The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records
Chapter X — From Hébuterne to Puisieux-Au-Mont
From Hébuterne to Puisieux-Au-Mont
In the first week of April the VII. Corps was relieved on the Somme by the Australian Corps, and certain changes in the distribution of forces northward followed. The V. Corps extending their left took over 1200 yards of the New Zealand sector. On 12th/13th April the 4th Australian Brigade included in their area another 500 yards of the high ground about the Hébuterne road. The 2 New Zealand infantry brigades, therefore, in the line now held a frontage of a little over 4000 yards. On the 25th, however, the Australians were withdrawn, and the Division side-stepped northwards, occupying now a somewhat longer front from One Tree Hill to the east of Hébuterne. On their left the centre of the Corps front was held by the 42nd, and the left sector by the 37th Division.
1 From 20th to 29th April the 2 medium trench mortar batteries were active daily, expending a total of 377 rounds. On several occasions casualties had been seen. On one occasion a trench mortar bomb, or possibly an artillery shell, landed close to an enemy two-horsed wagon bringing trench mortar ammunition at dusk up the Serre road. The horses bolted. The Germans firing salvoes of rifle grenades on the road in front of them stopped them near their own front line. Our men, who by this time saw what was happening, in their turn fired rifle grenades behind the horses and stampeded them again towards our trenches. The enemy now turned rifle and machine gun fire on his lost animals, but only grazed them. The horses themselves madly leapt our front trench across the road; the wagon stuck in it. Our garrison cut the traces and sent the horses galloping on towards our support line by exploding a Mills bomb behind them. There they were safely caught. A similar incident happened at the same spot earlier in the summer. On the present occasion, owing to some misunderstanding over the telephone, the Divisional Intelligence Officer was sent post-haste to the line to "examine" our prisoners.
1 p. 376.
After his check in April the enemy's artillery activity had rapidly slackened and, except for periodical perfectly timed and intensely heavy "shell-storms," became indeed abnormally quiet. Only in the 2 days preceding his Aisne offensive did he seek to create a diversion all along the Third Army front by violent counter-battery work, heavy bombardment of trenches, active shelling of rear areas with high-velocity guns, and by gas concentrations on villages. Very light casualties were inflicted in the New Zealand sector. Nor were his infantry more aggressive. His patrols were rarely seen in No Man's Land, and a few attempted raids were repulsed, the dead being left before our trenches. An especially determined raid of over 60 men in 4 parties, preceded by a hurricane bombardment, was made against the, 1st Rifles near La Signy Farm on 2nd May. It was a complete and costly failure, thanks largely to the leadership of Sergt. R. McMurray, whose conduct won him a bar to his D.C.M. The enemy secured a solitary success near One Tree Hill on 7th May, capturing in a silent raid a Lewis gun and 5 riflemen from an advanced post in front of our line.
Two other successes were due, not to action against our lines, but to an excess of venturesomeness on the part of our own patrols. On 26th April, at 1 a.m., 2nd Lt. J. T. Thomas, led a patrol of six 2nd Wellington men into German positions north of La Signy Farm. Thomas was a conspicuously dashing and bold officer, and his party penetrated deep into the enemy country. The sound of distant rifle fire and bombing reached the Wellington sentries in the front line, and it was clear that something was amiss. Further patrols were sent out then and later without avail. It transpired afterwards that Thomas' party was surrounded by a strong body of enemy. Five of his men were wounded, and Thomas saved their lives by a reluctant but necessary surrender. On 21st May a 1st Wellington patrol attacked a strong enemy party in No Man's Land. The issue remained in favour of the Germans. The patrol secured a prisoner but lost an officer and a sergeant (killed) and a private (captured).page 384
This inaggressive attitude of the enemy and a marked approximation to open warfare methods in a fluid and elastic disposition of front line garrisons lent themselves to vigorous and aggressive raids and patrol enterprises on our part. No Man's Land was a maze of old British and German trenches which afforded admirable cover, and in the exceptionally fine weather the ground was hard and dry. Many of these exploits were performed by our patrols, not at night, but in broad daylight, in full view of their delighted comrades and with a wholesome effect on the morale of recently joined reinforcements. Not infrequently a German sentry or two were kidnapped without a struggle, asleep or writing letters, delousing themselves, or at a peaceful meal, and there was nothing to show their commander the reason of their disappearance. More often some had to be killed, or the raiders had to fight. But our continual aggressiveness and the repeated instances of the destruction or total disappearance of the German sentry posts must have called for disagreeable explanations on the part of company commanders opposite. For these minor patrol enterprises were almost invariably successful and were usually carried out without loss to our parties. Their surprising immunity was due partly to their own skill and dash, partly to waning enemy morale. As a result, prisoners and identifications were obtained in a steady stream 3 or 4 times a week. Battalions vied in bold adventures. A few instances may be quoted.
1st Auckland with artillery and trench mortar bombardment raided south of the Serre road on the sultry afternoon of 15th May and secured a machine gun and 2 prisoners. Three days later, north of La Signy Farm, a 1st Otago party under Sergt. P. McGregor, frustrated by wire in their original project, moved to a flank and penetrated 750 yards from our line into German territory. Waiting till the enemy should have had breakfast and relaxed vigilance, they then selected a small shelter, lifted up the waterproof sheet that protected its interior from rain or sun, and collected 4 sleeping Germans, whom they brought back in full daylight. In the early hours of 20th May a 3rd Rifles' party under 2nd Lt. M. Macdonald, after a first check from machine gun fire, immediately afterwards very gallantly attacked for the second time a machine gun post east of Hébuterne occupied by a garrison of 30 men and 2 machine guns. Losing 4 men wounded, they killed 7, captured 3, drove the rest to flight and brought in the machine guns. On the next day page 385another patrol of the same battalion under Sergt. W. Meteven, M.M., captured 2 prisoners, and the 4th Rifles did the same. On 24th May Meteven with 2 comrades crossed No Man's Land, again in broad daylight, and entered an enemy post 500 yards from our line. Of the 2 occupants 1 was shot, and the other taken prisoner. On the shot being fired, some 20 Germans in a trench 30 yards away were alarmed and rushed our patrol. Meteven bade his men withdraw and seeing that it was impossible to get his prisoner with him, shot him. He then threw 2 bombs among the advancing enemy and emptied his revolver at short range into them, inflicting several casualties and securing his own withdrawal. In the beginning of June a small 2nd Otago2 party under Sergt. J. Scott took 5 prisoners some 500 yards from our front line and brought them safely in.
