Third battle of the Aisne (in which Mark Wildon finds himself a prisoner of war)

The Third Battle of the 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 Forces arrived completely in France. It was one of a series of offensives, known as the Kaiserschlacht, launched by the Germans in the spring and summer of 1918.


Map Of The Western Front July 15 1918 (Post battle). (Source: Wikipedia)

The massive surprise attack (named Blücher-Yorck after two Prussian generals of the Napoleonic Wars) lasted from 27 May until 4 June 1918 and was the first full-scale German offensive following the Lys Offensive in Flanders in April.

The Germans 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 Blücher-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 British Expeditionary Force 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 Duchêne, 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. One of the Battalions within the British IX Corps was the 4th Yorkshire Regiment, and with it, 20 year old Mark Wildon.

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 was reluctant to abandon the Chemin des Dames ridge, after it had been captured at such cost the previous year, and 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.

Aisne retreat 1918

The retreat of the 4th Battalion Yorkshire regiment, May 1918

The bombardment was followed by a poison gas drop. Once the gas had lifted, the main infantry assault by 17 German Sturmtruppen divisions commenced, part of an Army Group nominally commanded by Crown Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser came to inspect the progress of the battle. He interviewed captured British Brigadier-General Hubert Rees (GOC 150th Brigade, part of 50th Division). The Kaiser was amused to learn that he was Welsh, the same nationality as Lloyd George.

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 kilometres (25 mi) 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.

27th May: Enemy bombardment started about 1am 27th May. Heavy gas shelling as far back as Maizy. The enemy broke through on our left and pushed on towards Beaurieux arriving there about 10am. The enemy also came through on our right using tanks over the flat country to the east of Craonne, this party also pushed on towards Beaurieux and surrounded the brigade in the line. The enemy then pushed on towards Maizy. All troops in Maizy and the few who had got out of Beaurieux then made a stand on the hills to the south of the village. At about 11.15am these korps were withdrawn from this position, the next position was held at Glennes and later a line on the hill north of Fismes.

28th May: About 4am the enemy broke through the left and the party withdrew with the French on to Fismes. This party, after using all ammunition were then told to report to Division HQs near Arcis-le-Ponsart. They rested for the night at Div HQ.

4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment War Diary


Men of the Worcestershire Regiment holding the southern bank of the River Aisne at Maizy, 27 May 1918. (Source: Wikipedia)

Victory seemed near for the Germans, who had captured just over 50,000 Allied soldiers and over 800 guns by 30 May 1918. Over the next two days the 4th Battalion further retreated from the German army, first to Romigny and then to Bligny and Champlat. But advancing within 56 kilometres (35 mi) of Paris on 3 June, the German armies were beset by numerous problems, including supply shortages, fatigue, lack of reserves and many casualties.

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.

aisne casualties

A footnote at the end of the 4th Battalion War Diary on the casualties, dead and missing after the Third Battle of the Aisne. Within the OR’s (Other ranks) 3 were killed, 52 wounded, and 566 missing.

We cannot know for sure how or when Mark Wildon was taken Prisoner, though perhaps it was during this battle or the lead up to it. At the beginning of operation Michael in March there were 168 men reported as missing and in April the number was 115. What we do know for sure however is that at some point before the end of the war he found his way to Langensalza Prison Camp, over 500km from the Western Front, deep within Germany.

(Edited from WIkipedia)


Operation “Michael” and the German Spring Offensive of 1918

Operation Michael was a major German military offensive during the First World War that began the Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. It was launched from the Hindenburg Line, in the vicinity of Saint-Quentin, France. Its goal was to break through the Allied (Entente) lines and advance in a north-westerly direction to seize the Channel ports, which supplied the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and to drive the BEF into the sea. Two days later General Ludendorff, the Chief of the German General Staff, changed his plan and pushed for an offensive due west, along the whole of the British front north of the River Somme. This was designed to separate the French and British Armies and crush the British forces by pushing them into the sea. The offensive ended at Villers-Bretonneux, to the east of the Allied communications centre at Amiens, where the Allies managed to halt the German advance; the German Armies had suffered many casualties and were unable to maintain supplies to the advancing troops.

Much of the ground fought over was the wilderness left by the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The action was therefore officially named by the British Battles Nomenclature Committee as The First Battles of the Somme, 1918, whilst the French call it the Second Battle of Picardy (2ème Bataille de Picardie). The failure of the offensive marked the beginning of the end of the First World War for Germany. The arrival in France of large reinforcements from the United States replaced Entente casualties but the German Army was unable to recover from its losses before these reinforcements took the field. Operation Michael failed to achieve its objectives and the German advance was reversed during the Second Battle of the Somme, 1918 (21 August – 3 September) in the Allied Hundred Days Offensive.

