Second Battle of Artois
The Second Battle of Artois (Deuxième bataille de l'Artois or Lorettoschlacht) from 9 May – 18 June 1915 was a battle on the Western Front during the First World War.[Note 1] A German-held salient from Rheims to Amiens had been formed in 1914, which menaced communications between Paris and northern France. A reciprocal French advance eastwards in Artois, could cut the lines supplying the German armies between Arras and Rheims. French operations in Artois, Champagne and Alsace from November–December 1914, led General Joseph Joffre, Generalissimo (Commander in Chief) and head of Grand Quartier Général ("GQG") to continue the offensive in Champagne against the German southern rail supply route and to plan an offensive in Artois against the railway lines supplying the German armies from the north.
Field Marshal Sir John French, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) co-operated with the French strategy to capture Vimy Ridge, assisted by British attacks against Aubers Ridge, which would confront the German Sixth Army with an offensive on a 70 miles (110 km) front, ready toexploitat eastwards into the Douai plain, where an advance of 10–15 miles (16–24 km) would cut the railways supplying the German armies as far south as Rheims. The French attacked Vimy Ridge and the British attacked further north in the Battle of Aubers Ridge (9 May) and the Battle of Festubert from 15–25 May.
The battle was fought during the German offensive at the Second Battle of Ypres (21 April – 25 May), which the Germans ended to reinforce the Artois front. The initial French attack broke through and captured Vimy Ridge but reserve units were not able to reinforce the troops on the ridge before German counter-attacks forced them back about half-way to their jumping-off points. The attack at Aubers Ridge was a costly failure and two German divisions in reserve were diverted south against the French Tenth Army. The British offensive was suspended until 15 May, at the Battle of Festubert and the French offensive from 15 May – 16 June was concentrated on the flanks to create jumping-off points for a second general offensive, which began on 16 June.
The British forced the Germans back 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) and diverted reserves from the French but the French gained little more ground, despite firing double the artillery ammunition, at the cost of many casualties to both sides. On 18 June, the main offensive was stopped and local attacks were ended on 25 June. The French offensive advanced the front line about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) towards Vimy Ridge, on an 8-kilometre (5.0 mi) front. The failure to break through, despite the expenditure of 2,155,862 shells and the loss of 102,500 casualties, led to recriminations against Joffre and the German Sixth Army lost 73,072 casualties. A lull followed until Second Battle of Champagne, the Third Battle of Artois and the Battle of Loos in September.
- 1 Background
- 2 Prelude
- 3 Battle
- 3.1 First phase, 9–20 May
- 3.2 Second phase, 12 May – 12 June
- 3.3 Third phase, 13–18 June
- 3.4 German Sixth Army
- 3.5 Air operations
- 3.6 French supporting attacks
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Notes
- 6 Footnotes
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
French offensives in Artois, Champagne and St. Mihiel after the Marne campaign in 1914, had been costly failures and led to criticism of the leadership of General Joseph Joffre within the army and the French government. The President Raymond Poincaré, arranged several meetings between Joffre and the Council of Ministers in March and April 1915, where reports of the failed operations were debated, particularly a condemnation of the April offensive against the St. Mihiel salient. Joffre retained the undivided command and freedom to conduct operations as he saw fit, which had been given at the beginning of the war but was instructed to consult with his subordinates; provisional army groups, which had been established in late 1914 were made permanent soon afterwards. The French government accepted that the task facing Joffre and the army, was far more difficult than expected. Despite costly mistakes many lessons had been learned, methods had been changed and more weapons and equipment necessary for siege warfare had been delivered. The offensives had failed in their objectives but had become more powerful and better organised, except for the bungled offensive at St. Mihiel. The greater amount of heavy artillery made available for offensive operations, gave grounds for confidence that further attacks could break the German front and liberate France.
In late 1914 General Erich Von Falkenhayn, Chief of the General Staff of the German Army Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL) since 14 September, had reinforced the Fourth Army and attacked westwards, parallel to the North Sea coast, culminating in the Battle of the Yser (16–31 October 1914) and the First Battle of Ypres (19 October – 22 November) when open warfare in the west ended. Eight new divisions were formed in February 1915 and another fourteen in April, which were formed into an Eleventh Army, intended for an offensive in France. Despite the French offensive in Champagne in February, Falkenhayn was forced to cancel his plans to attack in the west and send the Eleventh Army to the Eastern Front, to support the Austro-Hungarian army, which has lost more than 2,000,000 casualties by March 1915.[Note 2] Nine divisions were transferred to Russia in May, which reduced the Westheer to 97 divisions against 110–112 larger Allied divisions. The western armies had c. 4,000 modern and 350 obsolete field guns, 825 modern and 510 obsolete heavy guns and ten super-heavy howitzers. A reserve of 276 heavy guns and mortars was also being prepared. Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL), the German supreme command, had 7½ divisions in reserve, with the 58th and 115th divisions behind the Sixth Army. Indications of an attack in Artois had been detected but no signs of a general offensive on the Western Front.
The western army was forced to remain on the defensive, except for limited attacks in Flanders in the Second Battle of Ypres (21 April – 25 May) and in the Argonne, west of Verdun until August, to cut the main rail line from Paris to Verdun. In memoranda issued on 7 and 25 January 1915, Falkenhayn ordered that the existing positions of the German armies in France were to be fortified, so that they would be capable of resisting attacks with only small forces, to enable reserves to be sent to Russia. Should part of the front line be lost it was to be retaken by counter-attack but behind the line new defences were to be built and connected by communication trenches, to delay a further attack until reserves could be assembled for the counter-attack. Enemy reinforcements were to be obstructed by a shell-barrage (Geschoss-schleier). On 4 May Falkenhayn reiterated the need to improve reserve positions and also to build a rear position about 2–3 kilometres (1.2–1.9 mi) behind the front line. During 1915 the German armies on the Western Front increased the front line from one to three trenches, built a second trench system 1,500–3,000 yards (1,400–2,700 m) behind the front line and developed the defensive use of machine-guns and artillery, to restrict an attack to a bend (Ausbeulung) in the line. The Franco-British offensives in 1915 found the German defences in a state of development, as the building programme was completed slowly, due to a shortage of labour units.
In March 1915 Joffre concluded that a period of inactivity would benefit the Germans more than the French; General Ferdinand Foch commander of the Groupe Provisoire du Nord (GPN) proposed an offensive in which a "general action" on the Western Front, to confuse the defenders and pin down reserves would complement a "decisive action", to break through the German defences at a place where the Germans would not be able to establish a new defensive front with only a short retirement.[Note 3] Foch wanted the general action to include British attacks. Joffre accepted the proposals on 23 March with the objective being the seizure of Vimy Ridge and exploitation of the success by an eastwards advance into the Douai plain. The French army had not completed an adaptation to siege warfare and much of the equipment necessary, particularly heavy artillery did not exist, which made it impossible to synchronise operations in Artois with the First Battle of Champagne, which ended on 17 March. Debate within the army as to means and ends, had led to two schools of thought, those who like Joffre favoured "continuous battle", an attack without pause involving all resources and advocates of "methodical battle" like Foch, who wanted to conduct offensives as series of attacks, with pauses to reorganise and consolidate.
The theoretical bases of the forthcoming French offensive in Artois were collected in But et conditions d'une action offensive d'ensemble (16 April 1915) Note 5779, which had been compiled from analyses of reports received from the front since 1914. The document contained instructions on infiltration tactics, "rolling" barrages and poison gas, which were to be used systematically for the first time and which were institutionalised in the Allied armies in the following years.[Note 4] Although doubtful about the capacity of the British to attack, Joffre wanted an offensive on the northern flank of the Tenth Army, to force the Germans to disperse their defences. At a meeting on 29 March with Sir John French the commander of the British Expeditionary Force ("BEF") and Herbert Kitchener the Secretary of State for War, it was agreed that the IX and XX corps would be relieved at Ypres by British units and on 1 April, French agreed to attack at the same time as the Tenth Army. French doubts about the efficiency of the BEF had not diminished after the Battle of Neuve Chapelle and British doubts about the French had increased after the débâcle at Ypres on 22 April, when French troops had been routed by a German gas attack; Joffre had to agree to place reserves behind the Ypres front to secure British co-operation.
The size of the German army was increased over the winter and by reorganising the existing field army divisions with fewer infantry battalions, the new divisions were given a nucleus of trained and experienced troops. The change to a nine-battalion organisation was also intended to make it easier to move divisions from quiet sectors without undue disruption. On 3 March Falkenhayn formed the Eleventh Army, intended to be the main attacking army (Durchbruchsarmee) on the Western Front and on 30 March its Chief of Staff Colonel von Seeckt recommended an offensive between Arras and Albert. The proposal required fourteen corps and 150 heavy artillery batteries. A western offensive was cancelled in April due to the deteriorating situation on the Eastern Front, where the Austro-Hungarian army faced collapse. The Eleventh Army and other divisions were sent east and the initiative in the west was left with the Entente armies.
