Second Battle of the Aisne
The Second Battle of the Aisne was the main part of the Nivelle Offensive, a Franco-British attempt to inflict a decisive defeat on the German armies in France. The strategy was to conduct sequenced offensives from north to south, by the British Expeditionary Force and several French army groups. General Robert Nivelle planned the offensive in December 1916, after he replaced Joseph Joffre as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army; the objective of the attack on the Aisne was to capture the prominent 80-kilometre-long, east–west ridge of the Chemin des Dames, 110 km north-east of Paris, attack northwards to capture the city of Laon. When the French armies met the British advancing from the Arras front, the Germans would be pursued towards Belgium and the German frontier; the offensive began on 9 April. On 16 April, the Groupe d'armées de Reserve attacked the Chemin des Dames and the next day, the Fourth Army of Groupe d'armées de Centre, near Reims to the south-east, began the Battle of the Hills.
The Chemin des Dames ridge had been quarried for stone for centuries, leaving a warren of caves and tunnels which were used as shelters by German troops to escape the French bombardment. The offensive met massed German machine-gun and artillery fire, which inflicted many casualties and repulsed the French infantry at many points; the French still achieved some substantial tactical successes and took c. 29,000 prisoners in their attacks on the Chemin des Dames and in Champagne but failed to achieve their strategic objective of a decisive defeat over the Germans. The failure had a traumatic effect on the morale of the French army and many divisions mutinied. Nivelle was superseded by General Philippe Pétain, who adopted a strategy of "healing and defence"; the new French strategy was not one of passive defence. In June and July the Fourth and Tenth Armies conducted several limited attacks and the First Army was sent to Flanders to participate in the Third Battle of Ypres; the British prolonged the Arras offensive into mid-May, despite uncertainty about French intentions, high losses and diminishing success as divisions were transferred northwards to Flanders.
The British captured Messines Ridge on 7 June and spent the rest of the year on the offensive in the Third Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Cambrai. The difficulties of the French armies became known in general to the Germans but the cost of the defensive success on the Aisne made it impossible to reinforce the Flanders front and conduct more than local operations on the Aisne and in Champagne; the French conducted limited attacks at Verdun in August, which recaptured much of the remaining ground lost in 1916 and the Battle of La Malmaison in October, which captured the west end of the Chemin des Dames and forced the Germans to withdraw to the north bank of the Ailette. While the Germans were diverted by the British offensive in Flanders, French morale recovered, after Pétain had 40–62 mutineers shot as scapegoats and provided better food, more pay and more leave to improve the welfare of French troops. Nivelle believed the Germans had been exhausted by the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and could not resist a breakthrough offensive, which could be completed in 24–48 hours.
The main attack on the Aisne would be preceded by a large diversionary attack by the British Third and First armies at Arras. The French War Minister, Hubert Lyautey and Chief of Staff General Henri-Philippe Pétain opposed the plan, believing it to be premature; the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, supported the concept of a decisive battle but insisted that if the first two phases of the Nivelle scheme were unsuccessful, the British effort would be moved north to Flanders. Nivelle threatened to resign if the offensive did not go ahead and having not lost a battle, had the enthusiastic support of the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George; the French Prime Minister Aristide Briand supported Nivelle but the war minister Lyautey resigned during a dispute with the Chamber of Deputies and the Briand government fell. The Second Battle of the Aisne involved c. 1.2 million troops and 7,000 guns on a front from Reims to Roye, with the main effort against the German positions along the Aisne river.
