THE CHEMIN DES DAMES IN THE HISTORY
What it’s called the plateau of the Chemin des Dames is a part of the plateaus of the Soissonnais which goes from the Aisne valley, in the south, to the Ailette in the north. At its east extremity, this narrow plateau constitutes a headline that dominates the plain between Laon and Reims.
The strategic interest of such a position appeared in the Antiquity. At the Gallic time, the plateau was shared between the Suessions of Soissons and the Rèmes of Reims before the roman conquest. That’s in the plain towards Berry-au-Bac that Julius Caesar’s legions confronted the troops of the Belgian Gaul (1st Battle of the Aisne 57 years before B.C).
The plateau itself became a battlefield in the 6th century (Battle of Laffaux) but it really entered the history with the battle known as ”Craonne” that Napoleon gave on 7th March 1814 against Blücher’s army during the Campaign of France.
After 1870-71 war, two forts of the second lines for the defence of Paris were built on the plateau, the fort of the Malmaison nearby the road of Soissons in Laon and the fort of Condé that dominates the Aisne valley.
WWI showed all the strategic importance of the plateau. After the battle of the Marne, the Germans hung in on the hills of the Marne to repel the French and British attacks (September-October 1914).
The year 1917 put the Chemin des Dames in the centre of the military events. By deciding to launch an attack on 16th April between Soissons and Reims, General Nivelle counted with the surprise to recover the Chemin des Dames, which was supposed to be a decisive victory with million of men. His failure caused a trust crisis unprecedented in the army.
The fights kept on in the Chemin des Dames the whole summer until October. The French victory of the Malmaison (23rd October 1917) made the German abandon the plateau and withdraw to the north of the Ailette.
On 27th May 1918, that’s on the Chemin des Dames that Ludendorff launched a victorious attack that permitted to the Germans to get rapidly to Soissons and then to Château-Thierry.
New fights took place on the plateau at the beginning of June 1940.
To go further…
Internet site of the "Collectif de Recherche International et de Débat sur la Guerre de 1914-1918" (Association of International Research and debates about WWI)