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3rd Battle of the Scarpe


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#1 Jim Smithson

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 07:44 PM

Today, 94 Years ago, one of the most ludicrous of all offensive took place near Arras. The French offensive had failed, how much damage this had caused the French Army in terms of morale was not as yet known, but still we carried out poorly supported and badly prepared assaults on positions that had been repeatedly reinforced over the previous days. The result was one of the blackest days for the British Army of this or any war.

I raise a glass this evening to all those brave souls who suffered in any way on that day.

:poppy:

Jim

#2 Roger H

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 09:16 PM

Jim

Likewise and thinking of my Grandfather. His Army RFA Brigade was attached to the 31st Division at the time and the war diary records that they opened their barrage in support of action at Gavrelle at 3.45am. During the day they answered many SOS calls. The 311th RFA Brigade war diary also records that the area surrounding the windmill changed hands eight times. Dreadful.

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#3 J Banning

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Posted 03 May 2011 - 09:17 PM

Me too Jim - as daft an attack as was planned in the war. Over 5900 men were killed that day in a dreadfully black day for the British Army. My thoughts have been with them all today, especially the men of the 7th East Surrey Regiment. As Cyril Falls noted in the Official History, the reasons for failure on 3 May 1917 were:

"The confusion caused by the darkness; the speed with which the German artillery opened fire; the manner in which it concentrated upon the British infantry, almost neglecting the artillery; the intensity of its fire, the heaviest that many an experienced soldier had ever witnessed, seemingly unchecked by British counter-battery fire and lasting almost without slackening for fifteen hours; the readiness with which the German infantry yielded to the first assault and the energy of its counter-attack; and, it must be added, the bewilderment of the British infantry on finding itself in the open and its inability to withstand any resolute counter-attack."

:poppy:

#4 Jim Smithson

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 07:24 PM

Yes Jeremy, it is one of those days that make me wonder at the folk who can see no harm in Haig these days. I know I risk the wrath of George and co here :doh: but ultimately it was Haig who ordered the attacks to go on and he should be held account for the results.

Maybe I will get away with the last remark and the thread disappear into oblivion. :P

Jim

#5 Black Watch

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 03:04 AM

Yes Jeremy, it is one of those days that make me wonder at the folk who can see no harm in Haig these days. I know I risk the wrath of George and co here :doh: but ultimately it was Haig who ordered the attacks to go on and he should be held account for the results.

Maybe I will get away with the last remark and the thread disappear into oblivion. :P

Jim


I doubt it somehow.

Just when did the learning curve kick in? So many battles which started well and were allowed to carry on well past the point of success then turned into a slogging match with little of the thought or preparation that had made the early successes possible.

#6 Jim Smithson

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 06:50 PM

There have been many debates on the Forum over 'learning curves' and the arguments will continue. For this particular thread, which I would like to keep out of too much controversy due to its initial theme of remembrance, I would only like to say that whatever the quality of arguments over attrition etc., the 3rd May was inexcusable. Suffice it to say that the main battles for Bullecourt finished on this day 94 years ago. Let's remember those that fought in that most terrible of battles Posted Image

Jim

#7 Derek Robertson

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 07:17 PM

The 3rd May, 1917: The folly of war.

#8 J Banning

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 07:56 PM

....the 3rd May was inexcusable. Suffice it to say that the main battles for Bullecourt finished on this day 94 years ago. Let's remember those that fought in that most terrible of battles Posted Image


Couldn't agree more Jim. Also, must add thoughts spared for the 4th Division men who finally captured Roeux and the Chemical Works on the 12th and the poor old 51st (Highland) Division who bore the brunt of the German counter attack on 16 May (94 years ago tomorrow). The Jocks must have been well and truly sick of the 'Comical Works' and village by then – what a place to have fought in.

As for Bullecourt, the fighting there was about as awful as can be imagined. Despite the official end to the Second Battle I have some amazing 58th Division material for attacks at Bullecourt in mid-June - the so called 'associated actions'. Dreadful losses for small gain and on the grand scheme of things, a terrible squandering of men's lives. Remembering them all.

#9 John Duncan

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 08:10 PM

Spare a thought for the poor old 9th Scottish Division too, the lads had taken a pasting at the Chemical Works on the 12th April, as had the 4th Division the day before. The night attacks on the 3rd were as big a folly and another of the 'forgotten' black days in the Battle of Arras.

John :poppy:

#10 Black Watch

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 11:37 PM

11th April was the day my Great uncle was killed. Part ot the 1stRoyal Irish Fusiliers who along with the Seaforths attacked the Chemical works. By this time I think it was apparent that the attack was running out of steam, but still we persisted in ill considered futile attacks when all the advantages clearly lay with the defenders.

#11 Jim Smithson

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 07:35 PM

Unfortunately command and control was so poor on the 10th and 11th that I don't think anyone was really sure what was going on and the thinking was that further attacks would lead to more success. The same poor command and control failure, however, was to lead to many of those attacks being uncoordinated disasters, such as that costing your Great Uncle his life.

Jim

#12 PJA

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 09:00 PM

Why has this terrible day not been given more prominence in British folklore about the Great War ?

It must rank up there in the Top Ten of bad days, judging by the number of dead.

