Les Fantômes, a sculpture on the Butte Chalmont near Oulchy-le-Château in the Aisne, is one of the major works of Paul Landowski, a French sculptor of Polish descent (1875-1961). It stands on the exact spot where the outcome of the Second Battle of the Marne was decided in 1918.
The Second Battle of the Marne was the last great German offensive of the First World War. Launched by the German General Ludendorff, it was designed to create a diversion and keep French troops away from the front in Flanders where he intended to mount his decisive attack. But General Foch saw through this tactic and the Germans were faced with unexpectedly strong resistance and French counter-offensives. German troops crossed the Marne in several places but made very little progress. British, American and Italian units helped the French defence.
On 18th July the Allies launched a major counter-offensive, taking the Germans by surprise. Three days later the Allies crossed the Marne and the Germans were forced to retreat to their earlier lines. This surprise counter-attack of 18th July 1918 was a turning point in the war. The memorial on the Butte Chalmont marks the plain which was the departure point for the attack by thousands of allied soldiers (Italian, British, American and French). The breakthrough succeeded on 25th and 26th July, splitting the German operation apart and putting the invaders to flight.
The sculpture represents seven soldiers with different weapons and, in their midst, a naked youth, a martyred hero, rising up into the air. He symbolises the suffering of mankind plunged into war. Les Fantômes were sculpted in pink granite (their creator’s “eternal stone”) and unveiled in 1935 by President Lebrun. Below the site, a statue of France, which is also by Landowski, carries a shield bearing the symbolic figures of “Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité”.