The 187th Infantry Regiment
in Lothringen and at Reims 1917
Gerhard Friedrich Dose
The time spent in Lothringen can be seen as training and preparation time in order to get familiarized with the new trench warfare techniques for the areas where they were to be deployed.
The personal notes of Hauptmann Dose, Leutnants d. Res. Specht, Witte and Leutnant Borchert as used in the book „Die 187er im Felde“ were used. Partly copied and illustrated with scanned images from war time photographs from my father’s wartime photo album. The copied texts have been displayed in cursive. All sketches are from the hand of Hauptmann Dose, 187th I.R.
The data of the royal prussian 187th Infantry Regiment in Lothringen and at Reims
The deployment and rest dates were also taken from the photo album and are as follows:
In Rommelfingen and Duß March and April 1917
In Medewich End of April 1917
Hill 100 northwest of Reims May 1917
On Camp at Poilcourt and Houdilcourt Early June 1917
At Kaiser barracks south of Aussonce June until Mid July 1917
On Hochberg and in Winterfeldt camp Mid July and August 1917
At Schwerin camp east of la Neuville September 1917
Transport to Flanders Early October 1917
After a long railroad trip and a double delousing at Oppeln and in Oberhofen the regiment was unloaded at Finstingen in the early days of March. The battalions occupied their designated quarters. The second delousing in Oberhofen and the quartering of the entire division in the Finstingen area, far away from the front lines, was the result of suspected stain typhus. A fourteen day quarantine was therefore ordered. After this quarantine showed that the illness did not surface the division was prepared for it’s actual goal, acting as reserve behind the Duß front. The quarantine time of two weeks was not lost time, however. All worked to get back in shape. The regiment had spent two years in the mountains and had to a customize itself to trench warfare. But that was not enough. This type of warfare had changed dramatically since 1914 and early 1915. The heavy battles at Verdun and especially at the Somme had dramatically increased the means available to Artillery, Engineers and Infantry. It had become almost impossible to hold a designated line in all conditions. They had to be recaptured after heavy losses by automatic counter strikes using the reserve troops who were especially deployed for this task. The shape of a position and it’s occupation had to be much deeper than before. The reserves of all groups, companies, battalions and regiments were expected to counter attack on their own initiative. These were all new ways of working for the regiments that returned from Rumania and it was difficult for all men, from foot soldiers to group leaders to get accustomed to it so that they would follow these new rules under stress as well. We should also explain the phrase ‚Attack divisions and regiments’, since it will reported later. These counter strikes, that were performed by the reserve troops were called ‚position counter strikes’. If these counter strikes were not successful, so if the enemy had breached our positions over a wide area, the division’s leaders would have to order large groups, regiments or complete divisions to move forwards in order to undo the damage. Troops that were standby directly behind the lines were called ‚Attack troops’ and their counter strike was a counter strike from the rear. Besides these counter strike troops there was also a „counter attack“. The main difference was that the counter strike troops would enter the battle directly after a position was lost, while the counter attack groups would attack as the result of a planned and prepared attack, mostly days after a position had been lost.
On the 15th of March the entire division was moved closer to the front. The regiment staff, the Ist and IIIrd battalion were quartered at Duß, the IInd battalion in Wirtsdorf, 1st and 3rd machine gun companies in Kerprich, 2nd machine gun company in Genesdorf. In Duß the soldiers first saw a large lotharian town. First during the war the town had regained it’s original German names. After the war, Duß was renamed Dieuze again and Medewich became Moyenvic. During the war one would only hear townspeople speak French. The way they looked at the German soldiers was not at all a friendly one. But the angry people and their insults didn’t bother our soldiers. They had a great time in Duß and it’s surrounding area. Since the refitting for the new battle on the western front went well, many hours were left for fun and games. Even so far that „Fat Franz“, the well known and loved deputy doctor, later Field surgeon of the IIIrd battalion voluntarily took his vacation later than planned. The companies arranged a good deal of company parties and so time passed all too quickly.
