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Great War's soldiers of both sides in the trenches of France, Belgium and Gallipoli in Turkey physical and mental survival at times took the form of understanding and respecting enemy soldiers. One French soldier described that as "the strength of an irresistible instinct of human nature."


War in the Trenches

The Western Front  and  Gallipoli     1914 to 1918

by Richard O. Aichele


Overconfidence and ignorance by military planners produced terrible results.

The new 20th Century began as an era of technological advances including larger ocean liners on the seas, dirigibles and airplanes introducing air mobility and even electricity lighting the homes of common people. Europe's military planners were enthused by huge new dreadnaught warships that changed naval strategies. However military planers land war tactics were less progressive. The Alistair Horne book The Price of Glory, recalls some French early 1900s approaches. "General de Brigade Ferdinand Foch, then Commendant of the Staff College, said: 'The aircraft is all very well for sport, for the army it is useless.' The St. Etienne machine gun was brought into service that year, but it would 'not make the slightest difference to anything.' said the Inspector General of Infantry. A plan for introducing steel helmets was also dismissed by the army believing any war would be over quickly so they were not needed."

Anonymous As late as 1909 a member of the French General Staff was dismissive of government funding plans for new larger caliber artillery guns: "You talk to us of heavy artillery. Thank God we have none. The strength of the French Army is in the lightness of its guns." At the time, many French staff officers still believed that "Victory would be achieved by an assault against the enemy with bayonet. Meanwhile, so that the enemy could see them clearly and be terror-struck by their furious numbers, the infantry went to war in the red kepis and pantaloons of the Second Empire."

The climate for war in Europe at the start of the 20th Century was heating up. There was international competiton among European countries with colonies and commercial competition especially between Britain and Germany. Each was committed to having a larger navy than the other. Still fresh in many minds was the War of 1870, also known as the Franco Prussian War, between France and Germany in which France gave up the provinces of Alsace and Lorrain to Germany. For many in France, that issue produced a growing wish for revenge. What became less of an issue were the wartime realities of the thousands of soldiers that never came home caused in part by the War of 1870 tactics that had been less than successful.

When the war started in 1914, European countries inclusion of new technologies provided new, deadlier equipment for their military. Naval officers had created new tactics with fast battlecruisers and submarines. On land, many of the older generals and political leaders were still committed to military strategies of the past. Within weeks the incompatibility of the generals' old strategies with the new powerful weapons quickly proved to be disastrous for the young men who had enthusiastically marched off to war.


Battle of the Ardennes

French soldiers of the Third and Fourth Armies in the Battle of the Ardennes on August 22, 1914 were among the first to endure the affects of the pre-war planning. The Price of Glory described part of the battle. "The terrain is part of the Ardennes plateau with steep hills and dense forests. Well placed German machine gun positions controlled roads and defiles. Relying on the French tactical doctrine, French soldiers were ordered to attack across open ground and use their bayonets...The infantrymen in their red trousers and thick, blue overcoats carrying heavy packs and long, unwieldy bayonets, broke into the double behind their white-gloved officers. In the August heat, the heavily encumbered French attacked from a distance of nearly half a mile from the enemy. Never have machine gunners had such as heyday. The French stubble-fields became transformed into gay carpets of red and blue. Splendid cavalry in glittering brest plates of another age hurled their horses hopelessly at the machine guns that were slaughtering the infantry. It was horrible and horribly predictable." By the end of the day, the Fourth Army lost 11,000 soldiers out of the 15,000 engaged.


Within weeks, the realities of modern war were evident to the front line soldiers if not the officers well to the rear. . When war was declared, French Army private Louis Barthas was called up and arrived as a replacement at the Pas -de-Calais sector of the front. He wrote in his notebook, "Men already there for weeks sketched out their sad fate. Every night you had to attack, patrol or dig. The machine guns drove you mad. You had to lie in the mud for hours at a time. Daily rains, no shelters, badly fed. Such was our fate....There were dead men all around and [if they could be] were being buried under just a couple of shovelfuls of dirt." From the book Poilu based on the notebooks of French Army soldier Louis Barthas translated by Edward M. Strauss.


1914 - The Aisne, Stalemates and Elaborate Trench Systems Emerge

The early battles between British and German armies in 1914 at Mons and Le Cateau in France led to the start of the Battle of the Aisne on September 12. Among the accounts by Captain Ernest W. Hamilton with the British Expeditionary Forces 11th Hussars. "It became apparent to our commanders that the retreat of the Germans had been in accordance with a plan pre-arranged and that the pursued now definitely stood at bay. The situation was not one to encourage a reckless offensive...It was not known at that time, but on the Craonne plateau crowning the slopes opposite, the forethought of the Germans had prepared in advance a complete system of very elaborate trenches of a kind then new to warfare, but since horribly familiar. They were supplemented in many cases by the old stone quarries and caves which run the length of the heights. Such was the scene in which the German and Allied armies were destined to face one another for over a year, dealing out ceaseless death, desolation and pain, and gaining no fraction of military advantage for either side."

