Ch 11: The Hindenburg Line

Caligula! remarked a tourist. No, Caliban! said his friend, commenting on the gross bulk of a man seldom absent from or abstemious at a famous German tavern. The war sent him to Russia where he won a great victory against a line of five men per rifle, and the Hindenburg legend grew through the days the wooden effigy was hammered full of nails for charity. The Somme failure needed changes at the top, radical and popular, so with Ludendorff as brain, Hindenburg, the ruthless, assumed absolute command, upset the Navy to the edge of revolt, organised the full national power for war service and gained a strategic waiting reserve of a million. The Somme threat had to be met. But the tourist was wrong; the beer drinker was Attila, the Hun, a reversion to type. To him age, sex and law of war did not exist; military prisoners and civilians were impressed by thousands and lashed as a great human plough to excavate deep defences on a new line to modify the front. And on the thousand square miles before it, there was nothing but devastation. "Where my horse passes the grass will never grow!"
   The winter, too, had been busy for the Allies on the old front, with fierce fighting on January 11th, and on all subsequent fronts by the British, who had started too late in 1916 and now were to finish the task. But their Somme activity masked preparation for as great a blow farther north.
   For two weeks, in February, rain, snow, and fog spoiled air visibility, but patrols sensed an increasing nervousness on the German front. Shells of heavy calibre ceased, and on the 25th a raiding party found the trenches beyond Serre unoccupied. On the Ancre front the infantry at once went across the intervening slime, to find that thirty square miles the angle above Thiepval, pressed from the west and south had been evacuated.
   Feeling attacks on the Somme front encountered heavy machine-gun fire. By the middle of March the ground was passable. The British army closed forward from the west toward Bapaume on the 15th, to meet a nominal resistance except at Tries west of Serre, where a switch trench protected the railway junction at Achiet. Though the German press was jeering the British for their failure to break through, the staff had appraised the menace. Hindenburg was in the saddle to rejuvenate a discouraged army, and drastic strategy was to save the situation. We had known during the winter that the population in the invaded territory was being dragged into slavery to work on the German lines. Contrary to convention, thousands of military prisoners were also forced to this labour, where they were starved, beaten, and exposed to shell fire. Early Allied activity tore the mask off the surprise before it was completed. Germany was preparing to step back from the pressure to a straighter reserve line which had been built from seven to twenty-five miles behind the original curving front pushed westward between Arras and Soissons.
   There was to be no collapse on the old front. Numerous outpost lines were prepared, and the Allies were to be lured eastward from their strong positions. Beyond the protection of their artillery, and backed by the desolate waste of the battle area, they were to be punished in the open, enticed by rear-guard actions to the range of new artillery, and allowed to approach the impregnable Hindenburg line with the maximum of loss and discomfort. Hundreds of batteries of six-inch guns had been constructed; a medium artillery which would comprise calibre and mobility.
   The spring plans of the Allies embraced Joffre's aim for a simultaneous offensive on two fronts. On March 3rd, the French Armies of the Somme had gone south to the concentration on the Aisne, while the British took over the front to Nesle due west of St. Quentin, and resumed their drive west. But preparations were also made for a strong offensive in Artois to gain Lens and clear Arras while the French Army drove north on the other front. The British also relieved the Belgian army from Dixmude to the sea. Yet Hindenburg's plan was to defer Allied action in 1917.
   On March 17th, the fog lifted, and as the British guns opened, huge columns of smoke were seen in Bapaume and Peronne. Troops pushed forward, and found the cities wrecked and evacuated except by rear guards, easily repulsed. Bapaume was taken, and Peronne occupied next day. Below St. Quentin the French found Roye, Noyon, and other places in flames, and their front opposed by strong rear guards. Both armies pushed forward cautiously and ignored the incentive to pursue the fleeing army. Cavalry patrols and infantry screens felt the way and developed ground mines and ambushes, "Panzerkraftwagen," fast lorries with machine guns, and "Fussartillerie," foot artillery with extra horses holding a number of promising positions. But these took meagre toll from the cautious skirmish lines, and cleared off up the roads when pressure developed, ploughing up the roads and bridges as they retreated. The entire territory before the Hindenburg line was ruthlessly devastated to make it a waterless glacis of destruction "the Realm of Death."
