Western Front 1918: The German Offensives


The Battle of the Sambre, 4 November 1918

Forced to abandon the stronghold of Valenciennes, retreating German forces now attempted a last-ditch stand on the line of the Sambre-Oise Canal and, where the canalised river angled away north-eastward, in defensive positions within (and to the north) of the extensive Forest of Mormal. Here, on a near 40 mile front running roughly north-south from Condé to Oisy on the Sambre, British Fourth, Third and First Armies, launched a major offensive designed to bring about the utter collapse of the enemy.

Australian Field Artillery at Brancourt in readiness to move on to support the attack on the Oise-Sambre Canal. Australian War Memorial, E03645.Just before dawn on Monday 4 November British infantry advanced through dense mist across difficult country behind a stupendous supporting bombardment. Fourth Army formations, on the right, faced the great obstacle of the Sambre Canal, and early assaults met the most violent resistance. Heavy casualties were taken in 1st Division’s attack on Lock No.1, and immediately to the left, 32nd Division was bloodily rebuffed near Ors. Only the exceptional gallantry of infantry, sappers and pioneers ensured the establishment of vital bridgeheads; meanwhile 25th Division made good progress to Landrecies. Farther north, Fourth Army’s left and Third Army’s right wing successfully assaulted Germans dug-in within the still densely wooded Forest of Mormal. Confronting Third Army’s centre, the ancient citadel of Le Quesnoy, was first encircled and then dramatically captured by the New Zealand Division. On the left of the battle-line advanced guards of the left of Third Army and those of First Army gained ground in vicious small-scale pursuit actions across fields, wired hedgerows, irrigation canals and scattered villages.

The Battle of the Sambre, the last battle fought by the British Army in the war, thrust the Germans from the Sambre Canal and pushed his defences back in the Forest of Mormal. By nightfall and in worsening weather, the enemy, on the brink of defeat, reeled back in disorder.


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