The Battle of Festubert (15–25 May 1915) was an attack by the British army in the Artois region of France on the western front during World War I. The offensive formed part of a series of attacks by the French Tenth Army and the British First Army in the Second Battle of Artois(3 May – 18 June 1915). After the failure of the attempted breakthrough by the First Army in the attack at Aubers Ridge (9 May 1915) tactics of a short hurricane bombardment and an infantry advance with unlimited objectives, were replaced by the French practice of slow and deliberate artillery-fire intended to prepare the way for an infantry attack. A continuous three-day bombardment by the British heavy artillery was planned, to cut wire and demolish German machine-gun posts and infantry strong-points. The German defences were to be captured by a continuous attack, by one division from Rue du Bois to Chocolat Menier Corner and by a second division 600 yards (550 m) north, which was to capture the German trenches to the left of Festubert village. The objectives were 1,000 yards (910 m) forward, rather than the 3,000 yards (2,700 m) depth of advance intended at Aubers Ridge. The battle was the first British attempt at attrition.
The Battle of Festubert was the continuation of the Battle of Aubers Ridge (9 May) and part of the larger French Second Battle of Artois. The resumption of the British offensive was intended to assist the French Tenth Army offensive against Vimy Ridge near Arras, by attracting German divisions to the British front, rather than reinforcing the defenders opposite the French.
The attack was made by the British First Army under Sir Douglas Haig against a German salient between Neuve Chapelle to the north and the village of Festubert to the south. The assault was planned along a 3-mile (4.8 km) front and would initially be made mainly by Indian troops. This would be the first British army night attack of the war.
The battle was preceded by a 60 hour bombardment by 433 artillery pieces that fired about 100,000 shells. This bombardment failed to significantly damage the front line defences of the German Sixth Army, but the initial advance made some progress in good weather conditions. The attack was renewed on 16 May and by 19 May the British 2nd and 7th divisions had to be withdrawn due to heavy losses. On 18 May the Canadian Division, assisted by the 51st (Highland) Division, renewed the advance but this made little progress in the face of German artillery fire. The British forces then entrenched themselves at the new front line in conditions of heavy rain. The Germans now brought up more reserves to reinforce their lines. From 20–25 May the attack was resumed and Festubert was captured. The offensive had resulted in a 3-kilometre (1.9 mi) advance.
The British lost 16,648 casualties from 15/16–25 May. The 2nd Division lost 5,445 casualties, the 7th Division lost 4,123 casualties, the 47th Division had 2,355 losses, the Canadian Division lost 2,204 casualties and the Meerut Division had 2,521 casualties. The German defenders had c. 5,000 casualties, including 800 men taken prisoner. French casualties during the Second Battle of Artois were 102,533 men and German casualties were 73,072 men.
Edmonds, J. E. (1928). Military Operations France and Belgium, 1915: Battles of Aubers Ridge, Festubert, and Loos. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents By Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence II (1st ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC58962526.
Farndale, M. (1986). History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Western Front 1914–18. London: Royal Artillery Institution. ISBN1-870114-00-0.