Monday, January 30, 2012

19th Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment – Pt 6

Back to Part 5

23 Feb 1915 - The Soultzeren-Ampfersbach-Sattel line
In the morning the weather was clear and dry and everything was calm with no noise of battle. One had to admire the mountains covered in snow and also note the cunning system of blockhouses, observation posts, obstacles, tree truck barricades and trenches that had been constructed by our enemies in only a few months. The defensive positions followed the edge of the forest north and west of the [Schp. (sic)] to the north-west of Fronzell. An observation post hidden on the south west slope of the Reichackerkopf, near to point 33, allowed an unlimited view of Munster. The view extending from the forge to the Alsace plain struck our spirits particularly.
In the afternoon a little by surprise orders came from Division: Group Jaud – currently 1st Bn without 1st and 4th Coy’s and 2nd Bn (19th RIR), 8th Coy (18th RIR) and 5th Coy (22nd RIR) must without delay join the general Divisional attack against Soultzeren- Ampfersbach. Quickly a Combat Group under the command of Maj Veith was formed with 8th Coy (18th RIR), 5th Coy (22nd RIR), and also 2nd and 3rd Coy’s (19th RIR) who had just relieved 7th and 8th Coys (22nd RIR) on the edge of the forest, and Lt Keim’s machine gun section coming from Tiefenbach, with orders to be ready on the left wing at the crossroads to the north east of Moenchberg to spring from there to gain the basin and the heights to the south east of Looch. During this time the company from 22nd RIR and the machine gun section that were held hidden opposite the Brochacker just south of the forest line were to support this attack with fire directed between Ampfersbach and the slope to the north of the Hagel, while Maj Neuhierl’s 2nd Bn (19th RIR) reinforced with a cyclist company and heavy machine guns were to be ready to repulse any possible enemy counter-attack from the direction of the Sattelkopf towards the Reichackerkopf. The Regimental Staff went to the corner of the forest via a path that skirted the forest edge to the north of point 25. Eventually, after a long delay, a little after 5pm the first assault troops left the forest dropped into the basin and then started to climb the slope. But they did get very far in the Ampfersbach valley which resembled an erupting crater. When the order to stop the attack along the whole front arrived from Division at 7pm everyone sighed in relief. To continue the attacks under the heavy fire from the Sattel and Bichstein against the well fortified enemy infantry positions at Ampfersbach would have involved fruitless heavy losses.
During this time 4th Coy (19th RIR) had taken Kilbel by the afternoon after 3 hours of street and house to house fighting. The section commanded by Lt Küspert had taken 70 French ‘Chasseurs Alpins’ prisoner at the villa belonging to the factory and were just leaving from by the water reservoir to attack Schirbach when the order to cease the attack was received. Captain Seitz took the decision to retire from the positions on the western edge of Kilbel. Although the Divisional objective had not been reached a defensible front had been established which ran from Mittelbühl to the western limits of Kilbel, Sattel up to Stocka, enabling the formations to reform and regroup and provide a little rest to at least some of the exhausted troops.
19th RIR’s sector which extended from Rebberg to Stocka was at once divided into 3 parts. (?) Lochner was placed in command of the right hand sector which ran from Rebberg just to the corner of the Moenchberg forest; Maj Veith commanded the centre which ran on to an included Klänglesssattel; Capt Leuchs (a replacement for the sick Maj Neuhierl) commanded the left which ran on to Stocka. As of 24 Feb 15, 1st Bn (19th RIR) once again found themselves occupying the Reichackerkopf. The Regimental Staff which after the battle at Ampfersbach was located at Stosswihr found themselves targeted by artillery fire, by the evening they had packed up and moved to the hamlet of Weier which they found in total disorder and full of rubbish after a rather long occupation by French troops.
On the 27 Feb 15 the position that was still alongside the main road towards Soultzeren was advanced without difficulty towards the reservoir and to the west of the church in Kilbel. On the 28 Feb 15 at 2pm the Brigade Commander Freiherr von Pechmann, accompanied by his adjutant Frh. Von der Tann, personally visited the Division to order a general night attack against the Sulzeren-Schirbach-Ampfersbach-Brochacker line. This attack was to start on 1 Mar 15 at 1am sharp and all watches had to be synchronised. The time necessary to transmit and carry out this order was extremely short due to the short days and the difficulties related to the rough ground. Although the Commander of the Regiment expressed his concerns none of the plan was changed. By 3pm verbal instructions had been passed to all the commanders and by 7pm detailed written orders had been passed to the three Battalions.
Next: “1 Mar 1915 - TheSulzeren-Schirbach-Ampfersbach-Brochacker line

