Saturday, 15 April 2017

8th Bedfords Attack at Loos

Sunday 15th April 1917

Yesterdays rumours, it seems, were true. There have been no attacks at Arras today. This is familiar to us from the events on the Somme last year. A few days of violent offensive would be followed by a period of consolidation and planning before the next paroxysm of violence.

Looking back on the battle so far it is very reminiscent of the struggles of last year from the middle of July onwards. The first day was, overall, successful, though with some disappointments. Each successive day saw the enemy defences harden, communications between our own formations increasingly difficult and so our attacks increasingly less well co-ordinated and so less successful, with the inevitable effect on the casualty rate. As one of my waggish colleagues remarked last night, it is a pity that every offensive does not stop after the first day, wait a few days then have another first day. There are rumours that our French allies will begin an offensive of their own further south around Saint-Quentin in a few days’ time. We all hope their first day will be a success(1).

4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment is in the frontline at Gavrelle, north of Arras. Today it has been conducting a reconnaissance of the enemy village, along with 10th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers. This has been a hazardous business as the Germans are alert to any forward movement, and two officers, Second Lieutenants Frear and Marshall, have been killed, three officers and fifty five other ranks wounded.

The fighting in France is not limited to Arras. The 8th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment is on the old Loos battlefield of 1915, this morning it was in a position between the villages of Vermelles and Grenay. I have spoken with their commanding officer, Lord Ampthill, who told me that the battalion, along with the 1st Battalion, The Buffs attacked and seized a position south of Loos under heavy shell fire from which the Germans were spotted retiring two days ago. They are now in a trench which prolongs a feature known as the Double Crassier (two long spoil heaps of waste material from coal mining) and will, it is believed, over the next few days work their way towards a position called Hill 70 to the east.. This small action has cost twenty eight other ranks wounded.

Sources: X550/5/3; X550/1/9

(1) The French commander, Robert Nivelle intended to have a short breakthrough battle which, as soon as it started to run out of steam would be halted. Sadly it proved more difficult to halt an offensive than Nivelle realised. The French, by this stage of the war, had already had vastly more casualties than the British, and from a smaller population, by the end of the war the French would have suffered around 1,150,000 deaths (from a population of 40 million – 2.875%), Britain would suffer 750,000 deaths (from a population of 45 million – 1.6%) This left the French army’s morale fragile. It is tragic that this “Nivelle Offensive” proved to be the straw which broke the camel’s back leading to mutinies in the army and robbing it of any offensive value for some time.

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