"On the morning of the 28th, while the 2nd Coldstream were on the left of the 4th Brigade at what was know as Tunnel post, three men of Captain Folluett's company were sent out in a very thick mist to reconnoiter. It was a risky undertaking for the German lines were very close. Suddenly the mist lifted and two of the three were instantly shot, the third getting home with only a graze. As leaving them where they lay meant fourteen hours exposure before they could be got in under cover of darkness, te. Dobson volunteered to try to get them at once. The undertaking on the face of it an absolute impossibility as it involved crossing a good deal of open ground in full view of the enemy. However, Dobson crawled out and managed to reach the men one of whom he found dead and the other wounded in three places. He applied first-aid dressing and then crawled back. A few minutes later he crawled out again, this time in company with Corpl. Brown. The two men dragging a stretcher between them on which the wounded man was placed and dragged back to safety, none of these three being hit. It need be scarcely added that Dobson got the Victoria Cross for this most remarkable performance and Corpl. Brown being awarded the D.C.M."


The German Offensive in the Argonne June, 1915

Anonymous Major Eduard Zimmerle, with the Württembergische 49th Feld Artillerie Regiment preserved this photo of French trenches captured by the Germans during the attack. On June 30 at 5:15 AM the bombardment of the French positions began. Our infantry in the front lines had been pulled back and so it was possible to take the enemy under fire without our own infantry being endangered by any shells falling short. At first the Grenadier Regiment No. 123 fired on the positions with a light field howitzer battery, a heavy field howitzer battery and a 21 cm. Morter battery along with a railroad field cannon and light, medium and heavy Minenwerfern. Soon the valley was filled with smoke and the enemy positions could no longer be seen. The French were generally overwhelmed and those not under the rubble retreated or surrendered. From individual dugouts there was resistance. Our munition handlers were shot at from a telephone hut. One Grenadier calmly cleaned it out with a hand grenade and when he was shot at from another dugout he captured the two Frenchmen at the point of his bayonet. The attitude of our men was excellent and the urge to move forwards conquered what we had earlier believed could only be captured piecemeal."


As Mobility Ended - Modern Artillery Ruled

French Artillery

The Western Front's initial war of movement including mass bayonet charges over open ground quickly changed into static trench warfare dominated by machine guns and heavy artillery. The French High Command had earlier objected to using heavy artillery but adapted to the new reality as shown in these old photographs.

      French 155 at the front.

             French 220 Mortar


German Artillery

As the war front line movements slowed, artillery positions became more established. Left - A German FK96 Field Gun in position with the battery crew ready for action. Right - The eyes of the artillery battery. A German Gefechtstande forward artillery observation position.

Photo below - A heavy 21 cm Morser Trench gun in action at Verdun.


British - French Invasion of Neutral Turkey

Gallipoli and Dardanelles Battles

At the oubreak of the war when Germany invaded neutral Belgium, Britain and France began to plan their invasion of neutral Turkey. Their first onjective of the war's Second Front was to seize control of Gallipoli and the Dardanelles Straits between the Medierranean Sea and the Black Sea. The second objective was to capture Constantinople, the capital of Turkey. Success would have opened a sea route to ship war supplies to Russia. Failure was apparently not considered a possibility by the English and French planners.

AnonymousDays before England declared war on Turkey, England attacked. The attacking forces were led by major warships from France and England and the Australian submarine AE2. The invasion land forces were made up primarily of the newly arrived Anzacs (Australian) troops. French colonial troops and a contingent of English troops were also involved. The land invasions began before the final naval battle to secure control of the Dardanelles. Among the attacking forces were major warships from France and England including the Australian submarine HMAS AE2. Throughout the difficult land invasion, the Allied forces were supplied with food, water, ammunition and other supplies carried and hoisted off the British and French supply ships moored as close to shore as possible. In the hot days, it was tedious, tiring, never ending work as this young soldier's face seems to show.


June 4 The Allied Attack at Cape Helles

wrap text around image Supported from the sea by British and French warships, "the Australian Division and the newly arrived 42nd Division advanced after a prolonged and terrible bombardment which broke down the Turk defence that their works wfere carried all along the line except iin one place. Our advance varied in depth from a quarter of a mile to six hundred yards all of it carried in a rush, in a short time, though with heavy losses from shrapnel and machine gun fire. In this attack the 42nd or East Lancashire Division received its baptism of fire...In this campaign we were to taste, and be upon the brink of, victory in every battle, yet hae the prize dashed from us, by some failure elsewhere, each time."

