Campaign History of the 151e Régiment d'Infanterie - XX
~ 1917 ~
Chemin-des-Dames - Part I (15-16 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.
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 [Bertrais] 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.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.
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.
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 on 15 April 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.
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
III. Regiment's zone of action
To the left: Ferme du Choléra, the western extremity of the trench on the road (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, the Miette stream 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).
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:
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 an 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 (1.5 km 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.
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:
- 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
- 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)
- 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
Same as infantrymen plus:
- one park tool
- one small pair of wire-cutters
- demolition explosives and incendiary grenades
16 April: On the day of the assault, the weather remains horrible. Snow and rain pelt the troops, the roads are churned into masses of slippery, rutted mud, the bottom of the trenches are flooded with icy water. After incredible efforts, the 2 Bat. comes into line and positions itself after much difficulty in the departure parallels. However, 2 MG Co. is in disorder on the other side of the Aisne. Around 0330 hrs, 3rd Bat. which was held up more than an hour on the bank of the Aisne because the footbridge assigned to the regiment had ruptured, arrives in its turn into line. It too only manages to get into its positions after great difficulty. The bombardment by the enemy artillery was heavy and precise, inflicting some casualties among the battalions in their trenches, with around fifteen killed and a number more wounded. Finally around 0530 hrs, the 2 MG Co. which followed its battalion completes its movement into line. It was the great moment, Jour-J (D-Day). L'Huere-H was set for 0600 hrs.
Sous-Lieut. Houdin on the left company's front and Sous-Lieut. Metays on the right company's front, go out to reconnoiter the state of the enemy's accessory defenses before the attack and report back their findings. Lieut.-Colonel Moisson makes some final recommendations that the regiment should cover the distance to Choléra in one bound, so as to avoid the German barrage fire. The enemy lookouts at Choléra were still at their posts since our patrolers had been greeted with some rifle shots and by illumination flares.
Execution of the Attack: At 0600 hrs, the entire regiment in one mass left its departure parallels and headed straight for its objective. The succeeding waves had to scramble over the parallels in front of them, assisted in part by footbridges tossed over them to facilitate the movement. The 1 Bat. managed to pass the enemy's wire-entanglements without much difficulty, gradually penetrating into the enemy entrenchments at Choléra and Marais. Five minutes into the attack, the 1 Bat. had taken the German first position and the trench cleaners had finished their mission of mopping up. Bordinat experience the rapidity of the initial advance for himself:
Our progress has been so rapid that in less than five minutes we are already in the [German] first-line positions, where what was called the Cholera Farm used to be and where the enemy was deeply dug in since 1914. We look out for enemy defenders in all directions, moving from one crater to another as we realize the destructive effect of our trench artillery. Under its blows, the concrete shelters had collapsed, and after a little more searching in vain, we at last found the few remaining survivors here who were hiding in their shelters, surprised by our sudden arrival.But a number of German who hadn't been killed did surrender. In one of the only uplifting episodes preserved in time involves the capture of an entire German company by a lone stretcher-bearer in the 151. Born in Reims and recruited at Mézieres, Soldat Charles Léon Henon was a soldier belonging to the class of 1908 and a rare breed by 1917, in that he was one of the original members of the regiment. Henon served as a stretcher-bearer during the war, receiving several citations and the Croix de Guerre, and won special mention in the regiment's official history for his actions during the Chemin-des-Ames Offensive.
Seeing little resistance, we didn't linger long but left the job of capturing these doomed men to the special troops designated for that purpose, called trench cleaners. We later learned that there was a horrendous hand-to-hand fight underground when we had the opportunity to visit this underground fortress a few days later. We could hardly believe it. Indeed, three days after our passage, we were still receiving shots from our rear from some stubborn men didn't want to believe in our success and waiting for their side to counter-attack. For there were only tunnels crisscrossing under this notorious Choléra ridge.
As the attack unfolded, Henon got word of several wounded comrades sheltering in an abandoned German dugout. Taking along two other stretcher-bearers, Henon went out in search of them. Coming upon a German dugout, the small party made their way down into the expansive subterranean shelter. After proceeding a certain distance without encountering any French soldiers, the stretcher-bearers became nervous. Henon volunteered to go on alone into an adjoining tunnel refusing to give up on finding the wounded.