The original plan of December 1916 was plagued by delays and information leaks. By the time the offensive began in April 1917, the Germans had received intelligence of the Allied plan and strengthened their defences on the Aisne front; the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line Operation Alberich left a belt of devastated ground up to 25 mi deep in front of the French positions facing east from Soissons, northwards to St. Quentin. Alberich freed 13–14 German divisions which were moved to the Aisne, increasing the German garrison to 38 divisions against 53 French divisions; the German withdrawal forestalled the attacks of the British and Groupe d'armées du Nord but freed French divisions for the attack. By late March, GAN had been reduced by eleven infantry, two cavalry divisions and 50 heavy guns, which went into the French strategic reserve; when Hindenburg and Ludendorff took over from Falkenhayn on 28 August 1916, the pressure being placed on the German army in France was so great that new defensive arrangements, based on the principles of depth and immediate counter-action were formally adopted, as the only means by which the growing mater
Gas attacks at Wulverghem
The Gas attacks at Wulverghem were German cloud gas releases during the First World War on British troops in the municipality of Heuvelland, near Ypres in the Belgian province of West Flanders. The gas attacks were part of the sporadic fighting between battles in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front; the British Second Army held the ground from Messines Ridge northwards to Steenstraat and the divisions opposite the German XXIII Reserve Corps had received warnings of a gas attack. From 21 to 23 April, British artillery-fire exploded several gas cylinders in the German lines around Spanbroekmolen, which released greenish-yellow clouds. A gas alert was given on 25 April when the wind began to blow from the north-east and routine work was suspended. Just after midnight on 30 April, the German attack began and over no man's land, a gas cloud drifted on the wind into the British defences south-west towards Bailleul; the gas used at Wulverghem was a mixture of chlorine and phosgene, used against British troops on 19 December 1915 in the phosgene attack at Wieltje, north-east of Ypres.
This and earlier gas attacks, beginning at the Second Battle of Ypres had given the British time to replace improvised gas masks with effective mass-produced versions, obtain other anti-gas equipment and to establish anti-gas procedures. Helmets impregnated with chemicals to neutralise chlorine had been issued in several variants, each more effective than the last. By April 1916, British troops had PH helmets and some specialist troops like machine-gunners, were equipped with box respirators; the German gas attack at Wulverghem on 30 April, caused the defenders 562 gas casualties and 89 gas fatalities but German raiding parties, looking for mine entrances to destroy, were repulsed with small-arms and artillery fire. A second attempt by the Germans on 17 June caused about the same number of gas casualties but the British again repulsed German patrols. During the evening of 22 April 1915, German pioneers released chlorine gas which drifted into the positions of the French 87th Territorial and the 45th Algerian divisions, on the north side of the salient and caused many of the troops to run back from the cloud, leaving a gap in the Allied line.
The German attack was a strategic diversion, rather than a breakthrough attempt and insufficient forces were available to follow up the success. As soon as German troops tried to advance into areas not affected by the gas, Allied small-arms and artillery fire dominated the area and halted the German advance; the surprise gained against the French was increased by the lack of protection against gas and because the psychological effect of the insidious nature of the substance. A soldier could evade bullets and shells but gas seeped into trenches and dugouts and had a ghastly, choking effect; the gas was identified as chlorine and the first Allied mass-produced anti-gas helmet was a flannel bag soaked in glycerine and sodium bicarbonate. On 19 December 1915, the German 4th Army conducted an attack at Ypres using a new gas, a mixture of chlorine and phosgene, a much more lethal concoction; the British took a prisoner who disclosed the intended gas attack and gleaned information from other sources, which led to the divisions of VI Corps being alerted from 15 December.
The gas discharge was accompanied by German raiding parties, most of which were engaged by small-arms fire, while attempting to cross no-man's land. The British anti-gas precautions were successful and prevented a panic or a collapse of the defence though British anti-gas helmets had not been treated to repel phosgene. Only the 49th Division had a large number of gas casualties, caused by soldiers in reserve lines not being warned of the gas in sufficient time to put on their anti-gas helmets. A study by British medical authorities counted 1,069 gas casualties. After the operation, German opinion concluded that a breakthrough could not be achieved by the use of gas. A German gas attack took place from 27 to 29 April, by divisions of the II Bavarian Corps against I Corps on the First Army front near Loos-en-Gohelle. Just before dawn on 27 April, the 16th Division and part of the 15th Division were subjected to a German cloud gas attack, near Hulluch; the gas cloud and artillery bombardment were followed by raiding parties, which made temporary lodgements in the British lines.
