Thursday 30 June 2016

Preparations for the Great Offensive and Prodigals Return

Friday 30th June 1916: We have had good news from the 2nd Battalion. Corporal Thurgood and Privates Sutton, Palmer, Humbles and Gray have returned after 24 hours in the German Lines. It had been feared yesterday that they had been captured.

The adjutant of the 7th Battalion tells us that they are now concentrated in trenches of 54 Brigade Battle Front. The Bedfords, with 11th Royal Fusiliers will lead the attack tomorrow morning, with 6th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment in support 12th Middlesex Regiment in reserve. B and C Companies will occupy the forming up trenches with two platoons in each trench. D Company will be in support and A Company in reserve. The Battalion has been at Picquigny, well behind the lines, in recent weeks, painstakingly practising attacks over very similar ground to that they will assault tomorrow, which can only help them in the din, smoke and confusion of battle.

They have three objectives – the German front line system with support trenches; the German second line including a strongpoint known as the Pommiers Redoubt on the main road from Mametz to Montauban and a line well to the rear of the German lines overlooking a place called Caterpillar Valley.

The troops will be expected to be very close to the bombardment of the German positions, within 100 yards if possible. In this way immediately the guns lift in order to bombard the German second line, the troops can quickly get to the German first line before the defenders can man their positions. As the adjutant tells us: The closer the barrage is followed the greater the possibility of success”. To this end the troops will be out in no man’s land when the German front line is being bombarded and not simply waiting in their own trenches as there is some distance between the two sets of front lines.

The Royal Flying Corps will be overhead to determine how the advance is going.  Each Battalion will have a supply of red flares. One flare must be carried by each man. One special signalling lamp, one panel and one ground signal will also be taken. The ground signal will be put out as soon as Battalion Headquarters reaches its new position in the captured German lines.

Each man will carry: a rifle and equipment less the pack, which is to be left behind so that its weight does not impede swift movement. Also to be carried: one ammunition bandolier making 170 rounds carried in all (except for grenadiers who, carrying grenades, will only have 50 rounds); one day’s ration and one iron ration; one waterproof sheet; two empty sandbags and two smoke helmets.

With such a large attack in the offing we have decided to report as much as we can on the day it happens from reporters with each of our units in the field. We will thus be delaying out reports until 6 pm, London time (7 pm in France) from tomorrow, 1st July.

Source: X550/3/wd; X550/8/1

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