After hard fighting at Verdun in 1916 and in the Champagne in 1917 the I.R. 159 found itself in line to the Northwest of Epoye, opposite a French position nicknamed the "Pestbeule" or "Plague boil".
In June of 1917 the 14. Reserve Division (VII Reservekorps) undertook "Operation Rosenblüte", a large scale trench raid with the goal of destroying the facing enemy positions. Lt Scheidt who had survived the terrible fighting at Verdun the year before was to lead one of the regimental Sturmabteilung consisting of two Sturmtrupps.
An adapted translation from the Regimental History describes the action:
"In the front line all efforts were concentrated on the approaching "Operation Rosenblüte". Nightly patrols were sent out to determine the condition of the enemy positions. The medium Minenwerfer blew gaps in the barbed wire and artillery and Minenwerfer discreetly ranged in on their targets for the coming raid. The Sturmtrupps were formed, their objectives discussed and the assault practiced on a model of the French position built behind the German lines. This time it was the turn of the I. and II. Batl. to provide the men.
At 11:30 pm on the 15th June 1917 the right flank of the I/I.R. 159 made a feint against the French position nicknamed "Pestbeule". The goal was to attract enemy artillery fire in order to help locate the enemy batteries. After a short bombardment by their own artillery, groups of infantry worked their way forward, as if to engage in a trench raid. The French response was some weak artillery and machine gun fire. This later increased to light, medium and then heavy artillery fire on the German positions. The lines of communication to the rear were under heavy French fire for the duration of the night. German observers succeeded in pinpointing a number of enemy gun positions and earmarked them for destruction in the bombardment planned for Operation Rosenblüte.
By the time the evening on the 21st arrived all preparations for the raid had been completed. In the K-1 trench facing the "Pestbeule" six Sturmtrupps were ready, two from the R.I.R. 53 and four from the I.R. 159. Each Sturmtrupp consisted of an officer, a Vizefeldwebel, 2 Unteroffizieren and 20 men. Commanding the patrols of the I.R. 159 were Lt. Beuther (1. Komp.), Lt. (3. Komp.), Lt. d.Res. Stiller (7. Komp.) and Lt.d.Res. Rhoden. Each of the groups had an older officer of the I. Batln in the trench to see the raiding parties off and runners to carry messages in case the field telephone lines were damaged. There was also a Minenwerfer officer supporting each of the groups. In the event of an emergency there was a reserve of one officer, two Unteroffizieren and fifteen men waiting in position in the trench ready to reinforce patrols if needed. A number of liason groups were formed, each with an Unteroffizier and 6-8 men. Their task was to secure ‘No Mans Land’, keep contact between the patrols and escort back any prisoners. At each jump off point, there were two machine guns which were to provide supporting fire. On the flanks of the attack were two small searchlights which would provide a marker to aid the returning patrols find their way home. In neighbouring sectors machine guns would provide support fire to distract the enemy. Also planned as a diversion were bombardments in the neighbouring 13. R.D. sector on Fort Pompelle and on the "Langen Rucken" opposite the 4. I.D.
The objective of the raid was not only to take prisoners and capture material but also to cause as much destruction as possible. For this purpose the men were laden with explosives and equipment which was needed for destroying enemy positions. Preparing the way for them were twelve light, fifteen medium and nine heavy calibre Minenwerfer which would drop fire 6000 rounds on the enemy positions along with 12 artillery batteries of all calibers with a total of 2000 rounds. Added to this were a number of other batteries which were to fire green cross gas shells on the French artillery positions.
The patrols were waiting impatiently in the frontline (Abteilung Beuther was crouching in an abandoned trench in No Mans Land) when at 10:05 p.m. the artillery and minenwerfer opened the bombardment. The men had not experienced a supporting fire this heavy since their days at Verdun. There was a deafening thunder of guns behind them and a sea of explosions in front of them on the "Pestbeule". It was a concert show that could only be enjoyed by those who were not on the receiving end of the explosions. Officers and men peered out of their trench, staring at the torn up night sky over the enemy positions. The enemy would not be long in answering.
The Certificate awarded to Leutnant Scheidt for the raid on the "Pestbeule"
Below is a description of the events in front of the 1. Batl. sector, as seen by an artillery observer.
