Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Third Day of the Battle of Arras

Wednesday 11th April 1917

Because of the progress made in the last two days the battlefield and the attack has been widened today with attacks on the village of Bullecourt. We understand it was originally intended to attack yesterday but the order was cancelled. There were squalls of snow yesterday which caused the tanks designated to support this attack to become lost and the Australians, to whom the majority of the task had been given decided that an attack over 600 yards of No Man’s Land would be too difficult without support. A number of my colleagues from the North Country, however, tell me that 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division, ordered to advance with the Australians did not get notice of the cancellation and one brigade, 185th attacked. They did very well to get through the German barbed wire but, unsupported by tanks or Australians, they were the sole targets of machine gun fire described as “murderous”. We understand that 7th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment suffered particularly heavy casualties for no gain.

Today the Australians did attack, though supported by only eleven tanks, the remainder assigned to the task having broken down. Unfortunately much of the barbed wire was uncut and, with the fiasco of yesterday’s half-cock attack the Germans were expecting an assault today. 4th Australian Division was able to penetrate the German front line but could not hold it. It is feared casualties, again, have been heavy.

Second Lieutenant E E Bath [X550/1/81]

North of Bullecourt VII Corps attacked the area of Guémappe and Wancourt. 21st and 30th Divisions were ordered to seize the Hindenburg if they could; neither division was able to achieve much. Once again well to the fore were 2nd Bedfords. Major Poyntz was able to tell me that they had been selected to exploit two gaps in the wire in front of the Hindenburg Line which had been found the previous evening by patrols under Second Lieutenant E E Bath and A F Aldridge. These patrols were difficult and dangerous and both officers had to retire to the second line transport afterwards as they were both, in Major Poyntz’s words “knocked up”. These two gaps were either side of the River Cojeul and the attack commenced at 5.30 this morning. It was held up almost at once by withering fire and the Bedfords had to dig-in short of the Hindenburg Line itself, unsupported as they were by any tanks. The whole divisional attack was, in point of fact, a failure but 56th (London) Division were able to capture the Hindenburg Line as far south as the River Cojeul. 14th (Light) Division made another attack on the Wancourt-Feuchy line but, just like yesterday, was able to make no headway. So today has been the third day of disappointment and waste for the divisions of VII Corps, Bedfords included.

3rd Division of VI Corps attacked Guémappe today but proved unable to take it. The rest of that corps, however, had better fortune. It was given the task of taking the village of Monchy-le-Preux and 15th (Scottish) and 37th Divisions, working together, did so, 37th Division taking the village, with the aid of tanks, and the Scots taking the ground between it and the River Scarpe. Finally, in this action, the cavalry were of assistance to the infantry, Essex Yeomanry and 10th Hussars giving vital assistance in taking the ruins of the village. The capture of this village is a great feather in the cap of 37th Division.

The 6th Bedfords were in reserve and so played no part in the major fighting but tonight are holding the line taken today at la Bergère. The adjutant tells me that Private Batchellor has been singled out for special praise. The position east la Bergère was quite weakly held this afternoon when the Germans were seen massing to attack it. The trench at this point was held by a mixture of men of four battalions, all private soldiers, and Private Batchellor took charge. Finding that the men only had an average of five rounds apiece left, he doled out German rifles, as there was plenty of their ammunition lying in the captured trench. He also collected a good supply of German bombs and he and his men easily repulsed the German attack when it came.

Finally, north of the River Scarpe, XVII Corps were involved in operations too today.4th Division attacked a line running through Plouvain and Greenland Hill to the road from Roeux to Gavrelle. They did not begin their attack until noon and although some progress was made they could not achieve all their objectives. 34th Division took the opportunity of the Germans being distracted by other activities to push their line forward slightly without opposition. Finally, our friends the 51st (Highland) Division were slated to attack today but did not do so because the Germans had evacuated the positions to be attacked so the highlanders simply occupied them, no doubt with great relief.

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

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