Friday 31 August 2018

Marking Time

A7V Captured by the New Zealand Division [from Wikipedia]

Saturday 31st August 1918

Early this morning 42nd Division finally succeeded in taking the remains of the village of Riencourt. The enemy has finally put in a counter-attack against the all-conquering New Zealand Division. They even employed four of their lumbering tanks in the operation but it failed and two of these monsters have been captured by the triumphant Kiwis.

South of this 38th (Welsh) and 18th (Eastern) Divisions have made no set piece attacks today but German positions at Morval and Combles have been systematically bombarded to weaken the defences. That does not mean that the infantry has been idle. 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, for example have pushed forward a series of posts north-east of Combles as shown on the map below. The adjutant reckoned that during the month of August the battalion has captured one German officer and seventy-one other ranks as prisoners-of-war

Source: X550/3/wd

Thursday 30 August 2018

More Success for the New Zealanders

Friday 30th August 1918

With Bapaume taken the New Zealand Division was today given the task of taking two villages to the east of the town - Bancourt and, to the north-east of that place, Fremicourt. The villages have duly fallen and the line taken some two thousand yards forward. Sadly, 42nd Division have been unable to take the village of Riencourt. 

Similarly, 38th (Welsh) Division have been unable to take Morval, mainly owing to the strength of the enemy's artillery barrage on any attempt to get forward. The same artillery has rendered impossible the 18th Division's attempts to make any serious advance though a little ground has been made. 

2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment had been ordered to take a sunken lane north of Combles and the attempt was duly made. However, they could get no further than another sunken lane a little way to the west - both shown on the map below. Sadly some nine other ranks have been killed, five are missing and thirty two have been killed. Amongst officers Captain P J Reiss has been wounded and 2nd Lieutenant A D Greenwood has been killed.

Source: X550/3/wd

Roll of Honour - 30th August 1918

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Bapaume Falls

Thursday 29th August 1918

Another great leap forward has taken place on the Somme today. 18th (Eastern) Division began its advance this morning at Trones Wood at first light, sweeping through the familiar village of Guillemont an hour later and at Leuze Wood about nine this morning. This evening sees them north, west and south of Combles, though the village itself yet holds out. 

2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, then part of 30th Division lost many men at Guillemont in 1916 so it must have been with great pleasure that this morning they advanced through its few remains without a scratch, following 38th (Welsh) Division. The battalion assisted in the capture of Leuze Wood, and the high ground to the north of it, which gave it little trouble due to the speed and momentum of the advance. Then, as the adjutant informed me a few moments ago: "Our advance was held by strong machine gun fire from the enemy in position along the spur running from Morval southwards towards Combles. the battalion then dug-in as shown on the map above. Altogether four other ranks were killed and thirty-four wounded in today's action.

As already related the Welshmen of 38th Division also advanced today, beginning at Longueval captured the shattered remains of the village of Ginchy and this evening have swept on to take the hamlet of Lesboeufs.

Meanwhile, in the north, the enemy must have evacuated Bapaume as today the New Zealand Division was able to enter the deserted ruins with no finger lifted against it. Similarly 42nd Division took the now empty Thilloy and Ligny-Thilloy. Thus it has taken a mere eight days to advance from Albert to take Bapaume, in 1916 a battle of 144 days brought the army no closer to Bapaume than a few miles to the west. Nothing can so starkly underline the greatly increased efficiency of our own armies and the greatly decreased ability of the enemy to resist.

Source: X550/3/wd

Roll of Honour - 29th August 1918

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Longueval Falls

Wednesday 28th August 1918

For the last two days 12th (Eastern) Division has seen hard fighting in a area made infamous at the end of July 1916 - Hardecourt and Maltz Horn Farm south of Guillemont. Today their efforts have been crowned with the capture of Hardecourt. This evening we have heard the good news that with great dash the Welshmen of 38th Division have cleared not only the mess that is Delville Wood but the pathetic ruins of what was once the village of Longueval, a place which took two months to capture in 1916.

In the north the twin villages of Thilloy and Ligny-Thilloy have been heavily bombarded all day. 42nd Division has been brought in to replace 63rd (Royal Naval) Division and the 4th Bedfords have gone to rest up at Miraumont. The 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, part of 5th Division is now in the vicinity of Bapaume though not in action. A group of 62 reinforcements joined the battalion today.

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

Roll of Honour - 28th August 1918

Monday 27 August 2018

Those Blasted Woods Again

Tuesday 27th March 1918

Today has seen a number of attacks along the front. In the south 18th (Eastern) Division of Fourth Army has been renewing its acquaintance with Trones Wood, where it fought so long in 1916. and Bernafay Wood between Montauban and Ginchy. The enemy still held the village of Longueval at the start of the attack and 8th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment suffered many casualties as they struggled to get forward and were eventually pushed from Trones Wood to Bernafay Wood to the west. A few moments ago, however, a counter-attack has once more pushed the enemy from the wood, hopefully for good. The 38th (Welsh) Division has obtained a firm lodging now in the western remains of Longueval. 

