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After the previously described large scale attack on Hartmannsweilerkopf (See HERE), both French and German troops settled down to a war of attrition and aggressive patrolling. These actions were too small to merit a mention in the general histories of the war, but can be found in the regimental histories and diaries of the units involved in the fighting.

The 124th Landwehr Infantry Regiment was part of the 26th Landwehr Division - rated by the Allies as one of the least effective divisions of the German army. It was especially important that in units like this that the Sturmbataillons detached training cadres of storm-troopers. In the case of the 26th Landwehr Division soldiers from Sturmbataillon 16 were attached to train the regimental storm-troops. The regimental storm-troopers were hand-picked younger men who were assembled into assault groups and tasked with carrying out small scale offensive operations.  

In November 1917 it appeared to the Germans that the French were planning an attack on Hartmannsweilerkopf. Accordingly, raids were ordered with the dual goal of capturing prisoners to determine the enemy’s intentions and to destroy enemy positions with the intention of creating a buffer zone.


Above: The Sturm troops of the L.I.R. 124 practicing for their raid at the training ground at Ollweiler

Above: An Iron Cross Second class award document awarded to flame thrower operater Garde-Pionier Wilhelm Jakob Schlösser for his participation in the raids described on this page. Compare the document to the more decorative flame thrower regiment document pictured HERE
One such raid planned for 10th November - Operation “X64” – was an attack intended to push deep into enemy positions. The attack was to be carried out by four assault groups consisting of four officers and one hundred and twenty other ranks. Included in this number were thirty-eight members of Sturmbataillon 16 and eighteen pioniers equipped with eight flamethrowers. The assault groups were drilled in their mission by Hauptmann Huzel on the training ground at Ollweiler.  

In support of the attack, Minenwerfer Bataillon 13, plus three attached artillery batteries and the 124th regiment’s light Werfer, would provide covering fire. The remaining batteries in the sector would target enemy artillery and observers, and provide a barrage to seal off the combat zone once the attack was underway. Additionally a diversion would take place in front of the enemy positions on the Molkenrainweg in an effort to distract the French and split their artillery fire.  

From 16:20 to 17:05 artillery fire fell on the French frontline positions. Fourteen heavy Minenwerfer were used to blow paths through the barbed wire and obstacles, but despite a furious counter-bombardment they accomplished their task. The counter-bombardment inflicted few casualties among the Minenwerfer crew, with only two seriously and three lightly wounded. Eight of the Werfer were damaged by rounds exploding in their tubes, another was destroyed by a direct hit, and one had to be dug out after being buried by debris. The remaining Artillerie and Minenwerfer - under the control of the regimental staff - were able to adapt their fire plans to counter this loss of materiel. Five minutes before the last salvo was fired the raiders advanced through the gaps in the defences. Cutting through or blowing up obstacles that survived the bombardment and still blocked their way, they reached the front line as the last shell fell, but before the defenders had time to exit their bunkers. The French artillery barrage was ineffective; much of it fell behind the German lines and in sectors not involved in the attack. In spite of this Leutnant Klenk and one of his men were wounded in the advance and an Unteroffizier of the Sturmbataillon was killed by a Minenwerfer splinter when he passed through the target area and into the German barrage.  

The result of the bombardment was impressive, bunkers were flattened and trenches collapsed, at one French mortar post the barrel and stand of the mortar had been thrown 30 meters from its original position. The raiders prepared charges to destroy the ammunition they found. A large bunker was encountered but jets of flame from the flamethrowers convinced nine enemy soldiers to surrender without firing a shot. They were lead to the rear while a group of German machine-gunners took up position to protect the raider’s flanks. The French dead were strewn among the ruins of their bunkers and trenches. Thirty-seven survivors from the 65eme Chasseur Bataillon were grateful to have survived the bombardment - even though they were now prisoners of war. They told the attackers in no uncertain terms that the violence and rapidity of the attack had come as a total surprise to them. German losses were comparatively light - other than the already mentioned badly wounded -there were twelve lightly wounded, eleven of these were able to remain with their unit. The sector commander commended the brave men of the Sturmabteilung and Leutnants Klenk, Hoffman, Marquardt and Weitmann.
Above: Storm troop training in Ollweiler
Further raids followed as the German High Command was expecting a French attack to be launched on or about 2nd December. Reinforcements were dispatched with the result that the camps and barracks in the area were overflowing with soldiers. The attack did not eventuate, although the French paper war intensified with propaganda leaflets being dropped from balloons.  

The German artillery began to work overtime, with one bombardment after another. At night the French positions to the rear were bombarded with gas shells, and supply lines were targeted with random salvoes. The initial French response to this activity was weak, but in the middle of December their response became livelier with bombardments that saw up to 1000 rounds per minute hitting the German lines. The effect however was minimal, with occasional damage to bunkers and every now and then a soldier wounded.  

The Germans still needed to know what was happening on the other side of the hill so they sent out patrols frequently. On one of these patrols - carried out on a stormy night - Leutnant Ersle cut through the barbed wire at Sermet and captured a sentry. In the days that followed there were many moonlit nights that made patrols too dangerous to carry out. Eventually though the weather changed and one night the Leutnant was woken by an experienced patroller who came to him and reported that the weather had turned stormy and was now perfect for patrolling. Leutnant Ersle organised a patrol and headed for the French lines. It was discovered that the French had closed the gap in the wire he had cut days earlier so it had to be re-cut; fortunately the sentries guarding the area were distracted by the clanging of tins on another section of wire. The patrol worked their way forward to within ten meters of the trench, and, as the moonlight shone through the clouds, Vizefeldwebel Schmelze and Gefreiters Bühler and Herbstreuter sprang forward to capture the two sentries and bring them back through the wire. Alerted by the noise of the capture other French soldiers came hurrying along the trench, Bühler opened fire with his pistol to slow their progress down and allow their exit from the French position. On reaching the wire they found they had missed the previously cut path, and there were some anxious moments until the covering party was able to cut a new path for them. After waiting two hours between the lines - while the commotion died down - the raiders finally returned to their own trenches.  

