Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

Valenciennes

The Battle of Valenciennes, 1 -2 November 1918

By the end of October 1918 it was clear that Germany was losing the war. On the Western Front signs of disintegration in her armies were increasing. Haig, convinced that another major blow might induce the German High Command to accept allied armistice terms before the end of the year, now planned a last great offensive. An essential preliminary for this operation was the capture of Valenciennes to allow First Army’s formations to progress to their designated jumping-off positions.

Three British soldiers working along the footpath of a suburb during the capture of Valenciennes. Australian War Memorial, H09717.Well protected on the west by the Schelde Canal, the attack on Valenciennes took place, from the south. An initial assault by 51st Highland Division on 28 October pushed the British line forward, despite determined German resistance, to Mount Houy, key feature to the defences of the city. The main phase of the assault, by the Canadian Corps and British XXII Corps (assisted on the right by Third Army’s 61st Division) began in the early morning of 1 November. Attacking at 5.15am, behind a huge artillery barrage, the 10th Canadian Brigade raced forward from Famars over Mount Houy and northwards beyond; by 7am Aulnoy had fallen and the intact bridge over the Rhonelle secured. Progress was halted by fierce machine-gun fire from Marly Steelworks. Meanwhile 12th Canadian Brigade had crossed the Schelde Canal and secured footholds at the western corners of Valenciennes. By nightfall the Canadians had edged into Marly and were securely lodged behind the line of the railway, just west of the city itself.

Attacks were renewed early next morning; Marly was occupied and by 7.20am Canadian troops were in Valenciennes cautiously following-up a rapid enemy withdrawal. The capture of the city freed First Army to move forward and align itself in readiness to support Haig’s planned great offensive on the Sambre, now scheduled for 4 November.

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