Operations on the Ancre, January–March 1917

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Operations on the Ancre, January–March 1917
Part of First World War
Map of the Battle of the Somme, 1916.svg
The Western Front, 1917
Date11 January – 13 March 1917
Coordinates: 50°4′N 2°42′E / 50.067°N 2.700°E / 50.067; 2.700
Result British victory
Ancre valley, Artois
 United Kingdom & British Empire
France France & French Empire
 German Empire
Commanders and leaders
Robert Nivelle
Douglas Haig
Hubert Gough
Henry Rawlinson
Erich Ludendorff
Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern
Max von Gallwitz
Fourth Army, Fifth Army 1st Army
Casualties and losses
2,151 (incomplete) 5,284 prisoners

Operations on the Ancre took place from 11 January – 13 March 1917, between the British Fifth Army and the German 1st Army, on the Somme front during the First World War. After the Battle of the Ancre (13–18 November 1916), British attacks on the Somme front stopped for the winter. For the rest of the year and early January 1917, both sides were reduced to surviving the rain, snow, fog, mud fields, waterlogged trenches and shell-holes. As preparations for the offensive at Arras due in the spring of 1917 continued, the British attempted to keep German attention on the Somme. The Fifth Army was instructed by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig to prepare systematic attacks to capture portions of the German defences. Short advances could progressively uncover the remaining German positions in the Ancre valley, threaten the German hold on the village of Serre to the north and expose German positions beyond to ground observation. Artillery-fire could be directed with greater accuracy by ground observers and make overlooked German defences untenable.

A more ambitious plan for the spring was an attack into the salient that had formed north of Bapaume, during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The attack was to be made northwards from the Ancre valley and southwards from the original front line near Arras, to meet at St Léger as soon as the ground dried, to combine with the offensive due at Arras. British operations on the Ancre from 11 January – 22 February 1917, forced the Germans back 5 mi (8.0 km) on a 4 mi (6.4 km) front, ahead the scheduled German retirements of the Alberich Bewegung (the Alberich Manoeuvre/Operation Alberich) and eventually took 5,284 prisoners. On 22/23 February, the Germans fell back another 3 mi (4.8 km) on a 15 mi (24 km) front. The Germans then withdrew from much of the Riegel I Stellung to the Riegel II Stellung on 11 March, forestalling a British attack, which went un-noticed by the British until dark on 12 March; the main German withdrawal further south from the Noyon salient to the Hindenburg Line (Operation Alberich) commenced on schedule on 16 March.


German defences[edit]

By the end of 1916, the German defences on the south bank of the Ancre valley, had been pushed back from the original front line of 1 July 1916 and were based on the sites of fortified villages, connected by networks of trenches, most on reverse slopes sheltered from observation from the south and obscured from the north by the convex topography. On the north bank, the Germans still held most of the Beaumont-Hamel spur, beyond which to the north were the original front line defences, running west of Serre and then northwards to Gommecourt and Monchy-au-Bois. The Germans had built Riegel I Stellung (Trench I Position), a double line of trenches and barbed-wire several miles further back, as a new second line of defence along the ridge north of the Ancre valley. The line ran from Essarts to Bucquoy, west of Achiet-le-Petit, Loupart Wood, south of Grévillers, west of Bapaume, Le Transloy to Sailly-Saillisel. On the reverse slope of that ridge, Riegel II Stellung (Trench II Position) ran from Ablainzevelle to west of Logeast Wood, west of Achiet-le-Grand, western outskirts of Bapaume, Rocquigny, Le Mesnil en Arrousaise to Vaux Wood. Riegel III Stellung (Trench III Position) branched from Riegel II Stellung at Achiet-le-Grand and ran clockwise around Bapaume, then south to Beugny, Ytres, Nurlu and Templeux-la-Fosse.[1][a] The 1st Army held the Somme front, from the Somme river north to Gommecourt and had a similar number of troops to the British opposite, with ten divisions in reserve.[b] On the night of 1/2 January, a German attack captured Hope Post near the Beaumont Hamel–Serre road, before being lost with another post on the night of 5/6 January.[3]

British positions[edit]

The Fifth Army held about 10 mi (16 km) of the Somme front in January 1917, from Le Sars westwards to the Grandcourt–Thiepval road, across the Ancre east of Beaucourt, along the lower slopes of the Beaumont-Hamel spur, to the original front line south of the Serre road, north to Gommecourt Park. The right flank was held by IV Corps up to the north side of the Ancre river, with the XIII Corps on the north bank up to the boundary with the Third Army. II Corps and V Corps were in reserve resting, training and preparing to relieve the corps in line around 7–21 February, except for the divisional artilleries, which were to be joined by those of the relieving divisions.[4][c]

An advance to close up to the Le Transloy–Loupart line (Riegel I Stellung), which ran from Essarts to Bucquoy, west of Achiet le Petit, Loupart Wood, south of Grévillers, west of Bapaume, Le Transloy to Sailly Saillisel, had been the first objective of British operations in the Ancre valley after the capture of Beaumont Hamel in late 1916. Operations began with an attack on 18 November, before the deterioration of the ground made operations impossible. Ground had been gained on a 5,000 yd (2.8 mi; 4.6 km) front south of the Ancre and positions improved on Redan Ridge on the north bank. Over the winter, the Fifth Army submitted plans to General Headquarters (GHQ), which were settled in mid-February, after Joffre was replaced by General Robert Nivelle and the changes of strategy caused by the French decision to fight a decisive battle on the Aisne. The obvious difficulties of the Germans on the Ancre front, made it important to prevent the Germans from withdrawing to the new defences being built behind the Noyon salient (eventually known as the Hindenburg Line/Siegfriedstellung) in their own time. A retirement could disrupt the British offensive at Arras and Franco-British planning gained urgency as a German withdrawal became likely in February and March, according to the results of air reconnaissance, agent reports and gleanings from prisoners.[5]

Reaching a good position for an attack on the Bihucourt line (Riegel II Stellung) which ran from Ablainzevelle to west of Logeast Wood, west of Achiet le Grand, western outskirts of Bapaume, Rocquigny, le Mesnil en Arrousaise to Vaux Wood, the Fifth Army objective was to be attacked three days before the Arras offensive and the army then to advance to St Léger, to meet the Third Army and trap the Germans in their positions south-west of Arras. The first stage was to be an attack on 17 February, in which II Corps was to capture Hill 130. Gird Trench and the Butte de Warlencourt was to be captured by I Anzac Corps on 1 March and Serre was to be taken by V Corps on 7 March, which would then extend its right flank to the Ancre, to relieve the 63rd Division of II Corps and capture Miraumont by 10 March. These operations would lead to the attack on the Bihucourt line by II Corps and I Anzac Corps. These arrangements were maintained until 24 February, when German local withdrawals in the Ancre valley, required the Fifth Army divisions to make a general advance to regain contact.[6]


Winter on the Somme[edit]

Winter on the Somme.

