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1 Mar 1915 - The Sulzeren-Schirbach-Ampfersbach-Brochacker line
Thus the attack was to start at 1am with Lt Kolb’s 5th Coy (19th RIR) on the left wing along with 12th Coy (3rd ‘b.L.J.R’) heading from their positions west of Kilbel in the direction of Schlirbach. Capt Seitz’s 4th Coy (19th RIR) were to spring at the same time skirting the forest by Brochacker, Schweiget and Remlooch. Fifteen minutes later 6th and 7th Companies (18th RIR) were to advance towards Ampfersbach by way of Hagel and Looch. The Regimental Staff arrived at their command post located in the western factory at 0.45am, where intense activity from teams of male nurses, cyclists, telephone operators and men of the 8th Coy (19th RIR) was taking place. The weather was poor with rain bordering on snow. Ten minutes before the attack was due frantic enemy infantry fire was heard coming from Ampfersbach and a few minutes later was added artillery fire from Schmelzwasen, our attempts to launch a surprise attack had lamentably failed.
At 1am precisely our artillery and the machine guns deployed in the saw mill delivered a flood of fire. But the infantry attack on the right could not progress due to the enemy fire triggered on its flank. In terrible weather and total darkness the companies had become tangled in the enemy wire. As the hours past pessimism set in as it was realised that come daylight the withdrawl of 1st Coy (19th RIR) that had advanced within 150m of Ampfersbach would not be possible without sustaining heavy losses. The Regimental Commander telephoned at 4.30am “Surprise and attacks failed, request a fast decision, if not withdrawal of troops will be impossible”. Fortunately this call had the result of stopping the attack in time and meant that the troops could be brought back to safety before daybreak. However, the night had cost 11 dead, 16 wounded and 4 missing and had in no way changed the general situation.
The next few days were devoted to consolidating the Regiments positions. They were visited several times by the Divisional Commander who was not short in recognising the efforts of the men. All this contributed to the rapid advance of the defences being constructed close to Stosswihr, Moenchberg and on the Reichackerkopf. On the 5 Mar 15 the relief order finally arrived. Who could reproach the officers and men for rejoicing after 2 weeks, half spent in almost continuous combat, exposed to the elements without shelter. During the night of the 5 Mar 15 the Rebberg-Moenchberg positions were to be occupied by 1st Bn (40th Inf Regt) with a company from 3rd ‘b.L.J.R’, the Reichackerkopf and Sättele by three companies of the Landsturm Bruchsal Infantry Battalion and the 2nd Company of the Landsturm Mannheim Infantry Battalion. Detachments from the relieved troops were to remain behind to ensure a smooth transfer of operations.
5 Mar 1915 - Relief
During the morning of the 5th the command handover to the Landsturm Battalions by the 19th RIR Company Commanders proceeded without incident. Behind the Reichackerkopf there remained detachments from 2nd and 3rd Coy’s (19th RIR) and behind the Sättele were detachments from 6th, 7th and 8th Coy’s (19th RIR). Happy, although marked by all the difficulties that had been overcome, and worn out after a long night march, 1st Bn (19th RIR) trickled during the night of 5/6 Mar 15 into the carefully prepared quarters at Hattstatt and Voegtlingshoffen, some companies arrived at 11pm, others by 2am, and the detachments left behind between 6am and 10am. The 2nd Bn (19th RIR) remained as directed in Luttenbach, Breitenbach and Eckersberg. The General Staff of 19th RIR left Weier and after a short halt in Munster had arrived at Hattstatt by 5pm.
6 Mar 1915 - French Counter-Attack on the Reichackerkopf, Sättele and Sattelköpfle
At the instigation of General Veith the Brigade Commander a joint lunch was to take place on the 6 Mar 15 to celebrate the successes gained and the dangers overcome. Although everyone was pleased to prepare for a feast around a table decorated with flowers, from the Munster valley came the sounds of heavy artillery fire. As people were heading for the table alarms sounded on all sides and disastrous news was received: “Reichackerkopf lost, Division falling back on Munster”. This was a particularly hard blow for the troops who had just arrived at Hattstatt, a blow which could not have been worse. Within the hour everyone was on route back towards Walbach, by foot, horse, car and lorry, even by a train that was commandeered by the adjutant from the Wagner Regiment from the Strasbourg line. Until the Reichackerkopf was successfully recaptured on the 20 Mar 15 the newly passing weeks were to match the sorrows, suffering and dangers experienced so recently.
Effectively the Reichackerkopf, Sättele and Sattelköpfle were once again in French hands and the bad weather which closed in during the afternoon of 6 Mar 15 did little to relieve the atmosphere that reigned.
The first instructions arrived at Gunsbach and Walbach for the troops arriving on both sides of the Munster valley. With regard to 19th RIR 1st and 2nd Coy’s were to be held at the immediate disposal of Capt Friederizi (2nd Bn, 40th Landsturm Inf Regt) in Stosswihr. The 4th Coy was charged with protecting the western edge of Munster, 3rd Coy with Lt Keim’s machine gun section were assigned to protect the route near to Fronzell. The elements of 6th, 7th and 8th Coy’s which had remained as reserves following the relief of the Regiment had, on their own initiative, moved to support the front line when the French infantry attacked. Thanks to them and in particular the intervention of Lt Grau’s machinegun section, where Fusilier Bierl distinguished himself, the French advance did not penetrate further and we were left clinging to the slopes. The rapid arrival of the Von Falkenhausen Battalion as reinforcements; 1st Bn (18th RIR), 2nd Bn (19th RIR), 2nd Coy (22nd RIR), along with a detachment of pioneers, stabilised the situation until nightfall.
