Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Linge 1915 – Part 1

Up to the time of their offensive, in February 1915, the German army had not established any continuous defensive lines between the Linge and the Schratzmännele. As ordered by General von Eichhorn, who had this dominating sector occupied at the end of 1914, the Germans only held these two peaks and the approaches of the Trois-Epis Road, with small posts and advanced positions on the border of the forest. However, this situation changed during the spring. From the beginning of March 1915, the sector was permanently occupied and the defensive positions significantly reinforced. In March, April and May, reports from the French 3rd Brigade mention feverish activities on the German side, moving vehicles, tree-felling, mine-blowing, digging, all this indicated that a large amount of work was being carried out under cover of the forest. The forest and a good use of camouflage made it impossible for the French to detect anything.

The Linge

By April, the German-occupied Linge was covered with a complete network of main and secondary trenches and shelters, set out along the peaks and reverse-slopes. On these slopes backed in against the rocks were positioned defensive revetments protected with stones or bags of concrete also concrete strongholds reinforced with rails and up to six successive layers of logs. In front of the barbed wire entanglements machine-gun emplacements were set up to provide a deadly cross-fire from the sides. The Rain des Chênes sheltered the all-important German artillery in its casemates. The French detected nothing the forest hid and stifled everything.

On the 20th of June, at the height of the battle for Metzeral the Germans, alerted by the activity of the French patrols and by the premature opening of saps in the Combe Farm sector, started shelling the French positions, extended their own trenches to the border of the woods and reinforced all their auxiliary defence means, barbed wire entanglements, shelters, etc.

Increasingly worried and preoccupied by the French inactivity, dangerous for the morale of the French troops and fully exploited by the Germans to bring up reinforcements, whilst depriving the French of the essential element of surprise, General de Pouydraguin decided to contact General de Maud'huy. His personal reconnaissance in front of the Linge, and the experience acquired in front of Metzeral, especially by the 66th Infantry Division in the woods of Anlass and Winterhagel, led the Commander of the 47th Division to "consider as highly adventurous and ill-omened, an offensive made through several miles of very steep, wooded ground, at high altitude, where the action of our artillery would be made very inaccurate through lack of perspective". This he told General de Maud'huy and continued to press for permission to continue operations in the valley “where our recent success has prevented the Germans from reinforcing their positions".

Caught between the orders issued by the French G.H.Q. and the clearly motivated opinion of his subordinates on the ground, the Commander of the 7th Army suggested and had accepted an alternative. The Linge operation was to be given to a new division, the 129th Infantry Division, commanded by General Nollet, put at the disposal of the 7th Army by General Dubail.

During all this time, the Germans were conscious that a wide-scale offensive was being prepared at the Linge and, consequently, further reinforced their defences and accumulate their artillery at the Rain des Chênes. Initially planned for the 8th, then delayed to the 12th and then the 18th of July, the offensive finally started on the 20th, once General Nollet had be given time to make the necessary reconnaissance and establish his artillery batteries.


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