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The Second Battle of the Marne ( ), or Battle of Reims (15 July to 6 August 1918) was the last major German Spring Offensive on the Western Front during World War I. It failed when an Allied counterattack led by French forces overwhelmed the Germans, inflicting severe casualties.


Following the failures of the Spring Offensive to end the war, Erich Ludendorff, Chief Quartermaster-General and virtual military ruler of Germany, believed that an attack through Flanders would give Germany a decisive victory over the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), the most potent Allied force on the Western Front at that time. To shield his intentions and draw Allied troops away from Belgiummarker, Ludendorff planned for a large diversionary attack along the Marne.

German attack

The battle began on 15 July when 23 German divisions of the First and Third armies, led by Bruno von Mudra and Karl von Einem, assaulted the French Fourth Army under Henri Gouraud east of Reimsmarker (the Fourth Battle of Champagne ( )). Meanwhile, 17 divisions of the German Seventh Army, under Max von Boehn, aided by the Ninth Army under Eben, attacked the French Sixth Army led by Jean Degoutte to the west of Reims (the Battle of the Mountain of Reims ( )). Ludendorff hoped to split the French in two.
The German attack on the east of Reims was stopped on the first day, but west of Reims the offensive fared better. The defenders of the south bank of the Marnemarker could not escape the three hour fury of the German guns. Under cover of this terrible drumfire, stormtroopers swarmed across the river in every sort of transport—30-man canvas boats or rafts. With great gallantry and admirable ingenuity they began to erect skeleton bridges at a dozen points under fire from those Allied survivors who had not been gassed or shell-shocked. Some Allied units, particularly the 3rd US Infantry Division "Rock of the Marne", held fast or even counter-attacked but, by the evening, the Germans had captured a bridgehead either side of Dormansmarker four miles deep and nine miles wide despite the intervention of 225 French bombers which dropped 44 tons of bombs on the makeshift bridges.The British XXII Corps and 85,000 American troops joined the French for the battle, and stalled the advance on 17 July.

Allied counter-offensive

The Allied counter-offensive.
The German failure to break through allowed Ferdinand Foch, the Allied Supreme Commander, to proceed with the planned major counter-offensive on 18 July; 24 French divisions, including the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division and 93rd Infantry Division under French command, joined by other Allied troops including 8 large US divisions under US command, and 350 tanks attacked the recently formed German salient.

On 04.35 the Allied artillery opened fire, the 1,800-gun barrage immediately crept forward. The French were entirely successful, with Mangin's Tenth Army and Degoutte's Sixth Army advancing five miles on the first day alone. In their midst rolled the tall-turretted French Renault FT-17 light tanks. Berthelot's Fifth Army and De Mitry's Ninth Army, launched additional attacks in the west.

On 19 July, the Italian Corps, lost 9,334 officers and men out of a total fighting strength of about 24,000. Nevertheless Berthelot rushed two newly-arrived British infantry divisions, the 51st (Highland) and 62nd (West Riding), through the Italians straight into attack down the Ardremarker Valley (the Battle of Tardenois ( ) - named after the surrounding Tardenois plain).

The Germans ordered a retreat on 20 July and were forced all the way back to the positions where they had started their Spring Offensives earlier in the year. They strengthened their flank positions opposite the Allied pincers, on the 22nd, Ludendorff ordered to take up a line from the upper Ourcqmarker to Marfauxmarker.

The Allied commanders continuously sending their troops forward towards the 'mincing machine' to fight costly battles for odd 500-yard gains. By the 27th the Germans had been able to withdraw their center behind Fère-en-Tardenoismarker and complete an alternative rail link while still holding Soissonsmarker in the west.

On 1 August French and British divisions of Mangin's Tenth Army broke through to a depth of nearly five miles. The Allied counter-attack petered out on 6 August when well-entrenched German troops ground it to a halt.

The Second Battle of the Marne was an overwhelming victory, Ferdinand Foch received the baton of a Marshal of France. The Allies had taken 29,367 prisoners, 793 guns and 3,000 MGs but the Germans were by no means crushed. They had suffered total casualties of 168,000 since 15 July. The Western Front had been shortened by 28 miles, the moral importance of the decision gained on the Marne was that it marked the end of a string of German victories and the beginning of a series of Allied successes that were, in a mere three months, to bring the German Army to its knees.

The disastrous German defeat led to the cancellation of Ludendorff's planned invasion of Flanders and was the first step in a series of Allied victories that ended the war.

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