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 (1914-1918) WWI Battles
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anemone
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Battle of Arras, (10 April–11April 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 5:34:54 AM
SUMMARY

British offensive on the German defenses around the French city of Arras during World War I. It was noteworthy for the swift and spectacular gains made by the British in the opening phase—above all, the capture of Vimy Ridge, considered virtually impregnable, by the Canadian Corps—but it ended as a costly stalemate resulting in some 300,000 casualties.

The British attack in Arras opened the Allied offensive in 1917. The Canadian Corps was charged with taking Vimy Ridge in order to safeguard the left flank of the main advance either side of the Arras, which was entrusted to General Sir Edmund Allenby’s Third Army.

The German position was well defended, but the British had planned the offensive with care, profiting from the lessons of the Somme. Artillery support was increased to nearly 3,000 guns, a substantial proportion of which were "heavies," essential for destroying well-constructed strongpoints.

The British had trained their troops thoroughly in appropriate opening attack maneuvers. On 9 April, the British troops went "over the top" and made good progress. The four divisions of the Canadian Corps struggled up Vimy Ridge, a honeycomb of defenses that had frustrated previous French attacks with great bloodshed.

After a bitter fight that cost them nearly 10,000 men, they won control of the position. Farther south, the British were similarly successful, and a few units advanced to a depth of 3 miles (4.8 km) on the first day.

The German command avoided an Allied breakthrough with its usual adroit handling of reserves, and the British advance then lost momentum. The original British plan had been to limit the battle once serious resistance was met, but British Field Marshall Douglas Haig prolonged the offensive to provide aid to the French, incurring heavy casualties for little gain.

Losses: British, 158,000 casualties; German, 130,000 casualties.

Regards

Jim
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anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 8:05:15 AM
On Monday 9 April 1917 at 5.30 a.m., after an intensive bombardment lasting four days to preclude any retaliation from the enemy, the British 1st Army comprising four Canadian divisions under the command of General Henry Horne set out to conquer Vimy Ridge. Wresting control of this height from the Germans would allow the 3rd Army under General Edmund Allenby to advance on Douai, an important road and rail junction, and liberate the coal-mining region.

Allenby was also expected to take Monchy-le-Preux, a village lying a few kilometres to the east of Arras which gave a commanding view over the Scarpe Valley and, because of this, could hinder the second arm of the offensive directed at Cambrai, another vital base for the German military apparatus.

The 5th Army under General Hubert Gough, placed on the southern wing of the offensive, was given the task of taking the village of Bullecourt, a powerful strategic base of operations for the Germans and part of the Hindenburg Line.

rEGArds

Jim
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George
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 10:00:20 AM
Hello Jim,

The Canadians were commanded by Julian "Bungo" Byng of Horne's 1st Arthur Currie had a lot to do with implementing the plan of attack.

As you know, the Battle of Vimy Ridge has taken on an aura of importance in the development of the Canadian nation. It is the battle that most Canadians will point to as the battle that made a nation. There is a mythological status to this battle.

I would say that the Canadian Corps was involved in many other battles of greater strategic importance and battles that were as costly or moreso.

However, the taking of that ridge was a magnificent accomplishment. The Canadians were able to puff out their chests with pride and they weren't shy about doing that.

Having said that we must never forget the thousands of British and Commonwealth (Australians, Kiwis, South Africans, and Newfoundlanders) soldiers who died prior to this end game battle. The whole Battle of Arras was a terrible slog.


You know that the troops could see the Germans retreating over the Douai plain below Vimy Ridge.

Was there a British plan to exploit the victory for which they had worked so hard? Were there any reserves who could have pursued the Germans before they had time to move reinforcements up to plug the gap?

Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 11:08:25 AM
""You know that the troops could see the Germans retreating over the Douai plain below Vimy Ridge.

Was there a British plan to exploit the victory for which they had worked so hard? Were there any reserves who could have pursued the Germans before they had time to move reinforcements up to plug the gap?" Quote George
-
There does not appear to have any follow up to the Canadians magnificent vicrory

"Following the defeat, the Chief of the German General Staff, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, ordered the Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, Supreme Army Command) to conduct a court of enquiry into the defensive collapse of the Arras sector

The court concluded that the 6th Army headquarters had disregarded frontline commander reports, noting a possible imminent attack and as a result, reserve units were kept too far back to execute a timely and effective counterattack

The court concluded that 6th Army commander General Ludwig von Falkenhausen failed to apply an elastic defence properly as espoused by German defensive doctrine of the time. I

nstead, the defensive system was a series of unmoving strong points and static lines of resistance, which the Allied artillery ultimately isolated and destroyed.