Monday, January 9, 2012

19th Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment – Pt 5

Back to Part 4

20 Feb 1915 - The Sättele and the Sattelköpfle

On 20 Feb 15 it was initially planned to capture ground later called the Sättele and the Sattelköpfle to the west of the Reichackerkopf, from there advance further in a northerly direction, and on the basis of a line running North-West bordering Moenchberg-Brochacker and the ground to the south of Rosselwasen threaten the enemy’s principle supply route coming from the ‘col de la Schlucht’, whilst also supporting the troops engaged along a line from Kleinkopf-Hohrodberg-Hohrod towards Soultzeren-Eck-Hagel. Although supported by an hour of intense artillery fire on the Moenchberg, Sättele and Sattelköpfle and despite outstanding bravery, particularly by Capt Metzner’s 5th Coy (23rd RIR), the objective was not reached. This was due to the concealed enemy positions on the slopes north west of Klängle which meant the attackers received enemy infantry fire on their flanks and rear. With nightfall, the 5th and 6th Coy’s (23rd RIR) who had advanced the furthest towards the Sättele, were forced to retire and seek shelter close their initial step off point. However, a breakthrough had been announced around midday, Bretzel and Widental, set on fire by Grauvogel’s artillery battery, had since 10.00am been occupied by the 1st Coy (121st Regt) who were now ready to advance in the direction of Stosswihr.
On 21 Feb 15 the 19th RIR had the task of reaching the objective that had been set for the day before. A combat group comprising; 2nd Bn (22nd RIR) commanded by Maj Braun, half of 1st Bn (22nd RIR), and 1st Bn (19th RIR), supported by a vigorous artillery barrage, were ordered to take the Moenchberg. But the density of the vegetation and the rough ground of the Moenchberg confused the overall picture and made command very difficult. Despite every effort when evening arrived only 300m of ground had been captured. The situation was particularly difficult due to the fact that the attack, which started at 2pm, came under rifle fire from enemy hidden in the trees. This fire inflicted heavy casualties, dead and seriously wounded, particularly among the officers; von Falkenhausen, Schilling, Metzner, and Lt. Seit. Capt Scholler was also seriously wounded and it was only through the selflessness and energy of Cpl Voigt (1st Bn, 19th RIR) that he was brought back and saved.
There was little that could be done but to hold the line reached and use the hours of darkness to withdraw the companies who had lost their officers and reorganise the remaining formations. Fortunately this succeeded. Meanwhile the Sattelköpfle had been occupied by the half sections from 5, 6, and 7 Coys (19th RIR) thanks to the observation and determination of WO Wiehl with infantryman Bernstorf from 5th Coy. On 22 Feb 15, 19th RIR’s commanding officer personally took command of the attack on the Moenchberg and from 11.45hrs ordered an intense artillery barrage, by two guns from the Grauvogel battery which had been brought under extremely difficult conditions very close to their intended target, as well as howitzers and mortars of the Holländer detachment, which were subordinated to him. By 14.00hrs no enemy were left hiding in the trees. Indeed Lt Auffhammer’s 2nd Coy, Lt Kollmann’s 3rd Coy and Lt Keim’s machine gun section, which had all volunteered, reached the edge of the Moenchberg on the Brochacker side without loss or a shot being fired.
For the night of the 22 Feb 15, the Brigade had decided that the ruins of Widenthal and Bretzel would be used to quarter the Staff of 1st Bn (19th RIR) along with their 1st Coy and Stosswihr would house the Regimental Staff along with those from 1st and 2nd Bn (18th RIR) and 2nd Bn (22nd Inf Regt), but due to the fact that in this area the battle for Kilbel still raged, as was evidenced by the noise of battle, the commanding officer of the Regiment took the decision to remain in Munster with the Regimental troops. During the night Brigade let it be known that on the 23 Feb 15 a general attack was planned, involving elements of the Regiment, against the Soultzeren-Ampfersbach-Sattel line. To support this attack, commanded by General von Sprösser, the Regiment was required to detach a Battalion to be at Hohrodberg no later than 06.30hrs. The Regiment appointed (?)Lochner as the detachment commander which was to comprise; 1st Bn (19th RIR) located in Bretzel, and 1st Coy (18th RIR) and 3rd Coy (22 Inf Regt) from Munster. After this Battalion set off at 5am, having left 3rd Coy (22 Inf Regt) behind by mistake, the General Staff of the Regiment, who had had very little rest, also left Munster and arrived around 7.30am at the command post, used the day before, on the Reichackerkopf accompanied by the Staff from 1st Coy (18th RIR) and 3rd Coy (22 Inf Regt).

