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Part 2 Of Generalleutnant Fortmüllers Article on the fighting to the North of Verdun in the summer and autumn of 1917

The Divisions of the mobile reserve (Eingreifsdivisionen) were pushed in wherever they were needed and were soon mixed in with the men holding the line. A series of pauses developed in the fighting which the local commanders used to assess the situation, get artillery zeroed in and plan more attacks. The fighting continued all day, through the night and continued into the 21st of August until exhaustion, losses and lack of fresh reserves forced a lasting break in the fighting.  

On the 21st of August the high command was able to asses the situation. In the forest of Avocourt and to the west of height 304 the French had advanced for 1km. On the slope up to Height 304 and on the height itself the 213. Infanterie Division had held its ground with the support of the 29. Infanterie Division in its role as a mobile reserve. To the East the 6. Reserve Division had not been able to hold its positions on the Toten Mann, the high ground to the north of Cumieres and the Rabenwald. Their resistance had been worn down by days of Artillery bombardment. Advancing along the dry Maas plain the enemy had had an easy task in turning the divisions left flank. The 48. Reserve Division, the mobile reserve, had crossed the gassed Forges river valley under heavy artillery fire and could not arrive in time to help. The strongpoints resisted, but in the end they were overrun by the French attackers.

Above: German Artillery behind Height 344 on the East Bank of the Maas

To the East of the Maas the French had crossed the Talou Rücken and had taken Samogneux and Height 344. They had approached Beaumont and taken most of the Fosses Wald. Sections of the Chaume Wald had also fallen given them domination of the Ornes valley. The Vauxkreuz Heights and the positions to the east had remained in the hands of the 28. Infanterie Division. The 80. Reserve Division managed to intervene between Height 344 and the Fosses Wald and parts of the 46. Reserve Division helped stop further French gains at Samogneux.  

The results of the actions were not in the Germans favour. On the West BAnk they had managed to hold the dreaded Höhe 304 but this would be of little value as long as the French held the ground gained on the flanks of the height. On the Flanks the 206. Infanterie and 6. Reserve Divisions had suffered most.  

On the East bank valuable territory had been lost and the attack had only been stopped in the rear of the defensive zone by the arrival of the mobile reserve. Only two relatively fresh divisions were at the Armee’s disposition to relieve those who had suffered the heaviest losses. Four new divisions were on their way to the Verdun sector.  

On the 22. and 23. it was only the artillerymen who were active. The High Command was well aware that the A.O.K.5s positions to the north of Verdun would continue to be a sector of much activity. It was important to reposition the troops in a newly prepared line of defense. On the West bank of the Maas the high ground to the North of the Forges River was considered. On the East Bank of the Maas there was no natural geographical feature to help build a defensive line. A line was chosen that ran from Brabant over the heights to the South of Haumont and Beaumont to the height 307 to the north East of Ornes.  

On the night of the 21nd-22rd the Germans abandoned the Height 304. On the 24th the French swarmed over the hill and pushed down into the Forges valley. German artillery and a counter attack by the 30. Infanterie Division knocked the French back causing heavy losses amongst the Poilu. The German divisions established themselves to the North of the river in the old positions they had held in early 1916. The slopes in front of them leading down into the valley gave them good observation possibilities and fields of fire. The French contented themselves with the southern bank of the Forgesbach. On the West bank of the Maas the fighting now died down. 

On the East bank the fighting was to continue in full force as the French continued to try and press northwards. They had still not achieved what they had set out to do. On the 24th of August they failed in an attempt to push over the Height 344. On the morning of the 26th they attacked at Beaumont and to the east of Beaumont after a heavy bombardment that had raged all day on the 25th. They managed to enter the village.  

To the North of the Fosses Wald the French were held back and in the Chaume Wald the Germans managed to recapture their old positions. That evening along the whole front from the Maas to the Chaumewald the French continued their push. At Samogneux and to the East of the village the French were held back but they did manage to take the rest of the village of Beaumont. That evening the newly arrived 242. infanterie Division (General von Erpf) which had replaced the 25. Reserve Division succeeded in pushing the French out of the village.  

On the 27th of August General von Gallwitz created the “Gruppe Ornes” to reinforce the line. It was created with the newly arrived Generalkommando XI (Generalleutnant Kühne) and took up position between the Maas’ East bank and Vaux. Under Kühne’s command were the 28. and 192. Infanterie Divisions.  

