The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records
Chapter VII — Gravenstafel and the Bellevue Spur
Gravenstafel and the Bellevue Spur
The tactical skill shown by the British infantry at Arras and Messines, and especially the devastating effects of the British artillery, led to various modifications in the German principles of defence. These had hitherto been based on the contesting of every yard of ground. The enemy had filled his trenches with troops and machine guns. On the other hand, once driven from a position he had rarely made a serious effort to retake it. This close succession of strongly-manned trenches in the forward zone had in the end proved equally wasteful and ineffective. The Flanders battle saw the introduction of tactics designed mainly to neutralise our artillery preparation.
The main features of the new policy were the comparative lightness of the front-zone garrison, increased depth of defences, and the maintenance of powerful reserves used for counter-attack. These last were stationed close behind the battle and were employed both to effect immediate local reaction and also, after a somewhat longer interval but before the assaulting troops could reorganisc and consolidate, to launch previously prepared counter-strokes on a large scale. This policy of “elastic” defence was likely to yield limited areas of ground, but it promised to conserve manpower and prove expensive to the attack. Entanglements were used lavishly, and a notable feature was the construction of concrete Flock-houses or machine gun posts arranged chequerwise or in echelon for mutual support. These had already been encountered at Messines and were at once necessitated by and well adapted to the waterlogged marshes of Flanders, where the construction of deep dugouts was generally impossible. Upon them, by reason partly of their shape, partly of the unpleasant nature of their contents, the unerring humour of the English soldier had bestowed the name of “pillboxes.”
The policy was worked out in practice with considerable technical ability, and at the outset caused no little perplexity page 249to our attacking infantry and Staff. Gradually, however, the necessary modifications in our infantry artillery and machine gun tactics were evolved, and all the lessons gained by experience were communicated to the formations resting and training behind the line.
The enemy's defence was at once more mobile and indeterminate, and left the attack more ignorant of his dispositions and probable counter-action. Assaulting troops could no longer be certain where they would meet the enemy's advanced troops, whether in front of or behind or in his trench systems, nor could they tell on what portion of the front his previously prepared, as distinct from his local, counter-stroke would fall. In order to be able to fight the enemy wherever encountered between our starting point and objective, and to have fresh and organised troops in hand to meet counter-attacks wherever they might fall, it was necessary that our own formations should be more flexible, under closer control and capable of greater freedom of manoeuvre, than the old “waves.”
A solution was found in a formation of small columns or “worms.” These were covered by one or two lines designed to draw the enemy's fire, engage him, locate his defences, and generally discharge the functions of an advanced guard protecting a main body. By this screen freedom of manoeuvre was secured for the attacking columns. Similarly, the “moppers-up” following behind the columns now dealt with areas instead of trench lines. Musketry and ground reconnaissance regained values somewhat obscured in recent battles, and the handling of reserves to meet enemy counter-attacks was of paramount importance. Fighting was assuming a much more open nature. Trench warfare and trench-to-trench assaults were becoming things of the past.
It was on these new features of attack that the New Zealanders in the Lumbres area now concentrated their. attention. A certain amount of training was done in open manoeuvre and wood fighting, but for the most part all arms studied the principle and rehearsed the practice of the new methods of advance over areas defended by scattered concrete fortresses. In their spare hours the New Zealanders gave much assistance in harvesting the crops.
During this period of training an impressive and memorable review of the 1st 2nd and 4th Infantry Brigades and other units of the Division was held in beautiful weather by Sir Douglas Haig, accompanied by the Right Hon. Winston page 250Churchill. The troops were first inspected in line of battalions in close column of companies, and then marched past with splendid steadiness in columns of platoons in line.
Meanwhile the 3rd Brigade battalions were engaged under I. Anzac and the X. Corps in burying cable in the rear areas of the Ypres battlefield. The Cyclist Battalion was employed on similar tasks. Working frequently under shell-fire and in gas respirators they completed all tasks set them with despatch and thoroughness. Lt.-General Morland, of the X. Corps, wrote to General Godley:—
"It is difficult for me adequately to express to you my gratitude for the splendid work of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Battalions, New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade, and the II. Anzac Cyclists in burying cable on my Corps front during the last 3 weeks. Their achievement in digging over 13,000 yards of cable trench, laying the cable and banking it from 3 to 4 feet is an extraordinary one. The keenness that they displayed is universally admired, and their skill is acknowledged to be an example to any troops. Will you please tell these gallant men how much, while I deplore the casualties they suffered, I appreciate both their valuable work and their soldierly spirit."