But by common consent the palm in these freebooting forays was awarded to the trained “gang”1 of Sergt. R. C. Travis, of 2nd Otago. Two of their exploits in May may be recorded. Their battalion happened to be out of the line, but hearing that identifications were urgently wanted in connection with an expected enemy attack, Travis at once volunteered to obtain them. His party left our lines east of Hébuterne on 14th May, a little after 7 p.m., in broad daylight. Working down a sap and making skilful use of ground, they reached unobserved a suspected enemy post. The post was rushed, and the garrison completely surprised. The officer in command showed fight and had to be shot. His 6 men were taken prisoners. The commotion in the post roused the occupants of a neighbouring trench who hurried to their comrades' assistance. Travis covered our withdrawal with the utmost coolness and dexterity, emptying his revolver at the infuriated enemy. Their excitement did not make for steady marksmanship, and 2 of the prisoners were shot. The other 4 were brought in safely to give important information.
2 Lt.-Col. McClymont, vice Lt.-Col. Colquhoun, seconded for duty on a transport at the end of March.
1 Sergt. A. Swainson, Ptes. A. D. D. Clydesdale (later killed), R. V. Conway, H. Melvill, N. Thomson.
On 7th June the Division was relieved by the 42nd Division. The artillery remained in the line. Divisional Headquarters moved to Pas-en-Artois and later to Authie. The infantry brigade groups occupied tents or were billeted in villages. One brigade in turn garrisoned the Purple Line.1 The 3 weeks' period in reserve was favoured by dry sunny weather. The country side, unlike the undulating featureless terrain on the edge of the Somme battlefield at La Signy and Hébuterne, offered a richly picturesque landscape of deep valleys, green woods and clean prosperous villages. The wheat crop had not yet ripened, but rich fields of rye and clover extended on every side; and in the forward areas east of the Purple Line the spring work of the farmers was not lost, for the Division cut the crops for them and carted them back in military wagons.
1 p. 356.
The more important changes of appointments made since the beginning of the year and not noticed previously may be here reviewed. Lt.-Col. H. G. Reid, D.S.O., after rendering admirably efficient service to the Division since its formation, rejoined the British Army. He was succeeded by Major (now Lt.-Col) Avery, whose appointment as D.A.Q.M.G. was filled by Capt A. S. Muir. Shortly afterwards Lt. (Temporary Major) C. I. Gossage was appointed D.A.D.O.S. vice Lt.-Col. Herbert, who received promotion in a British Corps. In the artillery Lt.-Col. Symon went in June for his turn of duty to command the N.Z.F.A. Depot in England and was succeeded in command of the 1st Brigade by Lt.-Col. Standish, whom he replaced in the English appointment. An anticipatory reference may be made to Major Richmond's taking command of the 9th Battery in August. In the appointment of Brigade Major he was then succeeded by Major R. Miles, D.S.O., M.C. Lt.-Col. Cook died in England on 2nd May and was succeeded in command of 1st Wellington by Lt.-Col. H. Holderness. His brother, Capt. II. Holderness, was appointed in April Staff Captain of the 1st Brigade vice Capt. H. Chisholm, who had vacated the appointment through sickness. Major Skelley, wounded in May and later succumbing to his injuries, was succeeded as Brigade Major in the Rifle Brigade by Major Bremner, whose appointment as page 388G. S. O. 3 was filled by Capt. O. Opie, R.N.Z.A. Lt.-Col. Mead, Canterbury Regiment, assumed command of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, vice Lt.-Col. Griffiths, who succeeded Lt.-Col. J. A. Mackenzie in control of the N.Z. Command Depot, the latter taking command of the N.Z. Base Depot, which Lt.-Col. Mitchell had relinquished in March. On Lt.-Col. Roache's being invalided in May to New Zealand Lt.-Col. Puttick succeeded to the command of the 5th (Reserve) Battalion, Rifle Brigade.
The Division went into the line again at the beginning of July in the centre of the Corps front. The command of the sector passed from the 57th Division on 2nd July. Headquarters were transferred from Authie to Couin. The front was covered by the 1st and 3rd and the 2nd (Army) Artillery Brigades. The Machine Gun Battalion had 3 companies disposed in definite positions in the line with 1 company in mobile reserve. To the north the 37th Division faced Bucquoy. The former New Zealand sector in front of La Signy Farm was occupied by the 42nd Division. The 57th and 62nd1 Divisions were now in Corps reserve.
1 Shortly afterwards transferred to the XXII. Corps for operations on the Marne. p. 370.
The Division found the organisation of the defences in the new sector satisfactorily far developed. Every advantage had been taken of the naturally strong positions to fortify the 2 Divisional systems, the forward (Green) and the reserve (Purple). But though the defences were generally strong, and though we commanded observation over large tracts of the enemy's hinterland, there were none the less several weaknesses in the sector. The effect of the gap between the V. and IV. Corps troops in the March retreat had, as we have seen,1 allowed the Germans to drive in deeply towards Hébuterne and occupy the high ground immediately east of it. Thus had arisen the inadequate depth in front of the village which 1st Wellington had endeavoured to rectify in May. On the left of the Divisional front about Rossignol Wood also the tactical situation was highly unsatisfactory. The entry into the Wood effected by the 37th Division on 5th April had subsequently been relinquished. Between it and Biez Wood our left battalion occupied a salient over half a mile deep on a front of about 1500 yards narrowing at the base to some 600 yards. In this salient the 2 front line companies lay at right angles to each other, one looking south-west towards Rossignol Wood, the other south-east towards Fork Wood, where, protected by outposts in front, lay the German main defences. A shallow valley divided the New Zealanders from the 37th Division northwards and gave the enemy a possible approach to Biez Wood and a copse beside it, called Square Wood, neither of which was wired or garrisoned. This avenue was safeguarded by powerful machine gun protection, and beyond our front trenches a chain of infantry posts overlooked both this valley and a side valley, down which towards the main valley ran a sunken road, parallel to our trenches and lined by the dugouts of the enemy's outposts about Fork Wood. These New Zealand posts, however, could only be visited by night and were precariously exposed to envelopment.
1 pp. 336 sqq.
Active measures were accordingly at once undertaken with a view to achieving these objects, and the next 6 weeks were to see the application of an unrelaxed pressure on the enemy, which, though overshadowed by the great battles of the autumn, yet exemplified in a striking manner the principles of an aggressive defence and the fine fighting qualities of the New Zealand soldier.
The first operations were aimed at deepening our defences east of Hébuterne. They were carried out by the Rifle Brigade south of the Puisieux Road during the night 5th/6th July. In the afternoon of the 5th, the 2nd and 3rd Battalion patrols had found that the enemy was abandoning his outposts along the bottom of the forward slopes immediately east of Hébuterne. During the night the battalions pushed up the various communication trenches and connected them across the face of the spur. Throughout the following days, partly by pressure partly by peaceful penetration, they won a further 200 yards. Progress beyond was impeded not so much by booby-traps as by masses of wire that choked the trenches. On the 8th, however, a 2nd Rifles' party of 14 men, under the battalion scout officer, 2nd Lt. T. A. Snelling, who had been foiled on 6 previous occasions, now on the seventh attempt crossed this wire and surprised an enemy garrison post of 10 men, 3 of whom were killed, Snelling himself shooting 2 sentries with his revolver. A prisoner was captured and gave much valuable information.