The state of the ground on the Somme front became much worse in November 1916, when constant rain fell and the ground which had been churned by shellfire since June, turned to deep mud again. (Some witnesses considered that the state of the ground was worse than at Ypres a year later.) The ground in the Ancre valley was in the worst condition, a wilderness of mud, flooded trenches, shell-hole posts, corpses and broken equipment, overlooked and vulnerable to sniping from German positions. Little could be done beyond holding the line and frequently relieving troops, who found the physical and mental strain almost unbearable. Supplies had to be moved up by soldiers at night, to avoid sniping by German infantry and artillery-fire. Horses in transport units were used as pack animals and died when the oat ration was reduced to 6 lb (2.7 kg) per day. In January the weather slightly improved and on 14 January, the temperature fell enough to freeze the ground.[7]

On the south side of the Ancre valley near Courcelette, the 51st Division took over from the 4th Canadian Division on 27 November. The division had only just been relieved from the line on the north bank, after the Battle of the Ancre (13–18 November 1916) with very little time for rest. Constant rain wet the ground so badly, that horses drowned and men became stuck up to their waists; in December ropes were issued to drag soldiers out of the mud. New trenches collapsed as they were dug and the front and support lines were held by shell-hole posts, which became islands of squalor. Duckboards and ration boxes used as platforms sank under the mud; cooking became impossible and movement in daylight suicidal. There were epidemics of dysentery, trench foot and frostbite; old wounds opened. Morale plummeted and moving about after dark led to working parties, runners, reliefs and ration parties getting lost and wandering around until exhausted. No man's land was not wired on this part of the front and British and German troops blundered into the wrong positions, Germans being taken prisoner on six occasions.[d] Some dug-outs in Regina Trench were usable but conditions in the artillery lines were as bad as the front line, with ammunition being delivered by pack horse under German artillery fire. "Elephant" shelters (the materials for which took ten men to carry forward and 24 hours to build) were placed in the front-line, sunk below trench and shell-hole parapets. Larger shelters were dug into the sides of roads further back and only a minimal number of troops kept in the front zone.[9]

After three weeks work, positions in the front line had been improved and a frost made the ground harder, until a thaw made the ground even worse than before. The 51st Division stores obtained enough gumboots for a brigade of infantry but many were lost in the mud as men struggled to get free. The division wore highland kilts, which left the top of the leg bare underneath and the edges of the boots chafed the skin and caused septic sores, until 6,000 pairs of trousers were issued. Wearing the boots and standing for long periods made men's feet swell, to the point that walking became almost impossible. Buses were brought up to Pozières to collect soldiers, as they straggled back from the front line during a relief. Food containers proved too heavy to carry 2,000 yd (1.1 mi; 1.8 km) into the front line and had to be replaced by "Tommy Cookers", cans of solidified alcohol with which soldiers could heat tins of food. Quartermasters improvised large numbers of extra cookers, so that the troops in the line could eat hot food when they pleased but the improvements made little difference to sickness wastage. The division began to relieve battalions after 48 hours, with 24 hours rest before and after each period in the line. On 11 December, the front of the division was reduced to two battalions, with the front of each battalion area being held by a company and two Lewis-gun crews. The strength of companies had declined to 50–60 men, so few and thinly spread, that a stray German soldier taken prisoner near a brigade headquarters, had seen no sign of British troops until he was captured. In December and January, casualties due to enemy action were 439, far fewer than those due to the weather and illness; the division was relieved by the 2nd Division on 12 January.[10]

The 2nd Division, also transferred from the north side of the Ancre valley, took over from the 51st Division on 13 January, on a front of 2,500 yd (1.4 mi; 2.3 km), 1,200 yd (1,100 m) south of the village of Pys. The front line consisted of 18 infantry posts and support positions held by ten platoons, with no positions behind until Courcelette, where three platoons were based, with two companies in the vicinity. Ironside Avenue, a communication trench ran forward 800 yd (730 m) towards the front line but was full of mud and impassable. Brushwood tracks which were unusable during the day, continued the route towards the front line. Two battalions took over the front posts, with two more back towards Ovillers and La Boisselle, with the 15th Division on the right and the 18th Division on the left. The 2nd Division continued the consolidation begun earlier by the 51st Division and large working parties laboured non-stop to dig out, clean and pump trenches, fit duckboards and provide overhead cover for the infantry posts in the front line; tramways were built by engineers further back. Both sides were quiet during the rest of January, until the Germans attempted a raid which was stopped by machine-gun fire, before the raiders had passed through the German barbed wire. On the north side of the valley other British troops captured the rest of the Beaumont Hamel spur. Conditions had been improved by the end of the month, although snowstorms covered such landmarks as existed and relieving parties frequently got lost There was little artillery fire in the divisional areas but much German aircraft activity; British reconnaissance aircraft managed to photograph the front line on 29 January, giving the divisional commander the first accurate information about the position of the front line. The freeze lasted for about five weeks until mid-February, which made movement of carrying-parties much easier as preparations for the next offensive were being made.[11]

On the north bank of the Ancre the 7th Division returned to the line after a month of rest and reorganisation in Flanders. It had marched 82 mi (132 km) south in rain and fog, before returning to the line on 23 November, to relieve the 32nd Division and the right of the 37th Division along New Munich Trench. The trench ran north-west to south-east below the crest of Beaumont Hamel spur and Beaucourt Trench ran east from the south end of New Munich Trench. The British line was parallel to the German Munich Trench and Muck Trench. Conditions were worse if possible, than those on the south side of the Ancre valley, causing much sickness, despite precautions like rubbing whale oil into the feet to prevent trench foot and bringing dry socks up with the rations. One battalion had 38 men sick after a short period in the line. The temperature dropped several times in December, which began to harden the ground but this brought torrential rains, which was an even worse ordeal. British casualties from snipers were frequent and on one trench relief, the mud was so bad that a special rescue-party had to be sent to dig out troops caught in the mud. Despite swift medical attention, a large number of men had to be taken to hospital and one soldier died of exposure.[12]

The area was covered with trenches, many of which were derelict, damaged, half-built or obliterated by artillery-fire. Identifying the course of the front line or relating it to the map was impossible, as was the reconstruction of the front line, because trenches collapsed as soon as they were dug. Despite the conditions, raids were mounted by both sides and a party of about 100 Germans was repulsed from New Munich Trench on 25 November. Despite the conditions, New Munich Trench was extended by the British to the north and another 250 yd (230 m) was dug to the south, in preparation for an attack on Munich Trench, as soon as conditions allowed. The British line was held by posts about 30 yd (27 m) apart during the day and on 29 November a German raid on an outpost failed. At the end of December, a sudden increase in the number of German prisoners being taken was noticed, partly because a new German division had arrived, partly due to men getting lost in the fog and stumbling into British positions and partly because of an unusual willingness to surrender. Twenty Germans were captured on 1 January, 29 prisoners taken on 2 January and another 50 prisoners were taken during the week, many of whom willingly gave themselves up.[13]