An increase in reports of a coming French offensive caused the Germans to decide another reconnaissance in force was required. Accordingly this was ordered and assigned the code name “Unternehmung A 130”, the reconnaissance would be carried out by a strong force of 240 men. As many of the Minenwerfer used to provide cover and create gaps in the enemy wire were damaged beyond repair, the task was assigned to the supporting artillery. On the night before the raid, enemy batteries were subjected to a gas bombardment of fifty rounds of Blue Cross and Green Cross gas shells per hectare, a total of 3460 rounds. The gas bombardment would be repeated at one hour, half an hour and quarter of an hour before the assault. The attack was planned for 7:20am on 21st December. The preparations for the assault were carefully carried out, but the French were alert and detected them. They were expecting an attack and according to prisoners taken on the raid, they had been waiting three days for it.  

The French sentries were alert and recognised German attempts to secretly blow paths through the wire under cover of the bombardment. The pioniers sent ahead with the charges to blow gaps in the wire were greeted with hand grenades from the French positions and as the assault group was readying to leave the German trenches French artillery bombarded the staging area. As the raiders reached the French wire it was found that the pioniers had failed to create the necessary gaps and there was a delay while the wire was blown. It was also found that the barrage had failed to neutralise the French sentries and these were still in place.


A map of a typical raid carried out by the Landwehr Infanterie Regiment 124 on French positions on the Hartmannsweilerkopf.
The path of the assault troops can be seen, marked with arrows, in the top right hand corner of the map. 34 Artillery pieces sealed of the sector being attacked with 13 guns held in reserve. This barrage is marked as the blue boxes on the map. The light grenade launchers concentrated on strong points in the front line (The red circles on the map) and the Heavier Minenwerfer fired on specific (The black circles). 
The purpose of the firing plan was to prevent the French soldiers in the sector from leaving their bunkers and to make sure they could not rush any reserves forward.


It was a beautiful day with a clear sky allowing the raiders to see “Molkenrain” clearly, this should not have been possible as barrage fire and smoke shells should have created a cloud of smoke and dust that obscured visibility there and on the “Nameless Slope” (Namenlosen Hang). But the cloud of smoke and dust was not there. The raiders realised they were visible from all sides, but they rose without hesitation and advanced. Machinegun fire from Namenlosen Hang and Molkenrain greeted them as they made use of the cover provided by shell-holes and sections of trench-line. In spite of the determined French defence they push forward.

Unteroffizier Epple stormed forward and was the first into the French position; he continued leading the advance until killed by a bullet in the head. The French put up a stubborn defense, holding out until the last moment, with the last one retreating only when all his comrades were dead. The plan for the attack had counted on the French abandoning their trench right away but this had not happened. What had caused this failure? Were the French defenders too strong? Was the artillery preparation to short? These were questions that needed answers but the raiders could not stop to consider them, they still had a goal to reach, and reach it they must. The delay caused by the unexpected resistance of the initial defenders had allowed the French vital time to man their defensive positions and place machineguns to bolster the defence. Still the German raiders continued to advance, their support troops set to work sealing the trench and protecting the raiders flanks at the point where they had broken through. The telephone troops struggled to maintain the connection to the rear until the lines were damaged beyond repair.  

For once the German barrage was off target and weak and this allowed the French mortar crews to continue firing until the last moment in both position “III” and position “Burlureau”. The mortar crews here were only forced away from their weapons when attacked with hand grenades from the raiders. The bunkers needed to be taken care of right away, but not one of them appeared to have been hit in the barrage and the trenches between them were barely damaged. The raiders attacked the bunkers with incendiary devices and the trenches with hand grenades. A number of French soldiers surrendered, here two, there three, further on five men… but in spite of heavy losses the remainder defended their positions bitterly. In the position at Burlureau there was intense close combat but the attackers were held back by machinegun fire. Even the use of flamethrowers could not make the French give up their position.  

The raiders eventually realised that they could make no further progress and they would have to retreat. They covered their withdrawal with smoke-bombs, but this did not diminish French machinegun and rifle fire directed at them. The French pressed the retreating Germans hard, following them closely while they were still within French lines in an attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible. The raiders fell back from shell-hole to shell-hole, ignoring numerous cuts and bruises inflicted by barbed wire and other debris strewn around their line of retreat. By the time they reached German lines their clothing was tattered and hung from them in shreds.   In front of the German lines sentries directed them to the rear and helped place the wounded on stretchers. By now most of the men were back, but there was no word from the middle patrol and this caused some tense moments at headquarters. The Minenwerfer were on standby ready to engage the enemy, as the minutes tick by slowly the missing patrol is spotted coming in at last.   

Despite the furious combat casualties among the raiders are light, three men killed - two were left in enemy lines, but the corpse of a soldier from the Sturmbataillon was brought back. Leutnant Lude was missing, the 124th reports two men seriously wounded, while Oberleutnant Steimle and nine men are lightly wounded. The Sturmbataillon reports three men seriously wounded and four men lightly wounded, the pionier troops have one man lightly wounded.  

The initially weak French artillery response now reached a crescendo with up to 2000 rounds per minute landing in the German lines. It seemed the initial German gas barrage had worked, keeping the French artillery from producing an effective barrage at the start and during the operation.  

As a corollary to the raid, the planned and expected French attack for the end of December 1917 did not materialise.  



A big thanks to Steve Conway for giving a hand with editing this and making some good suggestions.


 
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