Sunday 13 August 2017

Fourteenth Day of the Third Battle of Ypres

Monday 13th August 1917

Today Major Bridcutt, the 7th Bedfords’ commanding officer, as promised a couple of days ago, spoke to me further about the action they took part in on 10th August.

On the night of the 9th/10th each man was given a cup of hot tea and rum as he filed up the line into the attacking positions. Each platoon commander and sergeant was handed copy of the situation map. Each platoon commander was allotted a guide to conduct him to Surbiton Villas A white tape had been laid previously to Surbiton Villas along which each platoon moved and could not possibly miss their way.

As each platoon arrived at a spot near Surbiton Villas they were met by a platoon guide and the company commanders and were conducted to their battle formation. Here they laid down in perfect quietness until the first note of the guns sang out. A Company (the company in immediate support) moved from their cover in a tunnel on the Menin Road by platoons to their place in battle formation, under the same arrangements as the assaulting Companies.

D Company (already in place and holding the line) furnished a covering party (one platoon) who were posted about 150 yards in front of the forming up tapes, pieces of trench which were almost identical to their forming up position afforded this company protection in case of Bosche barrage being turned on; this they occupied, moving forwards to Jargon Trench as previously ordered as the attack went forward.

The arrangements for forming up went without a hitch and at the appointed time (4.35 a.m.) the guns opened and the attack went forward in a most determined manner to the final objective which was reached at 5.13 a.m. Some 100-150 of the enemy were in Glencorse Wood on the Battalion front as well as two machine guns; these were knocked out and the teams destroyed in such a rapid manner that any organised resistance by the enemy was at once overcome and most of them that had not been killed at once cried "Kamerad" and ran forward into our lines most of them wounded and fearfully frightened.

After the objective had been reached battle patrols were sent out and posts established in the usual way, along the south-western end of Nonne Bosschen Wood as near to the protective barrage as it was safe to get. (i.e. about 200 yards). The Battalion then commenced to consolidate.

During the day the enemy made repeated attempts to form up and deliver what appeared to be a counter-attack of some strength. He was prevented time after time from doing so by rifle and machine gun fire, but owing to the expenditure of ammunition and the difficulty of replenishing it, care rose to anxiety and the probability of the foremost line and right flank, where the 11th Royal Fusiliers had retired, being overcome.

Major Bridcutt went on: “At this stage of the operation I considered it advisable if the position was to be held with any degree of certainty it required artillery support in the form of a few shots every few minutes on the only places the Bosch could use to form up under cover from view i.e. Nonne Bosschen Wood, Inverness Copse and the south-western portion of Polygon Wood”.

“This was suggested over the telephone but so far as could be understood it could not be arranged, consequently it appeared to me and others at the front that it was a question of an SOS appeal for artillery or nothing at all and this signal was repeatedly seen in the air at various points along the line but no SOS was asked for by the 7th Bedfords until towards the evening when it was too obvious that the Bosch intended to have a final struggle to get back the ground we held, as troops were seen emerging from each of the three woods above mentioned, and a dense cloud of smoke and gas was being sent over which obscured everything from view. At this time I cannot state the exact clock hour, the artillery opened and with terrible execution, but the Bosch line came on delivering their attack on the right flank of the Battalion”.

“The advanced posts were either killed or captured, it is impossible to say which, but judging from the very intense barrage which the Bosch rolled over Glencorse Wood they were undoubtedly killed. A certain amount of confusion set in on our right and it was only by firm determination that the strong point which I had taken over from the 11th Royal Fusiliers and Jargon Trench was held”.

“When the attack was fully developing reinforcements (two companies) of the Royal Berkshire Regiment arrived and were sent forward to hold our original front line in case the Bosch succeeded in his object to gain the strongpoint and the high ridge running from Stirling Castle through the strongpoint taken from the Royal Fusiliers and Jargon Trench”

The attack however did not materialise and only the enemy’s advanced line got near the position. The situation quietened down and the relief of the Battalion by the Royal Berkshire Regt was carried out by 2 a.m. and the Battalion withdrew to Chateau-Segard. Major Bridcutt stated: “It is worthy of record the splendid manner in which the two companies of the Royal Berkshire Regiment came up to reinforce”.

Finally, Major Bridcutt told me the lessons he believes should be learned from this operation.

1. I venture to think had a fresh Battalion been close at hand when the situation on the right became obscure and pushed in, in attack formation, a good deal more ground would have been taken and the Bosch routed from his position.

2. Artillery should not cease firing on protected lines until the Battalion Commander is satisfied all is well. Artillery ceased on the 10th without any reference to battalions (at least not to 7th Bedfords). I consider it of great importance that Battalion Commanders should be able to convey to Artillery which fire other than SOS is required.

3. No telephone wire to be laid beyond Brigade Headquarters, as it is used for all kinds of things that hopelessly give away arrangements, and too many other ranks have access to it and the commanders of the sector having no knowledge of many things happening on the wire unless he or his Adjutant sits by it. The telephone was a nuisance and not the least assistance to the Battalion on the 10th inst.

4. It took from 5 to 6 minutes before the Hun Barrage got really going on our lines, it was severe when it did do so.

5. The 54th Brigade arrangements for ordering up the reserve companies and the companies for mopping-up was excellent, timing was also extremely good.

6. To avoid any platoon going astray I placed Battalion Police posts 100-200 yards apart along the ATN Track from the RITZ area to the Menin Road passing point.

7. Our own Artillery inflicted many casualties on our troops by firing very short, what appeared to be one 8 inch gun in particular.

8. The Bosch attack was guided by a line of his men at a few paces apart firing Very lights, during the advance these were with the first wave.

Source: X550/8/1

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