So much was gained, but the Rifles were not satisfied. With a view to carrying the actual crest, crossed by the old German front line of 1916, and to securing observation over the enemy's dispositions, a more ambitious programme on both sides of the road was arranged for 15th July. In the intervening period wire-cutting and destruction of enemy posts were systematically carried out by the artillery under cover of a general shoot along the whole Divisional front. page 391By day and night patrols explored No Man's Land with its old saps and wire, located enemy posts and reported the progress of the wire-cutting. "While engaged on these missions, L.-Cpl. J. Sillifant, of the 4th Rifles, established himself in a sniping position deep in No Man's Land and killed 10 Germans. On the 15th everything was in readiness for the Rifle Brigade enterprise.
It was to be executed by the 1st and 4th1 Battalions, then in the line. Supporting fire was to be given by enfilading machine guns of both the New Zealand and 42nd Divisions, by light trench mortars bombarding sap junctions and emplacements, by 6-in. Newton trench mortars creating a diversion on the pillboxes in Rossignol Wood, and by 3 field artillery brigades. Two batteries of 6-in. howitzers were to engage somewhat more distant systems, and it was arranged that 5 minutes after zero counter-battery guns should deal with the enemy's artillery. A carefully co-ordinated barrage scheme for the field artillery aimed at inducing the garrison of the trenches marked for assault to seek the shelter of their dugouts, thus enabling our infantry to effect a surprise entry. The batteries were to carry out a 7 minutes' bombardment at a slow rate on certain enemy support trenches called Ford and Jena, on the 1st Battalion front, and on their somewhat ill-defined continuation northwards opposite the 4th Battalion, and then shorten range, and fire at an intense rate for 3 minutes on the actual objective. At zero they would lift forward again to Ford and Jena, on which their fire would remain for a period of 30 minutes. The hour of attack was fixed for 4 p.m. A code message, “Wet Wicket,” had been arranged if weather conditions were unsuitable, but the afternoon proved fine.
1 Major Barrowclough, vice Lt.-Col. Beere, on leave.
For some minutes before zero sections of the attacking companies filtered into our front line. As soon as the field artillery shortened to deliver the 3 minutes' intense bombardment on Fusilier and the intermediate sap north of the Road, the men moved out from our trenches and with a last cheery word to the garrison worked up close to the barrage. At zero, when the guns lifted, they made a swift determined rush up the saps. The 4th Battalion had a certain amount of bombing in the maze of cross-trenches, but overpowering this resistance not merely reached their objective but pushed 100 yards further, capturing 8 prisoners and 7 machine guns. The company lost 2 men killed and 6 wounded.
In the 1st Battalion objective in Fusilier the bulk of the garrison fled in disorder, some escaping down the communication trenches and leaping madly from one sap to another, others running over the open to their death. But in the centre and on each flank, groups of staunch veterans fought a good fight. Within 12 minutes, indeed, 1 white Verey lignt was fired, low down towards our front line, signifying the capture of part of the position, but it was not till after an hour that the whole long trench was thoroughly cleared. Here, also, exploitation patrols were pushed forward to Jena and Ford, off which the protective barrage had now lifted. Rflmn. B. Radcliffe worked down the connecting sap and found the enemy apparently endeavouring to organise a counter-attack. He threw a bomb, which surprised them. One or two fell, the remainder fled. Radcliffe, following up the advantage, succeeded in catching and bayoneting 2 of the party. An excellent reconnaissance enabled his comrades to move forward without casualties and occupy Jena and Ford. In these 2 trenches the two 1st Battalion companies established posts at a distance of from 200 to 500 yards in advance of the originally proposed line, and the Rifles' outposts now stood close to that line of battered poplar trees on the Puisicux Road which had seemed so distant when the page 393enemy's attack assembled there in March.1 An officer and 14 men had been slightly wounded. 28 dead were counted in the German trenches; 24 prisoners and 10 machine guns were captured.
In these operations it was instructive to note the recrudescence of "open-warfare" fighting. The advances made since 5th July marked the beginning on our side of the bold daylight movements of scouts and patrols employed to drive in the enemy posts. For the moment their function was to form a screen for the purpose of covering the consolidation of our new lines. Soon this was to be extended to continuous protection throughout a deep advance. The artillery shooting at opportunity targets, and at targets reported by the infantry, and the general co-operation between the 2 arms had proved conspicuously successful. Four days previously the 6th Battery had been heavily shelled, a gun-pit set alight, and the fire extinguished and lives saved only by the gallantry of 2nd Lt. E. F. Tyson. The battcry now excelled in their retribution. By the infantry exceptional courage and great initiative had been shown throughout, as they were to be shown too in the operations in which the 1st and 2nd Brigades were shortly to be engaged. Not more than 250 men had been employed, and it was with humorous satisfaction that the Rifles read in the current German Intelligence Summary, which was later captured, of the attack having been launched with a force of from 800 to 1200 men.
Elated by these actions, which gained invaluable ground and observation, the 2 Rifle battalions, despite heavy rain, pushed deeper into the enemy's defences during the night. The 4th Battalion sent in a fresh company, who worked down Nameless and Nameless Support trenches in 2 isolated parties. At a given signal these then rushed to a further and important cross trench called Owl, and there established communication. One of the parties was strongly attacked by the enemy, who outranged our own bombs. L.-Cpl, H. Baker rushed forward with the bayonet to close quarters. He killed 1 of the enemy and put the rest to night. 5 of our men were wounded in the 2 parties, 12 Germans were killed, and a machine gun and 2 mortars captured. 5 successive bombing assaults during the night were frustrated.
1 p. 353.
1 p. 357.
2 p. 369.
3 In 1839 the Jean Bart, a French whaler, touched at the Chatham Islands. She was boarded by Maoris, on whose threatening attitude the crew slipped the cable, killing such of the natives as were on board, and battening down the hatches on others below deck. These last secured arms and offered resistance. The whalers later took to the boats and were foundered. The Maoris forced their way on deck and though out of sight of land sailed the ship home where she went ashore and was broken up or burnt.
The German version of this attack is inaccurate and interesting:—“At 4.30 a.m., after heavy artillery and T.M. fire, the enemy renewed his attack with overwhelming forces. After heavy fighting he succeeded in again penetrating Jena, and into the positions of "B" Company. The southern half of the next battalion sector wag slightly withdrawn on account of the seriously threatened flank. The attempts of the enemy to advance further on the 16th were repulsed, and several English prisoners were taken during the counterattack, but they again fell into the hands of the enemy.”
After the success of his brigade General Stewart had the misfortune to he wounded by a sniper while going round the new trenches on the 17th. Lt.-Col. Austin temporarily took command pending General Hart's arrival from Sling on the 22nd.