Two days there was another gas attack, which blew back over the German lines and caused a large number of German casualties, increased by British troops firing at German soldiers as they fled in the open. The gas was a mixture of chlorine and phosgene, of sufficient concentration to penetrate the British PH gas helmets; the 16th Division was unjustly blamed for poor gas discipline and it was put about that the gas helmets of the division were of inferior manufacture to allay doubts as to the effectiveness of the helmet. Production of the M2 gas mask, which had worked well during the attack, was accelerated. In late April 1916, the centre of the Second Army front was held by V Corps from the Warneton road 1.5 mi south of Messines, for 5.5 mi to the south-west of St Eloi. The front line ran from the valley of the river Douvre, up the Wulverghem spur and curved back over the Ypres ridge south-west of Wytschaete along the lower west slopes of the ridge, north-east to the corps boundary. From the German trenches higher on the ridges, observers overlooked the British positions.
On 29 April, the V Corps front was held by the 24th Division and the 3rd Division (Major-General
The Nivelle Offensive, was a Franco-British operation on the Western Front in the First World War. The French part of the offensive was intended to be strategically decisive by breaking through the German defences on the Aisne front within 48 hours, with casualties expected to be around 10,000 men. A preliminary attack was to be made by the French Third Army at St Quentin and the British First and Fifth armies at Arras, to capture high ground and divert German reserves from the French fronts on the Aisne and in Champagne; the main offensive was to be delivered by the French on the Chemin des Dames ridge, with a subsidiary attack by the Fourth Army. The final stage of the offensive was to follow the meeting of the British and French armies, having broken through the German lines the pursuit of the defeated German armies towards the German frontier; the Franco-British attacks were tactically successful. The British Third and First armies achieved the deepest advance since trench warfare began, along the Scarpe river in the Battle of Arras, which inflicted many losses on the Germans, attracted reserves and captured Vimy Ridge to the north.
The main French offensive on the Aisne began on 16 April and achieved considerable tactical success but the attempt to force a strategically decisive battle on the Germans was a costly failure and by 25 April the main offensive had been suspended. The failure of the Nivelle strategy and the high number of French casualties led to mutinies and the dismissal of Nivelle, his replacement by Pétain and the adoption of a defensive strategy by the French, while their armies recuperated and were rearmed. Fighting known as the Battle of the Observatories continued for local advantage all summer on the Chemin des Dames and along the Moronvilliers heights east of Reims. In late October, the French conducted the Battle of La Malmaison, a limited-objective attack on the west end of the Chemin-des-Dames, which forced the Germans to abandon their remaining positions on Chemin des Dames and retire across the Ailette valley; the British remained on the offensive for the rest of the year fighting the battles of Messines, 3rd Ypres and Cambrai.
After the costly fighting at the Verdun and on the Somme in 1916, General Robert Nivelle replaced Marshal Joseph Joffre as the commander of the French armies on the Western Front in December. Nivelle claimed; the Russian Revolution, the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line and the likelihood of a declaration of war by the USA, made some assumptions of the plan obsolete. At a meeting on 6 April, despite the doubts of other politicians, the army group commanders and the British, Alexandre Ribot, the new French Prime Minister supported the plan. Nivelle offered his resignation but it was refused, despite Nivelle's authority having been undermined. Preparing the Nivelle Offensive was a huge and costly undertaking, involving c. 1.2 million troops and 7,000 artillery pieces on a front between Reims and Roye. The principal effort was an attack on the German positions along the Chemin des Dames ridge, in the Second Battle of the Aisne and an eventual link with the British; the plan had been in development since December 1916 but the preparations were plagued by delays and information leaks.
