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Third, and Fourth Armies stormed the line of the Canal du Nord and broke through the Hindenburg line mark the close of the first phase of the British offensive. The enemy's defense In the last and strongest of his prepared positions had been shattered. The whole of the main Hindenburg defenses had passed into our possession, and a wide gap had been driven through such rear trench systems as had- existed behind them. The effect of the victory upon the subsequent course of the campaign was decisive. The threat to the enemy's communications was now direct and instant, for nothing but the natural obstacles of a wooded and wellwatered countryside lay between our armies and Maubeuge.
In the fighting of these days. In which thirty British and two American infantry divisions and one British cavalry division were engaged against thirty-nine German divisions, over 36,000 prisoners and 380 guns had been captured. Great as were the material losses the enemy had suffered, the effect of so overwhelming a defeat upon a morale already deteriorated was of even larger importance.
Combined with the events in Flanders presently narrated, the advance we had made opened a new threat to the German positions on the Lys front.
(39) THE BATTLE IN FLANDERS
As indicated above in Paragraph 13, the general strategic plan of the Allies contemplated the development of operations on the Flanders front. The details of these operations were settled at a conference held by the Commander in Chief of the allied armies at Cassel on Sept. 9. The force to be engaged was to be placed under the command of His Majesty the King of the Belgians, and was to consist of the Belgian Army, some French divisions, and all the artillery and a certain number of divisions of the Second British Army, commanded by General Sir H. Plumer. To the definite plan then laid down I gladly gave my assent.
Accordingly, at 5:30 A. M., on Sept. 28, the 19th and 2d Corps of the Second Army attacked without preliminary bombardment on a front of some four and a half miles south of the Tpres-Zonnebeke road. The 14th Division, (Major Gen. P. C. B. Skinner,) 35th Division, (Major Gen. A. H. Marindin.) 29th and 9th Divisions delivered the initial assault, being supported in the later stages of the battle by the 41st Division. (Major Gen. Sir S. T. B. Lawford,) and the 30th Division, (Major Gen. C. Coffin.) On the left of the 2d Corps the Belgian Army continued the line of attack as far as Dlxmude.
On both the British and Belgian fronts the attack was a brilliant success. The enemy, who was attempting to hold his positions with less than five divisions, was driven rapIdly from the whole of the high ground east of Ypres, so fiercely contested during the battles of 1917. By the end of the day the
British divisions had passed far beyond the furthest limits of the 1917 battles, and had reached and captured Kortewilde, Zandvoorde, Kruiseecke, and Becelaere. On .their left Belgian troops had taken Zonnebeke, Poelcapelle, and Schaap Baillie, and cleared the enemy from Houlthulst Forest.
South of the main attack, successful minor enterprises by the 31st, 30th, (Major Gen. W. de L. Williams,) and 34th British Divisions carried our line forward to St. Yves and the outskirts of Messines. Wytschaete was captured, and after sharp fighting our troops established themselves along the line of the ridge between Wytschaete and the canal north of Hollebeke.
During the succeeding days, despite continuous rain and great difficulties from the scarcity of practicable roads, the British and Belgian forces followed up the defeated enemy with the utmost vigor. On Sept. 29 our troops drove the German rearguards from Ploegsteert Wood and Messines and captured Terhand and Dadlzeele. By the evening of Oct. 1 they had cleared the left bank of the Lys from Comines southward, while north of that town they were close up to Wervlcq, Gheluwe, and Ledeghem. On their left the Belgian Army had passed the general line Moorslede-Staden-Dixmude.
In these most successful operations anil their subsequent developments the British forces alone captured at light cost over 5,000 prisoners and 100 guns. ,
(40) THE WITHDRAWAL FROM LENS AND ARMENTIERES
Once more the effect of our successes showed Itself rapidly.
At the beginning of September the enemy had withdrawn from his outpost positions astride the La Bassfie Canal, and the activity of our patrols led to sharp fighting, In which the 16th, (Major Gen. A. B. Ritchie.) 55th, (Major Gen. Sir H. S. Jeudwine,) and 19th Divisions advanced our line close up to the outskirts of La Bassfie. Thenceforward the situation on the Lys front had remained practically unchanged until Sept. 30, when the divisions of General Sir W. R. Birdwood's Fifth Army made certain small advances south of the Lys. On Oct. 2, however, the enemy once more began an extensive withdrawal, falling back on the whole front from south of Lens to Armentiores. In the sector south of Lens, Indeed, patrols of the 20th Division (Major Gen. G. G. S. Carey) met with considerable resistance on this day about Acheville and Mericourt, but progress was made. During the next two days the movement continued under vigorous pressure from our troops. By the evening of Oct. 4, north of Lens, we had reached the general line Vendin le Vieil-Wavrin-ErqulnghemHoupllnes, where the Increasing strength of the enemy's resistance Indicated that he intended to stand at any rate for a time. South of Lens the withdrawal slackened about this date on the general line FresnoySallaumines-Vendin le Vieil, but shortly afterward the development of our operations on the St. Quentin-Cambrai front forced upon the enemy a further retreat In this sector.