Further north 63rd (Royal Naval) Division has once more been attacking Thilloy and Ligny-Thilloy to help the New Zealand complete its encirclement of Bapaume to the south. The 4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment has been to the fore in today's unsuccessful efforts at Thilloy and Ligny-Thilloy. Your correspondent has just heard from the adjutant with details of the attack, which began about eleven o'clock. The Bedfords were then in a sunken road variously called Chalk Cut or Red Cut as shown on the map above. Preceded by a rolling barrage then men went over the top but not before shells fell into the assembly positions which were thought to come from our own guns firing short. On leaving the sunken road heavy machine gun fire was encountered from the front and the left and especially from the right flank. It had been arranged that 21st Division would attack on the Bedfords' right, but their attack was cancelled at the last moment and so the right flank was exposed to extremely heavy machine gun fire from the high ground.

The line was held up and the positions occupied were then roughly as shown on the map above. No further advance was possible as machine gun fire from Thilloy and the ridges on the right was so heavy. Snipers were very active and claimed many victims.
An hour ago, at six o'clock after an hour's bombardment by heavy artillery and preceded by an 18 pounder barrage the advance was continued again. Just previous to zero a heavy shell fell in the midst of the centre company and did much damage. Despite this, some of C Company on the left entered Thilloy and went right through, with their right on the cross roads shown on the map by an X. The left of the centre company was met again by very heavy machine gun fire from the right and was unable to make much progress and the right company was unable to advance at all owing to the same reason. The enemy had a perfect defensive position which commanded the approach from in front and on the right flank.  

As regards those elements of the left company which passed through Thilloy, the situation is difficult to ascertain. No Officer by this time appears to have been left with the company. The enemy appear to have been surrounding them on the right flank and eventually they withdrew through the village, and back to the sunken road from which the attack had started, which they reached a few moments ago.  

Owing to the formation of the ground the only possible defensive line was then indeed the sunken road from which the battalion had started this morning, with posts pushed out to the edge of la Barque. The line joins up with the 7th Royal Fusiliers on the left. The Battalion hopes to be relieved tonight.  

The commanding officer then came on the blower to make his views known, saying: "I attribute the failure of the attack to the fact that the right flank was exposed as the Division on our right did not advance. It is possible that the first attack would have been held up in any case from machine gun fire from Thilloy, but I feel certain that if other troops had been pressing on our right and so engaging the machine guns on the ridges and neighbourhood, my right company would have been able to get forward at the second attempt. If the request for tanks to co-operate had been granted the task would have been easy and could have been accomplished by one Battalion instead of two".

Source: X550/5/3

Roll of Honour - 27th August 1918

Sunday 26 August 2018

The Fall of Montauban

Monday 26th August 2018

On 1st July 1916 the village of Montauban-de-Picardie was captured by the men from Manchester and Liverpool of 30th Division. A few hundred yards to the west the 18th Division took all its objectives. Today the 18th Division, of Fourth Army, has been in action here again, when 7th Battalion, East Kent Regiment (The Buffs) assisted by 11th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers took the village. The main differences in today's attack were that two years ago the division was attacking south to north whereas today it has been moving west to east. Back then, although successful, roughly one man in ten was killed. mercifully, today's tally of the gallant fallen is nowhere remotely near that number.

Then it was the 7th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment in action. Today it was 2nd Battalion, which was part of 30th Division two years ago, and held in reserve in case the attack by the northern battalions, whose first major action this was, faltered. In the event the Bedfords were not needed then, nor were they today, simply holding the line in case of a counter-attack which did not materialise.

Further north First Army today undertook an attack around Arras. Between the First and Fourth Armies, Third Army continues to undertake operations around Bapaume. The line has gone forward by another thousand yards during the day. The gallant New Zealanders have now encircled the north of the town, though to the south of the ruins the fighting has been severe where 63rd (Royal Naval) Division has been up against the strongpoint of Thilloy. The 4th Bedfords were to take part in the second wave of the attack on Thilloy and Ligny-Thilloy but never came into action as the initial attack could make no headway. Enemy resistance seems very patchy - in some places the troops are facing the tenacious German army of old, elsewhere the defenders seem to put up little fight. 

Meanwhile 5th Division has taken a troublesome hamlet north-east of Bapaume. There thus seems, despite the problems with Thilloy, every hope that the remains of the town may soon be in allied hands.