By April 1917, the plans were well known to the German army, which made extensive defensive preparations, by adding fortifications to the Aisne front and reinforcing the 7th Army with divisions released by the retirement to the Hindeburg Line in Operation Alberich. Nivelle left Petain in command of Groupe d'armées de Centre and established a new Groupe d'armées de Reserve for the attack along the Chemin des Dames with the Fifth Army, the Sixth Army and the Tenth Army. Forty-nine infantry and five cavalry divisions were massed on the Aisne front with 5,300 guns; the ground at Brimont began to rise to the west towards Craonne and reached a height of 180 m along a plateau which continued westwards to Fort Malmaison. The French held a bridgehead 20 km wide on the north bank of the Aisne, south of the Chemin des Dames from Berry-au-Bac to Fort Condé on the road to Soissons. German air reconnaissance was possible close to the front although longer-range sorties were impossible to protect because of the greater number of Allied aircraft.
The qualitative superiority of German fighters enabled German air observers on short-range sorties, to detect British preparations for an attack on both sides of the Scarpe. On 6 April a division was seen encamped near Arras and transport columns crowded the streets, more narrow-gauge railways and artillery were seen to have moved closer to the front. British aerial activity opposite the 6th Army increased and by 6 April Ludendorff was certain that an attack was imminent. By early April German air reinforcements had arrived the Arras front, telephone networks had been completed and a common communications system for the air and ground forces built. On the Aisne front German intelligence had warned that an attack on 15 April against German airfields and observation balloons by the Aéronautique Militaire was planned; the Luftstreitkrä
Second Battle of Artois
The Second Battle of Artois from 9 May – 18 June 1915 was a battle on the Western Front during the First World War. A German-held salient from Reims to Amiens had been formed in 1914, which menaced communications between Paris and northern France. A reciprocal French advance eastwards in Artois could cut the rail lines supplying the German armies between Arras and Reims. French operations in Artois and Alsace from November–December 1914, led General Joseph Joffre and head of Grand Quartier Général, to continue the offensive in Champagne against the German southern rail supply route and to plan an offensive in Artois, against the lines supplying the German armies from the north. Field Marshal Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, co-operated with the French strategy to capture Vimy Ridge, by planning British attacks against Aubers Ridge; the attacks would confront the German 6th Army with a joint offensive on a 70 mi front eastwards into the Douai plain, where an advance of 10–15 mi would cut the railways supplying the German armies as far south as Reims.
The French attacked Vimy Ridge and the British attacked further north in the Battle of Aubers Ridge and the Battle of Festubert. The battle was fought during the German offensive of the Second Battle of Ypres, which the Germans ended to reinforce the Artois front; the initial French attack broke through and captured Vimy Ridge but reserve units were not able to reinforce the troops on the ridge, before German counter-attacks forced them back about half-way to their jumping-off points. The British attack at Aubers Ridge was a costly failure and two German divisions in reserve were diverted south against the Tenth Army; the British offensive was suspended until 15 May, when the Battle of Festubert began and French attacks from 15 May – 15 June was concentrated on the flanks, to create jumping-off points for a second general offensive, which began on 16 June. The British attacks at Festubert forced the Germans back 1.9 mi and diverted reserves from the French but the French gained little more ground, despite firing double the amount of artillery ammunition, at the cost of many casualties to both sides.
On 18 June, the main offensive was stopped and local attacks were ended on 25 June. The French offensive had advanced the front line about 1.9 mi towards Vimy Ridge, on an 5.0 mi front. The failure to break through, despite the expenditure of 2,155,862 shells and the loss of 102,500 casualties, led to recriminations against Joffre. A lull followed until the Second Battle of Champagne, the Third Battle of Artois and the Battle of Loos in September. After the Marne campaign in 1914, French offensives in Artois, at St. Mihiel had been costly failures, leading to criticism of the leadership of General Joseph Joffre, within the army and the French government; the President, Raymond Poincaré, arranged several meetings between Joffre and the Council of Ministers in March and April 1915, where reports of the failed operations were debated a condemnation of the April offensive against the St. Mihiel salient. Joffre retained undivided command and freedom to conduct operations as he saw fit, given at the beginning of the war but was instructed to consult with his subordinates.