To his great surprise, instead of finding his injured comrades, Henon stumbled into an entire company of German infantry. Seizing him, Henon is immediately taken prisoner and interrogated by the German commander. The bold Henon decided on an audacious course. Providing false intelligence to the German officer, he fabricated a tale that a strong French attack was about to be launched with the aim of clearing out the trenches and dugouts of any remaining enemy forces and "mopping up" any survivors. Trench cleaning work was infamous for its violence and savagery, often with little mercy shown to any last defenders.
Henon's story was convincing enough to get the German officer to fall for it. Understanding that his company could very likely be wiped out, the German officer requested that Henon serve as a truce-maker so that he could surrender his company. The stretcher-bearer of course agreed and after collecting his comrades, set back off to inform his commanders. Henon then returned to the dugout and escorted all 180 German soldiers and officers back to the French lines as prisoners.
For his actions, Henon received the Medaille Militaire presented by General Pétain himself. But the courageous stretcher-bearer would not survive the war. Charles Léon Henon would be reported missing on 21 July 1918 at Saconin during the Second Battle of the Marne. Having no known grave, he would be pronounced as killed in action on 19 September 1919. Henon was 29 years old.
After having crossed over the last trench line of the German first position, the first assault waves reformed while advancing just behind the rolling barrage of 75 mm shells, "like a hunter following his dog" as Bordinat put it. This also assisted in allowing the succeeding battalions to maintain their proper distance and speed. Yet despite the precautions, certain units on the right came under the fire of short-falling French shells. In 1 Co. a number of casualties were suffered from these short rounds. Overall though, the regiment had not yet suffered too many losses.
Meanwhile, the 2 Bat. was following the 1 Bat. with magnificent élan, all the more impressive given the exertions made the night previous in just getting into position. The companies of 2 Bat. quickly pass over Choléra, followed by the 3 Bat. Some German survivors remained in Choléra in places and sent up flares to signal to their artillery to unleash a barrage. The German artillery responded almost immediately, but fortunately the barrage struck between the two former lines, which the regiment had already moved beyond. Moisson's last minute recommendation to not stagger the battalion advances but to move forward all at once together had proven extremely fortuitous.
Suddenly the enemy unleashed his artillery barrage and each of us cracked up laughing upon seeing the shells fall in front of our departure trenches where by now our whole assault wave was already far away from and is not moved any more. And satisfied with a good trick played on the clever Boches who were counting on wiping us out with their barrage as we started off, everyone said "they're wasting their time."
Sadly, their luck would not last. Factors started piling up that would slow the advance. Rain began to fall and the anxiety in the men started to grow with their impatience over the perceived slow down.
Our shells aren’t shifting forward fast enough, the strength was to do the same and unfortunately the cadence had been badly calculated. The enemy machine-guns in support, the majority concealed in the plain and along the Miette, had all the time in the world to make their preparations, even before our little rolling barrage.Matters were soon made worse when a German spotter plane observing the situation began signaling back to observers on Côte 78. Immediately intense fire from German heavy artillery begins raining down on the lead elements of the regiment, as well as a regressive barrage that worked down the line of the battalions. It was now 0620 hrs as the artillery fire brought the first assault waves to a halt and attempted to reorganize itself. During this time, Capt. Antoine's liaison detachment (accompanied by two infantry platoons and one machine-gun platoon of the 113 RI) was progressing along the banks of the Miette. Bordinat had his finger on the pulse of the men’s morale.
We didn't see any of our planes at this early stage except one divisional plane that tried to fulfill its duty by sending agreed-to signals to the artillery or other relevant services. The same was not true for the enemy who had already sent his aviation up over us, and was strafing us. His aviators had soon defeated our sad inoffensive planes, which have been so highly praised to before us. We see no sign of it while, even in spite of the rain, the enemy airplanes don't give us a break. They go about regulating the fire of their cannons and we are subjected to their shots.Despite the work of the trench cleaners, the advance was being made so quickly that some enemy troops also remained in the Ouvrage Marais and now began firing into the backs of 3 Bat. Capt. Le Boulanger orders 11 Co. to turn back and eliminate the survivors. By 0640 hrs, the general advance was retaken up to the sunken road trench. During this time, the regressive enemy artillery barrage was now striking the left of 3 Bat. The well-regulated fire then concentrated on the concrete shelters along the Miette. Losses among 3 Bat. begin to rise. Once 1 and 2 Bats. leave the sunken road trench, they come under an intense fire from all calibers of shells -- 77s, 105s, 150s, and 210s. The fire was intensifying, as was the enemy’s resistance, making progress very difficult.
