Thursday, 23 August 2018

Day Three of Attacks on the Somme

Friday 23rd August 1918

Again today the business of war has been transacted by IV Corps in the north, around Achiet-le-Grand V Corps in the centre around Aveluy and Saint-Pierre-Divion and III Corps in the south near Albert and Meaulte. 42nd Division of IV Corps succeeded in taking a position known as the Dovecot near Achiet-le-Petit which was initially captured on 21st and lost to counterattack yesterday. 5th Division took the village of Irles and then attacked Loupart Wood and Grevillers, which, sadly, they were unable to take, whilst 37th Division seized the village of Bihucourt, moving through the line established by 63rd (Royal Naval) Division and 4th Bedfords who are being withdrawn this evening, their task, for the moment, over.

1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, part of 5th Division, moved up in front of the village of Achiet-le-Petit and went into the attack at eleven o'clock this morning. It secured all its objectives although it suffered quite heavily from machine gun fire. The commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel H Courtenay MC has been badly wounded(1), Lieutenants G Abbott, H J A Watson, E I F Nailer, A R C Eaton and R H Arnholz, Second Lieutanants F H Fox and W T Paine have all been killed and two other officers wounded. Altogether the battalion has lost 129 other ranks killed and wounded, a heavier "butcher's bill" than it has had for some time. This evening the battalion will withdraw into the reserve, its job emphatically done. 

The result of these three days of action by IV Corps is to have established the front line east of the railway line between Albert and Arras and almost all the high ground south and west of Bapaume has been taken. Only a ridge running from Loupart Wood through Grevillers to Biefvillers remains in enemy hands. It is reckoned that over two thousand prisoners have been taken along with twenty five pieces of artillery. Readers will be familiar with names such as Bihucourt and Achiet-le-Grand and Petit from the actions of 18th Division in the Spring of 1917 as it is here that Private Christopher Augustus Cox of the 7th Bedfords won the Victoria Cross. To those of us who have been with the armies since 1915 so many of the names of places where actions are currently being fought are horribly familiar.

Last night some soldiers from 38th (Welsh) Division finally managed to cross the marshy River Ancre north of Thiepval Wood. They managed to establish themselves near Saint-Pierre-Divion and, despite enemy counter-attacks have clung on. This morning the rest of the Welsh Division, deployed between the Albert to Bapaume Road and the Ancre attacked and seized Usna Hill meaning they now look towards the pathetic heaps of ruins that mark the sites of the twin villages of Ovillers and la Boisselle.

18th Division has pushed on another thousand yards, in the face of stiff opposition and 3rd Australian Division, again in the teeth of strong opposition has managed a short advance on the north bank of the River Somme towards the south end of Bray-sur-Somme. 2nd Bedfords remain in their positions, having taken no part in today's attack.

Sources: X550/2/5; X550/3/wd; X550/5/3

(1) He died later on that evening and is buried at Bagneux British Cemetery, Gezaincourt. He was just thirty years old.

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