The French government accepted that the task facing Joffre and the army was far more difficult than expected, after the winter fighting in Artois and Champagne. Despite costly mistakes, many lessons had been learned, methods had been changed and more weapons and equipment necessary for siege warfare had been delivered; the offensives had failed in their objectives but had become more powerful and better organised, except for the bungled effort at St. Mihiel; the greater amount of heavy artillery gave grounds for confidence, that further attacks could break the German front and liberate France. In late 1914, General Erich Von Falkenhayn, Chief of the General Staff of the German army Oberste Heeresleitung since 14 September, had reinforced the Fourth Army and attacked westwards, parallel to the North Sea coast, culminating in the Battle of the Yser and the First Battle of Ypres, when open warfare in the west ended. Eight new divisions were formed in February 1915 and another fourteen in April, which were formed into an 11th Army, intended for an offensive in France.
Despite the French battle in Champagne in February, Falkenhayn was forced to cancel his plans to attack in the west and send the 11th Army to the Eastern Front, to support the Austro-Hungarian army, which has lost more than 2,000,000 casualties by March 1915. Nine divisions were transferred to Russia in May, which reduced the Westheer to 97 divisions against 110–112 larger French and Belgian divisions; the western armies had c. 4,000 modern and 350 obsolete field guns, 825 modern and 510 obsolete heavy guns and ten super-heavy howitzers. A reserve of 276 heavy guns and mortars was being prepared; the OHL had 7 1⁄2 divisions in reserve, with the 115th divisions behind the 6th Army. Indications of an attack in Artois had been detected but not signs of a general offensive on the Western Front; the Westheer was forced to remain on the defensive, except for limited attacks in Flanders in the Second Battle of Ypres and in the Argonne west of Verdun until August, to cut the main rail line from Paris to Verdun.
In memoranda issued on 7 and 25 January 1915, Falkenhayn ordered that the existing positions of the German armi
Battle of Vimy Ridge
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was part of the Battle of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, during the First World War. The main combatants were the four divisions of the Canadian Corps in the First Army, against three divisions of the German 6th Army; the battle took place from 9 to 12 April 1917 at the beginning of the Battle of Arras, the first attack of the Nivelle Offensive, intended to attract German reserves from the French, before their attempt at a decisive offensive on the Aisne and the Chemin des Dames ridge further south. The Canadian Corps was to capture the German-held high ground of Vimy Ridge, an escarpment on the northern flank of the Arras front; this would protect the Third Army farther south from German enfilade fire. Supported by a creeping barrage, the Canadian Corps captured most of the ridge during the first day of the attack; the village of Thélus fell during the second day, as did the crest of the ridge, once the Canadian Corps overran a salient against considerable German resistance.
The final objective, a fortified knoll located outside the village of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, fell to the Canadians on 12 April. The 6th Army retreated to the Oppy–Méricourt line. Historians attribute the success of the Canadian Corps to technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training, as well as the inability of the 6th Army to properly apply the new German defensive doctrine; the battle was the first occasion when the four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together and it was made a symbol of Canadian national achievement and sacrifice. A 100-hectare portion of the former battleground serves as a memorial park and site of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Vimy Ridge is an escarpment 8 km northeast of Arras on the western edge of the Douai Plain; the ridge rises on its western side and drops more on the eastern side. At 7 km in length and culminating at an elevation of 145 m or 60 m above the Douai Plains, the ridge provides a natural unobstructed view for tens of kilometres in all directions.
