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The EK1

The Battle as seen by Lt. Col Ernst Lettenmayer, commander of the 2nd Bavarian Jäger Battalion

On the 11th of August 1914 the 2nd Bavarian Jäger Battalion made a frontal assault on the village of Lagarde (Gerden). The Battalion was attached to the 65th Infantry Brigade.

During the Action Gefreiter Dees became the first German soldier to capture a set of French Colors during the war, while Oberjäger Mecking captured the first machine gun.

The 2. Jäger were commanded by Oberstleutnant Ernst Lettenmayer who wrote the following account which appeared in the "Sonderausgabe der Aschaffenburger Zeitung” on the 31st of October 1914. Also shown are a Iron Cross 2nd Class and Bavarian königlichen Militär-Verdienstorden 3. Klasse mit Schwerten award documents for Lettenmayer’s actions as commander of the 2. Bay. Jäger Bataillon in 1914.

The account of Oberstleutnant Lettenmayer

On the 10th of August 1914 the French succeeded in driving the 8th Company of the I.R. 131 (1) occupying Lagarde out of the village. The Company retreated to a line to the west of the Chanal-Holz forest.

The Bavarian 2. Jäger Battalion arrived in Bourdonnaye that afternoon. A planned night attack on Lagarde was cancelled due to the number of French troops in the village and the unknown terrain the Battalion would have to cross. The Jäger Battalion was given the initial task of guarding the Kavallerie-Brigade in Bourdonnaye, the company of the I.R. 131 was attached to the Jägers.

The Battalion dug in, the 1st and 4th company dug in on either side of the road to the south of Bourdonnaye, the 2nd company at the eastern exit to the village the 3rd company to the west. The 8./I.R. 131 was positioned in the village.

That night the commander of the Kavallerie-Division and the sector commander of the “Grenzschütz-Abteilung” (Border Protection Abteilung) planned a coordinated action for the following day.

The 2. Bayerische Jäger Bataillon was to mount a frontal attack on Lagarde starting from Bourdonnaye. A Grenzschutz column consisting of elements of the I.R. 131 would advance between Ommeray and the Ommeray Pond, attacking Lagarde from the left flank.

To defend against possible French attack from the forest of Kreuzberg the 1. Bayerische Jäger Bataillon advanced from Ommeray over Punkt 285.

Another Grenzschutz column (elements of I.R. 138) advanced to the South of the Canal.

The Grenzschutz Artillery was ordered to take up position at Point 259 to the South of Marimont to support the attack. Generalmajor von Kehler commanding the 65. Inf. Brig. had the overall command.

The Kavallerie-Division was to support the attack and it’s “Reitende Abteilung” of the division’s  Field Artillery was ordered to the west of the forest of Bourdonnaye.

At 9:00am just as the 2. Jäger were ready to leave Bourdonnaye Hauptmann Melms, commander of the 4. Batterie of light Field Howitzers (Art. Regt. 8) arrived. He had decided that a position on the northern slope of Height 274 (South of Bourdonnaye) was optimal for supporting the attack on Lagarde and he intended to advance with his Batterie. The Jägers delayed their advance and waited for the artillery to get into position.

Neuer Absatz

The names used in the article differ from those on the map. Lagarde was known to the Germans as Gerden, Bourdonnaye as Bortenach.

At 9:30am the Jägers were ready. The 1. Komp. would form the right flank, the 4. Komp. the left. The Companies had orders to advance through the Chanal-Holz to the Height 282 to support the advance of the Howitzer Batterie. The 2nd wave of the advance had the 2. Komp. on the right and 3. Komp. on the left flank. The 3rd wave had the 8./I.R. 131 in the middle, at the disposition of the 2. Jäg. Battalion commander.

The Battalion commander with his staff advanced along the road between the 1st and 2nd wave.

As soon as the 1st wave left the Chanal-Holz the French opened fire with shrapnel rounds on the forest and the open ground in front and behind it. The first casualties appeared in the ranks of the Jäger. The advance continued without interruption in spite of the artillery, difficult terrain and sweltering heat. At 10:00am the first wave reached Height 282 and opened fire on the eastern edge of Lagarde. The French infantry returned fire but with little effect as their rounds passed overhead. The advanced companies gained some ground with a number of forward bounds opening the way for the artillery to take up their positions on Height 282.

By now the supporting fire of the Reitende Abteilung from the heights to the west of the Forest of Bourdonnaye began to take effect.