Thursday, January 5, 2012

19th Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment – Pt 4

Back to Part 3
19 Feb 1915 - The Reichackerkopf
On 19th Feb 15 at 6 o'clock in the morning they took their leave. The Regimental Staff, guided by a young shepherd, reached Eckersbergand via a long rocky road, and after a short pause headed on to Breitenbach where occasional shells, fired from the Reichackerkopf, were falling between the houses. Meanwhile both 1st and 2nd Bn (19th RIR) had crossed the Fecht , either by bridge or wading, at Breitenbach and Sendenbach and had advanced rapidly towards the Reichackerkopf and Sattel by the Katzenköpfel and Stocka. 1st Bn (RIR) with Kollmann’s 3rd Coy in the centre had by 7.30am reached the edge of the forest north of Katzenköpfel without loss. Suddenly they found themselves on a steep forest slope faced by a defensive line of tree trunks and barbed wire and under heavy fire from not only their front but also their right flank. Progress towards Moenchberg had become very difficult. Captain Seitz’s 4th Coy that had come from Oberwidato, to the east of Katzenköpfel, had already taken heavy casualties.
Reserve Lt Bernheimer (4 Coy), Temporary Officer Micheler (3 Coy), the NCO standard bearer Josef Schmid from Kornau near Oberstdorf who died with the flag in his hand beside Maj Veith his Battalion Commander were among the first to fall on the field of honour. 4th Coy did not succeed in advancing any further in spite of the support which it received from the regiment by a section commanded by Temporary Officer Einberger coming from Fronzell. Lt Auffhammer’s 2nd Coy which was advancing on the left wing of the Regiment near Klängle was in a delicate position being fired upon through the branches from in front and the sides. 3rd Coy advancing under fire was able to assault and capture a heavily defended enemy observation post near to road 300 south of the Reichackerkopf. Despite the physical effort and the danger of death the proof of the accuracy of the fire delivered by the hard headed Swabians and Bavarians were the 25 dead Frenchmen from 51st Battalion ‘Chasseurs Alpines’ killed by a bullet through the head whilst still in their firing positions behind their huge tree trunk barricades.
Meanwhile on the right wing of the Regiment the 5th, 6th and 7th Coys from 2nd Bn (19th RIR) left Sendenbach and going via Roth and Obereck had advance to within 300m of the Sattel. Coincident with this favourable gain it was announced that Moenchberg had been taken by 1st Bn (121st Inf Regt) and that the 18th RIR had gained the Altmattkopf. The General Staff of the Regiment (19th RIR) were entitled to expect an imminent victory. The disappointment was all the more bitter when a few hours later it turned out that the claims were false and 2nd Bn (19th RIR) made it known: “Taking the summit of the Sattel is impossible, obstacles are too great, our artillery is totally ineffective, three enemy companies on our left flank, am retiring the Battalion several hundred metres and turning my front left facing west”. Thus the Regimental General Staff found themselves in a difficult position as they had no reserves immediately available.
Having to wait until 7pm for reserves to arrive from Munster and for the strengthening of the artillery fire targeting the Reichackerkopf, Klängle-Sattel and Sattelköpfchen the Staff’s were pleased to receive the good news from 1st Bn (19th RIR): “Detachment Kollmann 3 Coy, Section Schuster 2 Coy, Sections Anodé and Furst 4 Coy, Machine Gun Section Keim and 6 men (8th R.P.R.) took the Reichackerkopf at 6.45pm; the enemy has retired to the north and north-west; the position is held and fortified”. As a result the dominant position between the large and small river Fecht west of Munster had been taken. The spontaneous decision, taken around 4pm, of Lt Col Kollmann together with Lt Col Keim and the commanders of the groups present to continue their attempts and take the same day the hill top, in spite of the combat and the efforts which had preceded, will remain for the commanders and soldiers a glorious page in the history of the 19th RIRR. That the attack was crowned a success was due primarily to Lt Keim’s machine gun section whose action, not only on the physical level, was admirable. The NCO’s Mac and Carty acting as scouts, Rifleman Geyer as a liaison officer and Cpl Albrecht as a guide and with his shooting all distinguished themselves through their determination and skill.
Meanwhile night had fallen cold and wet covering with its black shroud friends and enemies alike. Among those who had lost their lives could be counted 3 officers; Reserve Lt Bernheimer 4 Coy, Temporary Officer Micheler 3 Coy, Adjutant Lt Gabler 7 Coy, 8 NCO’s and 30 men, among the latter Infantryman Josef Müller 5 Coy, who fell trying to rescue his wounded comrade from the barbed wire in front of the Sattelkopf. Among the wounded eventually evacuated were 3 officers; Lt Lindner 3 Coy, Reserve Lt Angerer 5 Coy, Lt Rosskopf 7 Coy, 1 Temporary Officer Merwald and 179 NCO’s and men.
The night of the 19 Feb 15 passed without combat but also without rest. The troops who had taken the positions on the heights had to find shelter from the bitter cold. The next day in the valley at Tiefenbach the concerns for both the Regimental Headquarters and the First Aid Station focused on re-supply and transport for the casualties both of which were a source of great tension. Several new units had arrived by armoured train to support the 19th RIR during the night; Mountain Artillery, heavy machine guns, the 2nd Bn (22nd RIR) commanded by Maj Braun and half of the 1st Bn (22nd RIR) commanded by Major Eisel. With the ceaseless armoured train traffic between Munster and Metzeral and the orders to machine gun the cut-off enemy positions north of both Fronzell and Muhlbach rest was impossible.