In the French sector, Haricot, an earthwork fortress, stormed by the French an hour before was garrisoned with Senegalese troops. The Sengalese could not hold it; the French could not support it; and the Turks won it. Unfortunately the Haricot then enfiladed the lines we had won...and the Royal Navy Division was forced to fall back," according to John Masefield in his book Gallipoli.

The fighting was brutal for both the Allies and the Turkish forces. This is part of a letter written in April, 1915 by T. Harold Watts, a soldier with the British Royal Navy Division, describing the daily realities.


The Invasion at Anzac Cove

wrap text around imageMasefield wrote: "On August 5th, the Australian brigade told of the planned attack, sharpened bayonets, and prepared their distinguishing marks of white bands for the left arms and white patches for the backs of the right shoulders. In the afternoon of the 6th, the shelling of the ships became more intense; at half past four it quickened to a very heavy fire; at half past five it stopped suddenly. The three whistle blasts sounded and were taken up along the line, our men cleared the parapet in two waves on a front about one hundred and sixty yards "and attacked with vigour."

Shell Fire

"They had not gone twenty yards before all that dark and blazing hill-top was filled with explosion and flying missiles from every enemy gun. One speaks of a hail of bullets, but no hail is like fire, no hail is a form of death crying alound a note of death, no hail screams as it strikes a stone or stops a strong man in his stride. Across that kind of hail the Australians charged on Lone Pine. It was a grim kind of steeplechase, said one, but we meant to get to Koja Dere."

After over a year of difficult fighting on land and at sea the ill-fated British - French military campaign ended with the withdrawal of all forces completed on January 9, 1916. The British recorded 205,0000 casualties including 43,000 killed. The French had 47,000 casualties including 5,000 killed.

The comment of one Anzac soldier quoted from John Laffin's book, 'Damn The Dardanelles!' for what the soldiers had endured was sadly appropriate: "From the time of the last big push on the Cape Helles front our complete lack of confidence in our superiors made us cynical, dispairing and savage. We did our duty, but from now on we did it without hope, without enthusiasm. And that's a hell of a rot to set in with any Army."


The naval operations cost both the British and French navies many ships including major warships lost to Turkish artillery fire, naval mines and actions by several German U-Boats.

For details of the Dardanelles naval operations, visit The Great War At Sea



The Battle of Verdun 1916











Order of Battle - Showing the French Army units defending Verdun in 1916.

Left Photo: Verdun's Fort Douamont early 1916 before the battle began. Right Photo: Late in 1916 after months of German artillery bombardment.

Both photos taken by German aerial reconnaisance aviators.



Upper map: The city of Verdun was protected by Fort Douamont, Fort Vaux and other fortresses. Cote 304 and Le Mort Homme were important French defense positions facing German lines in Montfaucon and Romagne. For the soldiers on both sides, one word that best described the battle: Terrible"

In just one area, "From noon to 4:00 in the afternoon, the Boches unleashed upon Cote 304 one of the most terrible bombardments that I heard and saw throughout the whole war. A thick cloud of dust, marked with black smudges or by the vivid green left by burtsing flares against the sun's rays, burned our eye and parched our gullets, while the stench of sulfur or of I don't know what, mixed with the smell of rotting flesh, grabbed us by the throat.

Like the waves of a raging ocean, the salvos of iron and fire marched forward, retreated, advanced again, submerging Cote 304 in a torrent of shellfire. And to think that we were only one small link in Verdun's chain of defense. To our right, at Avocourt, and to our left toward Chattancourt, the cannonade went wild. And on the other side of the Meuse, at Damloup, Fleury, the Fort of Vaux, it was even worse." ;     From the book Poilu based on the notebooks of French Army Corporal Louis Barthas translated by Edward M. Strauss.


The primary French defense point, Fort Douamont, was captured by the Germans on March 4, 1916. Later, during a pause in the fighting, the photo shows two German soldiers climbing down into the fort's moat toward a fort's entryway.



Verdun's Trench of the Bayonets

trench monumentAccording to Lieutenant Foucher: a surviving French officer, "Setting out from the citadelle of Verdun on June 6, 1916. the 1st Battalion of the 137th reached the line on the night of the 10th - 11th and relieved the 337th. The trench lay on thr right of the 3rd company and on the left of the 4th company. In the morning of June 11th a violent bombardment took place lasting all that day and part of the night. During the course of the 11th, the trench was under bombardment of shells of 150, 210 and other calibers. The men were awaiting the assault with fixed bayonets but their rifles were propped up against the parapet within reach for they had in their hands bombs to be used as the first means of repelling the probable attack. Shells falling in front, behind and on the trench broke the edges of the trench burying our brave Vendeens and Bretons. Owing to the men not having their rifles in their hands, the bayonets stuck out after the collapse of the trenches."