Supported by both the Reitende Abteilung and the light Field Howitzer the advance of the 2. Jäg. Batl. met less resistance. The French artillery positions behind Height 266 had been recognized and taken under fire bringing relief to the advancing Jäger. The French artillery was soon silenced. Between 10:30 – 11:00 the Jägers were within 800-1000 meters of the edge of the village. The left flank of the 4. Komp straddled the road and the 3. Komp. was sent forward to fill the gap between the road and canal forming the left flank of the battalion.

Left: Two Aschaffenburger Jäger (2. bay. Jäger Bataillon) at mobilisation

After the artillery changed positions on Height 282 the attack continued.

The French must be credited with mastering the use of the terrain. Even with the best telescope it was difficult to recognize their positions. The French preferred to use houses for defense and well positioned trenches and camouflaged walls. Machine Guns were positioned in the church tower but we did not see them,  we had not expected such a devious trick. Unfortunately these Machine Guns caused many casualties, especially in the 4. Komp., including the company commander.

In spite of the difficult terrain, the attack took place down slopes which offered no cover and under constant observation by the French, the attack swept forward. The fresh élan which drove the advance cost the 4th company the life of its commander (Hauptmann Scherer) while Hauptmann Bauernschmitt of the 1. Komp was wounded. Bauernschmitt stayed with his company continuing the attack. As the day progressed the Battalion lost not only men to enemy fire but also due to heatstroke.

It was due to the young Jägers whose bravery and automatic implementation of their peacetime drills/training in the face of the enemy that the advance continued so smoothly. It would be amiss to forget the role played by the artillery. The Jäger Battalion commander (Lettenmayer) was in constant contact with the artillery commander and they were able to adjusted fire as needed to prepare for the attack on the village.

Shortly after noon the front line lay between 300-400 from the edge of the village. A couple of houses were burning . To the south of the canal the attack on the Chateau of Martincourt was in progress. Gunfire was also heard to the north of Lagarde. On the edge of the village French soldiers were observed pulling back. In some positions the enemy fire became weaker.

With a large bound forwards the 1st Wave broke loose with a loud “Hurra!”. They were supported with fire from the 2. Komp. and the 8./I.R. 131. They reached the edge of the village where the enemy troops were forced to abandon their positions.  The fate of the village was however not yet decided. The bulk of the defenders were still in the village, occupying houses, in the attics and cellars. Some hid to avoid capture; many did so to fire on the Jäger from hidden positions. While the French initiative may be admirable, the sneak attacks on our soldiers, men used to open and honest action provoked an understandable angry reaction.  The fighting that followed as the Jäger and infantrymen cleared the houses was bitter. The anger increased as some of the surrendering French soldiers fired on our men. A number of civilians fired on our men and were executed right away.

Above: Approaching Lagarde across the open fields. The German cemetary is at the entrance to the village on the left.

Even though the fighting in the village cost us a number of casualties it also gave the men a chance to show their determination and bravery under fire. With exceptional bravery a number of Oberjäger and Jäger fought their way into the houses to clear out the defenders. A Jäger of the 1. Komp. was able to capture French colors but when his comrades came under fire from a neighboring house he put them aside to return fire. Soldiers of the I.R. 131 or I.R. 138 arriving on the scene then claimed the colors.

In the confusion following the fighting it was difficult for the officers to gather the men of their depleted companies and advance to the western edge of the village. It was just a question of luck that the French did not counter attack. They were probably still reeling from the Jäger attack and a subsequent attack by the Ulanen Brigade outside the village. Shocked and weakened by the fighting they were probably too exhausted to continue the fight. As the Jäger reached the western edge of the village they saw the evidence of the brave Ulanen attack.

In the early afternoon troops were gathered on the Height 266 and the neighboring heights ready to intervene should the French counter attack. The French passed up the opportunity and pulled back to Xures.

The 2. Jäger Bataillon stayed on Height 266 until evening before joining the Kavellerie Division.

The French strength at Lagarde was approximately two Battalions. The Battalion thanks its brave members who paid the ultimate price for the victory on the 11th of August 1914.

Article written by Oberstleutnant Lettenmayer in the “Sonderausgabe der Aschaffenburger Zeitung” from the 31. October 1914

Above Left: The Iron cross 2nd Class document to Ernst Lettenmayer
Above Right: The Bavarian Military Service Order 3rd class with Swords to Ernst Lettenmayer

Left: the Wound Badge document to Ernst Lettenmayer

1)      In this “pre” Alpenkorps phase of the war the 2nd Jägers were active on various parts of the front, during the battle at Lagarde they were on attachment to the 65th Infantry Brigade which was part of the Grenzschütz-Abteilung (Border Protection). The I.R. 131 was part of the 65th Brigade.