Tag Archives: Arras

10th April 1917 – Arras and the Hindenburg Line

On the 10th April tanks were unditched and generally prepared for further action.  On the 11th April four tanks which were then rallied in Neuville Vitasse were detailed to assist in the capture of the Hindenburg Line about its junction with the Wancourt Line and eventually in the capture of Wancourt.  These tanks proceeded down the wire in front of the Hindenburg Line crushing it and also dealing with the Garrisons of the trenches.  These tanks then moved on to Heninel and Wancourt destroying Machine Guns and firing into the houses.  The Infantry did not follow up the tanks as they were still under Machine Gun fire from the Hindenburg Line which the tanks had apparently not succeeded in reducing before they proceeded on to Wancourt.

That evening 3 tanks returned to Rallying Point where one became ditched in a Sunken Road and was set on fire by a direct hit.  The Infantry advanced that night and captured the Hindenburg Line, Heninel and Wancourt all of which the enemy had apparently evacuated.  Some very useful pigeon messages were sent back from the tanks which had proceeded to Wancourt.  This tank operation was carried out at very short notice and with no previous reconnaissance possible.  The ground was much more favourable for tank operations and continual snow storms screened their movements from enemy artillery.

Arras Overview

Mk II Tank

The Battle of Arras was the first time that the 1st Tank Brigade had acted as a fighting unit.   The Brigade was allocated sixty tanks: C Battalion was given 28 tanks and D Battalion were given 32.  The tank commanders and crews were specially selected, any previously formed crews were broken up.  The selected crews began their training about six weeks before the operations took place.

The 60 tanks were a mixture of  Mark Is and Mark IIs although a number of improvements had been effected since the fighting of the previous autumn.  The Machine Gun was changed, and some slight improvements in machinery had been carried out.  Thirty-five of the Tanks were Males and twenty-five Females.  The Male or Six-Pounder Tank was unchanged except that the Hotchkiss Gun was discarded and replaced by the Lewis Gun, of which there were four in each Male Tank.  The Female was armed with six Lewis Guns in place of the old Vickers and Hotchkiss Guns.  The adapting of the old and construction of the necessary new loop-holes for the Lewis Guns was carried out entirely by the Heavy Branch Workshops in France.

On March 28th, in preparation for the operations, Brigade Headquarters moved up to Montenescourt and the two Battalions of the Brigade also moved forward, C Battalion to Arras and D Battalion to Montenescourt.  From then until the start of operations on the 9th April, the final work of preparation was carried out.  On April 2nd Brigadier-General Elles inspected the Battalion Camps and on April 7th he visited Brigade Headquarters. He came back again on 8th April.

A certain amount of preliminary training with Infantry was carried out.  Section and tank commanders and their NCOs attended some of the Infantry rehearsals, using banners marked “Tank” to indicate the position of Tanks.  In some cases a few Infantry Officers and Divisional and Brigade Staff Officers attended schemes carried out by Tank Battalions.  A rehearsal scheme of the Tank Operations was also carried out in the vicinity of Bermicourt

The General Plan of Operations was:

The object of the Third Army was to pierce the German defences between Heninel and the River Scarpe and to advance on Cambrai turning the Hindenburg Line from Heninel to Marcoing.

The First and Fifth Armies were to co-operate in the Third Army attack.  The Fifth Army to operate about Bullecourt and so to protect the Right Flank of the Third Army and also to roll up the Southern Flank of the Queant-Drocourt Line.  The First Army to capture the Vimy Ridge and so form a defensive flank North of the River Scarpe to the Third Army’s attack.  The 1st Cavalry Corps was to take part in the operations of the Third Army.

On the First and Third Army fronts the tank operations were to be subsidiary to the Infantry attack, following up behind the Infantry and reducing strong points and selected lengths of trenches and trench systems – the whole attack working forward under the barrage.  The tanks would not take part in the initial attack on the first objective (Black Line) but in the Third Army, starting generally at Zero would catch up the Infantry at the Black Line and proceed thence with the leading Infantry under the barrage to the capture of the second objective (Blue Line) and thence move forward again in a similar manner.  In the case of the First Army the tanks were to start in time to catch up the Infantry at the Red Line.

On the Fifth Army front the tanks were to take a more leading part, preceding the Infantry and replacing the barrages.

All sixty tanks were employed in the initial stages of the attack and were, in the majority allotted objectives for the capture of the Blue Line. There were not enough tanks available for them to act in waves and there was no reserve of any description.

Subsequent tank operations against the Brown and Green lines depended almost entirely on tanks that could rally at the Blue and Brown line rallying points and were fit for further action with the same crews after having refilled, if necessary, at those rallying points

Zero day was fixed for the 9th April 1917.  There was rain, sleet and snow prior to and during the operations.


Arras Preparations

C Bn’s tanks entrained from the siding at Erin.  The tanks and personnel moved on 3 trains. The first train carrying ten Tanks of No. 8 and 9 Companies left on the 24th March and arrived at Montenescourt on the morning of the 25th.  The second train left Erin on the 26th; this train contained No.7 Company with eight Tanks.  They arrived at Mont St. Eloi on the night of the 27th. The third train left on the morning of the 28th and arrived at Montenescourt on the morning of the 29th. This train contained four tanks of No.7 Company, two tanks of No.9 Company and four Tanks belonging to D Battalion.  Advance parties of No.7 Company went to the Bois de Maroeuil, and parties from Nos. 8 and 9 Companies went to the town of Arras, and were billeted at the Beaudemont Barracks.  These parties contained the Company and assistant Reconnaissance Officers, who carried out reconnaissance work in connection with the coming battle.

D Bn received orders to draw tanks from Central Workshops. Nos 10 and 11 Coys each drew 12 tanks, 12 Coy only 8.  These tanks were drawn on 28 March and entrained by Coys on successive days for movement to the forward area.  No 10 Coy detrained at Montenescourt, camouflaged the tanks and commenced preparations for action.  No 11 Coy detrained at Achiet-le-Grand and then trekked to Behagnies where they encamped.  No 12 Coy detrained at Mont-St-Eloi and encamped at the ramp.  On the following night the tanks were moved to the Bois de Moreil.