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Despatches from the Front ...

- 20th July 1918 - Account of the changed balance of power on the Western Front. Preparations to meet the German Offensive and the Allied withdrawal and the fight to a standstill that followed. The great defensive battles on the Somme and Lys Rivers.

All Despatches transcribed by the Lynsted with Kingsdown Society

Imperial War Museum War Partnership logoFirst World War - Home Front News & Snippets.....
June 1918

World War 1 soldier at rest

As the Centenary unfolds, a range of newspaper and other records will appear here to give an idea of how the war was revealed at home primarily focused on Kent for our purposes .... fairly random. If you have other snippets to share, please let us know using the dedicated email account:
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German Drives between March and June 1918The end game.

The German Spring Offensive was still progressing with a fourth German offensive between June 9th and 13th. The battle-lines had spread across a wider front than originally anticipated by the Allies and the reinforced German forces were driving hard against the Allies. The German Army had employed "attack troops" for rapid deployment and swift progress. This worked well until the supply-lines became over-stretched and losses became too severe to sustain.

As June arrived the Allied preparations in defensive training also began to take a toll on German attacks.

June continued to be bleak, even if the theatre had shifted. The momentum was with Germany through the early weeks of June.

"The Army and Navy Gazette" summarised events on the British (Western) Front.

Western Front reported on 8th June

June 1 was marked by a series of powerful German attacks on the whole front comprised between the Oise and the Marne. The French, after advancing and retiring several times, only yielded at certain points before superior forces, at the same time inflicting heavy losses on the assailants. The enemy’s attempts west and south of Soissons as far as north of Vierzy were fruitless. Further south there was much hard fighting on both sides of the Ourcq. The enemy captured Chouy and Neuilly St. Front. The French were fighting on the line Villers-Helon-Nauroy-Triez-Monthiers-Erepilly, and held Château Thierry. South-east of Rheims, an enemy attack, supported by tanks, succeeded in throwing the French momentarily back from the Fort de la Pompelle, on the railway, but by an immediate counter-attack the French regained the Fort and re-established their positions. The French took over 200 prisoners and captured four tanks. The enemy pressure continued with intensity on the front between the Oise and the Marne. Extremely violent attempts in the region of the northern border of the Carlepont Wood and Moulins-sous-Touvent were checked by the French, who threw back the enemy to the north of the last named locality. The Choisy Hill, captured by the enemy, was again retaken by the French at the point of the bayonet. Between Vierzy and the Ourcq the enemy captured Longpont, Corcy, Faverolles, and Troesnes, but by a counter-offensive the French again reoccupied these places. On the Marne the Germans reached the heights to the west of Château Thierry. The French held the part of the town situated on the left bank.
The battle continued on June 2, especially from the region to the north of the Ourcq to the Marne, where the enemy made his main efforts. The French obstinately withstood the shock of the enemy, who once more succeeded in getting possession of Faverolles, but all their attacks on Corcy and Troesnes failed. West of Neuilly St. Front the French counter-attacks drove the enemy back on Passy-en-Valois. Hill 163, immediately to the west of that place, was retaken by the French after desperate fighting. Further south, on the Torcy-Bouresches front, two enemy attacks were broken. The French recaptured Champlat and gained ground in the direction Ville-en-Tardenois. An enemy attack launched on both sides of the road from Château Thierry to Paris was broken by the French south-east of Bouresches. Elsewhere the French maintained their positions. The French captured about a hundred prisoners. The battle was resumed during the night and the day following (June 3). The Germans, bringing up fresh forces, attacked between the Oise and the Ourcq. North of the Aisne the enemy’s attacks were directed against the Mont de Choisy, which, for the fifth time, was recaptured by the French. All the other attempts by the enemy between the Oise and Aisne, and especially north of Moulin-sous-Touvent and Vingre, were in vain. Between the Aisne and the Ourcq the enemy Vaily attempted to penetrate into the forest of Villers Cotterets, both on the north and east. The French withstood the shock of the enemy’s forces brought up on this front of attack and broke their advance West of Soissons the enemy was checked, east of Pernant, and further south on the general line Saconin-Missy-aux-Bois-Vauxcastille, the eastern edge of the Forest of Retz, and Troesnes. A vigorous counter-attack gave the French back Faverolles, at first occupied by the enemy. Between the Ourcq and the Marne there was no change in the situation. In the region south of Ville-en-Tardenois the Franco-British troops maintained all their gains north of Champlat.