As a result of the inquiry, Hindenburg removed Falkenhausen from his command and transferred him to Belgium where he served the remainder of the war as that country's Governor General."

I can tell you that the total forces committed to the Arras -`{ffensive was 30 Divisions of 1st,4rd and 5th Amies --15 in action and 15 in Reserve on rotation.I confess to consrant bewilderment why there was no attempt to open a front on the Doai Plain
.

My Regards and Thanks for your interest

Jim



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George
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 11:11:39 AM
I don't believe that the attack at Vimy was a surprise though.

The Canadians were taking high casualties in the weeks leading up to the attack.

The Germans could observe the build-up.

Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 11:22:44 AM
The capture of Vimy was more than just an important battlefield victory. For the first time all four Canadian divisions attacked together: men from all regions of Canada were present at the battle. Brigadier-General A.E. Ross declared after the war, “in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 12:08:01 PM
Thanks Jim. Yes, that quote is rather famous and certainly adds to the mythology surrounding this battle.

The battle has been dissected in Canada, and not without a good deal of pride.

But as I said, the Corps had been proving itself as competent before this battle and would do so many times after.

I will say that the soldiers who made up the Corps were often British born. It is a curious comment on our concept of nationality that the Canadians could see themselves as Canadians but also soldiers of the Empire. There was no conflict in their minds in 1917.

Cheers,

George

Phil andrade
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 1:59:33 PM
There were Canadian commentators who wrote with pride about the Scottish provenance of many of their fellow nationals who fought at Vimy.

I note that they refer to them as “ Scotch “ : this strikes me as quirky....we Brits tend to reserve the word Scotch for beef or whisky , and allude to the people as Scots , or Scottish, and, if need be, Scotsmen !

What’s in a name ?

Edit : the cheeky cockney boys use rhyming slang and call them sweaties ...sweaty socks = Jocks. How rude !

Regards, Phil

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George
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 2:36:40 PM
We had so many Scottish regiments, it isn't surprising.

The men who took the final high ground called the Pimple on the ridge were a Scottish regiment who had not been in combat.

They were the Nova Scotia Highlanders and had been in France for a month, performing menial labour tasks. They had been coal miners, lobstermen and lumber jacks so a rough and ready lot.

Their kilts had not arrived and other Highland regiments laughed at them and called them "highlanders without kilts".

At Vimy, they were only supposed to support the advancing units, carry ammunition etc.


The Pimple was Hill 120 and it could be seen from the higher point on the ridge, hill 145 that the Canadians had already taken but at such great cost that the 4th division was hurting badly.

So the Nova Scotia Highlanders were ordered to attack. Two companies roared and without artillery fire charged into the face of German MG fire.

Many were cut down but so ferocious was this assault that the Germans turned to run down the back side of the hill.

And Vimy was taken



Please note:

British I Corps provided 132 heavy artillery pieces and 102 field guns to the 863 of the Canadian Corps, or 21 percent of the artillery involved.4

Of the 13 brigades of infantry employed in the assault, one entire brigade was British (the 13th Brigade of the British 5th Division).

16 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps employed 24 aircraft as artillery spotters from 1 April to 13 April, losing three.

Considerable effort was also made by British logistical units throughout the Lines of Communication supporting the assault.



Phil andrade
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 2:39:07 PM
Arras was a particularly nasty battle, even by the standards of that appalling war.

For the British, it stands head and shoulders above the two other notorious battles when it comes to average daily casualties.

Here, in rounded figures, is a revealing comparison of the British and Dominion loss per day in the three ugly experiences :

Somme : 141 days; 420,000 casuaties ; average per day = 2,980

Arras : 39 days ; 160,000 casualties ; average per day = 4,100

Passchendaele : 105 days : 245,000 casualties : average per day = 2,335

By that criterion, Arras is singularly awful. OTOH, if we assess those casualties against the number of German prisoners captured, the fighting was more successful in terms of the exchange rate. The Somme yielded the British 38,000 prisoners, or one German captured for every eleven British/Dominion casualties.
Passchendaele gave the British nearly 25,000 German POWs : one for every ten casualties. Arras cost the Germans twenty thousand prisoners captured, or one for every eight British Empire casualties. That’s a noteabe difference. If we focus on the Canadians, however, the thing is skewed remarkably in their favour : four thousand German prisoners against eleven thousand Canadian casualties...fewer than three casualties for every German captured. That leaves sixteen thousand Germans capured by the other British and Dominion troops, who suffered nearly one hundred and fifty thousand casualties in doing so...an exchange rate three times worse than that of the Canucks .

