K.J. Bunting Capt.
Issued down to Divisions
(for distribution down to Battalions)
NOTES ON RECENT FIGHTING – No. 15.
THE GERMAN ATTACK ON THE BRITISH FRONT ON THE AISNE ON THE
27th OF MAY.
- Indications of the Attack.
- The enemy was very successful in concealing his preparations for the attack. Hostile artillery was exceptionally quiet during the fortnight preceding the attack, and there was an almost entire absence of gas shelling. There was little aerial registration and very little aerial and wireless activity of any kind; aeroplane photographs, the latest of which were taken on the 23rd of May, disclosed few new ammunition dumps and no new gun positions. In this connection, however, it must be remembered that the whole front was covered with old gun positions and that about three weeks previous to the attack some of these were reoccupied by the enemy. Except for the reoccupation of these positions, there were no indications of the attack until the 24th and 25th of May, when abnormal lorry and train movement was noticed in the back areas behind the enemy’s lines. In the late afternoon of the 26th of May, whole battalions were seen on the march in the forward areas. The enemy made no attempt to conceal the movements of these troops and did not reply when they were shelled.
- Hostile Artillery Preparation.
- During the night of the 26th-27th of May, as it was evident that the enemy intended to attack, harassing fire was carried out by the heavy and field artillery on the enemy’s roads and approaches. The tracks, however, were numerous and the country very open, so that it is unlikely that the enemy experienced much interference in his approach. There was no artillery retaliation, and the enemy’s bombardment opened with a crash at 1 a.m. on the 27th of May without any previous preparation. The bombardment is described as the heaviest there has been during the recent offensive. Our front line system of trenches was bombarded mainly, if not entirely, by trench mortars. Instantaneous fuzes were used and the wire, which is described as particularly strong, was destroyed. The shelling of our batteries was very accurate. The bombarded zone included practically the whole of our battery positions. Gas was not used in the front system, but was freely employed for counter-battery work and in every suitable locality in rear. The gas employed was chiefly, if not solely, “blue cross”. Its effects were felt as far back as the Valley of the Vesle.
- The Attack.
- The infantry attack is believed to have begun at about 4.30 a.m. It was preceded by a very heavy barrage, extending to a depth of about 400 yards, which appears not to have been a regular creeping barrage, but to have been moved from zone to zone at some distance in front of the assaulting troops. The enemy throughout the fighting adopted his usual tactics of working round the flanks. On the British front, at any rate, the enemy appears to have little made use of tanks. It is reported that a few tanks worked along the valley of the Miette and thence up to La-Ville-au-Bois, but their co-operation was no real factor in the success of the attack in this sector. From the beginning of the battle the enemy had a great superiority in the air, and he was exceedingly quick in getting forward his balloons. A balloon was working from Juvincourt before 11 a.m. Another feature of the advance was the rapidity with which the enemy succeeded in bringing up his light trench mortars. They were drawn by horses and got into action more quickly, and were of greater use, than the field artillery which also accompanied the infantry in the advance.
- There was nothing new in the enemy’s tactics, but the success which he again obtained emphasizes more strongly than ever the following points:-
- The outpost system must be lightly held. It is useless to expose to the preliminary bombardment a single man more than is absolutely necessary.
- It is none the less essential to organize some form of forward or outpost system, otherwise the enemy will simply destroy the main defensive battle line by his preliminary bombardment, and will then overwhelm such elements as remain by the strength of his infantry attack.
- Reserves should not be sent up piecemeal as reinforcements to troops holding the line, but must be used as distinct units with definite tasks.
- It is essential that a mobile reserve of guns should be retained.
- Little registration was reported during the period immediately preceding the attack. In this connection, however, it must be remembered that registration can always be done unobtrusively when the light is unfavourable for ground or aerial observation, or when the wind makes sound ranging difficult. There is also a general tendency not to report a few apparently aimless rounds which do not cause any inconvenience. The importance of reporting all shelling, especially on quiet days, cannot, therefore, be too much emphasized.
6th of June, 1918.
Printed in France by Army Printing and Stationary Services. PRESS A-6/18.