The Breaking of the Drocourt-Quéant Line, 2 – 3 September 1918
Between 31 August and 1 September, while British artillery pounded the dense mass of wire entanglements shielding the Drocourt-Quéant Line, First Army’s Canadian Corps paused to prepare and re-organise prior to its next daunting forward move. With the aim of breaking through the D-Q position, its three attacking infantry divisions (1st and 4th Canadian and 4th British) were provided with essential tank and air support.
Attacking at 5am on Monday 2 September, in early morning half-light, 1st Canadian Division (going forward south-eastwards on the extreme right, south of the Arras-Cambrai road) and 4th Canadian Division (in the centre, between Dury and the main road) led the assault up the exposed ridges, behind an intense artillery barrage. On the left, the supporting British 4th Division advanced south of the River Sensée. Tanks proved invaluable in crushing paths through the dense barbed-wire and dealing with strongpoints; despite heavy enemy machine-gun fire, the first objectives (the front-system of the D-Q trenches) were gained before 9am, and the follow-up battalions passed through the leading attacking waves. Despite the obvious strength of their field-defences enemy resistance varied considerably and large numbers of German prisoners were taken.
The second phase of the attack took the advance beyond the range of artillery support and owed much to the infantry’s courage and tactical skill, as forward rushes, made by platoons and sections, slowly gained ground within the D-Q support trenchlines. Despite continuing heavy fighting (especially in the Buissy Switch), by nightfall it was clear that the Drocourt-Quéant Line had been emphatically breached and Canadian Corps formations surged into the open country beyond.
A general German retirement took place during the night of 2/3 September and, on the following day, British forces cautiously moved forward to within striking distance of their next objective - the Canal du Nord.
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