Western Front 1918: The German Offensives


The Battle of Havrincourt, 12 September 1918

Though British advances (notably of Third and Fourth Armies) in the period 3–10 September conformed to a recommended policy of due caution, a more confident General Byng was keen not to allow the retreating enemy to settle and attempt any form of recovery. He thus sought to drive his Third Army as rapidly as possible through the outer ‘approach defences’ of the Hindenburg Line to obtain better positions for observation and preparation for the crucial attack on the main Hindenburg Line system itself.

The single file of infantry going forward in the last stages of the 1918 offensive.The objectives of Third Army’s action at Havrincourt were to capture the high ground of the Trescault and Havrincourt spurs and advance the line to within assault distance of the Hindenburg Position proper. Three Divisions were tasked with the forward move on a near five mile front from Gouzeaucourt Wood in the south to the Canal du Nord in the north.

At 5.25am on Thursday 12 September, following a considerable overnight bombardment of enemy positions, infantry brigades from the New Zealand Division, 37th Division and 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division attacked. The pattern of assault was one of good early progress followed by a gradual slowing of momentum as German resistance intensified. The day saw fierce close-quarter fighting and a series of energetic German counter-attacks disproved any notion that enemy morale had as yet been broken. On the right the New Zealanders, encountering severe defensive fire, made least progress but 37th Division captured Trescault, and Havrincourt, taken by the 62nd Division, was resolutely held against a determined early evening German counter-attack.

The assault advanced Third Army’s line on average nearly one mile; but only around Havrincourt did the 62nd Division manage to pierce the Hindenburg front system. Though generally satisfactory, the results of the attack did not, as yet, represent a strategic breakthrough.


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