The defences of the German army in the west had been improvised since late 1914 and in many places were vulnerable to the growing number of French heavy guns. During the spring the Westheer began to implement a standard defensive theory and to build a second position with barbed wire in front, far enough behind the first position to require an attacker to pause to bring field artillery into range. The first position was elaborated into a zone with camouflaged strong points and machine-gun nests built of concrete behind the front trenches. The Sixth Army held a front of 90 kilometres (56 mi) from Menin to the south of Arras with thirteen divisions and the 58th and 115th divisions in OHL reserve behind the front. The Sixth Army had 660 field guns and 150 heavy guns. West of Lille the front line was in the marshy Flanders plain and south of La Bassée the ground was criss-crossed by waterways and drainage ditches, which made fortification difficult. West of Lens the high ground of Vimy Ridge and the Lorette Spur dominated the ground further west and to the south around Arras the ground was overlooked from the ridge at Thilloy beyond the Scarpe.
French offensive preparations
Since January French sappers in the Carency area had tunnelled 1.5 miles (2.4 km), to plant 30 long tons (30 t) of explosives in galleries under the German positions. The main French front of attack was from the chapel on the plateau of Notre Dame de Lorette Spur (the "Lorette spur") south to the "Labyrinth", a network covering 2 square miles (5.2 km2) of trenches, tunnels and dug-outs across the Arras–Lens road north of Ecurie and Roclincourt. The spur was the southern boundary of the plain north of the Béthune–La Bassée Canal, which was 6 miles (9.7 km) long and wooded in parts, except at the east end. From the north the slopes of the ridge were low but on the south side there were steep spurs separated by ravines. West of Ablain St. Nazaire was Spur Mathis and to the east, the Great Spur, the Arabs' Spur, the Spur of the White Way and the Spur of Souchez, which dominated the east edge of Ablain St. Nazaire and the sugar refinery between Ablain and Souchez. By 20 March the French had worked their way up to the foot of the Great Spur and by 14 April had closed up to Ablain St. Nazaire.
General d'Urbal was appointed to the command of the Tenth Army on 2 April, which had six infantry corps, a cavalry corps and three divisions in reserve. On the right (southern) flank was X Corps with the 19th and 20th divisions, the XVII Corps to the left with the 34th and 33rd divisions, XX Corps with the 11th and 39th divisions, XXXIII Corps with the Moroccan, 70th and 77th divisions, XXI Corps with the 13th and 43rd divisions and IX Corps with the 92nd Territorial Division and the 17th and 58th divisions, covering the ground up to the British First Army 15 miles (24 km) to the north. The IX Corps and XX Corps had been relieved by the British in Flanders and moved south from 9–16 April, although the IX Corps headquarters and the 18th, 152nd and 153rd divisions had to be rushed up to Flanders after the German gas attack at the Second Battle of Ypres (21 April – 25 May). Artillery reinforcements increased the quantity of heavy artillery to 293 guns and field artillery to 1,075 guns. Increased production of ammunition had not kept pace with demand and the French artillery remained short of high explosive shells; poor quality ammunition also caused a large number of premature detonations in French artillery.
French plan of attack
The Tenth Army was to attack on a 15-kilometre (9.3 mi) front, the main attack in the centre by the XVII, XX and XXXIII corps on a 10-kilometre (6.2 mi) front, with supporting attacks along the spur south of Bailleul Sire Berthoult and by the XXI Corps with two divisions along the Notre-Dame de Lorette spur. The main attack was to capture Vimy Ridge and then consolidate to prevent German counter-attacks from recapturing the heights. Reserve divisions and cavalry would then begin a pursuit from the ridge into the Douai plain. d'Urbal planned a short bombardment of four hours to preserve surprise but was overruled by Foch and Joffre, after the experience of the failed offensives of the winter and early spring, especially the St. Mihiel offensive and a four-day bombardment was substituted. Delays in the arrival of artillery led to a postponement of the attack from 1 May until 7 May and the bombardment began on 3 May. Bad weather reduced visibility but the bombardment was prolonged to six days and on 8 May the artillery began a destructive bombardment on the German front defences, which were severely damaged. In the last four hours before the infantry attack, all of the Tenth Army artillery bombarded the German wire and the first and reserve trench lines, ready for the infantry attack at 10:00 a.m.
German defensive preparations
The German defences had been improved in the ridges, hollows and ravines between Arras and Lens, since the war of movement had ended late in 1914. Barbed wire and chevaux-de-frise obstacles had been placed in front of the German defences and tunnels, caves and trenches, cellars and loopholed buildings had been fortified; avenues of approach were surveyed and registered by the German artillery. The Sixth Army had retained most of the plateau of the Lorette Spur and all of the Spur of the White Way and Spur Souchez, during the local attacks by the French in March and April. On 9 May the French line ran about 1,100 yards (1,000 m) west of the Chapel to the summit of the Arabs' Spur and by the Great Spur and Spur Mathis down to the valley west of Ablain. Five German trench lines had been dug from the Arabs' Spur across the plateau to the Arras–Béthune road near Aix-Noulette and fortified with iron roofs, sandbags, concrete and barbed wire.
At every 100 yards (91 m) machine-gun nests were built into the trenches. Small fortified posts supported the defenders, one to the north-east of the Chapel of Notre Dame de Lorette, with dug-outs over 50 feet (15 m) deep. Artillery and machine-guns in Ablain St. Nazaire commanded the southern slopes of the ridge and those in Souchez the eastern face of the spur. Guns hidden in Angres and Liévin, to the north-east of the plateau commanded the approaches from the plain to the north and along the spur. Below the southern side of the Lorette Spur were Ablain St. Nazaire and Souchez and a sugar refinery in buildings along 200 yards (180 m) of the banks of the St. Nazaire stream, which had been fortified. To the south was Mill Malon and marshes lay east of the sugar refinery.
South of Ablain St. Nazaire rose wooded heights towards Carency with the village in a hollow, with houses in five groups, one in the centre and the others facing north, west, south and east protected by four lines of trenches. Each street and house had been fortified and connected by underground passages and garrisoned with four battalions of infantry and six companies of engineers. Field guns and machine-guns had been dug in to the gardens, orchards and behind the church, which made it impossible to attack the village except form the south and east. Trenches connected Carency with Ablain St. Nazaire and Souchez on the Béthune–Arras road. Between Souchez and Arras at the hamlet of La Targette, the Germans had dug trenches, known as the "White Works" under which lay a German fortress. To the east of La Targette was the town of Neuville St. Vaast, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long and 700 yards (640 m) wide, between the Arras–Béthune and Arras–Lens roads, which had also been turned into an underground fortress.
South of Neuville St. Vaast extended the Labyrinth, on both sides of the Arras–Lens road, which contained tunnels and small strong points organised in a maze, with frequent blank walls and sally ports for the defenders to appear behind the attackers, which was linked by tunnels to Neuville St. Vaast. About 2 miles (3.2 km) east of the Labyrinth and Neuville St. Vaast was the edge of the heights between the plain between the Scarpe and the Béthune–La-Bassée–Lille Canal. Opposite the French Tenth Army the XIV Corps held the front with the 29th and 28th divisions and to the south I Bavarian Reserve Corps held the line from Souchez to the south bank of the Scarpe at Arras, with the 5th and 1st Bavarian Reserve divisions.
After the British attack at Neuve Chapelle, the local attacks which had occurred since December 1914 resumed, which resulted in minor changes of the front line. At the end of April indications of a bigger attack in preparation and reports of new French units being formed, suggested a more ambitious French attack north of Arras. French artillery fire began to increase in May but the weather in Artois was mainly cloudy and overcast and with French air superiority, restricted German air reconnaissance and ground observation of the rear of the French Tenth Army. Infantry patrolling was also inhibited and the presence of the French XVII Corps was not detected until 8 May. An attack on the same day was made on the positions of the 28th Division west of Liévin by the French 43rd Division, which was eventually repulsed at great cost to both sides.
First phase, 9–20 May
French Tenth Army
The final bombardment began at 6:00 a.m., with registration of targets for an hour.[Note 5] At 8:00 a.m. the mines in the Carency sector and the Lorette Spur were sprung, as an intense bombardment of the first two German positions continued, until a ten-minute pause at 9:40 a.m., followed by a ten-minute hurricane bombardment. As the infantry began their attack, the bombardment changed to a creeping barrage. At 10:00 a.m. the infantry attack began in bright dry weather. Three of the trench lines on the Lorette Spur were captured by Chasseurs and supporting infantry of XXI Corps with many casualties. A fortified post in the centre of the German line was not captured and German artillery near Angres bombarded the lost trenches, as machine-guns in Ablain St. Nazaire swept the French infantry. Fighting continued after dark and the French began to dig in. The German front trenches at Carency were captured and against orders, the French tried to continue into the village but fire from a strong point to the east stopped the French advance. XXI Corps had managed to advance 200 metres (220 yd) through the maze of fortifications on the Lorette Spur and IX Corps beyond made a little progress.
