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Webmatters : The 2nd Battle of Artois, 9th May 1915
Rough Map of Area

2nd Battle of Artois

15th May 1915

Général Ferdinand Foch (who was in command of the northern Group of Armies) ordered further attacks against Neuville-Saint-Vaast and Souchez which had refused to succumb to the French, but these all failed and both he and his commander in chief, Général Joffre agreed that it would be the best part of a week before any further attempts could be made.

In order to assist the French, General Sir Douglas Haig’s British First Army was ordered to attack again on the Aubers Ridge, though this time he limited himself to an assault on Festubert.

On the left the 21e DI attacked night and day without cease driving the Germans back crater by crater until the French had taken Ablain Saint Nazaire, and ultimately Notre Dame de Lorette.

The church at Ablain stands today as a reminder of the devastation that was wrought in the village. It had been built in 1505 and was considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Following two weeks of combat its former glory been reduced to a shell pitted husk.

The Germans had made good use of the time to bring up fresh Divisions and had undertaken to either strengthen those lines that hadn’t been taken or create new ones where the French had met with success.

Once again though, it was the advantage in heavy artillery that was proving the irresistible force in favour of the Germans.

The daily run of attack and counter attack began to decrease as the situation stabilised, though fighting within the Labyrinth must have continued to be hot and heavy as the 53e DI records having used up over 20,000 grenades over a three day period.

Now that the French had gained a new front line planning was put into motion for further attacks to push on the advantage.

The Battle Continues

On 7th June 1915 some 40 kilometres to the south, the French opened up a diversionary assault on the Somme in an attempt to secure the village of Serre—which would in fact never fall in combat and would become the tomb of the British Pals Battalions in 1916.

In Artois, Neuville-Saint-Vaast finally fell to the 5e Armée under Général Mangin on 9th June but the much of the Labyrinth remained in German hands.

The French then launched further assaults on the German lines on 16th June attaining a small element of surprise. For the preceding mornings they had been laying down mock preliminary bombardments.

Over the next 24 hours the French artillery would fire over 300,000 shells in the area of Neuville-Saint-Vaast, yet they were still being out gunned by the Germans who, from the heights of Vimy Ridge, were able to direct their fire on French positions with comparative ease.

By the 25th June it was apparent to Général d’Urbal that his men could advance no further and he suspended any further operations.

 

The Cost

La Targette French Military Cemetery

11,000 French soldiers lay in the French Cemetery at La Targette

Between the 9th May and the 16th June the French lost about 700 officers killed and 1,500 wounded, along with 16,000 soldiers killed; 63,500 wounded and 20,500 missing (which usually meant: killed).

They had however shown that given good planning, training and high morale they could achieve stunning success.

The blame for what followed was put down to the reserves being held too far back on the one hand and lack of sufficient artillery to subdue the German guns on the other.

This analysis led to a furtherance of the First World War One mantra: more guns, more men.

The overwhelming domination in both type and numbers of the German Artillery was sorely felt by the French. Their 75mm field gun was an excellent field piece, but there were nowhere near enough of them and because of its flat trajectory it was of little use against trenches. Certainly the Allies lagged behind in terms of the very heavy guns.

Thus each new campaign was started with the idea that what was needed was an even more powerful preliminary bombardment with more guns per metre and more shells per hour.

How could the enemy withstand such a horror, how could their defences remain intact?

Twelve months later on the Somme, the British would discover that in places, both enemy and installation endured.