In his diary entry for May 2, Haig expresses misgivings about this attack, scheduled to commence in the early hours the following day, on account of German artillery reaction to staggered attacks by Aussies and British ( Sheffield and Bourne).

Does he allude to the result ?

Phil (PJA)

#13 Lachlan

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 04:13 AM

Sorry, I never noticed this thread until today !

At 0345hrs, 3rd May 1917, My Gt Uncle, L/Cpl S9365 David E. Robertson, B Coy, 8th Batt Royal Highlanders (Black Watch), 26th Bde, 9th Scottish Division, left Cuba Trench to attack Greenland Hill, by Roeux. He is remembered on Panel 6 of the Arras Memorial.

#14 truthergw

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 10:43 AM

Why has this terrible day not been given more prominence in British folklore about the Great War ?

It must rank up there in the Top Ten of bad days, judging by the number of dead.

In his diary entry for May 2, Haig expresses misgivings about this attack, scheduled to commence in the early hours the following day, on account of German artillery reaction to staggered attacks by Aussies and British ( Sheffield and Bourne).

Does he allude to the result ?

Phil (PJA)


Until very recently, Arras was overshadowed by Passchendaele. There is still comparatively little written of it. As at Loos, there was a disproportionate Scottish involvement. Could it be that with the heavy losses being to Scots regiments and the great victory at Vimy being mainly Canadian that it was easy to focus on the later battle of IIIYpres?

#15 SWorrall

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 11:19 AM

Why has this terrible day not been given more prominence in British folklore about the Great War ?

It must rank up there in the Top Ten of bad days, judging by the number of dead.

In his diary entry for May 2, Haig expresses misgivings about this attack, scheduled to commence in the early hours the following day, on account of German artillery reaction to staggered attacks by Aussies and British ( Sheffield and Bourne).

Does he allude to the result ?

Phil (PJA)


You have a point about prominence Phil. may I take it one step further?
If someone who didn't know the full history came to the topic, they would probably gather that our side had lost the War, because we give no consideration to the '100 Days', and little to Cambrai (for example).
We tend to downplay the things that we did well, in favour of the things we didn't do well.
The Somme and 'Passchendaele' loom so large in the mythology that they obscure the final result.

Personally I'd just like to see a better balance.

The British (and Commonwealth) forces lost as many casualties in the 100 Days, which broke the German Army and finished the war successfully, as they did in the Somme battles.
(roughly 420 000 in 141 days on the Somme, 411 500 in 96 Days from August 8th 1918 onwards).
The daily loss rate for the 100 Days was half as bad again, as for the Somme. (The 1917 Battles of Arras, including 3rd Scarpe, were worse still, of course). Yet there is no focus on them.

My own belief is that there should be more emphasis on the 100 Days, in particular.
The Germans lost a quarter of their manpower and half their guns in the West in that brief period.
The 'British' Army was responsible for half of that, the combined French / US / Belgians for the other half.
But details like this are lost in the background noise, swamped by the noise about the Somme and 3rd Ypres.

Simon.

#16 PJA

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 12:41 PM

Continuing my research into the casualty figures, I have consulted the Australian Medical History, and must comment that the Australian casualties in the battle of May 3 1917 were extreme.

It's not just the number : the proportion of those killed was very high indeed.

In this sense, Simon, there is an important differentiation between these positional battles of 1916-17 and the grand sweep of the Hundred Days...yes, the aggregate casualty figures for August to November 1918 were huge, but they did not include anything like the same proportion of killed : gassed, lightly wounded and wounded who recovered comprised a much bigger per centage. It's almost as if " there are casualties and there are casualties".....in those condensed and pulverised battlefields in 1916 and 1917, the losses were suffered in little tongues of ground...truly a hideous concentration, in which men who were struck down could not be brought in, and were hit again and again if they had not been killed outright.

It would appear that this was the fate of many British and Australian soldiers on May 3 1917 at Bullecourt and elswhere in the Scarpe fighting.

Phil (PJA)

#17 SWorrall

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 01:54 PM

Continuing my research into the casualty figures, I have consulted the Australian Medical History, and must comment that the Australian casualties in the battle of May 3 1917 were extreme.

It's not just the number : the proportion of those killed was very high indeed.

In this sense, Simon, there is an important differentiation between these positional battles of 1916-17 and the grand sweep of the Hundred Days...yes, the aggregate casualty figures for August to November 1918 were huge, but they did not include anything like the same proportion of killed : gassed, lightly wounded and wounded who recovered comprised a much bigger per centage. It's almost as if " there are casualties and there are casualties".....in those condensed and pulverised battlefields in 1916 and 1917, the losses were suffered in little tongues of ground...truly a hideous concentration, in which men who were struck down could not be brought in, and were hit again and again if they had not been killed outright.

It would appear that this was the fate of many British and Australian soldiers on May 3 1917 at Bullecourt and elswhere in the Scarpe fighting.

Phil (PJA)


I can't disagree.
And the best single volume I've read so far is our Pal Jeremy Banning's (with Peter Barton) Arras volume, recently published.
For its blend of photography, mapping, description and prose it is a masterpiece.

Simon.

#18 Black Watch

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 03:36 PM

I read that one too, and I agree its excellent.