From that evening, June 11, 1916, the trench survived the war and kept the appearance which it still had at the Armistice. Photo shows the trench surrounded by a monument built after the war to preserve the trench as it was in 1916.


Along The Trench Lines


After the artillery duels quieted, the Kanoniers of the Württembergische 49th Feld Artillerie Regiment's Batterie Scheerer began digging out a gun after the firing position was hit by heavy caliber English artillery fire on July 14.

"The region is a place of horror. For days and weeks the earth has been churned up again and again to its very depths. Dead men and animals, arms and equipment, are tossed about in the mud and slime, splashed up on high, pounded down into the earth again, again thrown up and torn into pieces until they are things without form or shape," wrote Rudolf Binding, a German army officer, in his book Aus dem Kriege.

Whether defending the trenches being shelled while waiting for the enemy infantry attack or being one of the soldiers of the attacking infantry facing machine gun and rifle fire while trying to get through the barbed wire --- for to many it was their final moment as described by British war correspondent John Masefield.:

"He saw, perhaps, a flash, and the earth rushing nearer,...

then saw nothing more at all for ever and for ever."


          Not Shooting But Only To Briefly -

                   "Frenchmen, Germans, soldiers, all comrades"

During July 1916, one area of the front in the Champagne region was a quiet area for the French 296th Regiment. According to French Army Corporal Louis Barthas, At some points, the French and German trenches were as close as six meters apart. A French Lieutenant intent on ending the short time of peace created an incident. When a German sentry looked over the top of his trench, that French officer shot him in the head. The result was heavy rifle fire between the two sides for a day.

A day later, Barthas wrote, "As daybreak approached, the Germans called out to us. There were three of them and they asked if we had any coffee to drink. They told us, the day before, our artillery had killed two of their comrades. But I hastened to bring this conversation to an end. We told them about last evening's incident and they should keep from showing themselves as we are being closely watched. The Germans, deeply moved, thanked us profusely before disappearing behind their sandbags. One of them clasped one hand in the other and cried out: 'Frenchmen, Germans, soldiers all comrades.' And here he raised one clenched fist shouting, 'Officers No.'

How right he was, this German. It's true you should not generalize. But how many of our officers were distantly separated, more generally estranged from us soldiers than were the poor German devils who were being led into the same slaughterhouse despite themselves. Little by little both sides became more confident in the reciprocal interest of not firing on each other, and they ended up showing themselves without challenge, exchanging a wave of comraderie, a smile, a friendly look. .

Among those who haven't suffered through the crisis of the trenches, many won't be able to understand this tacit entente, this fraternity of adversaries whom they thought were always on the alert, fingers on the triggers. But they should think seriously about the fate of men whom a long, common suffering in dangers has brought together, by the strength of an irresistible instinct of human nature." Quoted from the book Poilu based on notebooks of French Army Corporal Louis Barthas, age 37, translated by Edward M. Strauss,


The British Somme Assault on July 1, 1916 at La Boisselle

by John Masefield

somme"In the early morning of the 1st of July, 1916, our men looked at the German positions as they showed among the bursts of our shells. Those familiar heaps, the lines, were then in a smoke of dust full of flying clods and shards and gleams of fire. Our men felt that now, in a few minutes, they would see the enemy and know what lay beyond his parapets and probe the heart of that mystery. So, for the last half hour, they watched and held themselves ready, while the screaming of the shells grew wilder and the roars of the bursts quickened into a drumming. Then as the time drew near, they looked a last look at that unknown country, now almost blotted in the fog of war, and saw the flash of our shells breaking a little further off as the gunners lifted.

They knew the moment had come. Then for one wild confused moment they knew that they were running toward that unknown land, which they could still see in the dust ahead. For a moment, they saw the parapet with the wire in front of it, and began, as they ran, to pick a path through that wire.

Then, too often, too many of them, the grass that they were crossing flew up in shards and sods and gleams of fire from the enemy shells, and those runners never reached the wire, but saw, perhaps, a flash, and the earth rushing nearer, and the grasses against the sky, and then saw nothing more at all, for ever and for ever and for ever.


The Australian Assault on the Hindenburg Line

The Battle of Bullecourt on April 11, 1917 lasted 10 hours, with shooting ceasing at about 2 pm. With no tanks or artillery support the Australians had fought their way to the Hindenburg Line with parts of the Australian 4th Division occupying a section of the Hindenburg Line. They sent up flares asking for artillery support on Reincourt, 1.5 kilometres from Bullecourt, a position from which they were receiving machine gun and rifle fire. However, the support failed to arrive and the Australian 4th Brigade found themselves cut off by enemy shells, machine guns and counter attacking infantry. Incorrect reports had suggested that the attacks were successful and therefore artillery support was unnecessary. They had no option but to withdraw. The Australian 4th Brigade took 3,000 men into battle and sustained causalities of 2,339. The 12th Brigade took 2,000 into battle and lost 950. Part of these casualties included 28 officers and 1,142 men captured, by far the most prisoners taken in a single battle during the whole war. The reason for this was the fact that the attack by the Australian 4th Division had actually breached the Hindenburg Line but been left isolated and unsupported by inadequate artillery fire, according to

