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ejwalshe

Battle of Arras, 9 April 1917

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ejwalshe

 

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phil andrade

Close to seven thousand British and Dominion soldiers died on the Western Front on this date, 102 years ago.

 

A date associated with triumph ; but it might well  rank among the top ten of the war’s worst days in terms of the loss of British lives.

 

Phil

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jonbem
33 minutes ago, phil andrade said:

Close to seven thousand British and Dominion soldiers died on the Western Front on this date, 102 years ago.

Including my grandfathers brother, my great uncle Fred Ward, KIA 50236 Private, Northumberland Fusiliers, 27th Tyneside Irish. 

Close to 51b.B.25.b.9.9  and now rests in Orchard Dump Cemetery, Arleux en Gohelle.

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Fattyowls

Thanks for this Ted; excellent as ever. I've always had a soft spot for Michael O'Leary VC, and if I'm near Cuinchy I like to cross the canal near where he won his medal. I'm really pleased to hear his voice.

 

Pete.

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phil andrade

A quick survey of the CWGC database suggests that I might be understating the case when I rate 9th April 1917 as being among the top ten costliest days of the Great War in terms of British Empire lives.

 

It looks as if it ranks as number four.

 

More than one third of the dead registered for that day are Canadian .

 

Phil

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Fattyowls
5 hours ago, phil andrade said:

A quick survey of the CWGC database suggests that I might be understating the case when I rate 9th April 1917 as being among the top ten costliest days of the Great War in terms of British Empire lives.

 

It looks as if it ranks as number four.

 

More than one third of the dead registered for that day are Canadian .

 

Phil

 

Thanks for that Phil, very illuminating and a bit of a surprise, although I don't know why it should be. Which are two and three?

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phil andrade

Number two is September 25th 1915, with Loos accounting for a huge number ; number three is 21st March 1918.  I’ve always been shocked at the toll of Loos. As you say, listening to those old gentlemen in the vignette in the OP, they allude to “light casualties” on the 9th April 1917....how hard to reconcile with the evidence of the CWGC !  The opening day of Third Ypres is just after Arras ; then  there are more than six thousand attributable to the Somme offensive of 15th September 1916.  There are too many  other days with several thousand.

 

There must have been well over twenty thousand casualties on the opening day of the Arras offensive , with eight thousand of them being Canadian .

 

Many of us are well aware that the average  daily casualty rate of the Arras battle was extremely high ; but it’s not generally remarked that the opening day was so terribly expensive.

 

Phil

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petwes

Graphically the data looks like this:

 

image.png.a9176f78dcdba810f73c5c105d1acbef.png

 

 

Peter

 

Edited by petwes

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phil andrade

Thank you, Peter.  I was wrong.

 

That’s because I jump to conclusions too quickly !

 

May 3rd 1917 : Battle of the Scarpe ?

 

Are those for all fronts ?  

 

Phil

 

 

Edited by phil andrade

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petwes

Phil

It's the entire data from CWGC, downloaded last year.  I have applied some filters:

  • Excluded German, Austrian and Russian dead.
  • Omitted all records from the Delhi memorial as they are all dated 4 August 1914.

Therefore, yes it from all fronts and all branches of the Services.

 

Peter

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Ron Clifton

I wondered whether 31 May 1916 was a misprint for 1918, but then I realised that it meant Jutland.

 

Ron

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phil andrade
3 hours ago, Ron Clifton said:

I wondered whether 31 May 1916 was a misprint for 1918, but then I realised that it meant Jutland.

 

Ron

 

Yes, there was certainly something wrong with our bloody ships that day, Ron !

 

Arras was a shocker : three of the worst ten days of the war for the British  followed hard upon each other in an offensive that has been overshadowed, sandwiched between the Somme and Passchendaele .

 

April and May 1917 must stand out as exceptionally intense and bloody months in a war that produced such catastrophic loss of life.

 

Given  that the casualty rates of the Germans and the French were appalling, and - let’s not forget- the Italians were also being slaughtered on the Isonzo front, it’s one of the peak periods of the war in terms of sheer killing.

 

Phil

Edited by phil andrade

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phil andrade
5 hours ago, petwes said:

Phil

It's the entire data from CWGC, downloaded last year.  I have applied some filters:

  • Excluded German, Austrian and Russian dead.
  • Omitted all records from the Delhi memorial as they are all dated 4 August 1914.

Therefore, yes it from all fronts and all branches of the Services.

 

Peter

 

Your efforts are much appreciated, Peter : many thanks.

 

Phil

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Marilyne

Brilliant video !!

And very interesting graphical representation, Peter. Thanks for doing it.