Town gate in Finstingen Town gate on 30th Sept. 2003
Bombing raid damage in the horse stables of the barracks in Duß
On the 9th of April the regiment was placed for work at the disposal of the frontline division, the 15th Bavarian Infantry Division for 8 days. It was moved to the front again and was quartered in several locations. On the 18th of April, after the planned work was finished, the companies returned to their former quarters in and around Duß. The joy was short-lived. At the same day the regiment was ordered to take front line position to the west of Wich (Vic-s-Seille) and Medewich (Moyenvic). During the 19th of March until the 22nd of march all relieves went as planned. As intermediate quarters for several companies Medewich, Neumuhlen-Hof, Salival, Marsal with it’s age-old fortifications and Haraldshofen were used. The relieved troops, the 206 Infantry Division, were transported to one of the early full scale fronts. The allies had launched a large offensive, the English at Arras, the French at the Aisne and the Champagne on order to break through our western front, cut communication lines of the groups between them and end the war in one great strike. This plan failed owing to our battle trained, but not very experienced, higher command and the braveness of our front troops. At that time our division was not regarded as battle ready or they wanted to save us for later. Whatever the reason was, it gave us 8 more days to avoid the battles near Reims, while getting accustomed with one of the quietest frontlines in the west. The positions that our regiment occupied over a wide spanned area were well constructed with broad blockades. It was not a trick, the enemy was about 2 kilometers away. People still lived in the villages of Schenris and Juvercourt in the front line and there appeared to be a gentleman’s agreement between artilleries of both sides that the villages would not be targeted. Overall there was little shooting going on anyway.
Sketch of the occupation area in Lothringen.
Also see Michelin map Nr. 242
Regiment positions Same positions on 30th of September 2003
During these days the later regiment’s mortar company came into existence. Already in Duß a selection of NCO and men were sent to Bitsch (Bitche) for a mortar training. This group rejoined the regiment with 12 light mortars on the 22nd of April. As a result of the work of these men the mortar group grew to be a worthwhile part of the regiment, well appreciated by the Infantry.
Positions of the 1st battalion.
But we couldn’t enjoy these „intermediate positions“ very long. The large battle at Arras and the twin battles at Aisne-Champagne required fresh battle ready troops. The Lotharian front was ideal as rest position for battle fatigued divisions. So during the days of 28th until 30th of April the battalions were relieved by the Bavarian 14th Reserve Infantry Regiment and by the Dresdner Landsturm battalion. This battalion had to be provided to the relieving battalion since it had lost many men during the first French attack at the Aisne. Our entire regiment had to march to Duß, to be loaded there. The Ist Battalion already had been in the Medewich area as reserve battalion and was transported out as first unit. The other battalions camped in Oberlinder, Beidersdorf and Burgaltdorf in the mean time.
The regiment still lacked the protective gear that was later seen as indispensable, the steel helmet. Just before the transport a number of them were received, so that the largest part of the battle groups could be equipped with them. Like everything new, this new helmet was met with great distrust. One found it too heavy, the other disliked the fitting and many more complaints were heard. Later everyone was full of praise besides one drawback, one couldn’t hear well and that was unpleasant during enemy fire when one would mistake the dampened sound of bullets for incoming grenades.
Hill 100 and Frankewerk northwest of Reims
On the 30th of April the Ist Battalion, on the 2nd of May the IInd and IIIrd Battalion were transported out of Duß and Bensdorf. Nobody knew where we went. We only knew that we were going to one of the large battle fronts. Which one would be better? Which one was better? We passed behind the front through Sedan. Would it be Arras or Reims? Then, in Liart a locomotive was attached to the other side of the train and we went south. Now we knew. The battle fields at Reims were our destination. The transport was unloaded at Novion Porcien. By foot we moved to our quarters, Ist Battalion to Conde-les-Herpy, IInd Battalion to Herpy and the IIIrd Battalion to Chateau Porcien. We met the first time the landscape of the "Louse-Champagne". On many sites the white chalk subsoil came to the surface beneath the thin black earth soil, uprooted by grenades of all calibers, giving the entire area a winter snow appearance. The quarters were quite far from the front but were completely stuffed until the roof with reserves, columns and luggage of all possible troops. During the pause of one or two days, due to the summertime temperatures the possibility to bath in the Aisne river was used a lot. In the distance we could here the rumbling of cannons, that sometimes swelled to an unsettling strength. They were the last great attempts by the French to break through our positions. Their effort was still vainly. The last part of this battle would be felt by the regiment.