The next day Major Eduard Zimmerle's regimental history of the Württembergische Feldartillerie Regiment Nr. 49 recorded there was a pause in artillery firing (called "feuerpause"in German Army records) that began after the battle actions and the withdrawal of the attacking Australian forces. The 49th FAR's gun positions were outside of Cagnicourt located as close as 3 Kilometers from Bullecourt and 1 Kilometer from Riencourt.


Aerial photo above shows the town of Cagnicourt after the battle still behind the German front lines. Zig-zag line toward bottom and on left is a line of German trenches.

An entry in the English Royal Flying Corp.'s War Diary - Intelligence Summary of actions near Cagnicourt by squadrons based at St. Andre, France on April 12 reported: Artillery with aeroplane observation successfully engaged three hostile batteries."

On the ground the feuerpause ended suddenly. Major Zimmerle noted that "Earlier, low flying English airplanes had observed the gun positions of the 49th FAR's Batterie 4 outside of Cagnicourt." The records of the Feldartillerie Regiment Nr. 49 stated: "Heavy English shell fire scored direct hits on Batterie 4 that destroyed three guns and their positions. Wachtmeister Munding, Unteroffizier Manner, Kanonier Benhl and Sanitatsoldat (medic) Gerster were killed immediately. Unteroffizier Weis died later from his wounds. Kanonier Breisch was severely wounded. Kanonier Aichele and another Kanonier were wounded with head injuries by shrapnel from the exploding artillery shells.

One soldier's personal history at Soldier returns to Western Front after 50 years.


Tanks Changed The Front

The English introduced Tanks to the Western Front. During the war's last two years, English and French tanks played an increasing role in offensives. German tanks were less numerous and had a smaller role. The photo on the left shows French tanks going to the front. The photo on the right shows an English tank destroyed by a direct hit from German anti-tank artillery.


Air Power Changed The War

In the first months of the war in 1914, activities in the air over the battle fields was limited to stationary balloons and very limited fixed wing airplanes use for onservation. The French, German and British airplane pilots had such a unique wartime role they often exchanged friendly waves to each other. For them, there was a certain element of chivalry among themselves as aircraft pioneers. The human nature being what it is, quickly ended that period when one pilot took a gun up with him and fired at a pilot of the other side. Aircraft quickly became more technically advanced, aerial photography for reconnaisence became a proven tool and aircraft were outfitted with machine guns for aerial combat. By the end of the war in 1918, the fixed wing airplanes allowed interactions as bloody as those on the ground and were increasingly used for aerial strafing and bombing of troops in front line trenches. A result was the quickly developed anti-aircraft artillery and heavy machine gun positions.

Still, chivalry among and towards aircraft crews was at times resiliant. On May 27, 1917, Major Eduard Zimmerle, Wuerttembergische 49th Feld Artillerie Regiment recorded "In the area of the Command Post North, a wounded English flier made a forced landing. The German flier who shot him down, landed next to him and provided the badly wounded adversary first aid assistance." It was not unusual especially between British and German forces that pilots who died after brought down behind enemy lines received formal burials followed up by messages dropped on the dead pilot's airfield to note the incident's details and sometimes the pilot's personal effects.


March 21, 1917 a German aircraft made a forced landing in No Mans Land 200 yards from Australian trenches during the Arras fighting. The German pilot tried to make it to the German lines but was wounded by Australian troops who then captured him. The wounded pilot was taken to a field hospital. He was Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia. British pilot Lieutenant C.E.M. Pickthorne with the Royal Flying Corps No. 32 Squadron was credited with bringing down the German aircraft. According to the book Bullecourt by Graham Keech:

"Early on Friday 23 March, a British aircraft dropped the following message over German lines:

To German Royal Flying Corps.

Prince Frederick Charles was brought down on 21.3.17 and is now in hospital seriously wounded."

The German flyers responded by dropping a thank you reply message at the British aerodrome.

The prince later died in the hospital. However, chivalry among the air crews had again survived.


In September, 1918 near Montfaucon, a German fighter aircraft was brought down by ground fire and crashed behind the lines of the American 304th Engineers, 79th Division. The pilot survived, was captured and American officers at the scene turned him over to Division Headquarters. Photos: (Left) the crashed aircraft. (Right) The captured German pilot with American officers.



