Combres Heights (Les Eparges) are situated on the northern hinge of the St
Mihiel salient and was one of "hotspots" on the Western Front in
early 1915. If
they had succeeded in occupying the heights the French would have an
uninterrupted view into the salient and the German rear area.
Right: a map of the salient. A more detailed map follows at the end of the page.
they had managed to bring artillery to the top of the heights they could have
fired directly on the railway lines and roads leading up to the front lines. It
would have led to the Germans being forced to abandon the salient.
defenders had managed to hold their positions on the heights against a series
of desperate local attacks carried out by a particularly determined French
attacks, starting in earnest in the middle of February 1915 saw the 33rd
Reserve Division and 9th Infantry Division both spilling and losing much blood
as the French slowly forced them back on the western slope of the
new level of ferocity developed when General Dubail attacked with three corps
and a cavalry division in an effort to pinch the salient off at it’s sides. The
Combres Heights to the north, the Priesterwald to the south and the Aillywald
at the front of the salient were the main objectives of the offensive.
the French made little progress on the Heights the situation for the defenders
was precarious to say the least. Already before the offensive began on the
fifth of April the French had sought to improve the staging areas for the
offensive through a series of local attacks.
men of the 33rd Reserve and 9th and 10th Infantry Divisions managed to throw
the French back wherever they managed to break into the German lines. To the
North the 5th Landwehr Division stood like a rock and defended their positions
that bordered on the heights.
the offensive itself was launched the defenders continued to fight bitterly and
hold their positions.
Above: The Iron Cross 1st Class award document to Hauptmann d.L. Franz Mensch. The 56th Field Artillery Regiment was part of the 10th Infantry Division.
On the eighth of April, following an overwhelming
bombardment the French succeeded in breaking into the trenches of the
"Kammstellung" on the northwest slope, but less than 24 hours later
the 10 I.D. managed to throw the French out of the newly captured positions. To
the north the older men of the 5. L.D. Stalwartly held their ground.
By the middle of April the French offensive had
achieved minimal gains and the French High Command wound down the offensive
There was no time for complacency for the Germans. The
French no longer threatened the peak but they had succeeded in flanking the
Heights from the South. It was decided to push the French back. On the 24th of
April the 111th and 9th Infantry Regiments attacked along both sides of the
"Tranchee de Calonne" pushing the French back and establishing a new
line of defence level with the Combres Heights.
Here, reinforced by the 113th I.D. they fought until the 7th of May and managed
to capture 2500 enemy soldiers, 20 pieces of artillery and 30 machine guns.
the infantry activity died down and the pioniers and
miners took over the sector.
A description of the fighting, written by a
participant, was published in the "Norddeutschen Allgemeinen
Since the beginning of April a terrible battle has
raged, the intensity of which only the participants will be able to appreciate.
The French have already tried unsuccessfully to break through on our left and
right flanks. Our division has a difficult position. Prisoners have informed us
that 24 fresh enemy regiments have been brought up for the attack as well as 2
British divisions in reserve. (Doubtlessly an error on the part of the writer).
These two divisions have not been used.
The fighting is merciless. No quarter is given and we
have taken few prisoners. Our soldiers are fighting very bravely. One enemy
attack follows the next, each preceded by a bombardment that does its best to
level our positions. Each attack is beaten back with the French suffering
In some areas our troops have to abandon their
positions to escape the artillery fire but the French are wrong if they think
these positions are "taken". Violent counter attacks with the bayonet
throw them out of the positions and our troops have on occasion continued the
counter attacks until they broke into the enemy front line but were forced to
abandon the French positions due to heavy enemy artillery fire.
The positions have all been flattened and at night the
men work hard to rebuild the earthworks, the pioniers labouring tirelessly. Almost
all of the original positions are still in our hands.
Left: Hauptmann Mensch with his daughter in 1912.
The French have suffered very heavy losses. They throw
the bodies out of their positions to form a protective wall They seem unable to
bury them. They also seem unable or unwilling to remove their wounded. No Mans Land
is covered with bodies. Our losses are also heavy but in no proportion to
Our artillery does excellent work. They fire on the
reserves preventing them from reaching the front line where they would be able
to enter the fray. The attacking troops are met with a terrible storm of shot
The staff has done well assuring that the reinforcing
troops and supplies are always at hand. Day and night the supply columns roll
bringing up artillery ammunition. The French have our rear area under constant
fire as well as any villages within range of their guns.
How long it will continue it is not possible to say
but one thing is sure. any further attacks will also be beaten back by a wall
braced with an iron will.
Above: French troops killed by German Artillery fire.
Above: A more detailed map of the fighting in April 1915.