Campaign History of the 151e Régiment d'Infanterie - XX

~ 1917 ~

Chemin-des-Dames - Part I (15- April)

The total effective of the 151 RI on 15 April 1917 is not known, however an educated guess can be made using a previous report of effectives, supplemented by the subsequent influx of reinforcements. A 42 DI report dated 24 November 1916 cited that the regiment had 62 officers and 2,045 men present in the ranks. This number would be supplemented by the successive arrival of reinforcements between 28 November 1916 and 14 April 1917 totaling 19 officers (some of whom would be later transferred again) and 705 men. Thus, the hypothetical total of the regiment going into the attack can be surmised at around 70 officers and 2,750 men.

Left: Berry-au-Bac sector map, 8-10 April 1917. Source: JMO 32 CA (26 N 208/09). Right: Front of the 5th Army, 15 April 1917. The 151 was the left flank of the 69 DI. Source: AFGG. Original map can be found here

15 April: The weather is bad. Snow showers alternates with rain. The roads are in bad condition and the trenches filled with icy mud. German planes fly over the regiment's departure parallels (jumping-off trenches) early in the morning, flying very low owing to the fog, to ascertain whether the parallels are fully occupied. This action was signaled to the ID so that measures can be taken to prevent these recon aircraft from returning when the other two battalions have come up into the sector.

A recon is made during the night by Sous-Lieut. Adam in order to ascertain the state of destruction of the German accessory defenses in front of the 151's front. These are sufficiently wrecked on the River Miette side but are still intact in the Ferme du Choléra area. During the night, 2 and 3 Bats., which had marched in the morning to bivouac at the Grandes Places beside Chalons le Vergeur, move up into line. The weather is dreadful, the roads are horrendous, the night pitch black. The paths used to travel through Blanc woods are obstructed with fallen trees. The entire woods and all the paths and roads leading to the Aisne are under intense enemy bombardment. The detachment that precedes the 2 and 3 Bats. in order to reconnoiter the positions of the battalions suffers significant losses. Sous-Lieut. Hucliez and de Montcalm are mortally wounded and die soon from their injuries. Sous-Lieut. Launay is also wounded.

Among them is Sdt. Bordinat, who had been selected as a guides for 3 Bat. Bordinat recounts his journey up to the front during the night of 15-16 April:

Around 4:00 pm we made a short halt in order to avoid the congestion of thousands of men coming together from all directions like us trying to get as close as possible before night fall so as arrive to the spot designated to us by daylight. My captain and I acting as the guides of our battalion are ordered to march ahead to reconnoiter the emplacements for the companies, and then return to the head of the column in order to get everyone in the right place during the night. We pass through Bouffignereux where the first shells were bursting.

A battalion of the 145th Territorial is stationed to this area to carry out various jobs and it was already in disarray for among these poor old pépères (as they are called) there were losses despite being so far from the battlefield. We don't have time to lose. We cross the country all covered in smoke and once we've arrived at the place called Bois Blanc, we drop down into a small boyau meant for relief and attack troops. In this little wood that we cross through, our batteries are subjected to terrible shelling. What an avalanche of shells that passes through this little wood, where our boyau had become obstructed with big trees cut down by the gunfire.

After arriving at Gernicourt and crossing over the canal, they cross over the Aisne canal on a footbridge erected by the Engineers -- the existing metal canal bridge had been cut in half by shell-fire and lay in two sections at the bottom of the water -- doing the same to get over the River Aisne. As night fell, they at last reached their starting positions for the next morning. After verifying the location of each numbered company on a sign, there was nothing left to do but await the arrival of 3 Battalion, taking refuge from the enemy shelling in a small dugout.

And slowly trudging their way up to the front were both the 2 and 3 Bats. After a long terrible struggle, the 2 Bat. reaches the footbridge (7 ter) reserved for the regiment's crossing around midnight. Yet the way across is blocked above all by a detachment of the 154 RI that is carrying up large fascines to be used to create passages for the tanks. As there were no police at the bridges to direct the traffic, each wanted to pass the first and consequently creating an indescribable traffic jam, made all the more serious by the endless enemy artillery fire that was attempting to destroy footbridges. Sous-Lieuts. Damon and Launay are transferred. Losses for the regiment include 2 officers (Sous-Lieuts. Hucliez and Montcalm mortally wounded, 4 men killed, and 28 men wounded.