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

Roll of Honour - 26th August 1918

Saturday 25 August 2018

Back at Mametz

Sunday 25th August 1916

Today the New Zealand Division planned to begin the task of taking the town of Bapaume, with 63rd (Royal Naval) Division advancing in protection of its right flank to the south and 37th Division doing the same job in the north on the left flank. Nothing less than the envelopment of the town was the aim in the hope that the Germans would see all was lost and give up the prize without street fighting, than which there is no worse battlefield for an attacker because the defender has the benefit of cover from houses, interlocking fields of fire and the ability to lay booby traps in ruins.

The attack began at first light  under cover of a thick fog. Good progress has been made and the town is partially encircled. More might, perhaps, have been achieved but 63rd Division ran into the hamlet of Thilloy which the enemy has turned into a strongpoint from which he can pour a deadly fire into attacking troops.

Part of the actions of 63rd Division was 4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment which began the advance in support to 1st Battalion, Artists Rifles who themselves followed 189th Brigade. The division was given the job of taking Thilloy and Riencourt. The battalion bypassed Loupart Wood to the south and reached the main road from Albert to Bapaume. Ahead of them la Barque had been penetrated but the division was held up my machine gun fire from the right flank. The divisional commander decided to made a defensive flank against this machine gun fire so the Bedfords, forming part of this flank ended the day facing south-west. A few enemy attacks on the division were made this evening but have, so far, been beaten off.

The New Zealanders flowing round the north side of Bapaume also encountered stronger opposition than their comrades to the south. Tonight the town is not completely encircled but  the troops are in good shape and surround a good portion of it and a heavy German counter-attack north of the town has just been defeated by the 37th Division and the New Zealanders there. Four hundred prisoners have been taken along with machine guns and artillery pieces and continued determined action tomorrow and, if necessary, in future days should result in the fall of the town. 

Further south Mametz and Fricourt, famous names from the first day of the great 1916 offensive on the Somme, have been taken by 18th (Eastern) Division, coincidentally one of the divisions in action in this area on that now long ago July day. 12th and 38th Divisions have also advanced further today.

Source: X550/5/3

Roll of Honour - 25th August 1918

Friday 24 August 2018

Advance on Bapaume

Saturday 24th August 1915

The advance continued today with IV Corps busy west of Bapaume. Whilst it was still dark the gallant New Zealand Division attacked the shattered foliage of Loupart Wood and the remains of the village of Grevillers. Meanwhile 37th Division attacked Biefvillers north-east of Grevillers. The intention was then for the men from the Land of the Long White Cloud to go on and take the town of Bapaume - the target, it may be remembered of four months' fighting in 1916. Around two dozen tanks were available to help the Kiwis in their endeavours.

Despite the rather poor weather today the New Zealanders quickly took Grevillers, though at some cost. At this time 37th Division was fruitlessly struggling to get up to Biefvillers under very heavy fire. rather than making a dash for Bapaume the commander of the New Zealand 2nd Brigade decided to add his numbers to those of 37th Division, surely the correct decision, and by ten o'clock this morning the village was taken. By this time the Germans, seeing the danger of this attack rushed reinforcements to the locality and a counter-attack pushed the leading British and New Zealand troops back from Avesnes-le-Comte. Bapaume may not have fallen today but the Kiwis are confident that it will fall tomorrow.

Meanwhile in the early hours of this morning 38th (Welsh) Division recaptured Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt. It will be remembered that Thiepval first fell to 7th Bedfords on 26th September 1916 and was held by the 4th Bedfords for a while during March. Seizing this high ground is vital as it overlooks enemy positions. 

La Boiselle and Ovillers, or rather the pathetic little cairns which mark the graves of the houses in these settlements were also taken by 18th Division. We are given to understand that the Welshmen have captured nearly 150 enemy machine guns today. One hundred and fifty! The enemy usually gives up a single one of these weapons up about as willingly as a healthy man would give up a hand, a fact very suggestive as to the state of the enemy's morale. 

In the south 18th Division has taken the hamlet of Becourt and its wood and elements from three divisions (12th 47th and 58th) have retaken Grove Town. During the 1916 battles Grove Town Camp was a huge staging post for men and material moving up to the front line. Finally the Australians have recaptured the remains of the town of Bray on the north bank of the River Somme. Any of these gains would be significant in itself and so many on one day means that the army is really beginning to believe that the dam of German resistance has cracked and it will only take a determined effort to break it completely.

Roll of Honour - 24th August 1918

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.

Roll of Honour - 23rd August 1918

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Albert Retaken

Thursday 22nd August 1918

Today the attacks have continued and to the immense pride of the army our old base at Albert has fallen once more into our hands. V Corps, bogged down in the quagmire around the Ancre to the north of the Somme has made no attack today but it was felt that conditions were suitable for 18th (Eastern) and 38th Divisions to make their attacks. 18th Division began south-west of Albert and 38th Division north-west. 