On the afternoon of the 4th of May the division, that had been at the army’s disposal until then, was to serve as attack reserve for the Brimont Group (general command). This also meant moving further towards the front. This meant that the regiment was ordered to break up camp the same afternoon and it arrived at Pilcourt and Houdlicourt late the same evening. Here the quarters were overcrowded too, even worse than in the villages we came from. This meant that we largely camped outside. Thank God that it was warm and dry outside. The battalions had barely arrived as the orders for the next day came. The regiment was to take over the positions of the 172nd Infantry Regiment. The regiment had been part of the attack divisions until now. It’s positions were meant for attack troops At 9’o clock in the morning of the 5th of May we broke up camp, at noon the battalions arrived the destinations.
Sketch of the battle area
Also see Michelin map Nr. 237
Battle area is on top left Present map of the battle zone. Hill 100 is designated with the number 102
The Ist Battalion at the Thierry water mill halfway St. Etienne and Aumenancourt, the IInd and IIIrd Battalion in a forest area to the south of Aumenancourt. During the same evening the entire regiment was move further to the west, since there new enemy attacks were expected. The IInd and IIIrd Battalion, that went west the furthest, positioned themselves in the trenches of the 2nd position near Orainviller forest, while the Ist Battalion positioned itself in the 2nd position at both sides of the large road Neufchatel – Reims (today the RD 966). The entire regiment found itself close to the south of the Suippes river. Just as the regiment was executing this very unpleasant flank movement, a fire barrage started at the front line, whether this was the result of enemy attacks or just a nervous reaction of the troops is unknown. The enemy artillery answered our barrage with much vigor and it’s a miracle that our regiment could move several kilometers between our artillery groups which were very close to each other, without suffering any casualties.
1st comp. 187th marching off Crater field at the Suippes
On the 6th of May the regiment, that had been under the command of the attack division, was put under control of the frontline division, the 54th Reserve Division. This meant that now we were part of the actual battle group. The IInd Battalion was set up as part of the 84th Infantry Regiment, the right wing regiment of the front line division, but saw no action there. Only some reconnaissance troops oriented themselves in their future area.
The next day the replenished troops on the front and the limited reserves meant that some parts of the regiment were moved back and forth so that parts ended up under command of several other groups. We will try to explain this company shuffle, but without attempting to be fully accurate.
It was planned to have the 187th I.R. replace the 84th I.R. at hill 100, while both other regiments of the 54th reserve division, the 90th reserve regiment and the 27th reserve regiment would be replaced by our sister regiments, the 188th and 189th. Such a smooth replacement failed however, due to the tense conditions and the lack of reserves.
On the 7th of may the staff of the IInd Battalion with the 6th and 7th Company were put at the 27th Reserve Infantry Regiment’s disposal, while the 5th and 8th company were sent to the 84th I.R.. Both position regiments were attacked but could ward off the French themselves. In the night of the 8th of May the relief of the 84th I.R. started as the 5th and 8th Company were deployed here at the front line. The both others at 27th R.I.R. swapped with the 11th and 12th Company, in order to reunite the IInd Battalion again. The Ist Battalion, which had been stationed at the large road Neufchatel – Reims remained unchanged and was moved to the Orainviller forest.
Air Photo of hill 100, taken on 28th of May 1917 between 10 and 11 o’clock. One can clearly identify the many trenches and craters. Above to the Right, near the ‚north’ arrow the road D622 to Aguilcourt. To the left the road D32 to Cormicy.