Despite the terrible struggle undergone just to reach their starting positions, Bordinat reported that the spirits of the men remained high:

And it was a happy heart, in spite of everything, that I thought about the big day tomorrow while also reflecting on the untold difficulties that my comrades would have in crossing this battered wood we had crossed only difficulty during the day. For everyone was loaded up like mules. At the start, we had distributed to us four days of food, a bag of grenades, rockets. In short, the winning at this point came at the price of being exhausted. You had to have gone through these night marched to get even the idea of what it was like. In spite of that, everyone was filled with hope in seeing the number of cannons lined up along our route.

Despite the fatigue and the sleepless night...everyone was ready and, a few minutes before [zero-hour], hearts swelled giving us courage, telling us this will perhaps be the last time. A thousand thoughts rush back to you in these painful moments. You think about your family and it's was while in these reveries that right at 6am, we leap out of our trenches like rabid animals in order to escape the enemy barrage fire, for who doesn't know about this deadliest of dangers that had to be crossed.

Attack objectives for the 69 DI and 165 DI (in support) in the Berry-au-Bac sector, 16 April 1917.

The following are the 151 RI attack orders for J-Jour ("D-Day") 16 April:

I. Mission of the regiment
Seize the three enemy positions situated in the regiment's zone of attack and the Bois Claque-Dents (3 km northeast of Juvincourt. Occupy the sunken road from Amifontaine to Prouvais with an advance-guard at the knoll 116 to the north of the Moulin Ferme (800 northeast of Prouvais and a liaison post with the 5 CA toward the Malvar abutment.

II. Departure positions of the battalions and units assigned to them

  • 1st Bat., 37mm guns No. 1 and 3, Labille's Section from Engineer Co. 22/63, occupying the parallels 1 and 2 (P1 and P2) and PC C2.
  • 2nd Bat., 37mm gun No. 2, 2nd Pioneers Section, occupying the parallels 3 and 4 (P3 and P4) and PC C2.
  • 3rd Bat., and 3rd Pioneers Section, occupying the parallels 5 and 6 (P5 and P6) and PC C3. (Sketch distributed)
  • Lieut. Colonel occupies PC C (2) with the liaison and the 1st Pioneers Section.
  • The parallels to occupy are limited by the Boyaux d'Adduction C1 and C3. The three first-aid posts and the PSR are set up at Lunéville.

    III. Regiment's zone of action
    To the left: Ferme du Choléra, the western extremity of the road trench (ending at route 60), Point 1477 (from the footbridge trench), the eastern corner of the Bois des Béliers, Côte 70.1 (3rd position), the Point from the railway to 100 meters southeast of the river passage from Côte 80, Côte 90.2, the Moulin Ferme (excluded).
    To the right: Boyau E4, Passage 7W, Boyau 6E, the western edge of Bois Rouqeot, Poste de Lorient, la Miette River up to the Battery 2499, Côte 69.8 (Juvincourt - Guignicourt road), hillocks 101.6 and 98.9, Côte 112.9, the abutment Malvar, Plesnoy (excluded).

    Sketch of the 151 RI's sector at the Chemin-des-Dames, just north of Berry-au-Bac, 16 April 1917. French positions are highlighted in red, with the German lines to the north and west in green. The 151's front was primarily between Ouvrage Lorient and Choléra. Source: 151 JMO.

    IV. Mission of the neighboring units
    To the left: 9 DI (5 CA) must reach the general line of Amifontain - Ferme des Albeaux.
    To the right: 162 RI must reach the eastern edge of Prouvais, pushing an advance-guard to knoll 113. North of Proviseux-et-Plesnoy.