We started taking losses, and at this time a big 210 shell killed our brave Remy -- adjutant of our battalion, an ecclesiastical native of Verdun -- and wounded several others including the commandant's orderly. In short, it was a painful moment that disrupted our wonderful energy.
Now the enemy, alerted in all areas, harassed us. The bullets whistle past, while we come under machine-gun fire from the nasty little birds flying only a hundred meters above us. We shoot at them but with no result other than to make us feel good. What comfort we would've had if we saw out planes chase away these damned dogs above our heads, but still nothing. One wonders what to attribute this lack of appearance to on a day like this one where everyone else was doing their duty.While the assault waves progressed in good order, all movement is once again brought to a halt by intense machine-gun fire coming from the direction of Bois des Vestales, the Tranchée du Ruisseau and the Miette. These guns are very well concealed shelters prepared in advance and difficult to spot. The 1 and 2 Bats. instinctively push into the cover of the low ground along the Miette. Cmdt. Martin (commanding 2 Bat.) immediately realizes the danger posed from the accumulation of so many units in this corridor orders that the units leave the area and start to dig emplacements to wait for the resumption of the forward movement.
It was around this time, that Capt. Carrère (adjudant-major of the 1 Bat.) was killed by a grenade fragment when a grenade unintentionally was set off by a shell-fragment striking the haversack of one the men. Carrère was a highly decorated officer (recipient of the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur and two Médailles Militaires) who had served with the 151 since October 1915 in Champagne, where he had once forbid Sous-Lieut. Campana from continuing to venture out to find the body of his friend among the countless bodies of the dead in the wake of the bloodbath of the 6 October attack. He was there on Mort Homme in April, commanding 1 Co., where he directed his company in repelling waves of German assault troops. He had also won commendations while fighting on the Somme. Now he lie dead on the mournful plains of the Aisne.
Progress remained extremely difficult, however the 1 and 2 Cos. managed to reach the south corner of the Bois des Vestales, and the 3 Co., Battery 2187. The 3 Bat. was forced to halt as well, it's commander having given the order to entrench in place. While Moisson calls for a barrage fire in the Bois des Vestales, the German artillery doubles its fire on the temporarily immobile companies. At 1030 hrs, Cmdt. Oblet (1 Bat.) gives the order to resume the forward movement. Subsequently Moisson orders 2 Bat. to move aggressively to support 1 Bat. and for 3 Bat. to support in turn the movement of 2 Bat. Cpt. Le Boulanger orders 10 and 11 Cos. to march in support of 2 Bat. with they're being objective the western corner of Bois des Béliers. The 9 Co. and 3 MG Co. are ordered to support 1 Bat. with they're objective being western portion of Tranchée de Ruisseau.
The advance is made slowly owing to the tough resistance of the enemy and a heavy machine-gun crossfire coming from the direction of Juvincourt and from Bois des Béliers (Cote 78). German artillery fire intensifies even more as the tanks of AS 2 disembark from the sunken road trench at 1100 hrs and approach the German positions. Around this time, Moisson moved forward to get nearer the 1 and 2 Bats. to understand the situation. He first passed through the units of 3 Bat., which were lying prone to avoid the dangerous fire of the German heavy artillery coming down around them. As he moved through 11 Co. and upon seeing their commander, Capt. Webanck (commanding 11 Co.) rose up and brought the company to present arms in a great gesture of respect. But morale the troops morale was sagging as the attack was starting to resemble every other bloody and ultimately futile assault.
Since the rain doesn’t prevent the enemy from flying, why aren't ours chasing them off. We'd never find out. We're wretched martyrs and once again we are reduced to our own means, suffering it all without recrimination. So our spirits are gradually raised but we have to move on at all costs, our brave Colonel Moisson tells us as he passes by at this moment comforting us as best he could, telling us that tonight we would sleep in Prouvais, a village I never heard of at least 8 km from where we are.