The Battles for Munster 1915 - Pt 5: Metzeral and Sondernach

Back to Part 4

Whilst the battles had been raging in the higher Fecht and on the Hartmannswillerkopf French G.H.Q. had been putting the final touches to its planned offensive on the Linge and the Petit Ballon.  Accordingly, 47th Infantry Division were to take the Linge and then continue east on the northern heights of the Munster valley, while 66th Infantry Division commanded by General Serret was to capture the Hilsenfirst and the Petit Ballon.  The first French objectives were the villages of Metzeral and Sondernach although on the eve of the offensive Joffre reiterated his direction ‘a rapid and forcible action in the Fecht valley, a diversion offensive which, in addition to its main object [Munster], is intended to pin down the maximum number of enemy troops’ (Source: The Linge 1915, Durlewanger. Armand, (S.A.E.P, Colmar) p. 4).

General de Maud’huy the commander of the French 7th Army believed that in order to successfully carry out the planned operation he needed an additional Division just to take the Linge.  In response 2 Territorial Infantry Regiments, a Brigade of Alpine troops and the newly established 5th Brigade, commanded by Colonel Trouchaud, were sent to reinforce the French 47th Division.  General Pouydraguin commanding 47th Division had planned an attack that extended from peak 830 to the Reichackerkopf.  Approach work from the Altmatt towards the Braunkopf had been started in late May and a route to move the guns from Kruth to Mittlach via Huss, reaching an altitude of 1.300m, had been constructed by the 66th Division making it possible to move the French heavy artillery within range of the German positions.  A Battery from the 220th had been transported from the Hohneck to Mittlach via Gérardmer, Bresse, ‘le col d’Oderen’, Kruth and then on the newly constructed road with enormous difficulty.

The French Attack Jun 1915
The French Attack 15 Jun 1915

With the attack planned for the 15 Jun 15 the 47th Division line of attack was as follows: on the right, the 133rd Infantry Regiment, provided by the 41st Division from Saint-Dié, was responsible for peak 830; on the left, the 4th Brigade was to attack the Eichwald wood with the 23rd B.C.A.. The Braunkopf was to be attacked by the 6th B.C.A. with the 24th B.C.A. on its left.  The Lançon group (4 battalions of reserve ‘Chasseurs’) were to secure the flank of the attack against the German held Reichackerkopf.  The assault time was set at 16.30 hours, on June the 15th and the attack was to be preceded by an artillery barrage from 104 guns, including 200 mm guns, which was to last 4 1/2 hours.

On June 15, after a methodical preparation, the attack was made:

June 15. Magnificent weather: a day made for victory. Since yesterday the guns on all sides roar incessantly. The din is infernal. Machine-guns and rifle fire crackle at intervals. Aeroplanes are humming as they circle round and round in the blue and sunny sky. This is indeed war.  We are in the woods with piled arms, ready to march at the first signal.  Captain Ferdinand Belmont.

The German trenches on the Braunkopf were rapidly overrun and at peak 830 the French infantry descended the slopes and took the German trenches in the rear pierced the German line and captured two companies.  In Eichwald and on the Anlass, success was less rapid.  In Eichwald, the 23rd B.C.A. ran into a wall of machine-guns.  On the Anlass the fight began with an exchange of grenades around the bowl.  The following day, the 6th B.C.A., after taking peak 830 controlled the entire Braunkopf.  Eichwald was surrounded and the way to Metzeral was open.

June 17. What a din ! Shells have been falling and bursting like fury around us since this morning. The battalion came to the first line to relieve the units, fairly hard hit, which captured the Braunkopf from the Boches during the last few days. The Braunkopf is a large, rocky and sparsely- wooded hill which commands Metzeral on the south, and is itself commanded by another higher and more important hill, the Almattkopf. These two Kopf are connected by a sort of entrance. The Boches' trenches, formidable, and bordered by barbed wire, furrowed in several tortuous lines the brow of the Braunkopf. The first attack, made on the 15th, succeeded, after a mighty artillery preparation, in taking the summit of the Braunkopf.
On the 16th the same battalion, the 6th, captured fresh trenches, and now the whole of the Braunkopf is ours. The 11th Battalion has come to relieve the 6th, which has had not a few losses. My company is not the farthest advanced ; we are in a trench running parallel with the departure point, where the attack has not been able to progress, a hundred metres from a small wood, called the Bois Noir, which the Boches hold.
The scene is not a pleasant one. The brow of the Braunkopf is completely devastated by the artillery. There is hardly a spot where the earth has not been torn up; everything is topsy-turvy — an unimaginable entanglement of barbed wire and twisted, shattered, torn-up ‘Chevaux de frise’ — a mass of debris, ripped open earth-bags, dead bodies of infantrymen and Germans, some of them half buried, others mutilated by shells, and sometimes Boches and Frenchmen side by side, all in strange attitudes, just as they were when death seized them. Rifles, the bayonets of which glitter in the sun, are strewn by the side of these bodies. . . . An indescribable picture of havoc and ruin!
Three companies of the 11th Battalion, arranged in a semi-circle on the slope of the ridge, now occupy the conquered trenches and endure this infernal avalanche of iron stoically. The enormous 210 and 150 mm. shells, which you can hear coming from afar, slowly and with insidious murmur, pulverize the round-topped hill, which at times disappears under clouds of black smoke and red dust. Above the blue flakes of the .77 shrapnel scatter uninterruptedly. "Where we are a few shells arrive from time to time ; but up to the present they have fallen outside the trench and have wounded only one man of the company.
The valley of the Fecht opens before us, and at the base of the slopes the village of Metzeral, which our artillerymen have been shelling for two days past, is burning, house by house. A great part of it is already in ruins. On the houses still intact the shells are pouring, destroying everything and lighting fresh fires. What a spectacle! And what a war which destroys everything, spares nothing, and seems to have no other object than to annihilate!  Captain Ferdinand Belmont.

