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The EK1

The 10. Reserve Division on the Aisne.

The 10. Reserve Division was one of the premier divisions of the German Army. It fought in some of the bloodiest sectors of Verdun, on the Somme and in the Champagne. The division was on the Aisne to the south of Berry au Bac in April of 1917 occupying the area from Hill 108 to Sapigneul.

Right: A dogtag for a soldier in the 3rd company of the Reserve Infanterie Regiment 37

On the 4th of April 1917 twenty Sturmabteilungen of the 10.R.D. took part in a large raid which was carried out under the cover name of Operation "Einbau leichter Minenwerfer".

The Sturmabteilungen were formed with men from the I.R. 155, R.I.R. 37, and Füs.R. 37. Afterwards officially known as the "Gefecht bei Sapigneul le Godat" the goal of the raid was to disrupt the French preparations for the coming offensive and gather information about the enemy assault plans.
Following a two and a half hour artillery and Minenwerfer barrage the twenty Sturmabteilungen attacked, each man carrying six stick grenades and twenty egg grenades in addition to his rifle with 150 rounds.

Karl Görres participated in one of the elements of the I.R. 155 (see the entry in his pass HERE) while Vizefeldwebel Roßdeutcher with his heavy M.G. was part of the Sturmabteilung Nr.4 of the R.I.R. 37. The Abteilung was under the command of Lt. d. Res. Pfeiffer and had ten Stosstrupps, one M.G. crew, one Pionier Trupp and two stretcher bearers. (Other Abteilung had attached flamethrower troops depending on their objectives).

The regimental history of the R.I.R. 37 describes the role of Sturmabteilung Nr.4 as follows...
"Sturmabteilung Pfeiffer found itself under fire from three French machine guns while crossing no-man’s-land. The machine guns were in the front line and forced Pfeiffer and his men to move from one shell crater to the next, crawling on their stomachs. Two Stoßtrupps destroyed the machinegun positions with grenades and the trenches were stormed with loud "Hurrah's". A strongpoint in the second line brought the brave attackers to a halt again. Under covering fire supplied by Offz. Stellv. Roßdeutscher of the 1. M.G.K. the strongpoint was taken with many prisoners taken amongst the soldiers caught in the underground bunkers. The Pioniers later blew up the concrete bunkers. The Abteilung then reached the Fontaine-Bach"

Roßdeutscher, leading a 4 man patrol, had captured 17 enemy soldiers the year before at Verdun. He had been wounded in the terrible fighting around Vaux and once again on the Somme. The machine gunners of the 10. R.D. were to claim many victims in the coming French offensive and Roßdeutscher would be awarded the E.K. 1 for his contributions. An account of the fighting is given by an officer in Roßdeutschers battalion.
Above: The Iron Cross 1st class award document for Vizefeldwebel Roßdeutscher, a Machinegun NCO in the 3th Reserve Infantry Regiment.

Left: French artillery falling on German positions on the Aisne.

The French offensive.

The events that took place in the early hours of the morning and later in the day of the 16th April are described by Leutnant d. Res.Voß of the 3.Komp., I.R.155. which was in the Berry au Bac area during the battle on the Asine.

"1:00 am, the 16th of April has arrived... what will the day bring? I spend some time with the sentry and we stare out over no-man’s-land. I shoot a number of white flares but there is nothing unusual to be seen over in the enemy lines. It is impossible to hear anything as the artillery thunders its shells through the night but it seems to be quieter than it was last night and in the days before. Uffz. Kurtz who has trench duty and I wonder what is up. It is of course the infantry attack that interests us, is it quieter because the enemy is preparing for his attack? Moving his troops forward?

An Iron Cross 2nd class to Musk. Kunold of the 11. Komp. I.R.155. The document was signed a month before the Battle on the Aisne.

At 2:00 am I return to my bunker... Hptm. Roepke sends a messenger to ask if the lull in enemy fire has any special meaning. At the battalion H.Q. they have had the same thought as us. At the front a quiet enemy can be more worrying than the heaviest Trommelfeuer.