Western (French) Front reported on 15th June

On June 3 Pernant fell into the enemy’s hands after an obstinate defence, while further to the south the French yielded a little ground to the west of Sacsonin and Missy-aux-Bois. The enemy directed his effort against Mosloy, Veuilly-la-Poterie, Torcy, and Bouresches. A counter-attack enabled the French to recapture Mosloy, but Veuilly-la-Poterie, after having twice changed hands, remained in the possession of the enemy. American troops checked the advance of the enemy, who were trying to enter Neuilly Wood, and by a counter-attack threw them back to the north of the wood. On the front of the Marne an enemy battalion which had crossed to the left bank before Jaulgonne was counter-attacked by the French and American troops and driven back to the right bank. The pontoon was destroyed, and 100 prisoners remained with our Allies. During June 4 the enemy slackened his action, and confined himself to a few local attacks.
On June 5 the enemy at different points of the Front made many efforts to advance, but he was everywhere repulsed with heavy losses. An attempt made by him to cross the Oise in the direction of the Mont-a-Lagache failed. To the north of the Aisne the French counter-attacks restored to them the whole of the ground which the enemy had for a brief space to time occupied. Near Vingre the French captured more than 150 prisoners and machine-guns. In the region of Longpont the enemy, who had succeeded at first in making some progress through the wood opposite the farm of Chevigny, was thrown back, and left with the French over 50 prisoners. East of Sampigny the French continued to press back the enemy, who had succeeded in crossing the Oise, and took about 100 prisoners. To the north and to the west of Hautebraye the French improved their positions and captured 50 prisoners. Between the Ourcq and the Marne an attack by French and American troops enabled our Allies to advance their line by about half a mile in the region of Veuily-la-Poterie-Bussiares, when they took 270 prisoners. Between the Marne and Rheims the enemy delivered a series of local attacks. He succeeded in capturing the village of Bligny and the height to the south of it, but by a counter-attack British troops recovered the height.
North of the Aisne the French in the course of a night attack (June 6) captured the village of Le Port, west of Fontenoy, and in the region of Veuilly-la-Poterie-Bussiares increased their progress, capturing the village of Vinly, north of Clignon. Further to the south American troops gained ground on the front Torcy-Belleau-Bouresches, and west of Chateau Thierry a spirited attack gave the French Hill 204. Between the Marne and Rheims British troops regained a footing in the village of Bligny. In the course of these actions about a hundred prisoners were taken by the Allies. French and American troops extended their gains north of Vinly to the eastern edge of Chesy, capturing Veuilly-la-Poterie and Bouresches, and generally improving their positions on the Torcy-Bouresches front. Between the Marne and Rheims the action was continued against Bligny, which the British finally regained. The number of prisoners taken during the day exceeded 200. South-east of Ambleny the French improved their positions during the night (June 7). South of the Ourcq the French, continuing their pressure, made fresh progress, taking about 50 prisoners. Farther to the south the enemy twice violently attacked the French positions on the Bouresches-Le Thiolet front, but without obtaining any advantages.
The French on June 8 continued their advance in the Veuilly-la-Poterie-Bussiares region and penetrated into the village of Eloup. The enemy began at midnight a violent artillery preparation from the region north of Montdidier as far as east of the Oise, to which the French batteries immediately replied. At 4.30 a.m. (June 9) the enemy proceeded to attack the French positions between Montdidier and Noyon. Between the Oise and the Aisne the French carried out an operation east of Hautebraye and gained ground, taking some 60 prisoners. South of the Ourcq the French improved their positions east of Chezy. The enemy, who the previous night succeeded in penetrating into the French lines in the direction of Vinly, was ejected by the French counter-attacks. The French carried Eloup Wood and the wood immediately to the south of Bussiares, and took 200 prisoners. West of Rheims the enemy attacked in the Vrigny district without obtaining any result. The fresh enemy offensive developed with a sustained violence on a front of about 22 miles between Montdidier and the Oise. The enemy again and again repeated his efforts to break the lines of our Allies. The French everywhere withstood the shock, and along the whole line of battle fought obstinate engagements, which stopped or impeded the drive of the enemy. On the left the enemy was firmly held by the French on the line Rubescourt-le Fretoy-Mortemer. In the centre the enemy’s progress was more marked, and after successive attacks he succeeded in getting a footing in the villages of Ressons-sur-Matz and Mareuil, where the French first line units were continuing their defence. On the French right the enemy encountered a resistance no less vigorous. In spite of the repeated efforts of the enemy the French kept him on the front Belval-Cannectancourt-Ville
The enemy drive continued during the evening and the night. Courcelles was captured and recaptured, but remained in French possession. On their right the French held on the south and east of Ville, which was bitterly disputed. In the course of these actions more than 500 prisoners were captured by the French. In the centre the enemy tried by using new forces to extend his progress, and succeeded in reaching the southern outskirts of Cuvilly-le-Bois, Ressons-sur-Matz, and the plateau of Bellinglise. Further to the east fighting continued in the Bois de Thiescourt. In a local operation east of Hute Blaye the French took 150 prisoners. In the region of Bussiares French and American troops gained ground, bringing the number of their prisoners to 250, and capturing 30 machine-guns.

