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The EK1

18-25th of July and 26th of July to 3rd of August.  

The offensive on the Marne and in the Champagne was to be the last German offensive of the war.  

The thunder of the preparatory bombardment had died away, the rolling wall of fire had come to an end, the forward rush of the infantry had bogged down.  

Once again the enemy artillery was pounding the German positions, once again red flares shot up and the enemies bombardment changed to a rolling barrage, once again the French infantry attacked a series of destroyed positions manned by exhausted, battered, hungry German soldiers.  

The doomed German offensive on the Marne was followed right away by a French counterattack at Soissons and Reims. Foch´s sharp eye had noticed the weakness in the salient that stretched across the Marne and he planned to attack the salient on both flanks. Ludendorff expected this and planned to pull his troops back onto the Northern bank of the river but Foch was faster.

The dark Forests of Villers Cotterets were the perfect place to build up reserves and hide tanks, the same was true for the wooded slopes an to the South of Reims on the other side of the salient.

On the 18th of July, after a stormy night, all hell broke loose on the German soldiers of the 9th and 7th armies.

The forests spewed out all that had been hiding in its shadows. Countless shells then masses of infantry following a rolling curtain of fire. Tanks burst out of the forests and into the open fields beyond. To the north of the Aisne the French attack was halted, to the South it tore into the German defensive positions.  

320 tanks rolled forward smashing all in their paths and spitting bullets. They passed through the infantry ripping holes in their ranks. French aeroplanes dove on the Germans emptying their belts of machine gun bullets on the men below. Points of resistance were crushed as if hit with iron hammers as the mechanical colossus advanced.  

Was it a breakthrough? No!  

The German counter attack divisions appeared, batteries of field artillery set up ready to engage the tanks then sent shell after shell into the monsters destroying a number and forcing many more to turn back. The French infantry was robbed of its protective shield and left alone in the open, perfectly grouped for the German artillery...

The German infantry re-established it’s defensive line, the tank attack had been beaten off.

On the Reims side of the salient the gains were much more modest. The French made little more than a dent in the German lines.

By the evening of the 18th the counter offensive had been stopped dead in its tracks.

The losses of men and material had not been disastrous for the Germans. The one major negative point was that the French had pushed close enough to bombard Soissons, an essential transport hub for the Germans inside the salient.

Ludendorff decided to abandon the far bank of the Marne which the troops did on the night of the 18th-19th without the French noticing the withdrawal.

In the following days the Germans succeeded in fighting off a series of French local attacks often accompanied by tanks. It was however clear to the high command that it was not possible to continue to hold the salient indefinitely and that the front line had to be shortened.

The difficult task of a controlled withdrawal took place over the days that followed without major losses. The salient was flattened through a series of withdrawals in which the Germans kept the initiative not letting the French determine the pace.

On the 3rd of August the graduation of the front was over. The Germans dug in behind the Aisne and Vesle.