During the night of the 9th of May the 6th and 7th Company were positioned at hill 100, together with the 84th I.R.. This meant that the IInd Battalion was again completely under it’s commanders control, Hauptmann Thomsen. On the afternoon of the 9th of May the French attacked at the 20th and 90th Reserve Regiments. The 11th and 12th Companies stationed there, led by Leutnant Jäger and Duncker, were used to attack the French who had broken through. This fight is depicted by the Offizier-Stellvertreter Borchert, Platoon leader in the 12th Company, as following:
„At 6a.m. on the 9th of May the staff of the IIIrd Battalion, the 11th and 12 company were moved to strengthening the reserve positions of the 27th R.I.R. Both companies took up positions in small forest patches. There were small emergency shelters that in no way offered protection against even light artillery. The reserve positions were about 2 kilometers behind the front. The small remainder of the Ist Bat. 27th marched away after our arrival. The companies laid to rest immediately. The men had been marching the entire day before and did not get a lot of rest as result of the reshuffle during the night. But just as the companies had settled in, the French started a large drum fire around 8 o’clock a.m., aimed at the positions of the 27th R.I.R. The fire not only hit the front line, but also the back area, especially the so-called ‚French Nest’ was targeted heavily. The shelters of the 11th and 12th Company were not hardly hit. This area was mainly observed by enemy airplanes .
As ordered by the battalion the 11th and 12th Companies sent patrols forward, in order to determine whether the French had attacked and if our positions were still in our hands. The patrols performed their tasks very well under difficult circumstances, having no information about the area and being under strong enemy fire. Around 12 o’clock p.m. they reported back that the French had penetrated our positions at Langerwald and had occupied them. The work of these patrols earned them respect, since the French had the entire area under fire making it almost impossible to get through. The battalion commander, Major Black, ordered the 11th Company led by Leutnant Jaeger and the 12th Company led by Leutnant Duncker to strike back immediately, the 11th Company on the right, the 12th Company on the left wing. Both companies moved forward in three waves. They had to cross open terrain of some 1500 meters during this attack. As the first wave entered open ground the French spotted them immediately and started shelling the forest patches heavily. The rest of the companies were still occupying these forest patches. As the companies had pushed forward to a distance of about 1000 meters, the enemy started a light artillery barrage too targeting some 75 meters into the back area. Without hesitation both companies pressed forwards. It was a terrible sound. The men of the 11th and 12th company attacked regardless of their heavy losses. Wave after wave they moved forwards in leaps. The intense heat made the attack even worse. As the 1st wave was within some 150 meters of the enemy, it held ground as ordered and was replenished with troops from the 2nd and 3rd wave. Then a closed ranks attack stormed forwards, so that the French fled their positions. The companies suffered many losses during this last attack as the result of the „French nest’ that was positioned directly in their flanks and had been heavily fortified and defended for some time by the enemy. After we had taken our old positions again, the 11th company tried to attack the „French Nest“, that had been occupied by the enemy for a long time and was well fortified by them, from the flank. This failed, however. The 3rd Platoon of the 12th company was pulled back as reserve, because the trenches were overcrowded with men. This platoon had to withstand the terrible fire of the French yet again. A reserve position close to the main position was not possible due to artillery fire. The men were able to make good use of the impact craters as they did during their attack and they managed to pull back without casualties. The battalion commander was informed by that platoon that the trenches were again completely occupied by us. During the afternoon the same men had to supply both companies at the front with ammunitions and above all, hand grenades. An artillery department leader of the 54th Reserve Division spoke to me with much regards about the attack that he had been observing from start to finish. A quote from him: „I have never seen such a razor sharp attack before. That went exactly as on the training grounds. I wish I could lead such men.“.
Provisions failed to reach both companies until the next morning, because the food bringers could not find them during the night because of heavy fogs and the severely shot up area.“
So far the report of Offizier-Stellvertreter Borchert.
The booty of this sharp attack were 2 heavy and one light machine gun. As replacement for the 11th and 12th Company, now acting as reserves, the 9th and 10th Company were moved forwards to the 27th and 90th Regiments. The Ist Battalion remained division reserve in the 2nd position, but were released there the next evening, since the I/188th would take over it’s positions and it did. As a result of this the further relieve of the 84th I.R. could continue and during the night of the 10th of may our Ist Battalion relieved the backup troops behind hill 100 and at the so-called Frankewerk. In the gray morning of the 10th of May the 9th Company, located at the 90th R.I.R. were released, since there was nothing to fear there. The company returned to the 2nd position. In the night of the 11th of May the 11th and the 12th Company were relieved from their reoccupied front line position and the 10th company was released as well. The 11th and 12th Company occupied the Frankewerk, the 10th Company next to the 9th in the 2nd position. Following this the last parts of the 84th I.R. in the area moved out. The relieve came to an end and the 187th Regiment took command of the area previously under control of the 84th IR.