The ridge fell under German control in October 1914 during the Race to the Sea as the Franco-British and German forces continually attempted to outflank each other through northeastern France. The French Tenth Army attempted to dislodge the Germans from the region during the Second Battle of Artois in May 1915 by attacking their positions at Vimy Ridge and Notre Dame de Lorette; the French 1st Moroccan Division managed to capture the height of the ridge but was unable to hold it owing to a lack of reinforcements. The French made another attempt during the Third Battle of Artois in September 1915 but only captured the village of Souchez at the western base of the ridge; the Vimy sector calmed following the offensive with both sides taking a live and let live approach. In all, the French suffered 150,000 casualties in their attempts to gain control of Vimy Ridge and surrounding territory; the British XVII Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, relieved the French Tenth Army in the sector in February 1916, permitting the French to expand their operations at Verdun.
The British soon discovered that German tunnelling companies had taken advantage of the relative calm on the surface to build an extensive network of tunnels and deep mines from which they would attack French positions by setting off explosive charges underneath their trenches. The Royal Engineers deployed specialist tunnelling companies along the front to combat the German mining operations. In response to increased British mining aggression, German artillery and trench mortar fire intensified in early May 1916. On 21 May 1916, after shelling both forward trenches and divisional artillery positions from no less than 80 out-of-sight batteries on the reverse slope of the ridge, the German infantry began operation Schleswig Holstein, an attack on the British lines along a 2,000 yd front in an effort to eject them from positions along the ridge; the Germans captured several British-controlled tunnels and mine craters before halting their advance and entrenching their positions. Small counterattacks by units of the 140th and 141st British Brigades took place on 22 May but did not manage to change the situation.
The Canadian Corps relieved the British IV Corps stationed along the western slopes of Vimy Ridge in October 1916. On 28 May 1916, Byng took command of the Canadian Corps from Lieutenant-General Sir Edwin Alderson. Formal discussions for a spring offensive near Arras began, following a conference of corps commanders held at the First Army Headquarters on 21 November 1916. In March 1917, the First Army headquarters formally presented Byng with orders outlining Vimy Ridge as the Canadian Corps objective for the Arras Offensive. A formal assault plan, adopted in early March 1917, drew on the briefings of staff officers sent to learn from the experiences of the French Army during the Battle of Verdun. For the first time the four Canadian divisions would fight together; the nature and size of the attack needed more resources than the Canadian Corps possessed. In January 1917, three Canadian Corps officers accompanied other British and Dominion officers attending a series of lectures hosted by the French Army regarding their experiences during the Battle of Verdun.
The French counter offensive devised by General Robert Nivelle had been one of a number of Allied successes of 1916. Following extensive rehearsal, eight French divisions had assaulted German positions in two wa
The Great Retreat known as the Retreat from Mons, is the name given to the long withdrawal to the River Marne, in August and September 1914, by the British Expeditionary Force and the French Fifth Army, Allied forces on the Western Front in the First World War, after their defeat by the armies of the German Empire at the Battle of Charleroi and the Battle of Mons. A counter-offensive by the Fifth Army, with some assistance from the BEF at the First Battle of Guise, failed to end the German advance and the Franco-British retreat continued to and beyond the Marne. From 5 to 12 September, the First Battle of the Marne ended the Allied retreat and forced the German armies to retire towards the Aisne river and fight the First Battle of the Aisne. Reciprocal attempts to outflank the opposing armies to the north known as the Race to the Sea followed; the Battle of the Frontiers is a general name for all of the operations of the French armies until the Battle of the Marne. A series of encounter battles began between the German and Belgian armies, on the German-French frontier and in southern Belgium on 4 August 1914.