A similar tribute was paid by the very able chief of the Second Army Staff, Major-General C. H. Harington, and the Army Commander found the in the insistent pressure of work following the battle of 20th September to issue the following order:—
"The Army Commander wishes to place oil record his appreciation of the work done by the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade in burying cable to assist in yesterday's operations. The success of the operations was in a great, measure due to the good communications established, to attain which results the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade played such an important part."
In the momentous operations, known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the comparative success of the initial engagement on 31st July had not been maintained in the second attack, delivered, after a delay due to unpropitious weather, on 16th August. Especially on the southern flank, where the road from Ypres to Menin crossed the ridge, meagre results had been effected at heavy cost. It was thought that more progress might he achieved by an extension of the attack further to the south. The Fifth Army already had its hands page 251full, so this area about the Menin Road was transferred in the beginning of September to the Second Army, and General Plumer was ordered to carry the crest-line in a self-contained operation. It was too strong a position to win in a blind rush, and the Second Army attack was delayed till 20th September to allow time for the satisfactory completion of characteristically thorough preparations, which included the extensive burying of cable by the Rifle Brigade mentioned above. The result was a substantial victory. To the north the Fifth Army achieved no less welcome success. The advance was resumed on 26th September, when 1. Anzac carried the remainder of Polygon Wood, and English Divisions captured Zonnebeke and pushed out along the Ypres-Wieltje-Passchen-dacle mad towards Gravenstafel Ridge. This road was soon to be printed indelibly on the minds of the New Zealanders.
For the Division was already on the march from the Lumbres training area towards Ypres. The artillery had moved forward previously to the Hazebrouck area. On 24th September General Godley had received warning that II. Anzac would relieve the V. Corps in the northern sector of the extended Second Army front and would carry out operations in the near future. On this occasion there were to be no long rehearsals as at Messines. Six days only were available in which the Corps would march up to Ypres, relieve the troops in the line, and plan and carry out an offensive in an area and on a front that were unknown both to the Corps Staff and to the Divisions. The 49th and 66th Divisions were added to the New Zealand Division and 3rd Australian Division under General Godley's command to bring the Corps up to adequate strength. The 2 English Divisions were for the time left in rest and training, but the 3rd Australians and the New Zealanders had been warned for an immediate movement towards Ypres. On 25th September Divisional Headquarters moved to Hazebrouck, and the 1st and 2nd Brigade Groups to Renescure. The 4th Brigade, who were further west in the training area, marched up into the vacated billets about Lumbres. On the 26th the 1st and 2nd Brigade reached Wallon Cappel and the 4th Brigade Renescure. The weather was swelteringly hot, the hard roads dusty, and though the troops were in splendid fettle they were severely tested by these long marches of 20 miles and over a day. Divisional Headquarters and the 1st and 2nd Brigades moved on the following day (27th September) to Watou, some 5 miles west of Poperinghe, and page 252the 4th Brigade reached a staging area north of Hazebrouck. On the 28th II. Anzac, with Headquarters just north of Poperinghe, took over from the V. Corps the command of the latter's 2 Divisions in the line, the 3rd Division on the right and the 59th on the left, on the front between Zonnebeke and St. Julien, east and north-east of Ypres. The Second Army then once again extended its area northwards to include this new sector.
Arrangements had been made to relieve the 3rd Division by the 3rd Australian Division and the 59th Division by the New Zealanders. On the right of the new Corps sector was I. Anzac (General Birdwood), on the left in the Fifth Army was the XVIII. Corps. The 2nd Brigade was sent up on lorries from Watou at short notice on the 28th to be in support to the 59th Division as a preparatory step to the taking over of the whole Divisional front. 2nd Canterbury1 and 2nd Otago went into the old German front line. trenches at Wieltje, and the two 1st Battalions into a reserve area north of Ypres In the same evening sections of the lst2 and 3rd Artillery Brigades, now also concentrated in the Poperinghe area, trekked up to commence the relief of the 42nd Divisional Artillery on the right Division sector, taking over their guns. Throughout the night our batteries were heavily shelled.