The next few days saw little infantry action and reduced French artillery action. In spite of this it was obvious that the amount of French batteries on the East bank had been increased. The German divisions prepared their new positions while at the same time the burnt out divisions were rotated out of the frontline. Behind the frontlines of the Maas Gruppe West two mobile reserve Divisions were positioned, behind the front of the Gruppe Est three divisions. They were also used to prepare new defensive positions in the rear areas. Under orders of general von Gallwitz the German artillery continued to concentrate on counter battery fire. Continued gas barrages were fired to make life difficult for the French artillery, and therefore easier for the German infantry.  

Ammunition supplies were limited and this was the most the German artillery could hope to achieve. The amount of batteries, ammunition and men that would be needed to silence the French artillery could not be spared due to the large amounts of material needed to feed the battle raging in Flanders.  

The Army high command had instructed the A.O.K.5 to create a defensive zone that was as deep as possible. Experience had shown hat only such a system would be able to effectively ensure that the enemy would have to cover so such ground with his artillery preparation that the defenders would be able to survive in sufficient numbers to beat off an attack. Large first zones of defense needed to be created, either by pulling back to new positions, or by pushing the enemy back. This was to lead to new fighting.  

On the 6th of September the 242. Infanterie Division attacked around the village of Beaumont pushing the French to the South of the village back. The Maasgruppe Ost intended to take the heights 344-326 between Samogneux and Beaumont in order to improve their defensive positions. Before their operation could be mounted however, the French attacked.  

On the evening of the 7th of September they pushed along a wide front out of Samogneux and over the heights but they suffered heavy losses upon reaching the German front line. Throughout the night there was heavy artillery fire, then on the morning of the 8th they attacked on a front stretching from the Fosses Wald to the Roas running from Ornes to Bezonvaux. In the attack Tanks were used on the flatland. The first wave of French soldiers were shot to pieces but the next wave, advancing out of the man made fog broke into the German lines. They took the Vauxkreuz Höhe and continued to advance while to the right in the Chaume Wald they closed in on the Ornes Ravine. In spite of these French gains the 242. I.D. to the South of Beaumont was actually able to improve its positions.  


On the 9th of September the planned German attack on the heights 344-326 was carried out. In the center units of the 19. and 243. I.D. managed to advance on both sides of height 344 but on the flanks the attack bogged down. Ultimately the attack broke up under French machinegun fire and achieved no tangible gains. On the 18th of September the French attacked over the same ground and suffered the same fate. On a front 3km wide they sent forward waves of attackers who were shot down by German artillery and from German defensive positions as they tried to climb the slopes. As they flooded back, mounting the opposite slopes, they were fired on and suffered more heavy losses.  

The German command, in view of the losses already suffered, rescinded the order to take the heights 344 and 326. Instead of this the A.O.K.5 was ordered to ensure that the enemy did not retain their hold on the Vauxkreuz Höhe and to push the French back far enough in the Chaume Wald to ensure the passage in the East to West axis running through the Ornes ravine.  

Between the Fosses and Chaume forests a French attack had been beaten back on the 10th of September. On the 14th of September the Germans retook the Vauxkreuz heights. This task was achieved by the 28. Infanterie Division who sent one battalion of each of its three regiments into the attack. General von Gallwitz praised the action saying “..that the division, after the heavy losses it had suffered, was still able to carry out such an action, is a testament to its bravery”  

On the 24th of September the Gruppe Ornes moved to retake the Chaume Wald. Parts of the 13. and 78. Reserve Divisions along with 4 Staffles of aircraft attacked through and on the sides of the forest. In spite of gas shells being fired on the French artillery positions their fire remained so strong that in spite of initial German successes on the flanks a French counter attack was able to knock the Germans back to their points of depart.  

Only on the 10th of October was the 13. Reserve Division able to make any gains when they pushed the French in the forest back 300meters. On the next day the French managed to regain some of the lost ground, but on the 25th of October the 46. Reserve Division took over the sector and managed to widen the gains on a front of 1200 meters. On the 29th of October the Garde Ersatz Division (which had just relieved the 78. R.D.) managed to push the French back on the Vaux Kreuz Höhe and on the 9th of November, along with the 46. R.D. they pushed the French back until the Poilus barely had a foothold in the southern border of the Chaume Wald.  