The Battle of Mulhouse was the first French offensive of World War I against Germany. The French captured Mulhouse until forced out by a German counter-attack on 11 August and fell back toward Belfort; the main French offensive, the Battle of Lorraine, began with the Battles of Morhange and Sarrebourg advances by the First Army on Sarrebourg and the Second Army towards Morhange. Château Salins near Morhange was Sarrebourg the next day; the German 6th and 7th armies counter-attacked on 20 August, the Second Army was forced back from Morhange and the First Army was repulsed at Sarrebourg. The German armies were stopped to the east of the city. To the south the French retook Mulhouse on 19 August and withdrew. On 24 August at the Battle of the Mortagne, a limited German offensive in the Vosges, the Germans managed a small advance, before a French counter-attack retook the ground. By 20 August a German counter-offensive in Lorraine had begun and the German 4th and 5th Armies advanced through the Ardennes on 19 August towards Neufchâteau.
An offensive by French Third and Fourth armies through the Ardennes began on 20 August, in support of the French invasion of Lorraine. The opposing armies met in the French mistook the German troops for screening forces. On 22 August the Battle of the Ardennes began with French attacks, which were costly to both sides and forced the French into a disorderly retreat late on 23 August; the Third Army recoiled towards Verdun, pursued by the 5th Army and the Fourth Army retreated to Sedan and Stenay. Mulhouse was recaptured again by German forces and the Battle of the Meuse 26–28 August), caused a temporary halt of the German advance. Liège was occupied by the Germans on 7 August, the first units of the BEF landed in France and French troops crossed the German frontier. On 12 August, the Battle of Haelen was fought by German and Belgian cavalry and infantry and was a Belgian defensive success; the BEF completed its move of four divisions and a cavalry division to France on 16 August, as the last Belgian fort of the Position fortifiée de Liège surrendered.
The Belgian government withdrew from Brussels on 18 August and the German army attacked the Belgian field army at the Battle of the Gete. Next day the Belgian army began to retire towards Antwerp. Further west, the Fifth Army had concentrated on the Sambre by 20 August, facing north either side of Charleroi and east towards the Belgian fortress of Namur. On the left, the Cavalry Corps linked with the BEF at Mons. By 20 August, the Fifth Army had begun to concentrate on a 40 km front along the Sambre, centred on Charleroi and extending east to the Belgian fortress of Namur. On the left flank, the Sordet Cavalry Corps linked the Fifth Army to the British Expeditionary Force at Mons. General Joseph Joffre ordered Lanrezac to attack across the Sambre but this attack was forestalled by the German 2nd Army on the morning of 21 August, which crossed the Sambre, establishing two bridgeheads which the French, lacking artillery, were unable to reduce. Bülow attacked again on 22 August with three corps against the entire Fifth Army front.
Fighting continued on 23 August. The German 3rd Army crossed the Meuse and launched an attack against the French right flank, held by I Corps; the French delivered a counter-attack. The Fifth Army was confronted by the German 2nd armies from the east and the north. Before the Fifth Army could attack over the Sambre the 2nd Army attacked at the Battle of Charleroi and at Namur on 21 August; the 3rd Army crossed the Meuse and attacked the French right flank and on 23 August, the Fifth Army began a retirement southwards to avoid encirclement. The Battle of Mons was a subsidiary action of the Battle of the Frontiers, the BEF attempted to hold the line of the Mons–Condé Canal against the advancing German 1st Army. During 23 August the Germans concentrated on the British at the salient formed by a loop in the canal. At 9:00 a.m. the Germans attempted to cross four bridges over the canal at the salient. By the afternoon the British position in the salient had become untenable. At 3:00 p.m. the 3rd Divisi
Battle of Cambrai (1917)
The Battle of Cambrai was a British attack followed by the biggest German counter-attack against the British Expeditionary Force since 1914, in the First World War. The town of Cambrai, in the département of Nord, was an important supply point for the German Siegfriedstellung and capture of the town and the nearby Bourlon Ridge would threaten the rear of the German line to the north. Major General Henry Tudor, Royal Artillery of the 9th Division, advocated the use of new artillery-infantry techniques on his sector of the front. During preparations, J. F. C. Fuller, a staff officer with the Tank Corps, looked for places to use tanks for raids. General Julian Byng, commander of the British Third Army, decided to combine both plans; the French and British armies had used tanks in mass earlier in 1917, although to less effect. After a big British success on the first day, mechanical unreliability, German artillery and infantry defences exposed the frailties of the Mark IV tank. On the second day, only about half of the tanks were operational and British progress was limited.
