Battle of Épehy

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Battle of Épehy
Part of the Hundred Days Offensive of World War I
13thBattalionAIF Le Verguier.jpeg
The Western Front, 1918
Date 18 September 1918
Location Épehy, France
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 British Empire

France France

 German Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Henry Rawlinson
United Kingdom Julian Byng
France Marie-Eugène Debeney
German Empire Georg von der Marwitz
Strength
12 divisions [1]
1,500 artillery pieces
At least 6 divisions [2]
Casualties and losses
Total: unknown
Australia 1,260 men (265 killed, 1,059 wounded)[3]
Total: unknown
Captured: 11,750 men and 100 artillery pieces

The Battle of Épehy was a World War I battle fought on 18 September 1918, involving the British Fourth Army (under the command of General Henry Rawlinson) against German outpost positions in front of the Hindenburg Line.The village of Épehy was captured on the 18th of September by the 12th [Eastern] Division.

Prelude[edit]

Field Marshal Douglas Haig was not eager to carry out any offensives until the assault on the Hindenburg Line itself, influenced by mounting British losses from previous battles that year – over 600,000 casualties since March, 180,000 of those in the past six weeks. Rawlinson was kept reined in and advised by Haig to ensure his men were well rested for the eventual attack on the Line; however, when news arrived of the British Third Army's victory at the Battle of Havrincourt, Haig's mind was changed. On the day following the success at Havrincourt, 13 September, Haig approved Rawlinson's plan to clear German outpost positions on the high ground before the Hindenburg Line, and preparations began.

Battle[edit]

Very few tanks could be provided for the attack, so artillery would have to be relied upon to prepare the way, but in the interests of surprise they would not be able to provide a preliminary bombardment. The 1,488 guns would instead fire concentration shots at the operation's zero hour and support the infantry with a creeping barrage. 300 machine guns were also made available. All three corps of the Fourth Army were to take part, with V Corps of the Third Army on their left flank [4] and on their right the French First Army (under Marie Debeny). The objective consisted of a fortified zone roughly 3 miles (4.8 km) deep and 20 miles (32 km) long, supported by subsidiary trenches and strongpoints. The German Second and Eighteenth Armies were defending the area.

On 18 September at 5.20am the attack opened and the troops advanced. The promised French assistance did not arrive, resulting in limited success for IX Corps on that flank. On the left flank, III Corps also found difficulty when attacking the fortifications erected at "the Knoll", Quennemont and Guillemont farms, which were held determinedly by German troops,the village was however captured by the British 12th Eastern Division [7th Norfolk,9th Essex and 1st Cambridge]. The story was a different one in the centre of the advance, however, where General John Monash's two Australian divisions achieved complete and dramatic success. These two divisions, the 1st and 4th, had a strength of some 6,800 men[3] and in the course of the day captured 4,243 prisoners, 76 guns, 300 machine guns and 30 trench mortars. They took all their objectives and advanced to a distance of about three miles (5 km), on a four mile (6 km) front. The Australian casualties were 1,260 officers and men (265 Killed, 1057 Wounded, 2 Captured).[3] It should be pointed out, that this battle also saw the first mutiny of Australian forces, when 119 men of the Australian 1st Battalion refused to conduct an attack to help the neighbouring British unit. Rather than face charges of desertion in the face of the enemy, they were charged with being AWOL (with all bar one soldier having their charges dropped after the armistice).

The attack closed as an Allied victory, with 11,750 prisoners and 100 guns being taken.[5]

Aftermath[edit]

Although Épehy was not a massive success, it signalled an unmistakable message that the Germans were weakening and it encouraged the Allies to take further action with haste (with the offensive continuing in the Battle of St. Quentin Canal), before the Germans could consolidate their positions. However, the failure of the British III Corp to take their last objective (the outpost villages) would mean that the American forces involved in the next battle (the Battle of St. Quentin Canal) would face a difficult task due to a hurried attack prior to the battle. The Deelish Valley Cemetery holds the grave sites of around one hundred and fifty eight soldiers from the 12th [Eastern] Division who died during this battle,the nearby cemetery of Epehy Wood Farm Cemetery also holds the graves of men who died in this battle and the previous battles around this area.

See also[edit]

Media related to Battle of Épehy at Wikimedia Commons

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ – The British and Australian official histories both state an Australian strength of 6,800 infantry. However Major-General Sir Archibald Montgomery's The Story of the Fourth Army, written apparently with full access to the British Army's documents states different figures; 5,902 Australian infantry engaged, 1,700 prisoners taken, 87 guns captured and casualties of 1,022 men. The former figure has been used in this article, but the difference should be noted. C.E.W. Bean's Volume VI – The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Allied Offensive, 1918 lists 5,822 infantry engaged, but uses the figure of 6,800 total soldiers (as the later figure includes the various battalion and brigade headquarters staff).

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1] The Long, Long Trail – The Battles of the Hindenburg Line
  2. ^ C.E.W. Bean, Volume VI – The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Allied Offensive, 1918 (1st edition, 1942), pages 905 and 928 lists the following German divisions facing the III and Australian Corps: 5th Bavarian, 1st Reserve, 119th, 38th, 185th and 121st division. NOTE: That this list is incomplete, as it does not include the forces facing the British V Corps, the British IX Corps, or the French forces.
  3. ^ a b A. G. Butler, page 723
  4. ^ Map WO 153/312 V Corps (Third Army) shows dispositions from Moislains to Ronssoy
  5. ^ [2] Military History Encyclopedia on the Web – Battle of Epéhy
Published References

Coordinates: 50°00′N 3°07′E / 50.000°N 3.117°E / 50.000; 3.117