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Title: The Attack in Trench Warfare - Impressions and Reflections of a Company Commander
Author: Laffargue, André
Language: English
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                      The Attack in Trench Warfare

           Impressions and Reflections of a Company Commander


                         CAPT. ANDRÉ LAFFARGUE
                      _153d Infantry, French Army_

                           Translated for the
                            INFANTRY JOURNAL
                       by an Officer of Infantry


                            Copyright, 1916

                       U. S. INFANTRY ASSOCIATION



It is probable that no book on any military topic published since the
outbreak of the present war has excited an interest and comment in
Captain Laffargue’s _Etude sur l’attaque dans la période actuelle de la
guerre_. It is, in fact, the first publication from the pen of a
military man dealing with the general and detailed aspects of the
tactics of the attack in trench warfare that has come to our attention.

The methods of training of infantry units for this class of warfare and
the degree of careful preparation necessary for the attainment of any
measure of success are among the most important features of Captain
Laffargue’s study. The comparison which he makes between the conduct in
battle of two regiments of very different quality, brings out very
clearly the difference between real infantry and the cannon-fodder
variety which is too often considered adequate for war purposes.

The fact that this study was so highly thought of by General Joffre that
he caused it to be published to the French Army before it was given out
for general publication, speaks for its excellence more eloquently than
any commendation which could otherwise be bestowed upon it.

                                       G. A. LYNCH, _Captain, Infantry_.
                                         Editor of the INFANTRY JOURNAL.

                     THE ATTACK IN TRENCH WARFARE.

         Impressions and Reflections of a Company Commander.[1]

          By Captain André Laffargue, 153d Infantry (French).


The attack at the present period has become one of siege warfare. We
must accept it as it is, study it, tax our wits to find special means to
prepare effectively for it and to orient the instruction of troops
entirely with this in view.

The attack on all points of our front consists in breaking through
several lines of defense upon a depth of about three kilometres and in
preventing the enemy from holding on further back on new lines already
prepared or merely improvized.

The attack is therefore an immense, unlimited, simultaneous assault on
all points of the front of attack, furiously pushed straight to the
front until all the enemy’s defenses are broken through.

_The characteristic of this attack is that it is not progressive but is
an assault of a single rush; it must be accomplished in one day as
otherwise the enemy reforms, and the defense, with terrible engines of
sudden destruction, will later recover its supremacy over the attack,
which cannot quickly enough regain the mastery of this consuming fire._
The whole series of frightful defenses cannot be nibbled at
successively; they must be swallowed whole at one stroke with one

Therefore, the fight is an unlimited assault. In order to attempt the
assault, what is necessary?

Assaulting troops—and all troops are far from being assaulting troops.

An overwhelming superiority of fire all the time and not only at the
moment of assault.

The possibility of rushing forth from a line of shelter a short distance
from the enemy, a condition equally to be sought for in any other phase
of the combat.

In order that the assault may be unlimited, the sacrifice being resolved
upon, it must be pushed through to a finish and the enemy drowned under
successive waves, _calculating, however, that infantry units disappear
in the furnace of fire like handfuls of straw_.

Is it possible to pierce the enemy’s lines? I firmly believe so since
the 9th of May[2]. But before that, this hypothesis seemed to me a mad
temerity. I had taken part in the Battle of Nancy and in the Battle of
Ypres where it appears that the Germans, after a terrifying deluge of
heavy projectiles during interminable days, tried to break through us,
which I certainly did not think possible, seeing the paltry and easily
shattered efforts of their infantry. In considering the forces put into
action which did not succeed in making us yield a foot, I believed in
the inviolability of the lines of defense. On the 9th of May, by a
single dash, our first wave submerged in one hour all the enemy’s
first-line defenses to a depth of several kilometres.

The assault is extremely murderous; it is an implacable struggle in
which one or the other must fall and in which the engines of combat not
destroyed beforehand often make terrible havoc in the ranks of
unprotected assaulting troops.

He who risks his life and does not wish to die but to succeed, becomes
at times ingenious. That is why I, who was part of the human canister
for more than nine months, have set about to consider the means of
saving the inestimable existence of so many humble comrades, or at least
to figure out how the sacrifice of their lives may result in victory.

                       PREPARATION OF THE ATTACK.


The German defensive organizations, as well as I have been able to
establish, appear to be in general as follows:[3]

1. A continuous line of trenches over the whole front, comprising on a
limited depth two or three trenches, joined by numerous communicating
trenches (_boyaux_), and separated by 100 to 300 metres, each one often
protected by a wire entanglement.

2. Centers of resistance, comprising large villages, woods, or immense
field works, consisting of a network of trenches which are very strongly
organized and in which machine guns under cupolas as well as pieces of
artillery are mounted.

Such are, for example, the Labyrinth and _Ouvrages Blancs_ of Neuville.
These centers of resistance are separated by intervals of 800 to 1,500
metres; they mutually flank each other, and their intervals are
generally guarded by closed works.

3. A second line of defense, which is not always continuous.

                     PREPARATION BY THE ARTILLERY.

In order to attack with minimum loss, the infantry-requires that the
artillery in its preparation carry through the following program:

(_a_) _Destroy the wire entanglements._

(_b_) _Neutralize or destroy the defenders of the trenches._

(_c_) _Prevent the artillery from coming into action._

(_d_) _Prevent the bringing up of reserves._

(_e_) _Destroy the machine guns as soon as they reveal their positions._

             (_a_) _Destruction of the Wire Entanglement._

The 75 produces sufficient breaches in the wire entanglements for the
infantry to get through; in order to accomplish this, each piece remains
laid on the same point of the entanglement. But the infantry should not
expect the complete and continuous destruction of the entanglement: that
would require too many projectiles.

(_b_) _Neutralization or Destruction of the Defenders of the Trenches._

The Germans, whenever they can, dig very deep and well protected
shelters, in the interior of which they crowd themselves. The 75 has no
effect on these shelters, and the infantry of the attack, who are
delighted to see the parapets, the sand bags, planks, posts, etc., fly
into the air as if pulverized by the ripping detonations, are stupefied
on finding themselves greeted by a heavy fire as soon as they start out
of their trenches. In consequence of this, the infantry is convinced
that whenever the enemy has been able to construct deep shelters, an
assault is certain massacre, in spite of the prodigious expenditure of
75’s, unless other and more powerful means of destruction have been

The aerial torpedo, on the contrary, seems to produce terrifying effects
on the defenders of the trenches; it has also considerable destructive
effect. This power is not always sufficient to break in the shelter
caverns, but it completely knocks to pieces the firing trenches,
produces cave-ins, blocks the openings of the shelters, and thus walls
in the occupants. By its formidable explosion, the extraordinary effects
of its blast, and the concussion that it induces in the ground, it
annihilates all energy in the defenders, who at every instant think
their last minute has come.

In the sector of attack of my company on the 9th of May, a portion of
the trenches in front of the 3d and 4th Sections was severely pounded by
the fire of the 75 and especially by the aerial torpedoes, while the
remainder of the trenches in front of the 1st and 2d Sections suffered
only from the preparation by the 75. The difference was remarkable.
While the 1st and 2d Sections, hardly out of their parallel, saw the
enemy rise up and melted away under his suddenly opened rifle fire, and
especially under that of a machine gun, the 4th Section reached the
German trench, crossed it without hindrance, and continued on its way.
As for the 3d Section, it had been received by only a few shots and had
crossed the first trench in one rush, when it received some shots in the
back. Returning to the rear, the men found several dozen Germans
crouching in the deep shelters, absolutely all in and crying for mercy.
The cannonade had ceased, and in spite of the violent fusillade cracking
outside announcing an attack, they had not budged. Only a few had the
courage to shoot in the back from an opening the French soldiers who
passed close by.

Conversations with numerous infantry officers have definitely convinced
me that the heaviest bombardment by 75’s alone is ineffective against
trenches organized during a long period. The heavy artillery has too
much dispersion, while the aerial torpedo, besides its considerable
destructive and demoralizing effects, is very accurate.

Thus the preparation on the zone of the first trenches may be made
largely by means of aerial torpedoes. But it is necessary that the
torpedo guns be placed close together in a continuous line (at least one
to every 100 metres of trenches) and that each one have its zone clearly

At Arras, these guns were not very numerous, and their preparation was
consequently only partial; in trying to pound several lines of trenches
at the same time, large spaces remained outside the effects of their
action, while certain corners were entirely demolished.

In the artillery depots, very numerous gun crews should be organized
beforehand for the torpedo guns, and not date only from the day before
and be at their first try out, as at Arras.

