Battle of the Selle
|Battle of the Selle|
|Part of the Hundred Days Offensive of World War I|
|Commanders and leaders|
|1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th armies|
After the Second Battle of Cambrai, the Allies advanced almost 2 miles (3.2 km) and liberated the French towns of Naves and Thun-Saint-Martin. Although the capture of Cambrai was achieved much sooner than expected and with moderately low casualties, German resistance northeast of the town stiffened along the German Army's final organized defensive structure, the 'Hermann Line'.
By 11 October, the Fourth Army had closed up on the retreating Germans near Le Cateau, with the Germans taking up a new position, immediately to the east of the Selle River. General Henry Rawlinson was faced with three problems: crossing the river, the railway embankment on the far side and the ridge above the embankment. The decision was made to commence the assault at night, and as the river was not very wide at this point, planks would be used for the soldiers to cross in single file. Later, pontoons would be required for the artillery to cross the river. Field Marshal Douglas Haig, aware that the Germans were near exhaustion, initiated a series of operations designed to get British troops in strength across the river and clear a way for a move against the Sambre–Oise Canal, a further 5 miles (8.0 km) to the east.
After a six-day halt for preparations and artillery bombardments Fourth Army troops attacked at 5.20 a.m. on Thursday 17 October. Infantry and tanks, preceded by a creeping barrage, moved forward on a 10 miles (16 km) front south of Le Cateau (site of the famous 1914 rearguard). The centre and left of the Fourth Army forced crossings of the river, despite unexpectedly strong German resistance and much uncut barbed wire. Fighting was particularly fierce along the line of the Le Cateau–Wassigny railway. The right of the attack, across the upland watershed of the Selle, made most progress and by nightfall the German defences had been broken and Le Cateau captured. Fighting continued from 18–19 October, by which time Fourth Army, much assisted by the French First Army on its right, advanced over 5 miles (8.0 km), harrying the Germans back towards the Sambre–Oise Canal. On the left, First Army advanced forward in the area of the Selle's confluence with the Escaut/Scheldt. Here, at the northern edge of the attack front, the Canadian Corps pushed across the Canal de la Sensée on the 18th and captured Denain on the 19th, securing the flank for the push across the Selle. On the 19th alone the Canadian Corps liberated 40 towns and villages that had been occupied since August 1914.
The British Third and First Armies, north of the Fourth Army, maintained the offensive pressure the following day. In a surprise joint night attack in the early morning of 20 October, Third Army formations secured the high ground east of the Selle and, further securing the left flank, the Canadians swept around the city of Valenciennes in the north. Following a two-day pause, to bring up heavy artillery, the attack was renewed on 23 October with a major combined assault by Fourth, Third and First Armies; the fighting, which continued into the next day, resulted in further advances. At this stage, the German Army was retreating at a forced but controlled pace. On 24 October, the German Army counterattacked at the Canal de la Dérivation but were repulsed and pushed back by the Belgian Army.
- The actions of the Canadian Corps in the battle are commemorated at the Canadian Bourlon Wood Memorial.
In popular culture
- In the video game Battlefield 1, there is a map called "Giant's Shadow" that is based on the Battle of the Selle. Later in the game's life a weapon skin called "the Selle" was added.