Raiding continued and on 1 January, two officers on the way to Hope Post with the rum ration met a German attack coming down Serre Trench and had to struggle back to Despair Post. A hurried counter-attack failed against German machine-gun fire and another attempt was postponed until the evening of 5 January, when at 5:15 p.m. five hundred 9.2-inch, two hundred 8-inch and two hundred and fifty 6-inch howitzer shells were fired at the post in fifteen minutes. At 5:30 p.m. fifty British troops attacked up Serre Trench and along the ground on either side as fast as they could through the mud and re-captured the post, taking nine prisoners for a loss of one casualty. An attack by the 3rd Division on Post 88 to the left at the same time also succeeded. German artillery-fire was so severe that the British were forced out but were able to return after the bombardment before German infantry arrived and defended the post until they ran out of hand-grenades and withdrew; the post was recaptured again and consolidated when a fresh supply of grenades arrived.[14]

Operations: Ancre[edit]

Trench raid, 4/5 February[edit]

A 2nd Division battalion was ordered to prepare a raid for the night of 4/5 February. The raiding-party was to have two officers and 60 men and stretcher-bearers, for an attack on a salient at the junction of Guard and Desire Support trenches, to take prisoners or documents, destroy machine-guns, study the state of the trenches and the way the Germans were holding the line. Stokes mortars were to be used for bombardment but no artillery was to be fired before the raid; when it began the artillery was to fire a box barrage, to isolate the objective. White suits were provided, in case of snow on the ground and all means of identification were to be removed by the raiders, who were told to give name, rank and number only if captured. A deputy was to be chosen to take over if the raid leader became a casualty. That night the 1st Royal Berkshire battalion was relieved and went into reserve near La Boiselle. Trenches resembling the target were found and used for five day and night rehearsals. The attack was scheduled for 3:00 a.m. on 5 February and the party moved forward to the Miraumont dugouts at 6:00 p.m. on 2 February. The battalion commander made a reconnaissance and chose the jumping-off position. Three wooden markers, painted black on the British side and white on the German, to mark the centre and flanks of the raiding route, were placed in no man's land, about 30 yd (27 m) beyond the British wire.[11]

About 15 minutes before zero hour, the party stole forward in pairs, wearing white smocks and helmet-covers and formed two waves 15 yd (14 m) apart at the tripods. Three more tripods had been placed 30–40 yd (27–37 m) further on, to help the raiders keep direction. The Stokes mortars of the 99th Trench Mortar Battery opened fire, one mortar firing "rapid" at a particular German post at zero and one minute later, the divisional artillery began the box-barrage, as the raiding party moved to within 50 yd (46 m) of the objective and lay down. When the Stokes mortars ceased fire, the party rushed the German position through three rows of barbed wire, each 2.5 ft (0.76 m) thick. The first wave moved towards the east side of the salient, then from there to the western face, as the second wave jumped over the trench and ran along the parados, until they saw Germans in the trench near the apex. Several Germans were shot and the rest taken prisoner. After twenty minutes searching dugouts, the party withdrew with 51 prisoners (including two officers), having smashed a machine-gun and killed or wounded 14 German soldiers. One raider was killed and twelve wounded. Another raid was ordered for 8/9 February, then postponed until 10 February. On this raid several Germans were killed as they retreated and soldiers in four dugouts were killed with hand-grenades, when they refused to surrender. Seven prisoners were taken and the party of 36 lost three killed, seven wounded and three missing. The Germans retaliated on 12 February, when about 70 men raided the area between posts 9 and 10 and took seven prisoners. Five dead Germans were found between the posts but machine-gun fire prevented no man's land being searched.[15]

11 January – 14 February[edit]

The British operations at the end of the Battle of the Ancre in November 1916 had captured German positions on Beaumont Hamel spur and the village of Beaucourt, before the weather stopped operations. In the early hours of 10 January, a battalion of the 7th Division attacked "The Triangle" and the trenches either side, including Muck Trench about 1,000 yd (910 m) east of Beaumont Hamel. The attack began after an 18-hour bombardment and a standing barrage on the objective. Due to the state of the ground, the infantry advanced in three parties, which carried duckboards and had 20 minutes to cross 200–300 yd (180–270 m) of no man's land. The objectives were consolidated and a German counter-attack was broken up by British artillery fire; a prisoner later said that a second one was cancelled; the 7th Division captured 142 prisoners, for a loss of 65 casualties. The success covered the right flank of the 7th Division for the main attack next day against Munich Trench, from The Triangle to the Beaumont Hamel–Serre road and a smaller attack by the 11th Division, against German defences east of Muck Trench. The 11th Division operation failed, when an unknown German dugout was overrun in the fog. German troops emerged and attacked the British troops from behind, at the same time that German counter-attacks from further east began, which pushed the British back to their start line.[16]

A bombardment had been fired on the whole Fifth Army front for two days, particularly in the neighbourhood of Serre, intended to mislead the Germans. The attack by a brigade of the 7th Division began at 5:00 a.m., when the leading companies lined up on tapes, 200–300 yd (180–270 m) from Munich Trench. At 6:37 a.m. three divisional artilleries began a standing barrage on the trench and a creeping barrage started in no man's land in thick fog. Movement was so difficult that the barrage moved at 100 yd (91 m) in ten minutes. German resistance was slight, except at one post where the garrison held on until 8:00 a.m. After the fog cleared at 10:30 a.m., the ground was consolidated, most of it being free from observation by the Germans. V Corps took over from XIII Corps, with the 32nd and 19th divisions by 11 January, with II Corps on the south bank facing north, with the 2nd and 18th divisions. The 11th Division stayed in the line, for another attack on the slope west of the Beaucourt–Puisieux road. The bunker overrun in the previous attack was found empty but German artillery caused many casualties, before a British bombardment stopped a German counter-attack as it was forming up at 10:00 a.m.; the division was relieved on 20 January. For the rest of the month British troops sapped forward, by digging new posts in advance of their positions at night and then linking them to the front line before repeating the process, over the crest of Beaumont Hamel spur. The freeze continued to make movement easier, despite temperatures which fell to 15 °F (−9 °C) on 25 January. Trench foot cases declined and small attacks became easier, although digging was almost impossible. The rearrangement of corps and divisions on the Fifth Army front continued, with the IV Corps moving to the southern boundary of the Fourth Army, to take over ground from the French Sixth Army. Command of I Anzac Corps on the northern Fourth Army boundary, was transferred to the Fifth Army.[17]

The 32nd Division in V Corps, advanced slightly into unoccupied ground on 2 February, near the Beaucourt–Puisieux road and next day Puisieux and River trenches, running north from the Ancre west of Grandcourt, were attacked by the 63rd Division. A surprise attack was attempted, despite moonlight and snow on the ground. Two battalions advanced on a 1,300 yd (1,200 m) front, with one battalion guarding the left flank. Neighbouring divisional artilleries co-operated and a decoy barrage was fired near Pys, on the Fourth Army boundary. Counter-battery fire began on all German batteries in range at 11:03 a.m. and seven heavy artillery groups bombarded Grandcourt, Baillescourt Farm, Beauregard Dovecote and German trench lines. Direction was lost during the infantry advance but by dawn the wreckage of Puisieux and River trenches had been captured, apart from about 200 yd (180 m) in the centre and posts on either flank. A German counter-attack on the right at 10:30 a.m., recaptured a post and at 4:00 a.m., a second attack was stopped by artillery fire. In the evening another British battalion continued the attack, as German counter-attacks were made through the night, which recaptured several posts near the river. The last part of Puisieux Trench was captured in the morning at 11:30 a.m., with 671 British casualties and 176 German prisoners taken. Grandcourt on the south bank of the Ancre, had been made untenable and was abandoned by the Germans overnight, which led the British to bring forward an attack on Baillescourt Farm, late on 7 February by the 63rd Division. The division captured the farm and south of Grandcourt, part of Folly Trench was taken by the 18th Division.[18]