On the other flank, at Rossignol Wood, similar measures were being adopted to improve our position. The wood was in the shape of a rough square, with a smaller square attached to its right-hand top corner. A series of trenches ran through the main wood, and in the smaller square about 100 yards inside the trees was a system of pillboxes. Reconnoitring patrols had already worked round the approaches to the wood and through the edge of the wood. On 9th July, two 1st Wellington officers, with Pte. C. J. Dallard, were exploring the wood about 11 a.m. They were attacked with bombs from one of the pillboxes. Both officers were severely wounded, and Dallard slightly. He carried one officer 60 yards back to safety and returned to rescue the other, who was lying within 15 yards of the enemy post. In face of a further shower of bombs, in which he was again wounded in 3 places, he got to within 10 yards of the officer, but found him dead He then retraced his way to the first officer, and notwithstanding his own wounds carried him to within 30 yards of our lines, when a party went over the parapet and brought in both the wounded officer and his rescuer The result of further reconnaissances made it clear that if we could establish a foothold in the smaller square we could prevent the massing of the enemy in the wood and render much more page 396difficult any attempt to cut our lines by capture of the Salmon Point Ridge.
On the night of 12th/13th July 1st Canterbury1 raided enemy posts in front of the wood, captured a prisoner and secured a more suitable jumping-off place for the enterprise. It was planned for the evening of the 15th, to follow the Rifle Brigade's operation in the afternoon of the same day further south. Under cover of a light mortar and machine gun barrage and supported by howitzers and 11 Newton mortars, the 2 Canterbury battalions attacked from its 2 sides the northern corner of the smaller square. From the 2nd Canterbury trench in the salient towards Biez Wood 3 parties rushed impetuously over the open and, without suffering a single casualty, were on their allotted objective on the north-eastern fringe of the wood before the enemy's heavy barrage of machine gun fire fell. 1st Canterbury, who had the main task of penetrating the wood from the northwest, encountered fairly heavy machine gun fire, but with complete success established their posts on their objective. A 1st Canterbury officer was killed and 3 men wounded, but the whole position aimed at was secured and consolidated. A large part of the enemy salient was cut off, and the menace to the left brigade subsector removed.
1 Major Stitt, vice Lt.-Col. Row, on leave.
As it was clear that the Germans had no intention of being pushed further, blocks were inserted in the saps leading to Moa and Shag. The time had obviously not yet come for the employment of the mounted troops and mobile battery, With considerable trouble from machine-gun fire directed from about Fork Wood, communication was established with our advanced posts on the left overlooking the side valley and the sunken road, which the enemy still held in force. Losses were slight, and about 20 enemy were killed. A mortar and one or two machine guns were captured.
The 1st Brigade had on the 17th relieved the Rifle Brigade on the right subsector. As soon as the news of the evacuation of Rossignol Wood reached them, the 2 front line battalions began to move forward. 1st Auckland, on the left, nearer the wood, cleared Duck Swan and Owl trenches sfter heavy fighting, but were checked in Hawk by very fierce resistance. They captured 3 prisoners and 2 machine guns and a mortar. Before 2nd Wellington on the right the enemy posts ran, leaving a machine gun behind them, and 2nd Wellington reached the Chasseur Hedge beyond Jean Bart, near the old 1916 British front line. On the following day (21st July) Auckland made further progress, and in the night 21st/22nd July repulsed a strong infantry assault following on an hour's bombardment.
On the left brigade front observation was limited by the rise on which the Germans clung to Moa and Shag, and our proximity to the heavily-shelled Rossignol Wood was not wholly satisfactory. On the right, however, we now enjoyed immediate observation over the falling slopes about La Louvière Farm, 1000 yards south of Rossignol Wood, and towards Serre and Puisicux. To take full advantage of this, a section of the 2nd Battery moved up in the afternoon to a sniping position on the outskirts of Hébuterne. The general result of the operation was to wipe out the remainder of the German salient and shorten and improve our line. The page 398following letter was received from the Third Army Commander:—
To G.O.C. IV. Army Corps.
I would ask you to convey to the G.O.C. New Zealand Division my sincere appreciation of the operations of that Division which has led to the evacuation of Rossignol Wood and the adjoining trenches by the enemy.
This operation, lasting over several days, has achieved a result which has reduced the extent of our front line and placed the enemy in an extremely difficult position.
That this result has been obtained with few casualties and without check is due to persistent enterprise and skilful leading on the part of commanders.
The Division is to be warmly congratulated on its spirit and initiative, and I desire that all ranks should be informed of these few words of commendation and gratitude.
J. Byng, General,
The whole of the captured area, and in particular the vicinity of Rossignol Wood, continued to be raked and searched by hostile artillery. It was obviously desirable for the 2nd Brigade to push out further from the shell-trap of the wood and at the same time secure a better field of fire and wider observation over the Puisieux valley. They improved their positions on the 22nd, and patrols closely watching movement in Moa and Shag shot 3 German sentries at their posts. But the enemy's new trenches were heavily wired and too formidable to be rushed without organised preparation. An attack was planned for 23rd July, and the 1st Brigade on the right agreed to advance their line in conformity. Drenching rain on that day necessitated a postponement till the 24th, indicated by the code message, "Stumps drawn." Then too the morning was cloudy and threatening, but shortly after noon the sky cleared, and the ground dried under a freshening wind. With a view to surprising the enemy no initial bombardment was made. Corps heavy artillery, however, carried out a deliberate shelling of the trenches and area generally. Each of the 2 Otago battalions employed its 10th (North Otago) Company. The hour selected for the attack was 5 p.m. As the troops waited in the front line, the 2nd Otago chaplain, the Rev. D. C. Herron, went round all his men distributing the so-called "buckshee" cigarettes. During the attack and afterwards his personal page 399supervision of the stretcher-bearers was to be instrumental in getting in all our wounded.
The saps running to the enemy trenches were full of tangled wire, and one in particular in front of 2nd Otago on the right was made absolutely impassable by a block of massive entanglements. In broad daylight, shortly before the attack, Sergt. Travis crawled out with 2 Stokes mortar bombs and, disregarding the close proximity of the enemy posts, reached the block of wire. There he waited coolly till a minute before 5 p.m. He then blew up the wire block with the bombs and cleared a passage for the attack. On the stroke of 5 p.m. the silent artillery spoke. The 1st and 3rd Brigades bombarded enemy positions in the neighbourhood. The 37th Divisional Artillery created a diversion by shelling Bucquoy and putting down in that locality an extensive smoke barrage which a favouring wind blew over the German rear defences. The actual attack was carried out under a bombardment by light trench mortars, which fired at a rapid rate for 1 minute and then lifted beyond the objective.