Further south, the 66th Division ran up against stiff resistance, on the right, at the Hilsenfirst, the Manhès company, of the 7th B.C.A., was surrounded for three days before being rescued.  On the 18th Jun, the 28th B.C.A., advancing along the bottom of the valley, linked up with 47th Division at Steinabruck and Altenhof was taken.

[June 17 cont] They are also fighting on the other side of the valley: the neighbouring division, the 66th, is acting on the offensive at the same time as our own. These two movements are, doubtless, to converge near the bottom of the valley, on the lower side of Metzeral. On the opposite crest we can clearly see the black clouds of earth as the big shells burst. Yesterday afternoon we watched through our glasses an assault made over there by a company of infantry, and followed quite well the two successive waves of little black specks advancing over the meadows and leaping into the Boche trench, where the fight was continued with hand-grenades.
All that is hard work. Against positions organized as the Germans know how, the role of the infantry, even after the artillery has done its part, is not easy. An intense and prolonged preparation, a powerful concentration of fire which almost annihilates the works to be taken and their garrisons, is necessary.
Here the artillery preparation had been carefully carried out. During the first attack the firing lasted four hours, during which the peppering of the enemy positions never ceased. Advantageous points have been taken, but at a heavy cost. Fortunately the Boches have also had losses.
During yesterday and the day before we took about 450 prisoners. We saw a detachment of them pass yesterday evening on their way to Gerardmer; they were all very dirty and very glad to be henceforth safe and sound.  Captain Ferdinand Belmont.

During the 19-20 Jun 15 all the French efforts focused on the Anlass:

June 19. The uproar continues, or rather it recommences after a quiet morning. The artillery is preparing for the attack which is to be resumed this evening. It is probable that we shall be in action before night. For the time being my company is on the Braun-Kopf. The Boches have been driven to the bottom of the slopes and we have advanced to the outskirts of Metzeral. This evening we ought to continue to progress and endeavour to capture the village and the Bois Noir, which up to now has resisted. The two companies which have advanced have been somewhat put to the test: a captain and a sub-lieutenant are killed. Major Foret is seriously wounded on the hand.

June 20. Yesterday evening we began an attack on the Bois Noir, an evil pine wood from which the Boches obstinately refuse to decamp, and from which it is difficult to dislodge them, because they have barbed wire and machine-guns everywhere. The Boches, seeing that we threatened to debouch on to the slopes of the Braunkopf, immediately opened an intense barrage fire with the .77 batteries, the .105 howitzers and a large 130 gun which carries from Munster. The first section of my company had hardly begun its movement outside the trench when it was met by a continuous storm of bullets. Three men were killed and a dozen wounded.
The Boches have lost several important positions; we have driven them as far as the lower part of the valley. They are holding on in Metzeral, on the out- skirts of the ruined village, where their machine-guns are still hidden. General de Pouydraguin, who commands our division, has just been mentioned in De Maud'huy's army orders for the brilliant results obtained these last few days.
For the moment, we must at all cost retain this Braunkopf which the 6th Battalion captured. Poor 6th Battalion! The ground is strewn with its dead bodies, which we find everywhere — in the grass, in the Boche trenches, in shell-holes, and in the trench running parallel with our lines, on which the German batteries poured a furious fire when the offensive began. As to the Braunkopf, it is an appalling flesh-house. . . . Ah! this is not fighting in kid gloves.  Captain Ferdinand Belmont.