Overall III Corps began the day astride a piece of high ground known as the Morlancourt Ridge and was tasked with advancing two miles on a four mile front with 18th (Eastern) Division on the left and 3rd Australian Division on the right and in the centre 47th (London) and 12th (Eastern) Divisions. A good deal of softening up of the enemy was undertaken by bombing from the air by the Royal Air Force. 

The attack by 47th Division was over by eight o'clock this morning and achieved little. 12th Division, however, achieved the capture of the town of Meaulte, in happier times, an industrial suburb just south of Albert. The honour of retaking Albert fell to that splendid formation, 18th Division, 54th Brigade to the south, 55th Brigade to the north and the attack was greatly assisted by patrols last evening pushing across the River Ancre and establishing themselves on the road between Albert and Meaulte. Tonight the division is consolidating a line well to the east of the ruined town.

The 2nd Bedfords were in reserve for the attack by 54th Brigade. Colonel Percival is temporarily in command of 54th Brigade so the battalion was led today by Captain W E Aylwin MC. Altogether the battalion reports that it has lost one officer (Second Lieutenant W Whitbourn) and six other ranks killed, Lieutenant G B Reed and 48 other ranks wounded and two other ranks missing.

Like V Corps to the south of it, IV Corps has undertaken little in the way of offensive action today as it consolidates before once more taking up the advance. 1st Bedfords are still in support behind the new front line, where they stopped yesterday and have suffered a heavy bombardment by gas shells in which Lieutenant W M Stanton was wounded and Second Lieutenant H Maw has been killed. Part of the corps has been attacked by the enemy who made initial progress near Achiet-le-Petit but were then driven off.

About 5.30 this morning sentries of the 4th Bedfords noticed about a hundred of the enemy leave huts and advance in a south-westerly direction to attack one of the posts on the left of the battalion's position. Once observed C Company fired on them and reckoned to have killed nine of them. About thirty minutes later another party of the enemy approached a post in front of the battalion's centre held by A Company. they, too, were driven back, though sadly, Second Lieutenant Flory, who was in charge of the post was killed in the firefight. Later in the day strong attacks were made against 7th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers on the Bedfords' flank but were repulsed.

So ends a satisfactory day, with the remains of Albert once more in our hands. It is also a day in which all three of the regiment's remaining battalions on active service in France have been in action.

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

Roll of Honour - 22nd August 1918

Tuesday 21 August 2018

The Attack on the Somme Begins

Wednesday 21st August 1918

The great attack by Third Army got underway early this morning. Two corps have been involved. IV and V. IV Corps have been in action in the northern part of the old Somme battlefield. New Zealand Division, eager not to let their cousins from across the Tasman have all the glory supported the attack by 37th Division. The village of Puisieux quickly fell and the division finally ended its advance a good thousand yards beyond. It was then the turn of 5th Division to the south of Bucquoy. This formation advanced two miles during the day and well to the fore was 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment

The Battalion went forward at 4.45 in a misty morning. It encountered but slight opposition and the objective was quickly achieved and consolidated as the 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment passed through to attack the next objective. Total casualties - killed and wounded were just 46.

The position of the 1st Battalion tonight

63rd (Royal Naval) Division attacked to the north of Bucquoy and the 4th Bedfords were in support to the attack. First, however, they had to get to their attack positions. The adjutant informed me via the telephone that they had considerable difficulty in getting into position near Foncquevillers as the road was blocked by lorries and a tank but they were all in position by 4.15. The attack was made by 189th Brigade and as the Bedfords followed them up the fog made it difficult to see, meaning they became somewhat disorganised. They then followed five tanks to the central part of the railway between Achiet-le-Grand and Miraumont at which point 189th Brigade dug, the Bedfords consolidating the line shown below just west of Achiet-le-Grand

The position of the 4th Bedfords tonight

Further south V Corps were tasked with crossing the River Ancre, of evil memory from the autumn of 1916. 21st Division were around Grandcourt, 17th (Northern) Division at Hamel and 38th (Welsh) Division around Aveluy. The Ancre, it is reported is as much of a swamp today as it was towards the end of 1916. During the day Beaucourt has been taken by 21st Division but the rest of the attack has been unable to make headway because of the marshy nature of the ground, so the Ancre retains its evil name with the army.

Despite this frustration around the Ancre good progress has been made during the day and there is the hope of more steady progress tomorrow.