21st march order received to move at short notice. At about 5.15pm battn marched to Guillaucourt where they entrained. Detrained at Brie at midnight

22nd battn marched for 6 hours to take up position on the “green line” near Hancourt. 4th East Yorks on right 5th DLI on left. The 66th division retired through our line which then became the front line. At 6:30PM the 5th DLI on our left were pressed back and our left company started to retire. Lt Col BH Charlton and the adjutant corporal JS Bainbridge went up to rally them and were both killed.

A new line of defence was established in some old trenches in rear of battn HQ at Hancourt

23rd early in the morning orders were received to retire to a line running from Vraignes to Bouvincourt, where the 4th East Yorks and the 5th yorks were in the line and the 4th yorks were in support.

During the morning orders were received to retire on a prepared line on the river somme. The retirement of the 4th east yorks and the 5th yorks was covered by the 4th yorks who fought a rear enemy action all the way back to le mesnil-bruntel

On the reaching the river somme the BGC ordered one company to hold the high ground east of brie until all british troops were through brie. Afterwards this company covered the retirement of the other troops across the river somme and held the enemy in check until all the bridges except one had been destroyed. They then withdrew across this bridge which was immediately destroyed. The battn, less the company which had covered the retirement, joined the rest of the bde at Villers-carbonnel. The other company went to the transport lines at belloy-en-santere where they rested for the night.

24th  in the afternoon the bttn was ordered to report to the 24th bde for duty and marched to Marchelpot, where we spent the night

25th in the morning the bbtn with the 4th east yorks on our left was ordered to attack the enemy who had crossed the river somme by st Christ bridge. This attack was to be supported by some French troops, one tank, some armoured cars and an artillery barrage, but nothing was ever seen of any of these. Zero hour was continually postphoned, until about 10am the enemy attacked. Our line was held until the enemy worked round our flanks. Our line at this time was east of Licourt

25th one company of the battn fought on until they were surrounded. The remainder fell back about half a mile in the direction of Misery where they held an old trench for seven hours. About 6pm as touch could not be obtained with any other unit and as ,S’AA was running short, lt col Wilkinson of the 4th east yorks, who had taken over command of the detachment, ordered a retirement to the railway line NW of Misery, after about half an hour a further retirement was ordered to a line east of fresnes. During the evening touch was obtained with 150th bde and orders were received to join the remainder of the bde at Ablaincourt, which place was reached about midnight.

26th. Early in the afternoon the bde withdrew through Lihons to rosieres-en-s’anterre, which place was reached about 5pm. The bde dug in here facing SE and held this positionthroughout the night and all of the following day. We were in support, with the 4th east yorks on our left. The 5th yorks and the 8th DLI were in the front line

27th throughout the morning the enemy attacked the position taken up on the 26th, but was repulsed. Towards the evening the enemy pushed up on the north of rosieres and we sent two platoons to reinforce the line on the left. These platoons with the exception of 1 officer and 2 OR eventually became casualties


Wilson’s Fourteen Point Plan


U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (Source: Wikipedia)

The Fourteen Points was a statement of principles for peace that was to be used for peace negotiations in order to end World War I. The principles were outlined in a January 8, 1918 speech on war aims and peace terms to the United States Congress by President Woodrow Wilson. Europeans generally welcomed Wilson’s points but his main Allied colleagues (Georges Clemenceau of France, David Lloyd George of the United Kingdom, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy) were skeptical of the applicability of Wilsonian idealism.

The United States had joined the Allied Powers in fighting the Central Powers on April 6, 1917. Its entry into the war had in part been due to Germany’s resumption of submarine warfare against merchant ships trading with France and Britain. However, Wilson wanted to avoid the United States’ involvement in the long-standing European tensions between the great powers; if America was going to fight, he wanted to try to unlink the war from nationalistic disputes or ambitions. The need for moral aims was made more important, when after the fall of the Russian government, the Bolsheviks disclosed secret treaties made between the Allies. Wilson’s speech also responded to Vladimir Lenin’s Decree on Peace of November 1917, immediately after the October Revolution, which proposed an immediate withdrawal of Russia from the war, called for a just and democratic peace that was not compromised by territorial annexations, and led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918.

The speech made by Wilson took many domestic progressive ideas and translated them into foreign policy (free trade, open agreements, democracy and self-determination). The Fourteen Points speech was the only explicit statement of war aims by any of the nations fighting in World War I. Some belligerents gave general indications of their aims, but most kept their post-war goals private. The Fourteen Points in the speech were based on the research of the Inquiry, a team of about 150 advisers led by foreign-policy adviser Edward M. House, into the topics likely to arise in the anticipated peace conference.

