Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

Scarpe

The Battle of the Scarpe, 26 - 30 August - the advance to the Drocourt-Quéant Line

As German forces reeled back from the incessant thrusts of Third and Fourth Armies made in the wake of the successful the Battle of Albert, Haig extended the offensive northwards to the Arras front. To intensify pressure on an increasingly demoralised enemy, General Sir Henry Horne’s First Army now endeavoured to support Third Army’s progress by undertaking an eastward drive towards the formidable Drocourt-Quéant Line – preparatory to a breakthrough assault on that vital German position.

A damaged British Mark V Male and smoke clouds from burning drums of fuel in the background. Australian War Graves Commission, E03100. The principal planning and assault role in First Army’s offensive was allocated to the Canadian Corps, elements of which had been recently restored to Horne’s command. 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions would spearhead a phased advance, supported (north of the River Scarpe) by the 51st (Highland) Division.

In drizzle and darkness First Army’s attack, supported by hugely effective artillery and machine-gun barrages, opened at 3am on Monday 26 August. It met with immediate success though German resistance stiffened as the day wore on. By dusk, having advanced near three-miles, the Canadians held a line approximately 1,000 yards east of Monchy le Preux. Continuing poor weather and resolute German resistance slowed progress on the 27 and 28 August and Currie’s intention of pushing on through the Fresnes-Rouvroy line (effectively the outlying defences of the Drocourt-Quéant position) was frustrated. Severe fighting resulted in high casualties and the exhausted 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions were relieved during the night of 28/29 August by the 1st Canadian and 4th British Divisions who attempted to revive the faltering forward progress.

Following vicious actions on 30 August, German defences were in part breached east of Boiry-Notre Dame and the general advance halted prior to finalising arrangements for the assault on the Drocourt-Quéant Line.  The Scarpe offensive destroyed crucial German defence systems and paved the way for continued Allied progress.

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