    V. Prescriptions relative to the attack
    a) Plan before departure: The battalions will be arranged successively in the the order of 1st, 2nd, 3rd. The 1st Bat., with the liaison detachment to the 5 CA, will be formed in the following manner:

    One Company               One Company
    1/2 Company of CMT                                  
    Trench Cleaners               Trench Cleaners
    One Co. of the 113       One Co. and 1/2 CM1
    1/2 Co. of CM of 113       Section of Engineers 22/63
    Trench Cleaners               Trench Cleaners

    The two other battalions will have at the head two companies accoladed, and in line the 3 Co. and the CM on the left flank.

    a) Plan before departure: Before Heure H ("zero hour") if the footbridges do not exist in order to cross the parallels, stairs will be made by the occupying units. At Heure H, the entire infantry force will move forward in one block, so as to minimize exposure to the enemy's artillery fire. It is only upon leaving the 1st enemy position that it will unroll the mass. Up to this line, the regiment will will hold thus 500 meters from the departure.

    The waves will be thoroughly prepared in the departure parallels and after exiting in one block will immediately echelon themselves by a few paces so that they may be distinguished from each other. The last elements of the 3rd Bat. will burn smoke cylinders upon arriving at each of lines of the 1st position so as to provide a screen for our attack. The commandant of the 3rd Bat. will regulate the use of the cylinders after notification from the colonel.

    The progression will be straight ahead, the 1st line the head of our shells, each line of the the battalion marching in principle 500 meters behind the proceeding one. Speed of progression: 100 meters every 4 minutes.

    The 2nd Bat. will therefore leave Choléra 20 minutes after the 1st Bat. It must maintain remain in liaison, ensuring that it maintains constant contact during the march of the battalion preceding it. Same goes for the 3rd Bat. From start to finish, the march will be guided by compass after the directions provided above.

    Direction of march. The angles are obtained by putting the _ mobile on the angle indicated and maintained the blue needle on the North-South line of the compass.

    1st Bat. (1st and 2nd positions)
    1) the right of the 1st Bat.: 70 degrees East for 1 km. Landmarks: to the left, the Miette and edge of the woods. To the right, passing 50 meters to the right of Choléra intersection, passing in the middle of the footbridge trench, marching next to 150 meters from the edge of the woods, changing direction: when arriving 50 meters to the right of Battery 18.80.
    2) The right of the battalion: 48 degrees East up to the eastern corner of Bois des Béliers (point of direction).

    To the left: the Miette and the edge of the woods of the Miette, the Battery 25.95. Stop at the Battery 24.99.
    To the right: march 200 meters from the edge for 1 km, passing 50 meters to the right, Battery 21.87, passing 60 meters to the left of northwest corner of the Bois des Vestales, touching on the corner of the Bois de Béliers.

    The 1st Bat. is authorized to hunker down on the 162 RI's trench from 25 meters to the stop line C.D. The 2nd and 3rd Bats. (3rd and 4th positions). Following first in the wake of the 1st Bat., then going on a angle of march of 36 degrees East.

    To the left: passing by the Battery 26.04, passing 200 meters to the left of the Battery 31.09.
    To the right: marching parallel and 200 meters to the left of the large path to Mauchamp, Bois Claque-Dents, stopping on the Juvincourt - Guignicourt Road, 250 to the left of the woods that cuts across it.

    Retake the march by the same angle. Take the Tranchée Vassau: on the left, 300 meters from the edge isolated wood, it will break itself away from the Bois Claque-Dents. To the right, by the Battery 39.11. And of march is 67 degrees East.

    General Direction: based on the periphery of the Bois Claque-Dents.
    Approximate Direction:based on the southwest – northeast paths of the Bois Claque-Dents.
    Sunken road connecting Prouvais and Amifontaine. The right 800 meters from Prouvais at the spot where the road stops, to be dug at the time. The left at the bend of the road 100 meters to the right of the roads that goes to the Ferme des Albeaux.

    The pockets of resistance fall by overwhelming them, the units of the first-line will pursue their advance. These pockets will be worked around by the flank and rear by the 3 and 12 Cos. and 1 MG Co. If the pocket proves to be larger than expected, the 1 Bat. commander will inform the 2 Bat. commander, who will in turn use his forces to sweep around it. In such a case, the 3 Bat. will follow in the wake of the 1 Bat. One the pockets of resistance have fallen, the outflanking units will return as quickly as possible back to their battalions.

