Author Topic: Rock of the Marne - US 3rd Div in the Ludendorff Offensive - 100 Years Ago  (Read 182 times)

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Offline ArizonaTank

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July 15, 1918...Germany launched the final push of its several month's long series of 1918 offensives...collectively known as the Ludendorff Offensive, also called the Kaiserschlact (Kaiser's Battle).  The first part of the offensive in March and April had put entire Allied armies in disarray as the Germans pushed hard towards Paris. 

The newly arrived American divisions were put into the line in a desperate attempt to hold the Germans back. 

The US 3rd Division, 38th Infantry Regiment, held the Marne against the final massive assault...and helped keep the Germans out of Paris. 

Since then, the 3rd Division has been known as the "Rock of the Marne."

Google Street View lets you see and walk the battlefield virtually.  The link below is the crossing point near Jaulgonne, France, where on July 15th, 1918, the German 5th Grenadiers crossed the Marne in small boats.  The grenadiers crossed under machine gun and rifle fire from H and E companies of the US 38th Infantry (Part of the US 3rd Division).  The view is looking from the German lines towards the American defenses on the opposite bank.,3.5303367,3a,75y,96.14h,83.16t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1swxABD1dBE6VMJ94py6CJYQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

More about the battle:

For the wargamer, there is a pretty good Multi-Man Publishing (MMP), Standard Combat Series (SCS) game on the subject: Rock of the Marne

The game has a few head scratching rules (at least for me), but is certainly a great history lesson.

A good survey of the battle is Paul Greenwood's The Second Battle of the Marne.  You can get used copies on Amazon for $4 so a good deal.

« Last Edit: July 08, 2018, 12:29:25 PM by ArizonaTank »
"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden."   Grantland Rice, New York Herald Tribune, October 18th, 1924. 

Notre Dame wins at Army, 13 - 7, Oct. 18, 1924

Notre Dame undefeated 1924
Coach: Knute Rockne

Offline ArizonaTank

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In early 1919, seven months after the battle, one of the 38th Regiment's lieutenants, C.E. Lovejoy, wrote an unofficial history of the regiment in WW1: The Story of the Thirty-Eighth

Interesting that he wrote this while the 38th was on occupation duty in Germany after the Armistice  - must have had plenty of time on this hands....

He describes the fight of July 15th like this:

The shelling on the river bank began about 3 o'clock.
Fifteen minutes of this destructive kind of fire preceded the
rolling barrage, and the few liaison agents from the river
platoons who reached their company P. C.’s on the railroad
line reported that the enemy, under cover of smoke screens,
was about to cross. Day was just breaking and through
the mist, fog and smoke one could see the boats and rafts
being filled. Pioneer troops on the left of the sector were
hauling pontons into place for a bridge.
In front of all three of the forward companies these
boats, loaded to the gunwales with enemy infantrymen and
machine gunners, set out for the southern bank. That was
about 3.30 o'clock. Yet, NOT ONE CROSSED THAT DAY
the Thirty-eighth who had escaped the hours of shelling
met every attempt with rifle and automatic weapon fire, and
the reports from all prove conclusively that scores of these
boats and rafts were shattered and sunk or else disabled and
sent drifting harmlessly down the river. Hundreds of Huns
jumped into the water and were drowned. Those who
reached our side by swimming were either killed or
Co. G, on the left of the regimental sector, had to face
something more. Here the enemy machine gun fire was the
most intense. Here, too, the concentration of attempts to
gain the southern bank was greater than at any other point.
But only after an hour of repeated failures did the Boche
begin to land in numbers.
The river platoon, whose leader had been Lieutenant
Calkins, was almost completely wiped out of existence. One
or two men were later accounted for as wounded, but the
other heros fought those hords of onrushing Germans to a
finish—their own finish. The second platoon, in position
just north of the railroad, counter-attacked toward the river
and closed in on the advancing Boche. But it, too, was
practically annihilated after savage bayonet and pistol
encounters with an enemy that was constantly gaining the
superiority in numbers. Lieutenant M. M. Phillips of this
platoon was killed early in the fighting.
Soldiers, wounded early in the morning, remained at
their automatic rifles or in their rifle pits unflinchingly until
killed. One man of Co G was later found lifeless with his
rifle and pistol empty of ammunition and in front of him
a heap of 12 dead Germans. Another private's body was
found surrounded by five of the enemy, all killed by bayonet,
but his own rifle clutched in his hands ready for more when
the bullet from a machine gun stopped his work. Such
scenes as these on the bank of the Marne bespoke of the
effective fighting before these Thirty-eighth heros were
As the river platoons were pressed down and
exterminated, all company commanders took forward their
supporting platoons for counter attacks. Time and time
again these counter blows drove the enemy to the Marne
where bitter, bloody, hand-to-hand fighting stemmed the
German advance temporarily. At the end of one of these
manoeuvres Captain J. A. Minnis of the Marine Corps, who
found himseli on the morning of the drive attached to Co.
H for observation, made a report to Captain Herlihy that
was no exaggeration. He said:- ,The river bank is
CARPETED with German dead”. Captain Herlihy was
obliged to gather up his combat groups frequently to sweep
toward the river and to dispatch counter attacks under
lieutenants in the direction of Mezy.
On the right of the Thirty-eighth's line Co. E had its
share of fighting both to the front and to the flank toward
Varennes where the Marne takes a bend to the north,
allowing infilade fire from enemy groups who crossed in
front of the French sector. Lieutenant H. J. Ross took
command of Co. E early in the morning and in addition to
protecting the river bank against boatloads of the enemy
who were trying to cross he sent counter attacks toward
the right flank to put a stop to the infilade fire.
During these hours of fighting Co. G was really the
pivotal point of the attack. Squarely in front of this
company, after the river platoon had been wiped out, the
Germans erected a narrow ponton bridge over which the
hords of machine gunners streamed. On the left, at about
the junction of the 30th and Thirty-eighth Infantry sectors,
a second ponton structure was built which gave additional
opportunity for the Huns to direct flanking fire.
Counter attacks were made by Captain Wooldridge
repeatedly and against overwhelming odds, but hundreds
of the enemy were being killed and wounded or made
prisoner. Of the '600 prisoners taken by the Thirty-eighth
during this Second Battle of the Marne, more than 400
were returned by Co. G. After one rush a German captain
was ordered to patrol on top of the railroad embankment
and this bit of finesse caused a halt in the firing temporarily
and gave Co. G the opportunity to organize its forces for
another counter attack.
A part of the report of operations rendered after the
battle by Captain Wooldridge and covering the work of Co.
G follows:
“The general bombardment lifted on my front at about
3.30 and a creeping barrage set in behind which the enemy
machine gun detachments came at 40 yards, first in boats then
on ponton bridges, one of which was placed at about my
center and the other on my extreme left flank . . . . Enemy
strength : On my front, one full regiment as nearly as can
be estimated and by information from six captured officers. .
The regiment that came over on left flank bridge (same estimate
and information) veered off and went thru 30th Infantry sector
to woods in rear of 30th Infantry sector. The regiment which
came over at my center fought thru my first platoon on river
bank, exterminating same, except for three wounded men, one
of whom was later killed by our own shell fire on railway
bank. They gradually eliminated my second platoon on
forward edge of railway bank, their place being taken in
desperate hand-to-hand fighting by my third platoon, the fourth
platoon being simultaneously deployed in place of the third.
Any of the enemy who battled their way through the three
platoons were easy prey for the fourth and there was
absolutely no infiltration on my sector.
From this engagement, which lasted several hours, I don't
know how many, we sent in 383 prisoners whiun I personally
counted and two large groups, from the south of spur track
which I did not count . . . . . . We took 52 machine guns
and a great quantity of German impediments. A flank attack
which I personally conducted sent in 185 prisoners and
accounted for many killed, but the manoeuvre was costly as
only three of us returned. Lieut. Murray was killed in this
attack . . . . . .
Second attack was made at 10.30 a.m. from rear of 30th
Infantry sector, a skirmish line coming from woods some
800 yards in rear of Mezy. Some 30 men of Co. “C”, 30th
Infantry, under Lt. Marsh, were left on 30th Infantry sector
and were ordered to surrender. Lt. Marsh then turned his
command over to me. I was further augmented by 12 men
of Stokes Mortar battery under Lt. Frederick Winant, Jr., a
splendid officer. With these, together with my kitchen personnel,
company clerks, two runners and three buzzer operators, and
what men I could take from my line, I took up a position
behind rock piles on south edge of Mezy and repelled the
enemy, some 250 strong . . . . . .
The air was thick with German airplanes who had no
trouble in bringing down the few French planes that made
their appearance. They sprayed us with machine gun fire."
« Last Edit: July 08, 2018, 10:18:15 AM by ArizonaTank »
"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden."   Grantland Rice, New York Herald Tribune, October 18th, 1924. 

Notre Dame wins at Army, 13 - 7, Oct. 18, 1924

Notre Dame undefeated 1924
Coach: Knute Rockne