Wednesday 16 August 2017

Seventeenth Day of the Third Battle of Ypres

Thursday 16th August 1917

Today we have, so far, seen no rain. It has been a day of great activity with more attacks than at any time since 31st July. Eight divisions have been in action over the whole northern part of the battlefront and we will begin with 56th (London) Division because their attack was supported by the gallant B Company of 7th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. They were detailed to attack a strongpoint in the north-west corner of Inverness Copse but were unsuccessful. 

Second Lieutenant Craig told me: “B Company, having formed up on the tapes put out by me during the night, attacked the enemy strong-point marked with an x on the map above which shows the attack made on 10th August. This attack was carried out in conjunction with a large offensive by the Division on our left; a heavy shrapnel barrage opened at zero hour (4.45 a.m.) and 4.5 inch howitzers shot on strong-points. Owing to some mistake a battery of 4.5 howitzers detailed to shoot on the enemy's strong-point we were attacking fired short and on to our company about to move forward to the attack, knocking out 50% of our effectives out. Captain Ferguson at once supported with a platoon of D Company but owing to the heavy enemy machine-gun fire little could be done and the attempt to capture the strong point was abandoned. From 7 a.m. the day was chiefly spent in artillery duels, no further infantry activity taking place on our sector”. The 4th Battalion, London Regiment, managed to make a defensive flank along the south edge of Glencorse Wood, which the Bedfords had taken on 10th but been driven out of due to lack of artillery support.

Two brigades of 56th Division (167th and 169th) attacked towards Glencorse Wood and Nonne Bosschen. 169th Brigade took Glencorse Wood but, like the Bedfords before them, were driven out again and, we understand are back in their starting trenches as I write these words. Part of 167th Brigade are thought to have penetrated Polygon Wood but, sinisterly, we have been told that nothing has been seen or heard from those men for a long time. Overall the brigade is reckoned to have pushed the front line eastwards by about a quarter of a mile.

8th Division are in the line immediately north of 56th Division and they also attacked with two brigades (23rd and 25th). 25th Brigade attacked north -eastwards towards Hanebeek Wood and Iron Cross Redoubt, they passed through the wood and have managed to take the latter strongpoint. Two other strongpoints further on, Anzac and Zonnebeke Redoubts have also been taken. As I write the Brigade is reckoned to be consolidating on the line of their final objective. The 23rd Brigade attack was hampered by slow going of 16th (Irish) Division on their left flank but the position called Sans Souci was taken but enemy counterattacks meant that the brigade could not advance further than Hanebeek Wood.

The attack by Irishmen of 16th Division was unable to make as much initial headway as hoped. 48th Brigade initially got as far as Vampire and Potsdam Farms. We understand they may have subsequently gone beyond Vampire Farm, though this is uncertain(1). 49th Brigade took a strongpoint called Beck House and then Delva Farm and so have advanced a good distance. Now, of course, they will be expecting an enemy counter-attack.

Moving north again, we find the Ulstermen of 36th Division going into action, as they did on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, side-by-side with their compatriots from the south of Ireland. Their attack, like their neighbours, was in a north-easterly direction. Sadly, they were much less successful than the 16th Division. 108th Brigade encountered withering fire from strongpoints and could make to gains at all. 109th Brigade did manage a short advance, taking Corn Hill and Fort Hill a hundred yards or so in front, but were well short of the objectives they had been set.

145th Brigade of 48th (South Midland) Division also attacked north-eastwards towards Saint-Julien. The village was taken after a severe struggle. Their objective was Springfield Farm but the few that got this far seem to have been killed or captured. Overall the brigade has been able to advance between a third and half way to its objective, having got further in the north of its sector, just short of a place called Maison du Hibou.

34th Brigade of 11th Division, to the north of 145th Brigade has managed an advance of some distance, though, again, more successful towards the north of their sector. A building called Cockcroft was taken without resistance, a place close to their overall objective which, we understand, they have not quite reached. Further north the brigade took a position called Pheasant Trench, just in front of Pheasant Farm, a little way beyond their objective. Because of the uneven advance of the brigade the troops at Pheasant Trench have had to form a defensive flank along a stream called the Lekkerboterbeek and reports are that this may be vulnerable to any German counter-attack overnight or tomorrow.

20th (Light) Division began today south-west of Langemarck and had orders to take it, advancing north-eastwards. Two brigades were used in this attack, 60th and 61st. 60th Brigade achieved a considerable feat in taking the village, having, at times, we are told, to advance in single file in the narrow gaps between water-filled craters. The Brigade managed to take its final objective well beyond Langemarck but we have just heard that it was attacked in mid-afternoon and lost some ground but we think they may have retaken all or most of it. 61st Brigade, to the north of 60th, took Langemarck Station and is now, we believe, moving towards its final objective. This division has done splendidly and seems to have been the most successful today.

The final division attacking today has been 29th. Its two brigades, 88th and 87th have taken their objectives, too, having advanced as far as a position called Japan House and almost to the road running from Langemarck north-west to Veldhoek.

That any advance at all has been made today is little short of super-human. The battlefield is a sea of claggy mud interspersed with little islands of broken bricks, former houses and barns, or concrete, enemy strongpoints. The enemy has been his usual defiant self and used his defensive advantages well. The men who have come through today can feel very proud of themselves and their fellow soldiers.

(1) They had, but were forced to withdraw later that night.

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