These numbers make one think... a few days ago we remembered the death of our 10 paracommandos, 25 years ago in Kigali. Those 10 deaths are a drama from which Belgium still has not recovered. And then you look at those numbers, all counting in the thousands ...

 

M.

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sassenach
28 minutes ago, Marilyne said:

Brilliant video !!

And very interesting graphical representation, Peter. Thanks for doing it.

These numbers make one think... a few days ago we remembered the death of our 10 paracommandos, 25 years ago in Kigali. Those 10 deaths are a drama from which Belgium still has not recovered. And then you look at those numbers, all counting in the thousands ...

 

M.

I think it is good that you remember them so intensely. There is a tendency for relatively recent events to be forgotten, often because it is politically expedient to do so.

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phil andrade

Lacking Peter’s graphic skills , I am not able to provide data in the manner he uses, but I used statistics from the sanitatsbericht, and discovered just how badly knocked about the Germans were on the Western Front in April 1917.

 

In terms of numbers posted as killed or missing in action in France and Belgium between August 1914 and the end of July 1918, April 1917 was the second worst calendar month of the war for Germany, surpassed only by September 1914.

 

Though the British experience was clearly dreadful in that month, I confess to being surprised at just how badly hurt the Germans had been.

 

editing : I should point out that the figures for August to November 1918 are lacking, and the numbers of prisoners taken during that period were so great as to dramatically skew the record as far as the missing were concerned.

 

Phil

 

 

Edited by phil andrade

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phil andrade

Here are the figures, from the German Medical History, the sanitatsbericht, which, as the name implies, was concerned principally with the treatment of the wounded and sick....as a consequence, the figures which I cite - for killed and missing in action only - are very probably somewhat understated. Those who died from wounds are not included. The statistics for the 1914 fighting are too low, especially those for August.  All the same, this rendition of the  worst ten months of the war on the Western Front for Germany, up until the end of July 1918, show here just how bad April 1917 was.  Indeed, its cost exceeds that of April 1918.....although the number of killed in the latter is far higher, and the number of prisoners correspondingly lower. April in 1917 was even worse than July 1916, despite the fact that the fighting in July 1916 was at maximum intensity throughout the month, whereas in April the following year things didn't get underway on full scale until the 9th of the month.

 

September 1914.....71,481

April 1917...….64,402

July 1916.....58,960

September 1916....55,758

October 1914.....54,073

April 1918....53,952   ( worst month for killed )

March 1918...54,929 ( 2nd worst for killed)

August 1914....47,215

October 1917....43,579

September 1915...43,379

 

Phil

 

 

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petwes

Phil

I've taken your data and plotted deaths recorded by CWGC for British and Imperial troops for the same periods.

 

image.png.56098dec1acefb0f5e3c99f1af5e16af.png

 

 

Peter

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phil andrade

Thanks Peter !

 

This is most kind of you.

 

I must make an imperative caveat : the German figures are for confirmed  killed in action and missing : the British Empire figures are for deaths from all causes.  Most importantly, the German missing include prisoners, so we must allow for this when we compare the figures

 

In the case of our April 1917 discussion, we must assume that at least half of the 64,000 German killed or missing were taken prisoner.

 

We might legitimately suppose that - at most -  30,000 were killed and at least  34,000 taken prisoner.  On the other hand, there must have been thousands of additional Germans who died from wounds, raising their battle deaths to close to forty thousand : on top of that, illness and accident need to be reckoned with.

 

Above all, we must not forget that these German casualties were suffered at the hands of the British and the French .....we know that French losses in April 1917 were very heavy.

 

I’ll try and get a grip on the actual battle deaths of the British on the Western Front in April 1917, allowing for confirmed killed in action, the missing who were later presumed dead and the died of wounds. I think I can get a sense of the French losses. I would be surprised if the combined Anglo French total of deaths did not exceed that of the Germans by fifty per cent.

 

Phil

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phil andrade

Peter,

 

Following up here, and being anxious to do my share of some heavy lifting on the data, I cross checked the CWGC figures for April 1917 ( Western Front only) and compared them with the monthly returns as finalised by GHQ in the Statistics of the Military Effort ( SMEBE). I was expecting a significant disparity, since casualty statistics are notoriously contradictory, but there is a reassuring degree of harmony, even though there is not an exact match. According to SMEBE, in the month of April 1917, British battle casualties in France and Belgium included  24,124 confirmed killed, 6,978 died of wounds and 8,238 missing. Amongst those missing, 2,829 were subsequently confirmed as having been prisoners of war, which, if we allow for the unaccounted for missing as being dead, suggests a total of 36,511 battle deaths. For the entire year on the Western Front, 9,339 deaths were ascribed to disease or accident, or other non battle causes, which implies that fewer than one thousand might be attributed to the single month of April. The evidence here suggests 37,000 to 37,500 deaths. CWGC registers 37,058 deaths, of which 208 need to be excluded because they were German, Russian or Romanian. A pretty remarkable degree of cross checking corroboration, I must say.

