Page 320 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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"FffiST ARRAS, 1918," "ANCRE, 1918"
2nd, 1st/5th, 6th, 1st/7th, 2nd/7th, 1st/8th, 2nd/8th, 10th, 11th, 15th, 16th,
17th and 18th Battalions
had been for some time evident that the Germans, considerably
strengthened on the Western Front by the collapse of Russia,
intended to make a supreme effort to inflict defeat on the British
and French Armies before the appearance in the field of the American
Army gave the Allies such a preponderance in numbers and equip–
ment that the victory of the Central Powers would be impossible.
Since the Americans could be expected to be ready to take their
place in appreciable numbers in the late summer of 1918, the
German offensive would obviously have to be launched in the early
spring. As the first weeks of the year passed by, it was possible to
narrow down the probable date of attack to the middle or end of
March; and, in the end, information from various sources made it
reasonably certain that 20th or 21st March, 1918, was to be "The
may be noted that 21st March is the first day of spring.
Though there were many indications of hostile preparations for
an offensive opposite the British front east of Peronne, there were
similar indications on the French front in Champagne, near Verdun,
and elsewhere. There was therefore uncertainty as to where the
main German blow would fall, an uncertainty which the enemy did
everything to foster and which in the event was responsible for an
inevitable delay in moving troops to the succour of the hard–
pressed Third and Fifth British Armies. For it was upon them that
the full force of a fierce bombardment, lasting between four and five
hours, fell in the early hours of Thursday, 21st March, 1918; and
against twenty of their divisions that sixty-two German divisions
were hurled in a fog so thick that in places men could keep contact
with their neighbours on the march only by holding on to each
other's equipment. In many places the assaulting troops had
penetrated the forward defences and reached battalion and even
brigade headquarters before the latter, deprived of
communication by the bombardment, were aware that an infantry
attack had even been launched. Many of those holding the front
line were never seen again. In spite of heroic resistance by small
bodies of troops at all parts of the front, so many holes had been
blasted in the human and material defences by the German shells
that a retirement was inevitable if any sort of continuous line was
to be preserved and the enemy prevented from causing such wide.
gaps that he could have found a flank and surrounded large elements
or even made his way through to the Channel ports. For ten days
on end, with heavy casualties but dogged refusal to be beaten, the
British fought their way back until the arrival of British and French
reinforcements, together with the exhaustion of the Germans,
brought the ordeal to a halt .