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

Roll of Honour - 21st August 1918

Monday 20 August 2018

The Advance Will Continue

Tuesday 20th August 1918

Word is that the great advance will begin again tomorrow, but it will be north of Albert and will be undertaken by Third Army. We understand that among the divisions taking part will 5th Division with 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment to the fore and 63rd (Royal Naval) Division with 4th Bedfords in the vanguard and 37th Division which contains 1st/1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment which has absorbed 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.

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

Sunday 19 August 2018

1st Bedfords Move East

Monday 19th August

Today has been a wet one, with a driving rain most of the day. We heard from 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment today that they have moved five miles or so east from Orville to Sailly-au-Bois today. They are moving towards the front and may well be about to take part in a continuation of the great offensive.

Marching in such rain will not have been an entertaining experience. Tonight will not be too pleasant either as Sailly has been hard hit by the war and the battalion is billeted in ruined houses. As the adjutant remarked, any tents with holes in them will be particularly despised tonight.

Source: X550/2/5

Roll of Honour - 19th August 1918

Saturday 18 August 2018

Preparations Being Made

Sunday 18th August

We heard today from the adjutant of 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire regiment, part of 5th Division. They are currently in billets at Doullens. Yesterday they marched a couple of miles or so south-east to Orville where they spent the night. They have been warned to be ready to move at short notice, encouraging the belief that the great drive against the enemy will soon continue again.

2nd Battalion, meanwhile, was relieved today, moving back from the front line to Henencourt Wood directly west of Albert. Preliminary orders have been issued "in the event of the Brigade going forward" allowing us to draw our own conclusions. If and when the attack is made 54th Brigade will, we understand, be the vanguard of 18th Division. 

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

Roll of Honour - 18th August 1918

Friday 17 August 2018

Gazing Towards Albert

Saturday 17th August

Your correspondent is currently with the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment just south-west of Albert and north-west of Dernancourt. Two companies are in the front line. Speaking with senior officers about the attack they were firmly of opinion that they will be in action within the week and that the great success of 8th August will be capitalised upon. Their points, as expected, were that any attacks must be well prepared and have an overwhelming likelihood of success. Not surprisingly, they were not in favour of hammering away at hardening defences without proper artillery preparation, use of tanks and of aircraft. With these preparing and supporting assets however they were very keen to retake Albert.

On the subject of Albert, I had imagined it to have been flattened by the fighting in March. Today, however, I had the honour to be hosted by B Company in the front line and was allowed to use the company commanders powerful binoculars. to my surprise many buildings still seemed to be standing, though no doubt they are badly knocked about. The morale in the front line is excellent, not least because one or two of the veterans remarked how passive the enemy seems to be, very little sniping or artillery strikes being undertaken. Their opinion was that he is very low and they are itching to finish him. 

The basilica before the loss of the town - the statue of the virgin on the top of the tower is no more and the building is more heavily damaged but it still stands

Roll of Honour - 17th August 1918

Thursday 16 August 2018

Is Field Marshal Haig Under Pressure?

Friday 16th August 1918

Rumour has it that Marechal Foch, now supreme commander of all allied armies, spoke with Field Marshal Haig yesterday and demanded that he continue the attack with the British and Imperial and the American troops under his command. As we noted in yesterday's piece there are good reasons why the attack has ended. This is not to say that no more offensive action is anticipated. There is a note of expectancy in the army that we may, finally, be on the verge of a very significant advance. This has been encouraged by the fact that large numbers of the enemy have surrendered during the cause of the assault, a thing which has rarely happened before. Add to this the fact that there has been no counter-attack, in fact, the enemy has made a retrograde movement, and this again is unusual. Putting these two facts together there is good reason to believe that our enemy is at last nearing the end of his rope.

The field marshal is understood to have refused to continue the attack at this time. Perhaps he cited the fact that any further attacks risk throwing away lives to no good purpose on a prepared enemy. Perhaps he listed the various reasons which we discussed yesterday - the need to consolidate the ground taken, bring up supplies, bring up reserves, bring up the guns, re-register the guns and so on. Perhaps he stated that he will attack, but only at the time and in the place of his choosing. Of course rumour is very rarely reliable(1)

(1) Foch did indeed demand a further attack and Haig did, indeed, refuse.

Wednesday 15 August 2018

The Attack Slows as a New One is Planned?

Thursday 15th August 1918

Last night B and C Companies, 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, relieved the 11th Royal Fusiliers in the front line. This evening they are due to be relieve 6th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment in the adjoining part of the line as the Fusiliers again move into their former positions. All this suggests that the divisional commander, Major General Lee, is arranging his assets carefully as he prepares to attack. 