I am aware that these calculations are a rather crude measure of assessing battlefield prowess : there are so many factors to take into account....but I think they speak volumes about how superb that Canadian achievement was.

The French had suffered even greater loss of life than the British in their offensives in that sector two years earlier ; their officers went on record as stating that the task of taking Vimy Ridge was an impossible one.

Canadians have every right to stand that bit taller when the word “ Vimy “ is mentioned.

Regards, Phil
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Michigan Dave
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/22/2018 3:25:43 PM
Here is a short documentary on the battle!

[Read More]

one site has great actual videos of the battle, the other commentary without pics,
together they make a great treatment on Arras!?

[Read More]

Good job by the troops of Canada, among others, in this conflict!

Cheers,
MD
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anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/23/2018 3:19:27 AM
Moving To Monchy

The Battle of Arras commenced on April 9, 1917 and the Newfoundland Regiment soon found themselves in the thick of it. Just before midnight of April 14th, 1917 the Newfoundlanders moved forward in single file to the firing trenches on the eastern outskirts of Monchy-le-Preux, a small French village located about 8 km south east of Arras.

In the inky darkness the men proceeded at a snail’s pace through the littered fields, picking their way among the dead horses which lay in disordered piles covered with a thin mantle of snow. It was two o’clock before the Battalion reached their new position



[Read More]

Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/23/2018 7:31:59 AM
Somewhere I’ve read that when British troops were moving forward to try and exploit gains from the early stage of the battle, sections of the battlefield were cordoned off to protect the soldiers from the sight of so many British dead.

It was a significant indication of how such a scene can demoralise soldiers “going up the line” : it also testifies to the immense loss of life that was sustained.

A chilling anecdote, I think, but it does suggest that there was a determination to protect the morale.

Regards, Phil

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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/23/2018 8:22:20 AM
The fighting ended on April 14th. The enemy’s achievement had been to recover the ground captured by the Essex (603 casualties)and the Newfoundlanders that morning and to cut those two battalions to pieces. But they had thrown away the opportunity to retake Monchy, and the end of the day found the position of the front line unchanged.

General de Lisle was not greatly exaggerating when he declared to the Newfoundlanders that if Monchy had been lost to the enemy on April 14th, 40,000 troops would have been required to retake it. Such is the measure of the achievement of the ten men who saved Monchy.

A caribou now proudly stands on a hill in Monchy facing the former German lines.

As soon as it was dark a platoon from the Hampshires came forward and relieved the Newfoundlanders.

But there was still one more contribution to be made to the day’s heroism. Before they withdrew, Lieutenant Kevin Keegan went out with two of his men to bring in five wounded Newfoundlanders who were lying in a portion of the Assembly Trench unoccupied by the Germans. Back at Battalion Headquarters Forbes-Robertson collected another two dozen NCOs and men who had straggled in from the battle..

Later that day the Battalion counted its losses. The fatal casualties were exceeded only by the number of those who fell at Beaumont Hamel; and one-quarter of the Newfoundland officers and men who went into action at Monchy-le-Preux became prisoners of war. The Newfoundland losses incurred from April 12 to 15, 1917, based on existing information, total 460 all ranks.

Seven officers and 159 other ranks were killed (or died of wounds), seven officers and 134 other ranks were wounded and three officers and 150 men were taken as prisoners of war. Of these 28 died from wounds or other causes while in captivity..

Regardfs

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/23/2018 8:45:32 AM
There is disconcerting evidence that, for all its initial success - above all Vimy Ridge - the casualty exchange rate in the Battle of Arras was very much in Germany’s favour.

The citation of 160,000 British/Dominion casualties against 130,000 German looks suspect.

Official figures compiled for the Western Front, January to June 1917, show that the British suffered 311,001 officers and men killed wounded and missing in those six months. Roughly half of these can be attributed to the thirty nine days of the Battle of Arras. In the same period - the first half of 1917 - the Germans, according to their archives, counted their battle casualties against the British as 176,915 : in other words, they suffered only fifty seven per cent of the loss they inflicted .
By that reckoning, we might assume that their casualties in the battle of Arras amounted to roughly 90,000 ; hardly an encouraging testimony to the efficacy of the offensive. There is, of course, a legitimate argument that these German figures might be understated. Even if they are, it’s unlikely, IMHO, that their casualties exceeded two thirds of those they inflicted on the British.

