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To go to the main Souville page with an overview of the battle and links to other awards and documents awarded for the fighting, please click HERE

To open a useful map illustrating the actions below in a separate window, please click
HERE


Due to German advances in the summer at Fort Vaux and at Fleury a pocket had formed in the German front line along the Souville Nase in front of Fort Souville. The 1. Infanterie Division had come to a stop in the Berg- and Chapitre-Wald area where the French had tenaciously defended their ground. On the flanks the Germans had pushed forward, but the pocket had resisted all assaults, many of them not even making it out of their attack positions.  

Due to the danger of having the enemy on their flanks and the extra men needed to defend this extended line the taking of the ground was given the highest priority


Right: The diploma given to men of the Reserve Infanterie Regiement 81 who took part in the fighting on the Souville Nase

The exhausted 1 Infanterie Division was relieved by the 21. Reserve Division on the 19th of July 1916 and the Hessens were right away given the task of taking the Vaux-Chapitre forest, which included the Souville-Nase and the nearby quarry. To the right of the 21. Reserve Division the Garde-Ersatz-Division was to take the western ridge of the Souville gorge, known to the French as the Ravin des Fontaines. If the attack succeeded the French would be forced to abandon the Souville Gorge with its deadly machinegun nests that had taken such a heavy toll on the German attackers in the past.  

To the left of the 21. Reserve Division the 50. Infanterie Division would attempt to breakthrough in the direction of Fort Tavannes.  

The Souville-Nase (Nez de Souville) protruded into the German lines, flanked on the west by the Souville Gorge (Ravin des Fontaines) and the Gorge known to the Germans as the Lager-Schlucht on the right. On the map it is approximately 1 square kilometre.  

The attack on the Souville-Nase was planned for the 1st of August 1916. In the 2 weeks leading up to the attack the Reserve Infanterie Regiments 80 and 87 prepared the ground for the assault troops, laying out lines of communication and bunkers in the churned up frontline area.  

The barrage began on the 29th of July and included batteries from neighbouring sectors of the front and 31 heavy Minenwerfer. During the night the assault troops of the R.I.R. 81 and 88 moved forward to take up position in the newly prepared bunkers and shelters.  

At 10am on the 1st of August R.I.R. 81 started forward along the eastern ridge of the Souville-Gorge. Supported by flame throwers they pushed forward towards the stunned defenders, reaching their goal in approximately 30 minutes.  
Left: A 1917 drawing by Marcel Santi, a member of the 42eme Regiment d'Infanterie who fought at Verdun. Copies of his drawings are sold at the memorial to raise funds.
On their flank the Garde-Ersatz-Division had made no progress, leaving a 900m gap in the R.I.R. 81 flank. A hastily assembled group was sent to fill the gap and they succeeded in beating of an initial French counter attack, but a second attack broke through, French infantry pushing over the Souville-Nase to the German rear. A company of the R.I.R. 81 kept in reserve was rushed forward and managed to stem the French assault.  

The Hessens had achieved a major success, the French troops in the area had been overwhelmed, many were dead or wounded, over 600 going into captivity. Optimally they should have advanced further, practically they stopped because orders were lacking for a further advance and the German artillery was firing a barrage to prevent the French bringing up reserves... which had the adverse effect of not allowing the Germans to advance beyond the point they had reached.  

To permanently close the gap on the flank of the R.I.R. 81 a battalion of the R.I.R. 88 was sent forward.  

Now the difficult part of the battle was about to begin, holding the captured ground. A successful attack supported by artillery often gave the attacker an element of surprise, and as in the case of the days assault, the defender could be left with little means and spirit to defend himself. Now the shoe was on the other foot and the German infantry had to dig in to prepare for the counter attack.
Left: Reservist Eifert fought on the Souville Heights, his Iron cross was awarded a few months later on the typical Jugendstil design used for R.I.R. 81 documents.

The French artillery ranged in on the new German forward positions. As always French philosophy called for ground lost to be recaptured with no delay. Artillery pieces of all calibres were brought to bare in a heavy barrage.  

The French counterattacked on the 2nd and 3rd of August, the commander of the R.I.R. 81 noted "On both flanks (to the south and west) there was fighting. The French attacked time and time again... they suffered bloody losses, their trenches and positions were filled with corpses."  

The losses of the R.I.R. 81 were no bagatelle and included a Battalion commander and two company commanders.  

On the 4th of August a further German attack was planned, flanked by the G.E.D. the 21. R.D. was to advance through the Chapitre-Wald. At the last moment the attack was called off as the G.E.D. was too exhausted for further operations.  

In the front lines the position became critical as supply lines were under heavy fire. The troops had little food and water and as a result, the R.I.R. 81 and 88 were replaced by the R.I.R 80 and 87. Losses had been heavy, the R.I.R 88 suffering 1200 dead and wounded.  

On the night of the 5th August the Hessens prepared for a new assault. The XVIII Reserve-Korps was to advance along both sides of the Souville-Gorge. On the Souville-Nase assault troops of the R.I.R 80, 87 and elements of the 81 joined with men from the Pioneer battalion 20 as well as Flame thrower teams and two groups of the Sturmbataillon Rohr.  

After 3 hours of artillery preparation the assault began. The men of the R.I.R. 80 made it to the tree line of the Chapitre-Wald, but the R.I.R. 87 was stopped dead by massed machine gun fire. Once again the G.E.D. failed to advance and a gap opened on the flank of the R.I.R 80. The French recognised the weakness right away and a violent counter attack hit the flank of the R.I.R. 80 assault battalion pushing them back with heavy losses which included three Company commanders. Under heavy fire the Germans managed to form a new defensive line, their attack coming to a halt.  

Artillery owned the battlefield for the next few days, the exhausted Infantry of both sides digging in and licking their wounds. On the 6th August elements of the R.I.R. I./ 80 were fired on by both French and German artillery, the positions of the opposing infantry being so close together.  

On the 8th August the front line was taken over by the I.R. 357 and 364 from the 33. R.D., both regiments had been attached to the 21. R.D.  

2 Officers and 70 men were of the I./R.I.R. 81 had come through unscathed, the rest of the Battalion was either dead, missing or wounded.

The next few days were quieter, but on the 18. August the French attacked again, attacking the Souville-Nase and the right wing of the 50. I.D. The I.R. 364, protected by a well zeroed in Feldartillerie-Regt 21, was able to stand their ground. Numerous French soldiers were captured but the I.R. 364 had suffered 120 dead and 300 wounded. The attackers had been more successful to the left of the 21. R.D., breaking into the lines they occupied some vital areas of high ground. In spite of costly German counter attacks they were not able to retake this ground and once again a dangerous pocket was formed in the German front line.  

On the 28th of August 1916 the units of the exhausted 21. R.D. were finally relieved, the 33. R.D. taking full control of the sector.  

In the six weeks the Division had lost 1150 dead and 5400 wounded, (the R.I.R. 80 had suffered 339 dead, 1339 wounded and 273 missing. The R.I.R. 81 258 dead, 1098 wounded and 182 missing).  

The Souville-Nase stayed in German hands until the end of October 1916 when it fell during the major French offensive.
Above: The Souville Clasp
 
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