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THE BATTLE OF ARRAS
IN FIGURES

 

Opening of the battle9 April 1917

 

Duration: 39 days

 

Length of the front: around 20 km, from Vimy in the north to Bullecourt in the south, passing through Arras at the centre of the action

 

Number of British infantry division deployed: 33 divisions, including 4 Canadian divisions and 4 Australian divisions

 

Artillery: one gun every 10 metres, the highest artillery concentration ever seen up to that point.

British losses: 150.000 casualties (dead, missing and wounded) - Approximately 4.000 casualties per day

German losses: 120,000 casualties (dead, missing and wounded)

The new weapons: ​

Tested at the Battle of the Somme, new weapons were deployed and incorporated into the strategy of the Battle of Arras.

  • Tanks deployed: 48

  • Livens gas projectors invented by Captain Livens.

 

BEFORE THE BATTLE OF ARRAS

 

THE CHANTILLY CONFERENCE - 16 NOVEMBER 1916

 

At this conference, the Allied high commands set the major military orientations for the spring of 1917.General Nivelle planned a major offensive on the French front in the Chemin des Dames sector, preceded by a diversionary attack on the front line occupied by British troops.  The British high command immediately opted for the Arras sector.

THE OBJECTIVES OF THE BATTLE OF ARRAS

 

In addition to the diversionary battle, the objective was to reach the Belgian border via the towns of Douai and Cambrai.

PREPARATIONS FOR THE BATTLE OF ARRAS

 

Reconnoitering the enemy's defensive system

  • Numerous raids on the German trenches with the purpose of assessing the quality of the units present there and to capture prisoners in order to gain information.

  • Aerial flyovers to photograph the enemy defences. These preparations entailed the loss of many English air crews, earning this episode its name, "bloody April". The toll was 150 aircraft shot down and more than 300 crewmen killed.

 

Training zone layout

  • Creation of models faithfully replicating enemy territory as a means of training troops in reconnoitring the various sites.

 

Logistics at the heart of the strategy

  • Creation of munitions and supplies depots, efficient organisation of the evacuation chain for the wounded, development of the 60 cm track network, establishment of a communication network between the commands and the forward troops. The experience of the Somme had demonstrated the need for reliable logistics capable of following advancing troops without breaking communications.

The distinctive feature of the plan for the Battle of Arras

  • The development of an entire network of underground quarries in the Vimy and Arras sectors, as an encampment and also a means of moving forward right up to the enemy front line.

THE COMBATANT TROOPS DEPLOYED

 

To the north, the Canadians in the Vimy Ridge sector,

To the east, the British (the Scottish, English, Welsh, Irish, Newfoundlanders, South-Africans etc.) in the Arras sector,

To the south, the Australians and British outside Bullecourt.

THE OFFENSIVE

 

From 2 to 8 April 1917: intensive shelling

 

The 2 April marked the start of what the Germans called the "Week of Suffering".

Thousands of shells rained down on the enemy lines.

April 9: Z Day

 

On Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, the British troops went on the attack, moving towards the assigned objectives.

The use of the underground tunnels, which allowed the soldiers to emerge just a few dozen metres from the German first line, created a surprise effect that permitted rapid progress on the first day with relatively low casualties.

Of particular note was the capture of Vimy Ridge north of the front during the Battle of Arras, by the four Canadian divisions placed under the command of General Horne.

April 10

The British Army reorganised its attack front, with the main aim of preparing to take the fortified village of Monchy-le-Preux, which was blocking access to the Scarpe Valley and the road to Cambrai.

The capture of the villages of Thélus, Farbus, Saint-Laurent-Blangy, Feuchy, Athies and Fampoux, as well as Tilloy-les-Moffalines and Neuville-Vitasse, opened up the German defensive system.

The capture of the hill at Vimy Ridge placed the villages of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, Vimy, Willerval and Bailleul-Sire-Berthoult in the line of fire of the English artillery, leading to their abandonment by the Germans.

 

April 11

The village and hill of Monchy-le-Preux were overrun, after fierce fighting that led to the obliteration of part of the cavalry. 1,000 horses were recorded lost.

The mission to take the village of Bullecourt was assigned to the Australian forces under the command of General Gough. It stood at the centre of the Siegfried Line, the main enemy defensive network. Launched on 11 April, this first attempt ended in failure.

 

April 12

Wancourt and Héninel also fell under Allied control.

 

April 14

At Monchy-le-Preux, the 29th Division attempted to drive forward eastwards, between the Cambrai road and the Scarpe Valley. This culminated in the Essex and Newfoundland battalions being almost entirely wiped out.

The outcome at Monchy-le-Preux was symptomatic of the rest of the Battle of Arras. The Germans responded with troop reinforcements from Cambrai and Douai, launched vigorous counterattacks and halted the British offensive.

The Battle of Arras became bogged down in local actions. At the same time, the main offensive on the Chemin des Dames ended in a resounding defeat.

 

May 3

The Fifth Army, made up of Australian and British troops, launched an attack on the village of Bullecourt with the support of the First and Third Armies along the rest of the front. This second attempt, too, failed to achieve its objectives.

During the Battle of Arras from 9 April to 16 May:

The terrain gained had the effect of pushing the battle zone back by some ten kilometres and opened up of the town of Arras, but the battle is responsible for heavy losses:

  • 20.000 German prisoners

  • Seizure of a significant haul of enemy weapons

  • German losses: 120.000 casualties (dead, missing and wounded)

  • British losses: 150.000 casualties (dead, missing and wounded) - Approximately 4.000 casualties per day

 

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