In point of fact the attack which began so successfully on 8th August has just about run out of steam. This was expected. New defences have to be established against any enemy counter-attack, reserves and artillery have to be brought up, guns have to be dug in and registered on new targets. The air of bustle in the army suggests that a new attack will begin soon, an attack which will surely include an attempt to retake Albert. 

The battalion has lost a dozen experienced non-commissioned officers during the day as company sergeant majors, company quartermaster sergeants and sergeants have moved to base as supernumerary to establishment, in other words, there are enough of them in the battalion and they will be reassigned to a unit or units lacking in such experience.This situation has arisen due to the combination of the 7th and 2nd Battalions back in May as both battalions were well-equipped with NCOs, no doubt a reason for their excellent conduct during the retreat in March and April before the German assault.

Sources: X550/3/wd

Tuesday 14 August 2018

1st Battalion Moves South

Wednesday 14th August 1918

Today 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment has moved from its long time position near Merville south to Doullens. It marched to Wizernes just south of Saint-Omer and took a train. This move south suggests that the battalion may soon take part in the allied offensive as it drives from Amiens to Albert and hopefully beyond.

Source: X550/2/5

Monday 13 August 2018

Renewing Acquaintance

Tuesday 13th August 1918

Things continue to be relatively quiet here just west of Albert. Artillery fires and people scurry about but there has been no attack here today, though all the signs are that there will be one soon. For the last two days the American 1st Battalion, 129th US Regiment has been attached to the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. This unit is part of 66th Infantry Brigade, 66th Division and was raised in the state of Illinois. 

Back in June elements of 129th regiment were trained by the training cadre made up from old 7th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, all of whom have now joined 2nd Battalion. It can thus be imagined that there has been a general degree of happiness at friendships being resumed between the old 7th Battalion cadre and the men of the 129th. The Americans have performed well in the recent fighting and the two units, it is fair to say, are looking forward to going into action together.

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

Sunday 12 August 2018

To Bapaume?

Monday 12th August 1918

Your correspondent is currently with the headquarters of 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, just west of Albert. The battalion is part of 4th Army.

In this pause between attacks it seemed to me that readers might be interested in an order Field Marshal Haig issued two days ago. The order was to the 3rd Army men in the Albert-Arras sector, immediately north of of us. The order reads as follows: "Carry out raids and minor operations in order to the enemy's intentions on the Albert-Arras front, and to take immediate advantage of any favourable situation which the main operations may create, and push advance guards in the general direction of Bapaume".

An attack from other parts of the British Expeditionary Force is imminent, following the great attack of 8th August and the enemy must know this. An advance towards Bapaume seems to be setting up the prospect of a Second Battle of the Somme, two years on from the first. If so all will fervently hope it is less bloody, less protracted and even more successful.

Roll of Honour - 12th August 1918

Saturday 11 August 2018

When Will We Attack Albert?

Sunday 11th August 1918

Today there have been no attacks in the vicinity. The pause I mentioned a few days ago as being inevitable now seems to be here. Men continue to be alert and the artillery is being brought up and registered on new targets for another attack in a few days time. Everyone here feels that the next step will be a concerted assault on Albert.

This town was the stopping off point for many troops back in the days of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Indeed the battle can be simplified as a push from Albert, up the Roman road to Bapaume. It had been occupied by the regiments from this country and its Empire since the early days of 1915 and its loss in March this year was a blow to the army's pride. T retake it would signify an important shift from an army on the defensive to one in all-out attack. Of course the town itself is now little more than a field of broken bricks, splintered wood, fragmented glass, maimed stone and bones. But it is still symbolic.

Roll of Honour - 11th August 1918

Friday 10 August 2018

Some Further Advances

Saturday 10th August 1918

The great advance begun on Thursday carries on more slowly today. Your correspondent has moved from Amiens to a position nearer the front, just west of near Albert, still in enemy hands. He has the honour of being a guest of 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment whose division, 18th (Eastern) has taken a full part in the action, though the Bedfords themselves are currently in reserve. He has thus got a closer look at the action. 

Today there has been some reorganisation. The former boundary between III Corps and the Australian Corps had been the River Somme. The river in this locality wriggles around like a snake making it a difficult boundary. Boundaries are better understood if they are straight. So he boundary between III Corps and the Australians has moved north of the river.

Today's fighting in the vicinity has been at a lesser pitch than of late, due to the reorganisations mentioned above. The village of Etinehem on the north bank of the Somme has been captured by the Australian 13th Brigade who are now advancing on the town of Bray-sur-Somme.

Your correspondent has also had the pleasure of seeing American units up close for the first time. These men, many a good head taller than our own men or the French, have a fine bearing and, if lacking in experience make up for it in enthusiasm. Their 131st Regiment pressed forward last night on the east side of the Bois des Tailles, crossed a ravine and occupied the old British defence lines seized by the enemy back in April. 