   History affords few examples of such methodical spoliation and no record to approach the filthy grossness which tainted the work. In November, the Germans started the destruction of trees. By January, houses, churches, and public buildings were mined. Hamlets and small houses everywhere were burned. On February 10th, catalogues of every article of value were checked, and the wholesale looting was systematised. Baron von Hadelhn supervised the official seizure of important art treasures and antiques for Germany, including the Latour pastels of St. Quentin. Then the rest was divided, and demolition patrols started. All wells were unprintably defiled, roads and bridges were mined, and fuel stacked in large buildings. Some stained glass was removed from the churches; the rest was pulverised. Altars were torn down, sacred vessels looted, and the walls dynamited. Cottages were pulled down by horses, while their owners wept.
   On signal, at 3:00 am. on March 17th, thousands of waiting men finished the destruction. Charges were exploded, fires lit, and at six o'clock all but rear guards marched east. Peronne was a shell; Bapaume, a sad ruin. Chauny was utterly destroyed, its people left standing in the open behind the outposts, and many died before rescue. Noyon was looted, but suffered less; the cathedral was left standing, but even the bronze Christ was torn from the cross and carried off, with the organ, bells, and images. Two chapels were befouled and covered with graffiti in the frequent type of German humour. Nesle was saved by British cavalry who caught the incendiary squads red-handed, while French troopers rode round and took three batteries there as they retreated. Roye was only looted and a few landmarks burned. These three larger towns were well west and had to be evacuated hurriedly under Allied pressure. Villages were burned in hundreds.
   Only 45,052 of the inhabitants were left, ragged and starving among their ruined homes. Their money was taken, and all supplies left by the American Relief Commission. All women from sixteen to thirty-five were carried off, ostensibly to labour, but the world will gasp with horror when the full story is written. Hundreds of young girls had been debauched by officers, and these pitiful victims were then by unwritten law the property of the soldiers. Special houses of ill-fame, legally controlled, were filled by the victims of vicious orgies. Hungry and unprotected, other women became victims to conditions. In many outlying strongholds girls were kept caged; white slaves maintained for the garrison. Ask the American women who with gas masks went under shell fire and took away convoys of the homeless women and children. They know details of the awful story.
   On the Oise, many stately homes were destroyed and historic mausoleums wrecked. In one case a fifteenth century metal coffin was forced open and shockingly defiled, with the inevitable "joke" chalked on it. At Coucy le Chateau, near the Oise, the world's most perfect feudal castle, carefully preserved for centuries from time's erosion, was utterly destroyed.
   Von Fleck of the Seventeenth Corps, before he retired to St. Quentin, ordered the loading of all antique furniture and paintings from the country house which he had made his headquarters. The owners were present. The last days were a continued orgy in all the territory. Murder was frequent. Scores of officers quartered in well-known houses raped the women of the household the night they left.
   On the night of April 2nd in Washington, while the President was declaring war, dawn was breaking in France, and long-range British guns were already sending the first shots at actual points of the boasted line. These facts reached Berlin simultaneously: the United States had come in! The elastic strategy of Hindenburg had failed utterly! The British were preparing early breakfast on the last outpost lines; they had taken Doignies and Croiselles, and their right was only two miles from St. Quentin. On a wide front, the Germans were pouring back to the Hindenburg line. Before Noreuil, two British companies pursued too closely. They were cut off, captured, and deliberately driven to the fire of their own guns by the exasperated enemy.
   In two weeks the Allies had surmounted all obstructions. Bridges and roads had been restored, and on the front of one hundred miles they had pushed the rear guards eastward. The British, from five miles south of Arras to St. Quentin, the French continuing the line to the Aisne, had advanced far too rapidly for Hindenburg's plan to develop. The armies that were to gain "voluntary elasticity" to force the Allies to flounder over the glacis of destruction were being pushed to cover in the magic line itself. The devastation of the area had proved wanton and barren of military result. And the plea of shortening the lines? The saving was twenty-one miles. The Somme offensive had forced Germany to yield 1,300 square miles of French territory, with 315 towns and important villages; but in retaliation some of the most beautiful districts in France had been converted into a desert.
   When the French and British linked their lines around the suburbs of St. Quentin, fires and explosions showed that the work of destruction had started there. But the guns of the Allies were too close to be used without damaging the city; sentiment won a partial respite, and the enemy retained his hold.
