Third Battle of the Aisne
Overview
 
The Third Battle of the Aisne was a battle of the German Spring Offensive
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

 during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 that focused on capturing the Chemin des Dames
Chemin des Dames
In France, the Chemin des Dames is part of the D18 and runs east and west in the département of Aisne, between in the west, the Route Nationale 2, and in the east, the D1044 at Corbeny. It is some thirty kilometres long and runs along a ridge between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette...

 Ridge before the American Expeditionary Force
American Expeditionary Force
The American Expeditionary Forces or AEF were the United States Armed Forces sent to Europe in World War I. During the United States campaigns in World War I the AEF fought in France alongside British and French allied forces in the last year of the war, against Imperial German forces...

 could arrive completely in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. It was one of a series of desperate offensives, known as the Kaiserschlacht
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

, launched by the Germans in the spring and summer of 1918. The American Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division (United States) and the 93rd Infantry Division (United States) were the first Americans to fight in France, albeit detached from the AEF and under French command.
Encyclopedia
The Third Battle of the Aisne was a battle of the German Spring Offensive
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

 during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 that focused on capturing the Chemin des Dames
Chemin des Dames
In France, the Chemin des Dames is part of the D18 and runs east and west in the département of Aisne, between in the west, the Route Nationale 2, and in the east, the D1044 at Corbeny. It is some thirty kilometres long and runs along a ridge between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette...

 Ridge before the American Expeditionary Force
American Expeditionary Force
The American Expeditionary Forces or AEF were the United States Armed Forces sent to Europe in World War I. During the United States campaigns in World War I the AEF fought in France alongside British and French allied forces in the last year of the war, against Imperial German forces...

 could arrive completely in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. It was one of a series of desperate offensives, known as the Kaiserschlacht
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

, launched by the Germans in the spring and summer of 1918. The American Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division (United States) and the 93rd Infantry Division (United States) were the first Americans to fight in France, albeit detached from the AEF and under French command. The 92nd & 93rd would continue to fight under French command for the duration of the war.

Background

The massive surprise attack (named Blücher-Yorck after two Prussian generals of the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

) lasted from 27 May until 6 June 1918 and was the first full-scale German offensive following the Lys Offensive in Flanders
Flanders
Flanders is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands. "Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp...

 in April.

The Germans had held the Chemin des Dames Ridge from the First Battle of the Aisne
First Battle of the Aisne
The First Battle of the Aisne was the Allied follow-up offensive against the right wing of the German First Army & Second Army as they retreated after the First Battle of the Marne earlier in September 1914...

 in September 1914 to 1917, when General Mangin
Charles Mangin
Charles Emmanuel Marie Mangin was a French general during World War I.-Early career:...

 captured it during the Second Battle of the Aisne
Second Battle of the Aisne
The Second Battle of the Aisne , was the massive main assault of the French military's Nivelle Offensive or Chemin des Dames Offensive in 1917 during World War I....

 (in the Nivelle Offensive
Nivelle offensive
The Nivelle Offensive was a 1917 French attack on the Western Front in the First World War. Promised as the assault that would end the war within 48 hours, with casualties expected of around 10,000 men, it failed on both counts. It was a three-stage plan:...

).

Operation Blücher-Yorck was planned primarily by Erich Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg...

, who was certain that success at the Aisne
Aisne
Aisne is a department in the northern part of France named after the Aisne River.- History :Aisne is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. It was created from parts of the former provinces of Île-de-France, Picardie, and Champagne.Most of the old...

 would lead the German armies to within striking distance of Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

. Ludendorff, who saw the BEF as the main threat, believed that this, in turn, would cause the Allies to move forces from Flanders
Flanders
Flanders is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands. "Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp...

 to help defend the French capital, allowing the Germans to continue their Flanders offensive with greater ease. Thus, the Aisne drive was to be essentially a large diversionary attack.

The defense of the Aisne area was in the hands of General Denis Auguste Duchêne
Denis Auguste Duchêne
Denis Auguste Duchene was a French World War I general. He was born on 23 September 1862 at Juzennecourt, Haute-Marne and died on 9 June 1950 at Bihorel, Seine-Inférieure...

, commander of the French Sixth Army; in addition, four divisions of the British IX Corps, led by Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon
Alexander Hamilton-Gordon (1859-1939)
Lieutenant General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon KCB was a British general during World War I.-Military career:Hamilton-Gordon was one of ten children of General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon, K.C.B. and Caroline Herschel...

, held the Chemin des Dames
Chemin des Dames
In France, the Chemin des Dames is part of the D18 and runs east and west in the département of Aisne, between in the west, the Route Nationale 2, and in the east, the D1044 at Corbeny. It is some thirty kilometres long and runs along a ridge between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette...

