First Hand Accounts of the 151e R.I.
Lance-Corporal Henri Laporte
II. Battle in the Argonne (1915)
Hardly has order been reestablished in our trenches than, around 2:00 am, the bombs start to fall again on both sides. Three long hours elapse under this hail of gunfire. The ranks begin to disperse themselves. Deaths here and there, wounded who make off as they are hit. The "dry ravine" situated behind our lines is covered in a thick cloud of smoke, which suffocates us. From 5:00 to 9:00 am, it's hell. We are cut off from the first lines, everything is smashed. Five of us from our section stay at the entrance of the communication trench, completely isolated from the rest of the company. At 9:15 am, the first German grenades explode above our heads. And while three of my comrades established a barricade of packs at the entrance of the communication trench, we throw the grenades which we still have in our supply nonstop.
The German attack has been launched and their foot-soldiers have seized our first lines. It was a move by the Crown Prince's army. They continued their progression vigorously toward our second line, which had already been partly ceded. We are in this second line, at the top end of the communication trench that we've been defending. Behind us is the ravine. We have to try hard to hold on for as long as possible. All five of us continued to fight on. We still had grenades, which we threw continuously. Two of my comrades use their rifles in order to hold back the Germans, who try to jump over the parapets. Our 75 shells exploding a dozen meters from us, gave us a little respite in order to view the ground in front of us already covered in many dead bodies.
Sergeant Rolina* was laying down next to us at the bottom of the communication trench. Both of his legs are frightfully mutilated. Poor comrade! A moment before, I had taken him in my arms and we could no longer look after him. I will never forget this sight of suffering. Now, the firing was about to flare up again. Another comrade fell by our side, struck in the middle of his chest by a shell fragment, which sent me rolling to the ground. I was quickly relieved to find I hadn't been harmed. Three of us were left in this precarious position. Lieutenant de La Ferrière, a young, 20-year-old Saint-Cyrian** who was with us, empties his revolver nonstop.
*Sergeant Rolina's death is mentioned in the regimental historical.
**Saint-Cyr was one of the most prestigiuos of the elite military academies in France.
Finally, around 10:00 am the battle lessens in intensity. We no longer knew where we were, isolated from our company. We stayed on "high-alert." The communication trench descending toward the dry ravine was swept by a German machine-gun. It was the only one which had allowed me to stay in liaison. We couldn't move in either direction. We have remade our sand-bag barricades on either side of us. In a way, we were walled up alive. The most unfortunate thing was that we were lacking ammunition. We were at the merci of a German raid. Around midnight, we tried quietly to go down the communication trench, but the concentrated fire of several machine-guns stopped us.
It was only about 2:00 am when all three of us succeeded in getting to the ravine. At the bottom, we come upon several comrades who had escaped the carnage like us. Under the direction of a lieutenant, we erected a sand-bag barricade at the bottom of the communication trench and waited for events to unfold. In the pre-dawn, we were forced to evacuate this position in order to rejoin the reserve trenches on the slope of the ravine. But this position soon turned out to be untenable. We were under fire from all sides, except from behind. Finally, pulling back about 50 meters, we tried with other comrades to set up some strong-points. There was a little confusion: our commander had to time to explain the defense and counter-attack plan, which was quickly organized.
The day of 1 July was pretty calm until 5:00 pm. From their side, the Germans took a breather, and certainly organized the roughly 100 meters, in depth, of ground taken from us the night before. Around 5:15 pm, the German machine-guns spread out into the ravine from the other side of the slope that we had lost. They crackled and death came to cut down our ranks already thinned out. However, we've received reinforcements around 4:00 pm and haven't moved from the newly occupied positions. Around 5:30 pm, the machine-gun fire stopped. Immediately, we spotted German foot-soldiers which descended towards us in more or less closed ranks. We fired non-stop up into them (at this moment, we were placed about 150 meters from each other). Entirely coincidentally, the ground facilitated our defense. We fired deliberately.
In the evening of 3 July, we're still in the same positions, but the effective of our unit like those beside us is reduced to around 20 men. Around midnight, we're relieved by fresh troops who are going to counter-attack at dawn. We're lead to La Harazée...debilitated with exhaustion. I'm especially thirsty, like many of my comrades. Hike made, we drink the water from a little stream which runs in the forest despite the bad smell. We drink, drink without being able to satisfy our thirst. At La Harazée we find some biscuits that we eat without appetite. We no longer have our packs. Our rifle is our supreme equipment. Shells fired by our artillery pass close over our heads. Once again, what a deluge of fire! It's the preparation of the ground for the counter-attack. Further off toward La Placardelle, we perceive the uninterrupted flashes of fire from our heavy guns. We leave in small groups down the big road that will lead us to Florent. We march by twos arm lengths apart. Our rifles weigh heavy on our bruised shoulders.