First Battle of Arras

The Battle of Arras (also known as the First Battle of Arras), which began on October 1, 1914, was an attempt by the French Army to outflank the German Army to prevent its movement towards the English Channel during the Race to the Sea.

The French Tenth Army, led by Louis Maud'huy, attacked the advancing German forces on October 1, initially experiencing success until they reached the town of Douai. There, the German Crown Prince Rupprecht's Sixth Army launched a counter-attack. Along with additional attacks from three corps of the German First, Second and Seventh Armies. The French were forced to withdraw towards Arras.

France's failure to hold back the German Army resulted in the loss of Lens on October 4, and allowed the Germans to move further northwards towards Flanders. The French, however, were able to hold Arras.

Last Thrust at La Bassee, Armentieres, Arras

Failing to penetrate the Allied line between Ypres and the sea, the Germans made their final thrusts further south in the sector between Ypres and Arras. A picked force of 40,000 men had been assembled for this last effort to seize the channel ports. Supporting them was sufficient artillery, apparently, to blow all Europe into oblivion. Nevertheless, the Germans failed to pass.

Just north of the Lys River, at Armen- tieres, there was a gap in the Allied line thinly defended by French and British cavalry. For three days, beginning with October 27, the Germans had tried to force their way through without success, but at length they succeeded in pushing the Allied line back to St. Eloi, with heavy casualties on both sides. Reinforcements were hurried to the scene, and on October 31, amidst a blizzard of hail, ,vhen Gheluvelt had fallen and the British line was all but yielding, orders for an immediate advance were given. The Britishers sprang at their foes and whipped them to a standstill, turning a near victory into a defeat.

At Armentieres, on November 5, the Germans brought into play a new and terrible type of mortar which threw projectiles weighing half a ton or more. At dawn, they raked the Allied line with high angle fire, the giant shells falling plump into the British trenches. An enormous mass of infantry was then hurled against the Allied line in mass formation.

They presented a perfect target for the British riflemen, who raked their ranks with a storm of shrapnel and bullets, taking a frightful toll of death. The German lines wavered and then broke. Instantly the Britishers sprang over their parapets and charged the retreating foe with fixed bayonets. One stubborn line of Germans, covering the retreat, turned and faced the Britishers. A desperate hand-to-hand struggle took place, but the Germans were finally driven back to their own position.

An artillery duel on the most gigantic scale took place amidst the orchards and copses of La Bassee, where the Germans perished by thousands in a hopeless attempt to break through the French lines. The battle was unlike any ever fought before. Nowhere was a gun or a gunner exposed, all being concealed by wily devices. The French infantry, from their place of concealment, refused to be lured forth.

The German infantry, on several occasions, simulated attacking movements, hoping to draw out the French. Approaching the French lines, they fired countless rounds of ammunition at no target in particular. But on the last approach of the Huns, the French uprose from their hiding places and sent a hurricane of shrapnel into the German ranks, decimating and demoralizing them. The artillery fire, though deafening and awe- inspiring, was far from effective.

Though desultory fighting took place in this area up to the close of the year, no decisive engagement was fought. The Germans had failed utterly to achieve their two great ends, first to turn the flank of the Allied line, or, failing that, to pierce the line and break through to the channel ports. They had lost the offensive and must continue the war on lines prescribed by the Allies. The backbone of the German offensive was broken by the Allies at Ypres.