Third Battle of the Aisne

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This article is about the 1918 battle. For other battles of the Aisne see Battles of the Aisne.
Third Battle of the Aisne
Part of the Western Front of the First World War
WesternFrontJuly15-1918.jpg
The Western Front, July 1918
Date 27 May – 6 June 1918
Location Aisne River near Paris, France
49°23′N 3°44′E / 49.383°N 3.733°E / 49.383; 3.733Coordinates: 49°23′N 3°44′E / 49.383°N 3.733°E / 49.383; 3.733
Result German advance halted after initial gains
Belligerents
 France
 United Kingdom
 United States
German Empire German Empire
Commanders and leaders
France Denis Auguste Duchêne
United Kingdom Alexander Hamilton-Gordon
German Empire Erich Ludendorff
German Empire Crown Prince Wilhelm
Strength
French 6th Army, British IX Corps and later 2 American Divisions* German 1st and 7th Armies (over 20 divisions and 4000 artillery guns)
Casualties and losses
127,000 130,000

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 Force could arrive 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. American soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division and the 93rd Infantry Division were the first Americans to fight in France, albeit detached from the AEF and under French command.[citation needed]a[›] The 92nd & 93rd would continue to fight under French command for the duration of the war.

Background[edit]

The massive surprise attack (named Blücher-Yorck after two Prussian generals of the Napoleonic Wars) lasted from 27 May until 6 June 1918 and was the first full-scale German offensive following the Lys Offensive in Flanders in April.

The Germans had held the Chemin des Dames Ridge from the First Battle of the Aisne in September 1914 to 1917, when General Mangin captured it during the Second Battle of the Aisne (in the Nivelle Offensive).

Operation Blücher-Yorck was planned primarily by Erich Ludendorff, who was certain that success at the Aisne would lead the German armies to within striking distance of Paris. Ludendorff, who saw the BEF as the main threat, believed that this, in turn, would cause the Allies to move forces from Flanders to help defend the French capital, allowing the Germans to continue their Flanders offensive with greater ease. Thus, the Aisne drive was to be essentially a large diversionary attack.

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.

Battle[edit]

On the morning of 27 May 1918, the Germans began a bombardment (Feuerwalze) of the Allied front lines with over 4,000 artillery pieces. The British suffered heavy losses, because Duchene was reluctant to abandon the Chemin des Dames Ridge, after it had been captured at such cost the previous year, had ordered them to mass together in the front trenches, in defiance of instructions from the French Commander-in-Chief Henri-Philippe Petain. Huddled together, they made easy artillery targets.[1]

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 and captured British Brigadier-General Hubert Rees (GOC 150th Brigade, part of 50th Division) was interviewed by him - the Kaiser was amused to learn that he was Welsh, the same nationality as Lloyd George.[2]

Taken completely by surprise and with their defences spread thin, the Allies were unable to stop the attack and the German army advanced through a 40 kilometres (25 mi) gap in the Allied lines. Reaching the Aisne in under six hours, the Germans smashed through eight Allied divisions on a line between Reims and Soissons, pushing the Allies back to the river Vesle and gaining an extra 15 km of territory by nightfall.

Victory seemed near for the Germans, who had captured just over 50,000 Allied soldiers and well over 800 guns by 30 May 1918. But after having advanced within 56 kilometres (35 mi) of Paris on 3 June, the German armies were beset by numerous problems, including supply shortages, fatigue, lack of reserves and many casualties.

On 6 June 1918, following many successful Allied counter-attacks, the German advance halted on the Marne, much as the "Michael" and "Georgette" offensives had in March and April of that year.'

Aftermath[edit]

The French had suffered over 98,000 casualties and the British around 29,000. German losses were nearly as great if not slightly heavier. Duchene was sacked by French Commander-in-Chief Philippe Petain for his poor handling of the British and French troops. The Americans had arrived and proven themselves in combat for the first time in the war.

Ludendorff, encouraged by the gains of Blücher-Yorck, would launch further offensives culminating in the Second Battle of the Marne.

  • Note: The divisions of American Expeditionary Force were double the size of those of their British and French allies or German foes (with a full strength of around 20,000 each). Due to this fact, they were sometimes referred to as Grandes Divisions (Big Divisions).

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

^ a: The 92nd Division was not shipped from the United States to France until 18 July 1918 and the first element of the 93rd 369th Infantry Regiment was shipped out on 17 December 1917 with the remainder of the Division shipped out in Feb, Mar and April of 1918. The 1st Infantry Division began arriving in France in June 1917. The first elements entered combat on 23 Oct 1917 and the first American casualty of the war was from the 1st Division on 25 Oct 1917. All information from the Center of Military History.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hart 2008, pp 266-8
  2. ^ Hart 2008, pp 283

External links[edit]