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Chapter 6. Military Situation in August, 1918


The 302nd ENGINEERS

by,
Gilbert H. Crawford
Thomas H. Ellett
John J. Hyland


CHAPTER VI.
MILITARY SITUATION IN AUGUST, 1918.

BEFORE beginning the next chapter in the history of the Regiment, it would be well to recall
the military situation on the 1st August, 1918.

Up to the 1st of June, the Germans had launched three great offensives: two against the British, in Picardy (21st of March), and in Flanders (9th of April) and one against the French
on the Chemin des Dames (27th of May). This latter attack had been the most successful for the enemy, for within a few days, German troops had pushed a great salient in the French lines, between Rheims and Soissons, extending as far south as the Marne River at Chateau-Thierry. This great attack had been halted by the French reserves about the 2nd of June. In this drive, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions won immortal fame by their heroic defense and counter- attack in Belleau Woods and near Chateau-Thierry.

For six weeks (from 2nd of June to 15th of July) after this check of the German advance by the combined French and American forces, the enemy organized this salient for a further attack with Paris as its probable near objective.

The fourth enemy offensive operation of 1918 was to take place in two sections of the front simultaneously, viz. (1) from Rheims east, and (2) from Rheims southwest to Château-Thierry. Later the enemy planned to attack the front from Soissons to Château-Thierry after the hoped-for success in the first two assaults.

Blinded by the over-confidence bred of their earlier successes, the Germans failed to dig positions of strength' on the front between Soissons and Chateau-Thierry. For the same reason, they even neglected to mask their plans and movements with the result that the French staff was fully informed, even knowing the "zero hour" for the attack.

Early on the morning of the 15th of July, these two attacks were launched by the enemy troops. After the first day, it was obvious that the attack east of Rheims was a failure for the Boches, due, in large measure to novel tactics of the French Commander, General Gouraud.

The enemy met with greater success in their advance between Rheims and Chateau-Thierry. In places the Marne River was crossed. But even this attack by the Germans did not overwhelm the Allied forces. The defense was especially strong near Chateau-Thierry, where the 3rd American Division checked very heavy attacks, and stubbornly held its ground.

The great hour of the war had now struck! For the first time Marshal Foch had almost unlimited reserves at his disposal, due to the American reinforcement. At last he could give free play to his strategic skill and military genius. The Allied forces were about to take the offensive, and were never to relinquish it until the surrender of the enemy under the humiliating terms of the Armistice of 11th November, 1918.

Masked by the Forest of Villers-Cotterets, all available Allied troops had been concentrated between Soissons and Château-Thierry. Among these troops were two American divisions (the 1st and the 2nd). Early on the 18th of July -a day which will forever be remembered in American history and in the history of the world-the great counter -battle began, striking directly eastward to the south of Soissons. Marshal Foch had seized his opportunity to deliver a tremendous flanking blow, which proved irresistible.

Success was immediate. Even during the first day's battle, important German lines of communications were cut, and the enemy's whole position in the Marne salient was in peril.

The attack which the enemy had planned to make, probably on the same day, was at once changed into a grim defense, and then to a retreat, as the Allied divisions between Chateau-Thierry and Rheims took up the offensive.

Between the 18th of July and the 1st of August, the Allies had steadfastly pushed the Germans back to the Ourcq River at Fere-en-Tardenois. The enemy resisted stubbornly, and again and again the Allied divisions had to be replaced and relieved because of the heavy losses. But the advance continued, and the enemy was forced to fall back.

It was to participate in the finale of this great battle that the 77th Division was withdrawn from the quiet Baccarat Sector. Instead of being sent to the rear for a "rest", the Division was ordered forward to relieve the 4th U. S. Division on the Vesle River and elements of the 42nd Division.
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