On the northern flank of XXXIII Corps, the 70th Division attacked Ablain St. Nazaire, Carency and Souchez and strong points at Bois 125 and the sugar refinery. The division reached the fringes of the villages but the repulse of the right-hand regiment led the most advanced troops to withdraw to a line 600 metres (660 yd) forward of the start-line. In the XXXIII Corps area, the Division Marocaine attacked with two waves of "shock troops", who were lightly-equipped and pushed forward as quickly as possible, leaving isolated German positions to the "cleaners" advancing behind them. The German wire was found to be well cut and by 11:30 a.m., the advanced troops began to dig in on Vimy Ridge, an advance of over 4,300 yards (3,900 m), which was supported soon after by the arrival of machine-gun teams. Divisional reserves were ordered forward at 10:15 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m. d'Urbal ordered the 18th Division to move up. Reserve units had great difficulty in advancing through German artillery fire, which left the division in a narrow salient and under fire from all directions. The 77th Division reached Givenchy-en-Gohelle, the cemetery at Souchez and Château de Carleul took c. 500 prisoners and thirty machine guns but was soon forced back to the Souchez–Neuville road by German artillery-fire and counter-attacks. The French infantry also suffered many casualties and found that artillery support diminished, as the field artillery was firing at the limit of its range. German communication trenches between Carency and Souchez were blocked, which cut off Carency except via Ablain St. Nazaire.
The 39th Division crossed the German trenches in front of La Targette, where two strong points contained artillery but the French advance was so swift that only a few machine-gunners were able to engage them. La Targette was captured by 11:15 a.m., 350 prisoners were taken. The area was quickly consolidated and French field artillery galloped up and engaged German troops nearby. The French pressed on to Neuville and advanced up the southern part of Vimy Ridge but troops of the 11th Division on the right flank were held up by the defenders of the Labyrinth. In the centre the French gained a foothold in houses at the south end of the village and near the cemetery and half of the village was captured. On the main front the French artillery had prepared the way for the French infantry and creeping barrages had kept the surviving German infantry pinned down but where the French had fewer heavy guns and ammunition, the attacks had failed. The XVII Corps to the south of the attack front had been expected to make a deeper advance than the other corps but was stopped by German machine-gun fire in no man's land and was only able to establish small footholds in the first position. At the southern flank of the attack front, the X Corps infantry were stopped in no man's land. By nightfall the Tenth Army had taken 3,000 prisoners, ten field guns and fifty machine-guns. The success of XXXIII Corps had cost much of the ammunition available and on 10 May, Joffre and Foch decided that operations would have to reflect the capacity of the artillery to support them and a proposal by d'Urbal to attack south of Arras was rejected.
On 10 May Joffre ordered several cavalry divisions move towards the Tenth Army area. As a decoy and to keep German reserves pinned down, a feint attack was made north of the Lorette Spur towards Loos, which managed a small advance on the left, until stopped by the artillery fire from the German artillery in Angres. On the Lorette Spur, machine-gun fire from a German strong point near the Chapel caused many French casualties. A counter-attack from the sugar refinery between Ablain and Souchez was seen assembling and the French attack in the area was suspended. Barrage fire by the French artillery prevented the Germans from attacking and the French infantry descended from the spur towards the Ablain ravine. The attack on Carency continued and German counter-attacks recovered some of the communication trenches and tunnels connecting it with Souchez. During the day houses east of the village were stormed and a hollow south of the Carency–Souchez road was captured. A lull occurred on the main front, as the French infantry reorganised and the surviving German defenders recovered from the effects of the attack. French artillery was hampered ("paralysed") by ignorance of the positions of the infantry, which left it unable to fire a preparatory bombardment and the gunners concentrated on shelling German reserves seen advancing and on counter-battery fire. The most advanced French infantry were cut off by German barrage-fire, suffered from a serious shortage of water and frequently were counter-attacked, which rapidly reduced their ability to attack again, particularly in the units which had advanced the furthest. To the south of XXXIII Corps, the 39th Division attacked Neuville on the orders of the corps commander, despite the reservations of the divisional and army commanders and was repulsed by devastating fire from the defenders and had many casualties. On the right, beyond the Arras–Béthune road, the cemetery of Neuville was taken and counter-attacks by German reserves brought up from Douai and Lens were repulsed.
By 11 May the Tenth Army had reorganised sufficiently, to attempt another general offensive but the Division Marocaine and 77th Division, which were the most advanced, had received the fewest reinforcements and supplies. Communication with the foremost troops was almost impossible due to German artillery-fire but d'Urbal considered that the German defence was rapidly increasing in effectiveness and that delay would put the French at a greater disadvantage. To the north the 70th Division and the 13th Division of XXI Corps managed to advance at Ablain, Carency, Bois 125 and along the Lorette Spur, which left the German garrison in Ablain outflanked on both sides. The attack by the XXXIII Corps was met by a "wall" of German artillery and small-arms fire and repulsed, the Division Marocaine having suffered 5,120 casualties since 9 May; the 77th Division also gained little ground due to German flanking fire. On the evening of 11 May the French captured the lower slopes of the Arabs' Spur in mutually costly fighting and a night counter-attack by German troops from the Spur of the White Way was repulsed. The 13th and 43rd divisions captured the crest of the Lorette Spur during the night, which deprived the Germans of the commanding views from the ridge. German artillery in Angres and the machine-guns in Ablain kept a constant fire on the new French positions.
On 11 May, D'Urbal reinforced the XXXIII Corps and XX Corps with fresh divisions ready to attack after a two-hour bombardment and the French captured the wood east of Carency, which overlooked the communication trenches with Souchez and prevented their use. A German party on a wooded hillock kept the French from the east end of the village and the western approach was blocked by infantry at a stone quarry nearly 300 feet (91 m) deep. To the south, the XX Corps made slow progress at Neuville, where the 39th Division held a front with a right-angle facing the western and northern fringes of the village, with the right-hand brigade attacking the village and the left-hand brigade attempting to capture ferme La Folie. Every attempt to advance was met with massed artillery-fire. IX Corps on the northern flank IX Corps and X and XVII corps on the southern flank, made limited attacks which were mostly repulsed. To the south the French attack on Neuville and the Labyrinth continued and the cemetery was captured. Pétain reported that machine-gun fire from both flanks and German artillery-fire had increased, which had caused far more casualties. The result of the attack on 11 May led d'Urbal to order that that the German defences on the flanks at Souchez and Neuville, were to be captured before resuming the attack on Vimy Ridge. XXI Corps was to resume the advance along the Lorette Spur, XXXIII Corps was to capture Carency and then attack Souchez as XX Corps to the south attacked Neuville. Before dawn on 12 May, French Chasseurs attacked the strong point near the Chapel of Notre Dame de Lorette on the Lorette Spur and after hand-to-hand fighting the strong point and the remains of the Chapel were captured. At dawn under a German artillery bombardment, the French pushed towards the Spur of the White Way, which commanded the valley from Ablain to Souchez.
At Carency French infantry attacked after a bombardment, captured the wooded hillock east of the village and eventually took the stone quarry to the west. The French entered the western block of houses at the same time that the eastern group was attacked and at 5.30 p.m. c. 1,000 survivors of the garrison surrendered. The conditions on the plateau were appalling because bursting shells had disinterred the corpses of hundreds of French and German soldiers killed before the offensive. The French continued the advance from Carency towards Ablain St. Nazaire, which suddenly caught fire as the Germans withdrew to houses at the eastern fringe of the village. The French took 2,000 prisoners, field artillery and machine-guns in the area. On Thursday 13 May in heavy rain, a German counter-attack on the Spur of the White Way was repulsed by machine-gun fire. By the morning of 14 May the French had captured most of the Lorette Spur and Carency but not the intervening positions from which flanking fire had stopped the XXXIII Corps from advance on Souchez. On 15 May another French attack on the Spur of the White Way failed and until 21 May the French on the Lorette Spur consolidated under fire from the German artillery at Angres and Lievin. In the valley the Germans held on at the east end of Ablain and recaptured the church and cemetery.
British First Army
Two areas of the German front line were attacked by the British First Army of General Sir Douglas Haig, either side of the Neuve Chapelle battlefield. In the south I Corps and the Indian Corps attacked on a 2,400-yard (2,200 m) front from the Rue du Bois and IV Corps attacked in the north on a 1,500-yard (1,400 m) front opposite Fromelles. The attack was intended to make two breaches in the German defences 6,000 yards (5,500 m) apart, after which the infantry were to advance to Aubers Ridge about 3,000 yards (2,700 m) beyond. The preliminary bombardment began at 5:00 a.m. and at 5:30 a.m. became intense and ten minutes later the infantry attacked, taking the German defenders by surprise, the artillery fire cutting all the German telephone lines to the rear. Visibility was poor due to smoke and dust and the bombardment proved less effective than assumed, much of the British shell-fire fell short and few of the German machine-guns were destroyed. German machine-gunners and artillery began to fire at the same time and in ten minutes inflicted many casualties on the British infantry, as they advanced across no man's land.
