In preparation for the Second Battle of the Marne, a conflict that seemed to be the most imperative engagement of World War I since the battles of 1914, the French Fourth Army in the east had constructed their main lines of trenches 2-3 miles behind the actual frontline, which put the soldiers well out of range of German artillery. Between the frontlines and the main lines of trenches were two lines of strong points.
The German bombardment began at 11:30pm on July 14, 1918, despite a time originally set for 12:10am on July 15th. The bombardment struck mostly the unoccupied front line and vacant gun pits. 23 German divisions from the First and Third Armies, as well as 17 divisions from the Seventh and Ninth Armies, were poised and prepped for what was hoped to be a major blow towards Paris. The Germans entered the Allied front lines unopposed and made their way towards the first line of occupied French trenches under a creeping rain of artillery. The advanced was halted when the troops reached the main trenches, and they were ordered to rest and reorganize while field artillery in the rear was moved forward into range. The Germans renewed their attack at 8:30 that morning. Disciplined French shelling prevented them from gaining much ground, and a second attempt at an attack by the Germans at noon was also stopped.
In the west, the Sixth Army entrenched on the southern bank of the Marne endured a barrage that lasted for three hours. Stormtrooper units rushed in when the shelling ceased and began to cross the river quickly, erecting makeshift bridges at twelve locations and even attempting to cross over in canvas boats and rafts. Eight divisions of the American Expeditionary Force – 85,000 men in total – were also mixed into the defense, and the British Army’s XXII Corps soon joined arrived as well.
Heavy fighting ensued all across the front, but by July 17th the Allies had managed to stop the German advance and keep them from crossing the Marne in strength.
St. Étienne Mle 1907 machine gun crews are pictured in during the first few days of the battle.