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The Blücher offensive: continued

From the 28th of May to 13th of June.

The Chemin des Dames had fallen so rapidly on the 27th of May that it was natural that the Germans assumed that a hole had been pierced in the French defences and that the war of movement dream was now within reach.  

The divisions in the centre of the breakthrough point were marching through inhabited, undamaged villages, something not experienced by the soldiers since 1914.  

The Aisne and Vesle were behind them. 20 000 prisoners taken, mountains of captured equipment, enemy resistance remained weak.  

On the flanks the situation was rather different.  

To the west the French defended Soissons and its surrounding heights tenaciously. In spite of the force of the German attack they held the essential hub of traffic until the 29th.

To the east where the divisions of the 1st Armee were fighting the French resisted offensively on the Vesle and the German hopes of taking Rheims faded rapidly.  

On the 30th of May the German centre approached the Marne but as long as the flanks could not keep up the offensive was doomed.  

A decisive victory at Soissons was essential as only from there could the enemy forces at Noyon be attacked, clearing the way for the planned southward thrust of the 18th Army.

On the 30th of May the attack on Soissons was widened to include two further Armee Korps but it took an enormous effort to reach even the eastern edge of the forest of Villers Cotteret.

The fighting inside the forest as well as in the forest of Retz bogged down as the French pumped their reserves into the woods.  

In the centre the troops reached the Marne and managed to cross at Chateau Thierry where they managed to establish a bridgehead. It served little purpose, with the woods filled with French soldiers on one flank and the Bastion of Rheims on the other the bridgehead was of little value. The determination and will of the attackers was able to carry the day.  

The offensive lasted 18 days although the advance had stopped on the 4th day. The 30 planned divisions had been increased to 51 and still the offensive had failed. As with the previous two offensives it had come undone on the flanks. The breakthrough in the centre had come to within 75 km of Paris but had been a wasted effort.

General von Borries, writing after the war, summed the offensive up by saying "The offensive was a superb achievement. The high command and men are not to blame that after they had pierced the enemy defences and reached the open ground beyond, they bogged down, held back by the heavy weights on the flanks which they were unable to shake off."

To return to the first phase of the battle, please click HERE

 
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