 

The task now is for me to get a grip on French and German data, which will be more challenging.  I'll do my best !

 

Phil

Edited by phil andrade

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phil andrade

Having corroborated , and consolidated, the number of British and Dominion battle deaths on the Western Front in April 1917, I seek to get some kind of feel for what the French and German figures were.

 

The information I have to hand gives me more about the German figures than the French ; although there must be authoratitive sources for the French experience : the official history of the French Armies in the Great War being unavailable to me, and, in any case, being hard work , from what I’ve heard.

 

The anecdotal account of Edward Spears gives a chilling estimate of French casualties in the first ten days of the Nivelle Offensive : 29,000 killed and 5,000 died of wounds during evacuation....the latter figure being especially notorious, on account of the demoralisation attendant upon failure to evacuate and care for wounded men.  This was one of the most serious causes of complaint which were to lead to the mutiny in the summer of 1917.

 

The additional deaths of several thousand more who survived to reach hospital implies a death toll significantly in excess of that of the BEF : we need to account for the rest of the month of April in addition to those ten days, and for sectors other than those of the main offensive.  Even if Spears exaggerated - and his figures seem plausible to me - the French surely lost more men killed or died from wounds than the British....forty thousand, at a minimum, I reckon.

 

The German sanitatsbericht gives very meticulous and comprehensive returns for wounded and sick, but - I am convinced - underrated the number of killed and missing. The statistics  of the Reichsarciv for that period of the war on the Western Front show that the sanitatsbericht understated the number of killed by 17.5% and of missing by 10.7%. The sanitatsbericht return a figure of 20,114 killed and 44,288 missing : applying the adjustment would raise the number of killed to 24,000, and that of the missing to 49,000...all a bit tentative and suppositional.  The missing include prisoners, who numbered about forty thousand...that leaves a total of about 33,000 killed. If we allow for the German died of wounds - using the same ratio to killed that’s apparent in the British figures - we get a total of about 41,000 battle deaths against the combined Franco British total of 76,000.  

 

The loss of life was very heavily weighted in favour of the defense, even more so against the British than it was against the French.

 

The attritional balance was restored by the capture of such a large number of German prisoners.

 

I confess to being surprised at my own estimates : I would have thought that the killing exchange was more even than that.

 

Phil

 

 

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Fattyowls

 

Tremendous work Phil; a real eye opener. If you happen to be at Tally Ho a week on Saturday I owe you a libation.

 

Pete.

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phil andrade

Thanks for those kind words, Pete : much appreciated.

 

It’s an eye opener for me, too : I had not fully appreciated the awful forfeit in lives  that the Germans exacted in this battle, if the outcome is assessed in the relative mortality rates.

 

I would be very happy to have my suggestions refuted : I had guessed that the exchange rate was in the order of three to two in Germany’s favour....this is nearer to two to one ; notwithstanding that the British and Dominion troops achieved some spectacular successes, and that their  tactical skills had improved after the lessons of the Somme.

 

The data show that the French fared significantly better than their British allies in this respect, despite the dreadful reputation  of the Nivelle Offensive.  This implies that the kill ratio was even more heavily adverse for the British than the overall figures I cited suggest.

 

These investigations that I’ve pitched do not reconcile well with the large haul of German prisoners.

 

I wonder if I’ve made a big mistake in my method.

 

Phil

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fattyowls

I've been interested in Arras for a long time but particularly recently as one of my footballers, James Roy was killed in April 1917 near Fontaine, fighting in the Hindenburg Line. One of the things that occurred to me while reading up on the battle was the impact of the inclement weather; wounded men who in summer conditions might survive long enough to be recovered might die of exposure in the wet cold snow.

 

Pete.

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phil andrade

Pete,

 

Was James Roy confirmed as killed in action ; or was he reported as missing and subsequently presumed dead ?  Or, addressing the point you make about inclement weather, was he one of the nearly seven thousand British Empire troops who were recorded as dying from wounds in April 1917 on the Western Front ?

 

I suspect that I might have made two major errors in my investigation of the Allied and German figures for killed : I might have overstated the number of French deaths ( those figures cited by Spears are high ) ; or, more likely , I reckon, I might have overstated the number of German prisoners captured when I ventured the figure of forty thousand. Perhaps a higher portion of the  forty nine thousand German missing should be ascribed to the killed.  That would change the ratio from nearly two to one in Germany’s favour to something more like three for two.

 

I’ll revisit the reichsarciv data and the SMEBE and French reports, and see if I can recalibrate things a bit.

 

Phil

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by phil andrade

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