 Ridge; they had been posted there to rest and refit after surviving the "Michael" battle.

Battle

On the morning of 27 May 1918, the Germans began a bombardment (feuerwalze) of the Allied front lines with over 4,000 artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 pieces. The British suffered heavy losses, because Duchene (reluctant to abandon the Chemin des Dames Ridge after it had been captured at such cost the previous year ) had ordered them to mass together in the front trenches, in defiance of instructions from the French Commander-in-Chief Henri-Philippe Petain. Huddled together, they made easy artillery targets.

The bombardment was followed by a poison gas drop. Once the gas had lifted the main infantry assault by 17 German Sturmtruppen
Stormtrooper
Stormtroopers were specialist soldiers of the German Army in World War I. In the last years of the war, Stoßtruppen were trained to fight with "infiltration tactics", part of the Germans' new method of attack on enemy trenches...

 divisions commenced, part of an Army Group nominally commanded by Crown Prince Wilhelm
Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany
Frederick William Victor Augustus Ernest of the House of Hohenzollern was the last Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire. He was colloquially known as William or Wilhelm throughout Europe....

, the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser came to inspect the progress of the battle and captured British Brigadier-General Hubert Rees (GOC 150th Brigade, part of 50th Division) was interviewed by him - the Kaiser was amused to learn that he was Welsh, the same nationality as Lloyd George .

Taken completely by surprise and with their defences spread thin, the Allies were unable to stop the attack and the German army advanced through a 40 km gap in the Allied lines. Reaching the Aisne
Aisne
Aisne is a department in the northern part of France named after the Aisne River.- History :Aisne is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. It was created from parts of the former provinces of Île-de-France, Picardie, and Champagne.Most of the old...

 in under six hours, the Germans smashed through eight Allied divisions on a line between Reims
Reims
Reims , a city in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, lies east-northeast of Paris. Founded by the Gauls, it became a major city during the period of the Roman Empire....

 and Soissons
Soissons
Soissons is a commune in the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France, located on the Aisne River, about northeast of Paris. It is one of the most ancient towns of France, and is probably the ancient capital of the Suessiones...

, pushing the Allies back to the river Vesle
Vesle
The Vesle is the river on which the city of Reims stands. It is a fourth order river of France and a left-bank tributary of the Aisne River. It is 140 kilometres long, rises in the département of Marne through which it flows most of its course.-Geography:...

 and gaining an extra 15 km of territory by nightfall.

Victory seemed near for the Germans, who had captured just over 50,000 Allied soldiers and well over 800 guns by 30 May 1918. But after having advanced within 56 km of Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 on 3 June, the German armies were beset by numerous problems, including supply shortages, fatigue, lack of reserves and many casualties along with counter-attacks by and stiff resistance from newly arrived American divisions, who engaged them in the Battles of Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood
Battle of Belleau Wood
The Battle of Belleau Wood occurred during the German 1918 Spring Offensive in World War I, near the Marne River in France. The battle was fought between the U.S...

.

A soldier's personal account of his part in this battle and his subsequent capture and imprisonment can be read here. (Please note the spellings in this document are not always correct as they are copied letter for letter from the original debrief report of Pte. George William Wiles of the Yorkshire Rgt).

On 6 June 1918, following many successful Allied counter-attacks, the German advance halted on the Marne
Marne
Marne is a department in north-eastern France named after the river Marne which flows through the department. The prefecture of Marne is Châlons-en-Champagne...

, much as the "Michael" and "Georgette" offensives had in March and April of that year.'

Aftermath

The French had suffered over 98,000 casualties and the British around 29,000. German losses were nearly as great if not slightly heavier. Duchene was sacked by French Commander-in-Chief Philippe Petain
Philippe Pétain
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain , generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain , was a French general who reached the distinction of Marshal of France, and was later Chief of State of Vichy France , from 1940 to 1944...

 for his poor handling of the British and French troops. The Americans had arrived and proven themselves in combat for the first time in the war.

Ludendorff, encouraged by the gains of Blücher-Yorck, would launch further offensives culminating in the Second Battle of the Marne
Second Battle of the Marne
The Second Battle of the Marne , or Battle of Reims was the last major German Spring Offensive on the Western Front during the First World War. The German attack failed when an Allied counterattack led by France overwhelmed the Germans, inflicting severe casualties...

.
  • Note: The divisions of American Expeditionary Force were double the size of those of their British and French allies or German foes (with a full strength of around 20,000 each). Due to this fact, they were sometimes referred to as Grandes Divisions (Big Divisions).
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