The War Diary of Lieutenant William L Hayes M C


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1918 26 August– 3 September

2nd Battle of Arras (Battle of Scarpe)  

Mopping Up is an Army term for clearing out any small pockets of resistance left behind after an advance. This was delegated to a company or platoon, depending on the size of the battlefield. It meant entering seemingly deserted or defeated machine gun posts, trenches and dug outs to either capture or dispatch enemy left behind - a gruesome task and not without its own risks. No doubt they also confiscated any intelligence, armaments or weaponry that might be of use. The area was then left for the salvagers to collect any bodies for the burial parties to deal with. Injured enemy were sent to Aid Posts for treatment.

Prisoners were disarmed, identified, and sent to the rear to collection areas known as cages—usually surrounded by barbed wire and guarded. Officers were separated from the ordinary ranks. The latter were more talkative than the former and more likely to give useful information. In due course they would be fed and/or given medical attention then sent to prisoner of war camps. The degree of humane treatment varied.

This was the general procedure for all sides in the war.

General Sir Arthur Currie, GCMG, KCG

General Currie was the senior commander of the Canadian Army in this war. He began at the lowest rank of the militia as a gunner and was known by the end of the war as one of the most able commanders on the Western Front. He took command of the entire Canadian Corps after the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

He led the Corps through the capture of Hill 70, Lens and into Passchendaele and then successfully through Canada’s Hundred Days 8 August - 11 November 1918 including the battles at Amiens, Scarpe, Cambrai, Mons successfully reversing German gains made in their offensive, Operation Michael of March 1918 and pushing rapidly towards Germany.

In December 1918, he insisted that the contribution of Canadian Forces to the success of the Hundred Days be recorded and made public.

Knowing that by now the German Forces were becoming exhausted and import blockades in place since the beginning of the war were having an effect on the civilian populations as well as the military, it was an opportune time to press forward strongly.

Operation Michael of March 1918 when Germany had attacked and taken much of the western front, meant that there was a great deal to do to regain it and to continue efforts towards Germany. Canadians were sent to take the Arras sector from Neuville - Vitasse to the River Scarpe west of Arras. Tactics from the beginning of the Hundred Days had changed from the dogged and ineffective trench warfare to fast, mobile overland attacks.

The objective was to secure a line just west of Monchy-le-Preux and advance eastwards as far as possible towards the Hindenburg Line.

A sugar factory south of Neuville-Vitasse had been recaptured on 23 August by the 31st Bn and the remainder of the town was evacuated by German Forces on 24 August because, as the Germans reported later, ‘the commitment of the Canadians, the best British troops has been recognised.’ (Nicholson, p 428) but they were still heavily able to defend a large area in front of the Hindenburg Line.

The 2nd Division was on the right of this advance from Neuville-Vitasse. The attack began at 3.00 am on 26 August. The Division made good progress taking and then mopping up the Neuville-Vitasse area. By mid morning, the 2nd Division was ordered to move its direction of attack to the south east and capture the area south east of Wancourt taking the Wancourt Tower. At 4.40 pm the 27th and 28th Battalions attacked and were heavily hit from machine gun fire from outposts of the Hindenburgh Line. The two Battalions dug in for the night and early the next morning in a silent attack they captured the Egret Trench providing a jumping off point for the next day. They fought on, capturing prisoners and German guns as they went. The field was muddy and it was raining.

28th Bn WD: 30 Aug Having had little or no rest for several days, the Bn was withdrawn to Wailly south of Arras