On 10 February, the 32nd Division threatened Serre with an advance of 600 yd (550 m), capturing the rest of Ten Tree Alley east of the road from Beaumont to Serre. The temperature was still below freezing but slightly warmer than earlier, which made movement relatively easy for the 97th Brigade battalions, which attacked on a front of 1,100 yd (1,000 m). A German counter-attack at 4:30 a.m. on 11 February, recaptured part of the trench before being forced out. On 13 February another German attack recaptured half of the trench, before two fresh British battalions drove them out. The advance was costly, with 382 British casualties, "heavy" German losses and 210 prisoners taken. All of the small British attacks had succeeded and each capture of ground had secured a view over another part of the German defences and denied the defenders observation over British positions. Over the next few days, the Fourth Army extended its front southwards to Genermont and the transfer of I Anzac Corps was completed on 15 February, the Fifth Army boundary being extended to the north of Gueudecourt.[19]

Actions of Miraumont, 17–18 February[edit]

Actions of Miraumont, 17–18 February 1917

As a preliminary to capturing the Loupart Wood line (Riegel I Stellung), Gough intended the Fifth Army to continue the process of small advances in the Ancre valley, by attacking Hill 130, the Butte de Warlencourt, Gueudecourt, Serre and Miraumont, before attacking the Loupart Wood line three days before the Third Army offensive at Arras. The capture of Hill 130, would command the southern approach to Miraumont and Pys, exposing German artillery positions behind Serre to ground observation, while attacks on the north bank took ground overlooking Miraumont from the west, possibly inducing the Germans to withdraw voluntarily and uncover Serre. II Corps planned to attack on 17 February with the 2nd, 18th and 63rd divisions, on a 3,000 yd (1.7 mi; 2.7 km) front. With the ground still frozen, assembly trenches could not be dug, so it was decided that the troops would assemble in the open for the attack.[20]

The artillery of II Corps began a destructive and wire-cutting bombardment on 14 February, using the new fuze 106 against the German wire, which proved an effective wire-cutter, although fog and mist made aiming and observation of the results difficult. At zero hour, four siege groups were to begin a bombardment of rear lines and machine-gun nests and four counter-battery groups were to neutralise German artillery within range of the attack.[e] Artillery tactics were based on the experience of 1916, with a creeping barrage fired by half of the 18-pounders, beginning 200 yd (180 m) in front of the infantry and moving at 100 yd (91 m) in three minutes. Other 18-pounders searched and swept the area from the German trenches to 250 yd (230 m) further back in succession, as the British infantry reached and attacked them. The rest of the 18-pounders fired standing barrages on each line of trenches, until the creeping barrage arrived then lifted with it. A protective barrage was then formed beyond the objective, according to the barrage timetable.[20]

A thaw set in on 16 February and next dawn, there were dark clouds overhead and mist on the ground, which turned soft and slippery before reverting to deep mud. The speed of the creeping barrage had been based on the infantry crossing frozen ground and was too fast for the conditions. At 4:30 a.m. the German artillery bombarded the front from which the British were to attack, apparently alerted by a captured document and a deserter.[22] The German bombardment caused many casualties as the British infantry assembled but no retaliatory fire was opened, in the hope that the German artillery would not be provoked. The subsidiary attack on the right flank, on Desire Support and Guard trenches south of Pys, by a 6th Brigade battalion of the 2nd Division, disappeared into the dark until 9:00 a.m., when it was reported that the attackers had been repulsed; British casualties and daylight made a resumption of the attack impossible. The effect of the failure on the right affected the operation further west by the 99th Brigade of the 2nd Division and the 54th and 53rd brigades of the 18th Division, which attacked the high ground from the right-hand Courcelette–Miraumont road, to the Albert–Arras railway line in the Ancre valley.

The divisional boundary was west of the western road from Courcelette to Miraumont, the 99th Brigade attacking on a 700 yd (640 m) front, with boundaries marked by the two sunken roads. The 54th Brigade had a front which sloped steeply to the left and included Boom Ravine (Baum Mulde), with both brigades vulnerable to flanking fire from the right. The 53rd Brigade on the left of the attack had a wider front, much of which was also exposed to fire from the positions on the north bank that were due to be attacked by the 63rd Division and was to consolidate at the second objective. The main attack had three objectives, the first about 600 yd (550 m) forward along the southern slope of Hill 130, the second at South Miraumont Trench required an advance of another 600 yd (550 m) to the north slope of Hill 130 on the right and the railway between Grandcourt and Miraumont on the western flank; the final objective was the southern fringe of Petit Miraumont.[23]

Each brigade attacked with two battalions, the 99th Brigade with two companies to extend the defensive flank formed on the right with the subsidiary attack and ​2 12 companies following on to leapfrog through to the final objective. In the 18th Division area the 54th Brigade attacked with an extra company, to capture dugouts up to Boom Ravine and consolidate the first objective, while the 53rd Brigade formed a defensive flank on the left. Artillery support came from the divisional artillery, army field brigades and the neighbouring Australian corps.[f] The creeping and standing barrages began at 5:45 a.m. and the infantry advanced against a sparse German artillery reply. The German infantry proved alert and inflicted many casualties with small-arms fire, which with the darkness, fog and a sea of mud slowed the advance and caused units to become disorganised. The 99th Brigade reached the first objective and established a defensive flank against German counter-attacks but the 54th Brigade found uncut wire at Grandcourt Trench and lost the barrage while looking for gaps. The German garrison was able to emerge from cover and engage the British infantry, holding them up on the right. The left-hand battalion found more gaps but had so many casualties that it was also held up. On the 53rd Brigade front, Grandcourt Trench was captured quickly but the advance was held up at Coffee Trench by more uncut wire.[25]

The Germans in Boom Ravine were engaged from the flank and three machine-guns silenced, before the advance in the centre resumed and infantry found their way through the wire at Coffee Trench and captured it by 6:10 a.m. Boom Ravine was eventually captured at 7:45 a.m. and the advance resumed, a long way behind the creeping barrage and the line outside Petit Miraumont was attacked. The 99th Brigade attack on the right, advanced towards the second objective but was much hampered by the fog and mud. The failure to maintain the defensive flank on the right left the Germans free to rake the brigade with machine-gun fire from the right, which caused more casualties. South Miraumont Trench was entered by a small number of troops, who were then forced back to the first objective. Fresh German troops also counter-attacked from Petit Miraumont and the railway bank to the west Many of the British troops had weapons clogged with mud and fell back, the troops on the right forming a defensive flank along West Miraumont road, where they were fired on from South Miraumont Trench behind its left flank and withdrew to a line 100 yd (91 m) north of Boom Ravine. The attack had not reached its furthest objectives but had advanced the line 500 yd (460 m) on the right, 1,000 yd (910 m) in the centre and 800 yd (730 m) on the left. Boom Ravine was captured but the Germans had retained Hill 130 and inflicted 118 casualties on the 6th Brigade, 779 casualties on the 99th Brigade of the 2nd Division and 1,189 casualties in the 18th Division, a total of 2,207 British casualties.[25]

