Battle of Armentières

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Battle of Armentières
Part of the Race to the Sea on the Western Front (World War I)
Positions of the Allied and German armies, 19 October 1914.jpg
Positions of the Allied and German armies, 19 October 1914
Date 13 October – 2 November 1914
Location Armentières, France
50°41′17″N 02°52′52″E / 50.68806°N 2.88111°E / 50.68806; 2.88111Coordinates: 50°41′17″N 02°52′52″E / 50.68806°N 2.88111°E / 50.68806; 2.88111
Result Inconclusive
Belligerents
United Kingdom British Empire Flag of the German Empire.svg German Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, German Empire Crown Prince Rupprecht
Casualties and losses
5,779

The battle took place during attempts by the German and Franco-British armies to envelop the northern flank of their opponent. After an encounter battle in early October, German attacks around Armentières in late October and November, were repulsed by British and French forces. To the south the battle overlapped the Battle of La Bassée and to the north coincided with the Battle of Messines.

Background[edit]

Strategic developments[edit]

From 17 September – 17 October the belligerents had made reciprocal attempts to turn the northern flank of their opponent. Joffre ordered the French Second Army to move to the north of the French Sixth Army, by moving from eastern France from 2–9 September and Falkenhayn ordered the German Sixth Army to move from the German-French border to the northern flank on 17 September. By the next day French attacks north of the Aisne, led to Falkenhayn ordering the Sixth Army to repulse French forces to secure the flank.[1] When French advanced it met a German attack rather than an open flank on 24 September and by 29 September the Second Army had been reinforced to eight corps but was still opposed by German forces near Lille, rather than advancing around the German northern flank. The German Sixth Army had also found that on arrival in the north, it was forced to oppose the French attack rather than advance around the flank and that the secondary objective of protecting the northern flank of the German armies in France had become the main task.[2]

Tactical developments[edit]

By 6 October the French needed British reinforcements to withstand German attacks around Lille. The BEF had begun to move from the Aisne to Flanders on 5 October and reinforcements from England assembled on the left flank of the Tenth Army, which had been formed from the left flank units of the Second Army on 4 October.[2] The Allies and the Germans, attempted to take more ground after the "open" northern flank had disappeared, the Franco-British attacks towards Lille in October, being followed up by attempts to advance between the BEF and the Belgian army by a new French Eighth Army. The moves of the 7th and then the 6th Army from Alsace and Lorraine had been intended to secure German lines of communication through Belgium, where the Belgian army had sortied several times during the period between the Franco-British retreat and the Battle of the Marne. In August British marines had landed at Dunkirk. In October a new 4th Army was assembled from the III Reserve Corps and the siege artillery used against Antwerp and four of the new reserve corps training in Germany.[3]

Prelude[edit]

British offensive preparations[edit]

On 11 October the British III Corps comprising the 4th and 6th divisions, arrived by rail at St. Omer and Hazebrouck and then advanced behind the left flank of II Corps towards Bailleul and Armentières.[4] II Corps was to advance around the north of Lille and II Corps was to reach a line from Armentières to Wytschaete, with the Cavalry Corps on the left as far as Ypres. French troops were to relieve the II Corps at Béthune to move north and link with the right of III Corps but this did not occur. On the northern flank of III Corps, in front of Allenby's cavalry was a line of hills from Mont des Cats to Mt. Kemmel, about 400 feet (120 m) above sea level, with spurs running south, across the British line of advance, occupied by the German IV Cavalry Corps with three divisions. On 12 October the British cavalry advanced and captured the Mont des Cats. [5]

The 4th and 6th divisions advanced on 13 October and found German troops dug in along the Meterenbecque. A corps attack from La Couronne to Fontaine Houck began at 2:00 p.m. in wet and misty weather and by evening had captured Outtersteene and Meteren at a cost of 708 casualties. On the right the French cavalry of de Mitry attempted to support the attack but with no howitzers, could not advance in level terrain, dotted with cottages used as improvised strong points; on the northern flank the British cavalry took Mont Noir near Bailleul. The German defenders slipped away from well-sited defences, dug in front of houses, hedges and walls to keep the soldiers invisible, dug earth having been scattered rather than used for a parapet which would have been seen. Lille had fallen on 12 October and this revealed the presence of the German XIX Corps; air reconnaissance by the RFC reported that long columns of German infantry were entering Lille from Douai and leaving on the road to Armentières. It was planned that III Corps would attack the next German line of defence before German reinforcements could reach the scene. Rain and mist made air reconnaissance impossible on 14 October but patrols found that the Germans had fallen back beyond Bailleul and crossed the Lys. The German 6th Army had been ordered to end its attacks from La Bassée to Armentières and Menin until the new 4th Army had moved through Belgium and prolonged the German northern flank from Menin to the sea.[6]

During the day the Allied forces completed a weak but continuous line to the North Sea, when Allenby's cavalry linked with the 3rd Cavalry Division south of Ypres between Wytschaete to Messines, Wulverghem and Neuve Eglise. The infantry reached a line from Steenwerck–Dranoutre after a slow advance against German rearguards, in poor visibility and close country. By evening Bailleul and Le Verrier were occupied and next day an advance to the Lys began as German troops and cavalry retired. The III Corps closed up to the river at Sailly, Bac St. Maur, Erquinghem and Pont de Nieppe, linking with the cavalry at Romarin. On 16 October the British secured the Lys crossings and late in the afternoon German attacks began further north at Dixmude. Next day the III Corps occupied Armentières and on 18 October the III Corps was ordered to participate in an offensive by the BEF and the French army, by attacking down the Lys valley. Part of Pérenchies ridge was captured but much stronger German defences were encountered and the infantry were ordered to dig in.[6] On 18/19 October the III Corps held a line from Radinghem to Pont Rouge, west of Lille.[7]