The failure of the attack to gain more than a few footholds in the German first line led to a second attack at 8:00 a.m. after a forty-five minute bombardment, which was destroyed in no man's land by German defensive fire. A new attack was ordered for noon but was delayed until about 5:00 p.m. Despite a "terrific" bombardment the German machine-gun nests were not destroyed and stopped the attack with flanking-fire. To assist the French whose attack had been more successful another attack was ordered for 8:00 p.m. and then cancelled as it became clear that another attack could not be launched, even as the extent of the British defeat was not realised, due to the difficulty of communicating with the front line. The British lost c. 11,000 casualties; German casualties had also been severe and the defensive position had been turned into a crater-field but reinforcements were moved from opposite the British front to Vimy Ridge on 12 May. Joffre and Foch met French that day to persuade him to resume the attack, after the redeployment of German divisions south against the Tenth Army and French agreed to relieve a French division south of La Bassée by 15 May.
Second phase, 12 May – 12 June
Pétain proposed a combined attack on Souchez with the divisions of XXXIII and XXI corps for 12 May, which was rejected due to the exhaustion of the XXI Corps divisions; Pétain substituted a plan for three limited attacks against Carency, Bois 125, Ablain and Souchez, with similar attack in the south against Neuville. Joffre sent the III Corps to the Tenth Army as a reinforcement but also had to withdraw artillery to support the British attack due at Festubert. After 11 May the French consolidated captured positions and moved the supply infrastructure of the army, hospitals, depots, rail lines and headquarters forward and new artillery positions were prepared, ready for operations to secure bases de départ ("jumping-off positions"); depleted units were relieved and replacements trained by the survivors. The attacks by the 70th, part of the 77th and the 13th divisions which captured Bois 125, Carency and the chapel on the Lorette Spur, placed the German garrison in Ablain in a salient and forced the Germans to withdraw on 12 May to a line from Château Carleul to Souchez, the cemetery at Ablain and the sugar refinery. German troops in the remaining positions of the Lorette Spur withdrew to maintain contact with the new defensive positions to the east. On 13 May the 70th Division cautiously followed up the German retirement and the 77th and 13th divisions made a converging attack on the sugar refinery. Engineers rebuilt trenches in the captured area ready for an attack on Souchez on 14 May.
At Neuville the 11th Division and part of the 39th Division attacked again on 12 May, despite the costly failure on 11 May, when some units had 50% casualties. The 39th Division regiments managed a slow advance, behind showers of hand grenades and trench mortar fire but were forced back when the left-hand regiment was repulsed; the 11th Division was bogged down in Neuville and the Labyrynth. The 39th Division commander General Nourrisson, objected to the continuation of large attacks but d'Urbal insisted that they continue, at the same time that new defences were dug and fresh troops were brought forward. Until 15 May large rushed attacks continued, with many failures and a few costly successes. On 15 May a larger general attack was made and was another costly failure. Artillery support was inadequate due to losses from German counter-battery fire and barrel explosions from inferior ammunition. Artillery tactics were unchanged and the density of shell-fire diminished, which gave German reinforcements, which had arrived from 13–14 May time to dig in many new machine-guns and meet the attack with massed machine-gun fire supported by a heavy bombardment by the artillery, which stopped the attack as soon as it began.
On 18 May, d'Urbal asked for the XVII and X corps to be withdrawn by 24 May because of the costly failure of their attacks but was overruled by Foch, who ordered an end to rushed attacks and a pause of eight days, to prepare an attack with the thoroughness of 9 May, until then only local attacks were to be made, with massed artillery support on limited objectives. Joffre supported the intervention by Foch and also ordered d'Urbal to restrict attacks, to piecemeal efforts against local points of tactical importance. Until 15 June the French made many limited attacks on the flanks of the 77th and Moroccan divisions, using the same troops and same tactics. On 23 May the XXI Corps captured the rest of the Lorette Spur and on 27 May the 70th Division took Ablain cemetery, then the sugar refinery on 31 May, which made Souchez vulnerable to an attack from the west as well as the south. The limited narrow-front attacks were much better supported by the artillery fire power available.
A revised version of Note 5779 was issued on 20 May by GQG, which asserted that the version of 16 April had been vindicated by events but endorsed the concept of continuous battle and emphasised that reserves be pushed forward as far as possible to avoid the mistake made on 9 May, when they had been held back out of German artillery range. An analysis of German defensive methods described the use of small numbers of infantry, equipped with large numbers of machine-guns, which had been sited to fire from flanks and the sheltering of infantry in deep dug-outs, immune to field artillery. French defensive positions were to be modelled on the German practice. Local attacks were resumed but while modestly successful in remaining within the material constraints on the Tenth Army, were hampered by a drastic loss of experience since the beginning of the offensive. The tempo of limited attacks continued to be beyond the ability of the Tenth Army to supply and train replacements according to Note 5779. An attempt to return to larger combined attacks by IX, XXI and XXXIII corps from 25–26 May failed in most places, because of increases in the capability of the German defence and a lack of time to plan, rest troops and lack of surprise.
Pétain wrote that German barrages were being fired daily, which made infantry attacks almost impossible and that varying French bombardments to obtain surprise made little difference, now that the German artillery had been reinforced and was ready at a moment's notice to begin barrage fire. German guns were registered on no man's land and had only to fire into the area, to hit French infantry during an attack. The French counter-battery effort had to wait until German guns revealed themselves and then begin area fire in the vicinity of the German artillery, which had little effect beyond consuming many shells. Pétain wanted more air reconnaissance but aircraft wireless was of extremely short range and during an attack, the confusion on the ground made artillery observation from the air impossible. As an alternative Pétain suggested making highly detailed maps of the German rear areas and systematically bombarding German artillery emplacements continuously rather than during attacks but the suggestions were not acted upon, due to the lack of ammunition.
Foch and d'Urbal met late on 15 May and ordered that the offensive was to end temporarily, as the attacks after 9 May had been poorly prepared and of diminishing effectiveness. Preparations with the detail and organisation of the attack on 9 May were to be made before the offensive resumed. "Bases of departure" were to be captured at Souchez and Neuville before an attack on Vimy Ridge, which Foch expected to take eight to ten days. D'Urbal cancelled an attack due on 16 May and issued instructions to each corps to capture limited objectives. XXXIII Corps was given five objectives before an attack on Souchez was to be made and XXI Corps three objectives before supporting the attack on Souchez. The first limited objective attack was planned for 17 May but rainstorms forced a delay until 20 May and the night of 20/21 May. Huge artillery bombardments preceded infantry attacks, intended to occupy several hundred square metres of ground at a time. On the afternoon of 21 May the French attacked the Spur of the White Way from the north, south and west. A party attacking from the Arabs' Spur captured their objectives in minutes and another party attacking from the north seized the main German communication trench, surrounding and taken the garrison prisoner. The attack from Ablain captured houses west of the church and the communications trench of the White Way with Souchez was cut and 300 Germanprisoners and a field gun were taken. At 2:00 a.m. on 22 May a German counter-attack from a foothold in Ablain was repulsed.
On 25 May IX, XXI and XXXIII corps attacked limited objectives simultaneously, after a day-long artillery bombardment but made little progress. The remnants of the garrison in Ablain were attacked again on 28 May in their remaining trenches around the cemetery. French artillery placed a barrage to the east of the cemetery, cutting off the garrison before the infantry attacked and took 400 prisoners. During the night the Germans in a group of houses to the south of the church were mopped up and outside the village a strong point was taken. Early on 29 May the remaining German positions at the church and rectory were captured. French casualties in the final attack were 200, mainly caused by artillery fire. The French attacked into the valley and on 31 May captured Mill Malon, advanced up a communication trench to the sugar refinery and rushed the German garrison, which was overwhelmed as dark fell. At midnight a German counter-attack gradually pushed the French back into the communication trench, until a French artillery barrage was arranged and troops on the outskirts of Ablain advanced to the refinery along the stream, as the troops at the communication trench reorganised and attacked again. The Germans were forced back and by the evening of 1 June the position was connected with Ablain by communication trenches (fighting in the area continued sporadically from June–September). From 25–28 May French attacks towards Andres failed. D'Urbal continued the limited-objective attacks but transferred the main artillery effort south to Neuville. A three-day preparatory bombardment began on 2 June and on 6 June French infantry captured the main road through the village as the German garrison replied with massed small-arms fire from cellars and demolished houses. German artillery-fire also caused many French casualties but by 11 June the French had advanced 500 metres (550 yd) on a 300-metre (330 yd) front.
The British adopted siege warfare tactics of limited attacks prepared by a greater weight of artillery fire, to capture more ground and hold it with fewer casualties. British attacks resumed near Festubert from Port Arthur 850 yards (780 m) north to Rue du Bois, with a night attack by three divisions at 11:30 pm on 15 May, after a three-day bombardment, with 26,000 shells carefully observed on a 5,000-yard (4,600 m) front. The German breastwork was destroyed but many of the machine-gun posts underneath survived, as did infantry dug-outs under the second line of breastworks. The attack was limited to an objective about 1,000 yards (910 m) forward along La Quinque Rue road. On the right flank the advance succeeded, a silent advance surprising the surviving Germans in the remains of the breastwork and then capturing the Wohngraben (support trench) before digging in. On the left German return fire stopped the advance in no man's land. An attack at 3:15 a.m. on the right by the 7th Division was successful in parts but with many casualties. Much of the German front line was destroyed and captured but scattered German parties in shell-holes blocked both flanks and prevented a further British advance.
