Monday 10 April 2017

Second Day of the Battle of Arras

Tuesday 10th April 1917

Yesterday saw a day of great success for the British Army and for the Canadian Corps. Some units advanced as far as three and a half miles. Yet, as always, one hopes for the very best and the complete rupture of the enemy’s defences just eluded our forces’ grasp.

So it is that today hopes were high that this definitive breakthrough might be achieved. If only the enemy could be pressed hard all day and at all points it was felt that they must surely give way somewhere. Thus, north of the River Scarpe XVII Corps 4th, 34th and 51st Divisions were urged to make good all the final objectives of yesterday. 4th Division were, in places, already at these objectives at the beginning of the day.The other two divisions still had to take a feature known as the Point du Jour. In this 34th Division has been largely successful. The Highlanders, however, have not been so successful and your correspondent understands, from officers whom he knew when the division was in Bedford in the early days of the war, that staff work has been faulty to say the least(1). The officers concerned were angry that this reflects badly on the men who have been, they said “resilient and splendid”.

We understand that some consideration was given to sending the cavalry forward to take a prominent rise known as Greenland Hill as well as the village of Plouvain halfa mile east of it – both decidedly in the enemy rear areas where chaos might have been wreaked. In the event this was not put into action because probing attacks sent out by 4th Division met with withering machine gun fire. We fear that the hour for any breakthrough in this sector has now passed.

A similar situation, it seems, also applies south of the Scarpe. VI Corps lies immediately south of the river. We understand that the corps commander Lieutenant-General Haldane ordered each of his divisional headquarters to move forward closer to their troops where he felt they could exercise greater, and speedier, control of the battle.

37th Division, it will be remembered, had been unable to make any attack yesterday and 12th and 15th Divisions failed to take all their objectives and only then would 37th Division have moved through them to make its own attack. Today the division has gone forward, the 6th Bedfords to the fore. 111th Brigade was ordered to take the village of Monchy-le-Preux. 63rd Brigade was ordered to gain as much ground as possible between Monchy and the River Scarpe, which it did quite well. 111th Brigade failed in its attack, ending 500 yards west of the village. 112th Brigade on their right flank went forward and achieved a splendid result, taking all their objectives. The 6th Bedfords and 8th East Lancashires were the assaulting battalions. The Lancastrians reached a point a mile east of the Wancourt-Feuchy Line. But they were outdone by the Bedfords who got within six hundred yards of the village of Guemappe. 3rd and 12th Divisions were also successful; in their attacks, taking all the objectives they had been given yesterday.

VII Corps had been the least successful corps yesterday. So it has been again today. 56th Division managed to clear the enemy out if the Hindenburg Line but could not even get close to the Wancourt-Feuchy Line. 14th Division did manage to take its allotted part of the line but 30th Division could make no advance at all.

The 2nd Bedfords, part, of course, of 30th Brigade, had a quiet morning but at 1 pm received orders for two companies to attack the Hindenburg Line at 4 pm. This order was cancelled. Then came good news that British cavalry was in Héninel. In the last few minutes this has been found to be false.

So today has been one of disappointment. Some things have been achieved, particularly north of the river, but nowhere near what had been hoped. One has seen this before with battles in this war, notably Neuve-Chapelle and some of the attacks on the Somme: things go well on the first day, then resistance hardens and no clear breakthrough is made. Of course, things have been very tough today, it has been cold and and times men have had to attack the elements as well as the enemy, stumbling forward through squalls of snow. We all hope for better things in the coming days.

Sources: X550/3/WD; X550/7/1

(1) 154th Brigade believed it was already at its objective rather than some way short, as was the case. This muddle was not sorted out until 2 pm and all attacks that day failed in the face of defenders who had had plenty of time to prepare.

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