    Development of the Action:
    Sixteen breaches will be made in the French wire in front of the regiment and six breaches in front of the German first-line, three in front of the Tranchée de Marais, three in front of Choléra. At l’Heure-H, 1 Bat. will move forward seizing the first-positions, progressing beyond them, then halting at the line 'C.D.. It will resume its advance at H 1 hr 45 mins seizing the second-position, progressing beyond it, pushing up to line 'G.H.', and stopping there.

    The 2 Bat. will join the 1 Bat., pass through it and advance beyond the line ‘G.H.’ at H 4 hrs. The 3 Bat. will follow with stopping the advance after reaching the second position and comes up alongside and two the left of 2 Bat. before attacking the third position, advancing beyond line ‘G.H.’ at H 4 hrs at the same time as the 2 Bat. The 2 and 3 Bats. will place themselves 50 meters in front of the 1 Bat. at H 3 hrs 45 mins. The 2 and 3 Bats. will take the third positions and next attack the Bois Claque-Dents in the conditions indicated below. The 37 mm cannon of 3 Bat. will rejoin its battalion at the moment when the battalion passes through 1 Bat.

    Seizure of Bois Claque-Dents – Tank Assault:
    The mission of the 151 is to seize the Bois Claque-Dents or at the very least invest the edges of the woods by the south and southwest, then by the east, and finally covering the advance of the rest of the division on Prouvais. It will eventually be assisted in its mission by two groups of tanks (Chef d'Escadron Bossut's column), each group composed of two batteries of four tanks. The two groups of tanks will take over as the lead element of the 151 at H 4 hrs. They will cooperate in the attack of the third position and open breaches through the wire-entanglements set up beyond the third position. Following the tanks at 50 meters up to the railway will be a group (Canon) will attack the large salient south of the Bois Claque-Dents.

    Twelve tanks will move along the southeast edge of the woods accompanied by a company of the 154 RI (165 DI). A tank will penetrate in each of the paths in the woods (direction southwest – southeast). Two companies of the 2 Bat. will follow behind the tanks the two paths on the right in the woods. The 3 Co. will accompany the twelve tanks on the outside of the woods in echelon, with the right forward, two platoons of 2 MG Co. protecting the forward movement and, if needed, the flanks. A platoon of 2 MG Co. will march with each company in the woods in line of column.

    After crossing the railway line at H 6 hrs are the earliest, this group will outflank Prouvais by the north. The 3 Bat. will follow with one company, each from the two other trails in the woods behind a tank, the machine-gun platoons in line of column. The 3 Bat. must not pass beyond the railway line before H 6 hrs. At this moment, it will occupy as quickly as possible the Bois Euvain.

    A second group (Pardon) with two companies of the 154 RI (165 DI) will follow the northwest edge of the woods and after skirted by the west of the height 101.6, will attack the large salient west of the woods. They will then go up via the north of the woods, closing up into two, two batteries attacking the Albeaux F and two batteries outflanking Prouvais by the north. At H 6 hrs, the 2 Bat. will take the trenches situated at the southeast corner of the woods and moving to the north, look to take the woods from the rear in order to aid in the advance of 3 Bat. which will pass through it. It will take all precautions to avoid any misunderstandings. It will signal with the 3 Bat. using a Klaxon horn. It will set up machine-guns on the railway line to engage any Germans that appear in this corridor. The 2 Bat. will be aided by a battalion of the 162 RI if necessary. Likewise, the 3 Bat. will be aided by a battalion of the 155 RI if needed.

    During the fighting in the woods, the 1 Bat. having reassembled its elements, will take the edge of the southern corner of the Bois Claque-Dents, then follow the 2 Bat., passing over it after reaching the railway line and moving to the right along the Amifontaine – Prouvais Road in the sector belonging to the regiment.

