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Webmatters : Battle of Festubert May 1915
Rough Map of Area

Festubert

The Plan

Instead of planning an advance of 3 kilometres to Aubers Ridge, General Haig was now intent on moving forward about a kilometre as far as La Quinque Rue, running eastwards out of Festubert.

The infantry would still attack two positions simultaneously but there would only be 500 metres or so between the pincers, as opposed to the kilometres previously tried. Major General Hubert Gough’s 7th Division would attack from north of Festubert whilst Major General Henry Horne’s 2nd Division would advance out of the Rue du Bois north from Chocolate Menier Corner (named after an advertising hoarding), supported by a brigade from the Indian Corps on his left.

As the 2nd Division already knew the area well, General Horne proposed that they carry out a night attack to gain the German front line and then wait on the 7th Division’s attack in daylight.

General Haig ordered that the bombardment by 121 howitzers and 312 field guns should open on the morning of the 13th May 1915 and continue relentlessly throughout that and the following day. The batteries were registered onto their targets with forward observers noting that many of the howitzer shells were still failing to explode.

The munitions available allowed for about a hundred rounds per field gun per day and half that for the howitzers. In other words four or just two rounds every hour. It was also only possible to shell those positions on the front to be attacked. The flanks had to be left untouched.

Over the next sixty hours the British guns would fire off 100,000 rounds (a formidable number at this stage of the war and one which would require weeks of manufacture to replace).

The clear weather turned miserable on the 12th May which made observing the effects of the bombardment difficult. As it cleared again on the morning of the 14th (the eve of battle) Haig asked his Divisional commanders if they were happy that enough had been done : to render success reasonably certain.

Gough was confident; Horne was worried that the now sodden ground might prove an obstacle whilst Lieutenant General Anderson of the assisting Meerut Division was far more sceptical.

I do not consider sufficient damage has been done to ensure success of the assault tonight, nor from the artillery reports is it likely to be completed in time.

With Sir John French’s agreement, General Haig postponed his attack by 24 hours increasing the bombardment from 36 to 60 hours.

Saturday 15th May turned out to be bright and sunny and the attacking formations moved into position. Surprise was out of the question, but a few decoy runs had been planned into the barrage in the hope that when the assault began the Germans would not realise that this time the crescendo was for real.