We sit in the Stollen, our heads pressed against the boards. Little is said. Our stomachs groan as we long for the return of the ration carriers. We fight hard not to fall asleep.

Suddenly we are wide awake. A number of heavy shells have landed in the Komp. area, then silence, then some more shells. A few mines explode with a hellish shock. This has seldom happened in the nightly barrages. The horrible bark of enemy light fieldguns joins in. The lulls between salvos gets shorter and shorter and by 4.30am an intense Trommelfeuer covers our sector.

I climb up into the trench and ask Uffz. Höfer if there are any losses. So far there are none. We reckon the attack will come soon, the sooner the better. The light shells explode ahead of the positions, the heavy ones behind. The ploughed over earth shoots through the air like hail and rain. Our short trench is almost no longer there.... I fire a flare and look into no-man’s-land. There is nothing to see but smoke and dust.

I slip into the next bunker, all the men sit with their rifles clutched in their hands, waiting. Everyone seems to be alert. I return to my bunker praying we receive no direct hits. We cannot afford to lose any men. I wonder where the ration carriers are. Although the Feldkuche was way back in Menneville or Variscourt they are still long overdue. I am less worried about the food, but need the men back to take their place in the line. Once again earth and splinters shoot through the bunker door. All hell is breaking loose. It is the worst it has been. Every now and then there seems to be a lull, but then it increases with a new intensity. Krahmer and Lipkau go up to check the sentries. The minutes are passing very slowly indeed and we crouch at the foot of the bunkers smoking and waiting for the signal to run out.

Men of the R.I.R. 37 manning a Trench on the Aisne.

Suddenly there is a huge explosion above us and everyone is knocked off their feet. Two men come crashing breathlessly down the stairs. The candle has been blown out and we relight it. I recognise the first man. He is holding two mess tins and tells us the other ration carriers are still to the rear. They will come forward as soon as there is a lull in the bombardment. It is impossible to cover the ground at the moment. The second man is a messenger from the Btln. with a message confirming the French attack for today, the 16th of April .

..... Krahmer returns and reports that most of the men are laying out in the open, in the shellholes, as it is no longer supportable in the Stollen. My watch says 6:00 am. Slowly the new day dawns on the battlefield, the Trommelfeur increases by the minute...wait! It seems that the heavy shells and mines have left the bombardment. Indeed, they have! Now the lighter calibres are firing alone, sealing of the way to the rear.

'They are coming! They are coming!' droned the calm voice of Uffz. Höfer. In a few bounds I am up the stairs and in the trench.

The light artillery fire has reached a crescendo on the front positions. An enemy aeroplane flies over us, his machine guns chattering at a distance of thirty meters. Anyone who can hold a gun is there, manning the shellholes and trenches, shooting forwards. Even the three men who had just been wounded by shrapnel or by the aeroplane were ignoring their wounds and firing. Shooting is the only way out. The Frenchmen are approaching, somewhat hesitantly, careful to keep behind their barrage, but in a steadily advancing mass. Wave after wave climb out of their trenches and are pushing their way forward. "Shoot!...Shoot!" I shout, the NCO’s repeating the order throughout the position. Red and green flares go up to call in our artillery but they are absent, or answer weakly. What is happening? In the past they have answered right away. Maybe the strong enemy fire during the night had silenced them, or have those to the rear given up on us already? God help us! The outcome is perched on a knife edge. What will happen in the following minutes? Victory? Death? Prisoner?

The point men and assault troops are only thirty meters in front of the first positions when suddenly the enemy artillery makes a bound to the rear. It is a signal to the enemy to advance, but a relief to us. "Shoot!...Shoot!" everyone is in position firing wildly into the enemy ranks. No bullet can miss at this distance, but will we succeed? And then the machine guns open fire. The bound by the enemy barrage has given the gunners of the 1. M.G.K. breathing space. A machine gun on Höhe 100 opens fire and the bullets pass over us slamming into the enemy ranks. "Hurrah's!" sound from our position, the enemy front rank crumbles, men falling over. Some stumble over the remains of the barbed wire but the first are entering our trench already. "Handgrenades!" calls Uffz. Kurz and throws one into the hollow to the right, causing 15 enemy soldiers to surrender. Dozens of grenades fly, clearing the ground in front of the positions. The machine guns behind us are firing uninterrupted with the same steady rhythm, tearing holes into the advancing ranks. If we did not have the 1. M.G.K. ! Our 40 rifles would not have managed to hold them back.