On the north bank, the 63rd Division attacked with the 188th Brigade and two battalions of the 189th Brigade, to capture 700 yd (640 m) of the road north from Baillescourt Farm towards Puisieux, to gain observation over Miraumont and form a defensive flank on the left, back to the existing front line. Two battalions attacked with a third battalion ready on the right flank to reinforce them or to co-operate with the 18th Division between the Ancre and the Miraumont road. On the northern flank two infantry companies, engineers and pioneers were placed to establish the defensive flank on the left. The divisional artillery and an army field brigade with fifty-four 18-pounder field guns and eighteen 4.5-inch howitzers provided fire support, with three field batteries from the 62nd Division further north, to place a protective barrage along the northern flank. The darkness, fog and mud were as bad as on the south bank but the German defence was far less effective. The creeping barrage moved at 100 yd (91 m) in four minutes, slower than the rate on the south bank and the Germans in a small number of strong points were quickly overcome. The objective was reached by 6:40 a.m. and the defensive flank established, a final German strongpoint being captured at 10:50 a.m. No German counter-attack was made until next day, which was stopped by artillery-fire. The 63rd Division lost 549 casualties and the three divisions took 599 prisoners.[26]

The sudden thaw, fog and unexpected darkness interfered with wire-cutting, slowed the infantry, who fell behind the barrage and the apparent betrayal of the attack forewarned the German defenders, who were able to contain the attack and inflict considerable casualties.[26] Troops were ordered to edge forward during the next few days, wherever German resistance was slight but the failure to capture Hill 130 and persistent fog, left the British overlooked and unable accurately to bombard German positions. Further deliberate attacks intended on Crest Trench were made impossible by a downpour which began on 20 February. Edging forward continued in the 2nd Division area, which had gained 100 yd (91 m) since 19 February. From 10 January – 22 February the Germans had been pushed back 5 mi (8.0 km) on a 4 mi (6.4 km) front.[27] The Action of Miraumont forced the Germans to begin their withdrawal from the Ancre valley before the planned retirement to the Hindenburg Line.[28] At 2:15 a.m. on 24 February, reports arrived that the Germans had gone and by 10:00 a.m. patrols from the 2nd Australian Division on the right and the 2nd and 18th Divisions in the centre and left, were advancing in a thick mist, with no sign of German troops.[29] Further south the German positions around Le Transloy were found abandoned on the night of 12/13 March and Australian Light Horse and infantry patrols entered Bapaume on 17 March.[30]

Operations: Somme[edit]

Minor operations[edit]

In January and February, the Fourth Army began to relieve French troops south of Bouchavesnes. XV Corps took over the ground south to the Somme River on 22 January; III Corps moved south to Genermont on 13 February and IV Corps transferred from the Fifth Army, to relieve French forces south to the Amiens–Roye road. Despite the disruption of these moves, minor operations were conducted, to deceive the Germans that the Battle of the Somme was resuming. On 27 January a brigade of the 29th Division attacked northwards, on a 750 yd (690 m) front astride the Frégicourt–Le Transloy road, towards an objective 400 yd (370 m) away. The attack had the support of creeping and standing barrages from ninety-six 18-pounder field guns, extended on either side by the neighbouring divisions and sixteen 4.5-inch howitzers, two 6-inch and one 9.2-inch howitzer batteries. A section of 8-inch howitzers was available for the bombardment of strong points and road junctions and the XIV Corps heavy batteries were able to neutralise German artillery during the attack. The operation took the unusually large number of 368 prisoners, for a loss of 382 casualties.[31]

A 400 yd (370 m) length of Stormy Trench was attacked, by part of a battalion of the 2nd Australian Division late on 1 February, which took the left-hand section and bombed down it to take the rest, before being forced out by a German counter-attack at 4:00 a.m. The Australians attacked again on the night of 4 February, with a battalion and an attached company, with more artillery support and a stock of 12,000 grenades, since the first attack had been defeated when they ran out. The attack succeeded and a German counter-attack was repulsed after a long bombing-fight, although the Australians had more casualties (350–250 men) in the success, than the earlier failed attack. On 8 February, a battalion of the 17th Division attacked part of a trench overlooking Saillisel, after spending three weeks digging assembly trenches in the frozen ground. Artillery support was similar to that of the 29th Division attack and the objective was gained quickly, with troops wearing sandbags over their boots to grip the ice. German counter-attacks failed but a greater number of casualties were inflicted after the attack, mainly by German artillery fire over the next two days. British attacks on the Fourth Army front ceased until the end of the month.[32]

The 8th Division conducted an attack on 4 March, which was prepared in great detail, a practice that had fallen into disuse in 1915, due to the dilution of skill and experience caused by the losses of 1914 and the rapid expansion of the army from 1915–1916.[33] In February, instructions were issued from the divisional headquarters, covering communications, supply dumps, equipment, arms and ammunition to be carried by each soldier, the proportion of the attacking units to be left out of battle, medical arrangements, substitute commanders, liaison, wire-cutting and bombardment arrangements of SOS signals for artillery and machine-gun barrages, gas bombardment, smoke screens and measures to deal with stragglers and prisoners. The instructions went into great detail, stipulating that officers were to dress the same as their men, precautions were to be taken to stop machine-gun barrages falling on friendly troops, the positions of observers and the calculation of safety distances. Signals to open fire were a green very light, a red and white rocket, a yellow and black flag or Morse SOS by signal lamp, at which the machine-gunners were to fire for ten minutes. Low morale existed in British as well as German units and special arrangements were made to collect "stragglers" at brigade and divisional posts, where soldiers names were to be taken, before being rearmed and equipped with items taken from wounded troops in Advanced Dressing Stations.[34]

The Épine de Malassise (Malassise Spine), a hog's-back (a long narrow-rested ridge with slopes of nearly equal steepness) overlooks Bouchavesnes and the Moislains valley towards Nurlu. The objective of the attack was to capture the north end of the spine to deny the Germans observation of the valley behind Bouchavesnes and the view towards Rancourt. Two trenches on a front of 1,200 yd (1,100 m) were to be captured to the east and north-east of the village, which would also threaten the German positions north of Péronne, potentially hastening any German withdrawal on the Somme front. The 25th Brigade on the right was to attack with one battalion on a 300 yd (270 m) front and the 24th Brigade on the left was to attack with two battalions over a 800 yd (730 m) front, with mopping-up parties and carriers provided by other battalions. No destructive bombardment on the objectives was fired, as it was intended to occupy them but wire cutting and the bombardment of strong-points, trench junctions and machine-gun nests took place for several days before the attack. Machine-gun barrages to be fired over the heads of the attacking troops and on the flanks were arranged, with the divisional machine-gun unit and that of the 40th Division.[35]