The aerial torpedo, terrorizing the defenders in the interior of their
shelters, already neutralizes them in part; but the best plan of
eliminating the enemy is to destroy him. In order to destroy him, it is
necessary to force him to expose himself, to oblige him to come out to
become the prey of the iron hail. For this there are several means:

Have the infantry advance during the preparation by the artillery;

Simulate the attack;

Finally a third method that can be transferred from the domain of fox
hunting to that of the war with Germany: smoke him out.

The first plan is not applicable from first trenches as they are too
near the enemy; we shall speak of this again.

In order to simulate an attack, interrupt the artillery fire suddenly
and _open rifle fire with a great deal of shouting_; the enemy hurries
out immediately to his combat positions; after several minutes’ waiting,
a violent rafale of 75. This is what we did from time to time when we
wished to make the Germans come out into their trenches so that we could
demolish some of them by artillery fire. At Arras, there was a brusque
interruption of artillery fire for ten minutes, but it was an absolute
and impressive silence. The Germans were not misled by it, and when the
interruption for the real attack came with its fusillade and noise, they
manned their trenches to meet it.

As a third scheme _we have suffocating grenades and cartridges_, which
irritate the eyes and produce tears and render the neighborhood of the
spot where they fall untenable for several minutes. We could also have
projectiles of larger dimensions, containing materials giving off heavy,
suffocating gas. Thus this gas would creep over the ground, fall into
the bottom of the trenches, and enter the shelters, driving out the
occupants, who would then come under the fire of the high-explosive
shells. This gas, being, moreover, only suffocating, would afterwards
have the advantage of not incommoding our soldiers in their trench or
during the attack.

While the heavy artillery may be replaced very advantageously by
torpedoes for the preparation on the continuous line of trenches, it may
be employed effectively against the centers of resistance, where its
more concentrated effects will not produce the simply superficial
disorganization of the 75, which leaves the cupolas of the machine guns

The most important part to destroy in the centers of resistance _are the
edges_, for the attack breaks through easily enough in the intermediate
spaces but immediately comes under flanking fire. Moreover, a center of
resistance whose borders are disorganized, becomes a harmless island,
the attack of which by main strength would be terribly costly; for
instance, the Labyrinth, Neuville-Saint-Vaast, Carency, which were
passed by in less than an hour by groups arriving at the Cemetery of
Neuville, at the La Folie Woods, and at the first houses of Souchez.
_Therefore try especially to neutralize the borders_ by concentrating on
them the fire of batteries suitably placed with a view to following the
attack on the intervals. If one could put a _veil over the centers of
resistance_ to isolate them and obstruct the view of the flanking works,
the problem would be partly solved. It would then be necessary to have
projectiles giving off large quantities of heavy smoke, which would
spread out over the ground and dissipate very slowly.

The intermediate works in the intervals are easy to take because of
their small dimensions. On the 9th of May, they were generally found
knocked to pieces.

                 (_c_) _Preparation against Artillery._

_The infantry urgently demands that the hostile artillery be put out of
action before the attack._ If the enemy artillery gets into action, the
troops, crowded into the trenches, _boyaux_,[4] and parallels, have to
suffer a painful bombardment, which causes losses and obliges everyone
to hunt cover—an inauspicious attitude for troops which will have
shortly to rush forward. Communications become difficult, the telephonic
connections are broken, everyone gets nervous and perturbed. On the
attack proper, artillery fire has an extraordinary disturbing effect;
the bullets of the rifles and machine guns cause disorder by the sudden
and serious losses they occasion, but the shells spread confusion almost
solely by the sight and the crash of explosions. On the 9th of May, we
hardly received any shells at all, not one during the attack itself, and
this contributed in a large degree to the magnificent _élan_ of the
first attacking waves.

At Langemarck on the contrary, in a night attack on the trenches on the
4th of December, the unsilenced hostile artillery bombarded our trenches
of departure, and I had my second section dispersed through being
saluted by a rafale of shrapnel that had put the chief of section and
the file closers, _hors de combat_.

In order to silence the hostile artillery, it seems that, knowing the
probable emplacement of the batteries, it would be necessary suddenly
and without warning to let loose on them a deluge of fire. The personnel
of these batteries not being continually at their firing positions, this
sudden tempest would surprise them and keep them inside their shelters.
In the midst of the confusion, the fire of the batteries which try to
get into action is much disturbed, impeded, and frequently interrupted.
On the 9th of May, the hostile artillery must have been completely
surprised and literally stupefied during the whole morning, for they
abandoned their infantry. Only a few pieces fired some hasty shots.

In order to render the emplacements of the batteries completely
untenable, they might be overwhelmed with shells giving off clouds of
smoke and also asphyxiating shells; by this means the cannoneers would
be obliged to quit their pieces or serve them under extremely difficult

The aviators hovering over the hostile lines could complete the
preparation by indicating by means of luminous balls to the batteries on
watch the hostile batteries not yet silenced or which have come into

        (_d_) _Preparation against Reinforcements and Reserves._

In the second and third trenches, the garrison does not generally occupy
its firing positions; it is obliged to get to them in case of attack. As
long as the artillery preparation lasts, it does not budge from the
shelters; but as soon as the artillery ceases its fire, the garrison
hastily mans the positions. It is necessary then for the artillery to
extend its fire to the second and third lines and to continue this fire
while the infantry rushes the first line. The approach trenches and
their junctions should especially be swept. This has, moreover, the
advantage of keeping crouched in their holes the defenders of the first
line, who are not reassured by sensing the compact sheaves of the
terrible explosive passing close over their heads. The preparation on
the second line of defense is absolutely identical.

It is next necessary to cut the battlefield in two and isolate the zone
of the first and second lines of defence, constantly manned by the
troops near their combat positions, from the zone of cantonment. It is a
matter of establishing an insuperable barrier. A barrier solely of
ordinary shell fire is extremely expensive. The Germans have more simply
solved the question by establishing a barrier of asphyxiating gas. They
have employed this extremely effective scheme, it seems, at Bagatelle in
the Argonne, on the 30th of June and the 1st and 2d of July.

The bombardment of the cantonment by long-range heavy guns throws
disorder among the troops who are at rest. Suddenly surprised in the
most profound quietude, the alarm causes all the more flurry and
demoralization. Obliged to follow roads sprinkled here and there with
fragments, they thus arrive diminished in number on the field of battle.

                  (_e_) _Destruction of Machine Guns._

The weapon which inflicts the heaviest losses on infantry is the machine
gun, which uncovers itself suddenly and in a few seconds lays out the
assailants by ranks. It is therefore absolutely necessary to destroy
them before the attack or have the means of putting them out of action
as soon as they disclose themselves.

During the days which precede the attack, a minute study of the hostile
trenches should be made by the infantry officers who have to attack
them, in concert with the artillery officers who pound the same
trenches; their study should bear especially upon the emplacements of
the hostile machine guns.

The machine-gun emplacements are recognized in the continuous trenches
by the low horizontal loopholes much larger than ordinary loopholes.
They are generally quite easily recognized. Occasionally the machine
guns are in a little separate work which is quite characteristic.

Even when they cannot be directly observed, machine-gun emplacements
should be pre-supposed in locations such as the following:

1. In a re-entrant in the line.


2. On the second line, particularly when it presents an elevated
position permitting a tier of fire over the first line.


3. Squarely in front to obtain a flanking fire; in this case, they are
found in a small _boyau_ (branch trench) which leaves the principal
trench, and it is very difficult to see them from the front.


Thus, in front of La Targette, in studying the position in profile and
having moved considerably toward the right for that purpose, I
discovered a machine-gun emplacement which completely enfiladed the
front of the German trenches for 600 metres.

One generally believes he recognizes a very large number of machine-gun
emplacements; but it is infinitely better to mark the position of too
many than to overlook one of them; moreover, the Germans have in their
defensive organization an unsuspected number of them.

_Means of Destroying the Machine Guns._—_Machine Guns of the
Trenches._—In the course of preparation by artillery, a very distinct
part of the program is reserved for the destruction of the machine-gun
nests. The destruction of the machine guns should not be commenced as
soon as they have been located, that is to say, often several days
before the final preparations, for the enemy would have ample time to
shift them. The 75 is employed to destroy the machine guns.
Unfortunately, on account of the dispersion, it does not perfectly
fulfil its rôle; its shots often fall to one side and a great number of
them are often necessary to find exactly the small space that holds the
machine gun.

I recollect that before the attack of May 9, I fretted with impatience
and went continually to find the artillery observer, as I saw an
accursed rectangular loophole obstinately remain intact up to the end.
When we started forward, fire burst out from this loophole, and two
sections were wiped out.

