The disastrous charge by the 130è RI

Introduction Introduction

Throughout the early afternoon the Germans increased their pressure but all attempts to approach the French lines were met with a stubborn defence and machine gun and artillery fire. To counter this the Germans managed to get machine guns onto a hill to the south east of Mangiennes and from there they riddled the flanks of the 130è RI.

Much has been said about the Allies initial lack of machine guns in comparison to the Germans. In fact British/French/German battalions all had two. The difference was the fact that the Germans grouped the regiment's six guns together and deployed them with devastating effect against specific targets.

The monument to the 130e RI

The monument to the 130è RI at Mangiennes

At about 1600 hours and in order to move his two battalions back into shelter Colonel Laffargue deployed two companies of his 2nd Battalion to cover the movement.

As they did so the soldiers of the 1st Battalion who were in the front line and engaged with the enemy thought that they were being ordered forward. They fixed bayonets and charged the German lines on the far side of the Loison river, a 1000 metres away.

Carried away by the enthusiasm of their first encounter with the enemy the remainder of the 2nd Battalion followed suite.

Because of the colour of their uniforms at this time the French nickname for their soldiers was, les pantalons rouge - the red trousers - and as soon as they appeared out in the open the German infantry started cutting them to pieces. Some reached as far as the river only to drown in its waters. Within a few moments the two battalions had lost over 700 casualties, a 120 of them dead.

The remnants were rallied and pulled back behind Mangiennes and for a moment it looked as though this disaster had thrown open the right flank of the 91è RI as well. Then and for no apparent reason the German assault seemed to waver.

Looking towards Parfondevaux

From the German position looking across towards Parfondevaux


The intervention by the 120è RI

St Laurent sur Othain

St Laurent sur Othain

The reason was the timely arrival of the 120è RI and their supporting artillery.

To the north in front of St Laurent on the Othain river the men of the 120è RI had also been under fire but the enemy had not attempted to force their positions.

In the early afternoon Général Cordonnier commanding the 87è Brigade had heard the bombardment of artillery falling on Mangiennes and acted decisively. Using his reserves he immediately buffered his own front line along the Othain before going forward to St Laurent to see for himself what was happening.

At 1630 hours a company of the 120è RI were ordered to take the 6th battery of the Divisional Artillery (42è RAC) around the back of the Bois Parfondevaux and station it on the eastern edge of the wood.

From here the French gunners had a superb view of the German troops to the north of Pillon. According to information gained the following day they wiped out the entire German 21st Dragoons.

The other two batteries of the II/42è RAC were sent to support the 1st Group which was still very much in action at Mangiennes.

Other companies of the II/120è RI were now ordered to attack the northern edges of the Grand Chanel - a wood to the west of Pillon. The attack was led by Colonel Mangin himself whose party struck the German column in the flank, whilst the 6th Battery on the hillside continued to shell the woods and exposed Germans with shrapnel and high explosive.

The Germans were driven off in disarray but not wishing to lose control of his own mission to defend the Othain, Général Cordonnier recalled the 120è RI back to their defensive positions.

In their first action of the war the 120è RI suffered just three men wounded in an entire days fighting. They captured 10 prisoners including an officer plus 3 machine guns and a large quantity of ammunition.


Still a time for chivalry

Under interrogation the prisoners stated that there were a lot of injured lying out on the battlefield and that the Germans had little in the way of medical services with them.

To this end the Medical Officer of the II/120è RI set out at 2200 hours to see what he could do. He came across a German field ambulance and offered his services. These were turned down, but he was invited on a tour of the facilities which were dealing with about 400 injured German soldiers. He and his aide were then allowed to return to the French lines.

The following day Général Lejaille commanding the 7è Brigade gave the Germans, and at their request, a 24 hour truce to recover and bury their dead in the area of Mangiennes.

Général Cordonnier and Lt Colonel Mangin later received letters of congratulation for their decisiveness and superb leadership in counter attacking the enemy.

Soldat Mège, of the 5th Company became the first member of the 120è RI to receive the Médaille Militaire.

The letter from the Divisional Commander also adds high praise for: the battery of artillery whose precise shooting had achieved considerable results.

The reality was that the French artillery that had saved the day.

This minor combat had highlighted the fact that charging across great distances was unlikely to prove successful in the face of modern rifle fire and even less so against machine guns. The minimal casualties suffered by the 120è RI in saving the day was almost certainly due to their close artillery support.


The Monument at Mangiennes

The monument to the 130e RI

There is a small monument commemorating these events on the outskirts of Mangiennes.

From the village take the D 16 towards Billy sous Mangiennes. Approximately a kilometre along the road there is a lane to the left just behind some trees. The monument is at the entrance to the lane so there is ample room to park.

From this position with bayonets fixed 2000 French Poilus launched themselves across the Loison. From the Pillon ridge the enemy repulsed the charge. In this first combat of the 14-18 War on French soil, 120 Frenchmen and 243 Germans gave their lives.


Admirable qualities

On the 16th August Joffre issued a note suggesting that the French soldiers' admirable qualities in attack had been well demonstrated, but they needed to learn to wait on artillery support and to take greater care not to expose themselves to enemy fire. For their part, the artillery needed to be grouped in as many batteries as possible from the start of the action.

The following day he received Field Marshal Sir John French commanding the British Expeditionary Force. Joffre assured Sir John that Lanrezac's 5th Army would guarantee his right flank.

French cavalry under Général Sordet had been riding for two weeks trying to identify where the German Corps were. With their mission and destination constantly changing their horses were exhausted from the hundreds of kilometres travelled - and all to little avail.

Joffre's intelligence section calculated that the Germans had perhaps six or seven Corps gathered near the Ardennes and a further seven or eight crossing Belgium. About 15 Corps. In fact the number was more like 30.


The opening moves Mangiennes: Introduction
Warplans French and German Warplans