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The EK1

Right: A German soldier prepared for combat.

At the start of the May offensive (27-30th May) on the Soissons-Rheims front the 39th Füsilier Regiment was in the Corbery area preparing for the attack. As part of  Boehm's 7th Army the 50 I.D. was to be used as an assault division. Facing them were elements of Gough's 5th Army stretching from Brimont to Craonne.

From the regimental history:

"The incredible amount of artillery backing us gave us a feeling of security. The bombardment leading up to the March offensive had set a new benchmark... this one would push the limit even further.

At 02:00 the bombardment started. 1500 mortars fired their deadly loads at the enemy trenches. The Kugelberg in front of our regiment recieiving 3000 shells alone. Soon the full weight of the artillery joined in. The Winterberg had more guns firing at it than our peacetime army had possessed in total. Our heaviest guns concentrated on the enemy artillery positions, fortified bunkers and communication centres as well as the Aisne bridges. The lighter artillery fired gas on the enemy trenches and artillery positions.

The night around us had become a sea of fire. Behind us was an unbroken chain of muzzle flashes. Over our heads the shells glowed and howled and in front of us everything was engulfed in fire and smoke. In this hideously beautiful sea of fire the air shimmered in front of our eyes. The air pressure extinguished candles, even in the deepest bunkers. Two hours and forty minutes of hell on earth, then the bombardment began to roll forward.

Simultaneously at 04:40 a.m., we storm troopers moved forward. The first English defence line was overrun right away. Pockets of enemy resistance were overcome with bayonets and hand grenades, the II Batln taking over 200 prisoners in the first few minutes.

In the third defence line desperate fire came from well prepared machine gun nests, but not for long. Assault groups made their way forward and took the positions with machine guns and grenades. The assault continued past the wrecked tanks left by the French during their failed offensive the year before. At 09:00 the Kugelberg was reached, then Height 77with the ground that the French had captured the year before, at a terrible cost, was retaken.

Our goal lay still further ahead. Ployon Wood had to be taken. Hidden there was the bulk of the British artillery in the sector. The British tried to stop us by firing from behind trees and bushes, but our troops advanced through the machine gun and rifle fire. Forty artillery pieces were captured by the II. Batln as they advanced into the western section of the forest. A platoon of the 7th company took two more guns whose crews were still firing, unaware of the situation. The infantrymen
overran the position, capturing the crews. On the eastern side the fire of the 3rd Machine Gun Company scattered the crews of eight 15cm howitzers, then took the guns.

All the battalions rushed forward towards the Aisne placing the retreating enemy, including mounted staffs and packed automobiles under fire. The commander of the II. Batln accompanied by his staff and two machine guns reached the Aisne, just south west of Pontavert, ahead of his unit. The staff and elements of the 12th Company managed to capture the British demolition team and defuse their charge as the fuse was already burning, saving a valuable bridge. By 15:00 the 39th Füsilier Regiment had crossed the Aisne, the 7th Company and elements of the 11th taking Concevreux after bitter fighting. The Regimentt then pushed towards the steep hills to the south of the village. From well prepared machine gun nests on the slopes the enemy tried to stop our breakthrough, but the fusiliers' spirit was up. Heavy and light machine guns and mortars prepared the way and the last resistance was taken care of with hand grenades and rifles. One machine gun nest after another fell. The amount of prisoners increased rapidly, those who tried to run were shot.

As dusk fell the ridge was ours. Our breakthrough had reached a depth of 15km. In spite of many instances of tough, determined resistance there were astonishing examples of indecisiveness on the part of the enemy. One example occurred during the advance of the 5th and 8th Companies to take up position on the heights. The unsuspecting companies filed past a trench of British soldiers who could have decimated the column with flanking fire. Only at the last minute did the Füsiliers notice the position and triumphantly took the occupants prisoner.

There was little time for rest. At 06:00 the chase continued. Hastily positioned French reserves tried to stop us crossing the Vesle south of Romain but the three battalions, advancing on a wide front and supported by an artillery battery and our mortars, overcame the enemy machine gun positions which were hidden in clumps of trees..

Around midday Breuil fell. Here we captured two large railway guns, a huge munitions depot and an uncountable amounts of supplies. The Vesle had been crossed. French and British dead covered the battlefield, including a complete British machine gun detachment. Pushing forward we crossed the Reims-Fismes road. From the heights to the west of Unchair we came under machine gun fire, but the 5th Company pushed into the village. Right away the French counterattacked with reserves from the heights, but their ranks were badly cut up by two batteries of our artillery and our machine guns. The enemy retreated and we gave chase.

Suddenly we were hit by French artillery fire, the first we had experienced since the beginning of the offensive. It halted our advance for a short while, but by that evening we had reached the heights to the northeast of Grugny.

After a short rest we are ordered to pursue the enemy vigorously. The excitement of the chase gave us new energy. At 21.00 we set off. To the left and right machine guns chattered from the enemy positions on our flanks. In spite of this we reached Arcis le Ponsart before dusk. Our advance had surprised the French so much that we were able to crash through bivouacs of sleeping enemy, causing enormous confusion.

The attack and pursuit had exhausted the Füsiliers. Two days and two nights we had been fighting without a break. We had had to leave the machine gun carts behind, the gunners carrying their heavy weapons and ammunition.

Left: The Iron Cross award document to Füsilier Heinrich Harmeit (7. Komp.)
The award was made on the 29 June 1918

At 04:00 on the 29th the advancing Füsiliers were ambushed at the crossroads west of Lagèry with heavy machine gun and rifle fire from all sides. The Füsiliers of the III Battailon reacted splendidly. Machine gunners and assault groups kept the enemy occupied while the rest of the battalion cleared the woods on the right flank. Our field artillery immediately sent a good morning greeting to the French and with that the ambushers faded away.

As a prize for our victory we captured a field kitchen with hot coffee, fresh bread and canned meat just in time for breakfast.

At 09:00 we continued towards Vieux-Bezilly, sweeping away another French line of resistance at Igny l’Abbaye with accurate machine gun and mortar fire. Early on the morning of the 30th we took Goussancourt. Tanks that attempted to block our way were beaten back by our artillery.

On the Champvoisy heights we were met by fierce fire from well prepared machine gun nests, but that evening an assault by the Regiment broke the enemy resistance and the advance continued with little opposition. Dead and wounded littered the enemy's path of retreat. The night march saw us creeping through the forest, holding our gas mask containers and bayonets to prevent any noise other than the crack of twigs and rustle of branches. We moved forward, following the compass southwards through the night. When we reached the edge of the wood we came under artillery fire, but that did little to stop us. Under the cover of darkness we left the wood and took up position on the cold windy heights. Officers' patrols were sent out, one of them making it into enemy occupied Verneuil and killing the sentries. The patrols reported back..."we are on the Marne!"

At 23:30 our III Battalion had reached the objective. The Regiment had fought superbly from Corbèny to the Marne. In the four-day assault it had advanced 60 km, causing the enemy heavy losses. Seventy artillery pieces, many machine guns and immense amounts of supplies of all sorts had been captured as well as 2000 British and French soldiers. The men had given their all for their triumph, leaving 94 of their comrades dead and 420 wounded along the way.

A map showing the German offensive and the Allied counter offensive.