Modern map of the vicinity of Bouchavesnes, the Moislains valley and Nurlu (commune FR insee code 80552)

The freezing weather prevented the digging of assembly trenches and the leading waves had to form up on lines of tapes, ready for the attack to begin at 5:15 a.m. Chewing gum was issued to the troops, which stopped them coughing, a slight mist aided concealment and a slight frost improved the going. The barrage began on time and after five minutes began to lift. The first objective at Pallas Trench was taken on time with few losses and at the junction of the attacking brigades, a small section which held out was quickly captured, before reverse-fire by the Germans there could stop the troops who had passed beyond. Pallas Trench was occupied by moppers-up and the attacking troops reached the second objective at Fritz Trench on the right and Pallas Support Trench on the left. Some troops advanced so swiftly that they went beyond the objective to Fritz Trench and captured a machine-gun before returning.[35]

The German defenders had repulsed the attack at the Triangle and when eventually captured, troops on the flanks were needed to reinforce the attackers, who had incurred many losses. British arrangements for holding captured ground worked well and a German battalion preparing to counter-attack from a wood near Moislains, was dispersed by the machine-gun barrage with 400 casualties. German troops overrun by the attack were captured or killed, by mopping-up parties following the advanced troops. During the day, the Germans nearby counter-attacked five times over open ground but the observation obtained from Fritz Trench, led to them being easily seen and repulsed by small-arms fire. German attempts to bomb their way back up communication trenches were also defeated. German artillery-fire on the captured area, the former no man's land and around Bouchavesnes caused considerably more casualties, when two communications trenches were being dug to link the new positions with the old British front line.[36]

German bombardments continued during the night of 4/5 March, before an attack on the British right flank, which captured a trench block and about 100 yd (91 m) of Fritz Trench to the north, before a local counter-attack recovered the recaptured ground. German artillery-fire continued all day and at 7:30 p.m., German infantry seen massing on the right flank, were dispersed by SOS artillery and machine-gun barrages before they could attack; German bombardments continued on 6 March, before slowly diminishing. The operation cost the British 1,137 casualties, 217 German prisoners and seven machine-guns were captured and "exceedingly heavy" German casualties inflicted, according to surveys of the vicinity, after the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung). The new positions menaced the German defences at Péronne and the defences further south, which with the capture of Irles by the Fifth Army on 10 March, forced the Germans commence their retirement towards the Siegfriedstellung two weeks early.[37]

Air operations[edit]

Sopwith Pup, RIAT 2008 (2831140422)

The Royal Flying Corps undertook a considerable tactical reorganisation after the battle of the Somme, according to the principles incorporated in documents published between November 1916 and April 1917.[38][g] During the winter on the Somme 1916–1917, the new organisation proved effective. On the few days of good flying weather, much air fighting took place, as German aircraft began to patrol the front line; of 27 British aircraft shot down in December 1916, 17 aeroplanes were lost on the British side of the front line. German aircraft were most active on the Arras front to the north of the Somme, where Jasta 11 was based.[40]

By January 1917 the German aerial resurgence had been contained by formation flying and the dispatch of Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) pilots from Dunkirk flying the Sopwith Pup, which had a comparable performance to the best German aircraft; both sides also began to conduct routine night operations. Distant reconnaissance continued, despite the danger of interception by superior German aircraft, to observe the German fortification building behind the Somme and Arras fronts, which had been detected in November 1916. On 25 February, reconnaissance crews brought news of numerous fires burning behind the German front line, all the way back to the new fortifications. Next day 18 Squadron reported the formidable nature of the new line and the strengthening of German intermediate lines on the Somme front.[40]


German withdrawals on the Ancre[edit]

German retirements Somme, January–March 1917

British attacks in January 1917, had taken place against exhausted German troops holding poor defensive positions left over from the fighting in 1916; some troops had low morale and showed an unusual willingness to surrender. The army group commander Generalfeldmarschall Crown Prince Rupprecht, advocated a withdrawal to the Siegfriedstellung on 28 January, which was initially refused but then authorised on 4 February and the first "Alberich day" was set for 9 February. The British attacks in the Actions of Miraumont from 17–18 February and anticipation of further attacks, led Rupprecht on 18 March to order a withdrawal of about 3 mi (4.8 km) on a 15 mi (24 km) front of the 1st Army to the Riegel I Stellung, from Essarts to Le Transloy on 22 February.[41] The withdrawal caused some surprise to the British, despite the interception of wireless messages from 20–21 February.[42]

The second German withdrawal took place on 11 March, during a preparatory British bombardment and the British did not notice until the night of 12 March. Patrols found the line empty between Bapaume and Achiet le Petit and strongly held on either flank. A British attack on Bucquoy at the north end of Riegel I Stellung on the night of 13/14 March was a costly failure. German withdrawals on the Ancre spread south, beginning with a retirement from the salient around St Pierre Vaast Wood. On 16 March, the main German withdrawal to the Siegfriedstellung began.[42] The retirement was conducted in a slow and deliberate manner, through a series of defensive lines over 25 mi (40 km) at the deepest point, behind rear-guards, local counter-attacks and the demolitions of the Alberich plan.[43]


The British Official History and numerous other publications distinguish between local withdrawals, forced on the German 1st Army by British attacks on the Ancre in the new year against determined opposition and the main German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung) which was mainly protected by rear-guards, other historians treat them as part of the same operation.[44] British operations on the Ancre took place during a period of considerable change in British methods and equipment. Over the winter, an increasing flow of weapons and munitions from British industry and overseas suppliers, was used to increase the number of Lewis guns to 16 per battalion, a scale of one per platoon.[45] A new infantry training manual that standardised the structure, equipment and methods of the infantry platoon was prepared over the winter and was published as SS 143 in February 1917. The division was re-organised, according to the system given in SS 135 of December 1916. The 8th Division attack at Bouchavesnes on 4 March, took place after the changes to the infantry platoon had been implemented, which provided them with the means to fight forward, in the absence of artillery support and under local command, as part of a much more structured all-arms attack than had been achieved in 1916.[46]

German withdrawals (un-shaded area), Bapaume Salient, March 1917

The advance was still conducted in waves behind a creeping barrage, to ensure that the infantry arrived simultaneously at German trenches but the waves were composed of skirmish lines and columns of sections, often advancing in artillery formation, to allow them to deploy quickly when German resistance was encountered. Artillery formation covered a 100 yd (91 m) frontage and 30–50 yd (27–46 m) depth in a lozenge shape, the rifle section forward with the rifle bombers and bombing sections arranged behind on either side. The platoon headquarters followed, slightly in front of the Lewis gun section. Artillery was much more plentiful and efficient in 1917 and had been equipped with a local communications network, which led a corresponding devolution of authority and a much quicker response to changing circumstances. The success of the attack led to a set of the orders and instructions being sent to the US Command and Staff College to serve as models.[47]

