Sunday 21 October 2018

Bite and Hold

Monday 21st October 1918

Today Second Army has been engaged in heavy fighting east of Ypres. It has had the impossible task of trying to bridge the Schelde Canal against vigorous opposition. Word is that this is a fight which may take some days to resolve.

Further south, following the successful attacks of yesterday, today has been a day to reorganise, plan, bring up guns and ammunition and rotate units. In a sense it is the same pattern we have seen on the Western Front since at least 1916, where our divisions attack, gain their objectives and then hold them whist preparing to fight off enemy counterattacks and prepare for the next attack. The tactics have become known as bite and hold.

In the past the tactic has been partially successful at best. Now it is resulting in effective attacks and significant advances. What has changed? Many things, of course, are different in this Autumn of 1918 but the overwhelming difference is that the fight is going out of the enemy. The German soldier has always been a formidable opponent. Well led, he has been tenacious in defence and ever ready to counter-attack with determination. In places that still applies, but across the battlefront we are seeing some German units giving up after perfunctory resistance and retiring from the fight. 

In many ways this great allied advance mirrors that by the enemy in the Spring. The one great difference was that their advance aimed to smash our armies by continuous assault, an unremitting series of attacks which gave little rest to the defender. The weakness of this plan was that it also gave no respite to the attacker so that after a week or so the enemy units attacking our men were approaching exhaustion, allowing our line to recover. The enemy also outran his supplies - food, water, ammunition. Bite and hold tactics allow units to be shuffled and, where necessary, replaced and allow all necessary supplies to be brought up for the next onslaught. All reasons why there is a very real belief here that the war will die with the light and that before Winter is upon us Peace will have returned to this scarred continent.

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