Published By Ben Hillidge
Arras Offensive. First Battle of the Scarpe.
Tilloy les Mofflaines. 5 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 9-10 April 1917
Mercatel and Neuville Vitasse. 19 Bn Manchester Regiment. 9-14 April 1917
Monchy. 10 Bn West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own). 14 April 1917
The First Battle of the Scarpe, 9-14 April 1917, was the opening phase of the Arras Offensive. The battle is named after the River Scarpe running east to west through Arras town and across the southern half of the battle front. The whole battalion front stretched from Vimy in the north to Bullecourt in the south. Canadian forces would attack at Vimy Ridge, the British would attack astride the River Scarpe.
Men on the Gates would be involved in 3 actions – 5 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry at Tilloy les Mofflaines; 19 Bn Manchester Regiment at Mercatel and Neuville Vitasse, south of the River Scarpe; and 10 Bn West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own), 14 April 1917 at Monchy.
Tilloy les Mofflaines. 5 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 9-10 April 1917
On 9 April 1917, the opening day of the Arras Offensive, the 5 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry were in the line to the south of Tlloy les Monflaines. Their objective was to advance across Telegraph Hill and secure a section of trench bounded by Eye Lane, Pole Trench and Dog Lane and the Silent Works, a strong point in the enemy lines. The weather was cold with heavy snowy squalls. At 7.34am, under a hurricane barrage, the battalion began their advance. As they passed Telegraph Hill they came under fire from the direction of the Telegraph Works and from Tilloy, it was here that most casualties fell. However, the first objectives were quickly overcome. The battalion then moved on and by 8.45am had captured their main objective and begun consolidating their gains. D Coy also managed to capture the Silent Works which had been much damaged by the bombardment. Touch with flanking battalions was also gained. The speed and surprise of the attack had caught the Germans unawares – over 300 prisoners were taken, many stuck in mud as they tried to escape or still in their dug-outs. Casualties were 12 Officers and 189 ORs. The battalion was withdrawn the next day and moved back to old German trenches on Telegraph Hill.
GOOGLE MAPS Satellite view centres on Tilloy Les Monflaines – Eye Lane, Dog Lane were located to the south of the village in the area bounded by roads running down from the oblique cross roads.
Mercatel and Neuville Vitasse. 19 Bn Manchester Regiment. 9-10 April 1917.
The 30 Division were to attack once 56 Division, to the left, had achieved its objectives. The main assault had begun at 5.30am on 9 April 1917. At about 10.30am news reached 30 Division that the first assault had been successful and they prepared to move. The 19 Bn Manchester Regiment was to support an attack by 18 King’s Liverpool and 2 Bn Wiltshire Regiment on a section of trenches to the south east of Neuville-Vitasse. The attack was timed to start at 11.38am. The start line was at Mercatel from old German trenches vacated following the retreat to the Hindenburg line during March. They would have to cross 2000 yards of no man’s land to reach the enemy’s new front line. The objective was the area encompassed by Lion Trench and Panther Trench, including an enemy redoubt and concrete bunker called The Egg.(see map below B- Lion, C- Panther & D- The Egg)
The 19 Bn Manc. Rgt. had moved into their assembly trenches at Switch Lane (map) the previous night. At 11.38am they moved forward, D & C companies leading with A & B 200 yards behind them. Their first objective was the Beaurains to Boiry-Becque road (see map) in front of Mercatel which they reached after about 20 minutes. They had advanced in good order but then C coy came under machine gun fire on to their right flank. In accordance with the new tactics they extended their line thereby reducing exposure to the hostile fire.
When they reached the road they stopped for about an hour whilst the situation ahead was assessed. It was unclear as to what was happening. The battalion CO was unable to find an expected telephone and with no information decided to continue forward to support the lead battalions. The set off at about 1.00pm and soon reached a sunken road (map). Here they found troops from the lead battalions. They had been held up by enemy wire which, despite the preliminary bombardment, was largely uncut making it impossible to assault the final objective.
