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

~ 1918 ~

Battle of the Matz (Second Marne) (9- June)

Map showing the situation of the French 3rd Army on the morning of 10 June 1918. Source: AFGG. Original map here.

6-8 June: The regiment boards trains (four trains in total) at Dougermain. 1st train contains 1 Bat., Lieut.-Colonel Perchenet, and the active CHR); 2nd train contains CHR, Train de Combat and Train de Regiment; 3rd train is the 3 Bat; and 4th train is the 1 Bat. The regiment travels all day. On 7 June the 1st train arrives at Liaucourt – Rantigny station (Oise) and immediately debarks, with the CHR billeting at Erquery, 2 Bat. at St. Aubin. The 2nd train arrives at the same station at 1300 hrs, with the remainder of the CHR joining the active detachment at Erquery. The 3rd train with 3 Bat. arrives later and the 4th train with 1 Bat. will arrive at 0300 hrs (8 June) and is taken by truck at 0500 hrs to its billets. The 69 DI is in reserve of the GQG. Capt. Vignes (commanding 2 Bat.) is brevetted to chef de bataillon.

9 June: The German army launches what would be the final operation of the Spring Offensives that had begun on 21 March. Code-named Operation Gneisenau, German forces consisting of 21 divisions attacking across a 23 mile front along the Matz River, between Mont Didier and Noyon. The assault struck the French 3rd Army (General Humbert) and though the French were aware of the attack in advance and made preparations for a defense-in-depth, reinforcement from the 69 DI would be required. The 151 was alerted at its billets at 0300 hrs and told to make preparations to march at the first signal. Orders to depart arrive at noon, at the same as the arrival of a convoy of trucks that will transport the regiment to Montmartin. As soon as the regiments of the 69 DI arrive at their destination they are to immediately deploy into echelonned formations and establish liaisons on the wings. Advanced guards are to be pushed up to the Aronde stream.

At 1500 hrs, reports arrive stating: "Enemy advancing. He occupies the Cuvilly -- Ressons-sur-Matz, may have surpassed them." Consequently, 69 DI advances to the Aronde and put at the disposition of the general commanding XXXIV CA. Instead of debarking at Montmartin, the 151 is brought to the Aronde. Once there, it is ordered to reassemble around Ferme Porte (a massive enclosed farm complex, alternately referred to as Porte Ferme). Lieut.-Colonel Perchenet orders the head battalion (2 Bat.) to take up positions in the Gournay cemetery. The 3 Bat. which follows it is to placed itself to the east of the Féculerie d'Arsonval (Arsonval starch-rendering facility), while behind it, 1 Bat. is to position itself in a second line on the Aronde at the starch rendering facility. The regiment is covered by advanced posts along the line of Côte 82 (north of Gournay), Côte 120 Gournay -- Marquéglise trail), Côte 110. The PC of the regimental commander is at the starch rendering facility.

At 1645 hrs, the colonel commanding 69 DI orders the entire regiment to advance north, with 2 Bat. to Côte 68 (northeast of Gournay). Once arriving at Ferme Porte and 3 Bat. to Ferme Porte (Gournay – Marquéglise trail), unless there are already elements of the division present, in which case 3 Bat. should position itself between Côte 68. and the Féculerie. In the event this is indeed the case with 129 RI already present. The 3 Bat. leaves a squad there for liaison and then places itself between 2 Bat. and the Féculerie near Côte 105, arriving around 1930 hrs. Later the 3 Bat. receives orders to move to the right of 2 Bat. At 2030 hrs, orders arrive stating that elements of the 18 DI were pulling back to Bois de Ressons (situated southeast of Ressons-sur-Matz) and prescribes that the 162 RI and 151 RI move up and occupy a line from the Marquéglise railway up to Côte 116 (south of Bois de Ressons). The 162 RI on the right must take up a front of 1500 meters from the railway up to and including the southwest base of the square woods located to the north of Marquéglise trail at Côte 116. The 151 must position itself to the left of the 162 RI and connect up with the 18 DI.

