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THE CAPTURE OF THE CAVE OF THE DRAGOON (June 1917)

On the evening of 16th April 1917, French troops had set foot on the plateau towards Hurtebise farm and towards the remains of the Monument of the 1814’s Battle , two positions that were particularly fought during the spring 1917. The 4th unity of zouaves had entered what was started to be called “The Cave of the Dragoon”, and controlled the southern entries towards the Aisne Valley . But the Germans still occupied most of the tremendous underground fortress that they had fit out since 1915 and from where they launched robust counter-attacks.

 

For more than six weeks, the fights had started raging again between Hurtebise and Craonne and at the end of the month the 152nd Regiment had suffered severe losses on the plateau of Casemates. Some of the men couldn’t take it anymore. We mustn’t pass over the attempt of 39 men from the 10th company of the 3rd battalion, who tried to escape from the attack, on 24th in the evening.  After having passed the whole night hidden in a creute (cavern), they went back to the fights on the 25th in the afternoon, on the 1st line at the moment of the attack.

 

On 25th June before the dawn, they tried to put around 200 m³ of phosgene gas inside of the cave, in the hope that it would asphyxiate its occupiers. But the Germans had taken precautions.

 Couverture d'un petit livre de la collection
Cover of a little book from the collection "Patrie" (Homeland) exalting the 25th June assault.                    

After a short but intense preparation of the artillery, the attack was launched at 6.05pm. To lead the assault, General Gaucher commander of the 164th division chose the 3rd battalion of the 152nd Regiment, Moréteaux’s Battalion from the 334th I.R and from many other corps francs (name of one of the French army’s corps) coming from various unities , in particular the 41st Battalion de chasseurs à pied. The troops of assault were preceded by soldiers equipped with flamethrowers to destroy the German posts of resistance. In total, more than 2,000 men participated to this assault.

 

At 9 pm, in spite of 2 German counter-attacks, the Cave of the Dragoon was taken! The French captured more than 300 prisoners (304 or 327, from sources to sources) and half of them inside of the Cave in circumstances that have never really been cleared up in regards to the role the 152nd and the 334I.R did play. In total, the French lost 329 men: 79 dead, 238 injured and 12 disappeared. The German losses are unknown.

 

The capture of the Cave of the Dragoon didn’t change the process of the war. This operation had a limited objective and was in accordance to General Pétain’s new strategy. The “ Battle of the observatories” had to continue on the Chemin des Dames until July. That’s how on 26th July, during an attack, the German managed to recover the northern part of the Cave of the Dragoon. The Cave would have remained entirely French for only one month.  

 

But, with a so large number of prisoners, as well as a so mysterious name: “Cave of the Dragoon”, the 25th June’s attack knew unprecedented media coverage.  Special correspondents from Parisian newspapers were invited to Beaurieux by the High Commander to interview prisoners and troops that participated to the attack. The capture of the Cave of the Dragoon made the main headlines in all French newspapers and also brought a new glory to the 15th I.R. On 10th July, the Regiment obtained its 4th mention: a fourragère (ornament) with the colours of the French army. A detachment with the new flag of the 15/2 was invited to participate to the 14th July parade in Paris . In 1936, General Gaucher published the historical account of the 164th Infantry Division untitled La Division du Dragon (The Dragoon Division).


The regiments who have participated at this Battle 

           
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