What is very apparent in the statistical analysis is the great disparity between the Anglo French armies when it comes to the exchange rate. Using the same German source, the figures indicate that the French succeeeded in inflicting eighty five per cent of the loss they themselves suffered : and this despite the notorious failure of the Nivelle Offensive.

It’s very clear that, for all their fragility of morale, the French were much more skilled than their British counterparts. We remember the Battle of Arras principally for the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadians ; that symbolises the ability of the British and Dominion forces to outclass their French counterparts who had failed there at such cost two years earlier . The irony is that the British Empire was excessively prodigal of the lives of its soldiers, and that this battle exemplifies that in stark terms.

Regards, Phil
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/23/2018 9:39:04 AM
Though losses were increasing rapidly, Haig was pressured to keep the attack going as Nivelle's offensive (begun April 16) was failing badly.

On April 28-29, British and Canadian forces fought a bitter battle at Arleux in an attempt to secure the southeast flank of Vimy Ridge. While this objective was attained, casualties were high.

On May 3, twin attacks were launched along the Scarpe River in the center and Bullecourt in the south.

While both made small gains, losses led to the cancellation of both assaults on May 4 and 17 respectively. While fighting continued for a few more days, the offensive officially ended on May 23.

Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/23/2018 10:22:49 AM
Referring to the British and Dominion troops as the English , this is how Hindenburg depicts the Arras offensive :

There was nothing of the surprise tactics which Nivelle had employed in the October of the previous year. Did not the English believe in these tactics, or did they feel themselves too inexperienced to adopt them ?.......The English did not seem to know how to exploit the success they had gained to the full. This was a piece of luck for us, as so often before..

Regards, Phil
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/23/2018 11:51:47 AM
In the place of a single line of riflemen, SS143 promoted the self contained platoon comprising a small HQ and four sections of specialists. In simple terms, the attack was to be led forward by bomb and rifle sections, with the rifle grenade and Lewis gun sections following close behind.

Upon contact with the enemy, the rifles and the bombers were to seek out the enemy flank and attack with fire, bayonet and bomb. The rifle grenadiers and Lewis gun team were to attempt to suppress the enemy, allowing the other sections to press home their attack.

This flexible use of arms also passed a degree of initiative to the junior officers down the chain of command. In order to encourage these developments, training regimes were to be based upon the following requirements:

(a) The Offensive Spirit. All ranks must be taught that their aim and object is to come to close quarters with the enemy as quickly as possible so as to be able to use the bayonet. This must become a second nature.

(b) Initiative. The matter of control by even Company leaders on the battlefield is now so difficult that the smaller formations i.e. platoon and section commanders must be trained to take the initiative, without waiting for orders.

(c) Confidence in Weapons, necessitating a high standard of skill at arms.

(d) Co-operation of Weapons is essential on the battlefield and the corollary of (c).

(e) Discipline is most necessary at all times, and particularly on the battlefield.

(f) Moral (sic) must be heightened by every possible means; confidence in leaders and weapons goes a long way towards it.

(g) Esprit de Corps. True soldierly spirit must be built up in sections and platoons. Each section should consider itself the best section in the platoon, and each platoon the best in the battalion.

One of the ways of fostering esprit de corps was through competition and during training schedules ‘Efficiency Competitions’ were organised. Such contests were geared towards the development of weapon skills outlined in SS143, but also inter unit rivalry and a higher level of general fitness.

Here are the activities in a competition organised by 112 Brigade in March 1917 .

Regards


Jim:

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anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/23/2018 2:20:24 PM
Battle of Arleux (28–29 April 1917)
The principal objective of the attack was the need to sustain a supporting action tying down German reserves to assist the French offensive against the plateau north of the Aisne traversed by the Chemin des Dames. Haig reported,

"With a view to economising my troops, my objectives were shallow and for a like reason and also in order to give the appearance of an attack on a more imposing scale, demonstrations were continued southwards to the Arras-Cambrai Road and northwards to the Souchez River".

— Haig


Regards

Jim]
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Phil andrade
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/23/2018 5:22:12 PM
British accounts of Arras emphasise the evolution of better tactics : more guns, more shells, better ammunition quality and infantry moving away from human “ wave” tactics and developing the use of “ blobs”, with better deployment of fire and movement . These, plus more available tanks and a very active and resolute air arm, endowed the British with a material superiority backed up by more adaptable infantry. The brilliant Canadian achievement best exemplified this development.

