62. The frontlines in 1923: the Western Front -4- New
Men of the 11th Bn, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 109th Bde, 36th (Ulster) Div
in captured makeshift German trenches in the outskirsts of Mons
62. The frontlines in 1923: the Western Front -4-
Having dealt a huge blow to the German army on the Western Front and not willing to wait too long for the next one, Plummerg began in late July to prepare for the big advance into Belgium that would utterly cripple the enemy. It first phase, the French armies under Petain broke the defences of Valencienness. Weakened by the hard fighting of the previous weeks, the German units could hardly hold their positions and simply broke under the Allied pressure (July 21, 1923). Then Plummer launched his offensive all along the line, with the British tanks, which had been used again in great numbers, leading the attack against Mons, which was retaken by the BEF on August 1st. To the south, General Petain, not willing to be just a sideshow in the final defeat of the German Reich, put his own plans to work as Plumer advanced to Antwerp facing a determined but weak enemy resistance. The French general ordered to the Tenth Army (General Georges Humbert) to attack Metz, aiming to capture the city at the earliest opportunity, while Generals Marie Fayolle's Sixth and Adolphe Guillaumat's Firth Armies advanced towards Longwy. At first, German resistance around Metz was notably solid, reflecting the crucial importance of the city. The defences surrounding it were solidly constructed and complimented by a complex trench system. The French attack began on August 4.
Fayolle, an experimented artillery officer, proved that he was still a magnificient gunner who would have made Napoleon feel proud by releasign a thundering bombardment against the enemy trenches and, then, the most precise barrage ever seen to the date. In fact, the effect of Fayolle's artillery was such that his troops took the enemy trenches with light casualties. To the right, Humbert's army enjoyed the havoc caused by his neighbour, and just added their guns to the inferno that fell upon the German trenches. Then the only failure of the offensive took place, as the bulk of the French armored force was assigned to Humbert's and Fayolle's armies (25 FCM 2C heavy tanks) moved towards Metz and Logwy, they meet a a complete disaster as most of them were cut to pieces by German artillery that covered the withdrawal of the main force. Ironically, the other French tank, the Char B1, which barely 100 of them joined the offensive, was quite effective at destroying German gun emplacements. However, when movility was required, this tank also became a failure and the offensive bogged down in front of Metz.
The German line surrounding Brussels was the most formidably defence in Belgium and Plummer had set grandiose objectives for the campaign: he was determined to expand the scale of operations and sought to make the Flanders campaign more than just a killing zone for the Germans. He wanted to give the knock-out blow to the German Army and to achieve that he took a heavier hand in planning the second phase than he had the first., outlinning a massive pincer movement around Brussels that would encircle 25 enemy divisions. The first stage of Allied offensive began on September 1st, 1923. The Battle of Namur developed with the British Fourth Army on the left, the AEF Second Army on the center and the French First Army on the right, and it included 450 tanks, and 200,000 men. A key factor in the final plan was secrecy. There was to be no pre-battle bombardment, only a creeping barrage by 1,386 guns and howitzers covering the advance of the allied forces forces. They advanced 12 kilometres into German-held territory in just five hours, capturing 13,000 prisoners.
The first Char B1
The first Char B1
Once Namur was taken, the second stage began. The British Third and Fourth, the AEF First and Second and the French First Armies plus the Belgians attacked on September 6th, without delay or pause to recover. Ruined villages had been turned ino German strongholds and they had to be subdued to enable the troops to progress. Consequently, they were subjected to the same precision bombardment that had characterised the first phase of the campaign. By sheer luck, the weather was clear and the Allied infantry faced few difficulties in advancing. Supported by the Royal Flying Corps and the US Air Service, the tanks made excellent progress, despite the frequency of breakdowns and the fact that only 200 tanks were available to the BEF and 100 to the AEF at this stage of the battle. Even the cavalry made impressive advances, but eventually the Germans were able to bring some order to their shattered front line and successfully inflicted numerous losses on the troopers. It took almost two weeks to free Antwerp (September 17), and then the bulk of the Heeresgruppe Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern was trapped in Brussels. Rupprecht, prince of Bavaria and commander of the 27 divisions surrounded in Belgium, had to face the black reality. Most of his men were badly demoralized and the stocks of ammunition and food were too small for such a big force. Thus, on September 19th, 1917, he surrendered with his belagered army to General Plumer's forces. However, he had managed to win some time for the German Army.
This defeat signalled the death's knell of the Imperial German army, or so it seemed, when the combined US and French forces broke the Front in Metz and flooded the city with their soldiers (September 30) with the outnumbered and demoralized German forces withdrew in disarray. Some German divisions, reliable during the whole war, now creacked and large numbers of troops surrendered or deserted. If one was to believe the reports of the British newspapers, the end was at hand.