FIGHTING IN OPEN COUNTRY
(41) SECOND BATTLE OF LE CATEAU (Oct. 6-lt)
The second and concluding phase of the British offensive now opened, in which the Fourth and Third Armies and the right of the First Army moved forward with their left flank on the canal line which runs from Cambrai to Mons and their right covered by the French First Army. This advance, by the capture of Maubeuge and the disruption of the German main lateral system of communications, forced the enemy to fall back upon the line of the Meuse and realized the strategic plan of the allied operations.
The fighting which took place during this period, being in effect the development and exploitation of the Hindenburg line victory, falls into three stages, the breaks between the different battles being due chiefly to the depth of our advances and the difficulties of re-establishing communications.
In the first of these stages, the battle of Le Catcau, certain incomplete defenses still held by the enemy were captured and his troops compelled to evacuate Cambrai and fall back behind the line of the Selle River. In the second stage the Selle River was forced, and by a development of this operation our front pushed forward to the general line Sambre Canal-west edge of the Mormal ForestValenciennes, where we were in position for the final assault upon Maubeuge.
(42) Having completed their arrangements, at 4 :30 A. M. and 5:10 A. M., respectively, on Oct. 8 the Third and Fourth Armies attacked on a front of over seventeen miles from Sequehart to south of Cambrai. French troops continued the line of attack on our right as far south as St. Quentin. Further south French and American troops attacked on this day east of the Meuse and in Champagne, and made important progress.
On the British battlefront our infantry and tanks penetrated the enemy's positions to a depth of between three and four miles, passing rapidly over the incomplete trench lines above referred to and gaining the open country beyond. Strong at the outset of our attack, during the later stages opposition weakened. Brancourt and Premont were taken by the 30th American Division, while to the north of them the 6Cth Division, (Major General H. K. Bethcll.) attacking beside the 25th Division, (Major Gen. J. R. E. Charles,) captured Seraln. Villers Outreaux was cleared by the 38th Division, with the assistance of tanks, after heavy fighting, and late In the afternoon Malincourt was captured. The New Zealand Division passed through Lesdain and took Esnes, while on the left of the attack the 3d, 2d. and (!3d Divisions captured Seranvillers, Forenville, and NierSelle River at all points south of Haspres and had established bridgeheads at a number of places.
gnies after very heavy fighting, in the course of which the enemy counterattacked with tanks. On the extreme left the GTtb Division made progress in the southeri outskirts' of Cambrai.
A- the result of this attack the enemy's resistance temporarily gave way. His infantry became disorganized and retired steadily eastward, while our airmen reported that the roads converging on Le Cateau were blocked with troops and transport. Several thousand prisoners and many guns fell into our hands. During the following night the Canadian Corps captured Ramillies and crossed the Scheldt Canal at Pont d'Aire. Canadian patrols entered Cambrai from the north and Joined hands with patrols of the r>7th Division working through the southern portion of the town. Next morning at 5 :20 the Fourth and Third Armies resumed the attack on the whole front, cavalry assisting in the advance. By nightfall our troops were within two miles of Le Cateau, had captured Bohain, and were attacking Caudry from the south. Cambrai was in our hanas, and our troops were three miles to the east of the town.
In this day's fighting cavalry again did valuable and gallant work, hurrying the enemy in his retreat and preventing him from completing the destruction of the railway which runs from St. Quentin to Busigny and Cambrai. When our infantry were held up by heavy machine-gun fire from Cattigny Wood and Clary, a dashing charge by the Fort Garry Horse gained a footing In Cattigny Wood and assisted our infantry to press forward. Further east, Dragoon Guards and Canadian cavalry were instrumental in the capture of Honnechy, Reumont, and Troisvillcs.
On Oct. 10 our progress continued, thougn the enemy's resistance gradually stiffened as our troops approached the line of the River Selle, and attempts made by the cavalry to cross that stream had to be abandoned. Tha t night we had reached the outskirts of Riqucrval Wood, and held the west bank of the Selle River thence as far as Viesly, whence our line ran past St. Hilaire and Avesnes, taken by the Guards and 24th Divisions, to the Scheldt at Thun St. Martin.
During these days the French First Army on our right advaanced its line east of St. Quentin, clearing the west bank of the OiseSambre Canal as far north as Bernot.