The American 1918 Offensives

The 165th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army

by Father Francis B. Duffy, with the 165th formerly designated the New York 69th Regiment,

croixmareAt Croixmare on March 7, 1918 the 2nd Battalion took over front line positions relieving the 1st Battalion. "At 4 P.M. the enemy began a terrific shelling with heavy minerwerfers on the position at Rocroi. The big awkward wabbling aerial torperdoes began coming over, each making a tremendous hole where they hit and sending up clouds of earth and showers of stone. Lieutenant Norman was in charge of the platoon, and after seeing that his guards and outposts were in position, ordered the rest of the men into the dugouts. While he was in the smaller one, a torpedo struck it and destroyed it burying the two signal men from Headquarters Company, Arthur Hegney and Edward Kearny. The Lieutenant barely managed to extricate himself from the debris and set himself to look after the rest of his men. He was inspecting the larger dugout alongside when another huge shell came over, buried itself in the very top of the cave and exploded, rending the earth from the supporting beams and filling the whole living space and entrance with rocks and clay burying the Lieutenant and twenty-four men....'

"The work of rescue kept going with desperate energy, although there was little hope that at any could be saved, as the softened earth kept slipping down and it was impossible to make a firm passageway. The Engineers were also sent for and worked through the night to get out bodies for burial but with only partial success. Meanwhile the defenders of the trench had to stand a continuouus shelling in which little Eddie Kelly, a seventeen year old boy, was killed, Stephen Navin and Derrig were seriously wounded, Sergeant Kahn, Corporal Smeltzer and Privates Bowler and Dougherty were slightly wounded."


The 304th Engineers, 79th Division

by Colonel James F. Barber, US Army

"At 2:30 in the morning of October 4, the regiment was awakened to advance toward Nantillois, and when they were about to leave it was learned that the artillery was going to put over a barrage to assist the advancing "doughboys." After this was over, the regiment moved forward, some of the companies without any breakfast. It developed that the infantry did not advance as far as expected but had encountered very determined resistance. Also the shelling of the roads north of Montfaucon was very severe, and the town of Nantillois, through which the "doughboys" had passed was peppered off and on frequently during the day. Therefore, the First Battalion which was in the rear of the column returned to Montfaucon shortly before noon.

The Second Battalion, however, continued the advance moving very cautiously and slowly on account of the heavy shelling. A picked squad of Co. "D" under Lieut. Covell, reconnoitered the Cierges-Nantillois road as far as Nantillois. The battalion was held up just south of the town all the forenoon, as all manner of projectiles were being rained down into the valley."


With The American 28th Division - - 110th Infantry - July 28, 1918

Fresnes France;"During the morning, regimental headquarters at Fresnes were blown up, Lieutenant Colonel Fetzer and several orderlies being killed. During the afternoon, the Second Battalion joined the Third at the foot of the hill north of the river, and on the morning of the next day the Third stormed Hill 230 but was held up by heavy artillery and machine gun fire. At the same time the Second Batallion moved toward Grimpettes Woods, with Companies E and G leading. While the edge of the woods was reached, the casualties were so heavy crossing the open stretch in full view of the enemy, that it was necessary for the survivors to fall back to their original positions. Companies E, G, I and K suffered severe casualties in the first part of this attack. Those of K were the most severe, the ranks of that company raked by deadly machine gun fire as they stormed the slope and forty-one men were killed. Campany E penetrated the woods the farthest before the ridge was finally carried."



The Lost Battalion

by L.C. McCollum, 1st Battalion, 77th Division, US Army

"The first 'trap' or 'pocket' in which we were caught came about as a result of the 92nd Division retiring a distance of from two to three kilometers after encountering stiff resistance from the Germans on September 28th. This left a large gap on our side flank, which they had formerly occupied, and the Germans immediately took advantage of this and closed in on us cutting us off before we realized the that the 92nd had fallen back. We were in that trap September 28th, 29th and 30th and were reunited with the rest of the division on October 1st. One the night of October 2nd the battalion was again caught in another trap, which lasted for a period of six days and six nights....

During the day of October 2nd, Company A was badly cut up while taking a small hill, and during the attack we lost 90 men in less than 30 minutes fighting. About 40 members of the company were sent back by Major Whittlesey to establish posts of communications and to act as stretcher bearers, as men were being wounded faster than they could be handled. Eighteen of the company remained with the Major and were caught in the second trap.

We fought desperately during those six days going "over the Top' as often as three times in one day. That you may have some idea of the cost of the ground taken in those Argonne Woods, can give you the facts of my own company of which I have an intimate knowledge. We went Over the Top on September 26th with 250 men and on the night of October 15 there were only 44 of us followed Major Whittlesey out of the front lines to the second lines of support near Grand Pre."


