The bayonet assault began at 5 am on March 10th, 1915 against a stretch of enemy trenches that was heavily defended by machine guns and barbed wire.
Several unsuccessful attacks had already left this part of No Man’s Land strewn with French dead. On the morning of the assault, a preceding artillery barrage dropped shells on the French trenches instead of the German lines.
When the first wave of troops started ‘going over the top’ most became casualties of the undamaged enemy machine guns. The remaining soldiers of 21st Company, who were exhausted after days of front line duty and demoralized by failure, refused to leave their trenches.
On hearing that the troops were refusing to attack, General Réveilhac ordered his divisional artillery to bombard their positions to force them out of their trenches. But the artillery officer, Colonel Raoul Berube, refused to obey the command without a written order. Réveilhac did not issue one.
With the failure of the assault he had ordered, General Réveilhac demanded that action be taken against the soldiers of the 21st company. Its company commander, Captain Equilbey, was ordered to produce a list of names that included six corporals and 18 enlisted men chosen from the two youngest members in every squad.
On March 15th, General Réveilhac announced that all 24 men would be court-martialed as an example to the others. Four corporals in the French Army were shot in the vicinity of Souain on 17th March 1915 by firing squad as an example to the rest of their companies.
The events inspired the 1957 American anti-war film ‘Paths of Glory’ by Stanley Kubrick.