The Second Battle of Le Cateau (8th-12th October, 1918)

With the shattering of the Hindenburg Line and the corresponding movements southwards, it remained now only to develop and exploit these successes by co-ordinated movements on the part of the Americans French and British, with a view to realising Foch's strategical conception and thrusting the Germans back with deadly losses on the Meuse. Already in the first week of October at the southern end of the line the American and French advance had crossed the Aisne and threatened to turn Laon and the St. Gobain massif. If this right flank in the difficult country about the Meuse highlands could maintain sufficiently rapid progress, a trap was set for the German Army in which its retreat might be expected to degenerate into a rout.
 


 

In any case, strong pressure applied without delay must shake the crumbling German Army to its foundations. The season, moreover, was now advanced. Some weeks still remained available before winter weather and shortened daylight would impede operations, but already at midnight, 5th/6th October, the approach of winter was heralded by the putting back of the clock an hour in the change from summer to normal time. For these reasons speed was more than ever essential. The combined attack was therefore fixed for 8th October. As it turned out, the Allies' full purpose was not to be immediately realised. The difficulties facing the southern horn of the pincers proved sufficient to retard its advance, and the German forces were saved for the moment from annihilating disaster. But the result was to make the enemy's position desperate. To the British attack carried out as part of these operations by the Fourth and Third Armies on a front of 17 miles, Haig has given the name of the Second Battle of Le Cateau.

By that time the towns of Le Cateau and Cambrai had been captured, and the Second Battle of Le Cateau (8th-12th October) had closed. It was no fault of this brilliantly executed British thrust, for which as a classic example of the military art the French Staff expressed wholehearted admiration, that the enemy was not forced to immediate surrender. Too hard a task, however, had been set the Americans and French southwards, and Ludendorff's day of final reckoning was postponed. None the less the sky was luridly dark for Germany. While her Armies managed to hold Gouraud and the Americans, the British drive on the German centre and at the German communications was striking into the enemy's vitals.

They were forced to evacuate the Laon salient, which by 13th October had fallen to the French. Apart from this, the immediate result of the British attack was the gain of the St. Quentin-Carnbrai railway, the capture of 12,000 prisoners and 250 guns, and the establishment of a line along the Selle down to a point 7 miles below Solesmes. In the 5 days' fighting and pursuit the Division had advanced 11 miles, and at the cost of 536 casualties had inflicted very heavy losses on the enemy, in addition to capturing 13 field guns and over 1,400 prisoners.

 

Source: New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

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