Battle[edit]

German pressure on the British III Corps began on 23 October. The towns of Escobecques, Englos and Capinghem, some 19 miles (31 km) south of Ypres and the focal point of the Allied right flank, came under sustained attack. The III Corps was so short on reserves, that even local counter-attacks were impossible given the level of German activity. There were no continuous lines either, and Platoons, the lowest tactical unit, were spread thin. Pulteney ordered all ground to be entrenched quickly, the lines straightened to provide continuous cover from flanking manoeuvres. Support points were erected in the rear as staging points for local reserves to reinforce the lines.[8] III Corps was forced to conduct a two-mile retreat. Edmund Allenby's Cavalry Corps, of some 9,000 men, were forced back by German 26th Division to the St Yvres–Messinies–Hollebeke line. The inefficiency of the British artillery now also became apparent. The 2nd Cavalry Division under Hubert Gough occupied the east edge of the Messines-Wytschaete ridge. He had available some eighteen 13-pdr field guns but the buffer springs had broken on most field guns and the lack of repair shops and spares, meant Gough was forced to conduct a defence in a favourable position but without artillery.[8]

The other British Corps, the I and IV Corps under Generals Haig and Rawlinson were forced to hold their respective lines at Elverdinghe (nl)-Poperinghe and Zandvoorde-Langemarck. I Corps was partly covered by the 2nd Division under Major-General Charles Carmichael Monro. 2nd Division was deployed behind the 3rd Cavalry Division IV Corps under Julian Byng. 1st Division under the command of Major-General Samuel Lomax was placed behind the 2nd Division, creating some strength in depth.[9]The III Corps was attacked by two German Corps on a 12-mile (19 km) front. Some battalions were broken up to use as stop-gaps elsewhere. Until the 21 October, some Brigades had been holding as much as 2 miles (3.2 km) with a single line of men, a few strands of wire 25 yards (23 m) in front of the position and a field of fire which never exceeded more than 400 yards (370 m).[9]

To the north of II Corps, which held a line from La Bassé Canal to a point near Fournes, the III Corps held the line. The British and French Cavalry screen to the north was moved between the two Corps. Pulteney was expected to hold the line despite being opposed by the German XIX, XIII and I Cavalry Corps, which were twice his strength. No great pressure was put on his front, although the 6th Division was attacked on 22–23 October. The British line at Le Quesne was reached by German thrusts on 23 October but was expelled by yet another counter-attack, this time by 16th Brigade. From 25–26 October the division pulled back some 500 yards (460 m) to put distance between the opposing fronts. The 1st Leicesters of 16th Brigade were engaged in hand to hand fighting, losing 188 casualties in the battles. Greater German efforts were made to break through the line over the following two days by the 223rd and 224th regiments of XXIV Reserve Corps. Only temporary success was achieved when British communications were disrupted by shell fire. German infantry managed to hold one part of the line (occupied by 1st Middlesex) before losing ground. III Corps suffered 5,779 casualties from 15–30 October but was never seriously endangered.

A lack of oil led to many rifles becoming unserviceable, which affected infantry fire power. More supplies arrived and the limit of 40 x 18-pdr field gun shells per day was lifted and more 4.5-inch howitzer shells also arrived. The German pressure in the north prompted John French to reinforce positions there at the expense of the south. On 30 October, he ordered the 4th Division reserves to reinforce the Cavalry Corps while the reserves of 6th Division were to cover the front of III Corps. Some battalions were sent to support III Corps to compensate. Allenby, who had occupied the intersection between I Corps and III Corps at Messines, was ordered to retire further west on 1 November. When the German Battle Group Fabeck began its offensive, they were only opposed by German cavalry formations, which lacked artillery and were not as well trained at dismounted actions as the British.

Aftermath[edit]

Casualties[edit]

From 15–31 October the III Corps lost 5,779 casualties, 2,069 men from the 4th Division and the remainder from the 6th Division.[10]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Foley 2005, p. 101.
  2. ^ a b Doughty 2005, pp. 98–100.
  3. ^ Strachan 2001, pp. 269–270.
  4. ^ Edmonds 1926, p. 408.
  5. ^ Edmonds 1925, pp. 94–95.
  6. ^ a b Edmonds 1925, pp. 95–98.
  7. ^ Edmonds 1925, pp. 98–123.
  8. ^ a b Beckett 2003, p. 89.
  9. ^ a b Beckett 2003, p. 90.
  10. ^ Edmonds 1925, p. 231.

References[edit]

  • Beckett, I (2003). Ypres The First Battle, 1914 (2006 ed.). London: Longmans. ISBN 1-4058-3620-2. 
  • Doughty, R. A. (2005). Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. ISBN 0-67401-880-X. 
  • Edmonds, J. E. (1926). Military Operations France and Belgium 1914. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. I Mons, the Retreat to the Seine, the Marne and the Aisne August–October 1914 (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962523. 
  • Edmonds, J. E. (1925). Military Operations France and Belgium, 1914. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. II Antwerp, La Bassée, Armentières, Messines and Ypres October–November 1914 (1st ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 220044986. 
  • Foley, R. T. (2005). German Strategy and the Path to Verdun : Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870–1916. Cambridge: CUP. ISBN 978-0-521-04436-3. 
  • Strachan, H. (2001). To Arms. The First World War I. Oxford: OUP. ISBN 0-19-926191-1. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]