At 1140 hrs, 1 and 2 Cos. slog forward and capture the second position, while 3 Co. moves up to plug the hole that exists between the first two companies. Cmdt. Oblet establishes a liaison with the battalion leader of the 82 RI who is to his left on the other side of the Miette. Capt. Antoine's detachment has continued to progress on the right bank of the Miette, with his lead elements now at Battery 2499.
The 2 Bat. vigorously supports the 1 Bat. as it pushes up to the second position as quickly as possible, not stopping its movement in order to take advantage of a lull in the enemy machine-gun fire. The 1 Bat. then reaches Tranchée de Ruisseau and begins to pass move beyond it.
Paying a heavy price in sacrifices and through force of courage, advancing by leaps and bounds under fire and through poison gas, we arrived at the Boche third position [in actuality the second position] called the Tranchée [du] Ruisseau at half-past 11. Now our rolling barrage is at least 3 km ahead of us where, according to the calculations of the general-staffs, we were supposed to be at this point. Wonderful planning, I swear.The tanks (AS 2)approaching Tranchée de Ruisseau and cheered Bordinat’s spirits had been preceding 3 Bat. It was noon by the time they surpassed the position 1 Bat. was sheltering in. Yet as they do, they are spotted by an enemy observation plane, which begins signaling back to its artillery. Disaster ensues.
Decimated, unable to advance, we remained in this trench a good while when suddenly, around noon, we see tanks arriving. We were amazed to see that these damned armored cars we'd recently spoken about so much had actually made it up to us. We couldn’t believe it. And when we were told that these machines were destined to help us to take the Bois Claque-Dent, the final objective of our regiment, our courage returned even more strongly. If our aviation was useless, at least we will be compensated by these tanks, a novelty for us afterall! They were to move forward and with their prearranged signals, to the greatest dangers, we'd follow them in turn. It was our dream, we said, station the Boches and we set off well motivated. But not for long.
For the Boche planes soon discovered this new threat and, launching special rockets to signal their artillerymen, all these machines were destroyed. There was an avalanche of shells of all types, mostly incendiaries, which set fire to the gasoline and ignited the courageous combatants manning them. For about a hundred meters them, the area around was untenable. Oh, what a cruel sight to see these poor men burn alive, who managed to escape from the interior only to die in agonizing pain a few meters away. How can we help them? It's physically impossible. Few escaped death, except one or two from those tanks that had broken down and from which the crew salvaged the weaponry, unloading everything they could on the enemy before leaving.
The violent and precise fire that is immediately unleashed on the tanks also inflicts losses in the units of the 154 RI and Engineers Co. 22/63, which are escorting them. Including among the slain are Lieut. Labelle, who had been commanding the engineers detachment. Several tanks are struck igniting their fuel containers. As Bordinat recounts, those crew members not killed by the blast or shell fragments burn alive inside their tanks. Some manage to climb out but soon collapse after a short distance. But the conduct of the tankers greatly impressed the men in the 151 who both pitied and admired them.
Without paying any mind to the danger, they left with their machine-guns on their shoulders with admirable coolness and at nightfall returned again, even succeeding in bringing one of their machines to the rear. Every one admired their bravery. Some of them, chatting with us, told us that their commander, the actual owner of the Bois Claque-Dent, wanted to assist in person in taking it, knowing perfectly its layout and wishing to contribute to the success. The man had died in his burning weapon and they were very moved by the loss.The remaining tanks of AS 2 now continued to push forward towards the center of Tranchée de Ruisseau where a passage has been prepared for them to pass through. The left column of 3 Bat., following the tanks, occupies the center of this trench. The right column of 3 Bat. clears the eastern portion of the Bois des Béliers while the tanks skirt the western edge. At 1325 hrs, the 1 and 3 Cos., must move up in support the right towards the Bois des Béliers in order to post with thanks tanks. The 2 Co. and two platoons of under Sous-Lieut. Dressayre of the 1 MG Co. (3 guns) occupies Battery 2499, save a platoon of 2 Co. which has been pushed forward 500 meters to mop up the ground around the Miette. The 2 Bat. has been stopped again in the plain in front of the Bois des Béliers. With the 3 Bat., the 9 Co. is in Tranchée du Ruisseau, 10 and 11 Cos. are a little forward of the Bois des Béliers, while 3 MG Co. enters the woods and along the Miette. All units now halt to retake their order and let the men rest.