    Mopping Up Plan:
    All dispositions will be given to the 1 Bat. in the departure trenches.
    1. Two groups of trench cleaners provided by the 2 Bat. for mopping up: one group at le Choléra and the other group at le Marais.
    2. Two groups of trench cleaners provided by 3 Bat. for mopping up: one group in the area of the intersecting trench and the other group in the area of the sunken road trench (road between Berry and Juvincourt).
    These groups will rejoin their respective battalions after the mopping up work is complete.
    3. Two groups of trench cleaners provided by 1 Bat. for mopping up: one for the Tranchée du Ruisseau and the other for the Tranchée des Béliers.
    All of the trench cleaner groups will be composed in the following way:
    Half-platoon of grenadiers and a FM (Fusil-Mitrailleuse) team, to which will join alternately 2 or 3 voltigeurs (riflemen).
    4. Capt. Antoine will organize the mopping up for his detachment with his own means. Six liaisons for airplanes and telephone-optics balloons. A copy of the signaling codes for liaison is carried only by the battalion leaders. The liaison buglers of the battalions will carry the Klaxon horns.

    Axis of Displacement for the Colonel:
    1. At Choléra once the position is taken until the second positions is taken
    2. At Bois des Béliers until the third position is taken
    3. At Battery 39.11 until entry is made into Bois Claque-Dents.
    4. Towards the southern corner of Bois Claque-Dents during the taking of this woods
    5. At Battery 53.29 at the end of the operation.

    When the 3 Bat. holding the Bois Euvain. But it is will understood that the 1 Bat. will only leave its flank-guard position towards line ‘G.H.’ and Côte 78 (northeast of Juvincourt) when a battalion of the 155 RI has relieved it in its flank-guard mission so that the left flank of the 69 DI is secured between la Miette and Claque-Dents. Once set up in its final objective, the 1 Bat. will immediately seek out the liaison with units of the 5 C.A. on its left near Amifontaine and the 162 RI on its right near Prouvais. It will push its advanced-posts with a two platoons and a machine-gun platoon up to Côte 116 (north of Moulin Ferme), with these advanced-posts establishing liaison with the 5 C.A. and 162 RI.

    The 2 Bat. will join up with the 1 Bat. and place itself to its right. The 3 Bat. will put itself back into order in the Bois Euvain, then will guard the eastern corner of the woods and will await new orders. It will maintain communications with the 5 C.A. at Amifontaine via the railway line. Labelle’s platoon of the Engineers Co. 22/63 will follow the movement of 2 Bat. as quickly as possible in order to prepare the passages for the tanks on the railway line to the southeast of the woods.

    Liaisons with Neighboring Units: 1. With the 5 C.A.: will be made by a detachment composed of two infantry companies and two companies and two platoons of machine-guns provided by the 113 RI (9 DI) and the 151. It will be commanded by Capt. Antoine (151). This detachment will move along the south bank of the Miette up to Battery 24.99, mopping up all enemy forces found in the wooded valley of the Miette. Capt. Antoine will maintain the speed of the march based on the progression of the barrage. A battery (from the 268 RA) will execute a rolling barrage in the wooded valley of the Miette in front of the detachment. If the 9 DI faces difficulty in crossing the Miette, the detachment will assist it. If the 9 DI cannot cross, the detachment will cover the march of the 151 up to Claque-Dents, holding Côte 78 (1.5 km from Juvincourt).
    2. With the 82 RI and the 66 BCP: two liaison agents with the 1 Bat/82 RI at PC Morlaix, who will join the 66 BCP once the 82 RI reaches the Moulin de Juvincourt.
    3. With the 162 RI: exchange of battalion liaison agents and a cyclist.

    Artillery: Rolling barrage. The first wave will be preceded by a barrage of 75s (268 RA). Direct fire support beyond the thirds position will be provided by the tanks and a group of 75s which will cross the Miette on the night of 15-16 April in order to take up a position south of the Morlaix center. Capt. Antoine’s detachment will advance behind a rolling barrage provided by the 43 Battery (268 RA).

    Engineers: Labelle’s platoon of the Engineers Co. 22/63 will march with the 1 Bat. It will leave this battalion after the second position is taken and will march thereafter with the 3 Bat. and create as quickly soon as possible the passages for the tanks through the railway line in the southeast corner of the woods. At the end of the operation, it will rejoin 1 Bat. on the Amifontaine – Prouvais Road.

