Page:EB1922 - Volume 30.djvu/303

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265
ARTOIS, BATTLES IN


proceeded to despatch forces to their northern flanks, with the object of outflanking the hostile battle line. There thus ensued what is known as " the Race to the Sea," which ended about the middle of Oct. in the establishment of a continuous front from the Belgian coast to Switzerland. On this front, after a series of furious battles which raged until well into Nov., both sides settled down to trench warfare on the advent of winter.

The first attempt to outflank the German right N. of the Oise was entrusted to the French Second Army, under Gen. de Castelnau, which was transferred from Lorraine from Sept. 10 onwards. This army, consisting of the XIII., IV., XIV., XX., and XI. Corps, was eventually opposed by the German IX. Reserve, II., XVIII., XXI., I. Bav., II. Bav. and XIV. Reserve Corps, brought up from various parts of the line, and after heavy fighting, in which first one side and then the other held temporary and local advantages which proved impossible of exploitation, these forces were left facing each other on the general line Lassigny-Roye-Chaulnes-Albert-Hebuterne, on which they finally fortified themselves. The battle on the front of the French Second Army died down in this fashion about the middle of October. Before this date the further prosecution of the mutual attempt at envelopment by both sides had brought about an extension of the fighting to the neighbourhood of Arras and Lens.

Battle of the Tenth French Army around Arras, Sept. 20-Oct. 10.—The front of the Second Army was prolonged to the N. by the group of Territorial Divisions (the 8ist, 82nd, 84th and 88th) under Brugere, which had been ordered on Sept. 29 to push forward detachments to cover the detrainment of rein- forcements at Arras and Lens, and by the ist Cavalry Corps (Conneau) (ist, 3rd, 5th and loth Cavalry Divisions) which was holding the line of the Cojeul on the left of the territorials. On Sept. 30 Gen. de Maud'huy was given command of a "Detachment of the Second Army," consisting of the X. Corps, two divisions (the 70th and 77th) formed into a Provisional Corps under D'Urbal, and the ist Cavalry Corps; his orders were to concentrate in the region of Arras and to act against the right flank of the German corps facing the Second Army. It was believed that this flank would be found about Bapaume. Of the forces at Maud'huy's disposal the X. Corps was on this date marching from Amiens in the direction of Arras, being still some two days' march from the latter place, while the divisions of the Provisional Corps were commencing to detrain at Arras, covered by the ist Cavalry Corps in the line of the Cojeul and a mixed Territorial detachment at Douai.

The situation of the enemy on the front of the detachment, somewhat obscure on Sept. 30, became clearer on the following days. Strong hostile forces (the IV. German Corps) were reported as moving N. and halting for the night in the neighbourhood of Queant, with the evident intention of falling on the flank of the Second Army, at this time around Courcelles. The advanced guards of these columns had got into contact with the French cavalry on the line of the Sensee. Further to the N. other German troops (the I. Bavarian Reserve Corps) had driven the advanced troops of the Territorial detachment back to Douai.

Despite the fact that the battle showed as yet no signs of dying on the Second Army front, that the enemy were pressing hard against his centre, and that a shortage of munitions was beginning to make itself felt, Gen. de Castelnau adhered to his original intention of enveloping the hostile left with the detach- ment under Maud'huy on Oct. 2, and orders to this effect were sent to the latter on that evening; Maud'huy had already made his preparatory dispositions. The X. Corps was to be assembled around Ficheux, the divisions of the provisional corps N. of Neuville Vitasse and at Gavrelle, the Cavalry Corps N. of Monchy-le-Preux; all were to be in position by 6 A.M. The X. Corps and the yyth Division and the main body of the cavalry were to be ready to advance south-eastwards next morning against the flank of the enemy around Queant, while the yoth Div. at Gavrelle was in a position either to cooperate in this advance or to deal with any hostile forces advancing by Douai.

