The 11. b. I.D. had left its positions near Muelhausen
on the 25th of April to move to the Parfondru area, 8km. southeast of Laon.
Here the division lay in reserve. The III./21.b.Fda.R., however, was sent into
action right away to the south of Ailles in the 1. Garde Infanterie Divison
(G.I.D.) sector. When on the fifth and sixth of May the enemy broke into the
20. I.D. positions on both sides of Cerny the 11.b.I.D. counterattacked. The
first battalions into combat were the II./22.b.I.R. on the sixth of May and the
III./3.b.I.R. on the seventh of May. They did not manage to retake the high
ground to the east and west of Cerny, but at least the village itself remained
in German hands. On the eighth of May the 11.b.I.D. had taken over the six km.
wide 20. I.D. sector which angled north-westwards and north-eastwards from
Cerny. The II./4.b.Fda.R. had been in this sector since the end of March. The
3.b.I.R. took up position in Cerny with the b.R.I.R.13 on their right and the
22.b.I.R. to the left.
Craonne in 1915.
The 1. and 2. b.I.D. had spent the winter in the trenches
near St. Mihiel. They were replaced at St. Mihiel by the exhausted b.E.D. and
5.b.R.D. around the second of May and left to join the 7.Armee on the Chemin
The fighting had died down in this sector when the
2.b.I.D. took over for the 2. G.I.D. between Hurtebise and Craonne on the
eighth of May but the 20. b.I.R. still had the opportunity to fight side by
side with the Guards when their relief of the 3.G.I.Br. was interrupted by a
French attack. Once the relief was completed the 20.b.I.R. was in the line with
the 12.b.I.R. to their right and the 15.b.I.R. to their left.
Craonne under fire in 1917.
The 1.b.I.D. took up a position between the 11. and
2.b.I.D., replacing the 14.I.D. which in turn left to replace the 1.G.I.D. to
the south of Ailles. The III./4.b.Fda.R. was already in the sector taken over
by the 1.b.I.D.
The days following the sixth of May saw no major
offensives but there were many small actions, artillery duels, and barrages,
many of great intensity. In many places, especially on both sides of Cerny, the
Bavarians occupied miserable, badly damaged field defensive positions along the
back of the plateau or on the slopes going down to the Ailette. In some
sectors, like that of the right wing of the 2.b.I.D., the men were at the foot
of the slope in full view of the enemy above. The fact that they held this
position shows the determination of the defenders as the French above could
monitor and shell the approaches over the low lying, swampy Ailette valley.
About half of the infantry clung to the back ridge, a matter of pride not to be
pushed down the back slope. All along the enemy was in close proximity. Faced
with constant danger the men managed to turn their shelters and holes in the
ground into a network of trenches, barriers and bunkers.
Left: A Iron Cross document to a man in the 2. b.I.R., the award was made for bravery on the Aisne.
The situation remained grave and it seemed the only
way to gain a modicum of security was to retake the edge of the plateau all
along the back of the ridge and then push the French back across the plateau
and back down the front slope.
By means of a number of local attacks, raids and
digging saps towards the enemy a portion of the lost ground was actually
regained by the Bavarians.
Larger attacks were staged by the 11.b.I.D. on the
11th and 20th of May.
The goal of these attacks was to improve the defensive
Attacking on both sides of Cerny, but mainly in to the
east at Bovelle, the attacks were bitter close combat affairs.
On the 11th of May all three regiments were involved.
On the 20th of May however the struggle was carried mainly by the I./22.b.I.R.
and elements of the 3.b.I.R. who fought from morning to evening, fighting
backwards and forwards over a small stretch of ground. Enemy counterattacks and
heavy artillery fire stopped the German troops and even managed to throw them
back in a few places but at the end of the day the enemy had been pushed back
from the ridge, taking away their vantage points that allowed them to see down
into the Ailette valley and across the German positions. Added to these
successes was 340 prisoners taken by the 11.b.I.D. on the 11th of May.
On the 20th of May the left wing of the 1.b.I.D., the
I./2.b.I.R. assaulted the strongly defended enemy first lines at Hurtebise.
Attacking with hand grenades they took the trench and held it against heavy
counterattack and artillery barrage.
