Battle of Festubert

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The Battle of Festubert (15–25 May 1915) was an attack by the British army in the Artois region of France on the western front during World War I. The offensive formed part of a series of attacks by the French Tenth Army and the British First Army in the Second Battle of Artois (3 May – 18 June 1915). After the failure of the attempted breakthrough by the First Army in the attack at Aubers Ridge (9 May 1915) tactics of a short hurricane bombardment and an infantry advance with unlimited objectives, were replaced by the French practice of slow and deliberate artillery-fire intended to prepare the way for an infantry attack.

A continuous three-day bombardment by the British heavy artillery was planned, to cut wire and demolish German machine-gun posts and infantry strong-points. The German defences were to be captured by a continuous attack, by one division from Rue du Bois to Chocolat Menier Corner and by a second division 600 yards (550 m) north, which was to capture the German trenches to the left of Festubert. The objectives were 1,000 yards (910 m) forward, rather than the 3,000 yards (2,700 m) depth of advance intended at Aubers Ridge. The battle was the first British attempt at attrition.


Tactical developments

The Battle of Festubert was the continuation of the Battle of Aubers Ridge (9 May) and part of the larger French Second Battle of Artois. The resumption of the British offensive was intended to assist the French Tenth Army offensive against Vimy Ridge near Arras, by attracting German divisions to the British front, rather than reinforcing the defenders opposite the French.[1]


British plan of attack

The attack was made by the British First Army under Sir Douglas Haig against a German salient between Neuve Chapelle to the north and the village of Festubert to the south. The assault was planned along a 3-mile (4.8 km) front and would initially be made mainly by Indian troops. This would be the first British army night attack of the war.[2]


The battle was preceded by a 60-hour bombardment by 433 artillery pieces that fired about 100,000 shells.[3] This bombardment failed to significantly damage the front line defences of the German 6th Army but the initial advance made some progress in good weather conditions.[4] The attack was renewed on 16 May and by 19 May the 2nd Division and 7th Division had to be withdrawn due to heavy losses. [5] On 18 May, the 1st Canadian Division, assisted by the 51st (Highland) Division, attacked but made little progress in the face of German artillery fire. The British forces dug in at the new front line in heavy rain. The Germans brought up reinforcements and reinforced their defences.[6] From 20–25 May the attack was resumed and Festubert was captured. The offensive had resulted in a 3-kilometre (1.9 mi) advance.[7]



The British lost 16,648 casualties from 15/16 to 25 May; the 2nd Division lost 5,445 casualties, the 7th Division 4,123, the 47th Division had 2,355 losses, the Canadian Division lost 2,204 casualties and the 7th (Meerut) Division had 2,521 casualties. The German defenders had c. 5,000 casualties, including 800 men taken prisoner.[7] French casualties during the Second Battle of Artois were 102,533 men and German casualties were 73,072.[8]


The 100th anniversary of the battle saw a range of commemorations held across the world. Some of the most poignant were those held in the Highlands of Scotland, in particular in shinty playing communities, which were affected disproportionately by losses in the battle.[9] Skye Camanachd and Kingussie Camanachd, representing two areas which lost a great many men, were joined by the British Forces shinty team, SCOTS Camanachd for a weekend of commemorations, lectures, memorial services and shinty matches on the weekend of 15–17 May 2015 in Portree. Isle of Skye.[10] A week later, the Beauly Shinty Club renamed their pavilion after the Paterson brothers, Donald and Alasdair, who were killed in the battle and were part of their 1913 Camanachd Cup winning side. Donald's bagpipes were recovered with his other effects in the early 1980s and were played at both commemorations.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Farndale 1986, p. 107.
  2. ^ Edmonds 1928, pp. 49–52.
  3. ^ Edmonds 1928, pp. 52–55.
  4. ^ Edmonds 1928, pp. 56–58.
  5. ^ Edmonds 1928, pp. 59–73.
  6. ^ Edmonds 1928, pp. 73–77.
  7. ^ a b Edmonds 1928, p. 76.
  8. ^ Reichsarchiv 2012, pp. 93, 96.
  9. ^ Falconer, Lisa (22 May 2015). "Festubert centenary marked on Skye". West Highland Free Press. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  10. ^ "Shinty and music prevail: Remembering WWI fallen". BBC Sport. 21 May 2015.
  11. ^ Candlish, Jan (22 May 2015). "Highland shinty club to rename pavilion after heroic brothers killed in battle". The Press and Journal. Retrieved 12 June 2016.


  • Edmonds, J. E. (1928). Military Operations France and Belgium, 1915: Battles of Aubers Ridge, Festubert, and Loos. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents By Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. II (1st ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962526.
  • Farndale, M. (1986). Western Front 1914–18. History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. London: Royal Artillery Institution. ISBN 978-1-870114-00-4.
  • Militärischen Operationen zu Lande: Die Operationen des Jahres 1915; Die Ereignisse im Westen im Frühjahr und Sommer, im Osten vom Frühjahr bis zum Jahresschluß [The Operations of 1915; Events in the West in the Spring and Summer, in the East from Spring to the End of the Year]. Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918. VIII. 2 (online, Die digitale landesbibliotek Oberösterreich ed.). Berlin: Mittler. 2012 [1932]. OCLC 838300036. Retrieved 30 December 2013.

Further reading

  • Christie, N. (2007). Other Canadian Battlefields, 1915–1917. For King and Empire. IX. Ottawa: CEF Books. ISBN 978-1-896979-19-9.
  • Duguid, A. F. (1938). From the Outbreak of War to the Formation of the Canadian Corps, August 1914 – September 1915 (PDF). The Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914–1919 (General Series). I. Ottawa: Patenaude. OCLC 503436827. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  • Nicholson, G. W. L. (1964) [1962]. Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914–1919 (PDF). Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War (2nd corr. online ed.). Ottawa: Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationary. OCLC 59609928. Retrieved 24 February 2018.

External links

  • British Order of Battle, Aubers Ridge and Festubert
  • The Battle of Festubert on
  • Festubert
  • Battle of Festubert, 15–27 May 1915 on
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