Western (French) Front reported on 22nd June
During the second day (June 10) of the offensive the enemy sought by powerful attacks, strengthened by new forces, to advance in the direction of Estrees-St.Denis and Ribecourt. The enemy took, in succession, the villages of Mery, Belloy, and St. Maur. The plateau of Belloy was the scene of especially hard fighting. South of Ressons-sur-Matz the enemy gained a footing in Marqueglise, and further to the east the battle continued on the southern outskirts of Elincourt. On the French right the enemy succeeded in debouching from the Bois de Thiescourt, but on the left, between Courcelles and Rubescourt, the French held their positions, breaking the attacks of the enemy. East of the Oise an enemy attempt to retake Le Port failed. The battle continued on June 11 from Montdidier to the Oise. On the left the French counter-attached on a front of about seven and a half miles between Rubescourt and St. Maur, and reached the southern approaches to Le Fretoy. They captured the height situated between Courcelles and Mortemer, and carried their lines more than a mile and a quarter east of Mery. The enemy left over 1,000 prisoners and 19 guns in the hands of the French. To the south of the Ourcq American troops captured Belleau Wood and took 300 prisoners.
Between Montdidier and the Oise the enemy renewed his pressure on June 12. The French, who made progress in the region of Belloy Wood and St.Maur, took 400 prisoners and several guns. To the east of the Oise the French withdrew to the line Bailly-Tracy le Val west of Nampeel. All the enemy’s attempts to counter-attack on the left were shattered. The French made further progress to the east of Mery and in the Genlis Wood. The enemy attempted to drive the French back on the Aronde, on the front Sr. Maur-Des Loges Farm-Antheuil, but without success. On the southern bank of the Matz the French held the southern part of Chevincourt and Marest-sur-Matz. Hard fighting took place on the front Dommiers-Coutry, sout of Ambleny.
On June 13 the enemy launched a powerful counter-attack between Courcelles and the north of Mery, but was obliged to fall back after suffering heavy losses. On June 17 between the Oise and the Aisne the French repulsed some counter-attacks to the north of Haute Braye and consolidated their gains. The number of prisoners taken by the French in this region amounted to 370.

Western (French) Front reported on 29th June

Western (British) Front. Since June 3 British raids of more or less importance have daily taken place. A successful minor enterprise, in which many of the enemy were killed and 50 prisoners captured by the British, was carried out on the night of June 23, south of Meteren.

At Sea

The competing navies continued to disrupt and strangle supplies to fighting forces, demoralise and starve home populations. Submarines were evolving as effective instruments of war. Many air attacks on Britain were reported as "naval" actions. Two Hospital Ships were lost to enemy action - one led to the majority of survivors being shelled in life rafts and rafts being rammed, killed by the submarine captain.

In the air

The Daily Telegraph of 1st June 1918 reported on the continuing importance of aerial forces.
GREAT AIR WORK. 34 GERMAN PLANES DOWN.
Last night Sir D. Haig issued the following report:
HEADQUARTERS (France), Friday (10.1 p.m.). On the 30th inst. Our aeroplanes and balloons were very active, fine weather enabling much work to be done, in co-operation with the artillery, as well as reconnaissance and photographing. Bombing was carried on vigorously all day, thirty-eight tons of bombs being dropped on different targets, including railways, roads, dumps, and billets at Merville, Armentieres, Bapaume, Albert, and Valenciennes. Twenty-eight German machines and two German balloons were destroyed during the day, and six other hostile aeroplanes were driven down out of control. Five of our machines are missing.
On the night of 30-31st isn’t. seventeen tons of bombs were dropped by us. Bruges Docks were again attacked and large fires started. In addition 4½ tons of bombs were dropped by our long-distance night squadrons on railway stations and sidings on Metz-Sablons, Thionville, Courcelles, Karthaus, and  Esch. All our machines returned."