    Regimental Pioneers: 2 Platoon will march with the 2 Bat., 3 Platoon with the 3 Bat., 1 Platoon with the Colonel. The pioneers will place themselves in the departure parallels at the same time as their battalions.

    Territorials: will be located first at Lunéville and once the advance begins, will move up to the departure parallels. Once there it will help bring up specified materials as necessary.

    Other Notes: Placement before departure of the guns of 1 MG Co. and the 37 mm cannon platoon of 1 Bat. will be determined by Cmdt. Oblet in such a way as act as counter-fire of all remaining enemy machine-guns not destroyed by the bombardment. The battalion and regimental first-aid posts are in Lunéville. Once the regiment departs, 1 Bat. first-aid post will move to PC 'C' in order to accept those wounded who assault the first position. The 2 Bat. first-aid post will move to Choléra once this position is taken to accept the wounded who assault Choléra and the second position. Once all cases have been taken care of, the 1 Bat. first-aid post will move again to the second position, once 1 Bat. passes the line 'G.H.' to accept the wounded suffered while taking the second and third position. The 3 Bat. first-aid post will move to the second position and wait there until the third position is taken and the Bois Claque-Dents is entered in order to accept wounded suffered while taking the Bois Claque-Dents. Once all wounded are treated at the second position, the 2 Bat. first-aid post will move to the shelters in the southeast corner of Claque-Dents.

    Assault Order for the Attack:

    Same attire as the troop. Also with binoculars, compass, after-action reports notebook, sketches made of the director’s map. No sword, cane, revolver or pistol. Rifle or carbine optional. No secret documents.
    1) Order shared by all men, save the exceptions for automatic-riflemen (Chauchat gunners) and grenadiers.
    - Rifle and bayonet.
    - Pack with tent-canvas and blanket, mess-kit, canvas buckets, stew-pots and two days’ rations inside.
    - Two 1-liter canteens, two haversacks (one of which containing rations for D-Day), two sandbags slung from the belt, one e-tool per man, two gas masks (one carried in the can, the other in the bag carried in bandolier fashion).

    2) Specialists order, aside from the common items above:
    a) Infantryman:
    - 130 rounds per man
    - 5 grenades per man (3 F1 and 2 OF1) carried in second haversack
    For every two men: one pair of wire-cutters, one oilskin panel, one Bengal ground flare, one illumination rocket or signal flare

    b) Grenadiers:
    - 56 rounds (7 packets)
    - 20 hand grenades (7 OF, 8 F1, 5 incendiary)
    - 20 VB grenades per launcher, shared between the firer and the supplier

    c) Auto-Rifle Gunners:
    - Special equipment in accordance with the new equipment. This likely included the following:
    i. Gunner: one CSRG gun, one M1915 special backpack (containing 4 mags), 2 "half-moon" magazine pouches (containing 4 mags each), one gun cleaning kit, one pistol (3 mags), one spade-shovel (carried on belt), one canvas gun case
    ii. First Supplier: one pistol (3 mags), one M1915 special backpack (containing 1 kit and 8 mags), one M1915 special haversack (4 mags), one spade-shovel
    iii. Second Supplier: one Lebel rifle, one ordinary M1893/14 backpack (containing 5 mags and 1 mag of rounds in packets)

    d) Trench Cleaners:
    Same as infantrymen plus:
    - one Browning
    - one knife
    - 38 rounds
    - 10 grenades (gas or incendiaries)

    e) Signalers:
    - 120 rounds
    - Signal panels or lantern
    - 2 illumination rockets
    - 6 signal rockets or flares (one of each signal type)
    To be shared: flare pistols with five flares per pistol (5 per company, 2 per battalion, 3 for the colonel)

    f) Liaison Agents:
    Same as infantrymen plus:
    - 25 3-star signal flares
    - 25 6-star signal flares
    - 10 1-star signal flares
    - 10 caterpillar rockets
    - 10 flag rockets

    g) Pioneers:
    Same as infantrymen plus:
    - one park tool
    - one small pair of wire-cutters
    - demolition explosives and incendiary grenades

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