To destroy these machine guns, there would be needed not only cannon
placed at 1,500 metres, which have many other tasks, but cannon placed
in the trench itself. The _mountain 80_ seems to realize the desired
conditions of effectiveness and mobility. Hidden in the trench before
the preparation, it unmasks itself during that operation; it takes under
direct fire like a rifle all the machine-gun shelters successively,
occupying itself with those alone and not leaving them until they are
all completely out of action.

_Destruction of Machine Guns that may be set up outside the
Trenches._—On the 9th of May, the survivors of my company and of the
adjoining company, about eighty men, arrived at 11 o’clock[5] about 200
metres from the cemetery of Neuville-Saint-Vaast. The cemetery being
unoccupied, the field of battle seemed void of Germans. In the distance,
the batteries were fleeing. Two machine guns remained in the mill; this
was the only resistance over an immense space, but it was sufficient.
Impossible for my men to advance; we signal the fact with difficulty to
the artillery, which from this time on is under open field conditions;
it opens fire a long time afterwards and mistakes the objective. Then
before the eyes of our furious men, abandoned by all because they were
too far to the front, the cemetery fills up with Germans. Four hours
afterwards, the 146th appears on the field and is mowed down by the
machine guns; the next day the 229th succeeds it; new repetition with a
slight and extremely costly advance.

With these machine guns revealing themselves thus without our being able
to foresee their emplacement, and taking up positions to stop our
progress in a region no longer familiar to us, we must have the means of
suppressing them instantly. The field artillery is too far away;
communication hardly exists after passing beyond the extremity of the
telephone lines. The question is of the greatest importance and merits
study. It would be absolutely necessary that the first waves of attack
be followed, after the taking of the first lines of trenches, by light
guns, the 37 for example, drawn by their cannoneers. These independent
crews would be all eyes and ears to discover the machine guns and
destroy them immediately. There are enough officers or noncommissioned
officers of artillery to command them intelligently.

                           FORM OF ATTACK.[6]

To create a complete gap, it is necessary:

(_a_) _To take the first line of the hostile defense (zone of the first
trenches and centers of resistance)_;

(_b_) _To take the second line of defense_;

(_c_) _To prevent the enemy from reestablishing a barrier by the aid of
reinforcements brought up in haste beyond the zone already fortified._

To overcome successively these difficulties, one must have:

(_a_) A first line of attack composed of several waves of assault with
(as an element of preparation) a formidable artillery (field, heavy, and
torpedo guns) minutely regulated.

(_b_) A second line of attack as strong as the first, except perhaps in
front of the centers of resistance, sent straight to the front all in
one piece exactly like the first line. The same precise and effective
artillery preparation is not here present, but it is compensated for by
groups of light guns and machine guns destined rapidly to destroy all
resistance. Accompanying batteries (_batteries d’accompagnement_) start
as soon as the first trenches are taken.

(_c_) A reserve without initial assignment, destined to reinforce any
point and conquer any irreducible or hindering resistance. This reserve
is entirely at the disposition of the superior commander, while the
first and second lines are no longer in his hands after they are in
their parallel of departure. On the 9th of May, this reserve was made up
of the troops which should have normally composed the second line of
attack, which did not exist. This explains the disastrous delay of its
engagement, which was furthermore very hesitating, because it tried to
maneuver before having broken through and waited for the mêlée to clear
away in order to maneuver.

(_d_) Cavalry, auto-cannon, auto-machine guns, battalions of infantry on
automobiles with pioneer crews to clear the roads.—Large units, ready to
commence new combats, capable of being brought up within two or three
hours.—_Do not, after the hole has been pierced, depend any longer upon
the regiments who made it._

                       RÔLE OF THE FIRST LINE.[7]

                        _Its Method of Action._

The first line is composed of two or three waves. The features of the
assault vary according to the distance to be crossed in getting at the

_Distance Less than 100 Metres._—The first wave, composed of entire
companies in line, the men at half-pace interval, rushes to the assault
without pause as soon as the artillery fire ceases. It should endeavor
to reach the enemy before he can get out of his shelters. It does not
generally have to fire, except perhaps at the last moment in order to
cross the entanglement if the enemy opens fire (see second case).

_Distance Greater than 100 Metres._—Attack by waves of companies, in
which those in front are divided into two parts:

1. A line of skirmishers at 5 paces, formed either by one section
deployed or by groups of skirmishers furnished by each section (calm and
resolute men).

2. Fifty metres behind comes the line of attack, men in one rank, elbow
to elbow or at one pace; the company and section[8] commanders in front
of the line; four metres behind the line of attack, the rank formed by
the file closers.

In this case, one cannot count on surprising the enemy; he will open a
more or less violent fire, especially during the crossing of the wire
entanglement. It is very illusory to imagine that any company is stoical
enough to allow itself to be fired on at point blank without replying
when it distinctly sees the enemy; it will be necessary to open fire,
and this will throw the assaulting line into disorder.

The thin line of skirmishers is intended to give this protection by fire
in order that the line of attack may keep its elbow-to-elbow formation
without firing until almost the last.

At Neuville-Saint-Vaast, I was obliged personally to act as a
skirmisher, and I have since then strongly felt that something was
lacking in our line of attack. We arrived at the first entanglement at
80 metres from the enemy without firing, but there on account of the
violence of the adverse fire, our fusillade broke out. I myself recall
that I marched straight ahead under the protection of my rifle. Every
time a “flat cap” raised up and aimed at me, I threw the rifle to my
shoulder rapidly; my shot came near enough to make him duck; I profited
by this short respite to advance into the wire or dash ahead some 20
metres, always watching and firing whenever a “flat cap” reappeared.
Thus, emptying the magazine on the march, I was able to mount the
parapet of the German trench without having permitted the enemy to fire
a single aimed shot at me. If the man who marches unprotected in the
spaces swept by bullets scorns the danger, the one who is sheltered is
inclined to exaggerate toward the side of protection, and the men who
are in the trenches when the bullets pass cannot keep from instinctively
ducking. It is a sensation which the attack should take advantage of.

The skirmishers should be calm and resolute men, and good shots (often
old reserve soldiers, well seasoned and less susceptible of losing their
nerve and intent upon preserving their own lives).

They should each march upon a particular point of the hostile trench and
watch it closely. They open fire only when they get the order from the
company commander marching between the two echelons.

This manner of making the assault strongly resembles that brought out by
De Wet in “Three Years of War.” It is the individual assault where each
soldier shows himself as a real fighter.

_The March on the Line of Attack._—Each echelon starts out successively
at a single bound and moves at a walk (even in cadence, if it were
possible). It is curious to observe how much this pace conduces to cold
resolution and fierce scorn of the adversary. At Neuville, _all units
instinctively started at a walk_. Afterwards take the double time at
slow cadence, in order to maintain the cohesion; make several rushes, if
necessary, of 80 to 100 metres. They should not be multiplied, at the
risk of breaking the _élan_.

When a great effort has been made to scorn the fire of the adversary, it
should not be destroyed by a change to an attitude signifying fear.

At 60 metres from the enemy, break into charge.

_The Alignment._—To march in line is a capital point, the importance of
which one must have experienced in tragic moments to tell how prodigious
is its influence. Moreover, the march in line is as old as war itself.
The alignment holds each in his place, carries along those who hesitate,
holds back the enthusiasts, and gives to everyone the warm and
irresistible feeling of mutual confidence. At Neuville, we marched at
first at a walk, then at a slow double time, aligned as on parade. I
constantly heard behind me through the rattling of the machine guns, the
epic, splendid shout of supreme encouragement running all along the
line, “Keep in line! Keep in line!” down to the humble reservist, C—,
who in spite of the bullets making gaps all about in the ranks, kept all
of his young and agitated comrades on the line.

Thus rushing like a wall, we were irresistible.

_Crossing the Wire Entanglements._—From the moment the entanglement is
reached, the period of charge and individual combat begins. The men can
no longer be kept from firing; each one tries to protect himself with
his own rifle.

At Neuville, we arrived at a first entanglement at 80 metres from the
trenches almost in line and without firing. At the entanglement we lay
down, and fire was opened; each one crossed the entanglement
individually, lay down on the other side, and recommenced firing. The
line reformed without interruption of fire. I then wished to cease
firing in order to charge, but they did not hear me. Then I stood up,
ran alone toward the enemy, and seeing me thus, the company immediately
arose and dashed across the second entanglement.

_Taking the Other Trenches._—The first trench taken, it should be
cleaned out, not a man capable of doing harm should be left behind; it
will not do to leave to others, for instance to the grenadiers, the task
of destroying those who can still harm us. At Neuville, we crossed the
first trench in one rush and marched on without stopping; it was then
that we were shot at from behind and obliged to turn back to massacre
them all.

