Sapper History




Western Front


Corps of Royal Engineers


Related Events, other areas of the war & notes

31 January 1917



Germany announces the continuation of unrestricted submarine warfare hoping to starve Britain into submission.

3 February 1917



The United States severs diplomatic relations with Germany as U-Boats threaten US shipping. Intercepted messages reveal that Germany is provoking the Mexicans into war against the US.

6 February to 16 March 1917

The Great German Withdrawal [Operation Alberich] begins. They will evacuate Serre, Miraumont, Petit Miraumont, Pys, and Warlencourt falling back 25 miles to establish stronger positions along the Hindenburg Line.



24 February  1917



Turkish retreat to Baghdad abandoning Kut in Mesopotamia.

11 March 1917



Baghdad is taken by the British after three days fighting.

15 March 1917



Tsar Nicholas II abdicates as Moscow falls to Russian Revolutionaries. Demise of the Russian Army frees German troops for the Western Front.

26 March 1917



The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine as the British attempt to cut off the Turkish forces in Mesopotamia from their homeland. They fail to take the town and are forced to withdraw.

6 April 1917



US declares war on Germany. Troops begin to mobilise immediately.

9 April to

4 May 1917

The Battle of Arras & Vimy Ridge in support of the ‘Nivelle Offensive’. The British successfully employ new tactics of creeping barrages, the 'graze fuse' to destroy wire and counter battery fire. Canadians take Vimy Ridge.



16 to 20 April 1917

The Second Battle of Aisne begins as part of the 'Nivelle Offensive'. Losses in attack on Chemin des Dames are horrendous with 100,000 on the first day triggering mutinies within the French Army.



17 April to

20 June 1917

French troops will only defend and not attack. On



19 April 1917



The Second Battle of Gaza begins in Palestine. The plan consists of nothing more than to throw troops against well prepared Turkish positions. It is eventually called off due to mounting casualties a loss of 6000.

15 May 1917



Nivelle dismissed and succeeded at C-in-C by Petain.

6 June 1917


Albert Medal to Lt Herbert Sewell.

Usine Lorner, Calais.


7 to 14 June  1917

Messines Ridge. The British take the villages of Messines and Wytschaete ridge with few casualties as it is preceded by the detonation of 19 huge mines under the German front lines. The explosions are reportedly heard from England.



13 June 1917



Germans launch the first major heavy bomber raid over London. Bombs dropped from 18 Gotha GV aircraft kill 162 people and injure 432.

25 June 1917

First US troops arrive in France.



1 July to

3 August 1917



Kerensky Offensive. Initial Russian successes are countered by Austro-German counter attacks pushing them back beyond their start line.

16 July 1917



TE Lawrence and the Arabs liberate Aqaba in Jordan after crossing the Nefu desert. This opens the route north for the Arab Army and isolates the Turkish Army in Mesopotamia.

31 July 1917


Brig Gen Clifford Coffin VC [later Maj Gen CB DSO*] – 25 Inf Bde at Westhoek Ridge, near Ypres.



31 July to

10 November 1917

The Third Battle of Ypres begins along a 15 mile front in Flanders. Initial attacks are successful as the German forward trenches are lightly manned. The major actions are shown below.



31 July to

2 August 1917

The Battle of Pilckem Ridge. This was the opening phase of the 3rd Ypres and the ridge lies to the north of Ypres.



15 August 1917

The Battle of Lens (Hill 70). Canadian troops are in the vanguard of this assault. Hill 70 is only 15 feet higher than the surrounding landscape but it dominates the battlefield. The Canadians take the hill and hold it against five German counter attacks. Allies lose 9,200 men.



16 to 18 August 1917

The Battle of Langemarck. The weather had been extremely wet with the area reduced to a shell pocked quagmire. Such ground as was gained was lost and the troops finished back at their start lines.



18 August to 12 September 1917



Eleventh Isonzo. High plateau of Bainsizza captured with considerable Italian losses but leaves port of Trieste under threat.

20 August 1917

The Third Battle of Verdun begins. French progress is marked by gaining lost territory in the earlier battles.



8 September 1917


Sgt John Carmichael VC [finally Lt.]

att. N Staffs near Hill 60, Zwarteleen.



20 to 25 September 1917

The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge. By this time the weather had improved and conditions were much better. Much of the Gheluvelt Plateau was taken as planned and held but subject to intense German reprisals which were resisted.




26 September to 3 October 1917

The Battle of Polygon Wood. The ANZAC Corps were tasked to take the wood which was secured by mid-morning.




4 October 1917

The Battle of Broodseinde. With Polygon Wood secured the advance now moved on to a costly but major victory.



9 October 1917

The Battle of Poelcappelle The third phase of the Ypres Offensive begins with British and French troops taking Poelcapelle. 25mm of rain falls in the next 48 hours on already saturated ground. The previous bombardments smashed the drainage systems and the battlefield turns into a quagmire.



12 October 1917

The First Battle of Passchendaele The British launch their latest assaults at Ypres against the Passchendaele Ridge. New Zealand and Australian divisions in the vanguard of the attack take terrible casualties then are bogged down in the mud and are forced back to their start lines.



19 October 1917



The Zeppelin raid on Britain is carried out.

12 October to 19 November 1917



Caporetto [Twelfth Isonzo]. Launched by Austro-German forces to save Trieste, Caporetto taken and Italians driven back 50 miles.

26 October to 10 November 1917

The Second Battle of Passchendaele begins with 20000 men of the Third and Fourth Canadian Divisions advancing up the hills of the salient. It cost the Allies 12,000 casualties for a gain of a few hundred yards.



30 October 1917

Reinforced with the addition of two British divisions a second offensive is launched in torrential rains to capture Passchendaele. The Allies hold the town for the next five days in the face of repeated German shelling and counterattacks.



31 October 1917



Battle of Beersheba Palestine. British forces take the town capturing 1800 Turkish troops. This leaves the way open for the advance on Jerusalem.

7 November  1917



British capture Gaza.

10 November 1917

Battle of Passchendaele ends. After months of fighting the Allies have advanced only 5 miles but have taken the high ground that dominates the salient. Half a million men are casualties of which around 140,000 have been killed.



October – December 1917

Lloyd George’s government limit reinforcements to Western Front.



20 November


3 December 1917

The Battle of Cambrai begins. During the attack Royal Flying Corps aircraft drop bombs on German anti-tank guns and strongpoints to clear a path for the Allied tanks and ground troops. Big first day British gains wiped out by German 'Blitzkrieg' tactics using ‘stormtroopers’.



1 December 1917

5 British & 6 French Divisions transferred to Italy.



11 December  1917



Britain liberates Jerusalem ending 673 years of Turkish rule.

15 December 1917



Germany and Russia armistice agreed at Brest-Litovsk.