On 16 May Haig resumed the offensive with the Battle of Festubert, which was fought on the right flank of the Aubers Ridge battlefield, where British troops were ordered to press on to local objectives only after consolidating. By the morning of 17 May, the German 14th Division was forced to retire to a new breastwork dug .75 miles (1.21 km) behind the original front position, connecting the Stützpunktlinie (strong points) behind the front line, with the result that British bombardments and attacks met only small parties of rearguards. The Quadrilateral was captured at about 10:15 a.m. on 17 May after an extensive bombardment led to a large number of German troops surrendering. Reinforcements doubled the German fire-power in the new position, from which in the afternoon British attempts to continue the advance were repulsed. Low cloud and rain obscured the battlefield and it took three days for the British to identify the new line. A series of attacks by four British divisions from 18–25 May achieved minor advances of the British line but found that the captured positions had been registered by German artillery, which maintained a heavy bombardment, which forced the British back at some places an inflicted many casualties. The fighting cost the British 16,644 casualties and c. 5,500 German losses. Fighting continued until 25 May for local objectives against German reinforcements, which were not available to oppose the French further south.
Third phase, 13–18 June
The eight days that Foch thought necessary to capture ground on the flanks of XXXIII Corps, took five weeks to achieve. Small advances were made but the Germans were able to improve their defences relatively easily, in dips and behind slopes. Artillery reinforcements were registered as they arrived on obvious avenues of attack, which required only notification by flare signals from the front line to commence firing. The Tenth Army also received substantial reinforcements of artillery but these made only a small net increase, due to losses from German artillery fire, mechanical failures and premature detonations. Infantry reinforcements were only marginally greater than losses. Artillery ammunition for the 355 heavy and 805 field guns was much greater for the second general attack, with 718,551 shells available from 16–18 June, compared to 265,430 fired from 3–9 May. The preliminary bombardment was to begin on 10 June and concentrate on certain areas, to conceal the imminence of an infantry attack. On the day of the attack the artillery was to destroy defences repaired by the Germans overnight and conduct counter-battery fire until the last moment as a deception, then fall on the German front defences as the French infantry advanced to mislead the Germans and get the infantry across no man's land before a German barrage began.
The Franco-British attack on 9 May had been on a front of 25 kilometres (16 mi) and in June three supporting attacks were planned by the French Second, Sixth and Seventh armies, along with an attack by the British near Zillebeke in Flanders. The preliminary bombardment was due to begin on 13 June and XXI Corps was to attack from the Lorette Spur towards Bois de Givenchy, XX Corps was to complete the capture of Neuville and the Labyrynth and XXIII Corps was shifted slightly north to attack Souchez, Château Carleul, Côte 119 and Givenchy-en-Gohelle. IX Corps was moved from the northern boundary of the Tenth Army and placed between XXXIII Corps and XX Corps to take Vimy Ridge. During minor attacks in early June, the IX Corps divisions had gained little success and in one attack the infantry went to ground and refused to continue, which if repeated would leave the XXXIII Corps vulnerable to another advance into a salient. The artillery preparation was carefully observed from the front line and IX Corps troops were issued flares to signal to the artillery, who reported a highly accurate bombardment, particularly on the 5 Chemins crossroads and a derelict mill, which were the principal German defensive works opposite.
On 15 June the commander of the 17th Division on the right of the IX Corps, wrote to General Curé the corps commander that preparations were incomplete and had not conformed to Note 5779, leaving the jumping-off trenches 200–300 metres (220–330 yd) from the German front line, rather than the 150 metres (160 yd) or fewer laid down and that the infantry were already exhausted. In the rest of the Tenth Army the situation was the same, with infantry being set to hours of digging under German counter-bombardments. It was also discovering that the accuracy of French artillery-fire, was not sufficient make it effective. An attack on 13 June, by a regiment of the 70th Division on the sugar refinery, captured a small length of the German front trench, where they were bombarded by French artillery. An attack on 14 June took another short length of trench but the regiment had to be relieved by part of the 13th Division during the night of 15/16 June. Reports from the IX and XX corps on the southern flank, described accurate French artillery fire and XXI Corps on the Lorette Spur had a commanding view of German defences. Maistre the corps commander, had made artillery observation a specialist role for trained men, who kept close to the infantry to ensure efficient liaison.
It was soon discovered that the Germans had put barbed wire 50 metres (55 yd) in front of the front line, rather than just in front and special bombardments were fired to cut the wire, after which patrols went forward to check the results, despite German counter-bombardments. On the 43rd Division front, it was discovered that field artillery was only shifting the barbed wire around and not damaging cheveaux de frise but modern 155mm guns were used in time to create several gaps in the wire. Visibility early on 16 June was poor and the French heavy artillery began with a slow bombardment until 12:15 p.m., when a creeping barrage began to move from the French front line in 50-metre (55 yd) bounds and a second barrage began at maximum range and crept backwards in 25-metre (27 yd) bounds, until both barrages coincided on Vimy Ridge and became a standing barrage until the French infantry arrived. The IX Corps divisions found that the German defences were intact, when the attack began and the 17th Division was swept by artillery and machine-gun fire, forcing it back to its jumping-off trenches; the 18th Division managed to capture the German first position and a second attack was ordered for the afternoon.
IX, XX and XXXIII corps used 10,000 shells, which contained poison gas and incendiary material on Neuville, Souchez and Angres, German artillery positions at ferme La Folie and rear areas. The shells were filled with carbon disulphide and phosphorus, which gave a combined asphyxiating and incendiary effect. The gas shells suppressed the German artillery opposite from 1:00–2:30 p.m. and set many fires in Angres but not at Souchez, which had been bombarded so much that there was little combustible material left. The 17th Division managed to advance another 100 metres (110 yd) and the 18th Division was stopped in no man's land. On the right flank the 39th Division of XX Corps was repulsed in the first attack, despite creeping forward before zero hour, to be clear of a German counter-bombardment and to catch the German infantry under cover. The division prepared a new bombardment for 3:20 p.m. on the German front line, to at least advance across no man's land. The new attack also failed, as did the attacks of the 17th and 11th divisions on either flank.
In the XXXIII Corps area, the Division Marocaine was fresh and easily overran the German front defences with minimal casualties. When the infantry pressed on, they found that the Germans had dug overlapping flanking positions and deep dug-outs, which had protected German infantry from the French artillery. The infantry reached Côte 119, where fire from Souchez stopped the advance. Supporting troops had lagged behind in communication trenches full of wounded and prisoners as German artillery-fire increased and only arrived at 8:00 p.m. German counter-attacks were made using many hand grenades, which caused many casualties. To the north, the 77th and 70th divisions attacked Souchez, where the chemical shells had little effect; the 77th divisional artillery had twice the number of shells than on 9 May but was nullified by the new German defences on reverse slopes, which were immune to fire from guns and could only be engaged by Howitzers, which were brought forward on 15/16 June, only twelve hours before the attack. The 159th Regiment advanced over a hillock, met uncut wire and massed fire from small arms and artillery, out of view of the French front line. The 97th Regiment captured Souchez cemetery with few casualties but the repulse of the 159th Regiment uncovered the flanks of the 97the Regiment and the adjacent Division Marocaine, which made an attack on Souchez village impossible. An attack by the 159th Regiment at 4:00 p.m. was also stopped immediately by German return fire.
In the XXI Corps area, the 70th Division was bombarded by German artillery as the attack began, in response to flares sent up from the German front line. The 42nd BCP took part of Château Carleul against determined German resistance but then stopped to maintain contact with the 77th Division to the right. The 360th and 237th regiments were met by a wall of fire and were not able to advance, except on the far left flank, where the 13th Division had managed to push forward for 150 metres (160 yd). The 48th Division on the northern flank of XXI Corps, advanced for about 1-kilometre (0.62 mi) and took its initial objectives in 25 minutes, in a costly attack. At zero hour, the 43rd Division on the left of XXI Corps, blew a mine under the German defences opposite and rushed the crater with few losses, before the Germans could counter-attack.
D'Urbal ordered the attack to continue on 17 June, on the fronts of the 77th Division and IX Corps on either flank of XXXIII Corps, where the most advanced positions of the Division Marocaine had become untenable. The attack was ordered for 4:00 p.m. and then postponed, leading to some units attacking too early, being pinned down in front of uncut wire and then being bombarded by French as well as German artillery. The 70th Division and the XXI Corps divisions on the northern flank, took several German positions in costly attacks but the IX Corps attack on the southern flank was deluged with artillery and machine-gun fire and made no progress. On 18 June d'Urbal concentrated the remaining offensive capacity of the Tenth Army against Vimy Ridge. IX Corps was ordered to ignore the German defences in Neuville but General Balfourier the XX Corps commander, refused to attack with the northern flank unsupported. The attack on 18 June was another failure, in which French infantry were again confronted by German positions on reverse slopes, invisible to ground observation and undamaged, with uncut wire and alert defenders, who inflicted many casualties on the attackers. Foch suspended the offensive but d'Urbal reverted to piecemeal attacks for another week until Joffre intervened and ended the offensive.