The following is from an account by Private Lowell R. Hollingshead, 18 years old and part of Major Whittlesey's battalion, after having been pinned down by German machine gun fire on October 7, 1918:

"I was afraid to move for fear the Germans would start their murderous fire again but just about that time a German appeared from behind a bush not six feet from me and held a long Luger revolver leveled at my head. It is an actual fact that the barrel of it looked to me at that time as large as a shot gun.

The German half smiled, half sneered and I instinctively raised my hands and said the only German word I knew, 'Kamerad.' Perhaps a second passed between the time I said Kamerad until he slowly lowered his gun, but it seemed like several lifetimes to me... After the German lowered his gun he smiled a great big smile and what a lovely looking German he was. As he stood there in his gray uniform fully six feet tall, his smile seemed to broaden and broaden then he started walking toward me. I suppose the reason his smile is still in my mind is because it was so unexpected, as I had been taught to hate and expect fearful things from the Germans should they ever capture me. I do not honestly believe there was ever any real hatred in my heart for the Germans or anyone else, and I have yet to hear any man who was actually IN IT say he ever had hatred in his heart...

The German stepped over to me and started talking in his own language and pointed at my leg. I half turned and looked to where he was pointing and saw blood spurting out from my leg near the knee. For the first time I realized I had been hit. Then other Germans appeared and began looking at my comrades and then I knew how they had fared. Of my seven Buddies I found four had been killed outright and all the rest wounded. Our Indian guide was one of those who had been killed.

My three comrades were more seriously injured than I and the same German who captured me put my arm around his shoulder and I half hobbled and was half carried over to where the machine gun sat which had played such havoc with us. The other Germans carried my comrades over...By this time a German Runner returned and motioned for me to get up and started walking back through the forest with me, while other Germans carried my three comrades on improvised stretchers. After we had gone a short distance I was turned over to another guide and a little further on was another, and in this way I was relayed back to German headquarters."


American 77th Division on the Northern Bank of the Aire

"The 153rd Brigade was awarded a commendation by Major-General Robert Alexander, commanding the 77th Divison, for the capture of St. Juvin on October 14, 1918, "after a difficult night march the attack was made and the objective set for the day's effort successfully reach. In the course of the operations a large number of prisoners, including officers of superior rank, were taken by the 153rd Brigade.

The Divsion History noted, "The enemy had not yielded St. Juvin, however. On the night of the 14th, no less than six barrages were poured into St. Juvin and the valley south of the village and continuous harassing fire of artillery, trench mortars and machine guns swept the positions of our troops in the vicinity of the town. A great deal of the enemy's fire fell on our rear lines and caught the divisional reserve in the valley at La Besogne, inflicting twenty-five casualties among the machine gunners of the divisional machine-gun battalion, held in reserve at that point. In the morning over came a counter attack. A severe fight ensued but St. Juvin stayed in our hands.

Anonymous The 308th threw one battalion across the Aire to the east of Grand-Pre, with its right resting at La Kairesse and its left at Chevieres. The mission of this force was to move by the left and cut the enemy's communications in the east. Meanwhile the main attack against Grand-Pre was preparing."Photo on left: The objective: Grand-Pre


American Troops at Montfaucon October, 1918

by Colonel J. F. Barber, 304th Engineers, 79th Division, USA.

AnonymousAmerican troops entering the former German stronghold of Montfaucon.

"That night a platoon of Co. E was ordered to move ahead to remove a wrecked tank that was obstructing the road north of Montfaucon. This tank had been disabled in the middle of the road, and could not be operated. It had to be dragged, persuaded, or in some way cajoled by boards, levers and what-not into an inoffensive place off the road. The work on it had to be performed in the dark as quietly as possible, as it was exposed to enemy fire and quite near the front lines. The first night the platoon moved it a little bit, before the enemy was aroused and prohibited further activity with his "whiz-bangs." The next night is was moved a little more when the "G.I. cans" came hurtling through the air The following morning when the regiment advanced toward Nantillois, another platoon of Co. E removed it altogether.


tankNorth of Nantillois, the 304th Engineers were assigned to attempt recovery of another American tank that had been put out of action by enemy fire.


The American Expeditionary Force's 28th Division's Fifty-Third Field Artillery Brigade at Mezy

On the night of September 3, orders came that the division would cross the Vesle the afternoon of the next day. There was considerable changing of battery positions during the night, moving close to the front line and the detailing of two battalions of light artillery to cross the Vesle with the advance infantry. The attack was started earlier than expected . On the night of September 5, the infantry reached the heights of the Vesle River and the artillery succeded in crossing the river the same evening. The 107th crossed the Villette and the 100th at Courlandon. One battalion of each of the light regiments and the 108th remained on the south side of the Vesle River to protect the advance of the infantry units The brigade and division headquarters were moved to Mont-sur-Courville on September 5. On the morning of the next day the brigade put down a heavy barrage fire which continued from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. This drew a severe counter-barrage fire from the Germans.

