Saturday 22 July 2017

An Account of the Umbrella Hill Raid

Umbrella Hill from The History of the Fifth Battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (TA)

Sunday 22nd July 1917

Colonel Brighten, commanding officer of the 1st/5th Battalion has sent an account of the recent raid on Umbrella Hill: “In accordance with orders received the party detailed for the Raid assembled at the entrance to K39 trench at about 20.15. Stores were issued, four bridges thrown across our trenches, our own wire gapped and all preliminaries completed by 20.50”.

“The night was then dark and everywhere along the line things were quite quiet. Zero was fixed for 21.00. At 20.55 two flashes in the distance were seen and after what seemed a long time two dull roars and a heavy droning noise, growing louder and louder, were heard, then two vivid flashes on Umbrella Hill followed almost at once by the tremendous crash of two 8-inch shells exploding shook the night. Two minutes of silence then two more 8-inch shells: two more minutes and yet another pair hurtled over. A minute more and at Zero started a veritable inferno. Flashes were all over the sky from the guns behind and from the shells bursting in front lit up Umbrella Hill and showed that it was wreathed in a bank of smoke which grew denser each moment. The noise was deafening so that when the machine-gun barrage from 24 guns started at 21.05, at first there appeared to be little more added to the din than the noise of a stick being run over a split-oak fence and later, one was quite oblivious of any machine-gun fire at all”.

Lieutenant B W Smythe

“At 21.00 the Raiders, closely followed by the supports, moved quickly over the trench bridges and disappeared through the gap in our wire. So rapid was the advance across "no-man's land" that it was found necessary to halt for one minute at the Beanfield. At 21.06, a minute ahead of time, the screen under Lieutenant B W Smythe dashed up to the wire with the shrapnel of our barrage bursting right over their head and soon found the gaps in the wire. They shouted through the smoke to the Raiders, who, though close on their heels, were quite invisible and so guided, they later dashed into the front trench at about 21.07, bayoneted the few Turks who offered any resistance and captured a machine-gun which was found in position”.

“Having arrived and established touch with the enemy, Captain H S Armstrong fixed his headquarters and the various parties as detailed in orders began to move to their allotted objectives, though at first some confusion occurred owing to the dense smoke & the large number of men crowded together. Lieutenant B W Smythe, after his first task of guiding the Raiders through the gap had been accomplished, collected a small party and dashed across the open to Cross Cut, which he cleared and made good, thus affording a measure of local protection while the deployment mentioned above took place”.

“To follow briefly the fortunes of various parties. The Left Sector party under Lieutenant W A Shaw moved along Side Trench, Silk Alley and finally obtained touch with the Right Sector at Tassel Corner. Bombing sections were quickly pushed up Cover Alley and Side Trench. So thoroughly demoralised were the Turks in most cases that they had to be bombed in their dugouts, each of which contained from three to six and refused to come out or indeed to do anything except cower down on the ground. A few Turks offered resistance in Cover Alley but they were speedily overcome. Soon after the evacuation signal went and in consequence the time was found insufficient for reaching Stick Alley and Point Trench”.

“The Right Sector party under Second Lieutenant R H Smith entered the enemy trenches at Stay Alley, passed through Echelon and made for Tassel Corner, where there was some congestion of troops. Dug-Out Alley was then visited and a large number of Turks killed. As before, little resistance was encountered. When the evacuation signal went, this party had just reached the bottom of Dug-out Alley”.

“Meanwhile a section of bombers had been working successfully along Echelon Trench. They killed some ten Turks and took several prisoners. A large minenwerfer(1) was met with and being far too bulky for removal, was put out of action very ingeniously by the Section who exploded bombs in its working parts”.

“While these parties had been at work killing or capturing the garrison, a party of Royal Engineers under Lieutenant Mendham, 484th Field Company, had been systematically destroying the enemy works and wrecking the trenches. They left several heavy charges of gun-cotton in the principal dug-outs which were exploded subsequent to the evacuation by time fuses”.

“Soon after the raid started, the enemy began to shell the Hollow about 50 yards in the rear of our front line very heavily with 5.9-inch high explosive shells and some shrapnel from much smaller guns. It was afterwards calculated that about 500 shells fell during the night here. By sheer bad luck the shelling was limited to an area of little more than 150 yards radius and in that was situated the signal office, headquarters dugout and aid post. The area was fairly full of people, orderlies, stretcher bearers, a dump party and headquarters details found themselves in the open under this heavy fire. For about two hours an intense bombardment was maintained, the heavy shells falling in salvos at first and later in quick succession. Later the bombardment died down to intermittent shelling with a single gun and this finally died down altogether. During the bombardment candles were continually blown out by the concussion, wounded were killed in some cases at the aid post and the dense smoke rendered the evacuation of wounded a matter of great difficulty. Though it was successfully carried out and by 02.30 all the wounded had been evacuated”.

Captain Miskin

“When it was perceived that the returning raiders and supports would suffer heavily if allowed to enter the shelled area, which practically did not touch our front line, parties were organised by the Reserve Commander, Captain  C H Miskin, who was wounded while so engaged, to direct them. Partly owing to this organisation and partly owing to the control still exercised by the officers over the raiders and supports most of these were held up at our front line and after a short interval worked away to the left flank and evacuated by the communication trenches leading back from the neighbourhood of Samson Ridge. Many casualties were undoubtedly avoided in this manner”.

“About 01.00 it was found possible to hand over the defence of bays 21-28 to the 5th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment and our reserves were withdrawn except for a small party repairing our wire and those attending to the wounded”.

“An officer’s patrol of six worked in no man's land for an hour in search of wounded and dead but none were found. By this time a thick mist had added to the difficulty to seeing anything so no good could be done”.

“At dawn and just before the mist lifted a patrol of two went out again for a short time. A revolver and some equipment was found, but none of our casualties”.

“Artillery Support. This was perfect and completely demoralised the Turks. Not one of our men was hit by our own guns.The machine-gun barrage also worked without a hitch”.

“The elaborate system of telephones was found of little value, at any rate forward of Battalion Battle Headquarters. Nothing could be heard and the wires were soon cut”.

“Booty was brought in as follows: 25 rifles; 6 bayonets; 1 revolver; 1 machine-gun on a sledge mounting, complete; 7 belt boxes; 6 full belts of ammunition; 1 37mm gun; 79 shells for the gun; 1 bag of spare parts; 1 set of equipment; 2 gas masks”.

“Enemy Casualties. No count was possible in Cover Alley and Stay Alley and those killed by our guns are not included. The counted casualties are: Echelon Trench 24; Front Trench and Cross Cut 15; Side Trench 1 officer, 30 other ranks; Dug-Out Alley 35. Total 105”.

Source: X550/6/8

(1) “mine thrower” a German trench mortar.

No comments:

Post a Comment