All well and good.....but the Germans were learning and adapting too, and their recovery and riposte after the initial shock imparted a grim sterility to the subsequent British efforts .

Jack Sheldon writes with tremendous authority when it comes to the story of the German army on the Western Front, and he has this to say about the result of Arras:

...the outcome for the British army was anything but rosy. Its daily loss rate was the highest of the entire war, its numerous hastily and inadequately trained battle casualty replacements had shown themselves to be of dubious utility and the later attacks were not pushed with anything like the determination shown on 9 April. It had striven for a breakthrough between Douai and Cambrai and had come nowhere near to achieving it. Yet again the techniques to achieve break through , as opposed to break in, proved to be beyond its capabilities. The ground it had captured was completely worthless and of no strategic value whatsoever, though possession of Vimy Ridge proved to be useful over the coming eighteen months. In addition it had paid a high price for aiding its French allies, being forced to continue the battle long after it had run its natural course. At the final count British losses were somewhere in the order of 170,000, approximately twice those of the defence.

I cannot agree entirely with this assessment , but I concede that it carries too much truth for comfort.

Regards, Phil
---------------
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 4:33:09 AM
Many thanks Phil for your thoughts and the excerpt from Sh.

Many historians rate Arras as as a British victory but I only see muddle and failure--I accept however that my book learning is somewhat skewed to see through what may have been good but fruitless-Vimy Ridge was splen did but no follow through -WHY?.The Bloodtub was blind ruthlessness? by Gough hoping to please his chief. Jonathan Nicholos caled his account "£Cheerful Sacrifice " as a eulogy to the long sufferuig PBI

Short Description: Cheerful Sacrifice tells the story of the spring offensive of April - May 1917, otherwise known as the Battle of Arras. Probably because the noise had hardly died down before it... Read more
.

Regards

Jim ""
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George
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 6:53:01 AM
Morning JIm,

When you end your post with "Read more", was there supposed to be a link attached?

Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 7:35:30 AM
GM George -Sure-I must remember to do this to further advise and show source of post. Did you have a particular post in mind ??

Regards

Jim?t
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phil andrade
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 10:05:59 AM
In terms of Entente rivalries, Arras 1917 was embarrassing for the French, in so far as Canadians prevailed where French forces had failed ; it was embarrassing for the British in terms of the casualty exchange rate, with the French - despite their disastrous Nivelle offensive - achieving a far better ratio.

It seems that the British sustained fifty per cent more casualties than they inflicted during the Battle of Arras ; and if you allow for the initial successes at Vimy and elsewhere in that sector, the ensuing fighting must have entailed a disparity against the British of approaching two to one.

I suspect that, using this measure as a means of assessing battlefield effectiveness, the British were two years behind the French. The balance of loss against the British in 1917 probably equated to that against the French in 1915. One year later, things were to turn dramatically in the British favour.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 11:00:45 AM
Quote Phil"The balance of loss against the British in 1917 probably equated to that against the French in 1915. One year later, things were to turn dramatically in the British favour. "

Phil-I just cannot understand your last sentence--apart from Vimy Ridge what did 3rd and 5th Armies gain for the blood spilt???? In my opiniom a few miles of worthless groun.

Regards

Jimd
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 11:25:28 AM
Clumsily put by me, Jim....apologies ! I had one eye on the Wales Ireland Rugby international.

What I meant to say was that one year after the 1917 Arras battles , fighting on the defensive on the ground conquered by the Canadians, the British succeeded in inflicting heavier loss than they received ; in the ensuing months- through the summer and autumn of 1918 - they pursued their Hundred Days to such brilliant effect that it can be legitimately claimed that, by war’s end, the British and Dominion ( the latter especially ) troops were the most effective on any battlefield.

The contrast with the inexperienced, tactically rigid and clumsily deployed British infantry attacks of 1915, 1916 and earlier 1917 could hardly have been more striking.

For the greater part of the war, the French demonstrated superior skill to the British ; this was not so one year after Arras, in the spring of 1918.

What the British had lacked in skill, they had more than compensated for in sheer doggedness : the Germans were emphatic in their respect for the sheer toughness of Tommy Atkins. Sad to say, this was a quality that was to cost excessive amounts of British blood.

Arras 1917 is one of the most striking examples of this.

Arras 1918 shows a big turn around.

Regards, Phil

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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 11:59:03 AM
My Goodness-if ever there was a complete turnabout -it was almost magical-it was Amiens 1918.An unbelievable transformation-still bloody but advancing inexorably forward .

