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Webmatters : Arras 1917 - The capture of Monchy le Preux
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VI Corps

11th April 1917

General Allenby announced to his men that he wanted them to understand that:

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

Battle of Arras: VI Corps

On 11th April 1917 General Gough’s Fifth Army launched his hastily prepared assault on Bullecourt just to the right of VII Corps.

To coincide with this, General Allenby wanted a decisive action on his own front. The target was the village of Vis en Artois and once again the cavalry were brought up in readiness. To reach Vis en Artois the obstacle of Monchy le Preux had to be taken beforehand and this was going to be the primary task of VI Corps.

3rd Division were detailed to take Guémappe on the right, 37th Division Monchy itself, 15th Division the area between Monchy and the Scarpe and the 12th Division would provide the reserve.


Memorial plaque to the Essex Regiments at Monchy le Preux

The memorial plaque to the Essex Yeomanry and Essex Regiment at Monchy le Preux

The 3rd Division made a few hundred metres but were stalled by machine gun fire from Guémappe and the village of Wancourt off to their left. In the centre, 37th Division’s plan had changed little: 111th Brigade were responsible for taking the village of Monchy whilst the 112th would cover the right flank and the 63rd the left.

The attack was set for 0500 hours but got off to a disorganised start. The barrage was late in starting due to a handover between artillery units. The new gun crews had asked for Zero Hour to be put back so that they could get themselves organised but this request never seems to have reached the infantry or tanks.

On the right the 10th Bn Loyal North Lancashire and 11th Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiments advanced as far as La Bergère (where you will find Windmill British Cemetery) and then bombed their way down a trench system to the right. A tank arrived in time to lend valuable support in capturing the trench (and thus perhaps Tank Cemetery — on the road down towards Guémappe).

Against Monchy the 111th Brigade made slow but steady progress with the aid of four tanks. The 13th Bn Rifle Brigade suffered particularly heavy casualties but pressed on accompanied by the 13th Bn King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

Both the Rifle Brigade and the KRRC it should be understood are regiments and not higher formations.

Br General Bulkeley-Johnson

Br General Bulkeley-Johnson

By 0800 hours the two battalions had linked up in Monchy village with the 10th and 11th Bn Highland Light Infantry from 15th Division who had managed to get into the village from the northern side.

At 0830 hours the 8th Cavalry Brigade were ordered forward: squadrons from the Essex Yeomanry, 10th Hussars and 3rd Dragoon Guards thundering off at the gallop.

The Yeomanry headed towards the north of Monchy but were forced to wheel to the right into the village to avoid the fire from the left which they had encountered the day before. Realising what was happening the Hussars followed on.

Having reached the village they then moved out down the roads towards Roeux and Pelves.

The Dragoons made for the southern side of Monchy where they were immediately halted in front of Guémappe and were forced to dismount; becoming part of the small community with the tank — currently commanded by a private.

However, whilst the remaining Germans within Monchy were prepared to either flee or surrender, the moment the cavalrymen left the protection of the streets they came under protracted machine gun fire.

Shortly afterwards the commander of their Brigade: Br General Bulkeley-Johnson was killed (He is buried at Gouy en Artois).

A perpetual problem for the infantry was that entering a village entailed leaving open ground and getting into the comparative shelter of the ruins. Getting out of the village meant leaving by known exits and abandoning the shelter for open territory again. Invariably the enemy were ready and waiting for them.

The 37th Division Monument at Monchy le Preux

The 37th Division’s Monument

Although they had not been able to fulfil their original mission the arrival of the cavalry in Monchy was extremely timely as the infantry were exhausted after three hard days of fighting.

And so, the cavalry found themselves in charge of the village’s defence.

With the British now occupying the village the German artillery opened up on Monchy with a vengeance and a counter attack seemed to be in the offering.

At 1030 hours the 63rd Brigade were ordered to pass through Monchy and secure the hill beyond but like the cavalry found that it was impossible to get out of the confines of the village. They did however help strengthen the line.

Although Germans seemed to be massing in front of the village nothing came of it though two counter attacks were launched against the positions at La Bergère — both of which failed.

On the left of Monchy the 15th Division struggled to advance on Pelves and found themselves pushed towards Monchy which they helped capture.

Pelves though remained beyond their reach and when the Division was relieved by the 17th Division later that day the new arrivals didn’t like the disorganised and non-continuous front line that they were inheriting.

The 17th Division finally decided to occupy a position along the Monchy-Fampoux Road which meant that they gave up ground that had been won at great cost the day before. The village of Monchy le Preux, which only a few days before, had been almost undamaged now lay ruined beneath a covering of new fallen snow.

On the 14th the Newfoundland Regiment would take part in an attack from Monchy in an effort to push the line further towards Cambrai. The attack, by the 29th Division, was beaten off with severe casualties. The Newfoundland Regiment’s caribou memorial sits on a bunker at the top of the village. Immediately behind it is a memorial plaque to the Essex Yeomanry and Infanrty who also played such a major part in the battles for the village

Within a hundred metres on the western approach to the village is the monument to the men of the 37th Division.