   The Hindenburg line was the generic term for the new defence system across France along the edge of the devastated area. Starting from the Aisne plateau at right angles to the southern front, with strong protective positions six miles northeast of Soissons to guard the junction, the main section ran due north across the forests west of Laon behind La Fere, where the Oise locks were broken and the district before it flooded. Using the river as a moat, the line was continued along the Oise behind St. Quentin, with the city's circle of defences as an outpost, to Queant ten miles west of Cambrai. From this point, the upper section, or switch line, ran directly northeast across the Somme Department, crossing four miles east of Arras to the end of the Vimy Ridge, where it joined the original strong line before Lens across Belgium. Forking from the main Siegfried system near Queant, behind this upper oblique barrier, the Wotan reserve line was in course of construction straight north to Drocourt, linking there with the existing reserve line built before the cities of Lille, Roubaix, and Tourcoing.
   The upper section of the new system was not completed when Haig struck at an unexpected moment. And the assault holds the record for results achieved in a single day. The first attack was most heavy on a twelve-mile front below Lens to the southern suburbs of Arras. On the north, the army of General Horn, the Canadian Corps, with mixed English and Scottish divisions, was holding the Souchez front, where sixty thousand French graves marked the futile effort to break the Artois barrier before big guns had been provided. The Vimy Ridge, the Gibraltar of Artois, 482 feet high was the barrier to the plain of Douai and its junction of eight strategic railroads.
   Aided by a strong bombardment and the element of surprise, and screened by a blinding snowstorm, sixteen Canadian battalions stormed the steep face of Vimy. On an exact model of the ground each phase of the attack had been rehearsed. Successive lines swept over the ridge, and, pivoting on the left, rolled up the massive defensive system. So rapidly were the troops over the first line that they kicked the machine guns aside, and bayoneted the astonished gunners. Following a perfect barrage, they swept the Germans practically off the ridge and entrenched without a pause. The American battalion took part in the assault and many were killed. The batteries were abandoned when German resistance collapsed. Through perfect artillery and infantry co-operation, three strong lines were rolled up.
   Before Arras, where the rival lines ran through opposite cellars in the same streets, the British swarmed up ladders, tore across regardless of losses, and deluged the enemy with bombs. Supports then swarmed beyond the city, stormed the second line, captured the forts holding the railroad junction, and dug in two miles eastward.
   On April 11th, the wings of the assault extended to a fifty-mile front from Loos to the Bapaume-Cambrai road. A mine was exploded under the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and the lines were advanced toward Lens. At Vimy Ridge, the Guard Reserve was forming for another counter attack on the northern end where the enemy retained a high spur, Hill 145, "the Pimple." A short deluge of shells broke their formation; "the Pimple" was captured and the bewildered Guards were partly enveloped and made prisoners.
   When the Canadians had captured Vimy, the strongest natural element of the first barrier was cut out and the flank of the new oblique Queant-Arras line was exposed. The outpost positions east of Arras were quickly stormed as the battle spread. Hindenburg's sphere of elasticity was gone, and on the entire front the enemy was on the defensive, on the breached line itself.
   The First British Army under General Horn, operating from La Bassee to the Arras front, made steady progress. On the left, Midland troops cleared the Loos sectors and fought their way toward Lens. In two days guns were ready on the Vimy Ridge, and the Canadian Corps and the troops on their right debouched to the plains of Gohelle below, advanced three miles eastward, and captured both the Vimys, Ginchy, and Willerval, all being feverishly fortified when taken. By the evening of April 13th, the British front for twelve miles was consolidated across the roads to Lens and Douai. The next day the left wing captured Lieven a twin coal town of Lens with many prisoners, carloads of supplies, much ammunition, and big naval guns. The spoil included mines that were able to produce one million tons a year for Germany's coal-tar explosives. The left was soon fighting furiously in a semicircle in the actual suburbs of Lens, where scores of slag-heaps had been cored with cement and linked as fortifications. Explosions soon proved that the enemy was destroying the mines there, making their prize coal district valueless to hold.
   The Third Army under Allenby, operating before Arras along the Scarpe, was also making progress. In the flat land four miles east of the city the main line of defence was protected by a wide area of small triple-storied underground forts concrete with steel cupolas. A triumph of military engineering, a subject in German textbooks, this amazing barrier in the Hindenburg system was bombarded, breached, stormed, and entirely captured with its artillery and mass of machine guns, by the 12th. Farther south, Fampoux was taken and a gap made above the great natural rampart of Monchy, a skilfully fortified hill holding the national highway to Cambrai from Arras. It was flanked, then tanked and captured by a frontal attack. The tanks made short work of Hindenburg's dense new wire rows, 300 feet deep, and the troops followed them through. The garrison fought to the last, but the gain was held.
