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Due to German advances in the summer at Fort Vaux and
at Fleury a pocket had formed in the German front line along the Souville Nase
in front of Fort Souville. The 1. Infanterie Division had come to a stop in the
Berg- and Chapitre-Wald area where the French had tenaciously defended their
ground. On the flanks the Germans had pushed forward, but the pocket had
resisted all assaults, many of them not even making it out of their attack
Due to the danger of having the enemy on their flanks and the extra men
needed to defend this extended line the taking of the ground was given the
Right: The diploma given to men of the Reserve Infanterie Regiement 81 who took part in the fighting on the Souville Nase
The exhausted 1 Infanterie Division was relieved by
the 21. Reserve Division on the 19th of July 1916 and the Hessens
were right away given the task of taking the Vaux-Chapitre forest, which
included the Souville-Nase and the nearby quarry. To the right of the 21. Reserve
Division the Garde-Ersatz-Division was to take the western ridge of the
Souville gorge, known to the French as the Ravin des Fontaines. If the attack
succeeded the French would be forced to abandon the Souville Gorge with its
deadly machinegun nests that had taken such a heavy toll on the German
attackers in the past.
To the left of the 21. Reserve Division the 50. Infanterie
Division would attempt to breakthrough in the direction of Fort Tavannes.
The Souville-Nase (Nez de Souville) protruded into the
German lines, flanked on the west by the Souville Gorge (Ravin des Fontaines)
and the Gorge known to the Germans as the Lager-Schlucht on the right. On the
map it is approximately 1 square kilometre.
The attack on the Souville-Nase was planned for the 1st
of August 1916. In the 2 weeks leading up to the attack the Reserve Infanterie
Regiments 80 and 87 prepared the ground for the assault troops, laying out
lines of communication and bunkers in the churned up frontline area.
The barrage began on the 29th of July and
included batteries from neighbouring sectors of the front and 31 heavy Minenwerfer.
During the night the assault troops of the R.I.R. 81 and 88 moved forward to
take up position in the newly prepared bunkers and shelters.
At 10am on the 1st of August R.I.R. 81
started forward along the eastern ridge of the Souville-Gorge. Supported by
flame throwers they pushed forward towards the stunned defenders, reaching
their goal in approximately 30 minutes.
Left: A 1917 drawing by Marcel Santi, a member of the 42eme Regiment d'Infanterie who fought at Verdun. Copies of his drawings are sold at the memorial to raise funds.
On their flank the Garde-Ersatz-Division had made no
progress, leaving a 900m gap in the R.I.R. 81 flank. A hastily assembled group
was sent to fill the gap and they succeeded in beating of an initial French
counter attack, but a second attack broke through, French infantry pushing over
the Souville-Nase to the German rear. A company of the R.I.R. 81 kept in
reserve was rushed forward and managed to stem the French assault.
The Hessens had achieved a major success, the French
troops in the area had been overwhelmed, many were dead or wounded, over 600
going into captivity. Optimally they should have advanced further, practically
they stopped because orders were lacking for a further advance and the German
artillery was firing a barrage to prevent the French bringing up reserves...
which had the adverse effect of not allowing the Germans to advance beyond the
point they had reached.
To permanently close the gap on the flank of the
R.I.R. 81 a battalion of the R.I.R. 88 was sent forward.
Now the difficult part of the battle was about to
begin, holding the captured ground. A successful attack supported by artillery
often gave the attacker an element of surprise, and as in the case of the days
assault, the defender could be left with little means and spirit to defend
himself. Now the shoe was on the other foot and the German infantry had to dig
in to prepare for the counter attack.
Left: Reservist Eifert fought on the Souville Heights, his Iron cross was awarded a few months later on the typical Jugendstil design used for R.I.R. 81 documents.
The French artillery ranged in on the new German
forward positions. As always French philosophy called for ground lost to be
recaptured with no delay. Artillery pieces of all calibres were brought to bare
in a heavy barrage.
The French counterattacked on the 2nd and 3rd of
August, the commander of the R.I.R. 81 noted "On both flanks (to the south
and west) there was fighting. The French attacked time and time again... they
suffered bloody losses, their trenches and positions were filled with corpses."
The losses of the R.I.R. 81 were no bagatelle and
included a Battalion commander and two company commanders.
On the 4th of August a further German attack was
planned, flanked by the G.E.D. the 21. R.D. was to advance through the Chapitre-Wald.
At the last moment the attack was called off as the G.E.D. was too exhausted
for further operations.
In the front lines the position became critical as
supply lines were under heavy fire. The troops had little food and water and as
a result, the R.I.R. 81 and 88 were replaced by the R.I.R 80 and 87. Losses had
been heavy, the R.I.R 88 suffering 1200 dead and wounded.
On the night of the 5th August the Hessens prepared
for a new assault. The XVIII Reserve-Korps was to advance along both sides of
the Souville-Gorge. On the Souville-Nase assault troops of the R.I.R 80, 87 and
elements of the 81 joined with men from the Pioneer battalion 20 as well as
Flame thrower teams and two groups of the Sturmbataillon Rohr.
After 3 hours of artillery preparation the assault
began. The men of the R.I.R. 80 made it to the tree line of the Chapitre-Wald,
but the R.I.R. 87 was stopped dead by massed machine gun fire. Once again the
G.E.D. failed to advance and a gap opened on the flank of the R.I.R 80. The
French recognised the weakness right away and a violent counter attack hit the flank
of the R.I.R. 80 assault battalion pushing them back with heavy losses which
included three Company commanders. Under heavy fire the Germans managed to form
a new defensive line, their attack coming to a halt.
Artillery owned the battlefield for the next few days,
the exhausted Infantry of both sides digging in and licking their wounds. On
the 6th August elements of the R.I.R. I./ 80 were fired on by both French and
German artillery, the positions of the opposing infantry being so close
On the 8th August the front line was taken over by the
I.R. 357 and 364 from the 33. R.D., both regiments had been attached to the 21.
2 Officers and 70 men were of the I./R.I.R. 81 had
come through unscathed, the rest of the Battalion was either dead, missing or
The next few days were quieter, but on the 18. August
the French attacked again, attacking the Souville-Nase and the right wing of
the 50. I.D. The I.R. 364, protected by a well zeroed in Feldartillerie-Regt 21,
was able to stand their ground. Numerous French soldiers were captured but the
I.R. 364 had suffered 120 dead and 300 wounded. The attackers had been more
successful to the left of the 21. R.D., breaking into the lines they occupied
some vital areas of high ground. In spite of costly German counter attacks they
were not able to retake this ground and once again a dangerous pocket was
formed in the German front line.
On the 28th of August 1916 the units of the exhausted
21. R.D. were finally relieved, the 33. R.D. taking full control of the sector.
In the six weeks the Division had lost 1150 dead and
5400 wounded, (the R.I.R. 80 had suffered 339 dead, 1339 wounded and 273
missing. The R.I.R. 81 258 dead, 1098 wounded and 182 missing).
The Souville-Nase stayed in German hands until the end
of October 1916 when it fell during the major French offensive.