Tuesday, January 3, 2012

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

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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.

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