In his speech to Congress, President Wilson declared fourteen points which he regarded as the only possible basis of an enduring peace. They were according to him:


Wilson’s Fourteen Points as the only way to peace for German government, American political cartoon, 1918. (Source: Wikipedia)

I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.

II. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
III. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.
IV. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
V. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable government whose title is to be determined.
VI. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.

Wilson with his 14 points choosing between competing claims. Babies represent claims of the English, French, Italians, Polish, Russians, and enemy. American political cartoon, 1919. (Source: Wikipedia)

VII. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.

VIII. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.
IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
X. The people of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.
XI. Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.

A page from the original Fourteen Points speech, January 8, 1918. (Source: Wikipedia)

XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.

XIII. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.
XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.



Second Battle of Heligoland Bight

The Second Battle of Heligoland Bight, also called the Action in the Helgoland Bight was an inconclusive naval engagement fought between British and German squadrons on 17 November 1917 during the First World War.

Following the German Navy’s successful raid on the Scandinavian convoy on 17 October 1917, Admiral Sir David Beatty, Commander-in-Chief of the British Grand Fleet, determined to retaliate. On 17 November 1917 a strong force of cruisers under Vice Admiral Trevylyan Napier was sent to attack German minesweepers, which were clearing a channel through British minefields in the Heligoland Bight. The intentions of the German force had been revealed by British Naval Intelligence, allowing the British to mount an ambush. The German sweepers were escorted by a group of cruisers and torpedo-boats under Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter.

The action began at 7.30 a.m., roughly 65 nautical miles west of Sylt, when HMS Courageous sighted the enemy. She opened fire at 7:37 a.m. Admiral Reuter, the German commander, with four light cruisers and eight destroyers, advanced to engage the Royal Navy units in order to cover the withdrawal of his minesweepers, all of which escaped except for the trawler Kehdingen,(GE) which was sunk. The battle thereafter developed into a stern chase as the German forces, skilfully using smoke-screens, withdrew south-east at their best speed, under fire from the pursuing British ships of the 1st Cruiser Squadron, the 1st and 6th Light Cruiser Squadrons, and, later, HMS Repulse (which had been detached from the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron and came up at high speed to join the battle). Both sides were hampered in their maneuvers by the presence of naval minefields.

The British ships gave up the chase some two hours later, as they reached the edge of known minefields. At about the same time, the light cruisers came under fire from two German Kaiser-class battleships, SMS Kaiser and SMS Kaiserin which had come up in support of Reuter’s ships; HMS Caledon was struck by one 30.5 cm (12.0 in) shell which did minimal damage; shortly thereafter, the British forces withdrew.

All personnel on the bridge of the light cruiser HMS Calypso, including her captain, Herbert Edwards, were killed by a 15 cm (5.9 in) shell. The battle cruiser HMS Repulse, briefly engaged the German ships at about 10:00, scoring a single hit on the light cruiser SMS Königsberg that ignited a major fire on board.

It was during this battle that Able Seaman John Henry Carless of HMS Caledon won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery in manning a gun despite mortal wounds.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

Battle of Jerusalem


Advance into Judea as of 16 November 1917 (Source: Wikipedia)

The Battle of Jerusalem occurred during the British Empire’s “Jerusalem Operations” against the Ottoman Empire, when fighting for the city developed from 17 November, continuing after the surrender until 30 December 1917, to secure the final objective of the Southern Palestine Offensive during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. Before Jerusalem could be secured, two battles were recognised by the British as being fought in the Judean Hills to the north and east of the Hebron–Junction Station line. These were the Battle of Nebi Samwill from 17 to 24 November and the Defence of Jerusalem from 26 to 30 December 1917. They also recognised within these Jerusalem Operations, the successful second attempt on 21 and 22 December 1917 to advance across the Nahr el Auja, as the Battle of Jaffa, although Jaffa had been occupied as a consequence of the Battle of Mughar Ridge on 16 November.

This series of battles was successfully fought by the British Empire’s XX Corps, XXI Corps, and the Desert Mounted Corps against strong opposition from the Yildirim Army Group’s Seventh Army in the Judean Hills and the Eighth Army north of Jaffa on the Mediterranean coast. The loss of Jaffa and Jerusalem, together with the loss of 50 miles (80 km) of territory during the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) advance from Gaza, after the capture of Beersheba, Gaza, Hareira and Sheria, Tel el Khuweilfe and the Battle of Mughar Ridge, constituted a grave setback for the Ottoman Army and the Ottoman Empire.