Second Action of Givenchy
In the Second Action of Givenchy (15–16 June), IV Corps of the British First Army, attacked north-west of La Bassée with the 7th, 51st and Canadian divisions after a 60-hour bombardment, in which an attempt to alleviate an acute ammunition shortage was made by relying on artillery observation and tactical reconnaissance by reinforced RFC squadrons. No covering fire was available for the attack and the German defenders were seen to have manned the front line before the advance began. The Germans opened massed small-arms fire but were not able to prevent the British from entering the German front trench, where a bombing fight began. German infantry were well-supplied with hand grenades but the British were isolated by cross-fire along no man's land and were pushed back as they ran out of ammunition, the last troops retiring at 4:00 a.m. A new attack on 15 June, using all of the artillery ammunition left was delayed by thick mist and the difficulty in reorganising the infantry but went ahead at 4:45 p.m. and took the German front line. The advance was stopped until the line was consolidated but the British and Canadian troops who had not been pinned down in their own trenches were forced back by a German counter-attack at 8:00 p.m. after which further attacks were cancelled.
First Attack on Bellewaarde
The British Second Army conducted the First Attack on Bellewaarde with the 3rd Division, which took the German first line easily at 4:15 a.m. The second and third waves rushed forward and ran into the British bombardment, which was not seen by the gunners due to the amount of mist and smoke. The British still managed to reach the German second line and three counter-attacks only managed to push the 3rd Division back to the first line as the British ran short of ammunition. Support from a brigade of the 14th Division to exploit the success was delayed by German artillery-fire and fewer than two battalions of the 3rd Division managed to advance at 3:30 p.m. up a flat open slope and were repulsed with many casualties. At 6:00 p.m. the German front trench from Menin road to Railway Wood was consolidated, which was short of Bellewaarde ridge and the German observation posts along it. Joffre criticised British "inaction", which enabled the Germans to concentrate resources against the Tenth Army.
German Sixth Army
French artillery bombarded the German lines overnight and then abated until 6:00 a.m. when a bombardment, slowly increasing in intensity began on the fronts of VII, XIV and I Bavarian Reserve corps, which from mid-morning reached the extent of Trommelfeuer. Lulls in the fire led German infantry to emerge from shelter, only to be caught in more Trommelfeuer and the German artillery reply was sparse. The French infantry assembled unseen and began after several mines were sprung, obtaining a measure of surprise. The main French attack was received at 11:00 a.m. on the left of XIV Corps and against I Bavarian Reserve Corps, from Lens to Arras and a second attack began against the centre of XIV Corps along the Béthune–Lens road, which was repulsed by a counter-attack. The 28th Division on the Lorette Spur, was forced out of the front trenches, with many losses and in the evening a battalion of Jäger was sent forward. Further south, the villages of Ablain-St. Nazaire (Ablain) and Carency were held against determined French attacks.
In the I Bavarian Reserve Corps area (General Karl von Fasbender), the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division (General Kress von Kressenstein) south of Carency, was pushed back to a line from Cabaret Rouge to Neuville-St. Vaast (Neuville) and French troops advanced as far as artillery positions around Givenchy-en-Gohelle (Givenchy), where reinforcements arrived at noon and managed to forestall a new French attack. To the south, the 1st Bavarian Reserve Division (Lieutenant-General Göringer) managed to repulse the French in hand-to-hand fighting and then enfilade the French further north, who had broken through at La Targette. Crown Prince Rupprecht applied to Falkenhayn, for the two divisions in OHL reserve and the 115th Division (Major-General von Kleist) was moved behind the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division. The 58th Division (Lieutenant-General von Gersdorf) went into the 6th Army reserve and closed up to Lens, as artillery also released from the OHL reserve came forward.
By afternoon, the left flank of XIV Corps had been uncovered near Carency. Rupprecht intended to use the remnants of the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division and the 115th Division, to counter-attack and regain the lost positions but the plan fell through, after the 115th Division was sent to defend the right flank of the I Bavarian Reserve Corps and the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division was found to be too depleted to attack. Troops managed to counter-attack at Souchez and retook some ground, before being stopped by massed French artillery-fire around 8:00 p.m. By evening, Rupprecht knew that twelve French divisions had attacked four German divisions but believed that the French could be driven back. OHL sent the 117th Division to Douai and Rupprecht subordinated two regiments of the 58th Division to the I Bavarian Reserve Corps, for the counter-attack at Souchez. Artillery was sent to the east of Vimy Ridge, to support the attack.
During the night, a French attack captured the front trenches astride the Béthune–Lens road and Lieutenant-General von Haenisch sent the last corps reserve to the 29th Division (Lieutenant-General Isbert); a counter-attack in the morning recovered the trenches. To the south-west of Carency, the trench to Souchez was lost, which left Carency almost surrounded. Rupprecht and Haenisch planned to counter-attack from Souchez to Neuville, with the I Bavarian Reserve Corps and the 58th and 115th divisions, rather than retire. At 4:00 p.m. French attacks began on the Lorette Spur and at Carency but were not able to push back the defenders. At 7:00 p.m., the 58th Division began the German counter-attack, with parts of the 115th Division to the south and at first made good progress, before being stopped by French defensive fire. The 28th Division headquarters began to fear that the line between Ablain and Carency would fall.
On 10 May, the I Bavarian Reserve Division managed to retain its positions despite French attacks, particularly at Neuville on the right flank but several counter-attacks supported by parts of IV Corps and the 115th Division, recovered only small parts of the village. Next day, Fasbender doubted that the line from Ablain to Carency could be held and asked for more reinforcements. Falkenhayn released the 117th Division (General Kuntze) and sent the VIII Corps headquarters with the 16th Division to Douai as a replacement OHL reserve. To avoid a retirement, which would lead to the loss of the Lorette Spur, Rupprecht met the corps commanders and issued a standfast order, encouraged by the quietude of the French during the morning of 11 May. French attacks in the afternoon were ill-coordinated and repulsed with many casualties. A captured order showed that the French were making a maximum effort to break through; a regiment of the 117th Division was made available to the 6th Army as a precaution and part of the 58th Division was moved closer to the 28th Division on the Lorette Spur.
On 11 May, Rupprecht was ordered by Falkenhayn not to retire under any circumstances with the discretion to achieve this by attack or defence and replied that a counter-attack was not feasible. Next day two regiments of the 117th Division were added to I Bavarian Reserve Corps, to protect Neuville and reinforcements arriving to re-establish the OHL reserve behind the 6th Army were taken over; part of the 15th Division was sent to Douai as a new OHL reserve and Falkenhayn suggested that a special headquarters be set up to co-ordinate counter-attacks. On 13 June, Rupprecht repeated his orders to XIV Corps to hold Carency and Haenisch sent pioneers to dig a reserve trench behind the left flank of the 28th Division. French pressure on the Lorette Spur had eased and a regiment of the 58th Division retook trenches on the north slope. No counter-attack was possible at Carency and the I Bavarian Reserve Corps concentrated on holding the line from Souchez to Neuville and St. Laurent, which was attacked again during the afternoon.
Late on 12 May Rupprecht created Armee–Gruppe Fasbender to control the units in the areas of the XIV and I Bavarian Reserve corps, to hold the existing positions and establish a defence line from Carency and Neuville. A counter-attack at the cemetery south of Souchez but failed without support from the Carency area, where a French attack at dusk had captured the village. The defeat threatened the rest of the German line, Haenish ordered an immediate bombardment of the village and the 28th Division to dig a new line, from the Lorette Spur to the Ablain church and Souchez. A battalion of the 117th Division was sent to the 28th Division and a 16th Division regiment was moved to Lens as a replacement. By 13 June, the right flank of the 28th Division still held the northern slope of the Lorette Spur, the line either side of the Lorette Chapel had been lost from the Schlammulde (Muddy Hollow) to the Ablain track. Most of Ablain had been captured but French attempts to advance further, had been repulsed in mutually costly fighting and a lull occurred, except for a small French attack at Neuville during the day.
Rupprecht rated the 29th Division as worn out, the condition of the 28th Division as not much better and the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division as exhausted. The 1st Bavarian Reserve Division, 58h and 115th divisions were severely damaged and c. 20,000 casualties had been incurred from 9–13 May. Rupprecht requested more reinforcements to replace all of the worn-out divisions and Falkenhayn began to strip more units from the Western Front. Falkenhayn also appointed General Ewald von Lochow, the III Corps commander to control the units being sent to the 6th Army. The 117th Division began to relieve the 28th Division on the night of 13/14 May and the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division remnants were relieved during the day. General Julius Riemann the VIII Corps commander, took over the 16th, 58th, 115th and part of the 15th divisions from Souchez to Neuville. The reinforcement of the 6th Army had drained the OHL reserve and further claims by Rupprecht were refused, which led him to complain to the Kaiser.