In the meantime the ration carriers and the men from the second position have arrived at our level, the latter bringing much needed ammunition with them.

The battle rages on. Ignoring their heavy losses the French continue to attack, reserves always coming up behind the fallen. On our side the infantry and machine gunners put up a heroic defence. Mechanically the men operate the bolts of their rifles and to improve their morale they toss hand grenades into the advancing enemy. For ourselves we have answered the question as to who will win this struggle. We feel the glow of victory.

The enemy attack seems to slow as the attackers, both wounded and unwounded, begin to stay back in the shell holes in no-man’s-land. It is wonderful to see how the masses at the back do a slow aboutface and return to their trenches. With a feeling of extreme relief and pride we rest our weapons. Another loud "Hurrah" comes from the men. We realise what a victory we have achieved with few of our own losses while the enemy is bleeding from a thousand wounds.

Was the battle over for us? Could we finally rest and let our guard down? No! I have to find out how it is to the left and right of us. From the 1. Komp. on our left I am told that the enemy in front of their positions has been "wiped out", I enquire to the right where the I.R. 49 had its positions on Höhe 91. Here the enemy has broken through and taken the German positions!

Our machine guns take the Höhe under fire and I realise that I must let our artillery know of the events. Two runners have made it through to the Btln., braving enemy artillery and machine gun fire as they crossed the open ground and the Flügelwalde, which was under constant fire. Every minute counted!

Vzfw. Schmidt, the artillery liaison officer hurries to the batteries and soon the heights are under accurate artillery fire.

Close combat has started, small groups fighting their way forward through the positions using hand grenades. The enemy begins to surrender. We do not have enough men to escort them so we send them to the rear without escorts. Here they are fired upon by our M.G.S.S.A. who have their guns built in next to the artillery and assume the mass of Blue-Grey troops have broken through. As the prisoners scatter in all directions the M.G.S.S.A report to the rear that they have decimated an assault.

French Soldiers advancing into the German fire on the Aisne.

The enemy bombardment concentrates on the fourth line until mid afternoon then returns to our positions. At 19:00 the I.R. 49 is ordered to counterattack and throws the enemy off the Höhe 91. The losses amongst the retreating enemy are horrendous. No-man’s-land is littered with blue-grey corpses, piled one on top of the other. In front of a single battalion over 2000 dead are counted.

The five serviceable machine guns of the 1. M.G.K. have each fired 18 000 rounds at close range into massed troops, the rifles of the battalion 38 000.

It is a victorious day for the regiment, especially the I. Batln., and we have lost no ground! The 10. R.D. has not given way, but in the neighbouring sectors things are serious. On our right and left flanks (held by the 5. bayr. R.D. and 21. I.D.) the enemy has broken through, partially with tank support. Our division is in danger of being outflanked. It is the steadfastness of the 10. R.D. that prevents a general breakthrough and the Eingreifsdivisions counterattack; the 50. I.D. in the Bavarian sector and the G.E.D. in that of the 21. I.D. The fighting is difficult but in that same evening the front has been re-established, the 10. R.D. providing flanking fire and helping the neighbouring units.

While interrogating wounded prisoners the officers of the 1st Battalion are told that the Frenchmen had been shocked. They had been informed that there would no longer be a front line to offer any resistance. The regiment is pulled from the line on the 18th April and by the 24th April is back in Verdun at the Toter Mann."

Entries in the Military pass of Füsilier Walter Karl Otto showing service in the battle on the Aisne and his award of the Iron Cross, an immediate award on the day of the raid on Height 304.