chapter  7
All the Perfect Engines of Modern War: The Battles of Cutry and Antheuil and Directive No 5
Pages 18

In a series of division-sized engagements during June and July 1918, the French army developed and honed its tactical capacity to reintroduce surprise attacks on the Western Front battlefield, the French tanks being a key component of this new offensive methodology. The experience of planning and undertaking these minor operations, as well as their general success, would lead to the ambitious and startlingly effective counter-offensive on 18 July by French X Army during the Battle of Soissons.In particular, they were a test-bed for many of the ideas contained in Pétain’s Directive No. 5 concernant les actions offensives, a key document that was to guide French army offensive operations until the end of the war.2 The Directive emphasised the importance of surprise, at both a strategic and tactical level, and it was to be a vital element of French success at Soissons. This chapter examines the Directive and two operations, at Cutry on 28 June 1918 and Antheuil on 9 July 1918. These two small-scale battles illustrate how one of the most problematic aspects of a surprise attack in the Great War, how to mount an attack without a lengthy artillery-preparation, was addressed by the French army. They are also worthy of consideration as they are a minor but telling example of French army tactical proficiency in 1918; each one required a close co-ordination of the various arms available and thus illustrate the combined-arms capability of the French army in miniature. In relation to the AS, these operations gave it valuable opportunities to hone its tactical skills and adapt to fighting defensive positions that had not been devastated by the usual artillery preparation. However, each of these two battles has another important reason to consider it. In the case of the battle of Cutry, this provoked a major change in the way after-action reports were made within the AS, significantly improving the effectiveness of the organisation. In relation to the battle of Antheuil, this action clearly illustrates the effectiveness of the tank regulations but also the considerable difficulties that could occur for the AS in getting infantry officers to comply with them.