7 Mar 1915 - The Sattelköpfle
The re-capture of the Sattelköpfle was planned for 11am on the 7 Mar 15. Despite an intense preparation by our artillery and the arrival of reinforcements, 1st Coy (23rd RIR) and 4th Coy (19th RIR) as well as machine-guns we could not advance and 2nd Bn (19th RIR) was so exhausted that relief had become essential. Reliefs were provided during the 8th and 9th Mar 15 by elements of the Prussian 25th Landsturm Inf Regt, the Bavarian 18th RIR and the Hanseatic 3rd Bn (75th Inf Regt). By the 9 Mar 15 Capt Eggers command; 2nd Bn (75th Inf Regt) and 6th Coy (18th RIR), occupied the position under the Reichackerkopf, whilst Maj Veith’s group with 5th, 7th and 8th Coy’s (18th RIR) held positions around the Sattel and the Sattelköpfle.
For the 10 Mar 15 the Division was ordered to carry out a new attack in the direction of the Reichackerkopf and Sattelköpfle. The officer in charge of the operation, the commander of 19th RIR, was promised a small number of small and large rocket launchers, incendiary rockets, and flame throwers. Most of this technical equipment either did not arrive, or if it did it did not work correctly, with the result that the attack was far from successful. Only Maj Veith’s group had reached the peak at the western end of the Sattelköpfle by 7pm. It was the same on 11 Feb 15 when, with supporting fire from a Holländer artillery section and the rocket launchers, the attacks were continued by the wings of Capt Eggers’ central group along with Maj Veith’s in an attempt to capture the adjacent ground to the left and right. The troops were exhausted due to a lack of rest compounded by cold and wet weather. Offensive operations were abandoned over the next few days but to maintain the pressure and weaken the enemy demonstrations in force were ordered which were to include 1,000 artillery shells being fired at the Sattel, Sättele and surrounding grounds on the 12th and 13th Mar 15 and between 3.30am and 4.00am the infantry engaged from Rebberg up to Metzeral were to open fire on the enemy positions opposite and cheer to simulate an assault.
14 Mar 1915 - the Sättele
In the morning of the 14 Mar 15 our rocket launchers destroyed several barricades and shelters on the Sättele and by 5.45pm 1st Bn (18th RIR) were able to announce “the destroyed parts of the barricades were occupied by our own patrols”. At the time when this success was being celebrated the terrible news arrived that our 21cm mortar belonging to Lt Lindner’s 1st Coy (19th RIR), which had been firing on the Reichackerkopf, had received three direct hits, 11 men had been killed and 9 had been wounded. Division mentioned specifically in its daily orders the performance of Lt Lindner’s company despite being hit hard by this tragedy.
During the night of 15 Mar 15 the barricades on the Sättele which had been given up in meantime by the patrol from 1st Coy (18th RIR) were again occupied by a half section and 2 officers from 10th Coy (75th Inf Regt). It was hoped that the peak on the left and right of the Sättele would soon be in our possession making it possible cut the enemy re-supply routes to the Reichackerkopf making their position untenable when at 13.15pm Capt Eggers announced: “The detachment from 10th Coy (75th Inf Regt) occupying the barricades was attacked on three sides at 12.45pm, having suffered heavy casualties, Lt Warnken and Lt Buhr killed and 100 men killed or wounded, they were forced to withdraw”. This was another hard blow to the delicate situation we had been in since 6 Mar 15 and it required solid nerves not to completely lose courage. As one did not have to think of a new success on the southern side in the next few days, Division judged that the centre of attack was to shift towards the northern side of the Reichackerkopf where 1st and 2nd Bn’s (23rd RIR) and 1st Bn (22nd RIR) were located. These units were within breathing distance of the enemy and were able to edge forward albeit slowly.
The results were such that Division again contemplated a general attack on the Reichackerkopf scheduled for 19 Mar 15. As a result reserves were designated by Lt Col Jaud from his villa in Hartmann. However, in the orders issued on 18 Mar 15 at 13.00hrs the attack was deferred until the afternoon of the 20 Mar 15. Division ordered that initially 16th Inf Bde commanded by General Jehlin would attack the Klänglesattel from the north with the main force whilst his secondary force attacked the Reichackerkopf. Meanwhile, 15th Bde commanded by General Freiherr von Pechmann would attack the Reichackerkopf at the same time with his main force from the east and south whilst his secondary forces attacked the Klänglesattel and Sattelköpfle. The attack on the Klänglesattel was to be supported by fire from the Grauvogel and Diem light and heavy batteries and rockets up to the western edge of the Moenchberg and the “chemin des chasseurs alpines”.
Next: “20 Mar 1915 - TheReichackerkopf”