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

~ 1917 ~

Chemin-des-Dames - Part II (17 April - 3 May)

Map of the 151's approximate attack route on 16 April 1917 (source: AFGG).

17-30 April: Starting in the early morning hours, the Germans strongly bombardment all their old second-line trenches with shells of the heaviest calibers. Tranchée du Bois des Béliers is particularly targeted. At 0320 hrs, Moisson requests from division a counter-battery fire on the enemy batteries set up around Prouvais and Amifontaine.

Around 0400 hrs, the bombardment reaches such fury that it's believe the Germans will soon launch an attack. Everyone is put on high-alert. Enemy planes surveille the regiment's lines and help to regulate the German artillery fire. A German counter-attack is spotted to the west, along the front of 9 DI and a request is made to open a disruptive barrage. In the event, the attack is not carried out. However, the sector under a bombardment of extreme violence all day long, inflicting a number of losses.

The night passes without any infantry action but the shelling does not diminish in intensity, principally in the back areas on the conquered terrain between the regiment's new front line and the former German first lines. This fire disrupts the resupply efforts. Losses for the regiment on 17 April include 13 killed and 51 wounded (including Sous-Lieut. Dressayre). Sous-Lieut. Duclos coming from the 262 RI is assigned to the 2 Co.

By 0320 hrs on 18 April, there is still the German bombardment remains as strong as ever. Once again, the regiment is put on alert to watch for an enemy infantry counter-attack. The shelling only grows in strength throughout the morning. At 1445 hrs, the 21 (Hessian) Division launches an attack along the entire front of the regiment. Strong columns of enemy infantry look to take the ridge located 800 meters to the north of the 151's first-line but are mowed down by the regiment's machine-guns and a barrage of 75 mm guns.

Some groups of German troops attempt to dig in on the ridge but the positions are untenable under the French gunfire and they fall back in disorder, leaving a number of dead behind them. The men get worked up and stand on top of the parapets in order to fire more easily on the fleeing enemy troops. From there on, the enemy ceases his attack. But the rest of the day is spent under very heavy bombardment. At 1800 hrs, Moisson receives orders from division to relieve in the first-lines the battalions of the 155 RI. Because of the events during the day and given that a new enemy attack was still possible, Moisson requests a postponement of any relief up to the first-line. As a result, no displacement takes place.

During the night, some prisoners are taken who belong to the 87, 88, and 158 Regiments, declaring that all of their units had taken heavy losses during the afternoon attack. Gradually the German bombardment lessens in intensity but still continues on all the regiment's positions. Losses for the regiment on 18 April include 20 killed and 43 wounded.

Staring in the early morning hours of 19 April, the Germans begin a well-regulated fire directed by airplanes principally on the regiment's support line (Tranchée du Ruisseau and Tranchée du Bois des Béliers), on which is unleashed a destructive fire around 1400 hrs. The fire is perfectly directed and once again, losses are incurred especially to Moisson's liaison runners.

Around 1830 hrs, an extremely violent barrage is unleashed along the entire front of the regiment. While the units are put on alert, no enemy infantry action takes place. The shelling continues through the night while the companies try to organize their trenches and boyaux. Losses for the regiment on 19 April include 7 killed (including Lieut. Bouffard) and 23 wounded.

Between 0330 and 0430 hrs on 20 April, the German shelling once again intensifies and all units are put on alert for a possible enemy attack which is never manifested. The day is marked by repeated, intense bombardments of short duration. During the night, the 151 is sent up to relieve the 155 RI in the following manner: 1 Bat/151 (reinforced by two platoons of 6 Co. and a platoon of 2 MG Co. and 3 MG Co.) relieves 1 Bat/155 and 2 Bat/151 relieves 3 Bat/155. Losses for the regiment on 20 April include 9 killed and 55 wounded.

Throughout the day of 21 April, the German bombardment reaches its maximum intensity. The Tranchée du Bois des Béliers is effective targeted with the greatest violence. During the night, 3 Bat/151, save the 10 Co. and 3 MG Co., return to the old German entrenchments at Choléra for a short rest. The 10 Co. remains in reserve of 1 Bat. Bordinat provides a description of what they found at Choléra:

On the 21st [April], we went back a little ways behind the old Boches positions at Choléra where we admired the underground installations replete with modern conveniences, functioning electric motors, comfortable rooms, everything that could be thought of to be useful. We marvel at how they could build this subterranean village at this depth, at least 25 feet below the ridge which they'd to abandoned so abruptly, along with all kinds of material.
Losses for the regiment on 21 April include 11 killed and 29 wounded.

The next day, once the relief is completed the placement of the units is as follows from left to right: in liaison to the left with the 82 RI on the Miette is 1 Bat. with two companies (2 and 3 Cos.) in the first-line and one in support (1 Co.); 2 Bat. with two companies in line (7 and 6 Cos.) and one in reserve (5 Co.). The 10 Co. remains in reserve of 1 Bat. to block any enemy attack along the Miette. The bombardment during the day is less intense than usual. During the night, the shelling is maintained on the regiment's rear areas to disrupt any resupply. At night, 10 Co. is sent back to its battalion at Choléra. Losses for the regiment on 22 April include 2 killed, 13 wounded, and 1 missing.

