Third Battle of Artois
The Third Battle of Artois (25 September – 4 November 1915), was fought by the French Tenth Army against the German 6th Army on the Western Front of World War I. The battle is also known as the Loos–Artois Offensive and included the big British offensive by the British First Army, known as the Battle of Loos. The offensive, meant to complement the Second Battle of Champagne, was the last attempt of 1915 by the French commander-in-chief Joseph Joffre to exploit an Allied numerical advantage over Germany. Joffre's plan was for simultaneous attacks in Champagne-Ardenne and Artois, to capture the railways at Attigny and Douai, to force a German withdrawal from the Noyon salient.
Joffre's plan was a series of attacks along the Western Front, supported by Italian attacks across the Isonzo River and a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) attack near Loos-en-Gohelle. At first, Field Marshal John French and General Sir Douglas Haig opposed the attack, because of the lay of the land, a lack of heavy artillery, ammunition and reserves. The generals were over-ruled by the British minister of war, Lord Horatio Kitchener, who ordered French and Haig to conduct the offensive.
The Tenth Army massed seventeen infantry and two cavalry divisions for the offensive, backed by 630 field guns and 420 heavy artillery pieces. The German 6th Army had about thirteen divisions and from 19–13 September, the French fired 1.4 million field gun shells and 250,000 heavy rounds at the German defences. Obsolete 90 mm guns were used to fire another 63,500 shells.
Following a four-day artillery bombardment which had begun on 21 September, infantry of the French Tenth Army attacked at 12:25 p.m. to be sure that the morning mist had dispersed. XXI Corps attacked the rest of Souchez village and La Folie farm, XXXIII Corps made some progress but the III and XII corps to the south was repulsed. On the XXI Corps front, the 13th Division, attacking near Souchez with 14,790 men had casualties of 41 percent in the first few days. During the afternoon it began to rain, impeding artillery observation and attack times were altered to even later in the day, which made co-ordination with the British First Army on the northern flank much more difficult. By 26 September, the XXXIII and XXI corps had taken Souchez but the III and XII corps had made little progress south-east of Neuville-St Vaast.
The French failed to breach the German second line of defence and a breakthrough could not be achieved. Joffre sent the French IX Corps to assist the British attacks at Loos but this action also yielded little of strategic value. Foch was also ordered by Joffre to conserve infantry and ammunition to reinforce the simultaneous offensive in Champagne; ammunition expenditure in Artois had been so vast that the offensive was to be reduced but without giving the British the impression that they were being left in the lurch. In very wet weather, the Tenth Army captured Vimy Ridge, except for the highest point, where German counter-attacks retook the ground from XXXIII Corps. Foch took over ground on the British right flank but it became impossible to co-ordinate attacks for the same day. The Battle continued until 13 October but ended amidst the autumn rains, mutual exhaustion and inter-Allied recriminations.
The two French 1915 offensives in Artois had advanced the front line by 5–6 km (3.1–3.7 mi) on a 9 km (5.6 mi) front; the offensive in September captured the western slopes of Vimy Ridge. Fayolle reported that the Third Battle of Artois had been a failure, because of uncut wire and the firepower of German machine-guns and artillery. The success of infantry attacks was dependent on the ability of the artillery to cut the wire, destroy German field fortifications and prevent the German artillery bombarding French infantry by using counter-battery fire; the simultaneous Second Battle of Champagne continued into October.
The German official historians of the Reichsarchiv recorded German casualties to the end of October as 51,100 men. In 2008, Sheldon used figures taken from the French Official History to record 48,230 casualties, which was fewer than half of the casualties of the spring offensive from April to June. J. E. Edmonds, the British official historian, recorded 61,713 British and c. 26,000 German casualties at the Battle of Loos.[a] Elizabeth Greenhalgh wrote that of the 48,230 casualties, 18,657 had been killed or listed as missing, against the capture of 2,000 prisoners, 35 machine-guns and many trench mortars and items of equipment.
- BEF casualties in 1915 were 285,107.
- Doughty, R. A. (2005). Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01880-8.
- Edmonds, J. E. (1928). Military Operations France and Belgium, 1915: Battles of Aubers Ridge, Festubert, and Loos. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. II (1st ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962526.
- Greenhalgh, Elizabeth (2014). The French Army and the First World War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-60568-8.
- Humphries, M. O.; Maker, J. (2010). Germany's Western Front, 1915: Translations From the German Official History of the Great War. II (1st ed.). Waterloo Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 978-1-55458-259-4.
- Sheldon, J. (2008). The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914–1917. Barnsley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 978-1-84415-680-1.
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