Marles-les-mines, March 21, 1918

Thursday   Nothing much doing today. This afternoon played football, the weather was great, its [sic] a clear night just the night for raids Fritz has already been over, am well

“Nothing much doing,” says Percy, and the official brigade report confirms everything as usual: “Training under battery arrangements. Sports in afternoon.” (1)

Western_front_1918_german crop_LI.jpgTo the south, however, all hell has broken out, as the long-anticipated German offensive begins at dawn. Six thousand German guns open a “hurricane bombardment of 3.2 million rounds of high explosives, shrapnel, and chemical shells” (2) on the Third and Fifth British Armies. So tremendous was the noise that when 2500 British guns replied, their own gunners could hardly hear them. (3) Behind the bombardment, and aided by a mist in the low-lying areas, storm troops broke across the British lines, advancing in small parties and “washing over and around [British strongpoints] like a tidal wave.” (2) It is a striking end to years of static warfare. By evening, 21,000 British troops have surrendered, and almost as many soldiers are killed or wounded. (4)

Worse is to come. The map above shows how much territory the Germans will take in the series of offensives which begin today. It also shows the line held by the Canadians, from Vimy north through Lens, where the Germans apparently respect the Canadians’ reputation and their careful defensive preparations over the last weeks. (5)

And so Percy plays football.

The map comes from the History Department of the US Military Academy, West Point, via wikimedia.

(1) War Diary of the 13th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. Vol. 14: 5. March 21, 1918. Library and Archives of Canada.
(2) Cook, Tim. Shock Troops. Canadians Fighting the Great War Vol. 2 1917-1918. 2008. 389.
(3) Nicholson, G.W.L. The Gunners of Canada. The History of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. Vol.1. 1534-1919 Toronto, 1967.324.
(4) Cook, 390.
(5) Cook, 391.

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