   For the first time, the German front was definitely breached. This was the type of gap dreamed of by the earlier strategists. It afforded the clearest opportunity during the war to push the battle to the open, to fling an army through in a hazardous bid for a degree of strategic initiative. But the forces on the spot were exhausted by incessant fighting, culminating in a desperate battle of three days and nights. The flanks had to be rolled up and consolidated, the commands reorganised. Many units were shattered; the loss in officers had been high. When the Staff realised that a great success was impending, they called up cavalry and fresh batteries, in reserve at distant points, and they were ready when the breach was practicable. Masses of cavalry poured through and charged the enemy reserves as they advanced at the double. Horse and field batteries galloped out and came into action in the open, and thousands of prisoners were taken. To avoid capture, the German batteries moved south to the unbroken section, but many guns were taken and communications raided over a wide area. A tank went four miles up the road to Cambrai, and on side roads found bewildered supply columns which the cavalry soon captured. In the distance, the tank shot at pioneers working complacently on the reserve line which "might be needed in 1918."
   The day was waning, the horses had been pushed to the limit, and there was no water available. Many fell exhausted, and the enormous possibilities for a hazardous incursion were curtailed by thirst and darkness. The tired horses had to go three miles for adequate water.
   Hope ran high for a resumption of the big advance at daybreak. But the Allies were now to feel the blasting effect of Russia's failure. By mobilising every available man, including the 1918 youths, and free from anxiety for the Eastern front, Hindenburg had built up enormous strategic reserves which were entirely available for the west. Half a million fresh troops poured to the southern front to help check the victorious French. The loss of Vimy had called many thousands more, and en route forty train loads were diverted that night to Cambrai and flung out before the serious gap at Monchy. The first battalions had marched over and scratched light trench lines under fire. Their captured orders stated that any man who fell back would be shot.
   The British cavalry went out at daylight and made some progress, but it was soon forced to fight dismounted, backed by infantry. The batteries took awful toll of the exposed defenders in the open, but were soon answered by new long-range guns and clouds of troops. Under shell fire, in three days, the Germans dug before Monchy gap a triple line of trenches 7,000 yards long. The hazardous opportunity to push in behind the lines had passed, through the fortune of war, or the failure of an overworked staff to provide water for an unexpected contingency. The care taken by the British artillery to spare the church at Monchy is a hitherto unpublished incident. Machine guns, thereby left untouched, cost many British lives during the assault. The first target of the German guns on April 13th was the church.
   Haig had now captured seven miles of the upper section of the line. Success had also been achieved by the armies on the right, the Fifth under Gough, operating below the Sensee; and the Fourth, under Rawlinson, continuing the front south to St. Quentin. On March 26th, the outpost line at Lagnicourt had been captured. By April 1st the armies here were five miles from the Hindenburg line. The strong outpost lines based on the fortified quarries of Ytres were stormed. The cavalry galloped in a breach and took Equancourt; the positions at Sorel and Fins went next; the defences of Havrincourt woods were flanked and reduced by the capture of Gonnelieu. Heavy guns were dragged over the destroyed area, and were bombarding the main or Siegfried line on the entire Cambrai front to the St. Quentin canal. Villers-Guisian fell, and farther south the capture of Roisel cut the outer railway from Cambrai; while Fayet, a mile from St. Quentin, was captured.

German trenches on the Hindenburg line after British bombardment

   Both frontiers were closed while Germany poured fresh thousands of her strategic reserves to hold the boasted front which was tottering. Pioneers slaved night and day to construct the Oppy line, a crescent, to protect Douai until the Wotan line could be completed from Queant to Drocourt. One hundred and sixty-six German divisions were now trying to hold the general Western front. Regardless of losses, the reserves were thrown in to hinder the results of the battle which was smashing up the German line for twenty miles below Lens and had gained 16,190 prisoners, and 227 guns in its first phase.