Regards

Jim
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MikeMeech
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 12:44:48 PM
Hi

The latest book on the opening phase of the Battle of Arras is 'A Taste of Success - The First Battle of the Scarpe' by Jim Smithson, Helion 2017 (forward by Jonathan Nicholls author of 'Cheerful Sacrifice'). I have not yet had time to read it but it appears very well researched with lots of maps and use of British and German records.
The First Battle of the Scarpe, 9-14 April in WW1 terms was a 'success' as much as Vimy was (indeed Vimy was part of the operation). The whole battle of Arras was part of the support of the planned Nivelle offensive which was planned to break through in the Chemin des Dames area and roll up the German lines and join up with British formations in the Douai plain. The offensive failed and the Battle of Arras continued on to aid the French.
On the technology side the Tank support was limited; 1st Army - Canadian Corps 8 Tanks, 3rd Army - XVII Corps 8 Tanks, 3rd Army - VI Corps 16 Tanks, 3rd Army - VII Corps 16 Tanks, and 5th Army 12 Tanks. The models of tanks available were 10 Mk.I, 25 Mk.II and III delivered to France and 25 Mk.II and III training tanks taking from Woolwich Centre (these training tanks only had mild steel plate rather than armour). Not exactly an overwhelming force, and not particularly reliable mechanically.
While the artillery situation was better than in 1916 it was far from abundant and if lost or worn out it would take a bit of time to replace or repair them. The No.106 fuse was also used during this battle to cut wire, although there were insufficient fuses to allow all wire cutting to be done by medium-heavy guns. There were only fuses available to be used on 6", 8" and 9.2" howitzers. The Corps had the following numbers of these guns allocated to them, Canadian Corps - 240, XVII Corps - 158, VI Corps - 108, VII Corps - 136. The Canadians had much of the First Army's guns allocated to them, the Third Army had them spread along their front to support the various Corps.
Smithson in his 'Note on Sources', page 299, mentions the use of German sources some of which were good (such as RIR 84) others totally useless such as "...the poor descriptions of events at St. Laurent-Blangy, with vivid descriptions of non-existent flame throwers, are easily debunked." shows that any researcher has to be careful to try and confirm information from more than one source.

I hope that is of interest.

Mike


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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 2:54:04 PM
Yes, it is interesting, Mike, and your discerning comments are appreciated.

To my mind, British success in the early phase was predicated largely on a thereto unprecedented ( in British experience ) quantity and quality of artillery.

Those fuzes you allude to were surely of great importance.

This Smithson book sounds “the business “.

I wonder if more might be said about the international situation.

Uncle Sam joined the war. The Russians were in disarray , to put it mildly.

I suppose the Italians were embarking on something horrendous on the Isonzo front.

Murray was given a bloody nose at Gaza.

Allied ( and neutral ) shipping was being massacred on the high seas.

We in Britain think of Arras - with good reason.

As for the French......

Edit : Putting Arras in perspective, I note that the Italians embarked on their tenth Battle of the Isonzo on 12 May 1917. This was supposed to be part of the same coordinated Allied offensive against the Central Powers. Arras cost the British 158,660 casualties in thirty nine days. Tenth Isonzo cost the Italians almost identical casualties - 157,000 - in twenty seven days. What a horrifically intense and bloody period of warfare those two months of April and May 1917 were !

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

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George
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 3:20:39 PM
Phil, did the British continue the Arras initiative at the behest of the French?

Or was there concern that the French were debating whether they could continue the fight and Britain felt the need to show them that it was still "all in" the fight.

BTW, I always find Mike Meech's posts to be not only of interest but enlightening.

Cheers,

George

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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 3:31:40 PM
George,

Let me consult Haig’s diaries.

It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say.

He was almost always disparaging about the French when he wrote in his diary - perhaps he was just letting off steam...his actual behaviour as a coalition warrior was exemplary.

I suspect that he resented the drain Arras imposed on his resources ; he wanted above all to ply his strength in his cherished Flanders offensive scheduled for the summer.

More to come,

Regards, Phil
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

scoucer
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/24/2018 4:04:07 PM

Quote:

Smithson in his 'Note on Sources', page 299, mentions the use of German sources some of which were good (such as RIR 84) others totally useless such as "...the poor descriptions of events at St. Laurent-Blangy, with vivid descriptions of non-existent flame throwers, are easily debunked." shows that any researcher has to be careful to try and confirm information from more than one source.

Mike--MikeMeech


Yes indeed Mike. The "Ludendorff Lost Cause" and "stab in the back" mythology played an important role. Anything "popular" coming out of the Reichsarchiv must be treated with care.

