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The Combres Heights (Les Eparges) are situated on the northern hinge of the St Mihiel salient and was one of "hotspots" on the Western Front in early 1915.
If they had succeeded in occupying the heights the French would have an uninterrupted view into the salient and the German rear area. 

Right: a map of the salient. A more detailed map follows at the end of the page.
 
If they had managed to bring artillery to the top of the heights they could have fired directly on the railway lines and roads leading up to the front lines. It would have led to the Germans being forced to abandon the salient.      

The defenders had managed to hold their positions on the heights against a series of desperate local attacks carried out by a particularly determined French Infantry.      

The attacks, starting in earnest in the middle of February 1915 saw the 33rd Reserve Division and 9th Infantry Division both spilling and losing much blood as the French slowly forced them back on the western slope of the "finger".  

A new level of ferocity developed when General Dubail attacked with three corps and a cavalry division in an effort to pinch the salient off at it’s sides. The Combres Heights to the north, the Priesterwald to the south and the Aillywald at the front of the salient were the main objectives of the offensive.

While the French made little progress on the Heights the situation for the defenders was precarious to say the least. Already before the offensive began on the fifth of April the French had sought to improve the staging areas for the offensive through a series of local attacks.

The men of the 33rd Reserve and 9th and 10th Infantry Divisions managed to throw the French back wherever they managed to break into the German lines. To the North the 5th Landwehr Division stood like a rock and defended their positions that bordered on the heights.  

When the offensive itself was launched the defenders continued to fight bitterly and hold their positions.


Above: The Iron Cross 1st Class award document to Hauptmann d.L. Franz Mensch. The 56th Field Artillery Regiment was part of the 10th Infantry Division.

On the eighth of April, following an overwhelming bombardment the French succeeded in breaking into the trenches of the "Kammstellung" on the northwest slope, but less than 24 hours later the 10 I.D. managed to throw the French out of the newly captured positions. To the north the older men of the 5. L.D. Stalwartly held their ground.  

By the middle of April the French offensive had achieved minimal gains and the French High Command wound down the offensive actions.

There was no time for complacency for the Germans. The French no longer threatened the peak but they had succeeded in flanking the Heights from the South. It was decided to push the French back. On the 24th of April the 111th and 9th Infantry Regiments attacked along both sides of the "Tranchee de Calonne" pushing the French back and establishing a new line of defence level with the Combres Heights. Here, reinforced by the 113th I.D. they fought until the 7th of May and managed to capture 2500 enemy soldiers, 20 pieces of artillery and 30 machine guns.

After this the infantry activity died down and the pioniers and miners took over the sector. 


A description of the fighting, written by a participant, was published in the "Norddeutschen Allgemeinen Zeitung".      

Since the beginning of April a terrible battle has raged, the intensity of which only the participants will be able to appreciate. The French have already tried unsuccessfully to break through on our left and right flanks. Our division has a difficult position. Prisoners have informed us that 24 fresh enemy regiments have been brought up for the attack as well as 2 British divisions in reserve. (Doubtlessly an error on the part of the writer). These two divisions have not been used.

The fighting is merciless. No quarter is given and we have taken few prisoners. Our soldiers are fighting very bravely. One enemy attack follows the next, each preceded by a bombardment that does its best to level our positions. Each attack is beaten back with the French suffering terrible losses.  

In some areas our troops have to abandon their positions to escape the artillery fire but the French are wrong if they think these positions are "taken". Violent counter attacks with the bayonet throw them out of the positions and our troops have on occasion continued the counter attacks until they broke into the enemy front line but were forced to abandon the French positions due to heavy enemy artillery fire.      

The positions have all been flattened and at night the men work hard to rebuild the earthworks, the pioniers labouring tirelessly. Almost all of the original positions are still in our hands.

Left: Hauptmann Mensch with his daughter in 1912.

The French have suffered very heavy losses. They throw the bodies out of their positions to form a protective wall They seem unable to bury them. They also seem unable or unwilling to remove their wounded. No Mans Land is covered with bodies. Our losses are also heavy but in no proportion to theirs.  

Our artillery does excellent work. They fire on the reserves preventing them from reaching the front line where they would be able to enter the fray. The attacking troops are met with a terrible storm of shot and shell.


The staff has done well assuring that the reinforcing troops and supplies are always at hand. Day and night the supply columns roll bringing up artillery ammunition. The French have our rear area under constant fire as well as any villages within range of their guns.  

How long it will continue it is not possible to say but one thing is sure. any further attacks will also be beaten back by a wall braced with an iron will.

Above: French troops killed by German Artillery fire.


Above: A more detailed map of the fighting in April 1915.
 
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