December 20

This Day in History

World War I

Dec 20, 1914:

First Battle of Champagne begins

After minor skirmishes, the First Battle of Champagne begins in earnest, marking the first major Allied attack against the Germans since the initiation of trench warfare on the Western Front.

Still determined to win a quick victory, and despite early defeats in the trenches against German positions, French commander Joseph Joffre planned a major offensive stretching throughout the Artois and Champagne regions of France from Nieuport in the north to Verdun in the south. After minor attacks on December 10 near Perthes in eastern Champagne, heavy fighting occurred simultaneously at Givenchy, Perthes, and Noyon, where the numerical advantage enjoyed by the French resulted in few gains in territory. The Germans were well-entrenched and their defense proved superior. From the outset of the war, machine gun battalions were used along with the regular infantry, which proved lethally effective in Champagne.

Winter weather made for dismal conditions on the battlefield: guns became clogged with mud and refused to fire, and heavy rainfall often made the trenches practically unusable. Fighting continued in the region from mid-December until mid-February, when the French paused briefly to reorganize, and then again until March 17, 1915. On that day, due to their continuing lack of gains and the strength of German counter-attacks since the beginning of the year, the French called off the attack. Joffre did not give up hope of eventual success in Champagne, however, and would begin another offensive there in the fall of 1915.

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