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The Crown Prince's Observation Post After Capture by the U.S. 79th Division.

Report of the 304th Engineers, 79th Division, USA

AnonymousThe Crown Prince is reputed to have used this place in Montfaucon as his headquarters during the battles of Verdun. The Germans built it with characteristic thoroughness which could survive any ordinary bombardment. In fact, it has survived both our own and German fire during the September 1918 drive to the Argonne. The chateau was a 3 story barn shaped building, constructed with the massive outside and inside masonary walls, common to the older French architecture. The Germans have first laid a heavy course of reinforcing over the first floor, making the arched cellars excellent shelters with from 6 to 10 feet of masony and a 30 inch stone cover. In addition a dugout was built under the road providing an additional 18 feet of cover. From the basement is built a tower reaching to a total height of 35 feet. This tower is well protected, having for the most of its height three feet of concrete and two masonary walls on the side toward the enemy line. A 4 foot slab covered the top. A small chart room at the highest point sheltered the observer and his instruments."

"The special feature of the place was a powerful, reflecting telescopic periscope mounted on a gun carriage and put in place on the first floor with the tube running through the tower and out the roof. This instrument was so constructed that observation could be carried either through selective eye pieces at the base of the tube on the first floor, or by means of reflectors and prisms from the second or third floors. A large and very elaborate observation map was found mounted in the chart room scaled in mils and orientated with respect to the instrument, so that to lay on any point on the map it was only necessary to get its mils defelection from the map, turn it off on the traversing scale of the telescope and bring it into focus from the eye piece.

The instrument was captured in servicable condition, but before it could be brought to bear on the enemy lines, some thoughtless souvenier hunter stole the eye pieces rendering it useless."



Unofficial Ceasefires and Fraternization

trucetrenchEarly in the war, there were local unofficial Christmas 1914 truces. Along some sections of the front line trenches British and German soldiers met openly between the trenches, enjoyed their adversaries Christmas carols and even exchanged gifts of tobacco or food. German photos shows one incident of troops mingling in no-mans land between the trenches. Another photo shows British and German soldiers celebrating together in a trench. Unfortunately, those incidents were too short. Once discovered by higher ranking officers far behind the front lines, orders were issued to stop the peaceful activities and return to the business of killing the soldiers in the other trenches. And, too often, those orders were very forcibly enforced on their own troops by shelling the enemy trenches and, if necessary, their own trenches.







ceasefireHowever, there were other truces such as a German - French ceasefire due to total flooding of the trenches. In the background are the French soldiers.

Photo by Ober Lieutenant Flaischlen with the Württembergische Reserve Infanterie Regiment Nr. 120 at Verdun and his account:

"On 16 December, 1916 there was something different to experience. It rains. It rains not a normal rain but it goes on and on. And when the rain momentarily stops we have in between snow. The dirt become bottomless and the trenches become stream beds. By the French it is even worse because their positions are lower. Here stand the men opposite each other during the ceasefire. Men bail water, build drainage ditches and take advantage of the situation."


Several incidents were recalled by German artillery officer Carl Zuckmayer, in his book A Part of Myself. One incident: "A German patrol from one Hessian regiment fell into conversation with a French patrol; they shook hands and invited each other to their dugouts. The Germans brought beer or schnapps, the French brought wine. Of course these things happened without the knowledge of the officers, until one night a young lieutenant checking the dugout of a German platoon found a couple of Frenchmen gaily enjoying a meal; they had unbuckled their rifles and stowed them in the corner. His sense of correctness outraged, the officer had them seized and taken away as prisoners. That was the end of that brief period of fraternization."


Rest - Recovery - Reorganization

The numbers of dead, wounded, missing and captured soldiers in 1914 and 1915 were greater than either side had anticipated. Throughout the war, entire army units were taken to rest areas far behind the front lines to rebuild the organization with new replacement troops. Equipment was put into shape. Horses cared for. And most importantly it was a time for the soldiers to recover from the stresses of explosions and shooting that never stopped before being returning into front line trenches.

Württembergische 185th Feld Artillery Regiment soldiers.

Drawn by the German Army artist Erwin Aichele in 1915.

       Württembergische 49thth Feld Artillery Regiment soldiers 1917


Video    A Soldier Remembers Verdun

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Just Listening to the Veterans

by Richard O. Aichele,  Website Author

A benefit of now being "older,"  in my case, allowed me to be young enough to meet some Great War veterans of both sides.    There were never stories of heroics.  There were many memories of actions, of what they had to do and of those who were not there after the shooting stopped. There were stories of compassion for enemy soldiers.  There was an understanding that the ordeal had been shared by everyone at the front.

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Thank you for viewing this history.

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Copyright 2021. Website Author - - Richard O. Aichele., P.O. Box 4725, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 USA

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