I assume RIR 84 is William Speck: "Das Königlich Preußische Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 84", Zeulenroda 1937, Verl. Sporn

These were regimental histories usually written by an officier who had served "for" the regiment, veterans and district where the regiment came from. In this case Kreis Plön in Schleswig-Holstein.

Trevor


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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/25/2018 2:56:06 AM

Quote:
Phil, did the British continue the Arras initiative at the behest of the French?

Or was there concern that the French were debating whether they could continue the fight and Britain felt the need to show them that it was still "all in" the fight.

BTW, I always find Mike Meech's posts to be not only of interest but enlightening.

Cheers,

George
--George


George,

Reading Haig’s diary and correspondence from this time really makes my head spin.

It’s bewildering and hard to cope with.

How best should one interpret it all ?

I hope that this, being a “ primal source “, would be the best indicator ; but I confess to worrying about the extent that they have been tampered with after the event.

Plenty of scope for conspiracy theory here !

His views on the French, the wider war and the performance of the British and Dominion forces come to the fore in the Arras fighting.

Haig states some unedifying - not to say unpalatable - views. OTOH, he needed the refuge of his diary to let off steam, and, if he displays schadenfreude, one has to sympathise with him to a degree.....he had been treated badly by Lloyd George and his cronies, and pressured into accepting a subordinate role in a scheme which was not to his agreement or liking. In the performance of his duties, he shines as an outstanding coalition practitioner....infinitely superior to Monty a generation later.

His take on the course of the battle, and its frightful cost in life, is revealing.

Having got that off my chest, I’ll follow on in my next post with excerpts from the correspondence , make comments and invite yours.

Regards , Phil
---------------
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/25/2018 4:25:10 AM


Quote:
By the end of the offensive, the British had suffered more than 150,000 casualties and gained little ground since the first day. Despite significant early gains, they were unable to break through and the situation reverted to stalemate.

Although historians generally consider the battle a British victory, in the wider context of the front, it had very little impact on the strategic or tactical situation

Ludendorff later commented "no doubt exceedingly important strategic objects lay behind the British attack but I have never been able to discover what they were"Ludendorff was also "very depressed;/b] had our principles of defensive tactics proved false and if so, what was to be done
Wikipedia

Regards

Jim
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MikeMeech
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/25/2018 5:21:06 AM

Quote:


Quote:
By the end of the offensive, the British had suffered more than 150,000 casualties and gained little ground since the first day. Despite significant early gains, they were unable to break through and the situation reverted to stalemate.

Although historians generally consider the battle a British victory, in the wider context of the front, it had very little impact on the strategic or tactical situation

Ludendorff later commented "no doubt exceedingly important strategic objects lay behind the British attack but I have never been able to discover what they were"Ludendorff was also "very depressed;/b] had our principles of defensive tactics proved false and if so, what was to be done
Wikipedia

Regards

Jim
--anemone

Hi

The trouble with quoting Ludendorff on other's 'strategy' is that he was very poor at strategic thinking himself, as we have discussed on other threads relating to the German Spring Offensive.

We do know the 'strategic' thinking behind Arras as it was part of the plan formulated by Nivelle for operations during 1917, basically agreed on at the Anglo-French Conference at Calais on 26-27 February 1917 (Haig's Diary does cover it from his side). Some of this plan was thrown out of kilter by German Operation ALBERICH, withdrawal to the Siegfried Stellung (Hindenburg Line) in March 1917 (in the spring of 1918 Ludendorff lost lots of men taking this ground back).

The BEF was not doing its 'own thing' at this time it was relating to the French plan that had been agreed on.

Mike

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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/25/2018 5:56:16 AM
I agree Mike and thank you for your input

These attacks and the last three major actions of the battle were successful only insofar as they relieved pressure on the French Armies, whose own offensive, begun on the 16th April, had run into serious trouble.

While advances had been made, this was not the knockout blow promised by Nivelle; casualties were excessive, and the stark contrast between the promises of the French generals and the realities of the fighting caused a collapse in French morale..

On the 3rd May, the men of the French 2nd division refused to attack; many of the units were described as going on ‘strike’, or more simply, mutinying.

The French army was in real danger of disintegration, and the offensive was abandoned on the 9th May..

--

[Read More]

Regards

Jim
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/25/2018 1:47:03 PM
Here are some vignettes from Haig's war diaries and letters, covering the period of the Battle of Arras and the Nivelle Offensive.

