The “Back-Bone” of German Resistance: Advance near Arras and the Breaking of the Drocourt-Quéant Line

Following a successful victory at Amiens, the Canadian Corps now turned its attention towards the northern hinge of the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line, the Drocourt-Quéant Line. Unlike Amiens, where Canadians could rely on the element of surprise and an ill-prepared German defense, the Arras sector, and more specifically, the D-Q Line, was fully manned and well reinforced. With the German Army expecting an attack, the Allied strategy was to launch a successive wave of frontal attacks to exhaust and destabilize the enemy troops.

Image: “Arras Sector. 1918.” Alfred Soden English CCGW Collections, 2016.3.1.1-93.

The D-Q Line was the northernmost and strongest hinge of the Hindenburg Line, protected by lines of barbed wire, trenches, concrete pillboxes, and machine gun emplacements. [1] Before the Canadians could reach the D-Q Line, they would need to capture a series of elevated strong-points in the Arras sector: Chapel Hill, Orange Hill, and Monchy-le-Preux. With the 1st and 4th Canadian Divisions still en route from Amiens, the attack would be spearheaded by the 2nd and 3rd Divisions with two British Divisions on their flanks. On 26 August, General Sir Arthur Currie opted for a somewhat unconventional attack when he ordered the assault at 03h00.

Between 26 and 29 August, the Canadians would win a series of “set-piece battles,” capturing all of their objectives, including the Fresnes-Rouvroy Line, and advancing more than 8 kilometres in just a few days. [2] The 1st Division and 4th Division would rejoin the Corps on the 27 and 28 August, respectively, thus allowing for a rotation and relief for the 2nd and 3rd Divisions. With the D-Q Line now in sight, the Canadian Corps used heavy artillery to destroy barbed wire and clear the approaches for their assault that would take place on 1 September. [3] Owing to the large amounts of barbed wire and heavy defences, however, the attack was delayed to 2 September to allow time for more preparations.

With the assault scheduled to commence at 05h00, the 4th Canadian Division was tasked with advancing along the heavily defended Arras-Cambrai road and capturing the fortified village of Dury. [4] Lieutenant Gerald Saunders Fogarty was advancing South West of Dury with the 87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards) when he was killed near the jumping-off line. With their Stokes out of ammunition and their 6-inch Newton trench mortar destroyed by a shell, the Canadian Grenadier Guards were only left with Lewis guns to counter the enemy’s very well-sited machine guns. [5] Nevertheless, the 4th Division continued their advance and drove the Germans back.

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Image: Memorial Scroll Lieutenant Gerald Saunders Fogarty, CCGW Collections. 

On the night of 2-3 September, the Germans retreated behind the Canal-du-Nord, destroying every crossing in their path to halt the Canadian advance. [6] Nevertheless, the Canadian Corps successfully managed to break the D-Q Line on a frontage of seven kilometres. The German Army subsequently withdrew to the Hindenburg Line, allowing the Canadians to rest and their support to arrive. Their next objective in the final 100 days: the Canal-du-Nord.

References

[1] Cook, T. Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918 (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2008), 481.

[2] Schreiber, S. Shock Army of the British Empire: The Canadian Corps in the Last 100 Days of the Great War (St. Catharines: Vanwell Publishing Limited, 1997), 74-77.

[3] Ibid, 79.

[4] Duguid, A. Fortescue. History of the Canadian Grenadier Guards 1760-1964 (Montreal: Gazette Printing Company, 1965), 199.

[5] Ibid, 202.

[6] Schreiber, Shock Army of the British, 82.

 

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