(43) WITHDRAWAL FROM LAON By this advance, In which twenty British Infantry, two British cavalry, and one American infantry division routed twenty-four German divisions and took from them 12.000 prisoners and 250 guns, we gained full possession of the important lateral double line of railway running from St. Quentin through Busigny to Cambrai. During the repair of such portions of it as had been destroyed an-J the removal of delay action mines left by the enemy, our line was carried forward by local operations. By Oct. 13 we had reached the
Meanwhile, on Oct. 7, under close pressure from our troops, the enemy had extended the flank of his withdrawal south of Lens, and on that day the 8th Division had captured Biache St. Vaast and Oppy, with some hundreds of prisoners. After the launching of our attack on Oct. 8, this movement continued with increased rapidity. By the evening of Oct. 13 our troops had reached the western suburbs of Douai, and were close up to the west banks of the Sensee Deviation and Haut Deule Canals on the whole front from Arleux (south of Douai) to Vendin le Vieil.
During this period also our allies had been pushing forward steadily on both sides of the Argonne. Held by their attacks on his southern flank, while to the north the British offensive was driving forward rapidly behind his right, the enemy was forced to evacuate his positions in the Laon salient. Signs of a widespread German withdrawal were reported on Oct. 11, and by the evening of Oct. 13 Laon was In French hands.
(44) ADVANCE IN FLANDERS
While these great events were taking place to the south of them, the allied forces In Flanders were busily engaged in re-establishing adequate communications in the area of the old Ypres battles. By dint of great exertions, and the most careful organization of traffic routes, by the end of the second week in October the restoration of the allied systems of communications was sufficiently far advanced to permit of a resumption of the offensive.
Accordingly, at 5:35 A. M. on the 14th of October, the British, Belgian, and French forces, under command of His Majesty the King of the Belgians, attacked on the whole front between the Lys River at Comines and Dixmude.
The British sector extended for a distance of between nine and ten miles from Comines to the hamlet of St. Peter, on the MeninRoulers road. The assault was launched by the 10th, 19th, and 2d Corps of General Plumer's Second Army, under command respectively of Lieut. Gen. R. B. Stephens, Lieut Gen. Sir E. E. Watts, and Lieut. Gen. Sir C. W. Jacob, employing respectively the 30th and 34th Divisions, the 41st and 35th Divisions, and the 36th, 29th, and 9th Divisions.
The allied attack was again attended by complete success. The two southern British corps advanced their line according to program to the southern edge of the rising ground overlooking Wervicq, Menin, and Wevelghem, in spite of very considerable resistance. Meanwhile, the 2d Corps, after heavy fighting, penetrated to a depth of between three and four miles eastward, capturing Moorseele and making progress beyond It to within a short distance of Gulleg
hem and Steenbeek. On our left Belgian troops reached Iseghem, French troops surrounded Roulers, while further north other Belgian divisions took Cortemarck.
During the ensuing days our success was vigorously exploited. By the afternoon of the 16th of October we held the north bank of the Lys from Frelinghien to opposite Harlebeke, and had crossed the river at a number of points. To the north of us our allies also had made striking progress. Before nightfall on the 15th of October Thourout was surrounded, and next day the enemy retired rapidly. Ostend fell on the 17th of October, and three days later the northern flank of the allied line rested on the Dutch frontier.
In these operations and others of a le3ser nature carried out on the last day of the month after the withdrawal next mentioned the British forces operating on this battlefront captured over 6,000 prisoners and 210 guns.
(45) THE EVACUATION OF LILLE
Our advance north of the Lys had brought our troops far to the east of the Lille defenses on the northern side, while our progress on the Le Cateau front had turned the Lille defenses from the south. The German forces between the Sensee and the Lys were once more compelled to withdraw, closely followed by our troops, who constantly drove in their rearguards and took a number of prisoners. The enemy was given no opportunity to complete the removal of his stores and the destruction of roads and bridges, or to evacuate the civil population.
The movement began on Oct. 15, when, in spite of considerable opposition, our troops crossed the Haute Deule Canal on a wide front north of Pont-a-Vendin. By the evening of Oct. 17 the 8th Division of General Sir A. Hunter Weston's 8th Corps had entered Douai and the 57th and 69th Divisions (Major Gen. N. M. Smyth) of Lieut. Gen. Sir R. C. B. Haking's 11th Corps were on the outskirts of Lille. At 5:50 A. M. on Oct. 18 our troops had encircled Lille, which was clear of the enemy. During the day our line was carried far to the cast of these towns and east of Roubaix and Tourcoing, occupied by the 40th and 51st Divisions (Major Gen. Sir W. B. Feyton commanding 40th Division) of Lieut. Gen. Sir H. B. de Lisle's 15th Corps. Thereafter our troops pressed forward steadily, until by the evening of Oct. 22 they had reached the general line of the Scheldt on the whole front from Valenciennes to the neighborhood of Avelghem.