On 5th June the British Independent Air Force in France was constituted under tactical command of Major-General Sir H.M. Trenchard. This followed on from events on the 1 April 1918, when the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps were merge together to create something new, the world’s first independent air force, the Royal Air Force.

Statistics

(a) Percentages of the Strength by Arms of the Total Strength in September, 1916, and June, 1918, of the Regular and Territorial forces in France
(non-commissioned officers and men only)
   
September, 1916 June, 1918
Cavalry 2.5 1.3
Royal Artillery 18.5 18.17
Royal Engineers 9.5 7.66
Royal Flying Corps 1.1 -
Infantry 42.9 32.88
Army Service Corps 10.9 10.09
Royal Amy Medical Corps 4.1 3.53
Machine-Gun Corps - 3.63
Tanks - 0.80
Other Troops 10.5 21.94*
  100.0 100.0
* Includes labour = 14.84 per cent.

 

(b) Percentage of Strength by Arms of the Total Strength on 11th November, 1918, of Regular and Territorial Forces Overseas and at Home
 
Percentages
France All Theatres
and at Home
Cavalry 1.01 1.27
Royal Artillery 17.87 14.30
Royal Engineers 7.71 6.35
Infantry 31.90 40.23
Royal Army Service Corps 10.38 9.15
Royal Army Medical Corps 3.44 3.59
Machine-Gun Corps 3.87 3.33
Tanks 0.98 0.76
Others 22.84 21.02

 


Fire in Norton, Provender Farm

Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald reported on 1st June 1918. "Between five and six on Saturday morning a fire broke out at Provender Farm, Norton, in the occupation of Mr. W. Colthup, the Chairman of the Canterbury Farmers’ Club. The Faversham fire brigades were telephoned for, and the Norwich and Kent engines, under Captains J.R. Goode and C.H. Semark, proceeded to the spot as quickly as possible. With the aid of a good supply of water from the pond they were able after a good deal of hard work to get the fire under and prevent it spreading to the house, barns, stabling and oast. The granary, a quantity of oats, patent manure, a brand new cart, a reaper and binder, etc., were destroyed, whilst other agricultural implements were scorched by the flames. The cause of the outbreak is not known. The damage is covered by insurance in the Royal."


6th June: Dutch hospital ship "Koningen Regentes" sunk

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 8th June carried this story.
SUNK HOSPITAL SHIP. ALLEGED TORPEDOING OF KONINGEN REGENTES.

The captain and several members of the crew of the Dutch hospital ship, Koningen Regentes, which was destroyed while crossing from this country to Holland, on Thursday, allege that the vessel was torpedoed.
Information from a reliable source last night says it is learned that the conviction is growing in this country that the Koningen Regentes was torpedoed and not sunk by a mine, as was at first supposed.
AMSTERDAM, Friday.
The ship’s carpenter of the Koningen Regentes has declared to a Rotterdam newspaper correspondent that he was on deck when the vessel sank, and both his and one of the sailors saw something approaching the ship. They remarked to each other about it, and agreed that it must be a big fish. He was now convinced that what they saw were the bubbles caused by a torpedo, for when the unknown object hit the ship there was immediately a heavy explosion.
It is stated that, in view of the elaborate German system of espionage, it was freely given out before the departure of the steamers that the British delegation would make the voyage on the Koningen Regentes. At the last moment, however, they went on the Sindora."


Holding the Enemy

Western Gazette reported on 7th June: "4th Year, 308th day. Holding the Enemy. The news of the week from the battle front is distinctly good, for it seems to show that the worst of the crisis produced by the Crown Prince's offensive is over. General Foch had his Army so disposed that he was able to rush up reinforcements in the nick of time, and to apparently hold the enemy all along the line. While British county regiments and their French comrades are still stubbornly defending shot-torn and half-encircled Rheims, our French Allies have not only shattered new and heavy German attacks, but between the rivers Ourcq and the Marne have driven back the foe by brilliant counter-attacks." This assessment was premature!