On 20 Jun 15 the German line collapsed and the ‘Chasseurs Alpin’ of 66th Division fell on the last German defenders scattered in the woods and clearings:  After the fall of the heights, the French attacks were concentrated on Metzeral.  The 21 Jun 15 witnessed the descent of the ‘Chasseurs Alpin’ from the Braunkopf, circumventing the village to the north and reaching the railway station. Threatened by envelopment, the Germans evacuated Metzeral, leaving some machine-guns concealed in houses and setting fire to the remainder of the village.  The French artillery cut down the walls behind which the machine-guns were placed. Despite the flames the ‘Chasseurs Alpin’ penetrated the streets.

June 21. A hard day! . . . Never before has the 6th Company been through so trying an ordeal.
In action this morning with another company, we rapidly gained a good bit of ground by advancing on the lower slopes of the Braunkopf, in conjunction with the 22nd Battalion, which was attacking Metzeral at the bottom of the valley. This village, which had just been overwhelmed under an avalanche of our big shells, was easily occupied in a few seconds by the 22nd.
We advanced at the same time and dislodged the Boches from the trenches to which they were sticking at the lower part of the Braunkopf. But, either by bullets, or especially by the shells which were raining down to stop our advance, many of our brave infantry fell. All my section heads are gone, Capdepon and two others being killed and the fourth rather seriously wounded. I cannot tell exactly how many men I have left. A sad evening! . . . The last houses of Metzeral are burning. . . . God has spared my life, but how I know not !

June 22. On the evening of the day before yesterday we relieved another company of the battalion at the advanced positions on the Braunkopf. Yesterday morning, about nine o 'clock, the order came to get ready to march and to advance in conjunction with the 22nd Battalion, which was attacking Metzeral. For more than two hours past our heavy artillery had been literally pounding this unfortunate village to pieces. The movement began at ten o'clock. My company was the first in action, immediately on the left of the 22nd, which was already entering the ruins of Metzeral.
The ground on which we had to manoeuvre was very cut up and uneven, with the result that the views were very restricted. To conform to the movement of the 22nd Battalion, which I had been ordered to support, I sent the four sections of my company into action in little columns, one by one, ready to deploy. And they marched, and very well too. . . . Gallant fellows! Already tired and fatigued by four days and nights passed under hard conditions, they boldly went into battle, advancing under a deluge of shells and amidst a veritable storm of bullets. Shrapnel whistled incessantly over our heads, whilst the deafening bursting of big shells surrounded us on all sides; and to such an extent that our losses were principally due to marmites. Here we came in contact with the Boches, who, badly entrenched and already shaken, gave way before us.  Captain Ferdinand Belmont.

On the 22 Jun 15 the 22nd and 62nd B.C.A. continued their successes to the north and took the heights which immediately dominated Metzerel, in addition French forces also took Sondernach.  The Germans were in disarray:

June 23. The Boches are decidedly depressed; they have hardly shown any sign of life since yesterday. Needless to add that the bodies they have left about us give evident signs of death. When patrolling at night in the thickets, we find almost everywhere abandoned knapsacks and rifles and heaps of articles of all sorts : spiked helmets, equipments, great-coats, tools, and even bottles of old Bordeaux some of them empty, the others not yet uncorked, so they had not time to drink it all before making off. At any rate this time they have touched glasses containing something else than Bordeaux. Out of revenge, their artillery is peppering us with shells ; but now that we are under- ground it does us little harm. Much noise and a very small result.  Captain Ferdinand Belmont.

The French now found themselves well placed for an assault on Munster which was no longer protected by a fortified German line.  A report sent by the 8th German ‘Chasseurs’ to their higher headquarters, dated 15 Jul 15, stated that between Muhlbach and the Llienkopf, and even as far as Landersbach, the German defensive line only consisted of individual fox-holes, a few knee-deep discontinuous trenches, no strongholds or shelters, and a single barbed-wire network 3 to 4 m wide, all of which was in full view of the French positions.  Re-supply relied on the narrow single track Oberbreitenbach road which could only be used at night and was so steep that its use was virtually impossible.

For General de Pouydraguin the obvious thing to do was to immediately take advantage of the capture of Metzeral and to thrust eastwards to Munster, via the bottom of the valley whilst the Germans were still disorganised and their positions scanty.  He therefore suggested to General de Maud'huy that he should continue the operations against Muhlbach while, at the same time, attacking the Reichackerkopf and the Llienkopf in liaison with the 66th Division.

General Dubail informed Joffre that the capture of Metzeral – Sondernach was the first act of an operation directed against Munster.  Moreover, he ordered General de Maud'huy to relentlessly keep up the offensive against Muhlbach and give the Germans no time to recover.  However, Joffre (French G.H.Q.) continued to insist that Munster should be taken via an outflanking operation in the heights north of the Fecht, and ordered that all movements in the bottom of the valley were stopped in order to give full weight to the attack against the Linge - Barrenkopf position.  Faced with this inflexibility, and in an attempt to reconcile it with the advice of his commanders on the ground General Dubail finally approved a thrusting move against Muhlbach, but on the condition that this action would not need a lengthy preparation.  He also made it clear that the main aim was still to take Munster by an outflanking movement in the north and that it would be better to drop the attack on Muhlbach if it were to cause a dispersion of efforts.  This restrictive condition, which reflected the state of mind of the French High Command, effectively stopped any further French action along the Fecht valley.  Operations were then shifted several kilometres north, to the Linge a high, heavily wooded zone held by the Germans, where the difficulties were the same as those previously encountered by the 66th Division, at the Hilsenfirst and the Hartmannswillerkopf, and by the 47th Division, at the Reichackerkopf.

