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This was the first battle planned by the BEF, rather than being a reaction to German advances. Designed to break through the German trench line to the Aubers Ridge and possibly Lille, when a supporting French attack was cancelled the British carried on.
The attack was undertaken by Sir Douglas Haig’s First Army whose Chief of Staff was Sir John Gough VC who was shot and died in this battle. Sir Henry Rawlinson’s IV Corps attacked on the left and Gen. James Willcock’s Indian Corps on the right, aiming to squeeze out a German salient that included the village itself. The plans were drafted in great detail and tactical surprise was achieved and an initial break-through.
After this success, however, the fog of war descended and there were unexpected delays and communication problems leading to a failure to bring up reserves to maintain the momentum of the attack. The German defenders were able to rush in reinforcements and dig a new line behind the British break-in. The artillery bombardment, aided by photo reconnaissance, was too light and ammunition quickly ran short. Sir Douglas Haig, the First Army commander, cancelled further attacks and ordered the captured ground to be consolidated, in preparation for a new attack further north.
In the four British Divisions taking part 544 officers and 11,108 other ranks were killed, wounded and missing. German losses, including 1687 prisoners, were also about 12,000.