Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Fourth Day of the Battle of Arras

Thursday 12th April 1917

Today the Canadians now down off Vimy Ridge and advancing east, have attacked an annoying enemy position called the Pimple, the only objective not to fall to them on 10th April. All day the battle raged in showers of snow but we have just heard that the position finally fell to the men from the prairies about an hour ago.

Here around the city of Arras the attack begun on 9th continues. Those of us “old hands” who have been reporting on this war from the front line since the beginning of operations on the Somme last July have an uneasy feeling that we have seen this situation before. Often grand set-piece attacks achieve a considerable amount on the first day but then, as our armies try to exploit the initial successes, defences harden, conditions become more difficult and opportunities missed in the first few hours come back to haunt our men over succeeding days. So the scale of successes of 9th April have diminished since then and in some areas, notably the south of the area of operations covered by VII Corps and the Australians, hardly any success has been achieved. Often it is at this point that the battle fragments into a series of strictly local attacks made by groups of men as small as a company or even a platoon rather than a combined, co-ordinated effort by the whole force; pin pricks by tens of men rather than a grand sweep by tens of thousands.

Today VII Corps was given the task of finally making a significant advance. Things began well because 21st Division found that the Hindenburg Line in front of it had been abandoned. In fact this advance meant that 21st Division and 56th (London) Division “joined hands” and 30th Division which had been between them was no longer required and will be replaced by 33rd Division.

Major E S M Poyntz [X550/1/81]

Major Poyntz told me by telephone this evening that 2nd Bedfords are withdrawng to Blaireville. During the last few days the battalion has lost six officers wounded as well as 89 other ranks, including 68 wounded. So ends a very unsatisfactory battle for 30th Division.

Meanwhile 56th Division were able to occupy the villages of Wancourt and Héninel, abandoned by the enemy. Thus VII Corps has reaped the rewards of the good work by VI Corps in the last few days as the Germans in the south fall back to keep the line straight, their compatriots to the north having been driven back by VI Corps.

VI Corps has made no attack today. XVII Corps was given the order to take the village of Roeux and its adjacent chemical works. In order to have time to make a detailed reconnaissance of enemy positions no attack was made today until two hours ago. At 5 pm 9th (Scottish) Division went into the attack. We wait to see what becomes of it.

6th Bedfords, 37th Division, went out of the line today, marching towards Tilloy. My colleague Ian McLeod, the man on the spot, tells me they have suffered 190 casualties, of whom 34 have been killed and 12 are missing in the last four days' fighting at Monchy-le-Preux.

Source: X550/3/WD; information from Ian McLeod

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