28-29 April 2017
The Arleux Loop

A Centennial Action

Artillery observers watch the fall of shells on the village Arleux. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001139.

The Arras offensive, of which Vimy Ridge was just one part, continued well after the capture of the ridge until 16 May, 1917. Following Vimy, the Canadians pushed their way forward, mopping up scattered outposts and advancing for two weeks in mid-April before stacking up against serious German resistance. In the midst of the floundering Nivelle offensive, British General Haig hoped to achieve a redeeming victory by ordering a four-battalion attack by the Canadians on the troublesome “Arleux Loop” at Arleux-en-Gohelle.

Canadians search Germans captured at Arleux. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001210.

Assigned to the attack, the 5th (Western Cavalry), 8th (90th Winnipeg Rifles), 10th (Canadians), and 25th (Nova Scotia Rifles) Battalions refused to be hampered by supply problems, with the 8th Battalion alone hauling 40,000 rounds of ammunition into forward dumps. The Canadians advanced at 04:25 A.M., pushing their way into the village despite a weak barrage. Desperate, chaotic battles of hand-to-hand fighting broke out, favouring the Canadians who were actually outnumbered. Swarming through Arleux’s devastated streets, the German forces were simply overwhelmed; no sooner had they started to check one skirmish before another running firefight would break out elsewhere. By 06:00 A.M., a disjointed retreat from the village was underway.

Admitting the village lost, the German commander of the 111th Division ended all counter-attacks on 29 April. The two-day battle had cost the Canadians 1,255 casualties. As they consolidated their positions they looked out at the next objective a mere two kilometres away – the village of Fresnoy and its accompanying Fresnoy Wood.

A stretcher-bearer and German prisoner tend to a Canadian wounded at Arleux. Note the crucifix in the background – one of few shelters left standing in the village. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001360.