THE BATTLE OF ARRAS
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Ipswich has a long history with Arras from both world wars. Ipswich borough council hold a partnership agreement (Twinning) and annually commemorate the 67 Ipswich men who lost their lives during the battle as well as the 79 men who lost their lives who are remembered on the Arras memorial from 1917-1918.
The prelude to The battle of Arras started in late 1916, lessons learnt from the Battle of the Somme were now in place. The French army were now at breaking point and needed a British and commonwealth offensive to draw the enemy away for their own attack in the south later that month.
The Somme offensive had used over 200 heavy guns, the Arras offensive was to use over 900 with a week long bombardment. The Air war had changed too, with over 200 aircraft bombing , mapping ,recording key positions and holding back the enemy aircraft from seeing the build up of troops. Tanks were used with limited success either running out of fuel or getting bogged down in the muddy conditions. Deep under the ground tunnels had been made to protect and conceal tens of thousands of troops.
The first days were a great success taking miles of land ,masked by sleet, snow and gale force winds. The 11 mile offensive finally stalled at the Hindenburg line which the Germans had been preparing for over 6 months.
The Battle of Arras consisted of 6 battles each action took many Ipswich lives.
First Battle of the Scarpe (9–14 April 1917)
Battle of Vimy Ridge (9–12 April 1917)
Second Battle of the Scarpe (23–24 April 1917)
Battle of Arleux (28–29 April 1917)
Third Battle of the Scarpe (3–4 May 1917)
Battle of Bullecourt (3–17 May 1917)
2nd Battalion the Suffolk’s Easter service deep underground (Wellington cave)
• Easter Monday, 9th April 1917
“2nd Battalion the Suffolk’s emerged from caves onto its assembly trenches in support of the 4th Royal Fusiliers, objective known as the “Harp”
The 2nd Battalions casualties were “comparatively light, scarcely exceeding one hundred” all objectives taken with no counter attack.”
Ipswich men lost:
“By noon the 7th Battalion had captured the final objective taking 2 days along the Feuchy road.”
“The weather on the 9th was gradually becoming worse, much sleet and snow fell becoming deplorable”
23rd April Second Battle of the Scarpe
“Zero Hour 4.45 a.m. troops attack on a nine mile front.
4th Battalion the Suffolk’s make a frontal attack on the Hindenburg line.
“The maze of communication trenches between the front and support line , which it was impossible to guard or even watch, afforded the enemy excellent cover during his advance.”
4th Battalion “the enemy counter-attacked vigorously. Two companies being unsupported on their flanks were compelled to fall back.”
April 25th 1917
A letter from Arras
Dear Mother and Father,
Just a few lines to let you know that I received your very nice letter and parcel for which I thank you very much. The parcel came in very handy I can tell you as we had been on biscuits for over a fortnight, so you can tell how we enjoyed the contents. I was glad to hear that you are all alright as it leaves me in the Pink at present. We are having very nice weather out here at present for which we are very thankful. I suppose you have read about our little bit of an advance. I don’t think we did so bad in a day or two do you? We are about four to five miles in front of where we were so I think we did a little bit of good. It was a grand sight to see the guns open out on that Monday morning and from where we were in position we could see the Barrage open out on Vimy Ridge. It was a very fine sight I can tell you and then as we advanced the Cavalry were cantering into action, it was a glorious sight I can tell you. We saw the Calalry go over the Ridge to take Monchy, but they didn’t half get cut up. The Bosche put up a barrage of about twenty rounds per minute so you can tell what they went into and they still shell the place like the devil. There isn’t hardly a house left standing. Our Generals had some papers printed thanking us for what we had done. I have sent them home to Rosa and told her to show them to you and I think you will agree with me that we didn’t do so bad especially on such a strong part of the line as we are on. The Bosche must have spent months making dugouts, some of them are over forty feet down and are built of concrete and iron also in all his gun positions he has got trenches and dugouts and ammunition pits at least forty to fifty feet down. It is a marvellous sight to see them, still more marvellous to see how our heavys pasted them. There isn’t a square yard in places where there isn’t a shell hole. It knocks the Somme and Loos into a mere nothing. I think this is all I have to say at the present so I must now close with the best of love to all from your loving son,
P.S. Thank Emmie very much for her card.
(Wilfred was killed on the 6th May 1917)
William Thomas Francis (died of wounds received at Arras 1917)
28th April 1917 Suffolk Regiment 7th Battalion
Battle of Arleux
“They immediately came under a most devastating machine gun fire from Roeux not yet taken and suffered very heavy losses”
(Reduced to 190 men)
11th Battalion at 4:27 a.m the 11th formed the left battalion of the 101st Brigade, attacked the chemical works north of Roeux and immediately south of the railway. It was soon held up, and then driven back by intense machine gun fire from a trench which appeared to have been missed by our barrage , but a few men actually got right through and into a quarry to the east of the works, coming back in the evening with two or three prisoners. At 9:45 a.m. the enemy counter attacked from the direction of Roeux, capturing Mount Pleasant wood and part of Ceylon trench.
At ten o’clock that night the battalion was withdrawn from the front support line trench 30th April under cover of darkness the battalion moved back to camp. The enemy having successfully resisted the Attack on Roeux with over 300 casualties to the 11th Battalion.
Second Battle of the Scarpe
8th Battalion the Suffolk Regiment
Capture of Cherisy village.” While the support moved up in broad daylight and full view of the enemy ,it came under heavy artillery fire, sustaining heavy casualties.
By noon the Germans had retaken the village “
6th – 9th May
The British and commonwealth had suffered more than 150,000 – 160,000 casualties
120,000 -130,000 German casualties during the Battle of Arras
The Arras Memorial is in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery The cemetery contains over 2,650 Commonwealth burials of the First World War