Battle of Arras

1917 Europe - reserve

Robert Nivelle planned the grand strategy of 1917 to attack the shoulders of the Western Front, but failures and mutinies caused his rapid demise, replaced by the more cautious. Joffre fell and Foch rose, Russians departed and the Americans arrived. The British began the year subordinate to the French, but ended back in Flanders where they wanted to fight.

1917 Feb. 22 - Lt. Frank Lucas in the 18th Division saw a single German soldier climb out his trench and run back to ruins of village of Petit Miraumont. His patrol the next day discovered German trenches empty, but his report, the first in the British army of the German retreat, was not believed. Germany had begun construction of the Siegfried Stellung in Sept. 1916, from the Channel to the Moselle River, 300 miles long, designed by Col von Lossberg and built by Belgian and Russian prisoners. The strongest section of what the British called the Hindenburg Line was the salient at St. Quentin between Arras and Soissons. The line was one mile deep in three lines, of trenches and strongpoints, with barbed wire in 50-ft zig-zag lines, interconnecting tunnels and large concrete stollen for reserves to counterattack, artillery hidden on reverse slopes. The German withdrawal to this line was called Operation Alberich, and took five weeks from the end of February through March, with the main group pulling back during the three days Mar. 16-19. Germany ordered the countryside laid waste, wells poisoned, souvenirs booby-trapped, and the destruction of villages such as Bapaume.

British had 1,893,874 in France, including 139,353 Anzacs and 130,255 Canadians, in 3 armies at Arras to carry out the diversionary attack planned by Nivelle. Allenby commanded 3rd Army, led attack in center after 5-day barrage, on 10-mile front, with 10 Divisions and 2 in reserve, attacking 3 trench lines of Germans, the black, blue, brown, taking Monchy, or the Green Line, on 1st day. In the north, the 1st Army under Gen. Horne to take Vimy Ridge, led by 4 Canadian divisions commanded by British Gen. Julian Byng, starting at 4:30 am with the 3rd Army in the center. The British 5th Army in south under Gen. Gough included the Anzac Corps. dug tunnels with electric light and railroad to conceal 25,000 men and to act as "subways" to the first Germans line.

Arras was an ancient town in a shallow depression in the Artois plan, with a semicircle of hills in the east held by the Germans, including the highest point of Vimy Ridge three miles northeast, ridge seven miles long. When the British took over the sector after a series of failed French attacks in 1916, they dug tunnels to undermine the German trenches. Germany captured the British forward lines near the Ridge May 21, 1916, and continued to hold the Ridge in 1917. South of the Ridge, five miles from Arras, the Germans put artillery in the village of Monchy that commanded the whole field east of Arras. At Roeux the Germans built the largest concrete blockhouses on the western front, and heavily fortified a part of the village known as the Chemical Works.

Mar. 3 - Germans captured Nivelle's plans, accelerated withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, brought reserve diversions to Arras and the Aisne.

Mar. 20 - The preliminary bombardment began by 1097 guns against Vimy Ridge. On the Arras front, British had a total of

Mar. 22 - heavy snow storms in central France, mixed with rain and hail.

Apr. 4 - The main British bombardment began on the 12-mile front at Arras with 1720 guns, for next 5 days, some with new 106 fuze to explore on contact with barbed wire before hitting ground.

Apr. 9 - Battle of Arras began on Easter Monday at 5:30 am, with a creeping barrage, included a gas attack with new Livens Projector buried in ground to fire 30 lb. phosgene gas projectile; 2340 projectors would fire 50 tons of gas. Some projectors fired liquid fire, or Livens bombs. Only 60 tanks ready for this battle due to production problems, old Mark I and II models from the Somme.

Four Canadian divisions attacked Vimy Ridge. The 48th Highlanders in the 1st Division under Currie on the right flank of the Canadian attack reached the Black Line by 7 am, then advanced on the Red Line, and then on the Blue Line. The advance of the Western Ontario Battalion was too fast, leapfrogged past the 48th and own artillery. The 1st had advanced 2 miles and taken its objectives.

The 2nd Canadian Division under Burstall had 8 tanks against Hill 135. The Germans had known the tanks were coming, and had a special anti-tank battery of four 77 mm guns at Les Tilleuls, but were destroyed by the British barrage. All 8 tanks became stuck and did not help the attack.

The 3rd Division under Lipsett exploded two "bored mines" under German lines, creating two new trenches 150 ft. long and 35 ft. wide and 14 ft. deep, and attacked the GErman prince Arnulf Tunnel after finding an entrance. Another assault team found the Volker Tunnel, the longest German tunnel.

The 4th Division attacked and the 85th Nova Scotia Highlanders captured Hill145, charging machine guns with rifle grenades.

By the end of the day, the Canadians had taken the Vimy Ridge, losing 9000 casualties.

Six British divisions attacked the center of th 10-mile front, directly east of Arras toward Monchy south of the Scarpe River that formed the left flank of the British attack. The German concrete bunkers had been locate and marked on British maps. The 13th Royal Scots took Blangy after explading a large min undeer the German line. In the attack on the Railroad Triangle, Tank 788, or "Lusitania" followed the railroad to the German bunkers and helped the 9th Black Watch take the Triangle. The 9th Royal Fusiliers worked slowly in small groups to attack German bunkers in the "Battle of the Redoubts" and took Observation Ridge and reached the Brown Line. The 12th Division led by the 10th Scottish Rifles and the Scottish Borderers captured Battery Valley.

The four divisions on the British right attacked the newest section of the Hindenburg Line. 24 tanks were used to break through the heavy barbed wire, but soon were stopped. The 9th Division took the Hyderabad Redoubt.

