|German Field Gun Firing, Western Front, 1917|
The face of battle, as the historian John Keegan famously called it, is well known, hence three diary entries—,one Canadian, one French and one German—might well serve our purpose [of showing what the fighting was like during the Nivelle/Arras offensive of spring 1917.]
Private Adelbert F. Brayman, 50th Battalion (Calgary) of the 4th CanadianDivision, was wounded storming Hill 145 at Vimy. He remembered the ferocity of the battle:
From the very first minute of the attack we came under murderous and hellish fire from the machine guns . . . we lost about 30 per cent of the fighting forces before we got into [the enemy’s] green line of trenches and went into hand-to-hand fighting. . . . As we looked back up that ridge in the early dawn we witnessed a scene never to be forgotten. The entire face of the hill was covered with German green and Canadian khaki. Men lay out there in that blood-soaked field, some dead, some dying.
A young French baker from Burgundy named René Jacob wrote his parents from the battlefield near Soissons as follows:
How can one describe it? What words to use? Corpses everywhere. Black and green corpses. Corpses in strange positions: a knee jutting up into the air, or an arm resting against a trench wall. Corpses that one has to cover with chalk or straw, or dirt and sand. The ground covered with their entrails. Corpses that one buries or burns. A terrible smell, a smell as from a charnel house, rises up and chokes us. . . . I spoke to you earlier of a battlefield; no, it is more like a slaughter yard. Not even the wind that blows across the Ridge can disperse the stench of death.
|A Lone Poilu atop Plateau de Californie, East of Soissons|
On the German side of [Vimy] Ridge at Giessler Heights, Hermann Bauer with 14th Bavarian Infantry Regiment wrote home in much the same vein:
Has all hell broke loose? An ear-splitting din and roar goes on unabated, and already the first 15mm shell bursts into the south wall of the [sand] pit. A trench wall collapses, but there is no time to think. . . . And the [snow] flakes fall much like shell splinters. They tear all life into shreds. We all suck in our breaths. . . . The Tommys have broken through.
Now, come on you Canadians! Suddenly they burst forth from Sand Pit 2; they disdain any ground cover, these Canadian storm troops. They seem to believe that their hellish [artillery] fire has demoralized and buried us.
From: Herwig, Holger (2016) "“The Battle-Fortune of Marshal Hindenburg Is Not Bound Up with the Possession of a Hill: The Germans and Vimy Ridge, April 1917," Canadian Military History: Vol. 25