In the History of the Great War, the British official historian, Wilfrid Miles, modern scholars do not place exclusive credit for the first day on tanks but discuss the concurrent evolution of artillery and tank methods. Numerous developments since 1915 matured at Cambrai, such as predicted artillery fire, sound ranging, infantry infiltration tactics, infantry-tank co-ordination and close air support; the techniques of industrial warfare continued to develop and played a vital part during the Hundred Days Offensive in 1918, along with replacement of the Mark IV tank with improved types. The rapid reinforcement and defence of Bourlon Ridge by the Germans, as well as the subsequent counter-stroke were notable achievements, which gave the Germans hope that an offensive strategy could end the war before American mobilisation became overwhelming. Proposals for an operation in the Cambrai area using a large number of tanks originated from Brigadier Hugh Elles of the Tank Corps, the reliance on the secret transfer of artillery reinforcements to be "silently registered" to gain surprise came from Henry Hugh Tudor, commander of the 9th infantry division artillery.
In August 1917, Tudor conceived the idea of a surprise attack in the IV Corps sector, he suggested a artillery-infantry attack, which would be supported by a small number of tanks, to secure a breakthrough of the German Hindenburg Line. The German defences were formidable. Tudor's plan sought to test new methods in combined arms, with emphasis on combined artillery and infantry techniques and see how effective they were against strong German fortifications. Tudor advocated using the new sound ranging and silent registration of guns to achieve instant suppression fire and surprise, he wanted to use tanks to clear paths through the deep barbed wire obstacles in front of German positions, while supporting the tank force with the No. 106 Fuze, designed to explode high explosive ammunition without cratering the ground to supplement the armour. Two weeks before the start of the battle, the Royal Flying Corps began to train its pilots in ground-attack tactics. Before the ground offensive, the RFC was assigned sets of targets to attack, including trenches, supply points and enemy airfields.
The battle began at dawn 06:30 on 20 November, with a predicted bombardment by 1,003 guns on German defences, followed by smoke and a creeping barrage at 300 yd ahead to cover the first advances. Despite efforts to preserve secrecy, the Germans had received sufficient intelligence to be on moderate alert: an attack on Havrincourt was anticipated, as was the use of tanks; the attacking force was six infantry divisions of the III Corps on the right and IV Corps on the left, supported by nine battalions of the Tank Corps with about 437 tanks. In reserve was one infantry division in IV Corps and the three divisions of the Cavalry Corps. There was considerable success in most areas and it seemed as if a great victory was within reach. On the right, the 12th Division advanced as far as Lateau Wood before being ordered to dig in; the 20th Division forced a way through La Vacquerie and advanced to capture a bridge across the Canal de Saint-Quentin at Masnières. The bridge collapsed under the weight of a tank halting the hopes for an advance across the canal.
In the centre the 6th Division captured Ribécourt and Marcoing but when the cavalry passed through late, they were repulsed from Noyelles. On the IV Corps front, the 51st Division was held at Flesquières, its first objective, which left the attacking divisions on each flank exposed to enfilade fire; the commander of the 51st Division, George Montague Harper had used a local variation of the tank drill instead of the standard one laid down by the Tank Corps. Flesquières was one of the most fortified points in the German line and was flanked by other strong points, its defenders under Major Krebs acquitted themselves well against the tanks 40 being knocked out by the Flesquières artillery. The common explanation of the "mythical" German officer ignored the fact that the British tanks were opposed by the 54th Division, which had specialist training in anti-tank tactics and experience against French tanks in the Nivelle Offensive