Armee-Gruppe Lochow: 14 May – 12 June
At the Lorette Spur, the 117th Division was sent forward to relieve the 28th Division on 18 May, with orders to hold at all costs the area from the Schlammulde (mud hollow) to Ablain and the south end of Souchez. Most of the trenches had been demolished by artillery-fire and those near the river Souchez had 2 feet (61 cm) of water in them; delivery of supplies was intermittent, because field kitchens had to be set up well back to avoid shell-fire. Many of the remaining defences had been improvised between attacks and many were overlooked from a flank and some from French positions behind them. Dead lay everywhere and telephone communication was impossible to maintain. French attacks were repulsed but the lost positions on the Lorette Spur were beyond recapture and much of the position was overlooked. A big attack on 21 May pushed the defenders back and a counter-attack failed to restore the position, which was re-established along a track at the northern fringe of Ablain. Trenches were dug forwards towards the Lorette Spur which gave some flank protection. II Battalion, Infantry Regiment 157 was severely depleted in the fighting and was relieved by units from six regiments. Constant French attacks slowly forced the surviving defenders back but the consequences of losing ground north-west of Souchez were so dangerous that a stream of German units were sent to hold the area between late May and 7 June.
To the south French attacks had taken the cemetery at Neuville and built a strong point from which attacks on the rest of Neuville were made, threatening the German hold on the Labyrinth 1,500 metres (1,600 yd) to the south. By 7 June the defence of Neuville had begun to collapse, despite exhortations from the German high command that the area was to be held at all costs. Officers of the 58th Division tried to obtain agreement to withdraw from the village and permission to make a limited withdrawal in a crisis was given but only to organise a counter-attack. The north-west of the village finally fell to a French attack on 8 June after the last defenders of Infantry Regiment 160 were bombarded by their own artillery. A battalion of the 15th Division was sent into a counter-attack on a French salient near the Lossow-Arkade, in the Labyrinth as soon as it arrived on the Artois front, supported by grenade teams and flame-thrower detachments. The attack failed but the Tsingtau-Graben and some ground at the Labyrinth was recovered. By 23 May more units of the 15th Division were necessary to replace German losses, after a French attempt to retake the lost positions. French attacks at the Labyrinth were as frequent as those further north and the 1st Bavarian Reserve Division made a counter-attack in the early hours of 11 June, which recaptured a trench lost on 10 June.
French preparations for another general attack were observed by the German defenders and large amounts of artillery ammunition were brought forward. On 10 June the senior gunner in the 15th Division predicted a French attack from Vimy to La Folie, Thélus and Neuville St. Vaast, which if successful, would lead to the loss of the German artillery around Vimy and La Folie. No forces were available for a spoiling attack and at Roclincourt, Reserve Infantry Regiment 99 had watched the French sapping forward to within 60 metres (66 yd) of their positions and endured the French preparatory bombardment. The French shelling grew in weight until 11:30 a.m. when a mine was sprung. French infantry attacked, broke into the position and the defenders built flanking barricades to prevent the French from rolling up the flanks of the German position. Other German troops formed a blocking position in front of the French penetration and the German artillery bombarded the lost ground and no man's land, to prevent French reserves from moving forward. Counter-attacks by troops held back in reserve were able to push the French out of their footholds but at the cost of "grievous" losses.
On the northern flank at the Lorette Spur fresh troops of the 7th Division arrived on 14 June and tried to dig new defences at nights, only for them to be demolished by French artillery during the day. A big French attack began in the afternoon of 16 June, covered by a smoke-screen, which reached the forward German positions and several footholds was gained and protected by box-barrages. German counter-attacks later in the evening eliminated one foothold and took 205 prisoners; further to the left a French foothold was maintained by the weight of covering artillery-fire and the German survivors in the Schlammulde between Angres and the chapel at Notre Dame de Lorette, were forced back and Marokkanerwäldchen (Moroccan Copse) on the Arras–Béthune road was captured. Counter-attacks failed and a new line was established further back on 20 June, after which French attacks and artillery-fire ended except for sporadic local attacks.
On 11 March Major Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen was appointed Chef des Feldflugwesens (Chief of Field Air Forces) and began reforms to increase the size of Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (Imperial German Flying Corps) with the formation of five new air units in Germany to provide replacements and expedite the introduction of the new Fokker E.I aircraft. New links between air units and the army were created by the appointment of a staff officer for aviation to each army and in April armed C-class aircraft began to reach front-line units. Reconnaissance aircraft detected increased movement behind the French Tenth Army front and more C-class aircraft were sent to the Sixth Army from the armies in quiet areas of the Western Front. Early on 9 May, French aircraft bombed the Sixth Army headquarters at La Madeleine en Lille and railway stations in the town, with little effect. By 19 May, German aircraft reinforcements could make reconnaissance flights behind the French front and reported massive concentrations of artillery and the assembly of troops at the Doullens railway station, which were interpreted as signs of another big French offensive.
French supporting attacks
The French made secondary attacks along the Western Front, to pin down German reserves as part of the general action, intended to complement the decisive action at Arras. The Second Army attacked a German salient on a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) front at Touvent Farm, 30 kilometres (19 mi) south of Souchez, from 7–13 June and gained 900 metres (980 yd) on a 2-kilometre (1.2 mi) front, at a cost of 10,351 casualties, 1,760 being killed. The Sixth Army attacked a salient south of Quennevières near Noyon, from 6–16 June and advanced 500 metres (550 yd) on a 1-kilometre (0.62 mi) front, with 7,905 casualties. In the south-east, the First Army attacked the St. Mihiel salient from 1 May – 20 June and lost c. 16,200 casualties, for a small gain of ground.
About 70 kilometres (43 mi) beyond St. Mihiel, The Army Detachment of Lorraine attacked from 5–22 June, advancing 1,000–1,500 metres (1,100–1,600 yd) on a 5-kilometre (3.1 mi) front and then 2,000 metres (2,200 yd) on an 8-kilometre (5.0 mi) front, with 32,395 casualties. The Seventh Army attacked 20 kilometres (12 mi) to the west of Colmar from 5 May – 22 June and advanced 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) on a 4.5-kilometre (2.8 mi) front, taking Metzeral and Barrenkopf with 6,667 casualties. The supporting attacks had minimal artillery support, took less ground than the Tenth Army and cost another 37,500 casualties, about 40% of the casualties incurred in Artois. [Note 6]
On 9 May, five French corps had attacked two German divisions on a 25-kilometre (16 mi) front and advanced 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) on the front of the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division, between the Lorette Spur and La Targette. The 77th Division and the Division Marocaine of XXXIII Corps, penetrated between Carency and Neuville, overran Landwehr Regiment 39 and captured Hill 145, the highest point on Vimy Ridge, before being repulsed by local counter-attacks from Bavarian Infantry Regiment 7, which had been rushed forward from reserve. From 9–12 May the Tenth Army made the largest advance since trench warfare began, using the new tactics which caused the German defenders great difficulty, even on the flanks where the attacks were repulsed. The extent and tempo of the French plans proved too ambitious, given the material constraints affecting the Tenth Army and French munitions production. XXXIII Corps was forced off Vimy Ridge by German artillery-fire and flanking fire from Souchez and Neuville.
Foch wrote a report in early August, in which he explained that the failure to hold Hill 145 was due to XXXIII Corps and the Tenth Army reserves being too distant and not deployed according to a proper reinforcement plan. At the beginning of the attack the XXXIII Corps reserve was a brigade of the Division Marocaine, with a regiment at Mont St. Éloi, 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) behind the front and a regiment at Acq 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) back, to keep them out of German artillery range. Three battalions were sent forward at 1:00 p.m., half a battalion at 3:30 p.m. and the rest of the battalion at 4:00 p.m., to assist in consolidation and to be ready to defeat German counter-attacks, not to press on. The nearest Tenth Army reserve was the 18th Division 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) away. Foch wrote that no-one had expected the Division Marocaine to advance 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) in an hour.
The slow and piecemeal arrival of reserves, was made worse by the failure of the supporting attack to the north by the British First Army, which was defeated on 9 May at the Battle of Aubers Ridge, after which the British offensive was postponed until 16 May (the Battle of Festubert). The British Second Army was engaged against the German Fourth Army, in the Second Battle of Ypres from 21 April – 25 May, which diverted British resources from the First Army. After 11 May, the Tenth Army began methodical local attacks, in which tactically important ground was attacked piecemeal, until another general attack could be made on Vimy Ridge. First-class French divisions had lost many experienced soldiers, which reduced them to mediocrity; the methods of Note 5779 had not been adopted consistently and became a greater problem when replacement troops with no experience, tried to continue the offensive.
The attempt in June to capture Vimy Ridge with another set-piece attack, was a costly failure despite the intervening period of local attacks on the flanks of XXXIII Corps and the capture of the Lorette Spur. French tactics were unchanged and the constant local attacks left no time for training. Revisions to the stipulations of Note 5779 in mid-June were of minor significance and an amendment of 18 June only referred to the importance of cavalry in mobile warfare. German defensive changes were easy to implement quickly and by June had made the French methods of May obsolete. For as long as the Germans were able to retain Souchez and Neuville, French attacks between them could not capture Vimy Ridge and the defences of the villages were too formidable to be overcome quickly. The original plan for a series of attacks, might have been able to remove Souchez and Neuville as obstacles but the material constraints on the French in the spring of 1915, meant that the plan devised by Foch could not be implemented.