Already on the 10th of may some 4th platoons, that were build up as result of the Somme experience last year, were moved back to Brienne. These 4th platoons have had the purpose to prevent the possibility of a complete loss of the company and at the same time they provided a guaranteed relieve. This also meant that too complex large troop and quarter exchanges including large transport activities could be avoided. During the entire time the companies had a platoon near the luggage and supplies that also served the company very well with their food- and ammunitions transports.
On the 15th of may the left side neighbor, the 189th Regiment, captured the earlier mentioned „French Nest“ after careful preparation and managed to hold it regardless of all enemy attempts to attack it.
Fox holes behind hill 100 in the regiment’s 1st position (May 1917)
Until the first days of June the regiment remained in position. The battle companies were relieved by the backup and reserve companies several times. Enemy attacks no longer took place. Regardless, the stay in these positions came with many casualties and was exhausting for everyone.
For the first time the regiment experienced the mass deployment of airplanes and it learned to distinguish the different types. Very soon everyone recognized the infantry airplane because of their long black-white-red flags. With sheer impossible impudence they flew in a very low altitude above our and enemy trenches, undisturbed by the rattling enemy machine gun fire, in order to determine enemy frontline positions. With much interest, everyone followed the fierce air to air combat of the fighter groups, delighted when the German pilots claimed a victory. Many saw here for the first time how a cable balloon was attacked by an airplane and was shot down. One also learned to know about the unpleasant role of these enemy balloons when one tried to move through the area without alarming the enemy, while the observer in the balloon had already spotted them and were directing their artillery to them.
Railroad Reims – Laon at the Frankewerk, westwards of Merlet, the second railroad has been covered.
For the last evening of May, our next-door neighbor, the 189th I.R., had scheduled a patrol action. Our front line and also our right side neighbor had not received information about this in time. As during this action the enemy started a fire barrage along a wide area from their trenches, the normal result was an answer from us in the form of a barrage and destructive fire. During this all out, but useless shoot out the quarter makers from our relieve troops, the 477th I.R., arrived. They would quickly be familiar with this area.
During the night of the 2nd and 3rd of June we were relieved. In the light of the early morning we marched towards the rear. It is completely quiet, no shots being fired and like every day the shining sun is warm already in the early morning. How happy we were to be able to stretch our limbs again!
This terrible narrowness of the trenches where nobody should be seen during the day. But one feels even there the summer warmth, when one blinked into the sun with the pasted up eyes, but one didn't enjoy it. First one became thirst, that could not quenched with the little amount of mineral water and coffee, that was brought top us during the night. And second one would cower around the shelter all day without experiencing the entire spring. Tired from the damp atmosphere one sat in these moist holes, filled with eternal night, reading or writing by the light of a smelly carbide light. Of course, when one shivered crawled outside and it was quiet and there was no smell of gunpowder and rotting things, then one thought amongst dust and chalk, that somewhere beyond the hills that spring must have come. In the positions we couldn’t see anything of it. In the dry soil, constantly disturbed by our digging and the enemy shelling, no blade will grow.
One became lazy, in the case one never has to do anything he lay on his bag. But now we carry our pack and we can leave, ever further, as we like it, away from this narrowness. The fact that we could walk along the connection trenches this far already felt as a liberation. And then, the railroad bank, towards green trees! We had forgotten what spring time looked like. Our eyes are pointed towards the fresh leaves at the poplars and we undergo spring time as a new miracle again.
On long footpaths we cross the landscape of the river Suippe, where also everything green in this swampy area. Our lungs feel as they are waking up from a deep sleep. A wonderful herbal smell rises up from the herbs and grasses. The sun thoroughly warms us and we feel how every part of us lives up again. And at the canal we see a small paradise. In the wonderful light the sapping green of trees and bushes. We forget the past days and don’t think about tomorrow. We hear with joy how the birds scurry around. We are given back to the spring – no, simpler and even better, the day, the sun has us again!