In executing this order, the 3 Bat. receives order to establish itself to the east of Côte 116, it’s right resting to the left of the 162 which should be 800-1,000 meters to the east of Côte 116. Occupying a front of 500 meters, the 2 Bat. at Côte 116, its left echeloned in the direction of Côte 109. The 1 Bat. in second line will move to the northeast of Côte 68 in the ravine parallel to the crest 116 – 109, on the Ferme Porte – St. Maur trail. The regimental PC moves into the Côte 68 – Ferme Porte ravine. This movement begins at 2130 hrs. In the darkness of the night and the nature of the terrain, confusion abounded. In executing this movement to find the left of the 162 RI, 3 Bat. finds elements of the 66 RI (18 DI) in the ravine and links up with these (as the 162 has not yet begun to advance). The 2 Bat. as a result must take up position behind and to the left of the line it was ordered to, between Côte 116 and Côte 109. The 1 Bat. positions itself about 500 meters to the southwest of the point which it had been instructed. Some elements were deployed into head height fields of corn.

Map showing the ground over which the 151 RI would fight on 10 June 1918. Source: JMO 28 RI.

10 June: By 0530 hrs, 3 Bat. has established liaison with the left of 162 RI about 800 meters to the southeast of Côte 116. The battalion’s PC is set up on the Compiègne road, 1 km southeast of Côte 116. Thus, the disposition of the 151 is as follows: 3 Bat. is on the right with its left at Côte 116, in liaison with the right of 2 Bat., and its right flank about 800 meters to the east of Côte 116, its head in the ravine southeast of Côte 116 - Côte 109 and in liaison with the 162 RI. The 10 Co. (which had previously been in reserve) on the right in liaison with the 162 RI, the 11 Co. in the center, the 9 Co. in liaison with 2 Bat., the 3 GM Co. on the right to prevent a gap from opening between the 151 and 162. The 2 Bat. is on the left by Côte 116 - Côte 109 holding the woods located on the northwest slops of the cropping facing St. Maur, in liaison to the left with the 32 RI (18 DI). The 7 Co. on the right in liaison with the 3 Bat., 5 Co. on the left in liaison with the 32 RI, 6 Co. in support, and 2 MG Co. interspersed among the companies of the battalion. The 1 Bat. is in second line at the far northern end of the woods to the northeast of Côte 68. The 1 Co. on the right in the ravine 400 meters to the southwest of the St. Maur – Ferme Porte trail, in liaison to the left with the 2 Co., which forms a defensive hook. Its mission is to defend the in place the southeastern slops of the ravine. On the left is 2 Co. to the east of Côte 109 on the slope west of the ravine and 3 Co. is in reserve of the battalion, to the north and near Côte 68. The regimental PC is on the northern slope of the Côte 68 – Ferme Porte ravine.

However, the left flank of 2 Bat. is soon after left open by a leftward shift by the 32 RI in the early morning hours. At 0545 hrs, 3 Co. (reserve of 1 Bat.) is ordered to place itself at the disposition of the 2 Bat. commander in order to plug this hole on the left and to re-establish liaison with the 32 RI, which moves further and further to the left. But before this movement can be carried out, German forces attack. Almost immediately at the commencement of the attack, 9 Co. (left flank of 3 Bat. on Côte 116) loses all of its officers and is rapidly outflanked on both its right and left by superior forces. It is forced to retreat, which consequently exposes the right flank of 2 Bat. The enemy quickly advances through infiltration and gets in the rear of both 2 and 3 Bats., obliging them to fall back progressively. Large fields of wheat and oats hides from view the enemy skirmishers and machine-guns, providing perfect concealment for their infiltration movements. Facing a strong push by the enemy, the 11 Co. begins a stubborn fighting withdrawal along the Compiègne road back to the ravine where it regroups in the sunken road connecting Ferme Portes and St. Maur and on the northern slope of the ravine.