The surprise aimed at was complete. The garrison was on the point of being relieved, and they had already strapped on their backs their greatcoats and valises. They were at the moment consuming an evening meal of hot coffee and black bread. Before they had time to fight, their ferocious attackers had scrambled over the blocks in the communication trenches and were among them. Only 2 machine guns on the right were alert. In their fire the right of 2nd Otago was checked, and the success of the whole operation imperiled.
Sergt. Travis had lit a cigarette and was watching the left of the attack when he heard near by the venomous crack of the German machine guns, that none knew better than he. He turned his head and saw the check. He leapt from his block, revolver in each hand, and rushed straight for the position. "With rapid and unerring fire he killed the 7 men of the crews and captured the guns. At this moment a German officer and 3 men came running round a bend in the trench towards the assaulted portion and saw Travis and the dead gunners. They hesitated a moment and then charged him, but against that cool brain and steady hand hesitation was fatal. As they came at him down the open sap Travis shot all 4. When the attacking party rushed the trench, and they rushed the instant that the machine guns were silent, page 400they found Travis reloading his revolvers, a line of corpses lying huddled about his feet.
Elsewhere there was not much resistance. In the centre of Shag another machine gun caused trouble to 1st Otago, shooting an officer and his runner, but when parties from each flank began to converge on them the crew fled, abandoning their gun. A strong patrol, pushed southwards by 2nd Otago into Slug Street, cleared the trench as far as Hawk, and taking 2 machine gun crews in flank with rifle fire, wiped them out and captured the guns. 1st Otago secured 2 machine guns and 2 prisoners, and 2nd Otago 4 prisoners, 6 machine guns, and a trench mortar. Many Germans were killed. Over 60 dead, including 2 officers, were counted in the 2nd Otago area alone, half being killed by shell and mortar lire and half by infantry weapons.
As had been arranged, 1st Auckland thrust forward their left simultaneously. Their parties crossed the block in Hawk, where the German resistance had been so strong 4 days previously, and pressing on another 500 yards carried 3 further barriers, after stiff fighting at each. They were eventually stopped by a strong block with a clear enfilade fire of 40 yards. A flank party secured touch with 2nd Otago, and incidentally captured en route a machine gun. In the main attack conspicuous determination had been shown by Sergt. Reginald Stanley Judson. 2nd Wellington similarly moved forward a short distance on the right.
The general result of these 4 days' operations was that on a 4000 yards' front the Division advanced their line to an average depth of between 500 and 1500 yards. The enemy at the moment showed no sign of intention to counterattack. in the evening a German machine gun in the southern section of Slug was silenced by a trench mortar. But the hostile barrage put down, within 15 minutes of our attack, on the wood and adjoining trenches was continued through the night. Fortunately most of the shells fell in rear of the new front line, but 2nd Otago, who had lost only 1 man killed and 1 wounded in the actual assault, now had 9 men killed and an officer and 20 men wounded.
Among the papers captured by the 1st. Brigade was an officer's diary. Together with moralisations about the Staff, not peculiar to the German company officer, it provided an interesting outlook, from the enemy point of view, on the recent struggle. A short extract may be given:—page break
Sergt. R. C. Travis, V.C., D.C.M., M.M. [Snapshot
July 15/17.—Three active days. Tommy attacked the 180th I.R. and got into the front lines. Of course that handful of men in front could not hold him. In theory and from a deep dugout it is easy enough to carry on the war, but in practice——! Since then a good deal of fire has been on our positions.
|16.—||There were 2 bombardments of Puisieux. It was astonishing what he threw into that place. At night, ordinary harassing fire.|
|17.—||Enemy fired on our trench junction in Rossignol Wood. One shell landed a yard from my shelter, so I cleared out. We had two wounded; and no wonder, with all that stuff flying about all day. Am reading “Lord Nelson's Last Love.” My men have to work hard in comparison with the food they get. Our new offensive at Rheims has begun. 18,000 prisoners—but they talk about local fighting! I only hope bigger results will follow, and after them peace.|
|18.—||Every morning a Tommy plane comes over, called by us the Trench Inspector, and drops 2 bombs on Puisieux. To-night we relieve and go to the main line of resistance in Rossignol Wood, which is now hardly recognisable since the end of June. Before that it was all green, and now nothing but stumps.|
|19.—||Hardly into my dugout when I hear the wood is to be evacuated, and I have to shift. Sweated like a pig fixing a cover on my new shelter with my batman.|
|20.—||4.30 p.m. Tommy rolls up the trench of the 180th I.R. and takes the front trench. I make a counter-attack and have 2 killed and 7 wounded. Some men of the 12th Company are missing. Again the people behind have made a mess of things. The blowing up of the dugouts in Rossignol Wood warned Tommy of our withdrawal, and he is pushing forward patrols. I am running about all night, and people behind us are talking about all sorts of things.1|
|21.—||Early to-day the Assault Detachment were to push forward. After getting 2 men killed they withdrew. Will the German never learn common-sense? We have lost our best men, and what we have left are such that we cannot rely on them. It makes a man sick to see the good men sinking fast. A lance-corporal of the 180th I.R. who was lying out wounded was fetched in by us. You should have
1 Doubtless rumours based on the decision to withdraw on a large scale.
|22.—||At 5 a.m. the Assault Detachment of the 111th Division tried to roll up the trench, but the first men were cut down, and it came to nothing. Another Assault Section tried at midday, but came home again. In the evening I relieved the men who had been continuously on sentry.|
|23.—||At 1 a.m. I came in to find that the lost trenches are to be recaptured. The 9th Coy. has to put a machine gun at the trench junction in the valley, where it is overlooked from both flanks and gets bad machine gun fire. O.C. and I, with 2 machine gunners, are to go down the C.T. at 3.30 p.m. Under cover of an artillery shoot I cut through about 30 yards of wire. Twice the shells are very close, and I have to pull back a little. Then we go down the trench like a patrol and reach the trench junction, which is under fire from 3 sides. There we must leave the sentries to their fate. Thus, after 4 years of war, men in a deep dugout lay down the law, how the outposts are to bo held and how the garrison is to repulse patrols. This is all very fine, but a handful of men cannot hold back a powerful enemy who has already “done in” 2 companies and killed and wounded half of a third. Nobody has been up here to look at the situation. The men are done to death. I am relieving them every night to allow them a little sleep. I hear I'm recommended for a decoration, but don't care much about it. We were again bombarded at night, and one landed on the parapet of Coy. Headquarters.|
|24.—||Our contact plane was over to-day. Everything O.K. We are promised some recognition. The battalion is to receive 1200 litres of beer. I am in better spirits. Yesterday I felt very down.|
Here the diary ends. Shortly after 5 p.m., with many maps and documents, it was captured in the company headquarters.