9th June - the Fourth Phase in the German Attack began.

The Noyon-Montdidier Offensive known in the German plan by its code-name of “Operation Gneisenau” (9 - 13 June 1918) or Battle of Matz. The German intention was to join the two salients created in the earlier attacks. This involved a 25-mile stretch between Noyon and Montdidier and was seen as a very serious attempt to break through to Paris. The northern salient had pressed towards Amiens; the southern one was in the Aisne sector. Early progress was made on the first day based on a gas bombardment at midnight and assualt troops four and a half hours later. However, the French Army mounted a counter-attack on 11 June. Three French together with two American divisions, supported by tanks brought the German attack to an end.


† - Hundred and Fifteenth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 10th June 1918.

Lance Corporal, Reginald FRENCH, 5004, "C" Company, 7th Infantry Brigade, 28th Battalion, Australian Infantry, Australian Imperial Force (of Lynsted)
Killed in Action: Aged 33
Memorial: Australian National Memorial, at Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Somme. Panel 113.
Theatre: France and Flanders
Died: Killed in Action. In Line, during infantry attack on German trenches, East of Morlancourt


Children set fire

The Kent Messenger reported on 29th June 1918: "On Tuesday evening [25th June] three little boys were playing with a fire in a tin can near a wheat straw stack, valued at £60, standing on Bogle Farm, Lynsted, Sittingbourne, when the stack became ignited and was completely destroyed."


British hospital ship "Llandovery Castle" sunk by submarine off Irish coast.

On 27th June, the Canadian "Llandovery Castle" (a converted ocean liner) on its way from Halifax to Liverpool, was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-86 (Captained by Lieutenant Helmut Patzig), 116 miles west off Fastnet. This inspite of displaying clearly the Red Cross and fully lit.

This war-crime led Patzig to decided to kill all witnesses. He rammed the lifeboats and it is reported that he opened machine gun fire on the non-combatant survivors sitting in 3 lifeboats. Of the total of 258 (164 crew, 80 officers and men of the Canadian Medical Corps, 14 nurses), only 24 were rescued by destroyer HMS Lysander.

After the war, the Captain fled and avoided extradition to answer for his crime. In his absence, his two subordinates (Lieutenants Ludwig Dithmar and John Boldt) were arraigned in Germany on 21st July 1921 but discharged as the guilt was placed on the absent Captain.

A contemporary account (18th July, Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald) given by "Sergeant Knight" gives a sense of the sickening nature of the war crime: "The Hospital Ship Crime. The story of how a German submarine deliberately torpedoed the hospital ship Llandovery Castle and then did her best to destroy all the struggling survivors has been told to the King personally by Sergeant Knight, one of those who were ultimately rescued. The appalling scene in the water in the two hours following the disappearance of the Llandovery Castle baffles description, and the mind is stupefied by the exhibition in that period of savagery and callousness on the part of the commander and crew of the submarine. On all sides survivors were crying for help. Many were clinging to pieces of wreckage floating about the area of the disaster. Within twenty minutes the captain’s boat had picked up eleven from the water. They were going to the rescue of two others when the submarine appeared, and ordered them to leave these drowning men and come alongside,, threatening to fire with the submarine naval gun in case of refusal. Sergeant Knight bears testimony to the persistent efforts of the submarine to blot out its crim by cruising many times a zig-zag course through the area filled with wreckage and lifeboats at a speed of probably 16 knots an hour. He himself was swimming towards a lifeboat which had got safely away when he noticed this boat being shelled. There was a fairly heavy swell on the water at the time, and he was carried into a trough. When he came to the crest again the boat he had seen had disappeared. At least twenty shells were fired by the submarine into the vicinity of the wreckage. For two hours there were cries from all directions for help, none of which received any response from the crew of the submarine.”


British air raids

The Western Gazette of 28th June recorded: "BRITISH AIR RAIDS. Further raids by British airmen into Germany have been carried out in the past two days, the places attacked being Saarbrucken, Offenberg, Metz-Sablon, and Karlsruhe (twice). Much damage was done. In air fighting during these attacks two of the enemy's machines were shot down and two others driven down. Six of our machines are missing, one of which is known to have landed through engine trouble.

On the main front on Tuesday ten enemy machines were destroyed by our airmen, and four were driven down out of control. Seven of our machines are missing.