Sunday, 5 March 2017

Instructions for an Advance

Monday 5th March 1917 from our correspondent in the field

Major E S M Poyntz, temporarily in command of 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment at Agny, south-west of Arras, whilst his brother acts as brigadier, has issued orders for an possible advance. As he said in his preamble: “In view of the possibility of the Germans withdrawing from the front now held by this Brigade it is possible that the Battalion (if in the line) may be ordered to advance at extremely short notice”.

The method of advance is detailed as follows: “the Battalion will advance on a front of two companies. Each Company will push forward a strong patrol of one Platoon and a Lewis Gun whose duty will be to keep in touch with the retiring enemy, these strong patrols must push forward as vigorously as possible, and their commanders must realize that every time they are delayed by a small post it gives the enemy more time to effect a withdrawal and lessens our chance of causing him casualties”.

“As soon as these patrols have occupied a position company commanders should immediately warn Battalion Headquarters who will give the order to push up their men and consolidate their position while the patrols will continue to push forward. The Battalion in support will be used to occupy and continue the consolidation of captured positions, when the leading battalion advances further”.

“Two signallers will move forward with the scouts and keep in constant communication with the fighting patrol who will relay to Company Headquarters. The greatest attention should be given to nettoyage(1), the men selected for this must be instructed not to leave any dugout unsearched or on any account whatsoever overlook any likely place of concealment for the sniper or machine gun”.

“After the front line of enemy trenches has been occupied, company commanders may find it advisable to push out stronger patrols. It is of paramount importance that patrols should keep in touch with their flanks. The importance of this cannot possibly be exaggerated”.

“It should be impressed on all officers, non-commissioned officers and men, that what appear to be small matters to them may be of vital importance to the higher authorities, so they should be warned to report anything of consequence”.

“One Lewis gun will proceed with each fighting patrol and one with each leading platoon. The support and reserve companies will each have three Lewis guns with them. This will leave four guns in reserve at Battalion Headquarters (providing we are issued with the extra two guns to make us up to sixteen)”.

Source: X550/3/WD

(1) French for cleaning up, British parlance was “mopping up”, applied to dealing with isolated enemy personnel and positions left in the rear of a British advance.

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