Franco-English Army, 300,000
General Ferdinand Foch
General Sir John French
German Army, 300,000
Crown Prince Rupprecht
In concurrence with the French advance in Champagne and the British thrust at Loos on September 25, 1915, General Foch launched an offensive in Artois. This offensive also had been preceded by an earth-rocking bombardment lasting five days, which practically obliterated the first two lines of German trenches. Before the bombardment ceased, thousands of German deserters came into the French line, glad to escape from the inferno of shell fire. The French storm troops found the ruined German trenches deserted, and the army in retreat through a woods.
The main objective of the French was Lens, an important coal town. But first they must gain Vimy Ridge, commanding the town, which was held by the Germans. In two days, without much resistance, the French crept up the western slope of Vimy Ridge, but the Germans on the eastern slope prevented their gaining the top.
The Germans, by using a liquid fire composed of petrol and tar, sought to smoke the French off the slope. A bayonet charge followed. Amidst suffocating fumes, which so clouded the atmosphere that friend could scarcely be distinguished from foe, like denizens of the infernal region, a half million soldiers fought for possession of the ridge. Day after day the struggle continued, the advantage passing now to one side then to the other. The French lines had been weakened by the withdrawal of two divisions which had been sent to the relief of the British at Loos. Were it not for this, there can be no doubt that the Germans would have been expelled from Vimy Ridge.
The battle finally resulted in a stalemate, after each side had lost 100,000 men. The French, however, took 25,000 prisoners and large stores of munitions. They are justified, therefore, in claiming a victory. It is estimated that 400,000 men fell in this titanic campaign fought in the Champagne and Artois.