58th (2nd/1st London) Division is operating north of the Americans and also find themselves back in the old British defences. Meanwhile 12th (Eastern) Division is south of Meaulte, a suburb of Albert. and managed to advance a little way, though the Germans on the high ground have a fine field of fire and was able to stop them short of their objective. 

The Bedfords themselves are in Brigade Reserve and today welcomed Captain R E Oakley MC and Second Lieutenant W Ashton, both former members of 7th Battalion. 

Captain Oakley [X550/1/81]

Are the Enemy Beginning to Falter?

Saturday 10th August 1918

Are the enemy beginning to falter? This is the question everyone here is asking. Rumour, our ever-unreliable friend, has it that the Royal Air Force reconnaissance machines have noticed that the enemy are beginning to fall back from the gains they made in their great Spring Offensive.

Militarily this makes sense. The enemy had, to an extent, outrun his lines of communication, which helped to stall his attack. Even now, three months on, those lines will be less effective because they are up to fifty miles longer than before. They also occupy hastily dug defences or old British and Imperial defences that have had to "turn round" so to speak and re-use. If they are falling back to the old defences, built up over years, which they occupied before their offensive it will certainly be a great fillip for our men but will also allow them to lurk in positions of great strength, with better supplies. Those with long memories will recall that such a retreat was precisely what the Germans carried out in the Spring of 1917 after the great Somme offensive, and led to stronger positions for our forces to attack that year around Arras and elsewhere. 

Roll of Honour - 10th August 1918

Thursday 9 August 2018

The Advance Continues

Friday 9th August 1918

Today the great advance of yesterday has been continued, wider and deeper. The forward movement has not been so dashing as yesterday but has been solid, across the whole front of the attack. The French to the south have launched a full-scale attack of their own after taking a limited part in yesterday's fighting. Thus the enemy have been hit, in boxing terms, with a left hook followed by a right cross. Let us hope for the sake of humanity that it proves a knockout blow!

In the following days the advance will likely pause because the infantry have now moved forward beyond the range of the supporting artillery and it will be necessary to bring up the guns and register them on the enemy's rear positions before another push can be made. In the offensive at Ypres last year this was a problem because of the sodden state of the ground. In the morass which the battlefield quickly became it was almost impossible to walk, let alone to drag heavy ordnance. Now, however, the ground is dry and firm and it should prove easy enough to bring up the guns and for them to begin their work.

Another issue forcing a brief pause is that most of the tanks are now unusable. Some have been destroyed by enemy gunfire but the majority have broken down and need repair. This is a technology still in its infancy, not yet two years in action, and a battlefield puts huge stresses on engines, bearings, tracks, wheels and every part of these titanic machines. It is also hugely demanding of crews who have to work in temperatures resembling the proximity of a blast furnace and breathing noxious fumes from the exhaust of the engine in a confined space for hours on end. 

We must all be patient. Victory will not come overnight and a lot of hard fighting lays ahead along, inevitably, with necessary pauses which may leave those of us not engaged in this life-and-death struggle champing at the bit. Let us have confidence that a formula has, at last been found to overcome well-made German defences and tenacious German defenders and let us look forward with cautious hope.

Roll of Honour - 9th August 1918

Wednesday 8 August 2018

A Great Attack at Amiens

Thursday 8th August 1918

The army has been sensing it for some time but today the great attack on the enemy took place. Ever since the German offensive petered out just short of Amiens in April there has been the feeling that it will be necessary to push him out of the positions he took. Amiens is a vital rail-head. In addition any successful attack here which took the city would effectively split the British and French armies, giving a flank to attack on each formation. 

Today all thoughts of enemy success have been swept away by the allied forces. The attacking forces were drawn from all over the English-speaking World - the British III Corps, north of the River Somme and the Australian Corps and 33rd US Division (Illinois) south of the river. South of the Australians are the men from the mountains and prairies of Canada. 

The initial attack was undertaken by 2nd and 3rd Australian Divisions, Canadian 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions and 58th (2nd/1st London) and 18th (Eastern) Divisions. The latter formation, of course, includes the 2nd Bedfords, though they are currently in the rear, recovering from the attack by the Germans two nights ago. In retrospect this attack can be seen as a "spoiling operation", perhaps the Hun had got wind that something was in the offing and decided to try to disrupt it. To some extent they may have succeeded.

Mark V Tank at Bovingdon Tank Museum

Success seems to have been near total with a huge hole punched through the enemy's defences. For the first time for months the cavalry has even been in action - three brigades of the British Cavalry Corps assisting the advance in the Australian and Canadian sectors. Nowadays it also seem to go without saying that tanks have played a major part - both the traditional rhomboid-shaped tanks as well as a quicker vehicle armed with four machine guns and known as a Whippet.