Next: The Linge


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Battles for Munster 1915 - Pt 4: The Higher Fecht

Back to Part 3

The ‘Higher Fecht’ east of Metzeral
The Higher Fecht
The Higher Fecht

Following the French 47th Infantry Division losses General Joffre wrote to General Dubail, commander of the French Eastern Army Group, and demanded a complete revision to the incoherent operations of the 47th Division.  On Joffre’s orders General Blazer, commander of the 47th Division, was replaced by General de Pouydraguin on 26 Mar 15.  For de Pouydraguin Joffre’s continued desire to ‘activate the preparation of combined attacks in the Linge – Barrenkopf district’... (Source: The Linge 1915, Durlewanger. Armand, (S.A.E.P, Colmar) p. 3), ran counter to his need to retain control of the ‘principle peaks’.

In late March a first snow melt had made it possible for the Germans to move forward into ‘no mans land’ in the upper Fecht valley around Metzeral and establish a new front line; they firmly occupied the heights of the Schnepfenried and the Sillacker, to the north and the south of Mittlach, established outposts at Lake Schiessroth and in the farms located on the north side of the Hohneck, threatening the communication between 47th Division and 66th Division. The connection between these two divisions was established on the principal peaks of the Vosges, between Hohneck and Mittlach, by the French ski Companies who skirmished daily with the German Württemberg ski troops.

Faced with this threat, General de Pouydraguin, giving up any idea of a counter-offensive on the Reichackerkopf, had decided to focus the 47th Division efforts in the higher Fecht above Metzeral, and obtained from the General de Maud’huy the commander of the French 7th Army (on 4 Apr 1915 the Vosges Army detachment had been subsumed within 7th Army) the authorization to undertake, in conjunction with 66th Infantry Division, a series of operations that were intended to drive the Germans out of the higher Fecht valley, to establish a front ahead of the border chain and to ensure the connection between the 47th and 66th Divisions, which up to that point had been precarious.

Bad weather, snow rain and fog, during the first two weeks of April prevented any operations other than the skirmishing by the opposing skiers:

The French Attack Apr & May 1915
The French Attack April and May 1915

On 17 Apr 15 the two French Divisions attacked the heights along the banks either side of the Fecht, the 66th towards the Schnepfenfied, the 47th towards the Sillacker.  The 66th Division surprised the Germans seized the Schnepfenfied and in the process captured several guns and numerous prisoners.  The 47th Division reached the Sillacker but was stopped by strong German resistance on peak 830 where 7th Company (19th RIR) despite significant losses held their ground (The Germans went on to hold peak 830 despite the best attention of the French until 15 Jun 15).

By 19 Apr 15 a series of blows delivered by the French ski troops and 4th B.C.A. on the right of 47th Division enabled the French to capture the farms located close to the ‘peaks’ of the Vosges, Schiessroth and a major part of the Wurmsa valley.  This coupled with further gains on 20 Apr 15 around the Sillacker enabled the French to firmly establish contact between the 47th and 66th Divisions on the Steinabruck.  Between 5 - 8 May 15 following an enforced break in operations due to heavy snow falls and fog the French 47th Division focused their attacks with little success on the Sillacker against the well defended peak 830.  With the partial attacks on peak 830 threatening to last forever General de Pouydraguin having achieved his primary aim halted operations and began planning as directed by the latest French G.H.Q. missive.

Whilst the battles had been raging in the higher Fecht and on the Hartmannswillerkopf French G.H.Q. had been putting the final touches to its planned offensive on the Linge and the Petit Ballon.  Accordingly, 47th Division were to take the Linge and then continue east on the northern heights of the Munster valley, while 66th Division commanded by General Serret was to capture the Hilsenfirst and the Petit Ballon.  The first French objectives were the villagesof Metzeral and Sondernach.