On 23 April the enemy keeps up an intermittent bombardment on the regiment's trenches but a greatly reduced intensity compared to the previous days. But the fire increases once again at night fall. The following day remains relatively calm with the units passing the day organizing their positions.

On 25 April German artillery keeps up its usual fire. At night, the enemy launches a raid on the 151's first-line on the right of 2 Bat. Two short columns 25-30 men strong attempt to reach the regiment's trenches, approaching the French wire-entanglements and ready themselves to attack. These columns are immediately dispersed by the regiment's machine-gun and rifle fire. A second attempt is made by the enemy at 2200 hrs and suffers the same fate, with a prisoner being taken at this time.

The German bombardment continues intermittently the next day. At night, the companies work to strengthen their positions defensively. The day of the 27 April remains calm. At night fall, the Germans conduct short but intense barrages. Finally, starting at 2100 hrs the 2 Bat. is relieved in its positions by a battalion of the 267 RI. After the relief, the 2 Bat. goes to rest at the former German entrenchments at Choléra. While the CHR (HQ Co.) and regimental staff is also relieved, the 1 Bat. remains in line.

The following night, at 2200 hrs, 3 Bat. relieves the 1 Bat. in the first-line, the latter going back to Choléra. Not reported in the JMOs though is what was unfolding on the ground

We stayed about a week until the 26th [in fact, the 27th], when after getting a little rest, we went up to the first-line where the discontent of our unit was beginning to be felt. As such, many deserted, and our commanders, by keeping us in line, promised us we'd be relieved next, while advising the High Command of our weariness and discouragement.
It should also be noted that at the moment of the attack on 16 April, six soldiers "abandoned their post before the enemy" together. Five of them would be condemned to death but later pardoned. The same day, fifteen other were accused of the same offense on their own. (source: Les Mutiniers de 1917 by Guy Pedroncini)
A report dated 22 April from the regimental records would appear to confirm Bordinat's claim that many men had left the firing line for the shelter of the former German first and second lines without orders. The troop effectives per battalion were as follows:
1 Bat - 256 men
2 Bat - 268 men
3 Bat - 296 men
Total - 820 men plus 32 officers

Regardless of the actual figures, the spirit of the men was clearly affected. On 29 and 30 April there was nothing significant operationally to report...except that an additional 4 men are killed and 16 wounded.

1-3 May: On the night of 1 May, the companies of 1 and 2 Bats. at Choléra are sent up to work on the second-line trenches (Tranchée de la Passerelle). The same work is carried out the next night as well. At 22 hrs on 2 May, the 3 Bat/151 is relieved by a battalion of the 162 RI, with the latter going back to rest at Bouvaucort. Bordinat wrote:

On the 1 May, at last, we were ordered to get ready to leave this deadly place so dearly purchased. And we sincerely doubted that in a year from now, the enemy wouldn’t be again trampling over so many comrades who'd remain forever in the valley of the Miette.

We will be quartered in barracks not far from Bouvancourt where the enemy planes come visit us every night, still inflicting casualties on us. We take advantage of this little stay to clean ourselves a little to try to get rid of this vermin of lice. A bit rested, I attend a mass in the little church of Bouvancourt, celebrated in memory of the comrades who remained up there forever, sung by the chaplain of our battalion, Father Blanc.

During this period, casualties remained light but steady. They were as follows:
23 April: 1 killed, 9 wounded
24 April: 2 killed, 10 wounded
25 April: 7 wounded
26 April: 3 wounded
27 April: 5 wounded
28 April: 2 killed, 4 wounded
29 April: 2 killed, 12 wounded
30 April: 4 killed, 4 wounded
1 May: 1 killed, 8 wounded
2 May: 1 killed

At last on 3 May, the 1 and 2 Bats. are relieved at the Choléra emplacements by two battalions of the 267 RI. These battalions along with the CHR and regimental staff go to rest at Guyencourt. The regiment remains at rest Lieuts. Candal [sp?] and Guillot, and Soust-Lieuts. Chiarelli, Delannay, Mollet, and Lumeau arrive to the regiment from the Divisional Depot. Sous-Lieut. Coureaux is brevetted to lieutenant. Meanwhile, a detachment of reinforcements composed of 4 adjudants, 21 sergents, and 15 caporaux arrives to the regiment from the DD.

Between the 15 April and the 2 May, the 151 RI suffered between 1,000 to 1,200 casualties, a ~35-45% loss. On 22 April, regimental rolls reported a total effective of 1,547 men and officers, broken down in the following manner:
1 Co. - 101
2 Co. - 125
3 Co. - 114
1 MG Co. - 75
1 Bat. Total = 415

5 Co. - 126
6 Co. - 115
7 Co. - 95
2 MG Co. - 80
2 Bat. Total = 416

9 Co. - 133
10 Co. - 111
11 Co. - 127
3 MG Co. - 95
3 Bat. Total = 470

CHR = 246

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