In September Foch wrote of the speed with which the Germans had moved reinforcements into the area from 9–18 May, dug new defensive lines and brought more heavy artillery into action, which from 18 May maintained barrages along all of the Tenth Army front. By 20 May the French artillery was dominated by the German artillery reinforcements, which severely inhibited the consolidation of captured ground and preparations for more attacks. Despite the change from attempts at continuous battle to methodical attacks, with pauses to reorganise and consolidate, the French took less ground, fewer prisoners and lost more casualties. Foch concluded that a breakthrough was unlikely, until the German armies in France had been depleted to a far greater extent and advocated small step-by-step attacks, using methodical and economical methods. Fayolle wrote that the advocates of continuous battle were subject to a "grand illusion" and criticised Foch and d'Urbal for making unrealistic demands. André Laffargue an artillery officer, was prompted to write Étude sur l'attaque dans le période actuelle de la guerre, an example of the trend to artillery-based tactics and infiltration by infantry.
From 10–16 June the French fired 497,122 shells with less effect than the 265,430 rounds fired from 3–9 May. The Germans had managed to fire a heavy artillery barrage of c. 100,000 shells, which stopped the French infantry attack and prevented troops moving up in support. Attempts to repeat the surprise of 9 May, by ruses like false attacks failed and a German counter-barrage had begun in no man's land, within two minutes of the French infantry advance. The experience of the attacks on 16 June, demonstrated that the effect of counter-battery fire, neutralising fire and changes in the pattern and timing of artillery-fire made no difference, if the German wire was uncut when the infantry advance began. German field defences were dug in increasing quantity and complexity during the offensive and German artillery became much more active, as more guns and much more ammunition arrived at the battlefront.
A considerable tactical advantage had been gained by the French, who had regained 16 square kilometres (6.2 sq mi) of ground. The new German defences around the area, were on ground overlooked from the Lorette Spur, were more costly to defend and made Vimy Ridge more vulnerable to attack. The apparent lost opportunity on 9 May, when Vimy Ridge was captured in the first rush, led the French army commanders to conclude that more of the same could achieve a breakthrough if better organised, which formed the basis of the planning for the autumn offensives in Artois and Champagne. Pétain wrote that the attack on 9 May showed that a breakthrough was possible and that it could be achieved by careful preparation of communication trenches, jumping-off trenches and assembly positions, if the German defences were carefully reconnoitred and sufficiently bombarded by artillery. Since the defenders could close a gap quickly it would be necessary to maintain momentum, with reserve troops following up the attacking force closely. Attacks in open country were preferable to being bogged down in fighting for obstacles like villages and woods and the attack should be on a broad front, to allow centres of resistance to be outflanked and to disperse German fire power over a wider area.
German analysis of the battle was collected in a memorandum of June 1915 and led to renewed emphasis on providing shelters for the infantry, which were deep enough to resist heavy artillery and to increase the number of defensive positions behind the front, which would slow an advance and delay subsequent attacks, by forcing the attacker to move artillery into range. On 7 June a copy of Note 5779 was captured on the Artois front and the local corps commander ordered that intensive digging be undertaken and stipulated that reserve positions were to be as solidly built as front line defences. Much of the new digging on the rest of the Western Front was done on reverse slopes, invisible to ground observers and capable of being engaged only by howitzer-fire. The French methods of attack had been made obsolete, by the time of the resumption of the offensive in September 1915, when many French troops were killed on such slopes, in front of uncut wire before an undamaged second position.
French sources put casualties from 3 May – 18 June at 102,500 of whom 35,000 men were killed and another 37,500 casualties incurred in secondary operations. The German Official Historians of the Reichsarchiv recorded c. 102,500 French casualties from 9 May – 18 June, 32,000 British casualties and 73,072 German casualties. Sheldon recorded the same figures for French casualties, quoting the French Official History and c. 30,000 casualties for the German divisions most involved in the battle (1st and 5th Bavarian Reserve divisions, 3rd Bavarian, 5th, 11th, 15th, 16th and 115th divisions) noting that some figures are estimates believed to be too low but that the total was far fewer than French losses. [Note 7] In 2013 Krause recorded ranges of 100,000–121,000 French and 50,000–80,000 German casualties.
The battle had great influence on the French army during the preparations for the autumn offensive of 1915 in Champagne and Artois, which were also based on an assumption that strategic victories were possible after one or two days of offensive action. Joffre ordered another 5,500 machine-guns, to double the number per brigade by 1 January 1916. Production of the 240 mm Trench Mortar (240-millimetre (9.4 in)) and 340-millimetre (13 in) trench mortar was increased and manufacture began of artillerie lourde à grande puissance (ALGP: long range heavy guns); production of 75mm ammunition was reduced to increase quality and large orders were placed for aircraft and gas shells. The growth of French war production by September 1915, enabled the French to attack in two places simultaneously.
At the end of June, Joffre discussed strategy with the army group commanders and Pétain, who had been promoted to the command of the Second Army. Foch again advocated a series of limited attacks, particularly in Artois where strategically important railways were relatively close behind the German lines.[Note 8]. Castelnau believed that it was still possible to advance through the German defences in one attack and that Champagne was a likely region for such an attempt, if the mistakes made on 9 May could be avoided. Pétain agreed with Foch but doubted that another offensive could quickly be prepared in Artois and was sceptical that any part of the Western Front was free of villages, which could be fortified like Souchez and Neuville, against which only attacks even more limited than those advocated by Foch were practical. On 8 July, Joffre decided to make the principal attack in Champagne, with a supporting attack in Artois a few days earlier, to attract German reserves.
Joffre had accepted claims by Castelnau, that up to 10–12 kilometres (6.2–7.5 mi) of ground could be gained in twenty-four hours and rejected a methodical battle which
would entail a month of combat, with a maximum expenditure of ammunition; at what point would we be able to declare ourselves ready for attack?
the ammunition necessary for a methodical battle did not exist and the opportunity to attack the Germans, when so many divisions had been moved to the eastern front, could not be wasted.
The offensive had been fought with unprecedented refinements of tactics and supply. Amendments to Note 5779 were suggested, to cover items like the use of 23,000 hand grenades in two days by the 53rd Division and the importance of attention to detail; Pétain of XXXIII Corps had ensured accurate preparatory bombardments and the tactical reflections written by Pétain were added to the thinking in Note 5779. The ideal characteristics of a network of jumping-off trenches and the time and labour necessary to build it were laid down, so that troops could advance simultaneously and reserve troops could be protected as they moved forward. Pétain wrote the plan for the Groupe d'armées du Centre, for the offensive of 25 September and his views were circulated through the French and British armies. The autumn offensive was fought as a breakthrough attempt, with changes to avoid the mistakes made in Artois in May and had significant tactical success but did not achieve a breakthrough, which led to the adoption of limited attacks in 1916.
Krause wrote that the formulation Note 5779 showed that the French command system, was staffed by men who tried to improve the performance of the army and contradicts claims by Gudmundsson, that the Allied armies were too centralised to adapt. Lessons had been collected, analysed and distributed in a manner which combined top-down and bottom-up processes. A flaw in Note 5779 was persistence with a concept of rapid breakthrough, even aft merany soldiers considered that the war had become a siege and that none of the French offensives of 1915 had been intended to return to mobile warfare. Changes made to the plan for the Second Battle of Artois, had been intended to secure the capture Vimy Ridge as a jumping-off point, rather than to achieve a breakthrough and return to mobile warfare.
In the autumn offensive which began on 25 September, with the Third Battle of Artois, Battle of Loos and the Second Battle of Champagne, the strategy was inteneded to make the Noyon salient untenable, to regain a large portion of the occupied territories. Tactics used in the battles of May and June were revised and the creeping barrage became a standard method in all the Western Front armies. Improvements in French artillery tactics, were foreshadowed by the pauses in the creep of the 77th Division barrage on 9 May, which enabled the infantry to keep up and capture ouvrage 123, the fanning-out barrages and hybrid barrages fired on 16 June, the use of chemical shells and artillery observation from aircraft equipped with wireless.
- The province of Artois had been abolished during the French revolution and was replaced by the Départments of Somme and Pas de Calais but the name had been retained in French and British army nomenclature.
- The Austro-German forces in the east began the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive (1 May – 19 September) which achieved great success but failed decisively to defeat the Russian army.
- Joffre made the "Groupes Provisoire" permanent on 13 June and "GPN" became Groupe d'armées du Nord ("GAN").
- The document was revised twice during the battle to reflect developments.
- The French convention of describing military operations from left to right has been observed in this section.
- From June, local French attacks on the Artois front continued, against the German defences across the plain to the Béthune–La Bassée Canal. South of the Lorette Spur, French attacks advanced from the sugar refinery, to the outskirts of Souchez. In the area of Neuville, constant fighting went on for the Labyrinth.
- François Faber, winner of the 1909 Tour de France, died during the battle, on 9 May 1915.
- In 1916 Foch wrote La Battaille Offensive which evolved from Note 5779 and the offensive of September 1915 was planned on the basis of the experience in Artois in May and June. After the failure of the autumn breakthrough offensive, the French retained much of the material in Note 5779 to guide their operations at Verdun and on the Somme in 1916.
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