Battalions of the 215. and 246. Reserve Infanterie Regiments and of the 7. Garde Ersatz Regiment, along with companies of the Sturmbataillon Rohr and flamethrower troops, broke into the French positions and pushed them from the slopes of the Ornes ravine. The French did not launch a counter attack.  

As this was going on the fighting between Samogneux and Beaumont had started up again. Although the Germans had given up thoughts of retaking heights 344 and 326 the divisions in the front line still needed to launch local attacks to improve their defensive positions.  

On the 2nd of October the 243. Infanterie Division took enemy trenches along a front of 1200 meters on the northern face of height 344. They fought off about a dozen French counter attacks. The 243. I.D. was relieved by the 19. I.D. and Stosstrupps of the 19. I.D. along with men of the 29. I.D. attacked on the 11th of October improving their positions on the North Eastern slope. On the 18th of November the 6. Komp. of the 142. I.R. forced the enemy back and the position was improved yet again.  

On the 23rd of October the 78. I.R. of the 19. R.D. along with men of the Sturmbataillon Rohr took positions on the eastern slope but had to give it up the next day due to a strong enemy presence on their flanks.  

These actions by the Germans seem to have been the reason for the French decision to finally take the ground to the North West of Heights 344 and 326 through to Samogneux. On the 25th of November they launched a large attack between the Maas and Beaumont. The first assault wave was in most sectors shot to pieces and in spite of stormy weather and heavy rain, the German fliers still managed to participate in the battle.  

The French were however determined and keeping up the pressure they managed in most areas to penetrate deep into the German defensive zone. That night the 29. and 19. Divisions were forced to abandon their positions to the south of the Samogneux ravine. This was the last major action at Verdun for the year of 1917.  

As had been in 1916 the fighting at Verdun in 1917 had been exhausting. It almost reached the level of losses that had been suffered at Rheims. Both sides suffered heavy losses in both men and material, losses more heavily felt by the Germans as, unlike with the allies, they could not count with reinforcements from America to make up for their losses.  

The French had successfully countered the new German defensive system by launching mainly small attacks with limited goals. This nullified the counter attacks by German reserves or “Eingreifsdivisionen” as the French troops seldom advanced into positions where they could not be covered by their own artillery. Although the gains were slow and the cost was heavy, although a breakthrough was not achieved, the tactics meant that the French troops almost always succeeded in taking ground. It was a tactic that confused the Germans, leaving them feeling rather helpless. All attempts to counter the French system of overpowering artillery bombardments then limited objective land grabs seemed to fail.  

The A.O.K.5, just as with the O.H.L. had found it difficult to keep their sector in order due to the heavy losses and strain during the summer and autumn. They were reduced to shuffling their divisions trying to keep an effective defense in place. It sapped the reserves they would need to take the initiative themselves. The divisions suffered after each action, reinforcing them becoming more and more difficult, losses never being fully made up for.  

The material usage was more than could be replaced; the transport to the front began to suffer as the Field railways began to fail, the Kraftfahr troops began to loose not only their fuel, but also their lorries and the amount of horses reduced as the war continued.  

The battle in Flanders forced the A.O.K.5 to give up troops and economize with those that remained. The Divisions of the mobile reserve (Eingreifsdivisionen) were pushed in wherever they were needed and were soon mixed in with the men holding the line. A series of pauses developed in the fighting which the local commanders used to asses the situation, get artillery zeroed in and plan more attacks. The fighting continued all day, through the night and continued into the 21st of August until exhaustion, losses and lack of fresh reserves forced a lasting break in the fighting.  

On the 21st of August the high command was able to asses the situation. In the forest of Avocourt and to the west of height 304 the French had advanced for 1km. On the slope up to Height 304 and on the height itself the 213. Infanterie Division had held its ground with the support of the 29. Infanterie Division in its role as a mobile reserve. To the East the 6. Reserve Division had not been able to hold its positions on the Toten Mann, the high ground to the north of Cumieres and the Rabenwald. Their resistance had been worn down by days of Artillery bombardment. Advancing along the dry Maas plain the enemy had had an easy task in turning the divisions left flank. The 48. Reserve Division, the mobile reserve, had crossed the gassed Forges river valley under heavy artillery fire and could not arrive in time to help. The strongpoints resisted, but in the end they were overrun by the French attackers.  

 
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