Battles - The Battle of Festubert, 1915

Indian soldiers en route for France Forming part of French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre's Artois Offensive in the spring of 1915 - his second large-scale infantry assault following the Champagne Offensive in December 1914 - the Battle of Festubert, in the Ypres Salient, was fought by the Allies (British, Canadian and Indian troops) against the Germans from 15-27 May 1915.

The Festubert attack was launched by Sir Douglas Haig in response to pressure applied to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) by Joffre, and was the BEF's second attack during the offensive, following an assault upon Neuve Chapelle four days earlier on 9 May.

Preceded by a four day artillery bombardment by over 400 guns firing 100,000 shells, the attack around the village of Festubert was launched at night on 15 May by two divisions of mostly Indian infantry, and made rapid initial progress, despite the failure of the preliminary bombardment to effectively destroy the German Sixth Army front line defences (under Crown Prince Rupprecht).  Under attack, the Germans retreated to a line directly in front of the village.

A further assault upon these lines, by Canadian troops, was begun on 18 May, but was unsuccessful in the face of German artillery fire.  In heavy rain some Allied troops began to prepare trenches to consolidate the small gains made thus far.  During that same evening the German front line received a further injection of reserves.

Renewed attacks by the Allied forces between 20-24 May resulted in the capture of Festubert village itself, a position held until the German advance of spring 1918.  Despite having captured Festubert however, the Allied forces had advanced less than a kilometre; consequently the attack was ended on 27 May, with the British having suffered some 16,000 casualties during the action.

Photograph courtesy of Photos of the Great War website

A 'whizzbang' was a high-velocity, low-trajectory shell that made a shrill approach noise and then a sharp explosive report.

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