The first trench conquered, the line should be reformed lying down ten
metres beyond the trench. Each man arriving on this new line should open
fire against the defenders of the second trench. When the line is
reformed, it should start the attack again as before.

The following trenches are crossed without interruption, always

For the first wave, _there is no limit_; let it go through as far as
possible. On the 9th of May, the first line ran without stopping as far
as the cemetery of Neuville, La Folie Woods, and the first houses of

The second wave should start forward at the moment the first line
reaches the hostile trenches. If it starts sooner, it will unite with
the first at the entanglement and be involved in the fight for the first
trench; it will be broken up prematurely, and from the moment that it is
no longer a separate mass, it cannot be considered as a reinforcement.

While the first wave drives straight ahead, and can do nothing against
the surprises of the enemy, the second and third waves, warned by what
happens to the first, can thus take certain precautions without
diminishing their _élan_, such as obliquing the sections that would be
exposed to the fire of machine guns not yet out of action.

The reinforcement by successive waves of entire companies leads to a
vexatious mixture of units. It is necessary that the surviving officers
and noncommissioned officers group around them men of their own company
but not miscellaneous units.

                    _Instruction of the First Line._

The assault being the most severe phase of the combat, it is necessary,
in order to face it and push it through, that the will of each
individual be transformed largely by habits and reflexes. Therefore,
hold each day an assault exercise over ground which resembles in detail
that over which the real assault will have to be made.

The points which should be borne in mind are as follows:

_The Alignment._—Be particularly strict on this question; its extreme
importance is recognized. See that the line is extremely well dressed
during the execution of the rushes.

_The Charge._—The company, kept in line, is thus led to a short distance
from the enemy and there released. Then all together along the whole
line, lower the bayonets to the height of the waist; this has an
extremely impressive effect.

The charge should be frenzied and furious, and this the men should well

_The File Closers._—The file closers should form a rank four metres
behind the line, repeating the commands, watching especially the
alignment, and maintaining each man in his place by calling to him by
name. One can hardly realize the effectiveness of these personal
observations in the midst of the bullets. We have no file closers; our
noncommissioned officers have a general tendency to run out in front
like the bravest soldiers to get into the individual fight, forgetting
their men; their training and duties as file closers should receive
constant attention during the exercises in the assault.

_Taking the Next Trenches._—_Pursuit over Free Ground._—Generally in
assaulting exercises, everything stops after the first trench is taken;
everyone is out of breath, and only a few men here and there, generally
noncommissioned officers, try to push on shouting, but soon, being
absolutely alone, they have to lie down panting and spent. This is what
always happens in our battalion exercises.

The exercise means nothing unless there is impressed on the mind of
everyone the deep-rooted idea of routing all the defenders in one sweep.
Each man should know that after having crossed the first trench, he
should go on a few paces, lie down, open fire on the hostile groups who
occupy the second trench, then get ready to start forward as before, and
charge again with the same vigor in spite of fatigue.

We always did this in our exercises, and it was done the same way on the
9th of May. I know men who were shot in the back by German wounded after
having crossed the first trench to reform beyond it as had been
prescribed. In spite of frightful gaps, a line of men kneeling was,
however, reformed beyond the conquered trench and by its fire drove the
defenders of the second trench back into their holes.

As long as there remains a trench to conquer, _prohibit absolutely all
advance through the boyaux_ (communicating trenches); always reform in
line. But the trenches having been taken, the zone of open ground is
reached where the enemy will try to reestablish some resistance here and
there; it will be necessary to advance with more precaution _and to try
and creep through inside his lines and throw him into disorder by
surprise_. Form in each section patrols, each one having at least one
noncommissioned officer; they should be trained to start out
spontaneously as soon as the defenses of the enemy have been passed, and
to spread out in front of the company, trying to creep through the
_boyaux_ to get possession of important points without being seen. These
patrols, equipped with revolvers and grenades, should be practised in
exercises involving combats in _boyaux_.

_Skirmish Formation._—In close combat, men fight much more by shooting
at point blank and very often from the hip than with the bayonet. The
man should therefore be trained to use his rifle in close fighting.

First teach him to watch that part of the parapet and the loopholes on
which he marches in order to forestall the shots of the enemy; then to
aim rapidly, throwing the piece to the shoulder to get the first shot at
the enemy who is aiming at him; begin by bringing up the piece and
aiming slowly, and then increase the rapidity of movement; the man
should observe each time where his line of sight strikes. He should have
his magazine filled for hand-to-hand fighting and know how to refill it
lying down or while running. Thanks to this precaution, after having
emptied my magazine at the first entanglement, I was able to hold my own
with full magazine against three Germans who got in my way.


                        _Its Method of Action._

The most important question concerning the penetration of the enemy’s
line is perhaps the action of the reinforcements (_renforts_), and as
that action has always fallen short, we have never been able to attain
the victory which has seemed so nearly within our reach.

The inertia of the second line and its expenditure without effect arise
from two causes.

To take the first trenches is a task relatively easy; the artillery
preparation is minutely regulated; the terrain is well known, and the
attack is therefore free and open and is pushed through without
reservation. But when the first lines have been crossed, one enters
thenceforth into the domain of the unknown, one is on the lookout for
ambushes and apprehends an unexpected trap at each step; this
disquietude slows up the march and quickly transforms into a surprise
the least activity of the enemy. A resistance which starts up suddenly
intimidates and paralyses the second line immediately, because the fear
of the enemy leads to exaggeration of his strength and the mental
disturbance prevents locating and estimating him rapidly. In addition,
the reinforcements have during long hours of waiting been subjected to a
very demoralizing artillery fire.

All these causes so influence the second line that when it goes into
action, it attacks without spirit and soon stops.

The second cause arises, as I have previously mentioned, from a faulty
conception of the action of the second line.

In place of having a second line of attack analogous to the first,
coming into the fight in one body and marching straight on to the
assigned objectives, the superior commander uses these troops as
reinforcements, which he throws in at the point where he judges their
employment necessary. _Now it is impossible for this commander to see
clearly in the mêlée, he must wait a long time for the situation to
unravel, and as it is necessary for him to be properly informed to send
in his reinforcements opportunely, they always arrive too late._ Having
generally received orders which are ill defined and not having been able
to prepare beforehand for the rôle that falls to them, their attitude is
necessarily weak and hesitating.[10]

It is absolutely necessary to keep pushing on in a brutal, preconceived,
and almost unintelligent manner until the last link is broken, otherwise
hostile reinforcements will suddenly arrive and shatter the supreme

_Choice of Troops for the Second Line._—This line being subject to the
severe trial of bombardment and of the rifle fire directed on the first
line sweeping the ground behind, and being obliged to act with as much
decision as the troops of the first line, it should be particularly well
officered and be composed of troops of excellent spirit; now it often
happens that less reliable troops are placed in this line, and far from
pushing the first line forward, they stop short of it.

_Location of the Troops of the Second Line. The Moment for Putting Them
in Action._—During the preparation, the troops of the second line await
their turn in the shelters which open into the approach _boyaux_. It
would be very advantageous if they could be placed as close as possible
to the parallel of departure[11] in order to profit from the more or
less complete protection against hostile artillery fire which comes from
being close to the hostile trenches; but in general this will not be
possible, except where the German and French trenches are separated by a
considerable distance; in this case, there will be enough space between
the parallel of departure and the old trench to install several support

When the first line has entirely departed, the units of the second line
take their place in the parallel of departure and form there. _While not
waiting there too long, it is absolutely necessary that the second-line
troops entirely separate their effort from the effort of the troops
preceding them._ They should start forward when the latter have almost
taken the first zone of defense. A premature departure would mix their
action with that of the first waves, and they would be absorbed in the
same combat. Thus prematurely consumed and broken up, they would be
incapable of continuing their action and would add nothing to the effort
of the preceding troops.

_Taking the Formation for Combat._—The units of the second line should
take their combat formation from the parallel of departure and from
there be oriented on a well fixed objective; in fact, they risk coming
unexpectedly under fire and should be ready for it at any time. There
is, moreover, a reason of a moral order for it, which has been very
often tested out. When taking the formation for combat, that is to say,
when getting ready to fight the enemy before even having seen him, it
seems that each one becomes imbued with a cold and silent resolution,
which is alone irresistible. Taking formation under the pressure of
danger, however, seems more like a check, and there comes out of it a
demoralizing sensation of sudden fear and disorder.

_Formation._—The conditions which the formation should fulfil are the
following: to be supple in order to adapt itself immediately to the
exigencies of the situation; to be as invulnerable as possible so that
it may escape the effects of a sudden destructive fire.

For a company, the formation seems to be that of two lines about 150
metres apart, the skirmishers three or four paces apart, the company
commander marching between the two lines so that he can see what the
first line sees without being entirely involved in its combat.

