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The attack of the 17th Army (21st of March -02nd of April).

Please scroll to the bottom of the page for more detailed eyewitness accounts of the fighting.

Splinters from bursting shells were still in the air as General Otto von Below’s men left their trenches at 9:40am on a front stretching from Fontaine (southeast of Arras) to the Cambrai bend.  

The sun shone like a matt-white disk through the fog and smoke as the German infantry advanced. Ahead of them lay four lines of defence which had to be pierced if they were to reach Bapaume that night. The attackers were eager but the British defenders were as tough as leather, they were forced out of the first line, but stood firm in the second line and in the field artillery positions. Although the German infantry had captured Lagnicourt, Moreuil, Ecoust and Boursies, their chances of taking Bapaume from the tenacious British defenders now seemed remote.


For a better understanding of the offensive please click on the links to the maps (21st to 26th of March) (25th of March to 4th of April) they will open in a separate window.

On the morning of the 22nd March a fierce attack on the British second line took place. Although Croisilles fell to the Bavarians, the British held on to Vraucourt Riegel seemingly putting an end to the 17th Army’s advance. However, Bataillon Caspari of Infanterie Regiment 75 pierced the British line enabling neighbouring units to exploit the breakthrough.  Soon six divisions had forced their way through the gap but then had to fight off a counter-attack by British infantry and tanks. By evening the counter-attacking British had managed to seal off the gap with a cast iron line of defence. On the night of the 22nd - 23rd March, the 2nd Garde Reserve Division took Mory, and after heavy fighting, the fortified villages of Beugny, Velu and Hermies fell as well.

At last the 17th Army joined up with the 2nd Army and the Cambrai salient was cut off -unfortunately for the Germans the British had been able to evacuate their troops before the ring had closed. Bapaume was still in British hands but would fall the next day (Palm Sunday 24th March), after heavy fighting the Germans finally claimed the burning ruins of the “Bapaume Riegel” (Bapaume line of defence).  

The great success in the South was not matched by von Below´s Northern Wing which was not keeping pace. The bastion of Arras was holding out against all German attempts to take it. On the 25th March only the Southern Wing reported any progress, and even this was moderate. The six Divisions of the XIV Reserve Korps, flanked by units of the 2nd army, pushed into the area where the source of the Ancre River lay. It seemed a major rupture of the allied front had been achieved, the "Loch von Serre" (Serre Gap) promised much. But it was not to be, on the 26th British infantry and tanks once again succeeded in sealing off the gap. The Germans lacked the artillery needed to force the issue and with that the 17th Army’s offensive bogged down.

The "Mars Angriff" launched on the 28th March, was von Below’s last chance of taking Arras, but it achieved little. The Germans came close to taking the town, but the British defence held denying the Germans possession. Although von Below´s offensive had not achieved its goals the men had fought superbly at every level and had managed to draw enemy reserves from the sectors where v.d. Markwitz and von Hutier would attack.

To follow the path of the center of the offensive (2. Armee) click HERE

 
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