The 10 Co. organizes a defense laying down an intense fire and aided by a section of 3 MG Co., which takes up position on the Compiègne Road. The Germans suffer heavy losses on the road where their dense columns are either dispersed or annihilated by the fire. Yet, threatened by infiltration by the enemy, 10 Co. counter-attacks in a northeasterly direction, which forces the enemy back in disorder. Soon German forces surge back again and the 10 Co. falls back to its original base. Capt. Pey (commanding 3 Bat.) is wounded during this counter-attack. The reformed 11 Co. is positioned facing to the north in line with the 10 Co. The 10 and 11 Cos., assisted by the 3 MG Co. firing its guns without cease, holds back the enemy for some time. But eventually enemy elements manage to progress to the east and reach the Compiègne road, crossing the Ferme Porte – Marquéglise trail, a position held by the neighboring regiment (in liaison on the right with 3 Bat.). This unit is encircled and must fall back. While doing so, a Senegalese battalion counter-attacks energetically and manages to push the enemy back temporarily, before the enemy comes back again in force.

The 3 Bat. is now occupying a position facing to the east, the left flank resting in the ravine of Côte 68 and the right flank on crest to the west of Ferme Porte. The 3 MG Co. takes up position on the slope of this crest and blocks the approaches to the farm. The right flank of 2 Bat., exposed by 9 Co.’s retreat, faces a grave threat from the direction of Côte 116. Losses in this battalion are very heavy. Nonetheless, the battalion leader decides to counter-attack to the right of 7 Co. with the 6 Co. The unit moves through the wheat, bugles out in front, and sweeps the Germans beyond the road connecting Côte 109 and 116, and taking prisoners as they did (441st regiment[?]). Yet the threat on the right again presents itself and new German machine-gunners positioned on Côte 116 open up a withering fire. The 6 Co. is ordered to fall back to Côte 68 and occupy the crest bordering the ravine. The 7 Co. resisting in place, starts to conduct a fighting withdrawal with remarkable conduct under the protection of 5 Co., with the latter then commencing a fighting withdrawal in its turn. The 2 Bat. then reforms in the Côte 68 ravine and begins setting up on the crest. The 1 Bat. in reserve of the regiment takes advantage of the approaching darkness to organize its own position.

While all of this was transpiring, around 0600 hrs, owing to the withdrawal of 2 Bat., 1 Bat. is ordered to advance onto the first line to check strong frontal attacks and especially enemy infiltrations facilitated by the vast fields of wheat. They were met with a hail of machine-gun fire and then fleeing survivors from other units, who told them that the enemy had attacked en masse without artillery preparation or support. The 151 slammed into German formations south of Bois de Ressons and counter-attacks (supported by Renault light tanks) against vastly superior numbers. Without artillery support of their own, the battle was purely an infantry on infantry fight. Soldat August Bordinat described the fighting:

We shoot into this human wave without stop, which then hesitates in the face of our rifle and machine-gun fire crackling away from all sides. The Boches stop and we do the same. For two hours, there was only the whistling of bullets, no cannon shots at all, on either side. We don’t see anything else, no planes nor cannons. Our ammunition runs out and we have to rummage for more from our comrades killed beside us. Our fire slows, as we now have to make each shot count.
The stubborn defense by the companies of 1 Bat. greatly slows down the German advance. In the center of the battalion, enemy infiltrations arrive via the Bois de Perimont and an enemy patrol is captured in the process. By noon, the enemy occupies in strength the northern part of the woods and having set up numerous machine-guns and light minenwerfers, opens a heavy fire on the 1 Co., forcing it to fall back to a line even with 3 Co., under covering fire by 2 Co., and taking up position to the left of 2 Co. (400 meters south of Côte 68). Capt. Cormier (commanding 3 Co.) with the 1 MG Co. commander (whose guns covered the withdrawal of the battalion) regroups the 1 and 3 MG Cos. and part of the 2 Co. They decide to adjust his line a little to the south, having no liaisons to his right and left. The 1 Bat. organizes a line of resistance towards the northeastern edge of the orchards of Gournay, where the liaison is established to the right with 7 Co. and to the left with the 32 RI.

