Battle of Armentières
|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
|British Empire||German Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien,||Crown Prince Rupprecht|
|Casualties and losses|
This battle was part of the Race to the Sea campaign of World War I. During this battle the British successfully held the line in their sector, against repeated German assaults. To the south it merged into the Battle of La Bassée, to the north into the Battle of Messines.
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 were 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. 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.
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 covered, to some extent, by IV Corps' 2nd Infantry Division under Major-General Charles Carmichael Monro. 2nd Division was deployed behind IV Corps' 3rd Cavalry Division under Julian Byng. 1st Division under the command of Major-General Samuel Lomax was placed behind the 2nd Division, creating some strength in depth.
While John French continued to believe that there nothing but Landwehr Divisions, II and III Corps came under intense pressure. Pulteney's III Corps was assailed 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 its positions and a field of fire which never exceeded more than 400 yards (370 m).
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 on Willcocks' far left was now positioned in 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. But the lack of oil available put a large amount of rifles out of service which affected infantry firepower. Logistics were improving and the ration of 40 x 18-pdr shells per day was lifted. More 4.5-inch howitzer shells were also available.
The German pressure in the north prompted John French to reinforce positions there at the expense of the south. On 30 October, he ordered 4th Division reserves to reinforce Edmund Allenby's Cavalry Corps while the reserves of 6th Division were to cover the front of III Corps. Some of Smith-Dorrien's old battalions were sent to support III Corps to compensate. Allenby, who had occupied the intersection between Haig's 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.
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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Armentières.|
- Edmonds, J. E. (1922). Military Operations France and Belgium, 1914 Mons, the Retreat to the Seine, the Marne and the Aisne August–October 1914 (1st ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962523. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- The Battles of La Bassee, Messines and Armentieres
- Rickard, J. (2007) Battle of Armentières, 13 October – 2 November 1914
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