“The Lost Battalion” from a german perspective
Argonnerwald, Argonnerwald, ein stiller Friedhof wirst du bald…
(From a german song WWI)
General situation at the Western Front
Strong French and American forces have been assembled in September 1918 at the Champagne, as well as between the Argonne and the Meuse. The direction of attack was Sedan – Charleville. The American plan of attack was to advance rapidly on both sides of the Argonne. The American forces, together with the French, advancing at Vouzier indented to pursue over Aisne and Aire and isolate the Argonne garrison by this. The German front should be broken through and rolled up from the Meuse side. But the French attack at the Champagne had been repelled and the Argonne front did hold its ground. The American troops successful penetrated deeply the German lines in the Aire-Valley and west of the Meuse. Nevertheless, the German troops had been able to stabilize the front there. Despite their superior strength the American soldiers could gain only little of ground until beginning of October.
Only reduced and war-worn divisions have been at the disposal of the Germans. Effective divisions could not be relieved and have been overtired and exhausted by this. Present strength of companies has been 60 – 80 men, at the beginning of war nearly 250 men…
In consent with the Supreme Higher Headquarters, the Army Group Kronprinz occupied the Hunding-Brunhild-Position north of the Aire between October, 10th and 13rd. The French Army attempted a break-through between Vouzier and Grandpré and the pressure of the American forces remained strong. In the further course of events and after the retreat to the Meuse and starting on November 4th, the Western Army has been led back to the Antwerpen-Maas-Position. Armistice became effective on November 11th, 1918.
Situation in the Argonne
The Argonne have been considered as a quite front sector. Few patrols, reconnaissances and artillery skirmish disturbed the peace in this sector. Since March 1918 the main trenches have been converted into a foreground area. Unused material has been brought back, transporting facilities and electrical installations have been disassembled. Unused tunnels have been barricaded, the trenches wired up. Only a few outposts and listening points remained. The positions in the Argonne have been occupied by the 2nd Württembergish-Landwehr (Homeguard)-Division manned with elderly age-groups. Mostly Swabians from around Heilbronn, Ehingen, Kirchheim, Ulm and Stuttgart served in this division, but also many Alsatians from the Upper-Alsace. The 9th Landwehr-Division has been stationed adjacent west in the Champagne and the 1st Guard-Division adjacent east of the Argonne.
The American attack on September 26, 1918
In the west of the Argonne, the 76th Reserve-Division took position as reinforcement between the 9th and the 2nd Landwehr-Division on September 25th. More detailed: RIR (Reserve Infantry Regiment) 254 relieved LIR (Landwehr-Infantry Regiment) 83. The sector of the Württembergish LIR 122 belonging to the 2nd Landwehr-Division has been adjacent east of it. In order not to betray the reinforcement to the enemy, the foreground has been thinly occupied by the Landwehr.
At the eve of September 25, around 22:30 hours, the American artillery fire towards the positions in the Argonne started. In the morning of September 26 American troops comprised of several divisions penetrated into the Argonne front. They succeeded at Height 285, along the Varenner Road into the Mortier- and Charmes-Creek-Valley. In order to avoid contact with the enemy the troops in the foreground went fighting back to the supporting line and occupied later the main line of resistance.
Between the Argonne and the Meuse an American attack at the 177 ID and 1st Guard-Division advanced across the Aire to the east edge of the Argonne around the area Mountblainville-Charpentry-Epinonville. In order to protect its left flank, the 2nd Landwehr-Division had been forced to take back its left wing along the edge of the Argonne.
The events near the Charlepaux-Mill
The 76th Reserve-Division has been designated for some rest after the defensive battle at the Aisne, but it turned out otherwise. Starting September 23 the division, after being entrained, has been pushed quickly into the new sector in the Argonne. A single battalion had a strength of 200 men only. The foreground of the main line of resistance had been thinly occupied. After the regiment assembled at the sector, a heavy bombardment at the whole front started in the night from September 25/26, shortly before midnight. But not followed by an Infantry attack, only patrols which have been repulsed.
More bloody encounters between Germans and Americans occurred during the next days. Single patrols and assaults with or without artillery preparation have been warded off to a large extent. On September 27 the American soldiers achieved a break-through at the thinly hold line of the RIR 254 sector. The situation could be clarified by the help of an own assault detachment of the 6./LIR 122. All efforts requesting for a barrage fire have been futile since the German artillery re-grouped at the same time. At the right a connection to the RIR 254 could be gained by reinforcements. The American troops had many losses. One of their companies, advancing at the Karlsteg towards section Stauffen-Mitte, has been totally wiped out by MG-fire.