At this moment, the German attacks have stopped and the companies take advantage of this to quickly reorganize. Between 1300 and 1500 hrs, French artillery fires short and shells fall on the French line. Around 1400 hrs, a new German attack commences on Côte 68 and takes the Bois de Perimont. The situation on the trail leading from Bois de Perimont to the Gournay – Ferme Porte road becomes untenable owing to the enfilading enemy machine-gun fire. The 2 and 3 Bats. resume their fighting withdrawal, eventually positioning themselves on the Gournay – Ferme Porte road where a line is established on the reverse slope of Côte 105. Though the unit had conducted itself well and delayed the enemy’s advance, the feeling in the ranks was that the Germans were close to a breakthrough. From there, the enemy’s progress would again be stopped. French artillery batteries, which had crossed over the Aronde in the morning and had been unable to provide supporting fire, were now set up in battery and ready to open fire on the enemy formations. This was not known the men of the 151 dug in on the low ridge and awaited the enemy’s continued assault. Bordinat recounts:

Suddenly, at around 4:30 pm, this large grey mass emerges onto the Gournay – Compiègne road. We stiffened up waiting to receive them, finger on the trigger, waiting for the signal to fire. Suddenly, an artillery barrage of all calibers is unleashed against them, while we open up on them with rifles and machine guns. In light of this good trick played by the artillerymen, we laugh and even dance about. Arms and legs fly through the air as the terrified Boches flee backward and try to pass through our barrage. Almost all are blown away by the savage barrage.
A temporary lull in the back and forth fighting then settled in. Liaison with the 162 RI is once again established by 3 Bat., which is in line with the 162, which itself had withdrawn toward Côte 108 and Bois "Le Chêne". The 5 Co. plugs the hole that had existed between the 151 and the 162. In the evening, 1 Bat. regroups and moves towards Côte 105 where the 6, 7, and 2 MG Cos. are already established. In summary, the day had begun with a fierce enemy attack, followed by enemy infiltration movements supported by a great number of machine-guns and sub machine-guns. The unannounced retreat of the 32 RI turned the relieving reinforcement effort into a situation where the units of the 151 became engaged from the very start of the action. Moreover, this retreat led to the left flank of the 151 (2 Bat.) being exposed to the enemy. Owing to the artillery batteries displacing, in the morning friendly artillery was unable to provide supporting fire as they should have.

The 151’s tenacious defense, together with the rest of the 69th Division, had limited the enemy’s gains to between 800 meters to a kilometer. Its conduct had also earned the regiment its third citation in the Orders of the Army but at great cost. Losses for the regiment on 10 June include 34 killed, 379 wounded and 154 missing. Included among the casualties were Lieut. Courreaux (pioneers platoon), Sous-Lieut. Lecerf (2 Co.), Sous-Lieut. de la Ferrière (9 Co.) and Sous-Lieut. Maurice Pochon (11 Co.) all killed. Capt. Pey (3 Bat.), Capt. Edmond (2 Co.), Lieut. Donsimoni (1 Co.), Lieut. Metayer, Lieut. Dumesnil (11 Co.), Sous-Lieut. Puzenat (11 Co.), and Lieut. Pegon (6 Co.) were wounded. The following leadership changes are made: Sous-Lieut. Froissard takes command of 1 Co., Sous-Lieut. Houdin (3 Co.) takes command of 2 Co., Sous-Lieut. Roudant takes command of 9 Co., and Sous-Lieut. Bruns (10 Co.) takes command of 11 Co.

Left: Gournay-sur-Aronde before the war. Center: Gournay after the fighting in June 1918. Right: the Féculerie d'Arsonval after the fighting.

11 June: Per orders of the 69 DI, the 2 Bat. is put at the disposition of the 162 RI and is sent to occupy the Bois "Le Chêne". The 1 Bat. detaches a section to guard the bridge head at the Féculerie d'Arsonval. At 1300 hrs, the regiment is informed that a strong French counter-attack was executed with the objective being from west to east the front of St. Maur – La Taule and ground further north. In front of the regiment’s front, 1 and 3 Bats. are ordered to send out reconnaissance parties up to Côte 116 (south of Bois Ressons and near Ferme Porte). At 1400 hrs, the two recon parties set off to their assigned objectives and make contact with the enemy to the south – southwest of Ferme Porte and are met with rifle and machine-gun fire. A reconnaissance pushed up towards Bois de Perimont reported that the woods was strongly occupied.