The march has been generally conducted in small columns at deploying
intervals, as it seems that this formation is the more supple and
permits of a better utilization of the terrain. This is true only in
time of peace, but in war one must deploy a long time before the bullets

_March and Use of Ground._—Each company marches _at a walk_ straight
toward its objective and _in line_ as long as it is not subjected to
direct fire; it thus avoids the irregularities which arise from the
anxiety to make use of the ground, when from now on, only one anxiety
should prevail, that of routing the enemy.

There is generally a tendency to try to make use of the hostile _boyaux_
and trenches as lines of advance. Even if they should permit approach by
surprise and without loss, they divide up the company and break the
formations for attack; furthermore an extraordinary difficulty is
experienced in leaving them when the bullets whistle and the moment
comes for getting out on the open field.

I shall always remember Fonquevillers, where I persisted in following
with my company a narrow approach which brought me near the enemy, and I
know that we had much trouble in leaving it. I have often thought since
that it would have been preferable to take a combat position in a hollow
road a little further to the rear parallel to the enemy’s front, at 400

_Combat of Units of the Second Line._—The units of the first line,
having made their effort, have been finally stopped on the whole front
by a series of resistances. The troops of the second line have received
as their mission only the two following objects:

To master a well-defined zone up to a certain point;

To master the borders of a center of resistance on the flank of troops
that have pushed into the intervals.

Eventually they may at certain points receive the order to throw back a
counter-offensive and to pursue.

When the troops of the second line arrive in the proximity of the troops
of the first line who have been stopped, there should be no idea of
maneuvering nor of consultation, but as in the case of the first enemy
trench, they must carry through _the assault without hesitation_.

Two cases are presented according to the distance that separates the
fractions of the halted first line from the hostile resistance:

1. Distance less than 200 metres:

If the stopped first line can maintain itself at the limit of its
progression, it is generally not in an open field. Its line will serve
as a parallel of departure for the units of the second line. These units
at first try to reach the line of shelter where they will be formed.
Their assaulting formation results from the march formation, and the
waves will be composed of half companies.

The first wave rushes out of cover at the double to at least half the
distance and opens fire; fire being opened, the second wave rushes _in
line_ and carries along the first.

Here the firing cannot be prevented, as artillery support, now faulty,
has to be replaced by rifle fire, to which is joined the fire of machine
guns and light cannon, which alone can make possible so fearful an

2. Distance more than 200 metres—Progression and Assault:

The new difficulty is to build up at assaulting distance from the enemy
a line of assault in a sort of parallel of departure.

To arrive at assaulting distance, advance by thin lines formed by
halving the skirmish lines already deployed; these lines, at least 100
metres apart, advance successively by alternate rushes, then unite on
the line designated as the starting point for the assault.

A natural parallel of departure may exist or may partially exist, or it
may not exist at all. In the second case, the line of shelters must be
adapted, and in the third case it must be created in order to be able to
stay a few moments at a short distance from the enemy without being
destroyed. To facilitate this extremely difficult and dangerous
construction, it is a good thing to have each man fill a sand bag at the
last shelter and put in some stones, which, while not bulky, stop the
bullets. Each man makes his rushes with his sand bag, which protects him
partially during the halts. Having reached the line fixed upon for the
parallel, this sand bag serves him as a cover, which he has only to
complete rapidly. Each man then enlarges his shelter so as to
accommodate near comrades.

The first wave, reformed at the assaulting distance, makes the assault
as before. At times, the losses and the confusion of units may lead to
an assault by entire companies.

The second and third waves follow and imitate the movements of the

                    _Machine Guns and Light Cannon._

The artillery can only give the second line a support which is often
partial and not very effective; its action must be replaced at whatever
cost by other means, such as machine guns for sweeping the hostile
firing line and light cannon to instantly destroy the hostile machine

_Location of the Machine-Gun and Gun Crews during the Assault._—These
detachments follow the last waves of the first line, and they therefore
are not directly taken under fire and can profit by the indications of
the fight of the first line and so be in a way to act effectively when
the second line comes into action.

_Machine Guns._—The machine gun is an element of attack and the most
terrible arm of close fighting. However, it is employed in the attack
only to man the positions taken or to support the infantry elements from
a distance. This is nonsense: to give it such a rôle, one could never
have trembled with rage and impotence at a few paces from the enemy,
whom he could not get at.

The machine gun should be pushed as far as possible in front of the
halted line of fire. If it remains behind or abreast of the fighting
line, its field of fire is generally blocked or masked by the slightest
movement; in advance of the line, it will enable the infantry line to
advance for some time under the cover of its fire; it is the tooth of
the attack. It can move forward, its crew of a few men can creep along
the smallest pathway, and a shell hole is sufficient for its shelter; in
the skirmish chain a whole ditch is necessary. Will it lack ammunition,
having only the boxes that the gun crew carries sometimes incomplete?
No, for it has only to fire on rare occasions, for example, at the
moment of assault. If it is taken, what does that matter—we will take
ten from the enemy. The problem would be much simplified _with a few
automatic rifles_.

_Light Cannon._—We have spoken of the rôle of light cannon in the
paragraph relating to the destruction of machine guns.

               _Instruction of Units of the Second Line._

This instruction proposes to create the reflex of immediately attacking
all resistance that appears and of developing presence of mind by
inventing sudden incidents requiring the taking of a rapid decision. In
a word, to add a spirit of prompt decision in the troops of the second
line to the irresistible _élan_ which one tries to develop in all
assaulting troops.

The troops of the second line when facing a resistance should have only
one idea: to assault as soon as possible and for that purpose to try to
bring about the two following conditions:

_To create a sort of parallel of departure at assaulting distance_;

_To obtain superiority of fire by all means at their disposal._

We will study by means of examples the two preceding cases cited. Troops
of the second line should know them by heart, because all cases resemble
them more or less.

_First Case._—We reach the first line, halted under cover at 150 metres
from the enemy; this is a case of organizing a long-distance assault.

Attention should be focussed on the following points:

1. Reestablishment of Order and Calm.

The line of cover is an extemporized parallel, the men are crowded into
uncomfortable positions, several units are mixed. These are conditions
likely to create disorder, the worst enemy of the assault. Think well as
long as you are under cover because amid the bullets you march straight
ahead without thinking. Transmit simple indications from man to man and
orders to the chiefs of section by note.

Have all cease firing except the best shots; firing unnerves and
distracts the noncommissioned officers and soldiers. On the contrary,
silence is at once a mark of order; it impresses the men who collect
themselves and make the appeal for a supreme resolution to their inner

2. Gaining Superiority of Fire.

It can be obtained in the two following ways:

The execution of an intense fire by the whole line;

The execution of a slow, deadly, and precise fire by the best shots,
well concealed.

The men are under cover, consequently it is possible to avoid the first
plan, which is noisy and not particularly effective but which
circumstances beyond our control sometimes make necessary.

The best shots are designated by the chiefs of section. They construct
masks in front of themselves, behind which they fire obliquely, that is
to say, under excellent conditions of security and calm. They locate an
adversary, keep aiming at him and firing each time that he appears, and
they go successively from right to left. This method is very effective;
the enemy does not dare to fire any more, and it soon seems as if his
trench were empty.

In addition if possible, get a small group to the front or on the flank,
who will protect a forward movement by their fire.

3. Execution of the Assault.

“The first and second sections will move out under command of Lieutenant
X and will make a rush of 80 metres. Open fire after the rush.”

The movement should be simultaneous and without warning to the enemy;
the following suggestions are made:

“Prepare to rush, look toward Lieutenant X, hide your bayonets.”

The movement having been executed by the first echelon and fire opened,
the second echelon rushes in its turn, aligned at a quick pace, then at
double time, and carries along the first.

From the moment of the charge, each man rushes on the enemy and fires if

_Second Case._—The units of the first line have been stopped at more
than 200 metres from the enemy, say at 500 metres.

Move forward, executing short, rapid rushes without firing, in thin
lines which are united at assaulting distance from the enemy.

The formation of successive lines for rushing is extremely simple. The
company having arrived at a sheltered line beyond which extends an open
space, the company commander commands:

“In thin lines by half section, at 100 metres distance by short rushes:
1st and 3d Sections, forward.”

He personally goes out with the first line to select the emplacement
where he will halt it.

Each of the 1st and 3d Sections sends out two squads (1, 3, 9, 11). The
men immediately take 6 pace intervals. This forms the first line, which
is followed by a second, and so on, the rushes of each line alternating
with those of the preceding one.

The construction of the parallel of departure is accomplished as has
been indicated above.