The organisation of artillery was revised according to a War Office pamphlet of January 1917, "Artillery Notes No.4–Artillery in Offensive Operations", which put the artillery of each corps under one commander, established a Counter Bombardment Staff Officer, provided for the artillery of several divisions to be co-ordinated and laid down that artillery matters were to be considered from the beginning when planning an attack. The uses of equipment were standardised, the 18-pounder field gun was to be mainly used for barrages, bombardment of German infantry in the open, obstructing communications close to the front line, wire cutting, destroying breastworks and preventing the repair of defences, using high explosive (H. E.), Shrapnel shell and the new smoke shells. The QF 4.5-inch howitzer was to be used for neutralising German artillery with gas shells, bombarding weaker defences, blocking communication trenches, night barrages and wire-cutting on ground where field guns could not reach. The BL 60 pounder gun was to be used for longer-range barrages and counter-battery fire, the 6-inch gun for counter-battery fire, neutralisation-fire and wire-cutting using the No. 106 Fuze. The larger howitzers were reserved for counter-battery fire against well-protected German artillery and the larger guns for long-range fire against targets like road junctions, bridges and headquarters.[48]

Co-ordination of artillery was improved by using more telephone exchanges, which put artillery observers in touch with more batteries. Observing stations were built to report to artillery headquarters located at corps headquarters, on the progress of infantry and a corps signals officer was appointed to oversee artillery communication, which had become much more elaborate. Visual signalling was used as a substitute for line communications and some short-range (7,000 yd (4.0 mi; 6.4 km)) wireless transmitters were introduced. Weighing 101 lb (46 kg), needing four men to carry and considerable time to set up, the wireless proved of limited value. Artillery boards came into use, which had blank sheets with a 1:10,000 scale grid in place of maps, datum shooting was used to check gun accuracy from 2–3 times a day and better calibration drills and meteor (weather) telegrams were announced. The tactical role of artillery was defined as, the overpowering of enemy artillery, the killing or incapacitating of enemy infantry and the destruction of defences and other obstacles to movement. Barbed-wire was the most difficult obstruction to tackle and 1,800–2,400 yd (1,600–2,200 m) was the best range for cutting it with 18-pounder field guns (with regular calibration and stable gun platforms), conditions which were not always met.[49]

A barrage drill was devised, to prevent the opponent from manning his parapets and installing machine-guns, in time to meet the assault. Attacks were supported by creeping barrages, standing barrages covered an area for a period of time, back barrages were to cover exploitation by searching and sweeping ground, to catch troops and reinforcements while moving. One 18-pounder for each 15 yd (14 m) of barrage line was specified, to be decided at the corps artillery headquarters and creeping barrages should move at 100 yd (91 m) a minute and stop 300 yd (270 m) beyond an objective, to allow the infantry room to consolidate. Surplus guns were added the barrage, to be ready to engage unforeseen targets. A limit of four shells per minute was imposed on 18-pounder guns, to retard barrel wear (before 1917 lack of ammunition had made barrel-wear a minor problem) and use of smoke shell was recommended, despite the small quantity available. Ammunition expenditure rates were laid down for each type of gun and howitzer, with 200 shells per gun per day for the 18-pounder.[49]

The experience of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in 1916, showed that single-engine fighters with superior performance could operate in pairs but where the aircraft were of inferior performance, formation flying was essential, even though fighting in the air split formations. By flying in formations made up of permanent sub-units of from 2–3 aircraft, British squadrons gained the benefit of concentration and a measure of flexibility, the formations being made up of three units; extra formations could be added to be mutually supporting. Tactics were left to individual discretion but freelancing became less common. By the end of the Somme battle, it had become common for reconnaissance aircraft to operate in formation with escorts and for bomber formations to have a close escort of six F.E.2bs and a distant escort of six single-seat fighters. The revival of the German Air Service and formation of the Luftstreitkräfte in October 1916, led in October to the British using wireless interception stations (Compass Stations) quickly to locate aircraft operating over the British front, as part of an integrated system. Trained observers gleaned information on German aircraft movements from wireless signals or ground observation and communicated the bearing from interception stations by wireless to wing headquarters or telephoned squadrons direct. Aircraft on patrol were directed to busy areas of the front by ground signals, although no attempt was made to control the interception of individual aircraft from the ground.[50]

Alberich Bewegung/Alberich Manoeuvre[edit]

German withdrawal from the Bapaume and Noyon salients.

The severe cold ended in March and thaws turned the roads behind the British front into mudslides. German demolitions provided means to repair roads once the British advance began but traffic carrying the material did as much damage as the weather. Attempts to move artillery forward encountered severe delays. Ammunition had been moved forward in preference to road material in February and the German withdrawals in the Ancre valley, left the guns out of range.[51] During the winter, many British draught horses had died of cold, overwork and lack of food, leaving the Fifth Army 14,000 horses short. The line of the road from Serre to Bucquoy, through Puisieux was almost impossible to trace but the 62nd and 19th divisions, on the flanks of the 7th Division of V Corps, fought its way into Puisieux on 27 February and began skirmishing towards Bucquoy by 2 March.[52]

The 18th Division surrounded and swiftly captured Irles on 10 March and the 7th and 46th divisions were ordered to occupy Bucquoy on 14 March, after air reconnaissance reported it almost empty. Protests were made by Major-General George Barrow, the 7th Division commander, Brigadier-General H. Cumming, commander of the 91st Brigade, Major-General William Thwaites of the 46th Division and the commander of the 137th Brigade, after patrols had reported that the village was protected by many machine-guns and three belts of wire, despite two days of wire-cutting bombardments. The V Corps commander Lieutenant-General Edward Fanshawe, insisted that the attack go ahead and agreed only a delay until moonrise at 1:00 a.m. The artillery bombardment was fired from 10:00 p.m.–10:30 p.m. alerting the German defenders, who repulsed the attack. The 91st Brigade lost 262 casualties and the 137th Brigade 312 casualties, the Germans withdrew two days later.[52][53]

On 19 March, I Anzac Corps was ordered to advance on Lagnicourt and Noreuil, under the impression that the fires that could be seen foreshadowed a retirement beyond the Hindenburg Line. The 2nd Australian Division and the 5th Australian Division were past Bapaume, towards Beaumetz and Morchies and followed up the withdrawal of the 26th Reserve Division from Vaux-Vraucourt.[54] Beaumetz was captured by 22 March and then lost during the night to a German counter-attack, which led the Australians to plan the capture of Doignies and Louveral with the 15th Brigade in daylight, without artillery or flank support. The plan was countermanded by the divisional commander, Major-General Talbot Hobbs, as soon as he heard of it and Brigadier-General Elliott was nearly sacked. The 7th Division commander, after the costly repulse at Bucquoy, delayed his 1,200 yd (1,100 m) advance on Ecoust and Croisilles, to liaise with the 58th Division to the north-west.[55] Gough ordered the attack on Croisilles to begin without delay but the advance was stopped by the Germans at a belt of uncut wire on the outskirts of the village. Gough sacked Barrow and left his replacement, Major-General T. Shoubridge, under no doubt about the need for haste. The Hindenburg Line was unfinished on the Fifth Army front and a rapid advance through the German rearguards in the outpost villages, might make a British attack possible before the Germans were able to make the line "impregnable".[55] The village eventually fell on 2 April, during a larger co-ordinated attack on a 10 mi (16 km) front, by the I Anzac Corps on the right flank and the 7th and 21st divisions of V Corps on the left, after four days of bombardment and wire-cutting.[56]

The 5th Australian Division advance to the Hindenburg Line, 17 March – 6 April 1917.

