The Attack on Arleux Loop

Arleux-en-Gohelle, 28 April 1917
Colonel Nicholson, G.W.L., “Canadian Expeditionary Force
1914-1919,” in Official History of the Canadian Army in the First
World War, (Ottawa; Roger Duhamel, Queen’s Printer and Control of
Stationery, 1963; page 271.

The Attack on Arleux Loop
27-28 April 1917

Following the success of the Battle of Arras, pressure against German positions continued at the end of April 1917. The Arleux Loop was a part of an intricate system of German defences that were intermingled with the village of Arleux-en-Gohelle heavily fortified with concrete, extensive belts of wire and what patrols reported as an “unusually large amount of machine guns.”

This attack was part of a larger British effort since it was Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s intention to push the German line back far enough to occupy their forces in order to aid the French attack at the Aisne. Three Divisions of the British Army were to attack the German lines along the Scarpe River with a brigade of the 1st Canadian Division securing their left flank by attacking the Arleux Loop.

The Canadian Corps part of the attack was conducted by three battalions of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division and supported by the 25th Battalion of the 2nd Canadian Division on their left flank. The 10th Battalion attacked along the northern border of Arleux towards Drocourt while the 8th advanced on their right and the 5th on their left.

Artillery observers at the capture of Arleux
Canadian Artillery observers with the village of Arleux in
the low ground to the center left of the image. Canada.
Department of National Defence/ Library and Archives Canada/
PA-001189 (MIKAN no. 3521908)

In preparation for the attack they sent ground patrols and ordered special air patrols from No.16 Squadron R.F.C. to watch for and subsequently inform of possible German counter blows.

Using the knowledge that they had regarding German defences, they planned artillery barrages all along the German front. In anticipation of powerful and quick-responding German counter-attacks, the Canadians placed the 1st Canadian Brigade in reserve with orders to reconnoitre covered approaches to Arleux for moving in reinforcements.

On 28 April 1917 at 4:25 am, the Canadian battalions stormed towards the German front line across a 2600 yards wide front. The 10th Battalion effectively executed their plan often having to engage in hand to hand combat to clear every hidden bunker and shelter.

The Battalion continued advancing along the road to Drocourt before German fire from the village of Arleux slowed their advance. Following a small delay, the Battalion was able to successfully clear the village and push through Arleux. They established a defensive position in the forest beyond the town.

 German prisoners captured by Canadians at Arleux being searched.
German prisoners captured by Canadians at Arleux
being searched. Canada. Department of National
Defence/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-001350
(MIKAN no. 3403091)

A short hour and a half after the attack began the 2nd Canadian Brigade had gained all of its objectives. The only small exception was on the 5th Battalion’s left flank where they had to establish a defensive flank due to heavy machine-gun fire. During the afternoon, reinforcements arrived to help resist counter-attacks and Canadian Artillery was successfully disrupting these attempts. Because of this, the Germans abandoned efforts to recapture the position.

The action by the 2nd Brigade was characterized by the British Official Historian as “only tangible success” of the joint British and Canadian attack on 28 April. The planning and preparation the Canadians took in order to maximize the effectiveness of the attack led to their success.

This victory came at a high cost as the four Canadian Battalions involved suffered nearly 1,000 casualties, killed and wounded by the end of the two-day battle. One hundred soldiers from the 10th Battalion had no known grave following the battle. Using a combination of historical research and forensic anthropological analysis, the Directorate of History and Heritage of the Department of National Defence has identified the following soldier whose remains were recovered due to modern human activity.

Milne, James Alexander, 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Canadians)