   During the last week of April the struggle became desperate along the entire front, and both sides lost heavily. The line was a saw-edge of defensive positions driven in between unconquered points, where men fought like tigers, with attacks and counter attacks won and lost in the gaps. Minor battles raged on the flanks of each stronghold, the British fighting to widen their gains, the Germans pouring out endless reserves from Vitry. Hindenburg suddenly unmasked a marvellous artillery reserve, and at a dozen advanced points the British were obliterated, enabling the enemy to push in temporarily and straighten their lines.
   On April 23rd, having built up his force, Haig again delivered an assault on the entire front. More ground was gained around Lens. From the Vimy Ridge to the Sensee, succeeding waves of men took Arleux in their stride. Roeux and Oppy definitely fell; then Gavrelle which held the Arras-Douai highroad; and finally Fresnoy. The Oppy crescent was smashed and the guns went forward against the Wotan line. On April 28th, the thousandth day of the war, the British were within eight miles of Douai. Between Gavrelle and Monchy, however, Greenland Hill long remained a stubborn German salient, for the holding of which no sacrifice was too great.
   Farther south, also, the armies were fighting their way forward. Henin and Croiselles were taken; the breach in the line was widened. Gough's forces were smashing up the line toward Queant. But the formidable position at Fontaine, partly protected by the Sensee River, maintained a three-mile strip before the junction of his left with Allenby's army and resisted all efforts.
   From the end of the central system at Queant, the new reserve line forked straight north, behind the tottering oblique line to Vimy. It was being strengthened night and day, though its northern end was already breached. On May 3rd, the Australians broke through the first line above Queant, and with a narrow gap as entrance they pushed across and extended in the prong of the fork before a section of the reserve line. For two weeks a unique battle was fought on a sandwiched front, with the Germans on the front line fighting back to back against the British attacking the inner line.
   This gap on the front line was widened. On the night of the 14th, vast waves of men attempted to close this gap. Australians and Londoners lost heavily in the fighting, but drove the enemy back. Then machine guns swept from the flanks and a pitiless shell curtain left only a heap of German dead at daylight. The Lehr Regiment, the "Kaiser's Cockchafers," also made a desperate attempt to sweep down the fork to clear the sandwiched front. Two companies moved between the lines while a frontal attack was raging, but they were discovered and surrounded by the New South Wales troops and driven like sheep through the front gap, where they surrendered.
   But the stubborn point on the Scarpe, and the Fontaine-Bullecourt strip greatly retarded a general British advance. When Cherisy was taken, the guns could enfilade the Fontaine strip on the north. Gough's artillery was pounding the line toward Bullecourt where some batteries expended 6,000 rounds a day. At many points the infantry broke through, only to have their wedges dominated and annihilated. But the gap maintained near Riencourt was finally widened to 800 yards. Then Bullecourt was approached from the south in short desperate rushes. On May 17th the London troops stormed a section above it, the Australians fought their way up from the flank below, and the stronghold was captured with its garrison, which fought to the last.
   The Allied sweep had teemed with incidents. The weather marked the most stormy spring in memory. But the troops, under the elixir of advance, cared little for hardships. They were at last fighting in the open, and the tedium of trench warfare seemed ended. The batteries manoeuvred at the trot; the infantry reverted to field tactics, and the cavalry was often in action. During the first ten days the British batteries fired 4,000,000 shells. At one point the General commanding the Seventeenth Bavarian Division was signing a report to Prince Ruprecht on the bombardment, when six dusty Tommies walked into his dugout. "Are you prisoners?" he asked curtly in English. "You are," replied a soldier, smiling. His staff and many of his men were captured with him. At Lagnicourt, below Arras, the Guards charged the Australian advance line and broke through. In the open, they met the reserves who fought from a hedge while the batteries galloped to the flank and enfiladed the enemy, who fled leaving 1,600 dead on the field.
   Before Monchy, too, the Third Bavarian Division charged in solid masses. But after a burst of firing on a wide section, the British evacuated their first lines almost without loss. Screens of batteries on the flank then enfiladed the position and tore it to pieces directly the line was in German hands.
   The Germans had perfected an "Infanterieflieger", a line of heavy battle planes for the "Fifth Arm", to lead infantry assaults. But swift British flight squadrons with frontal fire were ready the same week and occupied a battle front of ten miles during attacks, restoring air superiority for fighting units. Pyramid squadrons, machines for artillery observation at 6,000 feet, fighting planes at 10,000 feet, and a cone of swift scouts on top at 15,000 feet, proved effective, and during several summer battles no hostile planes except rapid scouts have operated over the Allied lines, while French and British squadrons have swept over the German armies hourly. But the Germans have specialised on powerful raiding squadrons to attack communications and rest camps in surprise sallies. These have been very successful.