I am using the volume edited by Gary Sheffield and John Bourne.


The selected passages leave me rather bewildered, but I will put heart and soul into my efforts to interpret them.

His remarks about the French and the opening of the Nivelle Offensive :

Tuesday 17 April

I could get no details from the French..as to results of today's fighting, which is always a bad sign and I fear things are going badly with their offensive.


Was that last comment added later ?

Wednesday 18 April

...they will look about for some excuse. One of them will be that the whole German Army is facing them and that we have not succeeded in easing their load ! This would be pure French, i.e., the woman's side of their nature, wounded vanity, jealousy and disappointment at their own failure and our success ! I don't think, luckily, that the French losses are very heavy ...
.

Regarding those French losses, Haig records on 26 April that he met the French prime minister, Ribot, who

...told me of the jealousies existing amongst their generals...Already 95,000 wounded had passed through their Casualty Hospitals and he presumed there would be....a total of over 115,000 casualties.

That's an average of over eleven thousand casualties per day : his earlier supposition that the French losses were not very heavy is clearly unwarranted. Significantly, however, no news of the serious problems with French morale that led to mutiny are apparent in Haig's letters until early June. Had he been aware of this earlier, imagine what dreadful comments he would make, bearing in mind the dire assessments he already makes of pure French conduct !

Compare this depiction of French character with what Haig writes on 12 April When I think over the fine work of the Canadian 4th Division in taking " the Pimple" notwithstanding the mud, shell holes and snow, I come to the conclusion that no other people are comparable to the British race as downright hard fighters.

How did Haig feel about those hard fighters ?

Friday 13 April. Letter to Lady Haig

I am very glad to hear from you that those serving under me have an affection for me. As you know, I don't go out of my way to make myself popular, either by doing showy things or by being slack in the matter of discipline. I never hesitate to find fault, but I leave myself a tremendous affection for those fine fellows who are ready to give their lives for the Old Country at any moment. I feel quite sad at times when I see them march past me, knowing as I do how many must pay the full penalty before we can have peace .


As to how many of those troops paid the full penalty in the battle of Arras, I find Haig's concluding comment in that letter to his wife astonishing :

It is satisfactory to hear that a much larger percentage than usual are slight bullet wounds during this last battle.

I am reminded here of a letter written fifty three years earlier by General Lee after the battle of the Wilderness, when he remarked on the preponderance of slight wounds among the casualties suffered by his troops. Lee was far more justified in stating this in May 1864 than Haig was in April 1917. Two days after he wrote that letter to his wife, the Australians had to fight off a furious German counter attack at Lagnicourt, in a struggle which was conducted by infantry at close quarters. The Australian Medical History records of this fighting The wounds were chiefly caused by bullet and were found " very severe " . Of the 1,624 Australian wounded brought in from this local encounter - one of the many that comprised the Battle of Arras - 258 died, a mortality rate of nearly sixteen per cent... double the normal rate for the war; and they were in addition to the hundreds who had been killed outright. Indeed, the entire Arras battle entailed a depressingly high proportion of killed among the nearly 160,000 casualties suffered by Haig's forces in those thirty nine days.

Was Haig deluded, or in denial ?

There is much more that I want to write, particularly in regard to the strategic parameters and how Haig perceived them. I intend to revisit the volume and pitch in more.

Regards, Phil
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

George
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/25/2018 2:07:11 PM
Great stuff Phil.


Quote:
Was Haig deluded, or in denial ?
. I had the same thought as I read your post.

Thanks,

George

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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/26/2018 4:37:32 AM
IMHO I am convinced that he was both delusional and when things went wrong he refused to believe as much-- aided very much so by his staff who only told him what he wanted to hearHaig and his staff were sublimely confident, and as Churchill dryly points out, “hopes of decisive victory…grew with every step away from the British front line and reached absolute conviction in the Intelligence Department.”

However, Haig’s civilian bosses in London were skeptical. The new prime minister, Lloyd George, wanted to fight defensively on the Western Front while waiting for the Americans, now in the war, to begin arriving in Europe in decisive numbers.

Rewgards

Jim
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George
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Re: Battle of Arras, (9 April–17 May 1917)
Posted on: 2/26/2018 7:58:30 AM
Now refresh my memory. Didn't someone write on another thread that Haig was not a "chateau general" ?

Was he based at GHQ in Montreuil? If so, did he make it his business to go as close as was considered reasonable to the front.

I don't know these answers but I am confused as to how he could have deluded himself about casualties and progress.

Cheers,

George

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