19b First Battle of Artois: 17 December 1914 to January 1915

Département: Pas-de-Calais

Region: Nord-Pas-de-Calais

Country: France

This battlefield tour is not included in Fields of War: Fifty Key Battlefields in France and Belgium.

Summary: At 13:10 on 17 December 1914, a long and bloody effort to drive the enemy from Lorette started. After a six-and-one-half hour artillery bombardment that was considered heavy at the time, French infantry began a three-pronged assault upon the German trenches in what became known as the First Battle of Artois. Général de division Paul Maistre’s primary objective was the capture of the Notre-Dame de Lorette plateau for use as an artillery platform in support of général de division Philippe Pétain’s assault on Vimy Ridge. The first German trench was quickly entered but the ever-present sticky mud and machine guns in the second trench line brought the advance to an abrupt halt. The assault officially ended after four days of useless bloodshed but localized fighting continued throughout the winter as French assaults attempted to recapture the ridge and the Germans improved their fortifications.

Battlefield Tour

The First Battle of Artois will visit the rear areas occupied by French forces before their unsuccessful attack upon the Notre-Dame de Lorette plateau.

View 19b First Battle of Artois: 17 December 1914 to January 1915; '- A Virtual Battlefield Tour by French Battlefields www.frenchbattlefields.com)' in a larger map

Louez Military Cemetery contains 204 known Commonwealth graves of which 49 are Canadian, and two German prisoners. The cemetery was begun by French troops and taken over by the British 51st Highland Division as a front line cemetery in March 1916 and the last graves are those of the Canadian Mounted Rifles buried here from November 1916 to March 1917. The grounds stand back from the road amongst the cultivated fields. The Gy river valley and houses of Louez are below it and the St-Pol – Arras road with its avenue of poplar trees are at the back of the cemetery. (50.306727, 2.722022)

The Maroeuil Nécropole Nationale was created during the war and now contains 585 French dead. The cross on a tall plinth that is in memory of Commandant Georg Modeste Lillemann, battalion commander in the 156th Regiment d’Infanterie, and his companions in arms, heroes dead on the field of honor in Lorraine and Artois. He led an assault on the German trenches at La Targette on 9 May 1915 and was mortally wounded by a bullet in the head at the age of 43. (50.328466, 2.706662)

The Maroeuil British Cemetery, located along an undrivable a dirt track, was begun by the 51st Highland Division when the British Army took over the Arras front in March 1916. Nearly one half of the graves are those Highland Territorials. The cemetery was protected from observation by the crest on the hill behind it and whenever it was possible, bodies were brought back to it from the front line by tramway. It now contains the graves of three 531 soldiers from the UK, 30 from Canada, one from India, and one Chinese Laborer and 11 German POWs. (50.327904, 2.69989)

Ecoivres Military Cemetery is in a vale along the Scarpe River and contains 1,728 burials including only 12 unknowns. It was an extension of the communal cemetery where the French army had originally buried over 1,000 men. After the British Army assumed responsibility for this sector in March 1916, they used the French Military tramway to bring their dead in from the front trenches and from the first row to the last buried them almost exactly in the order of date of death. The dead from the attack on the British 25th Division on Vimy Ridge on May 1916 are in Plots I and II. (50.342484, 2.687133)

The Ecoivres Cimetiére Militaire holds 786 French burials and 4 Germans most killed during the battles of 1915. (50.343584, 2.686397)

The ruin of the Gothic-style Abbaye Mont St-Éloi, whose origins date to the 7th century, was destroyed during the French Revolution. Only the west facing façade of the old abbey church has been retained as a reminder of the First World War. St-Eloi was within the French front lines before the First Battle of Artois and its high towers served French soldiers as an observation post. The plain below the abbey mount was used later in the war as an allied airfield. (50.349748, 2.692707)

The Mont-St-Eloi Communal Cemetery holds the graves of 11 French soldiers of the Great War. The graves of 5 British soldiers from the Second World War who were killed on 26 May 1940 are adjacent. (50.348804, 2.692667)

A gray rough-hewn stone stele forms the Monument de 4th Regiment Dragoons Portes and lists the names of those unit members killed from 22 to 23 May 1940. (50.348665, 2.692566)

Berthonval Farm and the Bois l’Abbe to its north were the starting line for the French Moroccan Division’s attack upon Vimy Ridge during the Second Battle of Artois in May 1915. The division succeeded in attaining the ridge across four kilometers of the valley to the east, however, they were not able to hold the gain and later fell back. (50.356052, 2.718866)

The Villers Station Cemetery was started by the French, but was taken by the British Army when they assumed responsibility for the sector. Many of the 1.208 burials are Canadians from the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Because the cemetery was the location of a field ambulance station, most of the burials are identified. After the war, the French bodies were relocated to the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette Cemetery. (50.384567, 2.655542)


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