27/3/1916 St Eloi: a minor British assault on the enemy

The German offensive at Verdun means that the French are desperate for their Allies to relieve the pressure on them by attacking the enemy. Russian and Italian forces have already staged unsuccessful offensives in Byelorussia and the Isonzo. Shouldn’t the British be having a go at the Germans too? Britain’s Haig feels otherwise. The British are to conserve their strength for the great summer offensive they are to stage with the French in the Somme valley.

In the meantime, however, the British can still stage small local assaults on the Germans. Haig sees these as a useful way of keeping the men on their toes and making sure they do not lose their offensive spirit. One such local attack on the enemy now takes place at Ypres.

Ypres is an Allied salient jutting into German-held territory. The ebb and flow of fighting here means that the line is not even. At the southern end of the salient the German-held village of St. Eloi sticks out into the Allied lines. High ground here allows the Germans to observe British positions. This threat must be eliminated.

British troops dig tunnels under the German position. Today they explode mines under the enemy and then the infantry go forward to clear away the Germans. The fighting is not easy. The mines have so changed the ground that some of the attackers lose their way. Heavy rain and the effects of shelling and the mines make the ground swampy. German artillery cuts into the British soldiers. After a day’s fighting however they have managed to clear the Germans out of most of their St. Eloi salient. The British hope to capture the last German redoubt in due course.
THE BATTLE OF ST ELOI, MARCH-APRIL 1916
German prisoners© IWM (Q 496)

image sources:

Mine craters at St. Eloi (Wikipedia)

Jolly German prisoners, captured today (Imperial War Museum)

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