Thursday 22 March 2018

The German Onslaught Continues

The situation this evening - the black line is the original front line and German gains are shown in red

Friday 22nd March 1918

This evening the situation at the front is still confused, as the enemy has made further advances during the day, as the hastily prepared sketch map above shows. It seems they have made progress in a continuous line from La Fère in the south nearly to Arras in the north. The ground our men had held south-west of Flesquières, separating the two enemy advances has been taken, though not without a stiff fight. The next targets seem to be the town of Bapaume, Peronne and Ham.

The two Bedfordshire Regiment battalions in the thick of the fighting are both towards the southern end of the battlefield, indeed, the 7th Battalion, part of 18th (Eastern) Division seems to be at the southernmost end. Again, your correspondent has been lucky to snatch a few moments conversation with officers of each battalion.

The 2nd Battalion began the day between the villages of Savy and Étreillers. Early this morning the enemy worked around C Company's position, in the front line, from a sunken road which was just in front of the British wire. Both A and C Companies were heavily shelled all day until they were attacked about two o'clock this afternoon by overwhelming numbers. C Company's position fell and, regrettably, it seems that some men were taken prisoner, so loathe were they to fall back from positions they had been ordered to hold. B Company which had been sent up as reinforcements hung on, with A Company, to their position until surrounded by a sea of Germans. The adjutant simply remarked, in a tired voice: "They fought very well and only a few got back". At five o'clock this afternoon the order was received to withdraw and the operation was undertaken at once. However, this manoeuvre, never an easy one in warfare, was made still more hazardous by the fact that it was made over open country under heavy machine gun and artillery fire. The Battalion is due to fall back to the village of Verlaines south-west of Ham.

The 7th Battalion began the morning south-east of Jussy at Montagne, highlighted on the map above. The 1st Bedfords fought at Jussy in the early Autumn of 1914. Today the 7th Battalion were tasked with defending Royal Engineers as they blew up the railway bridge over the Crozat Canal. However, this bridge resisted all attempts to destroy it as the right amount of explosive was lacking. About 5.45 this evening the enemy attacked this bridge in force. C Company, on the left flank, was forced back by heavy machine gun fire and the enemy crossed the bridge. C Company then helped two companies of 6th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment to restore the situation and the adjutant breathlessly told me they were in hopes of throwing the enemy back across the bridge(1).

Clearly, then, the enemy's advance is not unstoppable and he is not having things all his own way. Over the next few days all here are in hopes that the usual problems of communications between headquarters and the advancing troops together with the enemy's weariness and our increasingly solid defence will prove this success short-lived(2).

Sources: X550/3/wd; X550/8/1

(1) This was achieved by 7.30 pm.
(2) In fact the offensive would go on rapidly before reaching its limit on 5th April.

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