[n continuance of these instructions, the X. Corps was directed early next morning to move eastwards to Mercatel, whence it was to advance against the line Ervillers-St. Leger, and thence in the general direction of Mory, as soon as orders were received from Gen. Maud'huy.

Before, however, the X. Corps had reached its area of concentration around Mercatel the 77th Div. on its left was assailed from the E. by newly arrived German troops (.the IV. Corps), who forced it back from the Cojeul to the line Guemappe-Monchy-le-Preux, while at the same time the I. Bavarian Reserve Corps, which had entered Douai on the evening of the 1st, was pushing its advance westwards to the north of the Scarpe an advance which the 70th Div., delayed in its march from Lens, where it had detrained, to Gavrelle, was not yet available to oppose; the X. Corps was therefore ordered to change the direction of its proposed advance from S.E. to N.E., and assigned as its new line of attack the course of the Cojeul and as its objective the crest N. of Croisilles and W. of Heninel. The Corps would thus strike in flank the enemy advancing S. of the Scarpe, who by 2 P.M. had taken Monchy-le-Preux and driven back the 77th Div. to the line Neuville Vitasse-Feuchy Chapel. Meanwhile the 70th Div. on the N. bank of the Scarpe, advancing towards Gavrelle, had been held up and thrown on the defensive on the front Rouvroy-Izel-Bailleul, so that between it and the 70th Div. to the S. there existed a wide gap, which the ist Cavalry Corps was urgently ordered to fill to the best of its ability.

Owing to the change of direction which had been ordered the attack of the X. Corps was not delivered till the late afternoon, and made little headway against the IV. German Corps, so that at the end of the day a further gap in the French line was formed between the left of the X. Corps and the right of the 77th Div., which had to be filled by troops from the general reserve. Gen. de Maud'huy, despite the disappointment of the day, ordered that the X. Corps should be prepared to resume its attack next morning, the 3rd on the N. bank of the Cojeul in the direction of Monchy-le-Preux, while the remainder of the detachment was to maintain its positions of the previous day. The X. Corps, however, met with no better fortune on this day; the Germans maintained themselves in Neuville Vitasse after heavy to-and-fro fighting, and the retirement of the Territorial troops to the S., who were forced out of Courcelles by the attacks of the German Guard Corps, compelled the X. Corps to throw back its right in conformity, under severe enemy pressure, as far as the line Ficheux-Mercatel. Both the 77th and 70th Divs., however, succeeded in repelling all the violent efforts of the enemy; the gap between these two divisions in the Scarpe valley was successfully closed by Conneau's ist Cavalry Corps; and reinforcements consisting of the XXI. Corps (Maistre), detraining at Armentieres, Merville and St. Pol, and the 2nd Cavalry Corps (4th and 5th Cavalry Div.) under De Mitry, then holding the front Benifontaine-Lens, were placed at the disposal of De Maud'huy. These forces were increased by the 45th Div. detraining at Arras, which was assigned to D'Urbal's corps.

On the front of this corps fighting continued throughout the night, and the 70th Div. was forced to withdraw some three miles westwards to the line Vimy-Farbus-Bailleul, along the eastern slopes of the Vimy ridge. This retirement uncovered Lens, which fell into German hands early on the 4th. The situation of the detachment, which now found both its flanks in the air, was by no means an easy one; Maud'huy's orders for the 4th, however, were that the positions then occupied were to be held at all costs. The X. Corps was to maintain itself on the line Tilloy-Beaurains-Mercatel, with its right flank thrown back if necessary to Ficheux, and to reestablish the connexion with the left of the Second Army which had been lost owing to the retreat of the Territorials. D'Urbal's corps was to hold its ground on the front Vimy-Bailleul-Athies-Feuchy Chapel, so as to allow time for the XXI. Corps to advance by La Bassee against the flank of the I. Bavarian Reserve Corps, which was attacking N. of the Scarpe. The 1st Cavalry Corps was to