All through the day the enemy attempts to advance through infiltration movements towards the exits of Bois de Perimont in a north-south direction and the ravine to the east of Côte 105 in a northeast-southwest direction. These infiltrations are stopped by the regiments rifle and machine-gun fire. Around 1700 hrs the enemy is reported to be assembling on a front between Côte 68 and Côte 110. The bifurcation of the roads leading from Ferme Porte to Gournay and to the Féculerie is held by the enemy, which has set up trench mortars there. The Germans also produce on several occasions clouds of dark smokescreens. Counter artillery unleashed on the front between Côte 68 and Côte 110. Despite strong pressure and numerous attempts at infiltration, night falls without the Germans making progress forward. The regiment is ordered to dig trenches with their mission still being to hold their positions at any price until the end of the day. The 1 and has two companies in line, with two sections in support and two sections in reserve of the regiment. The 3 Bat. has two companies in line and one company in reserve. The 2 Bat. remains at the disposition of the 162 RI. Losses for the regiment on 11 June include 8 killed and 26 wounded (including Lieut. Le Tollec commanding the 37mm gun platoon). Capt. Thomas (adjudant major of the 2 Bat.) takes command of 3 Bat.

12 June: The French counter-attack launched on the left makes good progress. On the regiment’s front, the enemy takes no action but seems to have entrenched on the line of Côte 68 to 400 meters south of Ferme Porte and the top of the Bois "Le Chêne" ravine. The front held by the 3 Bat. being greatly extended, orders are given to the 2 Bat. which was located to its right to ensure the liaison with the 162 RI. A battalion of the 32 RI in liaison to the left with the 1 Bat/151 RI is ordered to go occupy the woods of Côte 68. The liaison between the two units will thereafter only be assured by patrols and it becomes impossible for 1 Bat. to continue to hold its already greatly stretched front. At 2010 hrs, the colonel commanding the 32 RI sends a company to occupy the gap while Lieut.-Colonel Perchenet requests that a company of the 77 RI at the Féculerie also move up to plug the gap between the 151 and 32 RIs. At night, the battalions send strong patrols out to determine the contour of the enemy line, while the units of the 151 continue their entrenching work. Losses for the regiment on 12 June include 2 killed and 7 wounded (including Lieut. Rouzé).

13 June: Aviation having signaled a retreat by the enemy, Lieut-Colonel Perchenet orders reconnaissance patrols to push up to the enemy lines. By 1500 hrs, a recon platoon led by an officer reaches the edges of Ferme Porte. Approaching to within 20 meters of the farm, enemy machine-guns open up on them from the farm and from around the area of Côte 108. It was determined that the enemy’s advanced posts were further to the rear and orders arrive instructing the 151 and 129 RIs to advance, the 162 RI remaining in reserve. The right limit of the 151 (in liaison with the 129 RI) is located on the trail running southwest – northeast going from Côte 100 to Ferme des Loges, about 400 meters west of the Compiègne road. The progression ends with the units positioned as follows: on the left (an in liaison with 18 DI) the 1 Bat.; in the center the 3 Bat.; on the right (and in liaison with the 129 RI) the 2 Bat. As soon as the units are in place they begin to entrench. The German infantry remains passive. Losses for the regiment on 13 June include 1 killed and 5 wounded.

14-16 June: Morning intelligence reports from the 18 DI claims that the enemy had abandoned Ferme Porte. A patrol send out by 3 Bat. however reports back that an enemy force is still present to the east and south of the farm. The 1 Bat. sends a recon patrol to skirt to the west of the farm and, if abandoned by the enemy, to take up positions there. Once the patrol reaches a point 150 meters from the farm, German machine-gun fire opens up on them and the patrol halts. At night, 3 Bat. (in the center of the line) is pulled back to the advanced posts and establishes itself in reserve in the Bois "Le Chêne" and at the Ferme des Bouleaux. The 1 Bat. takes over the front previously held by 3 Bat. and keeps a company in reserve. Entrenchment work continues with the engineers staking out different traces. Enemy infantry remains passive but his artillery carries out bombardments, concentrating its fire on several important points in the 151’s sector. Losses for the regiment on 14 June include 5 killed and 12 wounded. The next day, enemy infantry patrols attempt to determine the 151’s line of advanced posts. Enemy artillery becomes more active and greater in strength. The men continue to work on their entrenchments. Losses for the regiment on 15 June include 5 wounded. On 16 June the enemy artillery conducts intermittent barrages. The regiment is told it will be relieved that night by the 36 RI, which is carried out without incident. span style="background-color: #E5E4E2">Losses for the regiment on 16 June include 2 killed and 5 wounded.

