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The EK1

The Final Battle on the infamous "Mort Homme". The bibel on this subject is Markus Klauer's book "Die Höhe Toter Mann", unfortunately no longer in print. His book has helped immensely in the article below, it is also the source for the map.

To place this action in it's historical context please see the article HERE

Above: Artillery preperation on heights at Verdun

As in the other sectors of the front, Ludendorff wanted to incorporate Verdun into his flexible defense system. Perhaps more than on any other front, the men fighting in Verdun had suffered the consequences of a constant artillery fire and infantry assault. The static defense lines had left a maximum amount of men under fire at any one time. Ludendorffs plan called for a thinly manned front line, scattered machine gun bunkers in a defensive zone reaching back 2-4 km then a solid defensive line with the bulk of the defending troops, ready for counter attack and for the most part out of the line of enemy artillery fire.  

A major advantage for the defenders was that the French artillery could no longer concentrate their fire on a single densely manned trench line, but would have to cover the whole defensive zone, even then with no guarantee of hitting concealed pillboxes and the out of range counterattack reserves.

The soldiers manning the forward zone would suffer large losses, but proportionally the defenders would lose fewer men as the bulk would have been spared the long preparatory bombardment. The strongly built pillboxes would absorb the initial force of the French attack allowing the reserves to prepare for a counter attack.  

As the enemy bombardment had to cover the length of the defensive zone, the craters and churned up mud would be in the zone the enemy had to advance over. In this way the enemy would create a further obstacle to his own advance, it would make the passage of the field artillery to support the next attack very difficult.  

General von Gallwitz chose to see the negative aspects of this defense strategy, the fact that the Germans would have to cede Hohe 304 and the Toten Mann in the case of an attack. This would result in a huge propaganda victory for the French, and be a blow to the moral of the German soldiers who had lost many friends on the heights in the fighting from 1916-17.

Although he had a full six months to implement the new defensive system, von Gallwitz did not carry out the orders. When the French attacked in August, the Mort Homme would claim its full ration of blood.  

On the 16th August 1917 a German raid had captured the plans for the coming French offensive, there was still time to thin out the front line, withdraw the infantry to positions further back and move the field artillery out of their forward positions. Von Gallwitz took no action. The bombardment started on the 17th August, and by the 27th August one million heavy artillery shells had fallen on a 20km front. Due to the high concentration of troops in the front line the losses there were very heavy indeed. The Infantry were stunned, hardly able to defend themselves.  

In the front line on the day of the assault was the 6th R.D. When the survivors came out of their bunkers to meet the attack they found the walls of their trenches collapsed and telephone lines to the rear no longer existed. In front of them the fog was thickened by French smoke grenades and behind them a sea of poison gas hung in the valleys leading up to the front line making it very difficult to bring up reinforcements.  

The bombardment had caused tremendous damage and the French managed to break through in many sectors. German commanders hastily organized counter attacks, but the reserves were insufficient, many of the needed men having being wasted in the front line.  

In the 6. R.D. area the fighting had been particularly intense.

Regiments of the 48. Reserve Division were to aid the 6. R.D.

R.I.R 223, the intended reserve unit for the sector had been used to plug gaps in the line early in the battle and the R.I.R. 221 was sent forward to take their place for the counter attack.   At 9.30 on the 20th August the R.I.R. 221 moved forward under orders to retake the positions which had been overrun.

Above: An EK2 Document to a soldier of the II. Batln, R.I.R. 223, the Hauptman who signed the Document is listed as Bataillons Führer, the Führer title implies it is not a permanent command.

The III. Batln R.I.R. 221 would attack up the slopes of the Toten Mannes, the II. Batln R.I.R. 221 on their left flank would cover the ground to the Rabenwald and the I. on the extreme left stretched to the Cumierswald.  The front of the planned attack was roughly 2.5 km. The march to the assembly area was tiring and through heavily gassed areas.  

Each company had roughly  200m of front, the regiment itself was supported by three batteries of field artillery which moved up to the starting point on the southern border of the Forgeswald, from here they could engage the heights over open sights. 

The regiment advanced across the open ground towards their objectives. Initially they met no resistance, but as they crossed the Forges river they had to bunch together at the crossing points and this provided an enticing target for the French artillery and strafing aircraft.   Once across the river the battalions  assembled for their assault.  

The III. Batln made for the Toten Mannes where they went through the lines held by the remains of the R.I.R. 35. Their attack carried them forward to the original German 2nd line of defense line where they were met with heavy defensive fire which pushed them back to the slopes of the northern peak.

The II. Batln ran into fire a couple of hundred meters after crossing the river. They made it into the position of the R.I.R. 24 who, like their neighbors had suffered very heavy losses. Seeing the exhausted state of the R.I.R. 24 the officers of the II. Batln sent them to the rear as they were clearly unfit for further duty.  

The I. Batln passed through the village of Forges and followed the road in the direction of Cumiers where they came into contact with scattered French forward posts. The forward posts withdrew to the new French frontline with the I. Batln in pursuit.

Spalte 2
Their attack was halted as they ran into a wall of fire and the attackers retired to positions held by elements of the R.I.R. 24.  

The battalions straightened their lines to form a solid regimental front but having attacked on their own they were now in enemy territory with no one protecting their flanks.  

From all corners of the battlefield small groups of stragglers and isolated soldiers found their way into the R.I.R. 221 lines. Few were in any state to fight and as much as the officers of the 221 would have liked to keep them, they were sent to the rear.  

The counter Attack by a single regiment had gained a few hundred meters but had accomplished little of any tactical advantage. There were not enough reserves to continue the attack and the R.I.R. 221 found itself occupying a line of hastily prepared foxholes stretching into enemy territory.
Left: A document to a Soldier of the II. Batln R.I.R. 221. After the Action on the Dead Man the Hauptmann who was Bataillons-Führer in the R.I.R. 223 (see document above) recieved a permanent command and became Bataillons-Kommandeur of the II. Batln R.I.R. 221

On the 21 August a new bombardment on their positions signaled the coming of a new French attack. The I. Batln had left two companies in reserve and these were now sent forward as reinforcements. Due to the confusion on the battlefield they did not find their comrades and instead stumbled past the German front lines and blundered into the path of the advancing French infantry. Under fire from all sides they pulled back putting up a brief resistance then retreating towards the village of Forges.  

The R.I.R. 221 along with elements of the R.I.R. 35, 222 and 223 were ordered back over the Forges river. Notice was given that it was a strategic withdrawal not a retreat. Pioneers destroyed non salvageable artillery and blew up the wooden crossing pontoons over the river.

With that the Mort Homme had claimed its last lives. The R.I.R. 221 had suffered 260 dead and missing and 281 wounded. Amongst the dead was Major Schaumann, commander of the I. Battalion, who was killed when a shell hit his Battalion H.Q. in Forges and Oberstleutnant Freiherr von Gemmingen-Gutenberg, also killed by Artillery.  

Of note, both documents are signed by Hauptmann XXX. In August 1917 he was acting commander of the III./R.I.R. 223, hence the title Bataillons-Führer. A month later he took over the command of the II./R.I.R. 221 and was thus Bataillons-Kommandeur.

To get an idea of what the geography, please look at the Mort Homme on the left hand side of the first picture HERE
Above: A map from Markus Klauers book on the Tote Mann, it shows the front lines after the Germans had been pushed back in late August 1917.

If you can find a copy of the book, it is a must have for anyone interested in Verdun.