It is with pride that we pay tribute to all those heroes who have acted so bravely among all these other brave men. In spite of everything, they had done an enormous service by crushing the enemy wire-entanglements, which had remained intact until their arrival. This provided us with valuable passages for our subsequent work on taking the ground beyond.
At 1500 hrs, the tanks of AS 2 cross the second position and begin moving towards Côte 78 and Juvincourt. A very violent heavy artillery barrage opens up on them and stops their advance, preventing them from holding the crest of Côte 78. Another three tanks are struck and catch fire. The infantry units following the tanks -- 3 Bat/151 RI, along with elements of the 154 RI and 66 BCP -- are pinned down by machine-gun fire and are unable to reach the crest. They remain in position just forward of Tranchée de Ruisseau. The writing was now on the wall and what it said was ominous.
Our advance was all over. At 3:00 pm the attack was totally checked in front of us, and we were ordered to remain in place. Our artillery has gone quiet and we were quite astonished to see an unfortunate 75 mm battery go into position in the plain less than five hundred meters from us. With a signal from an enemy plane, it suffered the same fate as the tanks, without having fired a shot. The survivors run away in all directions and, seeing this, with unprecedented audacity the plane descends a few meters from them and machine-guns all the terrified pitiful men who didn't know where to hide themselves. Men and animals lie miserably on this plain in eternal sleep.At this time a German counter-attack is launched but it is immediately halted by the cannon and machine-gun fire of the tanks. Around now the tanks of AS 6 were moving up and approaching the battle zone. After four more tanks from AS 2 were struck destroyed, the remaining three withdrew to a ravine south of Côte 78, where they reassembled. At 1630 hrs the colonel commanding the 155 RI (following behind the 151) arrives to find Moisson in the Bois des Béliers in order to get up to speed on the situation. Soon orders arrive from division stating that after a preparatory barrage, the 151 is to retake its advance at 1730 hrs with two battalions of the 155 RI as reinforcement.
As such, Moisson orders that the 2 and 3 Bats. in accolade will attack Tranchée de Wurtzbourg, in liaison to the right with the 162 RI, which had delayed in taking Mauchamp. The 1 Co. to advance up Côte 78 in order to make a defensive echelon facing west. The rest of 1 Bat. is to remain in place. The 1 Bat/155 RI will follow the movement of 3 Bat/151 behind and to the left and support its efforts. The 2 Bat/155 RI in reserve will march behind 2 Bat/151 RI.
Capt. Chanoine commanding AS 2 goes to find Moisson and receives instructions to assist in the taking of Côte 78, now the final objective for the tank (owing to a lack of fuel). While waiting to attack again, Capt. Chanoine's tank was struck as well, killing him and his crew. This movement goes off at 1730 hrs as directed. The 1 Co. goes forward with the two remaining tanks of AS 2, which was now joined by AS 6, and takes up positions on the southern slopes of Côte 78.
The tanks from AS 6 followed by the 1 Bat/155 RI move up the crest and the 2 and 3 Bats. of the 151 begin their movement forward at the same time. However soon a storm of enemy gunfire sweeps down on the tanks and the infantry and brings the advance to a halt after only going 200 meters. In its turn, AS 6 lost six of its tanks while crossing the German second position from well sited artillery fire, placed on target by a German aviator. Bursts of machine-gun fire coming from Bois des Remois, from the north of Côte 78, and from the direction of Juvincourt check any further progress. The regiment must therefore entrench in place. For the moment, the men took a little solace in the fact that their regiment had in fact done much better than many other units in their corps.
