June 18

This Day in History

World War I

Jun 18, 1915:

French troops halt fighting in Artois region

After several weeks of heavy fighting, including savage hand-to-hand combat, with little success, French troops halt their attacks on the German trenches in the Artois region of France on June 18, 1915.

Artois, located in northern France between Picardy and Flanders, near the English Channel, was a strategically important battlefield during World War I and saw heavy fighting throughout the conflict. Over the course of 1915, the most significant Allied offensives on the Western Front all took place in Artois. On May 9, French and British troops launched a two-pronged offensive around Vimy Ridge and Aubers Ridge respectively. Known as the Second Battle of Artois, the French attack was modestly successful, though the Germans retreated to better lines while inflicting significant casualties. More importantly, the battle convinced French and British commanders alike that the key to breaking through the German lines was twofold: attacking with sufficient artillery along a broad front, and having supporting formations move in behind the lead troops to carry the attack beyond the front lines, enabling the breakthrough to happen in one swift thrust.

The French consequently began to build up a force of 900 heavy guns, over 1,000 field guns and 37 divisions for another major Artois offensive that fall. Meanwhile, fighting continued throughout May and into June, with the French opening up a diversionary assault on the Somme River, some 40 kilometers to the south, in an attempt to secure the village of Serre. In Artois, the town of Neuville St. Vaast finally fell to the French 5th Army on June 9. On June 16, hoping to press their advantage, the French launched further assaults on the German lines in Artois. Over the next 24 hours, French artillery fired over 300,000 shells around Neuville St. Vaast; the Germans still managed to outgun them, as the higher altitude of their lines allowed them to fire on French positions with greater ease. On June 18, the French command called off the battle in Artois, after many small advances and changes of control of territory, as well as some 18,000 French casualties.

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