They dug in and awaited further orders. The battalion CO had meanwhile gone back to a telephone station to get orders. At about 2.00pm he returned to the battalion with orders to attack Natal Trench, however, on seeing the uncut wire he considered it impossible. He reported back requesting artillery to cut the wire, instead he received orders to remain where they were and dig in. They waited for the rest of the day.
At 8pm the battalion was ordered to raid Lion Trench. The raid would be made by about 75 men made up of bombers, riflemen and Lewis gunners. At first it was discovered that Lion Trench was still held by the enemy and was being shelled by British artillery. After three postponements the attack was eventually made at 5.00am the next morning. The men entered Lion Trench from Vitasse Trench and then worked their way in four parties to secure Hunk Trench and The Zoo as far as Leopard Lane and thereby isolating The Egg. The raid was successful, 22 prisoners were taken and the position secured. The raiding party was relieved the next day at 11.30am when the position was captured. The rest of the battalion meanwhile had remained in the sunken road until about 3.00am on 10 April when they were relieved and moved back to Mercatel and the next day to Basseux. No casualties are given in the battalion’s War Diary, CWGC records 10 men from 19 Bn KIA 9/10 April 1917.
GOOGLE MAPS satellite view centres on the remains of The Egg just visible in the darker brown field, zoom out for Mercatel and Neuville-Vitasse
Monchy. 10 Bn West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own). 14 April 1917.
At the beginning of April 1917 the 19 Bn West Yorkshire Regiment were in billets at Ivergny, about 40km west of Arras. On 7 April they began a 3 day march to Arras. The going was very slowly, roads were congested with traffic and there were many enforced halts. On 11 April they moved up into the battle area. There was heavy snow and it was bitterly cod. They headed on the road towards Monchy; again, there was much traffic and slow going. Just beyond Eolienne they turned onto side roads and made their way cross country to reach the Broken Mill to the south of Feuchy village. Here they received orders to relieve units of 15 Division.
Accordingly, the battalion relieved the 7 and 8 Bn King’s Own Scottish Borderers in the line from Monchy along the road to Fampoux to opposite Lone Copse. The line they held was made of up short shallow trenches facing in many directions and made when the first advancing troops had dug themselves in. They set about improving and connecting the trenches.
On 12 April there was an advance on the northern, and opposite, side of the River Scarpe against Roux-Gavrelle. The battalion were to move forward in support and to establish a line from Pelves and westward along the River. Preparations were begun and strong patrols were sent out. However, the main attack had not succeeded and the battalion was ordered back to its original line. Here they endured heavy shelling by the enemy. On the 13 April the War Diary records ‘Throughout the day the enemy, assisted by aeroplanes, heavily shelled our position (Lt. AG Titley (CWGC), Lt H Parsons, 2/Lt H Marshall (CWGC) and 2/Lt CW Andrews (CWGC) ) were killed by shell fire’. The battalion remained in the line sending out patrols and encountering the enemy about 1000 yards north of Monchy.
On 14 April the battalion worked on establishing a new line of posts astride the Pelves road. During the day the enemy launched a strong counter attack against Monchy and the battalion was heavily engaged but managed to beat off the attack. By about 3.30pm the attacks had subsided but the enemy now g=began a bombardment which lasted for four hours. The battalion was relieved that night and moved to back to billets in the caves at Arras.
GOOGLE MAPS – satellite view centres on Lone Copse to the left and front of the 10 Bn WYR line which stretched back SE to Monchy.
References and Sources WAR DIARIES – 5 Bn KSLI. 19 Bn Manchester Regiment. 10 Bn WYR. Regimental History KSLI.
B&O 1917. Arras. First Battle of Scarpe. 5 Bn KSLI. / 19 Bn Manch, Rgt. & 10 Bn West Yorks Rgt. 9-14 April 1917.