Despite our disappointment, our spirits rise once more when we are informed that our regiment has done the best in our corps. The 267th and the 162nd Regiments, being part of the 69th Division like us at this time, are still far behind us…As we were near the center, it would have been dangerous for us to push forward. We therefore remain in our new positions, less than 500 meters from the first houses of Juvincourt and almost behind the notorious Côte 108, which could not be entirely captured. After facing thousands of dangers of all kinds, we are subjected as always after an attack, to frightful shelling that diminishes our already weakened ranks still further, we settled in as best we could.On the night of 16 April, advanced patrols of the 6 Co. skirt along the edge of barbed-wire in front of Tranchée de Wurtzbourg. It was during this reconnaissance that Sous-Lieut. Triaureau (commanding 6 Co.) is killed by a machine-gun bullet. Around 2300 hrs, 2 Bat/155 RI relieves in its positions the 2 and 3 Bats of the 151, which move back into reserve in the trenches located to the north of Bois des Béliers. The 1 Bat/155 moves up to take up the ground from Côte 78 to the Miette. The 3 Bat/155 RI takes up Tranchée du Ruisseau. Moisson moves his CP to northwest corner of Bois des Béliers. With nightfall, activity along the front quieted down.
. . .
On the part of the High Command, there were certainly mistakes, for even the artillerymen say that they couldn't fire as they were lacking more than a thousand shots per gun. Too bad because to see the human mass echeloned behind us, the 154th and 155th Infantry suffered losses for no purpose. In spite of our bad luck, everyone did their duty valiantly, except our aviation. We are thus forced to wait once more for the next affair, and this very nearly brought on a moral disaster as a result of our failure.
During its advance, Capt. Antoine's had capture two German 150 mm guns in their strongly reinforced concrete shelters, a third on its carriage that had been abandoned on the southern slopes of Côte 78, and a 210 mm mortar. But Capt. Antoine was himself terribly wounded during the attack. He was first shot in the left eye by a machine-gun bullet, which bore into right side of his face. He was then struck a second time by another bullet in the right eye, which left Antoine blind. For his bravery and devotion, Antoine would be awarded the Croix de la Légion d'Honneur.
During the regiment's progression, the 151 had taken over 3 km of ground. In doing so, a great amount of weaponry had been captured. Two machine-guns were taken, one by Sgt. Cernon of the 2 MG Co. and the other by Sdt. Zechser and some men commanded by Adj. Le Ridaut. In addition, a 205 mm minenwerfer was found in front of Tranchée du Ruisseau.
For its actions on this day, the 151 would receive a Citation in the Orders of the Army*, which read:
"Elite regiment which came to affirm once again its reputation during the course of recent fights. April 16, 1917, under the orders of the brave and energetic Lieutenant-Colonel Moisson, it composed itself in perfect order into the assault against the powerfully organized and fortified enemy trenches. Taking the first and second positions under machine-gun fire and heavy artillery barrages. Entirely breaking the enemy counter-attacks and holding on to the conquered ground under an extremely violent bombardment. Taking numerous prisoners, taking canons and machine-guns."
*For it's second Citation in the Orders of the Army, the regiment is awarded the Croix de Guerre by General Fayolle and the men receive their fourragère at Camp de Mailly on June 28, 1917. At the time, it was only the eleventh infantry unit to have received this distinction.
Losses for the regiment on 16 April 1917 vary from source to source. The regimental JMO puts them at 98 killed, 454 wounded, 21 missing (483 total), though the figure for missing is likely a typo. The reason being that a regimental report from 17 April puts the total losses at 39 killed, 416 wounded, and 279 missing (734 total). Meanwhile, a perhaps unreliable roll taken at the end of the day on 16 April had the total remaining effective of the regiment at 1,090 men and 27 officers distributed as follows: 1 Bat. with 308, 2 Bat. with 478 (including only 6 officers), 3 Bat. with 304.
As the men scattered across the battlefield returned to their lost units, the actual number of effectives rose to around 1,700. This would mean combat losses just for 16 April were close to 900 killed and wounded (a nearly 30% loss). A subsequent report on 18 April -- stating percentage of losses at 26% officers and 30.4% men -- would seem to confirm this figure. So too would a reconciled casualty report on 19 April 73 killed, 511 wounded, 288 missing [presumed dead] for a total of 874.
Included in the losses were 3 officers killed: Sous.-Lieuts. Triaureau and Bouffart, and Capt. Carrère, who had fought with the regiment in Champagne in 1915, had interrogated the German-Polish deserter on Mort Homme in April 1916 and had distinguished himself at the Somme that September. Another 14 officers were wounded: Capts. Antoine and de Saint Croix, Lieuts. Mariomeau, Cauredon, Riffard, Condozorgues, Thiebaud, and Parmenlin, and Sous-Lieuts. Spaulé, Lecomte, Damon, and Jubert.