty, R. A. (2005). Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. ISBN 0-67401-880-X.
- Edmonds, J. (1928). History of the Great War Based on Official Documents By Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence: Military Operations France and Belgium, 1915 Vol II: Battles of Aubers Ridge, Festubert, and Loos (1st ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962526.
- Foley, R. T. (2005). German Strategy and the Path to Verdun : Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870–1916. Cambridge: CUP. ISBN 978-0-521-04436-3.
- Reichsarchiv (1931 and 1933). Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918: Die Militärischen Operationen zu land (Exerpts from volumes VII, VIII and IX as Germany's Western Front, Wilfrid Laurier University Press 2010 ed.). Berlin: Mittler & Sohn. ISBN 978-1-55458-259-4.
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