For a brief description of the offensive and a map with the placement of the divisons please clickHERE
After their stint at Hurtebise the 38. I.D. moved to the south of La Malmaison to prepare for Petain's limited offensive to reduce the Laffaux corner.
After two weeks of rest in which replacement troops
were integrated and new weapons, uniforms and equipment were issued the Zouaves
were sent to the recently liberated Lagny near Noyon. The region was perfect
for training. The newly captured German trenches, fortified villages and the
strongpoints on the reverse slopes allowed for a very varied training program.
During their time at Hurtebise there had been no time
for training. Now, after a few weeks the regiment was in great form, a form and
spirit in line with the one they had in the Vaux-Chapitre forest, at Douaumont,
at les Chambrettes and on the 16th of April.
Heavy losses had meant that the regiment had been
"renewed" on a number of occasions but still the moral and esprit de
corps had been passed on from the veterans to the new men.
It was at Lagny on the 18th of August that General
Petain presented the Regiment with the fouragere of the medaille militaire, an honour
accorded to few regiments up to that date.
At the end of August the Zouaves were behind the front
lines at d´Aisy and de Jouy, here they worked to prepare the positions for the
Above: A map showing the sector in which the Zouaves attacked. To the bottom right is the ground over which the 67e I.D. attacked (See HEREfor an account of the right flank of the offensive)
On the night of the 7th of September they moved
forward to the ferme des Bovettes and the Pantheon facing the fort de la
Malmaison. Here it spent 10 days getting used to the sector before pulling back
to Grand Rozoy where an exercise ground that resembled the ground over which
they were to attack had been built.
The fort of la Malmaison was built in the 1870´s on a
triangular plateau whose base was the chemin des dames and the ravins to the
north of de Jouy. The summit was the angle created where the ravin de Chavignon
met the valley of the Ailette. The fort was outdated and had been partially
destroyed before the war with experiments with different explosives.
Occupied by the German 2nd Garde Division (soon to be
reinforced by the 5th Garde) its deep bunkers and moats still presented a formidable
An attack on the fort had to be carefully prepared,
practised over and over, nothing left to chance. The men were acquainted with
fort Conde, the twin of a la Malmaison. By the time the men embarked for
Chassemy the men were well prepared for the coming attack. They knew their
objective like the back of their hands even though they had never seen it.
Physically and mentally they were at their peak.
On the 24th of October 1916 the RICM had had the
honour of taking Fort Douaumont, now, a year later, the honour of taking la Malmaison
was to go to the 4th Zouauves.
The attack was planned in two phases. Two companies of
the 3rd battalion would take the trenches "Casse Tete",
"Leibnitz" and "la Carabine" with one company in reserve.
After passing through the trench "Leibnitz"
but before taking "la Carabine" the two companies at the head would
move apart and the reserve company would move through the void giving new
momentum to the attack. The company would then take and "clean" la
Carabine while the two flanking companies would continue to attack the fort
from the west and east and set up a defence facing North.
Phase 2 of the attack would take place after the
Zouaves had taken the fort. After a 4 hour bombardment the 4th battalion was to
pass through the 3rd battalion and take the farm "de L`Orne" about
600meters to the north of the fort, then to head east, descending into the
forest of Pilleries and taking the farm of Mamy in the Ailette valley. The
advance would have taken 3kms of ground. The job was difficult, the planning
very detailed. The artillery preparation was to trump anything seen up to that
point in the war.
The destruction of the fort was to be undertaken with
70 shells of 400mm, 250 shells of 270m, 500 shells of 240mm and almost
unlimited shells of 220 and 155mm.
At 2.30am the 3rd battalion was in position. The 4th
battalion was on the move when the German artillery opened up with a heavy bombardment
on the staging area. The 3rd battalion was well under cover in the trenches and
dug outs and as a result suffered few losses. The 4th battalion was surprised
before reaching shelter in the trenchline "Narcisse" and suffered
Hours passes and the shelling continued. The enemy
must have known the hour of the attack a
he had been quiet in the preceding nights. In order to escape the
bombardment the commander advanced the attack to 5.15am, it was still pitch
At 05.15 the 3rd battalion exited the trenches
energetically but right away, in the darkness, through a wasteland of craters
and explosions it soon became disordered and the men of the three companies
The fort, which had been lit up by incendiary shells, disappeared
from view as the battalion advanced into an area of low ground which added to
the confusion. The march had to be continued by compass. In the trenches
"Casse Tete" and "Leibnitz" there were no signs of life.
The trenches were flattened, the bunkers collapsed, the obstacles had been
After crossing the "Casse Tete" the fort
came into view again glowing like a brazier. In the light of the fort and the
coming of dawn the companies reformed to take the trenchline "la
Carabine". They came under fire from a German machinegun which in turn was
silenced by a machinegun of the 11th company.
By 6.00am the fort was in French hands. The 3rd
battalion installed itself in the ruins while the 4th battalion waited for the
artillery preparation that would prepare the way for their part of the attack.
Aime traversed the field of battle carrying messages through the fire. His citation reads: "A runner who has shown every proof of bravery. Has
constantly shown proof of his bravery and drive. He showed proof of the best
military qualities during the attack on the 23rd of October 1917 and on the
days that followed. He ensured a perfect liaison between the Colonel and his
battalion commander. He has
already been cited 5 times"
The battalion commander, commandant Helbert was
wounded and commandant du Peuty was sent from the Regt HQ to take command of
the battalion in position in front of the fort.
The attack took place at 9.15 and went as planned with
the exception of the division of Chasseurs which, covering the right flank of
the battalion had lagged behind.
At the depart the 4th battalion moved forward rapidly
on the heals of the rolling barrage, attacking the trench and farm of
Right away the Germans in the forest "de
Veau" and "d´Entre deux Monts" opened up on the right flank of
the battalion with a murderous machinegun fire. It did not stop the Zouaves but
still, an urgent solution was needed.
Commandant du Peuty redirected the battalion advance
behind a fold of ground that covered their right flank. They were able to
advance while the machine gun bullets flew harmlessly over their heads.
The 4th battalion reached the trench and farm
"l´Orne" held by a battalion of Grenadier Guards who were preparing
to counter attack. The 4th battalion took them before the Garde could move into
The attack and the fighting that followed added to the
glory of the regiment.
In spite of a furious enemy counter barrage and in
spite of the attack being launched at night the attack had been carried out
with a clinical precision, advancing 3 km’s without setbacks.
Not worried by the failure of their neighbours on the
right flank to keep pace with the advance and ignoring the fact that this flank
was not protected and their lines of communication were wide open to attack
they pushed on. The Zouaves had just one thought in their
In spite of difficulties they took their objectives
including 600 prisoners from 5 different regiments, 17 artillery pieces and
numerous machine guns. A fifth citation was added to the regiments list of
Above: General Petain decorates the colors of the 4th Zouaves
On the 13th of November the regiment was cited for the
“Elite Regiment, already possessing four citations.
(It) has a marvellous elan, is vigorous and has a superb morale. It dominated
the German Imperial Guard as it had done before at Hurtebise. The 23rd of October
1917, under the orders of Lt. Col. Besson had orders to take a number of
heavily defended enemy lines to a depth of 2800 meters. In spite of a heavy
counter barrage it leapt from its staging area and took fort Malmaison
and the neighbouring objectives in a single bound, this in spite of enemy
artillery and machine gun fire. It continued to push and at the end of the
period 23rd-25th of October had captured 600 prisoners, numerous machine guns
and 17 artillery pieces.”