The Third Battle of Artois (September 1915)

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The combined Franco-British offensive in Artois during September 1915, under the command of General Ferdinand Foch, focused on thirty-two kilometres of the front held by the German 6th Army between La Bassée and Arras. It took place at the same time as the major offensive launched by the French in the region of Champagne. Although preliminary shelling was to be carried out along the whole length of the sector, infantry attacks were limited to two distinct zones separated by a four kilometre gap between Lens and Liévin for which no major actions were scheduled. To the south, the French 10th Army fielded ten infantry divisions plus two cavalry divisions, the latter to exploit the breach Foch hoped would materialize, and to the north the British 1st Army was expected to launch six infantry divisions into an attack on the coal basin between La Bassée Canal and the village of Loos. General Joffre's strategic objectives for the offensive were unclear but nevertheless optimistic. He expected a breach in the enemy's lines would allow the cavalry to rush through and, in a matter of days, advance as far as Mons in Belgium, a distance of no less than eighty kilometres...

His plan of attack was also extremely simple: four days of continuous shelling climaxing in an apocalyptic final four hours which would crush the enemy's positions before the infantry streamed out of the trenches to pursue the attack. The assault had to be massive and continuous, the reserves hugging the front as closely as possible.

The French began shelling on 25 September 1915 between Angres and Arras, a few hours before the British were to attack Loos. At 12.45 p.m. the French infantry went over the top. The advance was slow but by the morning of 28 September the French had reached hill 140 at the summit of Vimy Ridge, forcing the Germans into a massive counter-attack.

On 30 September Joffre decided to call a halt to the offensive in Champagne when its failure could no longer be ignored. A final effort by the French to take complete control of Vimy Ridge was repelled by the Germans on 11 October.

Yves Le Maner
Director of La Coupole
History and Remembrance Centre of Northern France

Archive pictures

Ligne de front à l'issue des offensives francaise et britannique de septembre 1915

Guide Michelin des champs de bataille : Artois-Arras-Lens-Douai (jpg - 0.07 MB)

Ligne de front à l'issue des offensives francaise et britannique de septembre 1915