               _Instruction of the Machine-Gun Sections._

The machine-gun sections should participate in the exercises with the
infantry. They should be accustomed to grasp the idea of the situation
rapidly and to replace the fire of the attacking infantry either by
taking a position in rear or on the flanks which will permit them to
fire up to the end of the action without being hindered by the movement
to the front, or by going squarely out in advance of the halted line.

This last case should be particularly studied; the Germans have shown it
to us, and it is therefore possible; I know that it is very effective
(25th of August at Crevic).

Therefore train them to get used to picking out cover, however
insignificant, as a position for a machine gun and to utilize the ground
skilfully and rush rapidly with the matériel in order to make themselves
invisible or indiscernible;

To arrange shelter rapidly, to create a mask in front, and arrange for
oblique fire, in order that the personnel may not be rapidly destroyed;

To keep still and try to be forgotten until the moment of assault.

The crews of the light guns should be attached to the infantry and learn
to cooperate with it instead of being independent.

   _Exercises to Develop the Spirit of Decision in the Second Line._

In front of any resistance whatever, the units of the second line should
have but two ideas:

To take positions rapidly for the assault;

To assault.

The dispositions for the assault are:

The creation or adaptation of a line of a shelter at assaulting

The rapid gaining of superiority of fire.

All the work of maneuver is reduced to the realization of these two
ideas. It is a question of applying in slightly varying circumstances
the two classic studies above indicated, and one should know them

To develop presence of mind in the noncommissioned officers and
suppleness in the organization, situations analogous to those formerly
used on the drill ground such as, “Cavalry to the right—in rear” should
be devised.

Choose a parallel of departure and have the troops of the second line
take their formation and march on the objectives designated in advance.
Suddenly call out, “Enemy resistance on such a line, our first elements
are stopped at such a point ... hostile machine guns in such a region.”
Then everybody, infantry, machine guns, light canon, instantly take up
their dispositions.

By representing the enemy and having him fire blank cartridges, one
becomes accustomed to making rapid reconnaissance of resistances.


The battle of today, since the last evolution of the war, is only a
succession of assaults. The assault being the hardest and most murderous
phase of the combat, before which the attack generally breaks down, we
should only undertake it with assaulting troops. All troops are far from
being assaulting troops; they need a well established cohesion and a
special training.

In nine months of campaign, I have only twice had a company really
capable of delivering the assault: that of the active regiment, which
was eager to charge at whatever cost at Morhange, and that of
Neuville-Saint-Vaast, toward which during the assault, I turned but
twice—when we started and when I fell.

                             THE COHESION.

In order that an organization may be capable of reaching the enemy, it
is necessary for each man to be thoroughly convinced that his neighbor
will march at his side and not abandon him; he should not have to turn
around to see whether his comrade is coming. This requires a solidly
established cohesion. Cohesion is very difficult to obtain with the
continual renewal of men and noncommissioned officers; to cement it
well, the men must have lived long together and have borne the same
hardships during which are strengthened the sentiments of solidarity and
affection which create in the company invisible bonds, stronger than all
discipline and the only ones capable of resisting the fierce egoism of
the battlefield.

The company must also have been tried out by experiences severe enough
for everyone to be able to estimate what his leaders and neighbors are
worth under circumstances where borrowed masks fall off. Thus habit,
friendship, and confidence make no difference in the appearance of a
company; it is the battle alone that unveils these qualities in their
full staunchness and value.

The company of the 9th of May had been in existence at least four
months, that is, the last considerable reinforcements had been present
about four months. We had indeed received newer recruits, but they were
not sufficient to change the spirit of the company. We had lived in the
Belgian trench where the material side of the situation could not have
been more miserable. Without having suffered serious losses, we had been
at times very roughly used, so that all the men had an idea of the
trials of war.

Thus trench life is an excellent school for cohesion, but a company
which moves forward directly from trench life would not be capable of
attacking as we should like. Trench life is deteriorating and destroys
in the mind of the man the idea that he belongs to a unit, to an
organization. It should be completed by a period of exercises.

During the period of exercises, the work should be toward cohesion by
establishing an exact discipline, difficult to obtain in the trenches,
by punctually requiring the marks of respect, and by paying close
attention to the uniform and personal appearance. All these details have
a prime moral importance; nothing is more demoralizing for the soldier
than to see around him his comrades badly dressed and negligent in their
duty; he evidently finds at times that this is more convenient but at
heart he lacks confidence because he well knows that in this troop of
Bohemians, without faith or order, everyone will go his own way in the
moment of danger. The daily aspect of a company, carefully uniformed and
well disciplined, gives him, on the contrary, a feeling of reassurance
and confidence.

            “... Mais par un prompt renfort
            Nous nous vîmes trois mille en arrivant au port
            Tant à nous voir marcher en _si bel équipage_
            Les plus épouvantés reprenaient de courage.”

This is what our battalion commander often quoted to us.

Combat exercises by entire units, close-order drill, and passing in
review which should always close an exercise session, contribute to
develop the sentiment, which becomes blunted in the trenches, that the
soldier belongs to a unit, compact and articulate.

The trench produces cohesion in the _small group_, the period of
exercise the _cohesion in the organization_.

                         THE OFFENSIVE SPIRIT.

In order to rush headlong at the enemy out in the open, where at any
moment shot and shell may do its worst, one must have an exuberance of
energy. This increase of courage exists only among troops who have for a
long time been able to accumulate reserves of moral force. A unit that
has recently made a bloody effort is incapable of delivering a _furious
and unlimited assault_, such as we wish for. It might with trouble take
a line of trenches and there hastily take cover. The supply of energy is
used up quickly and comes back very slowly; the memory of the terrible
dangers must be dulled. In a combat, the expenditure of energy is at
once physical and nervous, but rather nervous than physical. Now the
mistake is often made of thinking that an organization is in fighting
condition when it has again taken on a good appearance and seems in
excellent form. A few nights of sleep and a few days of good food are
sufficient to restore the physique, but the nerve cells are reformed
with all the slowness that is characteristic of them. How many times,
some days after bloody fights which have left me weak and emaciated,
have I found myself in a state of flourishing health almost shameful for
a soldier, and felt at the same time a faltering courage at heart!

To try to attack with troops already dejected or insufficiently
recovered is to march to meet a certain and bloody defeat. It is
sufficient to see the troops with which the attempts to break through at
Neuville in the month of June were made and their result, known in
advance by the discouraged officers. The almost destroyed regiments that
had made the magnificent attacks of May 9 and had occupied the conquered
ground under the worst bombardments until the 25th, had been reorganized
with dispirited officers and noncommissioned officers, and were the
sorriest soldiers that one could see—men recalled after having been
formerly rejected, incompletely instructed, and of rather mediocre
spirit. The few survivors of the splendid days of May, instead of being
exalted by the memory of these exploits, had retained the memory of the
massacre which had left them almost alone among their former officers
and two hundred comrades. Two weeks rest and a new attack with the
painful result which covered the famous regiments with unmerited shame;
companies hesitating to leave their trenches, officers obliged to drive
their men, the slaughter of abandoned noncommissioned officers.

Therefore do not attack except with troops that have not made a bloody
effort for a long time and who have been able to recuperate their supply
of energy.

The second condition under which troops attack without thought of
sparing themselves is when they truly feel that the action in which they
are going to engage is worth the immense sacrifice of life. Each man
down to the most humble feels conscious that his existence is of
inestimable value, that it represents many efforts, many troubles, and
many affections. The infantry soldier has so many and many occasions to
die that he only gives himself up to it on real occasions, and this calm
and conscientious self-denial which irritates those who would like to
find the troops ever responsive to their orders is of a supreme
grandeur. When one has seen the death and suffering of the soldier at
close range, one ties to him as to one’s self and does not expose him
for every whim. The soldier understands this thoroughly, and when he is
told that it is “_pour la Patrie_,” he then goes in for all he is worth,
and so it is that the chief who has not stormed and fumed in vain is
rewarded for his wisdom.

The coming of the generals who know how to talk to the men who will meet
their death with simplicity and conviction, has a profound and decisive
influence on the open-hearted mass of infantrymen. Handling soldiers was
formerly the greatest accomplishment of commanders, who did not confine
themselves to the brief and abstract formulas of their orders. _Today as
formerly, the word of the great chief, rational and assured, is graven
in ineffaceable letters in the hearts of the combatants._ Beyond the
chief, the soldier clearly sees his native country, whose supreme will
still claims the sacrifice, and in himself he feels his courage harden.

