During the second half of the First World War, among others, the valleys of the Sensee river and Cojeul river were a particularly dangerous sector mainly because of the presence of the famous "Hindenburg Line" (British name, "Seigfried Stellung "for the Germans," Grande Tranchée" sometimes for the French or "Ligne Hindenburg").
The villages on or around the Hindenburg Line crossing, after more than two years of occupation (since early October 1914), will undergo many changes : first by the German occupation in itself because of the providing engineering necessary for communications, transport of troops and equipment, hospitals, cemeteries ... Then, by the creation of the Seigfriedstellung which forces the Germans, in addition to the line itself (construction started late September 1916) who will not fail to scour our territory, made further changes in the sectors concerned : roads, bridges, railroad tracks, prison camps (70000 men will be attached to the construction : prisoners Russians, Belgians ... Germans, professional or military, civilians ...), storage area for barbed wire or concreat.... The Operation Alberish (German retreat with ransacking to regain the Hindenburg positions) will also do its job. And last but not least because of the total destruction of the area between March 1917 and September 1918, during which time the Hindenbrug Line will be under almost uninterrupted fire until the Anglo-Canadian victorious August-September 1918 offensive. 100 days, Hundred Days Offensive).
The rebuilding of the 100% devastated of Arras area will only start in the early 1920s with people returning from all over France, who had the courage to find their home ruins braving the prohibition to rebuild areas classified "Red Zone" ).
The Hindenburg Line Museum will offer you the possibility to follow the actors of this local history.
- 2-4 October 1914 : German invasion of the ARRAS sector : During the "race to the sea" following the Schlieffen plan and the Battle of the Marne, the Germans quickly advanced northwards to bypass the French forces, and were stopped by the 10th French army in front of Arras. Fighting broke out in Guémappe, Wancourt, Neville-Vitasse - a few clashes with Dragon riders were reported here and there in the villages submerged by the German wave, but nothing was done, all these villages had already been lost. The fighting moves away to become barely noticeable...... The Germans finally progressed a little further westward and were stopped at Arras doors and, in the Somme, at those of Albert. Positions freeze with winter. Quickly on the conquered ground, the invader settles in. This was already the beginning of the German occupation in the area around Croisilles. Months of deprivation and bullying rage, villages and their inhabitants are subjected to parades, exercices, foreign habits, requisitions of animals or harvests and then, as the months go by, many hospitals end up flourishing with their cemeteries almost adjacent,... they fill up.... As much as civilians have to endure deprivation, as much as the Germans here breathe a little... years have now passed, we are already in 1916 and to the west of our villages, the shells are falling in the Somme.
- 27 September 1916 : Start of construction of the Siegfried Stellung (Hindenburg Line) - The Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern, to whom the project has been presented, approves it. Colonel Kraemer (artillery officer) is in charge of the construction. Nearly 70,000 men (Germans, Belgians, Russians, French,...) will be employed for 3 months of planned work. The new line of defence, named Siegfreidstellung (named after a hero of a Wagner opera 1876, not to be confused with the Siegfried Line built by the Germans during the Second World War, which somehow faced the Maginot Line) was emerging without the Allies noticing it yet (the first observations attesting to visible work were made at the end of October).
From everywhere comes labour : Russian prisoners, camps are created throughout the future installations, close to the construction sites, among others, in Vis-en-Artois and Fontaine-lès-Croisilles, French or German civilians (especially construction companies), Belgians... A gigantic and unprecedented organization (just as impressive as the future installations themselves) was then set up : roads, bridges, railways, stations, depots, factories in order to produce and transport the necessary equipment for the most important defensive installation created during the First World War.
- October / November 1916: First British observation of the installations.
- February 9, 1917 : Operation Alberich - Under pressure, while the Siegfriedstellung installations were not finished, under the British nose and beard, the Germans applied their defensive strategy : they carried out their withdrawal (Operation Alberich) to the Hindenburg Line. This retreat was accompanied by a systematic destruction of the land granted to the enemy : houses were destroyed, main municipal crossroads were mined, trees were cut on the roads, fields, when possible, were flooded....
- February 22-23, 1917: British discovery of the German retreat and start of pursuit.
- Mid-March 1917 : British Pursuit Operations - With the help of cavalry and cyclist troops, all villages between the old and new German positions were deserted, destroyed, burned... The pursuers will find it very difficult to follow the Germans in the midst of a withdrawal movement, which they accompany with systematic destruction provided for by the Alberich plan.
- March 17, 1917: Croisilles Burns - The British are a few thousand meters from German installations and they are rubbing shoulders with the outposts that are buying time for the troops to take their place in the Siegfried Stellung defence line. A fierce resistance to the surroundings of the Hindenburg system is reported.
Victoria Crosses : Arthur Henderson VC, Michael Wilson Heaviside VC, Horace Waller VC, David Lowe MacIntyre VC, David Philip Hirsch VC, George Howell VC, Rupert Vance Moon VC, William Clark-Kennedy VC, Ernest Beal VC, John MacLaren Erskine VC (VC won at Givenchy in 1916 - kiled at Fontaine les Croisilles)... and others and others...
Celebrities : Seigfried Sasson, Enst Jünger, Manfred Von Richthofen (the Red Baron), The Kaizer Guillaume II, the king Georges V, Haig, Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Kronprinz Ruppercht, Winston Churchill, Georges Vanier...