General Sir Edmund Allenby entering the Holy City of Jerusalem on foot 1917 to show respect for the holy place. (Source: Wikipedia)

As a result of these victories, British Empire forces captured Jerusalem and established a new strategically strong fortified line. This line ran from well to the north of Jaffa on the maritime plain, across the Judean Hills to Bireh north of Jerusalem, and continued eastwards of the Mount of Olives. With the capture of the road from Beersheba to Jerusalem via Hebron and Bethlehem, together with substantial Ottoman territory south of Jerusalem, the city was secured. On 11 December, General Edmund Allenby entered the Old City on foot through the Jaffa Gate instead of horse or vehicles to show respect for the holy city. He was the first Christian in many centuries to control Jerusalem, a city held holy by three great religions. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Lloyd George described the capture as “a Christmas present for the British people”. The battle was a great morale boost for the British Empire.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

The First Battle of Monte Grappa

The First Battle of Monte Grappa, also known as First Battle of the Piave in Italy, was a battle fought during World War I between the armies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy for control of the Monte Grappa massif, which covered the left flank of the new Italian Piave front.


The view from Monte Grappa towards the Alps, Italy (Source: Wikipedia)

The Italian Army was in all-out retreat after the Austrian autumn offensive of 1917. The Italian Chief of the general staff general Luigi Cadorna had ordered to construct fortified defenses around the Monte Grappa summit to make the mountain range an impregnable fortress. When the Austrian offensive routed the Italians, the new Italian chief of staff, Armando Diaz ordered the Fourth Army to stop their retreat and defend these positions between the Roncone and Tomatico mountains.

The Austrians, with help from the German Army’s Alpenkorps, failed to take the mountains summit during the first battle of Monte Grappa from November 11, 1917 to December 23, 1917. The German and Austro-Hungarian supply lines had in fact become overstreched. Even before the Battle in Caporetto in October, Germany was struggling to feed and supply its armies in the field. Erwin Rommel, who, as a junior officer, won the Pour le Mérite for his exploits in the battle, often bemoaned the demands placed upon his “poorly fed troops”. The Allied blockade of the German Empire, which the Kaiserliche Marine had been unable to break, was partly responsible for food shortages and widespread malnutrition in Germany and the Central Powers in general. When inadequate provisioning was combined with the gruelling night marches preceding the Battle of Caporetto, a heavy toll was imposed on the German and Austro-Hungarian forces.

Despite successes up until this point, the area controlled by the combined Central Powers forces had expanded to an extent that strained logistical control. By the time the attack reached the Piave, the soldiers of the Central Powers were running low on supplies and were feeling the physical effects of exhaustion. As the Italians began to counter the pressure put on them at Monte Grappa, the German forces lost momentum and were once again caught up in another round of attrition warfare.

Armando Diaz sent remnants of the defeated Italian Second Army in support of the Fourth Army. He also allowed his local commanders much more room for manoeuvre than his predecessor, which resulted in a more elastic and effective Italian defense. Thus the Italian front along the Piave river was finally stabilized and the Austrians failed to enter the plains beyond and take the city of Venice.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

October Revolution in Russia

The October Revolution, officially known in Soviet literature as the Great October Socialist Revolution and commonly referred to as Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a revolution in Russia led by the Bolsheviks which was instrumental in the larger Russian Revolution of 1917. It took place with an armed insurrection in Petrograd on 3 November (7 November, New Style) 1917.


Tsar Nicholas II, in a British Royal Navy uniform as an honorary Admiral of the Fleet, 1909 (Source: Wikipedia)

It followed and capitalized on the February Revolution of the same year, which overthrew the Tsarist autocracy and resulted in a provisional government after a transfer of power proclaimed by Grand Duke Michael, brother of Tsar Nicolas II, who declined to take power after the Tsar stepped down. During this time, urban workers began to organize into councils (Russian: Soviet) wherein revolutionaries criticized the provisional government and its actions. After the Congress of Soviets, now the governing body, had its second session, it elected members of the Bolsheviks and other leftist groups such as the Left Socialist Revolutionaries to important positions within the new state of affairs. This immediately initiated the establishment of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the world’s first self-proclaimed socialist state.

The revolution was led by the Bolsheviks, who used their influence in the Petrograd Soviet to organize the armed forces. Bolshevik Red Guards forces under the Military Revolutionary Committee began the occupation of government buildings on 2 November 1917. The following day, the Winter Palace (the seat of the Provisional government located in Petrograd, then capital of Russia), was captured.

The long-awaited Constituent Assembly elections were held on 12 November 1917. The Bolsheviks only won 175 seats in the 715-seat legislative body, coming in second behind the Socialist Revolutionary party, which won 370 seats. The Constituent Assembly was to first meet on 28 November 1917, but its convocation was delayed until 5 January 1918 by the Bolsheviks. On its first and only day in session, the body rejected Soviet decrees on peace and land, and was dissolved the next day by order of the Congress of Soviets.

As the revolution was not universally recognized, there followed the struggles of the Russian Civil War (1917–22) and the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922.

(Edited from Wikipedia)