Map of the units at the 31. May 1917 at the Hill 100 (Mont Spin)
Enjoyed, we march further along the fruitful bank of the canal. Artillery positions are stuck to the straight drop on the right bank. In his shirt, a man with uncombed hair exits a door, looks into the sun with his sleepy eyes, picks up a wash basin to fresh himself up for the day’s work ahead. To us, after our forced days of dirtiness during our time at the front line position, this scene is an ideal image of civilized rest and relaxation. We know, that we also get to be part of it.
So we march into our camps, the regiment staff and Ist Battalion to Poilecourt, IInd and IIIrd Battalion to Houdilcourt. But the battalions only get two days of rest at their camp sites, then they moved further to the Kaiserlager.
Burial of casualties in Avaux Graves of the fallen in Brienne
It was the 5th of June 1917 and scorching hot. Already at the afternoon we have to be ready at the place – this meant trouble ahead.
How differently it happened! More than five weeks of the best camp time was given to us. What we found there was very little. A piece of low forest some kilometers to the north of the Suippes. It was a mixed forest. It had the purposeful and military quality to leave free areas every couple of steps for "step out". It has been only scenery. But this sceneries saw a military game, military in seriousness and funny. And the funny was predominantly.
Comfortable tents were build with ridges, the canteen was set up in a homelike way, feeding was good, the equipment was replaced and the holidays began, about 5% of the units. This also raised the moods.
Sketch of the barracks Kaiser camp, Regiment staff, in bathing suit: Oberleutnant Dose
We quickly got used to this lively ‚enjoy the day routine of front soldiers during rest. After a few hours of service in the early morning, doing ground work or at reinforcements, target practice or live grenade throwing practice, there was time for fun and games, singing and passing drinks around.
We first had no equipment for our games, but then the balls arrived from Straßburg. This meant that soccer and bat game tournaments were organized amongst the companies and battalions.
And then the bathing! How refreshing this cold water of the Suippes was to our lives and limbs during these hot summer days. Our Hamburg and Kiel boys were playing around in the water, with bellows and boxes and on canvas floats!
2nd company during bathing Live hand grenade throwing practice
And the evenings! Happy drinking feasts or quiet rest in a comfortable tent. Or music master Rotermund played with his regiment’s band, how many times the last week we had promenade concerts for the ‚Garrison“! Or local songs would be sung with much vigor.
Air raid alarm!! Lights out!! The company leader as well, who was writing by candle light in his tent, – the paper drum fire at the front became a tactical danger (quote of Ludendorff) – and the forward posts urgently requested him to live even more sheltered. But everything went well. Only at Aussonce men and horses were shot, a group that was chased until here by airplanes.
Burial in Rethel of Lieutenant Alex Cordes, fallen on the 16th of June in Aussonce. At the grave, Exc. Sunkel. His relatives had him reburied in Patensen, in the Lüneburger area.
Forest strawberries had ripped beautifully, sweet and spicy and very tasty. Company order: Tomorrow no reinforcement work, but strawberry picking, every men a cooking pot full! With good result, excellent marmalade, cooked by the field kitchen with the sensibly saved sugar rations. Dr. Oetkers strawberry marmalade was never half so good as this, even during peace time!
And just as we had strawberry marmalade: Get ready! French broke through at the „Witches Cauldron“. We should get ready in the air ship forest for the counter attack „Revenge“. So we went. That wasn’t very nice! And we hadn’t read all our library books yet.
Captive balloons at the ‚Air ship forest’
And again it went well. After two days of standby duty the welcomed order: The companies can move back to there rest quarters. Kaiser camp again! And again the steady short work shifts and the long days of rest. Our battle strength improved excellently, as well as the morale of the troops. The compulsory excursions were enjoyable for every battalion.
After the Kaiser camp, the murderous Mount Haut!
We had enjoyed our days of rest, now it was back to the real thing again. The regiment withstood the challenges opposed to here, suffering many casualties. The memory of all those terrible images during July and August masks the happy ones, that especially the Kaiser camp had brought us.
Monument at the Rethel cemetery