The British official historian, Cyril Falls, described the great difficulty in moving over devastated ground beyond the British front line. Carrying supplies and equipment over roads behind the original British front line was even worse, due to over-use, repeated freezing and thaws, the destruction of the roads beyond no man's land and demolitions behind the German front line. The British command was reluctant to risk unsupported forces against a German counter-attack and the evidence from the Fifth Army front, that hasty attacks became impractical once the Germans had begun the main retirement (16–20 March), led to a steady pursuit instead.[57] The Australian official historian, Charles Bean, wrote that the advanced troops of I Anzac Corps had gone out on a limb, which had led to the reverse at Noreuil on 20 March, after instructions from the Fifth Army headquarters to press forward to the Hindenburg Line, were misinterpreted.[58]

Advances were delayed as roads were rebuilt and more pack transport was organised, to carry supplies forward for larger attacks on the German outpost villages. In 1998, Walker contrasted the local withdrawals on the Ancre valley, where hasty but well organised British attacks had sometimes succeeded in ousting German garrisons. The determined German defence of outpost villages, after the rapid and scheduled part of the German retirement over 2–3 days, gained time to complete the remodelling of the Hindenburg Line, from south of Arras to St Quentin. The Fifth Army was far enough advanced by 8 April, to assist the Third Army attack at Arras on 9 April, having captured the outpost villages of Doignies, Louveral, Noreuil, Longatte, Ecoust St Mein, Croisilles and Hénin sur Cojeul on 2 April.[59] On the right flank, Hermies, Demicourt and Boursies were captured by the 1st Australian Division on 8 April, after the Fourth Army took Havrincourt Wood on the right flank.[60]


  1. ^ The first two German reserve lines had various British titles (Loupart/Bapaume/le Transloy/Bihucourt lines) and the third line was known as the Beugny–Ytres Switch. The first two lines were also known as the Allainesstellung and Arminstellung by the Germans.[2]
  2. ^ 2nd Guard Reserve Division, 14th Bavarian Division, 33rd Division, 18th Division, 17th Division and the 1st Guard Reserve Division from north to south.[2]
  3. ^ IV Corps: 51st Division, 61st Division and the 11th Division, XIII Corps held the north bank with 7th Division, 3rd Division and 31st Division. II Corps with the 2nd Division, 18th Division, 63rd Division and V Corps with the 19th Division and 32nd Division was in reserve.[4]
  4. ^ Second Lieutenant T. W. Doke, taken prisoner taken on 11 January told the Germans that they hardly needed to snatch prisoners because so many Germans were deserting. Doke claimed that three officers and 37 men had deserted in one day and on 10 January, fifteen more Germans deserted and it appeared that the division opposite was collapsing. None of the Germans admitted to desertion, claiming instead that they had blundered into the British lines by mistake.[8]
  5. ^ Siege groups II, XXV, XXXVI and XL were heavy artillery groups with ten 6-inch howitzer, five 8-inch howitzer, two 9.2-inch howitzer batteries and two 15-inch howitzers. Counter-battery fire came from the IX, X, XIV and LV Heavy artillery groups, with ten 60-pounder gun, two 6-inch gun, one 4.7-inch howitzer, two 6-inch howitzer, two 8-inch howitzer, two 9.2-inch howitzer, two 12-inch howitzer batteries and two 15-inch howitzers.[21]
  6. ^ A hundred and fifty 18-pounder field guns, forty-two 4.5-inch howitzers plus four field artillery and two howitzer batteries of the 63rd Division on the south bank, firing from thirty minutes after zero hour, to assist the 53rd Brigade although the curve of the ground made aiming difficult.[24]
  7. ^ Notes on Aeroplane Fighting in Single-Seater Scouts (November 1916), Fighting in the Air (March 1917) and Aerial Cooperation During the Artillery Bombardment and the Infantry Attack (April 1917).[39]


  1. ^ Boraston 1920, pp. 63–65.
  2. ^ a b Falls 1992, p. 64.
  3. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 64–67.
  4. ^ a b Falls 1992, pp. 66–67.
  5. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 127–130.
  6. ^ Edmonds & Wynne 2010, pp. 59–61.
  7. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 65–66.
  8. ^ Sheldon 2017, p. 189.
  9. ^ Bewsher 1921, pp. 128–131.
  10. ^ Bewsher 1921, pp. 131–135.
  11. ^ a b Wyrall 1921, pp. 361–362.
  12. ^ Atkinson 2009, pp. 324–329.
  13. ^ Atkinson 2009, pp. 324–332.
  14. ^ Atkinson 2009, pp. 330–332.
  15. ^ Wyrall 1921, pp. 362–365.
  16. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 66–68.
  17. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 68–70.
  18. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 70–72.
  19. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 68–74.
  20. ^ a b Falls 1992, pp. 73–76.
  21. ^ Falls 1992, p. 76.
  22. ^ Falls 1992, p. 82.
  23. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 77–78.
  24. ^ Falls 1992, p. 79.
  25. ^ a b Falls 1992, pp. 78–81.
  26. ^ a b Falls 1992, pp. 81–82.
  27. ^ Nicholson 1962, p. 241.
  28. ^ Nichols 2004, p. 153.
  29. ^ Wyrall 1921, pp. 374–375.
  30. ^ Philpott 2009, pp. 458–459.
  31. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 82–84.
  32. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 84–86.
  33. ^ Thomas 2010, p. 233.
  34. ^ Thomas 2010, pp. 236–237.
  35. ^ a b Bax & Boraston 2001, pp. 101–103.
  36. ^ Bax & Boraston 2001, pp. 103–106.
  37. ^ Sheffield 2011, p. 211.
  38. ^ Jones 2002, p. 317.
  39. ^ Jones 2002, pp. 389–412.
  40. ^ a b Jones 2002, pp. 302–306.
  41. ^ Bean 1982, p. 60.
  42. ^ a b Falls 1992, pp. 94–110.
  43. ^ Philpott 2009, p. 460.
  44. ^ Sheffield 2011, p. 211; Falls 1992, p. 93; Philpott 2009, p. 456.
  45. ^ Falls 1992, p. 11.
  46. ^ Sheffield 2011, pp. 209–211.
  47. ^ Thomas 2010, pp. 245, 252.
  48. ^ Farndale 1986, p. 158.
  49. ^ a b Farndale 1986, p. 159.
  50. ^ Jones 2002, pp. 317–320.
  51. ^ Walker 1998, p. 55.
  52. ^ a b Falls 1992, p. 109.
  53. ^ Walker 1998, pp. 54–55.
  54. ^ Walker 1998, pp. 54–59.
  55. ^ a b Walker 1998, pp. 60–61.
  56. ^ Atkinson 2009, pp. 354–369.
  57. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 162–167.
  58. ^ Bean 1982, pp. 153–154.
  59. ^ Walker 1998, p. 61.
  60. ^ Falls 1992, pp. 168–169.



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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]