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Third Battle of the Aisne Information

Third Battle of the Aisne

The Western Front, July 1918

Date: Date
27 May - 6 June 1918
Aisne River near Paris, France
German advance halted after initial gains
Date: 27 May - 6 June 1918
Location: Aisne River near Paris, France
Result: German advance halted after initial gains
: France
United Kingdom
United States
Commanders and leaders:
: Denis Auguste Duchxªne
Alexander Hamilton-Gordon
: French 6th Army, British IX Corps and later 2 American Divisions*
Casualties and losses:
: 127,000

This article is about the 1918 battle. For other battles of the Aisne see Battle of the Aisne.

The Third Battle of the Aisne (French: 3e Bataille de L'Aisne) was a battle of the German Spring Offensive during World War I that focused on capturing the Chemin des Dames Ridge before the American Expeditionary Force could arrive completely in France. It was one of a series of desperate offensives, known as the Kaiserschlacht, launched by the Germans in the spring and summer of 1918. The American Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division (United States) and the 93rd Infantry Division (United States) were the first Americans to fight in France, albeit detached from the AEF and under French command. The 92nd & 93rd would continue to fight under French command for the duration of the war.


The massive surprise attack (named Blx¼cher-Yorck after two Prussian generals of the Napoleonic Wars) lasted from 27 May until 6 June 1918 and was the first full-scale German offensive following the Lys Offensive in Flanders in April.

The Germans had held the Chemin des Dames Ridge from the First Battle of the Aisne in September 1914 to 1917, when General Mangin captured it during the Second Battle of the Aisne (in the Nivelle Offensive).

Operation Blx¼cher-Yorck was planned primarily by Erich Ludendorff, who was certain that success at the Aisne would lead the German armies to within striking distance of Paris. Ludendorff, who saw the BEF as the main threat, believed that this, in turn, would cause the Allies to move forces from Flanders to help defend the French capital, allowing the Germans to continue their Flanders offensive with greater ease. Thus, the Aisne drive was to be essentially a large diversionary attack.

The defense of the Aisne area was in the hands of General Denis Auguste Duchxªne, commander of the French Sixth Army; in addition, four divisions of the British IX Corps, led by Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon, held the Chemin des Dames Ridge; they had been posted there to rest and refit after surviving the "Michael" battle.


On the morning of 27 May 1918, the Germans began a bombardment (feuerwalze) of the Allied front lines with over 4,000 artillery pieces. The British suffered heavy losses, because Duchene had ordered them to mass together in the front trenches, in defiance of instructions from the French Commander-in-Chief Henri-Philippe Petain. Huddled together, they made easy artillery targets.

The bombardment was followed by a poison gas drop. Once the gas had lifted the main infantry assault by 17 German Sturmtruppen divisions commenced, led by Crown Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Taken completely by surprise and with their defences spread thin, the Allies were unable to stop the attack and the German army advanced through a 40 km gap in the Allied lines. Reaching the Aisne in under six hours, the Germans smashed through eight Allied divisions on a line between Reims and Soissons, pushing the Allies back to the river Vesle and gaining an extra 15 km of territory by nightfall.

Victory seemed near for the Germans, who had captured just over 50,000 Allied soldiers and well over 800 guns by 30 May 1918. But after having advanced within 56 km of Paris on 3 June, the German armies were beset by numerous problems, including supply shortages, fatigue, lack of reserves and many casualties along with counter-attacks by and stiff resistance from newly arrived American divisions, who engaged them in the Battles of Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood.

A soldier's personal account of his part in this battle and his subsequent capture and imprisonment can be read here. (Please note the spellings in this document are not always correct as they are copied letter for letter from the original debrief report of Pte. George William Wiles of the Yorkshire Rgt).

On 6 June 1918, following many successful Allied counter-attacks, the German advance halted on the Marne, much as the "Michael" and "Georgette" offensives had in March and April of that year.'


The French had suffered over 98,000 casualties and the British around 29,000. German losses were nearly as great if not slightly heavier. Duchene was sacked by French Commander-in-Chief Philippe Petain for his poor handling of the British and French troops. The Americans had arrived and proven themselves in combat for the first time in the war.

Ludendorff, encouraged by the gains of Blx¼cher-Yorck, would launch further offensives culminating in the Second Battle of the Marne.

Note: The divisions of American Expeditionary Force were double the size of those of their British and French allies or German foes (with a full strength of around 20,000 each). Due to this fact, they were sometimes referred to as Grandes Divisions (Big Divisions).

Chemins des Dames Ridge

Evans, M. M. (2004). Battles of World War I. Select Editions. ISBN 1-84193-226-4.
Ward, Alec (2008). A Young Man's War (Medlar Press). ISBN 978-1-899600-84-7

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Source: WikiPedia

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