(46) BATTLE OF THE SELLE RIVER
Meanwhile, communications on the Le Cateau front were improving, and it was possible to recommence operations of a more than local character for the forcing of the Selle positions and the attainment of the general line Sambre ct Olse Canal-west edge of the For£t de Mormal-Valenciennes. This advance would bring the important railway Junction at Aulnoye within effective range of our guns.
Our operations were opened on Oct. 17 by an attack by the Fourth Army on a front of about ten miles from Le Cateau southward, in conjunction with the French First Army operating west of the Sambre et Oise Canal. The assault launched at 5:20 A. M. was delivered by the 9th. 2d American, and 13th Corps, employing, respectiv !y, the 46th, 1st, and 6th Divisions, the 30th and 27th American Divisions, and the 50th and 66th Divisions.
The enemy was holding the difficult wooded country east of Bohain and the line of the Selle north of it in great strength, his infantry being well supported by artillery. During the first two days his resistance was obstinate, but the attacking British and American troops made good progress. By the evening of the 10th of October, after much severe fighting, the enemy had been driven across the Sambre et Oise Canal at practically all points south of Catillon, whence our line followed the valley of the Richemont east and north of Le Cateau.
This success was followed at 2 A. M. on the 20th of October by an attack upon the line of the Selle River north of Le Cateau. The troops employed were the 38th, 17th, 5th, 42d, 62d Guards, and 19th Divisions of the Third Army, and the 4th Division on the right of the First Army in that order from right to left.
On this occasion also the enemy's resistance was serious, and he had been able to erect wire entanglements along the greater part of the line. Our advance was strongly contested at every point, frequent counterattacks being made. Supported by a number of tanks which had successfully crossed the river, our infantry, after severe fighting about Neuvilly, Amerval, Solesmes, and Haspres, gained their objectives on the high ground east of the Selle, pushing out patrols as far as the River Harpies. North of Haspres other troops of the First Army continued to make progress on both sides of the Scheldt Canal, reaching the slopes overlooking the left bank of the Ecaillon River and occupying Denain.
(47) The capture of the Selle positions was followed almost immediately by the larger operation for the attainment of the required general line above mentioned, running from the Sambre Canal along the edge of the Mormal Forest to the neighborhood of Valenciennes.
The original front of attack stretched from east of Mazinghien to Maison Bleue, northeast of Haussy, a distance of some fifteen miles. The assault was opened by the Fourth Army at 1:20 A. M. on the 23d of October and was delivered by the 9th and 13th Corps, employing, respectively, the 1st and 6th Divisions and the 25th and 18th Divisions. The Third Army again attacked with the 5th, 4th, 6th, and 17th Corps, employing, re
spectively, the 33d and 21st Divisions, the 5th, 42d, 37th, and New Zealand Divisions, the 3d and 2d Divisions, and the 19th Division. On the second day the 61st Division of the 17th Corps and the 4th Division and 51st Division of the 22d Corps, First Army, extended the line of attack for a further five miles northward to the Scheldt.
The unfavorable weather of the preceding days had made it difficult to locate the enemy's batteries, and during the earlier stages of the battle hostile artillery fire was heavy. Despite this, and in spite of determined opposition at many points from the German machine gunners, in two days our infantry and tanks realized an advance of six miles over difficult country. About many of the woods and villages which lay In the way of our attack there was severe fighting, particularly in the large wood known as the Bois l'Eveque and at Pommereuil, Bousles Forest, and Vcndcgies-sur-Ecaillon. This latter village held out till the afternoon of the 24th of October, when it was taken by an enveloping attack by troops of the 19th Division and 61st Division.
At the end of that day the western outskirts of the For6t de Mormal had been reached, our troops were within a mile of Le Quesnoy, and to the northwest of that town had captured the villages of Ruesnes and Maing. Local operations during the following three days gave us Englcfontaine and established our line well to the north and east of the Le Quesnoy-Valenciennes railway, from the outskirts of Le Quesnoy, past Sepmeries and Artres to Famars.
(48) THE ENEMVS POSITION AT THE END OF OCTOBER
By this time the rapid succession of heavy blows dealt by the British forces had had a cumulative effect, both moral and material, upon the German armies. The difficulty of replacing the enemy's enormous losses In guns, machine guns and ammunition had increased with every fresh attack, and his reserves of men were exhausted. In the Spile battle the twenty-four British and two American divisions engaged had captured a further 20,000 prisoners and 475 guns from the thirty-one German divisions opposed to them, and had advanced to a great depth with certainty and precision. Though troops could still be found to offer resistance to our Initial assault, the German infantry and machine gunners were no longer reliable, and cases were being reported of their retiring without fighting in front of our artillery barrage.
The capitulation of Turkey and Bulgaria and the imminent collapse of Austria—consequent upon allied successes which the desperate position of her own armies on the western front had rendered her powerless to prevent—had made Germany's military situation ultimately Impossible. If her armies were allowed to withdraw undisturbed to shorter lines the struggle might still be