20/3/1917 Germany’s Western Front withdrawal continues as the Allies prepare to attack

The war continues on the Western Front in France and Belgium. German troops are withdrawing in phases from the exposed Bapaume and Noyon salients to the strongly prepared defensive position dubbed the Hindenburg Line by the Allies. As the Germans retreat, they leave behind a desolate landscape in which they have destroyed anything that might be of use to the enemy.

The French and British are moving into the abandoned German territory but they must always be on their toes. The Germans have left behind booby traps to catch any of their enemies who let down their guard. They also mount the occasional counter-attack on the advancing enemy. Overall the effect of their withdrawal is discomfiting to the Allies, who cannot but feel that the Germans are up to something. Nevertheless, the Allies are happy to use the Germans’ devastation of their abandoned territories for propaganda purposes.

Meanwhile the Allies are planning their own major strokes against the Germans. In April Nivelle, the bold new French commander, is to attack the Germans in the Chemin des Dames sector, while further to the north the British (and their Commonwealth allies) will attack at Arras. Nivelle in particular is confident that this combined assault will smash the Germans, though some are beginning to wonder if he might perhaps be a tad overconfident.

Although they are not due to attack until early April, the British start preliminary shelling at Arras today. They hope to have the German positions well softened up by the time the infantry have to go forward. Of course, the intensified shelling also has the effect of suggesting to the Germans that an attack might be in the offing.

image source:

Athies after its abandonment by the Germans (Wikipedia; the huge crater was left by the Germans, though the damage to the buildings may result from Allied artillery)

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