1 This sentence certainly betrays nervousness.
At dawn on the 25th his aeroplanes reconnoitred our lines with marked vigilance. An hour's intense bombardment in the morning caused several casualties, despite excellent consolidation on the previous day. Desultory fire was continued throughout the day. At 6.45 p.m. his gun fire burst out afresh with concentrated vigour and was accompanied by heavy machine gun fire. Tt was an awkward moment for the defence. Reliefs were in progress both in the right brigade area, where 1st Wellington were replacing 1st Auckland, and on the left, where the Rifle Brigade were taking over the whole of the 2nd Brigade positions. The incoming troops were already up the communcation trenches. As a counter-attack appeared imminent, the garrison stood to arms, and the relieving companies took up the best positions available to resist the enemy onset. A few minutes afterwards 2 hostile aeroplanes new menacingly low over our lines, and the first signs were observed of the enemy infantry. Long lines of helmets became clearly visible above the sides of the several communication trenches over half a mile of front. Up 5 of these saps there now pushed parties, each consisting of about 25 men, but in Slug Street there was a full company. Each party comprised machine gunners, bombers, and snipers. Further massing noticed later in the sunken road northwards was dispersed by artillery fire.
The Germans, staunch fighters and well led, came rapidly forward. Nearing our positions, they crept up flinging stick bombs, or jumped out. of the communication trenches and began to run swiftly and strongly towards the unwired garrison. As soon as ever they appeared, the Otago Lewis guns and rifles opened steady fire, and 2nd Otago put up the S.O.S. which was promptly answered by the batteries of the 2nd and 3rd Artillery Brigades covering the sector. Of the smaller parties not a man reached our position. The survivors in the open wavered and ran for the protection of the saps, just as our barrage burst on them, preventing page 404our infantry's pursuit but taking deadly toll of the bunched "field-greys." Otago raked the saps with rifle grenades.
At Slug Street, however, by force of numbers the enemy made temporary headway. In the bombardment a German shell had here destroyed 2nd Otago's bombs at the block. Under the pressure our post was forced back, and its commander, 2nd Lt. E. J. Beechey, fighting to the last against overpowering odds, was killed by a bayonet thrust. The Germans followed down the Street, reached our front line at the junction of the 2 brigades, and penetrated towards the support line. Here, however, they had no longer a mere post to deal with, but the garrisons of both 1st Auckland and 2nd Otago. They were immediately counter-attacked by the reserve Otago platoons. A 1st Auckland Corporal (A. S. Webster), with 2 men, seeing 12 enemy coming down a sap towards him, rushed at them. Himself securing their machine gun and killing 2 of the gunners with bombs he drove the remainder right into Otago's hands. The same Sergt. Judson, of Auckland, whose prowess on the previous day has been noted, was again conspicuous in the defence. Hearing to his left continuous bomb-explosions along Slug Street, he went over to make personal investigation. He found 6 Otago survivors, After reorganising them he fought his way forward alone to the front line where he found Beechey dead at his post. He then returned to the little group of shaken Otago sentries of whom in accordance with orders he took command. During the following night on 2 separate occasions he crawled forward into No Man's Land and dispersed German parties with bombs.
With the arrival of our reserves the attack was finally shattered. Working along from both flanks our parties re-occupied the junction of our front line and Slug Street, and the enemy were trapped. Every German who had entered our lines was accounted for. 37 were killed and nearly 30 taken prisoners. Only then did the 2 enemy aeroplanes which, imperturbably disregarding our machine gun fire, had hovered over the wood and valley, fly disconsolate homewards. Of the Germans who fled down Slug Street and the other trenches eastwards many must have been caught in our artillery barrage which was by this time very heavy. Within half an hour of the opening of the attack our line was completely re-established. Of the prisoners secured most were already wounded, and several were killed by the enemy's heavy retaliatory fire which followed his repulse, but 18 eventually reached the page 405Divisional Cage. 2nd Otago, on whom the weight of the blow chiefly fell, had lost 2 officers and 6 men killed and 1 officer and 40 men wounded. The resolution shown by our men in this affair and the admirable initiative of the different counter-attacking parties formed a model of a local counterattack action, and as such the Corps Staff caused a description with explanatory plans to be circularised to all units. Our success won also a further appreciative recognition from General Byng:—
No. g 12/296
G.O.C. IV. Army Corps.
Reference IV. Corps No. 18/1/4/G dated 26th July, 1918. The repulse of this enemy raid with such heavy loss to the raiders reflects the greatest credit on all ranks of the garrison.
The initiative shown by leaders and men in rallying and surrounding those of the enemy who had entered our line at Slug Street is an object lesson in readiness and resource.
J. Byng, General,
1 Awarded, Gazette 27th September.
After this attack had been repulsed, the incoming troops completed the relief. This spell in the trenches was to he marked by continual shelling and for the first 3 days by torrential rain, which turned the trenches into knee-deep channels of mud. One slight modification was made in our positions. Our exposed line at the Chasseur Hedge was withdrawn to Jean Bart on 27th July, and the 2 deep dugouts and over 40 boxes of enemy trench mortar ammunition in it were blown up by the Engineers under cover of an artillery “crash” in the neighbourhood. The Engineers pushed on with the construction of a new reserve line, for which timber and other materials were brought up through Hébuterne. These technical troops had ever their share of the dangers incidental to war. A single everyday illustration must suffice. On the evening of 24th July a party under Cpl. J. Q. Adams was accompanying a wagon proceeding to an advanced dump. In the battered streets of Hébuterne they ran into a shell-storm. One shell struck the wagon, wounding the driver, 3 of the party, and the 2 horses. The horses bolted, but became entangled in a belt of wire, close by. Though the shelling was heavy, Adams ran to them, caught them, and extricated them from the wire. He then collected his party and delivered his material at the appointed place.
Certain American personnel of the 80th Division, U.S. Army, had been for some time attached to the Division for training purposes, and now a battalion of the 317th Regiment was distributed in platoons among the different units in the line. Under the unusually trying conditions of weather and shelling, which the Rifle Brigade considered the worst experienced since October 1917, these Americans created a most favourable impression by their modesty cheerfulness and fine morale. They represented the cream of American manhood, and their temperament and enthusiasm recalled the fervour of 1914-15, yet undulled by habitude and vicissitude.
On the afternoon of 7th August, in an interval of fair weather, 2nd Lt. J. A. McL. Roy, M.C., 1st Rifles, with Rflmn. A. H. Perry, rushed an enemy post in front of Shag, under cover of a light trench mortar barrage, and brought in 2 prisoners. Roy then went out again and discovered 2 more of the enemy endeavouring to mount a machine gun. These also he took prisoners and brought to our trenches. He then made a third journey to the enemy post to secure the gun. page 407By this time the enemy was apprised that something was amiss, and a German officer and 6 men were moving up a communication trench towards the post to investigate. They were driven off, however, by Perry's fire, and the trophy was safely carried back to our trenches. After darkness, a 4th Rifles' patrol of an officer and 4 men was suddenly engaged by 30 enemy and forced to retire. On arrival in our trenches the officer was found to be missing. Cpl. R. T. Crosbie and Rftmn. C. V. Murray immediately turned back to find him. Ho was discovered to be severely wounded and unconscious. On being lifted, he groaned loudly, thus giving the alarm to the Germans, who attacked our party. While Crosbie bandaged him, Murray held the enemy at bay with bombs, and finally the two carried back the officer to our lines, saving his life and preventing the enemy from securing identifications.