17-19 June: On 17 June, Lieut.-Colonel Perchenet hands command of the sector over to the colonel commanding the 36 RI at 0800 hrs. The regiment is at its billets: staff, CHR, 1 and 3 Bats. are at Coudun, the 2 Bat. is at Braisnes and Revenne, combat and regiment trains at the Ferme Montplaisir. The day is spent cleaning and at rest. On 19 June, Lieut. Hugon (commanding 3 MG Co.) is decorated and promoted to the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. Sgt. Demeulemeester (1 MG Co.) and Sdt. Lucas (2 MG Co.) are decorated with the Médaille Militaire.

The next day, the French counter-attack and the 151 makes contact with enemy forces south of Ferme Porte and Bois de Perimont, with brisk skirmishing erupting along the line as German inflitrations are beaten back by rifle and machine-gun fire. By the end of the day, the Germans appear to have entrenched in place and the 151 is ordered to do likewise. While the situation remains at stand-still on the 151 front, French counter-attacks involving 4 divisions and 150 tanks had made greater progress on their left. Losses for the regiment on 11 June include 8 killed and 27 wounded, including Lieut. Le Tollec (37mm gun platoon) who is wounded. Over the course of the next several days, the situation remains static, with only light skirmishing between the two sides resulting in 5 killed and 23 wounded. But the German threat has been checked and the final German push to end the war put to an end. It would now be the Allies turn to strike.

By the end of the day, the Germans appear to have entrenched along a line stretching from Cote 68 to 400 meters south of Ferme Porte and the top of the Bois "Le Chêne" ravine. , 1 and 3 Bats. are order to entrench where they are (2 Bat. has been assigned to 162 RI for the day) On 12 June, the situation remains unchanged. The front of 3 Bat. is highly extended. The 2 Bat. had returned and moved to the right of 3 Bat., ensuring liaison with the 162 RI. On 9 June 1918, At this time, the 151 was already in a weakened state due to a strong epidemic of Spanish flu sweeping through the ranks. Regimental records (dating from 14-16 September 1917) of the regiment's effectives reflect this grim reality: 1 Bat. (Cmdt. Bourgoin) - 12 officers, 483 men 2 Bat. (Cmdt. Martin) - 20 officers, 775 men 3 Bat. (Cmdt. Le Boulanger) - 8 officers, 480 men With the German advance brought to a decisive halt, it was the Allies’ turn to strike back. On 15 July, the 151 was sent to Compiègne and proceeded over the next several days eastward to make a push on Soissons, supported by tanks, armoured vehicles, heavy artillery, and planes. They’d received little in the way of reinforcements and with the units so depleted from combat losses, the 151 would primarily be used as a supporting unit and mopping up force working in coordination with American elements. With the exception of a powerful thunder and lightning storm on the evening of the 17th, the nights were clear and the days hot. The men ran out of water and with the swollen corpses of men and horses choking up the streams, there was little that could be done to replenish their canteens. To make matters worse, German artillery regularly sent over Phosegene and mustard gas shells. Over the course of days of hard fighting, the 151 retook the villages of Saconin-Breuil, Vauxbuin, and Villeneuve-Saint-Germain, and was now within striking distance of Soissons. A period of desperately needed rest and resupply was given. The hot humid days of July were accompanied by frequent rain showers, turning the ground into a muddy morass. à â è é ô Losses include . A detachment of reinforcements arrives from the Centre d'Instruction Divisionnaire (CID) composed

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