The infantry reliefs in the left Division sector began the following evening (29th September). 2nd Canterbury and 2nd Otago went into the front trenches, some 4 miles in front of the original British line, of the left brigade of the 59th Division, and on the following night (30th September/ 1st October) 1st Canterbury and 1st Otago took over the forward posts on the right subsector in bright moonlight and under fitful bursts of machine gun fire. At the same time 2nd Wellington moved forward to the old German front line. The 2nd Brigade, with all 4 battalions in the line, passed temporarily under command of the 59th Division. The Australians were moving into the right Division sector simultaneously, and on the nights 30th September/1st October and 1st/2nd October the New Zealand gunners, relived by the 3rd Australian Divisional Artillery, moved northwards into the St. Jean sector in support to and to the great satisfaction of-their infantry.
2 Lt.-Col. J. A. Ballard, R.F.A., vice Lt.-Col. Symon, on duty to England.
Throughout the short period spent by the gunners in the positions now handed over to the Australians they had been heavily shelled, and 4 howitzers of the 15th Battery had been destroyed. In the northern sector no time was wasted in reconnoitring and occupying new advanced positions from which in the forthcoming operation barrages might be placed beyond the furthest objectives and the enemy's most distant batteries be engaged. A section of each battery was in action in new forward positions by dawn on 1st October and the remainder by the following morning. The batteries of both brigades were formed into a group under the temporary command of Lt.-Col. Falla, General Napier Johnston taking command of the large group covering the whole front in which the New Zealand group was included. The New Zealand guns were the most advanced and, except for necessary registration, carried out no firing.
On 1st October the command of the St. Jean sector was taken over by the New Zealanders. On the same day the 4th Brigade, which had meantime arrived at Watou, and the remainder of the 1st Brigade moved up by traffic-encumbered roads to the reserve positions in the old front lines and northern outskirts of Ypres. The 4th Brigade lay on the right, the 1st on the left. Each disposed 2 battalions in the old British and German front lines as reserves to the 2nd Brigade. Both rear Brigade headquarters were located at Wieltje. Forward divisional headquarters was established on the Yser canal bank north of Ypres.
The area taken over by II. Anzac from the V. Corps was in the shape of a corridor about 17 miles long. Some 2 miles broad across its front, it contracted towards the rear to under a mile. In this confined area road communications were highly inadequate. Westwards of Poperinghe there was but one good road to Watou, and this lay wholly in the area of the XVIII. Corps on the left. Towards the battlefront the only serviceable route was the main road to Ypres through Vlamertinghe. Poperinghe formed not only the base for all the communications of II. Anzac, but also the centre for most of the XVIII. Corps traffic to the north and part of the traffic of I. Anzac to the south. On this meagre line of communications it was no inconsiderable task to cope with the! continual movement of relieving troops and the unceasing stream of motor lorries and transport loaded with material for the forward area. East of Ypres the tracks were deplorable, and all available labour was employed on their page 254maintenance and improvement. Every augmentation of technical troops, however, in the front zone involved a corresponding increase in the traffic on the already congested approaches in rear. In the case of the roads generally, as also in that of the light and broad gauge railways, the conflicting interests of construction and supply needed to be reconciled with the utmost care. The actual front line of the Corps lay roughly along the road from Zonnebeke to Langemarck, falling just short of the road on the extreme right but gradually drawing further eastwards from it as one went towards the north. On the right the Corps was separated from I. Anzac by a line which was at the moment just south of the Ypres-Roulers railway, but was shortly afterwards marked by the railway itself. The left boundary coincided with the Army Boundary on a line drawn roughly parallel to and some 1200 yards to the north of the road running from Wieltje to Gravenstafel.
As a result of the 2 successful attacks on 20th and 26th September the British front in the battle now constituted a marked salient. Its right rested on the high ground about the Menin Road, whence it trended north-east in front of Polygon Wood. In the neighbourhood of Zonnebeke it began to curve inwards but lay still well to the east of St. Julien and Langemarck, whence it bent back with a decided sharpness to the point of junction with the French in front of Houthoulst Forest. With the Fifth Army thus in complete possession of the Langemack Ridge and the Second Army firmly established on the southern extremity of the main Passchendaele Ridge, the way was now open for a direct attack from the I. Anzac position in the centre on the Broodseinde portion of the main ridge east of Zonnebeke, and for the outflanking of the enemy's position in the Houthoulst Forest. This third phase of the battle would be conducted by a series of bounds, each bound constituting a separate operation and following on its predecessor after an interval of several days. In view of the advanced season, preparations were being pushed forward with the utmost rapidity for the resumption of our offensive on 4th October.