These continued successes achieved by the Division during July and early August had brought the fighting spirit of all arms to an extremely high pitch, as a single quotation from the 2nd Wellington diary will indicate. Their front line had been troubled by an enemy machine gun post. “Wellington West Coast Company planned to take the post to-morrow morning, but Ruahine attempted same task on the quiet this afternoon and failed, much to the disgust of West Coast Company, as it spoiled their plans. Men in excellent spirits.”
While our infantry for the moment stayed their hand, the British heavy artillery, now augmented to an unprecedented scale, gave the enemy no respite. They bombarded his dumps about Puisieux and Achiet-le-Petit, and his roads between Pusieux Bucquoy and Sorre, without intermission, and our infantry garrisons could not but listen in awed fascination to the terrible purr of great shells moving high overhead in an unbroken stream for a quarter or even half an hour at a time. That in itself was an overwhelming indication of the organised power of Britain.
The extent to which the enemy withdrawal from Rossignol Wood was premeditated is, in absence of German documents, naturally obscure. It appears certain, however, that it was principally due to or largely expedited by the New Zealanders' pressure. His troops had been pinned in a salient the retention of which, once its use for offensive operations was negatived, presented no advantages, and was made increasingly costly by our artillery fire and infantry aggressiveness. The subsequent withdrawal, however, towards Puisieux in August, now to be considered, was not due to page 408local pressure. It was undertaken in accordance with the enemy's general policy which underlay similar movements elsewhere and which, forced on the German Command by the collapse of their offensive, was now made a matter of urgency by their defeat in the Battle of Amiens (8th-12th August). To economise man-power and build up reserves, Dudendorff, now definitely on the defensive, decided to straighten and shorten his line by withdrawing from such awkward salients as at Serre.
Already in the first week of August the enemy's outposts had begun to retire on the Lys salient about the Division's old rest areas at Vieux Berquin, and on the night 13th/14th August, after leaving booby-traps and filling dugouts with mustard gas and ineffectively mining them, he began to fall back from the network of trenches west of Serre. The right of the movement pivoted on Bucquoy, and here any forward movement on the part of our patrols would meet greater resistance. At the moment, the 2nd Brigade held the right subsector of the Divisional front in Jena Ford Nameless Hawk and Owl trenches, partly in the British, partly in the German defences of 1916. On their left the 1st Brigade occupied the trenches east of Rossignol Wood, carried on 24th July. In the right of the 2nd Brigade front the 1st Battalion, 317th Regiment, U.S.A., had relieved 1st Canterbury and been in turn succeeded by the 2nd Battalion of the American Regiment on the 11th. On its left was 1st Otago.1 The 1st Brigade battalions from south to north were 2nd Wellington and 1st Auckland. Reports had already been received of demolitions in Albert and of abnormal movement about Bapaumc, and a careful watch had been kept for evidence of withdrawal opposite the Divisional front. Patrols especially had been active by day and night to keep in touch with the enemy.
1 Major J. Hargest, vice Lt.-Col. Charters, on leave.
During the morning a policy had been laid down by the Division restraining undue impetuosity. The enemy was to be followed up by patrols supported by stronger bodies, but was not to be attacked. Stress was laid on the necessity of liaison with the troops on either flank and of a lateral as well as a rearward system of communication of intelligence. The news of the German withdrawal opposite the 2nd Brigade had been at once communicated both to the 42nd Division troops on the right and to the left New Zealand brigade, and the 37th Division on the north beyond them. In case of further advance brigade boundaries were defined, Puisieux being included in the area of the 2nd Brigade.
In the afternoon, sacrificing swiftness for sureness, the 42nd Division made at length a start and gained touch with the Americans' supporting troops by establishing patrols along the old British front line in. Mark Luke and John Copses. On the left, however, the 1st Brigade had immediately pushed forward with the primary object of establishing a line from Box Wood to Fork Wood. By 11 a.m., after fine work by a bombing party under 2nd Lt. R. V. Hollis, which drove 3 German machine gun sections before them, 2nd Wellington had reached their objective, and overcoming some opposition gained touch with 1st Otago in Box Wood. The 1st Auckland patrols met stubborn resistance in the sap leading to the enemy's positions about Fork Wood, and it was manifest that considerable German forces still held the strong Crayfish System which ran from Puisieux northwards through Fork Wood and over Biez Wood Valley towards Bucquoy. Still nearer the pivot about Bucquoy, where the enemy's garrisons were not reduced, the 37th Division's patrols could make even less impression. Under covering mortar and machine gun fire Auckland by 3 p.m. had established themselves between German posts in part of Crayfish Trench south of Fork Wood, and had won a precarious footing on the fringe of the wood itself. The part page 410of the trench between them and Wellington was, however, strongly held by the enemy. Wellington strove hard to cooperate by threatening the German rear from the south. They made their pressure felt and captured 8 prisoners. Touch was secured at 7 p.m. between the 2 battalions. At 9.30 p.m. after 2 minutes' bombardment by light mortars and artillery, Auckland patrols now went overland to the northern sector of Crayfish Trench, and 2nd Wellington moved up Crayfish Support. The position south of Fork Wood was thus rendered satisfactory. Throughout the afternoon enemy aeroplanes flew low over the 1st Brigade lines, and dropped flares over our patrols to direct the German artillery.
The 2nd Brigade, in the centre of the advance, was by this time well ahead, and under the threat of their movement our aeroplanes could sec explosions behind Serre. While their main forces consolidated and reorganised in Kaiser's Lane, patrols had in the afternoon passed beyond Serre and had reached the Serre-Puisieux road and the outskirts of Puisieux, capturing some 80 prisoners. The enemy's policy was singularly undetermined. He shelled Puisieux about 6 p.m., while still occupied by his infantry, and his rearguards were still in force between Serre and Puisieux. 2nd Canterbury1 came up from the rear to push through the leading battalions with fresh vigour. One of their companies made good the road at 6 p.m., but their numbers were unable to overcome the resistance eastwards. Two further companies were sent forward, and a few minutes before 8 p.m. these advanced in lines of sections at 100 yards' interval along the whole brigade front. Alarmed at their approach the enemy sent up S.O.S. signals, and a short but intensely heavy hostile barrage fell along the west side of the road just in front of the advancing sections. It lasted only 5 minutes. No casualties were caused, and the dust and smoke actually helped Canterbury by screening their advance. With covering fire from 8 trench mortars they crossed the trench system immediately east of the road, and beating down considerable opposition, reached a line a quarter of a mile east of Serre and of the road. Their left touched the outskirts of Puisieux, and patrols operated in front towards the next trench system, which ran along the Beaucourt-Puisicux road. Both flanks were refused. With comparatively slight casualties Canterbury had captured an officer and 35 prisoners, 3 machine guns and 1 minenwerfer.page break page 411
Arrangements were made without delay to push forward telephone communication and establish advanced dumps of ammunition grenades and water. Throughout, the day our artillery fired with noticeably good results on movement and machine guns reported by the forward observation officers and the infantry. During the afternoon and evening they moved advanced gun sections east of Hébuterne. The Engineers were putting the roads forward from Gommecourt and Hèbuterne into a condition fit for wheeled traffic, and by the evening the Rossignol Wood road was in order.