Already a few days before the 20th May the enemy had
started a steadily increasing bombardment on the heights at Craonne, on the
positions of the 2.b.I.D. and on the left wing of the 1.b.I.D. The enemy
started to pound the newly made positions with heavy mortars and regularly fill
the Ailette valley with gas shells. Often, as on the 14th and 17th of May,
enemy attacks were broken up in front of the 2.b.I.D. by artillery fire. On the
afternoon of the 22nd the drumfire that announced the coming attack started.
The French advanced at 17:25, against the 9.I.D. who were on the Winterberg
(Plateau de Californie), and against the 2.b.I.D. and left wing of the 1.b.I.D.
The infantry in the German front lines, supported by
their artillery, broke the back of the enemy attack, sending the French back
with severe losses.
The 20. and 15. b.I.R. of the 2.b.I.D. had caught the
full fury of the attack, in many sectors hand to hand combat, man against man.
Slight losses of ground were retaken with local counterattacks. There was no
need to call on the reserves of the 41. I.D. which was in position behind the
lines as a counterattack division. On the border between the 20. and 15.b.I.R.
the 2.M.G.K./20.b.I.R. under Leutnant Goss had held an important and dangerous
position on the days leading up to the big attack. With his three machine guns
he broke up the waves of attackers in front of his positions and even managed
to counterattack. The 12.b.I.R. was not attacked on the 22nd of May but they
were able to participate by firing into the flank of the enemy attacking their neighbours
causing heavy losses.
Below: An iron Cross award document to a machine gunner in the 12. b.I.R. mentioned in the action above.
The 2.b.I.D. was bleeding from a thousand wounds; some
battalions were reduced to 250 men. The II./15.b.I.R. could only field two
companies of 80 men.
The 2.b.I.R. of the 1.b.I.D. with its support batteries(1.b.Fda.R.,
III./4.b.Fda.R.) beat back enemy attacks against the left wing at Hurtebise.
On the 23rd of May at 21:30 the French tried another
attack against the 20th and 15th b.I.R. but once again they were beaten back.
On the nights of the 24th and 25th the French trenches once again filled with
assault troops but the attacks were stopped by German artillery fire. In the
meantime the fight for individual shell holes continued. The 12.b.I.R. was
relieved on the 24th of May by the I.R.152 and its men were sent to reinforce
the 15. and 20. b.I.R. who had been severely reduced in strength. The lightly
wounded, slightly sick and non assigned men were formed into a special
battalion. From the 27th of May to the 10th of June the 2.b.I.D. was
slowly relieved by the 15.I.D. and pulled to the rear.
The French launched local attacks against the left
flank of the 1.b.I.D.
at Hurtebise on the 28th and 29th of May. The
III./24.b.I.R. which had just relieved the 2.b.I.R., held them back, and a few
weeks later on the 16th of June the I./24.b.I.R. succeeded in taking a section
of the slopes to the northwest of Hurtebise in a well executed local attack.
The tail end of the battle was also experienced by the
newly formed 15.b.I.D., formed in March and having just arrived from Lorraine
in mid May to assemble near Montcornet. The division was moved bit by bit to
the la Malmaison sector and on the 21st of May it began to relieve the 213.I.D.
in the area between the Corbeny - Pontavert road and Juvincourt.
In the night of the 22nd of May as the relief was
underway the French launched their last major attack which included a section
of front line on the right wing of the 213.I.D. which the III./31.b.I.R. was
relieving. A few positions were lost here as the enemy advanced a short way up
the Corbeny-Pontevert road. The relief in the 213. I.D. sector passed with much
less excitement but there was still great tension due to the threat of a
further attack. The attack on the 22nd of May and the skirmishes that followed signalled
the end of the Nivelle Offensive on the Aisne.
The Bavarians had suffered heavy losses. The 11.
b.I.D. had left 35 officers and 1500 men on the blood-soaked Chemin des Dames,
the 1. b.I.D. lost 29 officers and 1243 men and the 2. b.I.D. 40 officers and
The 2. b.I.D. was pulled back to the Charleville area
in the middle of June, the 1. b.I.D. in the middle of July. The 11. b.I.D.
stayed on the 7. Armee front until mid September. For the month of July the 11.
b.I.D. was used as a counterattack division in the Cerny sector. The battalions
had been pulled asunder, rushed to all the hotspots to counterattack or prop up
the defence. From the beginning of August to mid September the division took
over a defensive sector on the western edge of the Chemin des Dames, the
infamous Laffaux Ecke.
The causalities for the division from the beginning of
July were again heavy. Nineteen officers and 1350 men, including three bearers
of the Max-Joseph order who were killed with a single artillery shell.