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THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS,
1914-1918
Civil Avenue led to the front line, some 1,000 yards away, and
HA"
Company's position therefore jutted out in a pronounced
manner from the rest of the battalion. The unit knew the ground
thoroughly as it had fought hard near Fampoux
in
the Battle of
Arras of 1917 and had contributed to the capture of the area which
it now occupied.
It
was consequently with considerable resentment
that it learnt on 26th March that , if the Germans continued their
advance farther south, it was intended to withdraw to a line closely
covering Fampoux itself in order to avoid the creation of a dangerous
salient. Some preparations for a retirement were
in
fact made,
such as the thinning out of the artillery and the evacuation of a
proportion of the bombs and ammunition of the battalion.
If
the
German attack had been delivered two days later than it was, the
2nd Battalion would have had to bear the biggest share of any
withdrawal, as it was to have relieved the 2nd Essex Regiment
in the front line on 29th March; and reconnaissances to that end
were carried out.
But it was on 28th March, 1918, that Ludendorff launched a mass
attack north of Arras which, by capturing the Vimy Ridge, was
designed to give
him
more space for his operations and to give him
far-reaching results in a new direction to compensate
him
for the
arresting of his advance farther south.
It
may without exaggeration
be claimed that the failure of this fresh effort, to which the Germans
attached such hopes that they carried six days' rations in their
equipment, was due in no small measure to the magnificent fight
put up by the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers and in particular by Second–
Lieutenant Bernard Michael Cassidy.
The enemy opened an intense bombardment with his artillery
and trench mortars over a wide front at 3 a.m. on 28th March.
(It
was the same bombardment which necessitated the movement of
the 1st/7th Battalion to support the 127th Infantry Brigade
thirteen miles to the south at Bucquoy.) At 5.50 a.m. the 56th
(London) Division, on the immediate left of the 2nd Battalion, sent
up the
"s
0
S"; and at 6.30 a.m. a report was received that the
Germans were cutting the wire protecting the British front line.
Soon after 7 a.m. the German infantry attacked, wave after wave in
close formation. The full force fell on the 2nd Essex Regiment in
the front line. They fought magnificently; but, taking advantage
of the early morning mist which still lingered in a hollow, the
Germans passed their left flank and got in behind them. Lieutenant–
Colonel Watkins received a message from the Essex stating that
they were being attacked and ordered his battalion to man their
battle stations. Then, satisfied that his own position was secure, he
went forward to gain such information as he could of the enemy's.
activities, and visited each company in turn. No further word came
from the front line, except from wounded men, till the commanding
officer and fifty men of the Essex fell back to Hudson Alley at about
9 a.m. with the news that his battalion had been overwhelmed.
It
had indeed been surrounded and submerged by sheer weight of