The night (14th/15th August) passed uneventfully. The Americans and 1st Otago relieved 2nd Canterbury between Serre and Puisieux, and at dawn both New Zealand brigades struck afresh. 1st Auckland improved their position before Fork Wood, and south of the wood secured a footing in the Puisieux-Bucquoy road, capturing 4 prisoners. 2nd Wellington sent a small patrol to the northern outskirts of Puisieux, where some 40 enemy tried to surround it. The patrol leader was wounded but contrived to withdraw his men without further casualties. An attempt by 2 enemy companies to drive the Auckland posts from the Bucquoy road was indifferently managed and came to nothing. The resistance, however, on the 1st Brigade front and northwards made it clear that no movement beyond the excellent position already won could be effected without artillery support and a corresponding advance by the 37th Division.
The opposition offered the 2nd Brigade was less tenacious, and the Americans and 1st Otago pushed steadily forward. Otago carried the main German trench south of Puisieux on the Beaueourt road, holding practically the whole of the brigade front, while the Americans swung over the Serre ridge, passing through its ruins and forming a defensive flank facing south pending the arrival of the troops on the right. During the day these came forward, captured Pendant Copse, 1000 yards south-east of Serre, and established touch at the southern limit of the trench system on the Beaucourt road. By the evening the 2nd Brigade line lay along this road and the trench west of it, and thence round the western outskirts of Puisieux to join the 1st Brigade right at Box Wood.
2nd Otago then relieved the Americans on the right of the line. 1st Otago patrols scoured the western half of Puisieux without finding the enemy, but in view of the sharpness of the salient in which the 2nd Brigade position now lay, it was decided to make no further advance till the 1st Brigade page 412came forward. During the night the 42nd Division established further posts on the road to Beaucourt. From midnight till 2 a.m. the enemy shelled empty Puisieux with 5.9-in. howitzers and then apparently reoccupied it. Possibly in connection with this movement, a hostile party of 2 officers and 15 men attempted to enter the trench south of Puisieux in the early hours of 16th August. They suffered lamentably under 1st Otago 's rifle and Lewis gun fire, the whole party being killed except 6, who were taken prisoners. An hour afterwards the 1st Otago patrols entered Puisieux and found German posts now established about the church.
The situation of one of these posts was so far forward in the western outskirts as to invite capture. A platoon under 2nd Lt. R. E. Fyfe formed up in the trenches south of the village, and Lewis guns were placed in our new line west of the village to cover their advance with enfilade fire, and neutralise any machine guns in the enemy's post. At a given signal the Lewis guns opened, searching the slopes and ruins some 25 yards in front of Fyfe's advance, and the platoon rushed. About 20 of the enemy ran at once and were killed or wounded by the Lewis gun fire. Three light machine guns just managed to come into action, and the rest of their crews threw a handful of bombs, but such was the dash of the attack that Fyfe and his men reached the trench without a casualty. Twelve Germans were killed. The guns and 7 prisoners were captured. Otago posts were then placed through the western part of the village. The captured Germans said, rightly enough, that the impetus of the attack, combined with the tremendous volume of covering fire from the Lewis guns, was too much for them and that they did not have a chance to fight.
This brilliant little feat rounded off the highly satisfactory operations of the previous days. It won General Russell's congratulations and was commended by General Byng in the following message:—
“A very successful instance of initiative. In keeping with the fine record the New Zealand Division has maintained in this Army. Please congratulate the 1st Battalion Otago Regiment on the result.”
On the 1st Brigade front in the same morning, 16th August, arrangements were completed with the 37th Division for a 4 hours' bombardment that afternoon by heavy artillery and Newton mortars on the enemy's wire and trenches between Fork Wood and the southern Barricades in Bucquoy. page 413At 6.15 p.m. the Royal Fusiliers closed in. on the outskirts of Bucquoy, carried the northern limits of the continuation of Crayfish above Fork Wood and established posts astride the Puisieux-Buequoy road opposite their front. At the same time 1st Auckland under cover of a light trench mortar barrage cleared Fork Wood and Crayfish as far as the Divisional boundary at the railway siding in the valley, and in conjunction with 2nd Wellington developed their line of outposts on the Bucquoy road. A section under Sergt. Judson in a dash at the enemy's machine gun positions captured without loss an officer, 16 men and 2 guns.1 An illuminating commentary on the Division's activities during the last 5 weeks is afforded by the fact that forward sections of our batteries had been by now advanced beyond Gommecourt and our former front line to the neighbourhood of the 16 Poplars.
On 17th August the day passed quietly on the whole front, and the relief of 2nd Otago on the Serre ridge by the 3rd Battalion of the 317th Regiment, U.S.A., was completed without interruption. At dawn on the 18th, however, supported by a considerable weight of artillery a strong local attack was launched at the newly established 1st Otago posts in Puisieux. A detachment of “Sturm Truppen” was brought up specially from Douai, and the total number of the assaulting force exceeded 100. Reconnaissance, however, had been at fault or their orders indefinite. Otago had taken considerable trouble to disguise their posts in the ruins, and the attackers failing to notice them rushed beyond them. Halting in perplexity, they lined a bank which chanced to be directly enfiladed by our Lewis gun and rifle fire. There they furnished the easiest of targets, and the bodies of 2 officers and 30 men were later counted at the foot of the bank. An Otago mopping-up party going out afterwards captured an officer and 13 men, including some of the “assault” troops, and 3 machine guns. Otago's only casualties were due to the enemy shelling which killed 1 man and wounded another.
On 17th August the American detachments in the Divisional back area had been withdrawn to rejoin their units, and in the afternoon of the 18th the 3rd Battalion of the 317th Regiment, in the line, followed. In the evening the 2nd Brigade front was taken over by the Rifle Brigade.
1 Judson was awarded the D.C.M. for his exploits on 24th find 25th July and the M.M, for his gallantry on (his occasion. A still greater honour was in store for him. p. 441