Tuesday, June 16, 2015

June 16th, 1915

- After several weeks of small-scale attacks, the French 10th Army undertakes a major assault today in Artois, moving against the German line from Liévin in the north through Souchez and Neuville almost to Arras in the south.  In addition to placing additional reserves at General d'Urbal's disposal, Joffre has insisted that the lessons learnt from the failures of prior operations be implemented.  Not only will these reserves be placed much closer to the front line than was the case on May 9th, but the preliminary artillery bombardment is to be more nuanced.  Realizing that simply pounding the German line for several days gave the Germans too much warning of an impending attack, for this assault the artillery is to target a sufficiently diverse range of German targets to avoid giving away the French plan.  Instead, the first German trench line is to be targeted by a massive bombardment the moment the French infantry leave their own trenches, so as to not only destroy the German defences but leave them insufficient time to respond.  For this bombardment, over a thousand artillery pieces have been assigned to 10th Army, and together they fire almost five hundred thousand shells prior to and during the attack, almost double the number fired prior to and on May 9th.

Despite the concentration of firepower, the preliminary bombardment is deemed to be insufficient this morning, and the infantry attack is postponed from 9am to 1215pm to allow for additional artillery fire.  When the French infantry go over the top, they run into a storm of German fire, and are limited to incremental gains: between Liévin and Angers XXI Corps seizes the first trench line formerly held by the German 7th Division, another trench is seized at Lorette Spur, XXXIII Corps reaches the edge of Souchez, and elements of XX, X, and XVII Corps fight their way into the mess of trenches and defensive positions in the Labyrinth.  The greatest French success is achieved by the Moroccan Division south of Souchez, which advances up to a kilometre along a front of four hundred metres.  Nowhere, however, had the French achieved anything like the breakthrough of May 9th, when elements of Pétain's XXXIII Corps had advanced six kilometres and reached the summit of Vimy Ridge.  Instead, today's attacks have failed to break through the German line at any point - indeed, German counterattacks this evening retake the trench lost earlier in the day between Liévin and Angers - and what little ground has been taken and held has been purchased at the cost of 19 000 casualties.  Today's assault has been a dismal failure.

Meanwhile, another attack intended to divert German attention from Artois had been launched on June 6th ten kilometres south of Noyon, and when it is halted today the French 6th Army has managed to advance only five hundred yards while suffering 7905 casualties.

- In Galicia the realization gradually dawns on the German and Austro-Hungarian commanders this morning that the Russians have retreated overnight, and a vigorous pursuit is ordered.  The German 11th Army advances rapidly eastward, with fighting limited to skirmishes with Russian rearguards.  To the south the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Army is also able to advance now that the Russians have fallen back, and by this evening are approaching the lower Wereszyca River, on the east bank of which the Russians have entrenched.

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