10:05 Fire by own artillery and minenwerfer 10:12 Our fire moves forward 10:14 Enemy fire, medium calibre, on our second line 10:15 Sporadic light caliber shells in front of and behind our second line 10:16 Sporadic light caliber shells on our second line 10:20 Our fire moves back again 10:23 White flare south of Prunay 10:25 Enemy barrage livens up. Our machine guns open up 10:27 Our artillery and M.G. fire on enemy front line 10:28 French call for barrage in front of their position, 3 yellow flares in front of our 1. Komp. 10:29 French call for barrage in front of their position, 3 yellow flares in front of our 3. Komp. 10:30 Enemy M.G. fire, renewed calls for barrage in front of 3. Komp. Our own arty and M.G. on enemy rear lines 10:33 3 yellow flares calling for barrage to the left 10:34 3 yellow flares calling for barrage to the right 10:36 Enemy M.G. fire 10:37 Enemy flares to the left 10:38 Enemy M.G. fire 10:41 To the left of Prunay enemy munitions dump explodes. White flares to the left 10:44 Barrage signal to the right of Jonasweg. Enemy M.G. fire in front of 1. Komp. 10:45 Enemy heavy shells on our third line. Enemy M.G. fire in front of 1. Komp. Enemy light and heavy shells on our first and 2nd line. 10:47 Enemy M.G. fire in front of 1. Komp. 10:50 Enemy M.G. fire in front of 3. Komp. White flares to the left. 10:51 Enemy M.G. fire. 10:52 German pilot over 3rd line shooting tracer 10:54 3 white flares to the left 10:55 Enemy M.G. fire in front of the 1. Komp. 10:56 Enemy M.G. fire in front of the 3. Komp. 10:57 Enemy M.G. fire in front of the 3. Komp. 10:58 German aircraft leaves 11:00 German aircraft arrives again. French flares call for more barrage fire. 11:01 Very lively enemy M.G. fire in front of 1. and 3. Komp. 11:07 German Pilot shoots tracers 11:08 Enemy M.G. fire 11:11 Enemy M.G. fire in front of the 3. Komp. 11:12 White enemy flare in front of 1. Komp 11:14 Enemy M.G. fire in front of 1. and 3. Komp. 11:17 Enemy M.G. fire in front of 1. and 3. Komp. 11:20 Enemy M.G. fire in front of 1. and 3. Komp. 11:25 Enemy white flare to the left 11:27 2 enemy flares in front of the 1. Komp, one by the R.I.R. 53 11:28 Enemy artillery fire moves to the rear 12:17 4 yellow flares fired by us.
For the raiders themselves the event passed as follows.
At 10.30 p.m. the Abteilungen under Rohden, Stiller and Scheidt left their launch stations on the front line. The columns of helmeted Sturmsoldaten with their rifles and grenades were soon swallowed up by the darkness. For a moment their light armbands could be seen, a soft clanking was heard, and then they were gone, as were the liaison men wearing their two white bands of recognition.
A couple of minutes later the Sturmtrupps were through the wire and into the enemy positions. Although the enemy shrapnel had whistled past their ears while they were crossing ‘No Mans Land’, and the Stiller patrol had had to leave two wounded behind, the patrols had advanced rapidly. Only the Abteilung Beuther could not move forward. They were trapped in the old trench they had chosen for a launching point, the enemy’s barrage was concentrated right in front of their position. To advance would have meant the destruction of the Abteilung and Beuther took the initiative to stay put with his men.
In the meantime the other Abteilungen (including two of the R.I.R. 53) were advancing over the first enemy positions. The trenches of the "Pestbeule" had suffered terribly under the German medium and heavy fire. From the destroyed positions screams and moans echoed up from the buried enemy soldiers. Patrol Rohden captured nine Frenchmen from two bunkers which had survived the bombardment. They surrendered without opposition. The patrol pushed on to the "Runden Wald". Here they turned around and headed back. An enemy assault group appeared out of a bunker and chased them, throwing hand grenades, but they suffered no losses and managed to return with their prizes. Other than the prisoners, these prizes included two automatic weapons. Patrol Stiller also managed to reach its objective, but only managed to take one prisoner. He somehow managed to escape on the way back. Abteilung Scheidt brought back two prisoners. They had tried to fight their way to the enemy’s 3rd line, but had to stop when they ran into a wall of splinters caused by their own artillery and Minenwerfer fire. During their advance they had neutralised the occupants of numerous bunkers who had refused to surrender.
Just after 11.00 p.m. all the troops were back in the German lines. Group 1 of the R.I.R.53 had taken sixteen prisoners and an automatic weapon. All in all twenty seven prisoners from the French 28th Territorial Regiment and one from the 277th infantry Regiment were taken.
The operation was a resounding success. The enemy positions were destroyed. The bloody losses of the enemy must have been as many as there were POWs. There would have been more POWs if the artillery preparation had not taken so long. It can be speculated that the barrage, which had crept backwards and forwards had actually allowed enemy soldiers to escape to the rear, instead of forcing them forward as it was intended to do. The Aeroplane firing tracer had influenced the enemy’s morale to a small degree according to information given by the prisoners.
The raid showed that the enemy had adapted to the German raiding tactics. As the Germans did when attacked, the French soldiers had been ordered back to avoid the attack and had advanced in a counter attack (but fortunately too late to catch the Germans). Their barrage had also been more concentrated than in the past.
No long term effect was noticed. After the raid the enemy continued his business as usual....."
The Korps daily orders in which the Regiment is praised for its part in the raid.
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