The Hindenburg Line and Operation Alberich, the strategic German retreat :
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1917 saw the emergence of a new type of battle in specific areas such as Vimy and Messines, within the context of large-scale long-term offensives such as Arras and Ypres. The Battle of Arras began on the 9th of April 1917, just a few days before the French attack on the Chemin des Dames, and was one of the British army’s major offensives on the Western Front, on a par with the Battle of the Somme or the Third Battle of Ypres. Preparations were meticulous, with huge quarters set up for 24,000 men in the quarries under the town of Arras and the digging of access tunnels by Canadian units assigned to Vimy ridge, the northern section of the offensive.
Artillery preparation began on the 20th of March and involved 2,900 guns. This equated to one gun every 9 metres along the front, twice the density of the Battle of the Somme. The infantry attack was launched on the 9th of April. Having made rapid progress in the first few hours of the offensive, the British attack petered out east of Arras whilst, on the 16th of April, the French attack on the Chemin des Dames proved disastrous. The fighting was incessant for almost two months and led to very heavy British losses, with over 100,000 soldiers put out of action, including 39,000 dead or missing in the Arras area in April and May 1917. The British Expeditionary Force lost an average of 4,076 men each day, more than at the Somme (2,945) or Passchendaele (2,323).
On the 9th of April 1917, 20,000 Canadians advanced towards Vimy ridge behind a creeping barrage which progressed around 100 metres every three minutes. By mid-afternoon, despite German machine guns inflicting heavy losses amongst the first wave of troops, the Canadians had taken most of the plateau, a feat which no other Allied attack had managed. In the space of three days, they took 4,000 prisoners. The capture of Vimy ridge was a big success for the Canadians, but it came at a heavy human cost, as, between the 9th and the 13th of April, 3,598 were killed and 7,000 injured. The Germans suffered comparable losses. The success at Vimy was met with great enthusiasm in Canada and was deemed to be one of the defining moments of the fledgling nation’s history.
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The attack launched by Australian soldiers on the 11th of April 1917 was particularly dramatic. They attacked a section of the Hindenburg Line located close to the village of Bullecourt, around halfway between Arras and Bapaume. Thousands of infantrymen attacked a heavily fortified line following limited artillery preparation. In the space of three hours, the ten tanks which had flanked the infantrymen had all been neutralised and half of their crews killed. The snowy ground was littered with dead and injured soldiers. The outcome was disastrous for the assailants, of whom 3,200 were either killed or injured and a further 1,200 taken prisoner, a third of all of the Australians taken prisoner in the Great War on the west front. 750 Germans were put out of action, with 138 of them killed. A repeat attack was launched on the 3rd of May before fighting in Bullecourt ceased on the 21st of May. The Allies held a small section of the Hindenburg Line, but it was of no tactical importance. Over 7,000 Australians were either killed or injured during the Second Battle of Bullecourt.
The Battle of Cambrai, characterised by the first ever mass use of tanks:
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Extracts from the permanent exhibition of the interpretative center.
Loos-en-Gohelle and its surrounding area, marked as they were by significant military operations during the conflict. Among them, the Battle of Loos (25 September - 19 October 1915) and the Battle of Hill 70 (15 - 25 August 1917) are testimony to the involvement of British Empire forces on the Artois Front.
Designed as part of the Lens-Liévin Land of Art and History initiative, the aim of this brochure is to recount the course of the battles in the Loos-en-Gohelle sector and to decode the traces still visible today, in memory and in the landscape.