Wednesday 20 September 2017

Fifty Second Day of the Third Battle of Ypres

Thursday 20th September 1917

Today the great offensive, like the engine of a Mark IV Tank, once more roared into life, something the gentlemen of His Majesty’s Press Corps here at the front have been urging for a little while now. Today’s action has straddled the ground either side of the Menin Road, with eleven divisions involved.

One of the earliest actions was a raid near Hollebeke by the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, of which we hope to be able to speak at greater length tomorrow.

The action, running from south to north, has been as follows. 19th (Western) Division attacked with two brigades, 57th and 58th in the area immediately north of Hollebeke and the 2nd Bedfords. Their attack ran south-eastwards and, despite some local difficulties, it appears to have gone well. The strong-points of Hessian Wood, Moat Farm, Funny Farm, Wood Farm, Belgian Wood and North Farm have all been taken and the division is understood to be anticipating a counter-attack(1).

39th Division attacked in a south-easterly direction, took the greater part of Bulgar Wood from positions on the eastern edge of Shrewsbury Forest. A post was also established on the far side of a stream known as the Bassevillebeek.

41st Division were attacking south-eastwards in the general direction of Gheluveldt, though this was not an objective. All three brigades of this division were used. Progress was difficult at times but objectives have been taken including Java Avenue, Tower Trench and Bitter Wood. They could not quite take Tower Hamlets, which is a very strongly sited and defended maze of concrete dug-outs and pillboxes, but have dug in right in front of it and, in places, they are a way short of the Bassevillebeek.

23rd Division used 68th and 69th Brigades and attacked on the left flank of 41st Division and managed to advance a way further, in most places taking all their objectives. 69th Brigade straddled the Menin Road itself. Between them they have taken Dumbarton Wood and Herenthage Chȃteau and, we are very glad to report, the festering sore of Inverness Copse has been eradicated, by 11th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. This afternoon the understand the enemy made a two determined attempts to retake lost ground but these were destroyed by artillery fire.

1st Australian Division is on the left of 23rd Division and 2nd Division on their flank further to the north. The 6th Australian Battalion passed through Glencorse Wood, of evil memory, with as little difficulty as the 7th Bedfords did on 10th August. Unlike the case with the Bedfords, the units on their flanks also continued going forward, making the Australians’ advance a much easier proposition. The 1st Division has also taken Fitzclarence Farm along with Verbeek Farm, also Nonne Bosschen, the advance coming to a halt on the western edge of Polygon Wood. 2nd Division took Hanebeek, Iron Cross and Anzac House and achieved all its objectives.

9th (Scottish) Division went into action on the left flank of the Australians, attacking north-eastwards in the general direction of Zonnebeke. Two brigades were used - 27th and the South African Brigade. Hanebeek Wood fell quickly, as did the Potsdam pillboxes and the Zonnebeke Redoubt. The South Africans took Borry Farm, Zevenkote and Bremen Redoubts. We understand they were attacked by the enemy about two hours ago, but beat them off.

55th (West Lancashire) Division attacked with 164th and 165th Brigades. . 165th Brigade has taken Iberian, Lens, Gallipoli, Kier, Suvla, Capitol and Delva Farms as well as Hill 35 - another thoroughly successful attack. The day seems to have been harder for 164th Brigade. They have taken Aisne and Loos Farms and Hindu Cottage and Schuler Galleries but further gains seem to have eluded them, a rare disappointment in this day of successes.

58th (2nd/1st) London Division have also made a successful advance, 174th Brigade taking Vancouver Farm and Keerselare as well as Hübner Farm and Dimple Trench, Cluster House, Clifton House, Wurst Farm and Olive House, all their objectives. 173rd Brigade have made a full advance and taken the western edge of the Gravenstafel Spur.

Our friends the 51st (Highland) Division, quartered in Bedford until 1915, attacked with 154th Brigade. They have taken Pheasant Trench and Flora Cottage, Quebec Farm and Bavaroise House. Pheasant Farm Cemetery, Malta, Rose and Delta Houses were taken in a second wave of attacks. A couple of hours ago the enemy began a counter-attack between York Farm and Tweed House. We understand that the highlanders are putting up stiff resistance(2).

20th (Light) Division was the northernmost division in the attack, using 59th and 60th Brigades. 60th Brigade was held up by a defensive line called Eagle Trench, though we understand this is again under assault as I write this (3). 59th Brigade have also been held up by Eagle Trench(4).

It will be evident from the foregoing that fighting is still going on in parts of the battlefield. Nevertheless, it has been a very successful day, with deep gains across a broad front making it the best day for our armies since 31st July. Naturally we have to be cautious about the possibility of enemy counter-attacks overnight and early tomorrow, but there is a decided air of optimism among the “gentlemen of the press” out here tonight.

Source: X550/3/wd

(1) When it arrived at 7.30 p.m. it was quickly stopped.
(2) Until their ammunition ran out, which forced a retirement, Rose Farm falling to the enemy. After collecting ammunition from the dead and wounded the Scots attacked again, retaking the lost ground.
(3) It fell but that was the limit of the gains.

(4) Which could not be taken in its entirety

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