1st Battle of Aisne

After the first battle at the Marne in September, 1914, the German Army was able to deploy its forces along the north bank of the River Aisne, a tributary of the Oise. The Chemin des Dames Ridge provided a long natural defensive position and the Germans began to dig in.

The French Army (5th and 6th) and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) launched a frontal assault at the Aisne on 13th September. They initially won a singe bridgehead but a German counter-attack, drove the Allies back to the river. Fighting continued until 28th September when it was acknowledged that frontal infantry attacks on well-defended positions, would cause heavy casualties and was unlikely to gain a breakthrough.

The Aisne was the scene of two more important battles: 2nd Battle of the Aisne (16th April, 1917 - 9th May, 1917) and 3rd Battle of the Aisne (27th May, 1918 - 6th June, 1918).

Primary Sources

(1) The Great World War: Volume I (1917)

After crossing the Marne, the British force found itself in the Aisne depart ment. The enemy had to be chased across the Ourcq, and on September 11, when that had been effected, our cavalry approached the Aisne, two brigades being to the direct south of Soissons and three to the south-east, near the villages of Couvrelle and Cerseuil, which stand on high ground sloping down towards the Aisne's tributary, the Vesle. From the opposition offered both to the French and to our 2nd and 3rd Corps on the 12th, it became evident that the Germans had stopped their retreat, and intended to defend the passage of the Aisne.

On the evening of September 13 the enemy's main forces retired to the high ground about 2 miles north of the Aisne, and along the road known as the Chemin des Dames. Here the Germans strongly entrenched themselves, but they left detachments also entrenched in commanding situations on the slopes and spurs of the heights, and these advanced points of defence were well supported by artillery.