Toward the 15th of April, returning from Belgium, our regiment passed in
review before General F—, our former Corps Commander, who assembled the
officers and said to them: “We are going to attempt another
maneuver ..., the waiting has come to an end, we are going after them
..., we have today cannon and ammunition in abundance, we will crush
their shelters, we will destroy their machine guns.... Then the infantry
will be launched and will crush them; after the first ones, there will
be others ..., then others ...; if we do not succeed, we shall have no
one to blame but ourselves.” These words sank into the hearts of the
company officers, and they repeated them with conviction to their
soldiers, and the latter heard them so well that they surpassed all that
could have been expected; they are not the ones whom General F— might

Thus the troops see clearly the object, but the moral preparation would
be insufficient if the man felt himself incapable of accomplishing it.
Each day the officers should instil in the troops the idea of the effort
and show them how it may be realized; there are even questions
concerning the instinct of preservation that it is well to bring into
play. Thus instead of fearing the ordeal, the man little by little gets
accustomed to the idea of facing it.

It remains now to complete and exalt the offensive spirit by an intense
period of appropriate exercises. Trench life has a tendency to kill the
offensive spirit of the troops. They think only of protecting
themselves, they are always under cover, they circulate in the _boyaux_,
and all this creates a horror of the open ground. Daily experiences,
such as not being able to show one’s head without running the risk of
receiving a bullet in the face, create a very acute sensation of danger.
They dare no longer stir, and to attack the terrible trenches of the
enemy which one cannot look at even for a second seems a mad and
irrealizable project. The service in the trenches creates terror of the
hostile trench.

              _The Man Must Be Put into Forward Movement_

Make him run, jump, and rush in the open spaces; let him get intoxicated
with air and movement; the attitude creates the mentality. As soon as he
has lost the habit of hanging his head and hunching his back, he has
also lost his exaggerated prudence and the fear of unsheltered spaces.

At the cantonments at Fiefs and Berles, where we passed a fortnight
before the 9th of May, the afternoons were entirely given up to sport.
We organized “field days” in the woods, obstacle races, and the men,
recruits and old reservists, galloped through these spring days with
absolutely unbounded animation. To give the men the habit of moving
without anxiety over open ground where the bullets whistled, I took
advantage of the nights when we were working on saps and parallels to
make them march in patrols a short distance in front of the lines. If I
saw that the workmen were thinking of crouching down, I made them stand
up for a while; as for me, I fortified myself by walking up and down in
front of the working party.

We wished for an irresistible assault and therefore tried to inculcate
in the men the instinct of hand-to-hand fighting, at which they
ordinarily hesitate with the result that the close combat is stopped for
days and months at a few score metres from the enemy. We had bayonet
fencing, but it was a demoniacal fencing, the fencing of the chargers of

The fencing exercises, carried out by the company to prepare for the
attack, were as follows: first, a brief review of the movements, then
immediately fencing on the run; the men were formed at a few paces
intervals and then started on a run; it was “Halt! Thrust! Thrust
again!” They started again, climbed the embankments, lunged and relunged
furiously; they got winded, so much the worse.... “Right face!” and
everyone ran to the right, descended the slope stabbing and stabbing
again, getting excited and feverish, the officers and sergeants
galloping more furiously than the rest.

Afterwards fencing with the dummy. We had stuffed sacks full of straw
and made them smaller each day to make a smaller target and oblige the
men to be more accurate in their thrusts.

Each man attacked the dummy individually, shouting with all the frenzy
of which his imagination was capable, and those who attacked the best,
with the greatest _élan_, went over it again to show their comrades how
to do it. It was no play, they knew enough of the Germans to believe
them in front of them, and I recall that among those from Gascony,
Toulouse, and Provence, who formed the basis of the company, some
shouted with frenzy, “Piquo, Piquo!”

In order to give more movement, the exercise against the dummy was
arranged in the following manner:

In a quite tangled wood, we established obstacles by cutting down bushes
over a course of 80 metres. Then here and there we placed the dummies.
Thus on a fairly short course the man was obliged to run, jump, bend
down, attack, and this in every manner, for we placed the dummies in
such a way that the man had to combine his attack with right face, left
face, face to the rear, or with crossing an obstacle. This exercise
particularly interested the men, and as we measured the time taken by
each one to run the course, in a few days it had developed in an
astonishing manner their agility and suppleness, and gave nerve to those
who had none. I know that as concerns myself the knowledge of having
covered the course in the shortest time, in addition to other
experiences, contributed greatly to developing my confidence in my vigor
and my good legs, which were the most precious of my offensive qualities
on the 9th of May.

Afterwards we attacked in groups and then passed to charges by section.
Here we sought, while giving the greatest impulsion and fury possible,
to maintain cohesion and give to each one the confidence of the touch of
elbows, and to the enemy the terrifying impression of a wall that
nothing could stop. We marched at charging pace,[12] aligned, with a
lengthened and furious step—not restrained and without conviction—up to
50 metres; then we charged, lowering the bayonets in a single movement
to the height of the waist.

We were working to get the charge of the skirmishers and Zouaves at
Froeschwiller; now we have had it with loss of the majority of our
officers over three successive trenches on two kilometres of a single
rush to the cemetery of Neuville-Saint-Vaast.


The fight does not consist in getting killed but in getting out of it by
thrashing the enemy. Therefore do not go at it in a hurly-burly fashion;
one should be careless only about the inevitable fatality over which one
can have no influence. Let us prepare our business down to the slightest
details in order to conquer and live.

                        KNOWLEDGE OF THE GROUND.


Before the attack, the physiognomy of the terrain and of the enemy’s
defenses should be well impressed on the memory. The position should be
known not only from the front but in profile. This study is of the
greatest importance, particularly _for the troops of the second line_,
because the greatest cause of stoppage in an offensive against a
fortified position is the incomplete knowledge of the position. One is
afraid, in advancing, of falling into an ambush. The company commanders,
particularly those of the first line, should indicate to their chiefs of
section the successive points of direction for their sections, so that
each one will be aware of the obstacles he will have to cross. The men
should likewise know the ground well. I used to require them to study
the future sector of attack, giving them the principal points to watch
when they went on guard in the trench.

If on the 4th of December we had known the terrain of attack before the
night engagement instead of not having the slightest notion of it, we
would not have awaited the dawn at the first German trench for fear of
falling into a wasps’ nest, and we should have taken not only the second
but the third trench and made many prisoners.

Very detailed maps are distributed before the attack to company
commanders and to chiefs of section, but one should try to complete them
oneself by attentive and repeated observation of one’s sector. Before
the attack of the 9th of May, I had recopied for each noncommissioned
officer the part of my map concerning the zone of attack of the company,
entering on it all known information.


Real superiority over the enemy is obtained by superiority of weapons;
courage cannot make up for destruction, one must tax one’s brain to
furnish the men with matériel which may be useful to them.

_Grenades._—Every grenadier or member of a patrol should carry five
grenades; each man should have one, not to throw himself but so that it
may be possible to get a certain number of them together in case of
need. If a fight with grenades is foreseen in a region cut up with
trenches or _boyaux_ or in a town, the supply should be increased.

Furnish suffocating grenades, especially to patrols going into _boyaux_.

Familiarize everyone a long time beforehand, if possible, with the
handling of the different grenades. On the 8th of May, I sent 5
kilometres for suffocating grenades, which I had just heard of, in order
to be acquainted with the effects of this useful weapon. Have hooks
prepared, fixed to the left wrist, for the purpose of lighting the
friction grenades by hand.

Revolvers and knives are indispensable for the fight in the _boyaux_.

Have individual sand bags to establish a rapid barrier in the _boyaux_
or to build up a line of cover such as we have before described.

Also the Filloux apparatus, with the use of which the men should be

_Equipment._—Keep the lightened knapsack, which will be of service
against a possible bombardment of the conquered position (lesson of
Langemark, December 4). Fold the blanket on the inside of the knapsack
to form a padding against fragments.



The artillery preparation, roaring on the horizon like a furious storm,
ceases sharply, and a tragic silence falls over the field of battle. The
infantry leaves its parallels in a single movement, at a walk,
magnificently aligned, crowned with the scintillation of thousands of
bayonets. Then the hostile trenches burst out suddenly with fire, the
fusillade rattles immediately, madly, dominated by the pitiless rattling
of the machine guns. The wave of assailants thins out, entire units
disappear, mowed down. Some lie down and advance no further, while
others, better commanded, march ahead in spite of all. Some, more
favored, find themselves in places where the artillery preparation has
cleared the enemy out. They reach the first trench, and hand-to-hand
fighting commences.

The second wave arrives in its turn, avoids the zone of destruction,
plunges into the parts where the resistance has weakened, and thus the
first trench, split up into enveloped sections, is definitely submerged
by the second wave. They form beyond the captured trench and start
forward again; but it is a disorganized combat by groups in the midst of
shots and bullets which cross each other in every direction. The second
trench is assaulted, certain parts are conquered through which the flood
of assailants spreads out while desperate groups resist stubbornly in
some redoubts.