Monday, January 2, 2012

19th Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment – Pt 3

Back to Part 2
14 Feb 1915 - Munster
Dug in all around Munster from the Schnepfenriedkopf to Hörnleskopf the French were applying pressure on the key access door down the Fecht valley towards the middle of Alsace. The centre of the French position, as Stegemann had illustrated perfectly, was the Reichackerkopf, a hill that dominated the climb up to the ‘col de la Schlucht’ and all the westerly routes that from Munster gave access to the valleys and mountains. Particularly well fortified and defended this 771m summit, connected to the Moenchberg, Altmatt and Sattelkopf, formed a natural fortress that seemed invulnerable to attack. The 19th RIR was given the task of tearing the hill from the French ‘Chasseurs Alpins’ commanded by General Batailles as part of general offensive against the French that extended between Kaysersberg and the Lauch valley. On the 14 Feb 15 the 18th RIR, under the command of Lt Col Danner, launched an attack in the Lauch valley towards Hilsen and Obersengern and quickly took Ranspach. The 19th RIR made contact with a Territorial Wurtemberg Battalion (1st Bn, 121st Regt) positioned on the slopes to the south of Munster, and through liaison with its commander gained valuable information concerning the enemy’s lines and access roads to ensure the attack was launched from a sound base. Patrols on the 15 Feb 15 by 4th Coy (Lt Küspert) and 7th Coy (Lt Rosskopf) with the support of a local forester Warrant Officer Junt also rendered great service.
With the intention of starting the attack on the 17th Feb 15, 1st and 2nd Bn (19th RIR) were to transfer their headquarters to Wasserbourg and Soultzbach on the 16th. But the attack was postponed unexpectedly until the 19th and only 1st Bn (19th RIR) had set of, ready for combat, during the morning of the 16th, towards Wasserbourg via Wintzenheim and Soultzbach. 2nd Bn and the Regimental Staff did not follow to Soultzbach until the 17th. Each Battalion was assigned 20 mules, abundant quantities of ammunition, winter and mountain clothing, and trench digging equipment, that was carried with the aid of 5 lorries to Wasserbourg-Soultzbach on the 16 Feb 15.
On the 18 Feb 15 the Divisional attack order was transmitted to the formations which had been attached to the Regiment namely a part of the 8th Reserve Engineer Company (1st Bn, 121st Inf Regt), the 2nd Battery of mountain guns, and the 8th Reserve Medical Company. The attack order stated that at 06:30hrs 19 Feb 15 the 1st Bn, 121st Inf Regt, supported by a unit of heavy machine guns, would attack in Company strength the Moenchberg by the Steinkreuz and Fronzell. The 19th RIR and a quarter of the Reserve Engineer Company were to cross the Fecht at Tiefenbach, 2nd Bn (19th RIR) were to cross near to Sendenbach, and without delay each Battalion was to assault the Reichackerkopf and Sattel.
The 18th RIR reinforced by the 8th Reserve Cycle Company and half of the Reserve Engineer Company, coming from Landersbach and Sondernach, was to cross the Fecht at Metzeral and conquer the Altmattkopf and Sattelkopf. Meanwhile the 1st Bn (22nd RIR) with a platoon of machine gunners from a Ski Company, a quarter of the 8th Reserve Engineer Company, and two platoons of heavy machine guns following behind the 18th RIR had to block and hold the roads leading from Metzeral south and west, and conduct reconnaissance in the direction of the Hohneck. On the right Brigadier General Sonntag, commanding the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Brigade, the 23rd RIR and two Territorial Wurtemberg Battalions (121st Inf Regt), was at 6am to attack, via the Hörnleskopf and Barrenkopf, and take the French positions near Soultzeren and Stosswihr and stop the French along the his whole front until the attack by the 15th Reserve Infantry Brigade (Freiherr von Pechmann) had achieve its objective. Everything had been done to achieve effective support from both the mountain and heavy field artillery. Telephone communication had been established along with observations being provided by balloon and aircraft. The 2nd and 3rd Riedel Mountain Batteries from Krähenberg were to support 19th RIR’s line of attack along with Artillery Group Rettig from the direction of the slopes located at the south and south-east opposite the Reichackerkopf. In the difficult terrain success was only possible as a result of the surprise. All the formations involved in the attack had received orders to reduce movement during daylight hours, and to minimise construction and excavation activity in the area of the intended attacks.
On the 18 Feb 15, leaving behind all but their essential equipment, the two Battalions left Wasserbourg and Soultzbach towards the crossroads southeast of Reid. At the crossroads waiting for their arrival were 200 pieces of trenching equipment, carried there by the 1st Bn (19th RIR) in the morning, and the Regiments two intelligence officers Lt Küspert and Lt Roskopf. The weather was dry although there was a strong wind blowing from the northeast. With nightfall and on crossing the ridge icy patches were found on the north facing slopes. Whole groups especially those with machineguns, stretcher bearers, pack animals and horses often fell some severely. By 7pm is was so dark that you could not see your hand it front of your face. In short, the march proved extremely difficult and although the 1st Bn (19th RIR) did not reach the Stemlisberg until 9.10pm and the 2nd Bn (19th RIR) the Oberbreitenbach until 0.15am, arriving at all was regarded as an achievement. The Regimental Staff rejoined the 1st Bn (19th RIR) and found in their cold and inhospitable surroundings a most welcome home at Stemlisberg.