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THE MALMAISON BATTLE (October 1917)


The offensive which was launched on Wednesday 23rd October 1917 at 5.15 a.m. illustrated the new strategy defined by General Petain which was designed to limit the objectives of each operation.

The offensive was launched on a 12 kilometre wide front between Ostel and Vauxaillon by three army corps from the VIth Army under the command of General Maistre: the 14th Army Corps (General Marjoulet), the 21st Army Corps (General Degoutte) and the 11th Army Corps (General Maudhuy).

The infantry attack was preceded by intense artillery preparation from 17th to 23rd October (3 million shells were loosed off, a quantity representing more than half the number of projectiles fired before the Nivelle offensive, and along a front three times longer).  The tanks (48 Schneiders and 20 Saint-Chamonds) were once again used to support the infantrymen, but with more positive results than in April and May.

 
 vue aérienne du fort de la Malmaison en 1917
Aerial view
Archives Départementales de l'Aisne - Fonds De Buttet J 2631
Before 6.30 a.m., the fort of La Malmaison was taken by a battalion of 4th Zouaves, although it hadn’t been much more than a heap of ruins for a long time.  On the 24th they had progressed as far as Vauxaillon.  On the 25th l’Ailette fell to the north of Pargny and Filain.  The Germans decided to abandon the positions they still occupied on the plain of the Chemin des Dames, to the east of Royère farm and as far as Craonne.    During the night of 1st November, they retreated to the north of l’Ailette, up to the hills that overlook Laon.
 

The results of this offensive have been widely depicted by the press and cinema - the armies smugly showing cannons captured from the enemy and numerous German prisoners.  It’s as if they wanted to say: ‘at last – a victory for the Chemin des Dames.’!

The La Malmaison offensive is seen as being the contrary to the Nivelle offensive in April.  It endorses the image of Pétain who was careful with the lives of his troops.  Between 15th October and 30th November the VIth French Army casualties amounted to 4,329 deaths, 20,225 wounded and 1,953 lost presumed dead.


The regiments who have participated at this Battle 

           
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