The French Attack 20th July 1915
At 14.00hrs on 20th July 1915, following a heavy artillery barrage, the French 129th Infantry Division attacked the Linge. The attack was led by the 3rd Brigade commanded by Colonel Brissaud while 5th Brigade commanded by General Trouchaud was kept in reserve. The 151st Infantry Division commanded by Colonel de Susbielle held the quite section of the front from the Hautes-Huttes to the Bonhomme Pass in the north.
Colonel Brissaud with 5 Battalions of Alpine troops at his disposal launched the 22nd B.C.A. at the Barrenkopf, the 30th and 70th B.C.A. against La Courtine and the Schratz quarries, and the 14th and 54th B.C.A. against the peaks and forest of the Linge and the Schratz north of the quarries. On the right wing the 22nd B.C.A. came under heavy flank fire from the positions overlooking the Schratz quarries and from the Barrenkopf stronghold to their front. The survivors of the first wave fell back on their starting lines after suffering heavy casualties. The Battalion Commander Richard was killed in his command post blown up by a 210mm artillery shell. Six officers and 186 men were killed, more than 400 were wounded; one third of the troops involved in the attack were out of action. The survivors brought back a placard, pulled from the German barbed wire, which bore the ironical words: ‘The Linge will be the Chasseurs’ Grave’. This was about to become true.
On the left wing, the 54th B.C.A. penetrated into the West bulge of the Linge then pushed right and climbed along the ridge line to the summit of the Schratz. Within the woods they came under heavy fire from German machine guns installed in strongpoints that had not been touched by the French artillery and were forced to withdraw back to their initial objective. The 14th B.C.A., harassed by barrage fire, managed to cross the border of the Linge wood, there they were stopped by machine gun fire and were unable to reach the summit. The forward elements did for a time reach and hold the Collet. Having come across two successive networks of barbed wire flanked by machine gun nests the Battalion had lost half of its men.
In the centre, the 30th and 70th B.C.A., which had been kept in reserve for the second phase of the attack, sent two Companies to help the 14th B.C.A. Two other Companies, sent to support the 54th B.C.A., were pinned down in the woods by an entanglement of barbed wire and enfilading fire from machine gun nests hidden in concrete casements. Due to depleted resources the central attack was cancelled.
On the same day, as a diversion to relieve the pressure on the Linge, the 47th Infantry Division attacked the Reichackerkopf while the 2nd Brigade attacked the Eichwald. In these attacks the capture of a few metres of trench cost the French more than 1,000 casualties (72 Officers and 986 men). Later on the 20th and over the next 3 days the Germans, under cover of heavy artillery fire carried out a series of counter-attacks that all but wiped out the recent French gains. With the authority of General Dubail, General de Maud’huy called off the Reichackerkopf attack in order to focus the main French attack on the Linge. With 47th Infantry Division committed to the defence the un-mauled units of the Division were put at the disposal of the 129th Infantry Division on the Linge.
The stiff resistance put up by the German units on the Reichackerkopf and the Linge-Barrenkopf positions, sheltered in well prepared forest positions, hollowed out of the rock, concreted and camouflaged, hidden from the French artillery, had effectively broken up General Nollet’s wide-scale Army operation and was about to turn it into a series of incoherent local actions devoid of any tactical focus. Mainly due to a lack of resources the 12 km wide offensive planned by the French G.H.Q. was to dwindle down to an attack over a 2 km front. The French 129th Infantry Division was about to impale itself on 3 local narrow objectives; the Linge and its Collet, the Schratz and its quarries, and the hillside of the Barrenkopf.
Next - The continuation of the French assault