You will discover their common history to our little piece of France...
- March 20, 1917 : Our area is now within the reach of British artillery - the first Allied shells fall on our villages (after those of the French in October 1914).
- April 2, 1917 : Croisilles is in the British hands - This is an indication of the difficulty the British are now facing as they approach the new German defensive positions of the Siegfriedstellung, the village of Croisilles was attacked on March 20, 1917 for the first time by troops from the 6th Northamptonshire (54th Brigade, 18th Division), Jacob's Horse, 1st King's Dragoon Guards (1KDG), and 29th Lancers elements. The first Croisilles battle lasted 14 days and was fought in 3 major assaults where the British lost their first thousand men in our sector for a 1000m advance.
- April 9, 1917 : Battle of Arras, first Battle of the Scarpe - the area is plunged into a steel flood, quickly, the Hindenburg Line is taken in front of Arras north of Fontaine Les Croisilles, the front swings eastward at this point. At the crossroads of the Sensée valley, at this location as far south as Bullecourt, the facilities are the best designed and completed in the area. The front line was established (south of the Arras-Cambrai road) towards Wancourt - Henin sur Cojeul - Fontaine - Bullecourt...
- 11 April 1917 : Battle of Bullecourt (Anglo-Australian attack) - After the good progress of the previous days, the British general staff decided on April 10th to push the Germans back again, they hoped that the proximity of a secondary line spotted by the observers (the Wotan Stellung or Drocourt-Queant Line) would help them. Tanks are planned but do not arrive on the planned day, the attack is postponed by 24 hours. On the 11th, in snowy weather conditions, the Anglo-Australians set off, without any artillery preparation, assisted by the 11 tanks, which would ultimately only receive limited assistance. It was a carnage for all the troops south of Fontaine-les-Croisilles facing the Hindenburg Line wall in this area.
- 23 April 1917 : Second Battle of the Scarpe - major British assault north of Fontaine les Croisilles, some gains, around villages north of Fontaine such as Chérisy which is approached or Guemappe... still with significant losses, the British nibble on the ground against the Germans. It was during this period that the British, who were able to gain a foothold in modest new sections of the Hindenburg Line, measured the impressive installation, notably by the presence of a fabulous underground network that had been designed.
- 3 May 1917 : Anglo-Australian attack - On the Bullecourt, Fontaine-les-Croisilles and Cherisy sectors during the Third Battle of the Scarpe, the preparation was badly conducted, misunderstandings were still numerous and losses were once again considerable without major gains.
- 16 May 1917: Official end of the Battle of Arras - the fighting doesn't stop here.
- June 15, 1917 : Attack on "the Ilsand" ("the island") - "The Ilsland" is the part of the Hindenburg Line still in German hands between Fontaine-les-Croisilles and Bullecourt. This portion was once again attacked by the British (58th and 21st Divisions). The gains are interesting in the first German line, they are notably made by the 2nd/3rd Londons. The 2/4th Londons suffered very severe losses.
- July 1917 - March 1918 - In an effort to maintain pressure on the Germans, multiple British actions were carried out almost daily, and they would always bring their share of dead and wounded. Some, on the other hand, are more important and carried out as a diversion for major actions located further south, such as on November 20, 1917, when the Battle of Cambrai opened. Between Fontaine-Les-Croisilles and Bullecourt, the men of the 3rd Division and those of the 16th Irish Division set off on a front of nearly 3km. A breakthrough is made in the second German line and a new portion of the first line is taken, it is a great success. However, the troops of the 6th Connaught Rangers and those of the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers (16th Division) had many missing permanently lost at the attack spike.
- March 21, 1918 - July 18, 1918 : "Michael" or "Spring Offensive" offensive - The entire area returned to German hands due to a major offensive leading to a 20km incursion into the British sector. The situation returns to positions following the outbreak of the German Alberich plan of February 1917.
- August-September 1917: "the Hundred Days Offensive" - After a recovery in the Somme at Albert, an Anglo-Canadian attack, which would be victorious, was launched in front of Arras. Difficulties are once again felt around the ever-feared Hindenburg Line. Croisilles resists. The 5th Canadian Division took charge of attacking a sector still untouched for the time being in the vicinity of Chérisy on 27 August 1918. The elements of the 26th Battalion advanced well and reached the Sensée river, the 22nd (French Canadian) and 24th Battalions had much more difficulty and fought without artillery support. The objectives will be taken and held but at Chérisy the loss for the 22nd Battalion is almost total (39 indemnities out of 700 engaged), to their right, the 56th Division loses 2400 men, the 157th Brigade (52nd Division) located between Fontaine les Croisilles and Croisilles which came into action on 24 August with 750 men and 23 officers, is raised on 27th counting 223 men and 6 officers ready for combat..... The sector was gradually liberated in the following days, from that moment on, the Germans would inexorably retreat to Belgium.
- 1920s: Reconstruction.
- May 1940 : Sporadic renewed fighting during the Second World War. Beginning of the occupation and acts of resistance. The tunnels of the Hindenburg Line, which are still partially accessible at this time, serve as caches for parachuting organized for the resistance of the sector.
- September 1944 : Liberation of the sector.
- Today : relics remain present, the signs of 4 years of war are still visible more than a hundred years later, The Hindenburg Line Museum will offer you to discover more...
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