Whippet Tank at Bovingdon Tank Museum

It is always to be difficult to be sure and, it may be imagined that reports coming from the thick of the action can be contradictory, but the advance seems in the centre and south, where the Canadians have been attacking, to have reached nearly two and a half miles. The Australians have also managed a good advanced. We understand that the bulk of the tanks have been assisting the colonial formations and that only a few assisted 18th and 58th Divisions who, anyway, were not expected to advance so far since they are the hinge with the rest of the army which has not, as yet, been ordered to attack. It may be that the attack of two nights ago also played its part in hampering the attack. Be that as it may the divisions still took their first objective.

A significant element of today's attack was the use of the new Royal Air Force, which replaced the Royal Flying Corps in April this year. Around five hundred machines have been involved in reconnaissance, bombing and straffing all day. Thus the attack has involved all arms involved in modern land warfare - infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft. 

It seems as though the allied armies have taken in excess of 15,000 prisoners, 3,000 or so by the French, who pushed forward to the south of the Canadians(1). Such a number is stupendous - it means that the equivalent of an entire division, with all supporting arms, has been taken. Informed opinion here at the front thinks that a few more days like today may see the beginning of the end for the enemy, especially considering the millions of Americans arriving daily whereas the Germans can have few, if any, reserves of manpower left(2)

(1) Total German casualties on 8th August are reckoned to have been about 30,000 - dead, wounded, missing and captured. Casualties among the attackers were around 10,000.

(2) The Battle of Amiens has come to be seen, in retrospect, as the turning point of the war, the point at which the allies continuously advanced and the enemy continually fell back before them, losing ever more men in the process.

Roll of Honour - 8th August 1918

Tuesday 7 August 2018

2nd Bedfords Counter-Attack

Wednesday 7th July 1918

At dawn this morning the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, west of Albert, attacked by the enemy yesterday during a botched relief, counter-attacked. This attack was undertaken by three platoons (just under a hundred men) from the reserve company. The 6th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment on their left flank joined in this attack. The original front line was quickly retaken.

Since then a good deal of confused local fighting has taken place but, speaking with the adjutant a short time ago on the blower he stated that the enemy have made no progress. He was then interrupted by Colonel Percival who stated unequivocally "During the fighting the spirit of the men under my command was excellent. the enemy presented numerous targets of which full advantage was taken by all ranks".

Source: X550/3/wd

Roll of Honour - 7th August 1918

Monday 6 August 2018

Attack in 2nd Battalion

Tuesday 6th August 1918

Yesterday we mentioned that 2nd Battalion was in the same positions 7th Battalion had occupied just before their triumph on the Somme in 1916. Many of the men in 2nd Battalion recently came from 7th Battalion and saw their current position as an omen for a successful attack, which the whole army seems to feel is coming. However, the enemy beat them to it. 

Last night the battalion was due for relief by 8th Battalion, London Regiment, part of 174th Brigade. Arrangements were made accordingly, and owing to the bad state of the trenches and the heavy shelling, guides for the incoming units were ordered to start with their relieving Platoons from further forward, in order to get as far as possible before dark. At the last moment the incoming 174th Brigade altered all arrangements and postponed the start till 9.30 p.m. and it was actually 10 p.m. and quite dark before the guides were able to start. The men were by then very exhausted and distressed from the start, and progress was slow.

At 3.30 a.m. this morning the leading company was stuck in the communication trench 600 yards short of the front line. One incoming company had relieved the right company of the Bedfords overland, but the other three incoming companies were sticky and exhausted. At this period it became obvious that the relief could not be completed by night, and all available officers and N.C.O.s. from Battalion Headquarters were sent forward to expedite the completion of the first relief. 

At 4 a.m. the enemy put down a heavy barrage on the old British Front line, all communication trenches and back areas which was followed by a strong Infantry attack at about 4.30 a.m. By then the two right companies of the Bedfords had been relieved and were moving to their new positions in support. The two companies on the left had not been completely relieved. There was no communication with companies except by runner, and it took more than an hour to get a message forward. 

The result of all this muddle was that the enemy had captured the Bedfords' outpost line and penetrated deeply on the front of the Battalion on the left (the East Surreys) particularly on the Bray-Corbie road where a quarry was entered by the enemy and prisoners were taken. The two left companies holding the original British front line put up a very strong resistance which prevented any further penetration. The two left-hand companies then counter-attacked on their own initiative and regained the outpost line which was handed over to the London Regiment.

The supporting companies with the East Surreys' stragglers cleared up the situation and occupied the front line intact. Local fighting has taken place during today and all positions were maintained and improved. 

Source: X550/3/wd