Monday 24 April 2017

Sixteenth Day of the Battle of Arras

Tuesday 24th April 1917

Late last evening VII Corps once more tried to take its first objectives. 33rd Division began its attack yesterday at around thirty minutes after six o’clock in the evening. Here, again, no progress was made, due to strong enemy defences and despite great courage and equally great casualties. At around the same time 30th Division tried a second attack which, again, was largely unsuccessful, though a foot-hold in the enemy’s front line was achieved by 18th Battalion, Manchester Regiment. A second attack by 50th (Northumbrian) Division resulted, quite unexpectedly given the fortunes of VII Corps yesterday, with success. Quite large numbers of the enemy were taken prisoner and the objective, a copse east of Wancourt Tower, was seized and held.

Daylight this morning has shown that VII Corps achieved more than the success by 50th Division yesterday as overnight the enemy had withdrawn down-slope to the line of the road from Chérisy to Croisilles and the Tommies of VII Corps gratefully advanced. 33rd Division was able to reach the road from Fontaine-les-Croisilles to Saint-Martin crossed the enemy second line. There they found parties of men of 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment and 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who had reached this point yesterday and had been given up for lost when the erst of the division fell back. Their heroism must have played a large part in deciding the enemy’s retreat. 30th Division was finally able to occupy its first objective of yesterday and 50th Division was able to advance a little further than yesterday. Thus, over the two days, we are told that the corps managed an advance of roughly  a mile at the furthest point and took around eighteen hundred prisoners. How the picture can change from one day to another!

On the VI Corps front 15th (Scottish) Division began a limited, renewed attack around six o’clock last evening. One Battalion, however, 10th/11th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, did not receive correct orders and advanced too far and alone, taking many casualties. They held out for a while but were eventually forced to fall back. Generally, however, the division achieved its first objective. 29th Division’s second attack last evening made limited progress and it was relieved by 3rd Division overnight. 17th (Northern) Division’s second attack last evening was as unsuccessful as its first had been yesterday morning. It has attacked again today and won a little ground but is still short of its first objective - the Blue Line.

51st (Highland) Division has replaced some of the battalions worn out by fighting yesterday by some from 34th Division. The division’s position is roughly along the road from Roeux to Gavrelle and yesterday they managed an advance of about a thousand yards, taking 350 prisoners.

63rd (Royal Naval) Division has had to face more counter-attacks today from its position in Gavrelle. A terrific bombardment of the village began about noon and the following attack was repulsed with what must have been equally terrific loss amongst the enemy.

On the surface it appears as if the army has suffered very high casualties, perhaps around eight thousand(1) without huge success. However, objectives have largely been taken and, I think it is fair to say, no one expected a clean breakthrough. The enemy is well aware that a major offensive is under way so no element of surprise exists and the Germans are alert to any movement. The feeling is that the men have done as well as can be expected in the circumstances.

Sources: X550/5/3; X550/7/1

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