The British won the battle on Easter Monday, captured all their objectives, the creeping barrage was successful in destroying many German strongpoints and gas shells worked to suppress enemy troops. The 3rd Army took 8000 pows. But the weather changed, grew colder, snow blizzards covered the battlefield next three days.

Apr. 10 - Haig planned to capture the rest of the Brown line and take Monchy. But German reserves came up to fill the defensive line. The British made no progress.

Apr. 11 - Some British troops entered Monchy and engaged in street fighting. Two tanks helped the British finally take the village. This would be the last British success and a turning point in the battle. The British suffered heavy losses in their failure to take Roeux to the north and Wancourt to the south.

Apr. 12 - Canadians attack Pimple Hill, but driven back by German counterattacks

Apr. 14 - First Battle of the Scarpe ended

Apr. 16 - Second Battle of the Aisne began with Nivelle's attack on 25-mile front, first use of 128 Schneider tanks. Germans prepared for attack by shifting new First Army from Somme to center of line between German Third and Seventh Armies. French attack at Chemin des Dames failed, rain, tanks bogged down, barbed wire remained. French casualties were 120,000 after two days, including 5000 who died in ambulances waiting to be evacuated.

Apr. 17 - Battle of the Hills at Moronvilliers began with French 4th Army attack east of Rheims in the Champagne region. French mutinies began with 17 men of the 108th Regiment.

Apr. 22 - Below replaced Falkenhausen as head of German Sixth Army.

Apr. 23 - Second Battle of the Scarpe began by 9 British divsions on a 9-mile front, again attacked the Chemical Works in Rouex, now defended by three German divisions. Germans used new armor-piercing "K" ammunition against tank C22 but it was unable to help the 51st Highland take the Chemical Works. The 63rd Royal Naval Division attacked Gavrelle and took the village but not the Windmill on the high ground north of the village. The British took the village of Guemappe but little else on Apr. 23, and in one day suffered 10,000 casualties.

Apr. 24 - Haig met with Nivelle at Amiens, Haig wanted to turn north to attack the Channel ports due to the submarine war, but the French needed the British to stay. Nivelle would be replaced by Petain May 15 and the French persuaded the British to stay due to the mutinies.

May 3 - Third Battle of the Scarpe began with British attack on 16-mile front from Roeux to Bullecourt. The Canadians took Fresnoy in the north. In the Battle of Bullecourt, 6 British and Anzac divisions broke through the Hindenburg line at Queant.

May 5 - French took Craonne Ridge in Chemin des Dames with help of the first 48 St. Chamond tanks.

May 9 - end of French offensive on the Aisne; Petain replaced Nivelle May 15.

May 17 - Battle of Arras officially ended. The British lost 158,660 casualties since Apr. 9, and average of 4076 per day for the 39-day battle (Somme averaged 2943 per day for 141 days, and Paschendale averaged 2323 for 105 days). German casualties were 120,000. The vimy Ridge Canadian Memorial dedicated 1936 on Hill 145 honored the 60,000 dead Canadians in WWI.

June 4 - French mutiny became widespread, affected half of French army, 54 divisions; only 2 loyal divisions between German line and Paris.

June 7 - Battle of Messines Ridge began with largest mine explosion of the war, 500 tons explosives in 19 mines went up at 3:10 am.

June 9 - Byng replaced Allenby as commander of British 3rd Army.

June 13 - Pershing arrived at Boulogne; first contingent of American troops had arrived May 26.

June 21 - British 4th Army under Rawlinson with 8 divisions began operations on Flanders coast.

June 30 - Germans became aware of French mutiny.

July 12 - Germans used mustard gas for first time at Ypres.

July 17 - British began 13-day bombardment at Ypres including chlorpicrin gas shells, by 3091 guns.

July 31 - Battle of Passchendaele, or 3rd Ypres, began with British-French attack on 15-mile front.

Aug. 1 - British strength in France was 2,044,627.

Aug. 10 - British offensive at Ypres renewed after pause due to heavy rain and mud.

Aug. 16 - Battle of Langemarck at Ypres began with British attack on 9-mile front.

Aug. 19 - 12 British tanks captured St. Julien on the Ypres Road.

Aug. 25 - British attack at Langemarck ended, Haig replaced Gough with Plumer for next phase of attack. British have lost 68,010 casualties.

Sept. 20 - British offensive at Ypres renewed with Battle of Menin Road Ridge under Gen. Plumer, with 11 divisions and 52 tanks, troops attacked under very dense creeping barrage. British lost 20,000 casualties in 3 days.

Sept. 26 - Battle of Polygon Wood successful, the Wood occupied, held against German flamethrower attack Sept. 30.

Oct. 4 - Battle of Broodseinde at Ypres.

Oct. 5 - British have lost 162,768 casualties at Ypres in 67 days.

Oct. 9 - Battle of Poelcapelle in Ypres.

Oct. 12 - Anzacs attack in the 1st battle of Passchendaele.

Oct. 23 - Battle of La Malmaison was successful application of Petain's limited offensive strategy; German 7th army retreated from Chemin des Dames Nov. 1.

Oct. 26 - British attack in the 2nd battle of Passchendaele.

Nov. 6 - Canadians captured Passchendaele village.

Nov. 11 - Ludendorff proposed great offensive for 1918 with troops transferred from eastern front.

Nov. 20 - Battle of Cambrai began with massed attack by 389 British tanks

Nov. 30 - German counterattack at Cambrai by 20 divisions of German 2nd Army, reinforced with assault units and close air support, advanced 3 miles, Britain's youngest general killed, "Boy" Bradford age 25.






revised 10/1/06 by Schoenherr | WWI Timeline | Links | Topics | Maps | Reserve