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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
"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