Friday 14 April 2017

Sixth Day of the Battle of Arras

Saturday 14th April 1917

Last night we understand 3rd Division made an ill-considered attack, unsupported by 50th Division (which had been instructed to assist), on the village of Guémappe. They made no progress and suffered over three hundred casualties.

Today XVII Corps, the northernmost of the three corps east of Arras has, again, made no attacks. The other two Corps, VI and VII have each been in action trying to push the front line further east. Their attacks both began around dawn, 5.30 this morning. VII Corps was given the task of taking the villages of Fontaine-les-Croisilles and Chérisy. Sadly 33rd Division, given the bulk of the task, was not able to advance very far.

VI Corps was to take the village of Guémappe. Today the attack on Guémappe was to be carried out by 29th Division. However, learning that they would receive no support, because the unit which had replaced 3rd Division in the line had had no time to organise itself, the attack was called-off. Consequently the attacks by 56th and 50th Divisions to the south, now unsupported by 29th Division’s attack, both failed, all with heavy casualties.

When divisions attack they are all mutually supportive, each one keeping the flank of its neighbour covered. If one division falls behind, or does not attack at all, its neighbour’s flank receives the full attention of the defenders, slowing its attack, and so on all down the line, rather like a line of dominoes falling over because one of them is pushed over into its neighbour. To be candid, there has been grumbling in the army, even amongst some of the officers, about some of the divisional and corps commanders in this battle, the chief complaint being that they have not “kept a grip” on things, and their failings have thus made an impact on the others. Of course soldiers grumble, but these criticisms have come from quite senior officers with years of command experience.

Still, Tommy Atkins will not be daunted. The attacks, even when unsuccessful were made, and made to the best endeavour of the men taking part. A case in point was the 6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, some of whom managed an advance of six hundred yards, all on their own. It pains me to report that none of them have been able to make their way back to our lines when counter-attacked by the enemy. A similar story was an attack by 88th Brigade of 29th Division on Hill 100 north of Guémappe and near the village of Monchy-le-Preux which fell on 11th. This hill affords a good view of the surrounding country and so would be a good prize, but an unsupported attack had little chance of success and none of holding a position which would then project into the enemy’s lines and be surrounded on three sides. It is to the great credit of the Essex and Newfoundland Regiments that they were able to take the hill and no reflection on them that they could not hold it against a counter-attack. This defeat left the village of Monchy-le-Preux vulnerable to a German attack but clever and brave work by the remaining Newfoundlanders and by the Hampshire Regiment kept it from falling.

So has ended another day of mess and muddle, ironically, the finest day in terms of weather since the battle began. There have been no snowstorms, though the wind has been bitterly cold. Along with the grumbling mentioned earlier there is some talk of the army “taking stock” at this point before any further offensive action is contemplated. Whether this is so we will see in the days to come(1).

Tonight 63rd (Royal Naval) Division will move into the line to replace 34th Division as part of XIII Corps, north of XVII Corps. The adjutant of the 4th Bedfords, part of 63rd Division, has spoken to me briefly on the “blower” to tell me that they moved up to Arras by motor bus and are now in the front line near the enemy village of Gavrelle.

 Second Lieutenant L Dolman [X550/1/81]

Meanwhile, further north, 1st Bedfords are at a place called Zouave Valley near Givenchy-en-Gohelle, north-west of Vimy Ridge, now of course in the hands of the gallant Canadians. It shows how dangerous it is to undertake any movement close to the front that Second Lieutenant Hood and a private soldier have been wounded, Second Lieutenant Dolman and four other ranks wounded.

Sources: X550/2/5; X550/5/3

(1) The days from 9th to 14th April have since been called the First Battle of the Scarpe, the Second Battle of the Scarpe would open on Saint George’s Day, 23rd April.

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