Now in the first line of attack, there is no more order, the dead cover
the ground passed over, here mowed down by ranks, there hung in clusters
on the wire entanglements, or forming a crown on top of the parapets, or
sown here and there by the scattering of the hand-to-hand fights; the
wounded flow back in numbers to the rear, isolated soldiers are
scattered in all corners for the most diverse reasons; even
organizations are stopped in the conquered trenches by their chiefs who
find that they have done enough and that it is high time to get out of
the trouble. But beyond this immense dispersion, some heroic groups,
weak nuclei of many companies, led by ardent leaders, make their way
further into the hostile territory. They suddenly appear, urged into a
gallop over the trenches; magnified ten times by the imagination of the
enemy who loses his head, they run beyond into the open fields,
receiving some shots here and there but surprised at the emptiness of
the field of battle. Behind them, the combat of extermination continues
in places, but nothing follows, only some groups of stragglers and
wounded are returning. Then these foremost parties feel their weakness
and count their numbers; the emptiness, the silence, the invisible
resistance impress them, they scent the ambush and soon stop.

In front of the centers of resistance, the fight is hard and murderous;
they have taken one or two trenches, carried the first houses, but the
organizations are dissolved in the interminable individual fighting in
the _boyaux_ or ruins; here the progress has been inappreciable in spite
of enormous losses.

Thus the first line has made its effort; in the centers of resistance,
it has scarcely gotten a good hold on the exterior borders; in the
intervals, on the contrary, it has expanded widely like a wave which had
broken through a dike at one point. But it has been stopped, out of
breath, in front of the second line of defense, whose resistance is
organizing, or it has been nailed to its place by flanking fire from the
still unconquered centers of resistance; it is composed from now on of
weak groups of real fighters, just strong enough to mark out here and
there the limits of the conquered ground, and of a multitude of isolated
individuals and entire units which are scattered over the whole zone of

This has all lasted perhaps less than an hour.


With the enemy all is disorder, the batteries flee at a gallop before
the tide which has carried away all the obstacles prepared long ago and
judged impregnable; all confidence disappears; the adversary, feeling
his resistance giving way around him, no longer dares to hold out
desperately, from now on the least thing induces him to turn tail.
However, at some points reserves have come up, have manned their
positions of the second line, and have attempted some timid offensive
returns. Machine guns, rapidly brought up, are installed and fire with
utmost rapidity to prevent access to the undefended zones and to gain
time. The tottering resistance tries to hold on; now, one more great
brutal push along the whole front like the attack of the first line, and
then will come a total rout.

It is then that the second line appears; starting out in its turn from
the parallel, it advances by immense and successive waves of thin lines,
calm and unshakable among the rafales of shells and random bullets.

Already numerous detachments of machine guns and light cannon have
preceded it. Creeping through, following up the first line, they have
been able to unravel the situation and to discern the points where the
resistance tries to hold out and which must be immediately swept. The
light cannon orient themselves directly on the rattling of the machine
guns, which they endeavor to overwhelm with a shower of their small

The “accompanying batteries” have started as soon as the first trenches
are taken and are soon oriented by the signals of the special _agents de
liaison_, artillerists who follow the infantry. The remainder of the
artillery cuts off the approaches by a barrier of asphyxiating shells
and carries its fire on to the second line, marked out according to the
directing plan.

Thus the second line arrives close up to the advanced elements of the
first line under cover of sufficient fire. The second line pushes
straight to the front on the objectives fixed long before and which
should claim its whole attention.

Certain of the units have a mission to blind the centers of resistance
by finishing up the conquest of their exterior borders, while the great
majority are absorbed in the intervals, instead of halting and
exhausting themselves by playing the enemy’s game in his inextricable
points of support.

To quote an expression of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” modifying it
slightly: a center of resistance is a filter into which one can pour
battalions and regiments, and it will yield only a few drops.

The organizations passing through the intervals arrive in front of the
second line of defense, which is not generally occupied continuously.
They run against lively and sudden resistances, or _else encounter empty
spaces through which they boldly penetrate_, pushing straight on always
to the front without being intimidated by the silence or distracted by
the resistance on the right or left. The units stopped rapidly organize
the assault and attack by main force like the first waves of the attack
without trying to maneuver, a temptation of weakness and indecision.
Here again there is hesitation: units held up by only a semblance of
resistance or trying to avoid it; others, having approached to
assaulting distance, dig in and dare not go forward openly into a
supreme charge; others are turned away from their objective to get into
another combat, which absorbs them.

However, the second line of hostile defense finds itself in its turn
disabled; broken in and considerably passed by in certain localities,
vigorously assailed on all points where a resistance is hastily
improvized, it is soon split up into islands and surrounded on all

The points of support, as in the case of the first trench, are left to
one side and merely isolated by the capture of their borders.

                        ACTION OF THE RESERVES.

We are now nearly in open ground; we must still definitely clear away
the last resistance to which the hostile reinforcements now coming up in
haste would cling and soon convert into an insuperable barrier if we
give them a few hours’ respite.

It is for this purpose that we employ the reserves.

Informed by officers of _liaison_, who are not afraid to traverse the
battlefield to find out how things are going on and who do not abandon
the troops to their own resources until tardy reports come in, the
superior commander directs his reserves to the precise points where they
are most needed.

Thus the last resistances, which the second attacking line, occupied
with marching straight ahead, was not able to encircle, are definitely
shattered by the reserves.

                     _Exploitation of the Success._

Finally, we have arrived in the zone of open country, the gigantic
assault of 5 or 6 kilometres is ended. Now it will be the surprise, the
rapidity of movements, the skill of maneuver which will gradually
produce panic.

The enemy, pushed back, overthrown, broken through in the intervals
between the points of support where he tries to hold on, will soon no
longer find a position where he dare make a stand; he will be
irresistibly drawn into the rout as the menacing cry “the French!”
re-echoes in an infinitely increasing volume.

But it will then no longer be a question of breaking through, we must
rest after the assault.



  Pl. I



  Pl. II



  Pl. III



  Pl. IV


  ACTION OF RESERVE BATTALIONS. _Zone Definitely Cleared._

  Pl. V


Footnote 1:

  Etude sur l’attaque dans la période actuelle de la guerre—Impressions
  et réflexions d’un commandant de compagnie; Paris, Librairie Blon,
  1916. Communicated to the French Army by the Commander-in-Chief.
  Translated for the INFANTRY JOURNAL by an officer of infantry.

Footnote 2:

  The great French offensive on Neuville-Saint-Vaast north of

Footnote 3:

  See Plate II at end of this article.

Footnote 4:

  Communicating trenches.

Footnote 5:

  The assault commenced at 10 o’clock.—TRANSLATOR.

Footnote 6:

  See Plate I at end of this article.

Footnote 7:

  See Plate III at end of this article.

Footnote 8:

  The French company has four sections, but no platoons except for

Footnote 9:

  The word reinforcement (_renforts_) is defective for designating the
  second line, but it is the current and popular word that is used among
  the troops to designate whatever comes after the first line of
  attack.—See Plate IV at end of this article.

Footnote 10:

  The author’s language may not be clear, but the point he wishes to
  bring out is that the first line of attack, consisting of several
  waves, will be entirely occupied in taking the first zone of defense;
  then and not until this is almost accomplished will the second line,
  complete in itself, like the first line assault over the same ground,
  each unit as in the first line having a pre-arranged objective; this
  second line not to be used by the superior commander for any but the
  preconceived program. Behind this second line are held as reserve
  other bodies of troops under the direct orders of the superior
  commander for employment against any resistance that the first and
  second lines have failed to take. Behind all this are the general
  reserves, several hours in rear, ready to march through the breach to
  the pursuit and to new battlefields beyond.—TRANSLATOR.

Footnote 11:

  When an attack is planned, numerous saps are run out to the front from
  the main firing trenches. The night before the attack, a parallel is
  broken out connecting the sap heads, and this parallel is amply
  provided with short ladders. Just before the artillery preparation is
  to cease, this parallel is filled with the companies detailed for the
  assault, and as the artillery ceases, the waves rush in succession up
  the ladders and to the front. Thus the name parallel of departure. Of
  course, to provide for the successive waves, not only the parallel,
  but the saps and the main trenches are filled with men who move up
  into the parallel as fast as room is made.—TRANSLATOR.

Footnote 12:

  Thirty inches, 140 per minute.—TRANSLATOR.

Footnote 13:

  See Plates at end of this article.


                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES

 1. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.
 2. Retained anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as
 3. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.

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