Wednesday 28 September 2016

Day Ninety on the Somme

Thursday 28th September 1916: From our Correspondent in the Field

Today has been a day of light rain but this has not prevented another attack by the Bedfords. Having seized Thiepval yesterday they were ordered to take part in another attack, this time on the Schwaben Redbout on a spur of land north of the village ruins. As Captain Bridcutt told me: “From early morning until 12 Noon every one was going at high pressure, preparing for another attack on the ground which included a very high ridge and a Redoubt called the Schwaben Redoubt to the North of Thiepval. At 12 Noon the Battalion was ready for this attack and disposed as follows: A and B were the assaulting companies, D Company was in a dug-out and C Company was Battalion Reserve”.

The attack got underway at 1 pm and much use was made of numbered points on the map to navigate. I am lucky enough to have a sketch plan of these points which I reproduce above and which may assist the reader to follow the action. Colonel Price took a moment from his ongoing exertions was kind enough to tell me what has happened: “In order to conform with the barrage, bombing stops and the forward line previously held were all brought back on the line 34, 33, 43, 83. A and B Companies were the assaulting companies and formed up on the line 34 to 83, their fourth line being between points 13-60. D Company, detailed as clearing-up company, formed up with the two assaulting companies. C Company, in support, were formed up on the roads 67-19, two machine guns were detailed with supporting Company. A Company, 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, was used as a Battalion Reserve with the remaining three Companies in support of main attack”.

View from the front line to towards the Schwaben Redoubt on the crest of the ridge in the distance

“The forming up by mid-day was an exceedingly difficult operation as the trenches in question were in full view of the enemy and the light was very good. It was however successfully carried out”.

“The Artillery barrage which opened at 1 pm was very effective, very little enemy fire was met with until lifts in the barrage occurred. The waves followed the barrage very closely and went in beautiful formation until points 29 and 49 were reached”.

Line of attack by the right-hand platoons of the battalion

"A Company, on the right, made for the Cemetery and from thence to swing on to Market Trench but, unfortunately, the right platoon got knocked right out by machine gun fire from the Schwaben Redoubt before ever reaching Market Trench. The whole line from here on appears to have commenced to lay to the left - partly forced there by pressure of the Queen’s (West Surrey) Regiment, on their right. The supports hereabouts joined the assaulting Companies, who were suffering severely from machine gun fire”.

“From this point the Boches could be seen streaming away in full flight towards Saint-Pierre-Divion along trenches 19-63-54 and towards 69. About 2.30 Captain Keep arranged with an officer of the Queen’s to relieve him of trench 22-45 and his bomb stop in trench 45-19. About 3 pm the line 22-45 was taken over by Company Sergeant Major Brand(1) who had with him men of A Coy and West Yorkshires, the latter on the right. Sergeant Patterson of the West Yorks held Strong Point 45 with a platoon of his men”.

“After arranging with the Queen’s officer, Captain Keep hurried back to Point 86 and found that the party at Point 19 had fallen back towards Point 86 making a bombing stop half way up that trench. There was great confusion reigning at this time and the troops available had to be retold-off. Men of the West Yorkshire Regiment under Second Lieutenant Brawn were told off to hold the Line 19-86 with a bombing stop and line 19-63 while Second Lieutenant Cartwright with two Lewis guns and a Stokes mortar was put in charge of a strong point 50 yards west of Point 86. This point was immediately counter-attacked, but as quickly driven off(2)”.

“About 4 pm the shortage of Mills bombs and ammunition was acutely felt. Boche bombs from dugouts were of immense value. The situation at this point was somewhat precarious. It appeared as if the Queen’s had failed to reach point 65 and to clear the dug-outs in second line trench from that point to Point 45. From Point 45 to Point 19 the situation was uncertain except that we held points 45 and 19 but the intervening trench had not been exploited. No bombs were available to do this work”.

“The attack on extreme left advanced very quickly. They had flanking bombing parties posted forward which proved to be invaluable. The Lewis guns advanced on the left flank through Points 36, 29 and 22. Very few casualties or serious opposition were experienced until reaching Points 29, 49, 72”.

“At Point 29 the Boche had a machine-gun emplacement covered by a strong bombing party of some forty men. The flanking bombing party was held up and had to wait until the dug-out clearing party came to their assistance. It was here the first three waves suffered losses – Second Lieutenant Adlam(3) orgainsed a strong party, told the men to cheer and they charged the strong point with him as leader, in one big rush, overbore all resistance and completely wiped out the enemy. The Lewis Guns did great execution at this point. Two more strong points between Points 29 and 91 were taken at point of bayonet after a bomb preparation”.

“The situation hereafter became very difficult, as it was impossible to recognise any trenches owing to the intensity of the Artillery preparation which had obliterated everything. The final objective was almost impossible to locate accurately. This may account for parties of men over-reaching by far the final objective - some patrols pushing as far as Points 47 and 35. The final objective was held early on in the day and the whole of the Boche front line by parties of Lancashire Fusiliers, Bedfords and West Yorkshires”.

Of course the battle still goes on, particularly on the right hand section of the attack, but before turning his attention to events here the Colonel was able to give me a few of his views on the operations so far: “The whole of this operation was carried out with great dash, personal cases of daring bravery were very numerous. The taking of strong points with a determined rush came off every time”.

“The fact that there were two points numbered 45 led to great confusion and accounted for the lagging of the line away from what was, after all, the true objective - the Schwaben Redoubt. The fact that the right of the right attack was blotted out by machine gun fire may have led to the Queen’s filling-in the gap and causing them to lose their real line”.

“I am fully prepared to hold line won by us till day light tomorrow, or even later. The courage, resolution and endurance displayed by all ranks was quite wonderful. They were out to kill and the battlefield is a witness that they carried out to the full their intentions”.

As far as we can tell the southern and western faces of the Schwaben Redoubt are now in the hands of 18th Division. No doubt we can expect more fighting over night.

Today the area around the village of Morval has been handed over to the French 6th Army. In fact today has seen a number of the divisions which attacked on 25th relieved by new divisions, their work having been well done.

View from Cartwright's Post over the Ancre Valley

Source: X550/8/1

(1) Company Sergeant Major Richard Brand MM, DCM would be killed at Chérisy on 3rd May 1917 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
(2) Second Lieutenant Henry Cartwright would be wounded at Chérisy but would survive the war. In his memoirs he expressed disappointment that he was not recommended for a Military Cross for his work on this day. He named his strong-point Cartwright’s Post.
(3) He would receive the Victoria Cross for this action and for his gallantry and initiative on the previous day’s attack.

No comments:

Post a Comment