   During this fighting, the 176th Infantry, Thirty-fifth Division, were remarkably considerate to the British wounded captured in the second great counter attack and rescued five days later when the decision was reversed. For this general act of consideration, the British Army commends to its Allies for special treatment any man of this unusual regiment, if captured. Some of its units taken in later fighting were carried shoulder high and treated as honoured guests.
   South of Queant, great gaps were torn in Hindenburg’s central system and the gains were widened to Neuville, on a front of eight miles to St. Quentin. Rawlinson's artillery was now bombarding the main roads from Cambrai and was close to the canal, its reserve defence.
   By the end of May the character of the fighting had entirely changed. Hindenburg and Ludendorff had rushed along their shattered line. At first their heavy guns had spared the strongest sections of the system they had hoped to recover. But the insensate counter attacks died down and their heavy guns opened promiscuously on the entire front. The deep new wire was little protection with tanks to lead the way. Hindenburg’s vaunted system had proved as legendary as the mythological heroes after whom the lines were named. His plan was one grand error. But by a strange irony his reputation was saved by the potency of the shells that had wrecked his line, but made the new defence feasible.
   The entire front was pitted with British shell craters. In these, a few sandbags and machine guns easily created a mass of minor forts, spread over a great depth. Those in the rear were reinforced at night by concrete vaults capped by cupolas easily hidden by dirt and weeds. The "Maschinen Eisen Betun Unterstand," a network of portable iron shelters, had been previously planned to form a long barrier across the Russian front, to release part of the defensive army. Conditions there enabled the materials to be rushed to the west, to be implanted easily in the shell craters.
   The M. E. B. U. system, dubbed the "May Be," by the facetious Tommies saved the threatened front. Spread thickly over a wide, shell-torn area, these scattered targets were difficult for artillery to locate or destroy and afforded no defined line. A direct hit alone hurts them, and many survived the most methodical bombardment to remain silent and unseen until the infantry assaults. Then they swept front and flanks, each one enfilading the approaches to its fellow. Special tank mortars were also developed to hurl huge shells at short range when a monster approached. This fortuitous evolution in defensive tactics averted disaster from following defeat. The ultimate test will be in morale. The communications of these new scattered garrisons are precarious, and escape is generally impossible.
   The British had now failed to break through. During May (after the great initial victories) the losses were 112,332. Except at Lens, the four British armies in France gradually relapsed to intensive trench warfare while the new positions were consolidated and strengthened. But the armies were within definite reach of Douai and Cambrai. To protect these vital junctions, the Germans were forced to expose their reserves in the open at prodigal cost, and the great concentration effected for 1917 was used in holding ground when it should have been available for a formidable offensive. The passive Russian Army reaped the principal benefit. No German forces were free to strike a decisive blow in the east when the army was demoralised, and an offensive could have gone as far as its columns could march during the summer. Germany retained only twelve active divisions in her army on the Russian front. The remainder were entirely Landwehr and Landsturm formations.
   In spite of their offensive on the Aisne, the French also made good progress on their thirty-mile front below St. Quentin, and held a strong German force on this line. From the outer curve below Noyon, they had, in places, twenty-five miles of devastated country to cross before they were in touch with the revised German front. They got their guns over the Somme Canal, and with their left on St. Quentin drove the enemy from his outworks and closed on the Hindenburg line along the Oise. They gained Tergnier, the railroad junction on the Paris-Brussels line, and pushed their guns close to the flooded area before La Fere, maintaining a heavy fire on the German front across the swamp and sweeping the approaches to the city.
   Below Chauny, the enemy made a determined stand in the Conchy forest; but the French pushed in from the south across the Ailette, and the Germans were pushed back to a salient formed by the forest-clad hills of Gobain. Northeast of Soissons, also, the Leuilly outpost line was smashed and the enemy pushed back to the Albrecht line built before Laon to protect the angle with the Aisne front. These operations were the ground work for the wedge at Vauxaillon, which played a big part in the Aisne offensive, and a basis for the capture of Laon where Germany expects an American army to strike first.

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