Skip to main content
Month Day
May 09

Allies launch dual offensive on Western Front

On May 9, 1915, Anglo-French forces fighting in World War I launch their first combined attempt to break through the heavily fortified German trench lines on the Western Front in France.

At Vimy Ridge, a strategically important crest of land on the Aisne River, in northwestern France, French troops launched an attack on German positions after firing shrapnel shells for five hours on the morning of May 9, 1915. On the heels of the artillery barrage, the French soldiers left their trenches to advance across No Man’s Land, only to find that the bombardment had failed to break the first German wire. As they struggled to cut the wire themselves, German machine gunners opened fire. Eventually, the French were able to reach their objective, as the Germans withdrew to better lines, but they suffered heavy casualties: one regiment of the French Foreign Legion lost nearly 2,000 of its 3,000 soldiers, including its commanding officer, who was shot in the chest by a sniper, and all three battalion commanders.

That same day, British troops under the orders of Sir Douglas Haig, commander in chief of the 1st Army Corps, attacked German lines further north in the Artois region in an attempt to capture Aubers Ridge, where they had failed during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle two months earlier. The British artillery here also proved ineffective, with many of the shells fired proving defective and many others too light to cause serious damage. As a result, when the soldiers attacked, they were completely unable to break through the German defenses. An entry in the German regimental diary about that ill-fated advance recorded that There could never before in war have been a more perfect target than this solid wall of khaki men, British and Indian side by side. There was only one possible order to give — Fire until the barrels burst.’

After the first British assault failed to break the German line, many of the soldiers who had crossed into No Man’s Land and been injured by enemy fire were killed by a follow-up British artillery barrage lasting 40 minutes. British troops running back to their own lines came under German fire as they ran; as they had a number of German prisoners with them, soldiers in the British trenches mistakenly believed they were facing a counter-attack, and also fired on their retreating comrades.

Despite the initial failure, Haig ordered a second attack, disregarding reports from air reconnaissance of a steady forward movement of German reinforcements. Two of his three subordinate commanders protested, including General James Willcocks, commander of the Indian Corps, and General Hubert Gough, commander of the 7th division, who reported to Haig his certainty of any further attempt to attack by daylight being a failure. Only one commander, General Richard Haking of the 1st Division, felt confident of the success of a further assault, and Haig accepted his judgment.

Thus, the British forces, led by a regiment of kilted bagpipers from the 1st Black Watch, attacked again later on May 9, and were slaughtered by German machine gunners. At dusk, Haig ordered the attackers to push forward with bayonets; faced with overwhelming resistance from his three commanders, he withdrew this order but mandated that battle be resumed the next day. On the morning of May 10 however, Willcocks, Gough and Haking all told Haig they lacked sufficient ammunition to start a second day’s offensive, and the attack was canceled. The first and only day of the Battle of Aubers Ridge had resulted in the loss of 458 officers and 11,161 men. As Haig’s close associate, General Richard Charteris, wrote in his diary on May 11: "Our attack has failed, and failed badly, and with heavy casualties. That is the bald and most unpleasant fact."

READ MORE: Life in the Trenches of World War I 

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.


President Nixon meets with anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial

In the early hours of May 9, 1970, a frazzled President Richard Nixon embarks upon what his Chief of Staff will describe as "the weirdest day so far" of his presidency. Preoccupied with the recent Kent State shootings and the unrest that has spread to college campuses across the more


FDA approves "the pill"

On May 9, 1960, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the world’s first commercially produced birth-control pill—Enovid-10, made by the G.D. Searle Company of Chicago, Illinois. Development of “the pill,” as it became popularly known, was initially commissioned by more

Irish adventurer “Colonel Blood” steals crown jewels

In London, Thomas Blood, an Irish adventurer better known as “Colonel Blood,” is captured attempting to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Blood, a Parliamentarian during the English Civil War, was deprived of his estate in Ireland with the restoration of the more

Explorer Richard Byrd claims to have flown over the North Pole

According to their claims, polar explorer Richard E. Byrd and co-pilot Floyd Bennett fly over the North Pole on this day in the Josephine Ford, a triple-engine Fokker monoplane. It would have been the first time an aircraft flew over the top of the world. The pair had taken off more

Former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro is found dead

On May 9, 1978, the body of former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro is found, riddled by bullets, in the back of a car in the center of historic Rome. He was kidnapped by Red Brigade terrorists on March 16 after a bloody shoot-out near his suburban home. The Italian government more

L. Ron Hubbard publishes "Dianetics"

On May 9, 1950, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (1911-1986) publishes Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. With this book, Hubbard introduced a branch of self-help psychology called Dianetics, which quickly caught fire and, over time, morphed into a belief system called more

High-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring is captured by the U.S. Seventh Army

On May 9, 1945, Herman Goering, commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, president of the Reichstag, head of the Gestapo, prime minister of Prussia and Hitler’s designated successor is taken prisoner by the U.S. Seventh Army in Bavaria. Goering was an early member of the Nazi Party more

Reporter breaks the news of secret bombing in Cambodia

William Beecher, military correspondent for the New York Times, publishes a front page dispatch from Washington, “Raids in Cambodia by U.S. Unprotested,” which accurately described the first of the secret B-52 bombing raids in Cambodia. Within hours, Henry Kissinger, presidential more

House votes to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Nixon

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee opens impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon, voting to impeach him on three counts on July 30. The impeachment was the result of the scandal involving the bungled burglary of the offices of the Democratic National more

Woodrow Wilson proclaims the first Mother’s Day holiday

On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issues a presidential proclamation that officially establishes the first national Mother’s Day holiday to celebrate America’s mothers. The idea for a “Mother’s Day” is credited by some to Julia Ward Howe (1872) and by others to Anna Jarvis more

“Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show opens

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show opens in London, giving Queen Victoria and her subjects their first look at a romanticized version of the American West. A well-known scout for the army and a buffalo hunter for the railroads (which earned him his nickname), Cody had gained national more

An unlikely challenger ends the Beatles’ reign atop the U.S. pop charts

Following the ascension of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to #1 in early February, the Beatles held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for three and a half solid months—longer than any popular artist before or since. Over the course of those months, the Fab Four earned three more

Last episode of “The Honeymooners” airs

On May 9, 1971, the last original episode of the sitcom The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason as Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden, airs. Although a perennial rerun favorite in syndication, The Honeymooners actually aired only 39 episodes in its familiar sitcom format, more

Andrew Cunanan continues murder spree

The body of William Reese, 45, a cemetery caretaker, is found in rural Pennsville, New Jersey, on May 9, 1997. He had been shot in the head with a Golden Saber .38-caliber bullet. Police soon determined that the killer was Andrew Cunanan, a 27-year-old man already wanted for more

West Germany joins NATO

Ten years after the Nazis were defeated in World War II, West Germany formally joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defense group aimed at containing Soviet expansion in Europe. This action marked the final step of West Germany’s integration into the more