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Webmatters : Arras 1917 - VII Corps
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Arras

VII Corps

10th April 1917

The weather remained miserable throughout the next day and the conditions made flying difficult for the aerial observation crews.

Battle of Arras: VII Corps

During the night some progress had been made in securing ground to the east of Neuville Vitasse but later attempts to get across the countryside into the Wancourt-Feuchy Line were all driven off.
More seriously, German machine gun positions on what was known as Hill 90 were still in action and causing great disruption to 14th Division’s attempts to advance.

In effect, 14th Division had managed to advance further than the 56th and were thus exposed to enfilading fire from the hill. This flanking fire started pushing the 14th further and further over to their left and when they reached the Wancourt Line it was in a sector belonging to 3rd Division in the neighbouring VI Corps.

When 41st Brigade advanced to relieve the 43rd Brigade they couldn’t find them (Hardly surprising as they were away on the left visiting the neighbours !) and soon came under fire from Hill 90 to the right. A change in the weather, however, played to their advantage as a chance snow storm blowing directly towards the German lines greatly assisted them in taking what should have been 43rd Brigade’s objective (The missing Brigade finally being found on the left flank).

Once again in the offensive, the northern half of VII Corps had managed to make some progress but to the south the news was all bad. A determined counter attack by the Germans had retaken some of their lost trenches.


Private Horace Waller of the 10th Bn King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was just 20 years old when he found himself with a bombing crew in the German trenches and under a counter attack. Although five of those with him were killed, young Waller continued for more than an hour to throw bombs, and finally repulsed the attack. In the evening the enemy attacked the post again and despite being wounded himself Waller continued to throw bombs for another half an hour until he was killed. For his act of courage Private Waller was awarded the Victoria Cross.

He is buried in Cojeul British Cemetery.


 

11th April 1917

Refusing to accept that their gains were decreasing and that the initial shock of the battle was wearing off the Third Army decided to press on again on the 11th. To the immediate right on Fifth Army’s front the 62nd Division and Australian soldiers were about to launch a daring attack on Bullecourt — with tanks but without a barrage, in the snow !

General Allenby announced to his men:

Third Army is now pursuing a defeated enemy and that risks are must be freely taken.

VII Corps had considered trying to take out the thorn of Hill 90 during the night but 56th Division who had been given the task said that there was little to no chance of success in the dark and that they would deal with the strong point in the morning. With Hill 90 eliminated the intention was for 14th Division to take Wancourt whilst the right flank of 30th and 21st Divisions stormed their sectors of the Hindenburg Line.

The theory sounded good but the practice was fraught with problems.

In front of 21st Division the German wire had hardly been cut at all by the latest bombardments and the infantry found to their cost that the few gaps that did exist were now very well covered by German machine gun crews.

30th Division attempted an attack astride the Cojeul (which in this area is little more than a wee stream) but were forced back.

On the 56th Division’s front things were going a little better. With the aid of four tanks the 7th Bn Middlesex Regiment of 167th Brigade had managed to prize their way into the German trenches. Bombing their way up and down the Hindenburg Line as well as the Wancourt Line (which had its junction here) the Brigade made a considerable advance. They had not, however, made any serious attempt against Hill 90 which was now right up in front of them. This failure to take Hill 90 meant that once again the moment 14th Division attempted to advance they were cut down from their flank.

By the end of the day some success had been made but the chances that the cavalry were about to sweep through the breach were receding fast and by nightfall the 2nd Cavalry Division had been pulled back out of harm’s way.

Overnight the method of attack changed. Gone were the …risks to be taken… of only 24 hours ago. General Allenby realised that the Germans were in fact making good their losses and had already started to reinforce the Drocourt-Quéant Line which formed their next point of defence.

 

12th April 1917

As the objective of reaching Cambrai was no longer considered feasible VII Corps were told to simply advance as far as their original Green Line — their third objective for the first day. This would take in the villages of Croisilles, Fontaines les Croisilles, Chérisy and Vis en Artois.

Rather surprisingly the 21st Division on the right woke up to find that the Germans had abandoned their trenches — just after they had given their British prisoners a morning cup of coffee. The strong point at Hill 90 had also been abandoned during the night and 2nd Bn London Regiment pressed on to take the village of Héninel by dawn on the 12th. Wancourt was also found to be held by a small rear guard and they were soon dealt with but Guémappe stubbornly refused to fall.

The men were by now exhausted from fighting in weather which had turned the valley of the Cojeul into a glutinous mud bath.