General Russell inspecting 1st Canterbury
From the main ridge, on whose plateau in front of II. Anzac lay the shattered houses of Passchendaele, various small subsidiary spurs run out north-westwards, separated from each other by the headwaters of the sluggish streams characteristic of this part of Flanders. Two such spurs faced the New Zealand Division, one immediately confronting their trenches, the other in ochelon northwards behind it. The nearer and more southerly one of these rose just over the small stream of the Hanebeek, which lay immediately beyond our front line. It was called the Gravenstafel Spur. Soon after it projected from the Passchendaele Ridge its even crest was broken by an isolated almost imperceptible rise called Abraham Heights; thereafter it fell gradually towards the ruins of Gravenstafel and Korek, and beyond them to the plains. As the Hanebeek drained the slopes which faced the New Zealanders, so its reverse slopes to the north were drained by another stream which in its upper part was called the Ravebeek but presently, after receiving some small tributary channels, the Stroombeek. On the other side of its valley, standing further back and further to the north from the New Zealand lines, was the second spur which jutted out from the main Passchendaele ridge. This was the Bellevue Spur. These 2 low hills were to be the scenes of the New Zealanders' engagements in the final stages of the Ypres Battle. The Gravenstafel Spur was to be carried in the forthcoming attack. The turn of the Bellevue Spur would come later.
Through constant artillery fire and bad weather both the Hanebeek and the Ravebeek-Stroombeek had lost all semblance of running streams. Their channels were marked by broad quagmires that were pockmarked by deep shellholes full of mud and water. Their crossing might be difficult even to infantry and was insuperable to tanks. Soon after the Gravenstafel road passed it, the course of the Hanebeek turned westwards through our positions, and similarly the Stroombeek, between the Gravenstafel and Bellevue ridges, rounded the former spur in a north-westerly direction and percolated, rather than flowed, into the XVIII. Corps area on the left.page 256
The country, dismal and war-scarred to a degree exceeding even the desolation of the Somme, could with difficulty be imagined to have ever served the purpose of peaceful civilization. Here and there were stunted remains of copses: here and there levelled heaps of bricks and stones on the spurs and in the valleys told of farms and villages. Thus, between our posts and the Hanebeek, one could with difficulty trace the ruins of Dochy Farm and Riverside. On the edge of the stream groups of pillboxes represented the scattered buildings of Otto Farm, and up the hillside untidy heaps amid the shellholes marked the sites of Boethoek, Van Meulen and Wimbledon. Further to the north-west, where the ridge fell away from Gravenstafel village to the flats towards the Stroombeek, were the ruins of the little hamlet of Boetlcer. In the Stroombeek valley there had been substantial farmers' houses. Waterloo Farm and Calgary Grange lay on the reverse slopes of the Gravenstafel Spur; and just over the Stroombeek, where it entered the area of the troops on the north, was Kronprinz Farm. From it a country road ran back, beyond the Division's left boundary, to Albatross Farm and to a nest of dugouts called Winzig, which directly faced the 48th Division on our left. In the vicinity of most of these houses and at all points of importance the Germans had constructed numerous pillboxes. The last local feature of importance was the road which roughly divided the Divisional sector and ran north-east from Wieltje over the Gravenstafel Spur down into the Ravebeek valley, whence it mounted the Bellevue Spur towards the main ridge a little north of Passchendaele.
For the next attack the Corps' final objective corresponded approximately with the old British line in 1914, It ran from near the intersection of the Ypres-Roulers railway with the great enemy Zonnebeke-Staden system, along the eastern slopes of the Gravenstafel Spur to Kronprinz Farm. The 3rd Australian Division would carry out the attack on the right and the New Zealanders on the left. A brigade from each of the 49th and 66th Divisions was brought up into Corps reserve. The ground was, as we have seen, unsuitable for the employment of tanks, but the Corps had adequate artillery.
The frontage of the Division was some 2000 yards and the depth of its proposed advance over the ridge about 1000 yards. The furthest objective line was called the Blue Line. Just beyond the Gravenstafel crest on the forward slopes overlooking the Stroombeek valley a support position was page 257marked on the map as the Blue Dotted Line. The first objective (the Red Line), which fell just short of Gravenstafel village, lay on the near side of the hill. General Russell's plan was to attack with 2 brigades, the 4th on the right against Abraham Heights and the 1st on the left over the lower slopes beyond Korek. The frontage of the 4th Brigade, which was faced by the more difficult task, was some 800, that of the 1st Brigade some 1200 yards.
It was agreed that each assaulting brigade should use 2 battalions to reach the Red Line, and "leap-frog" them with 2 others who would pass over the crest and down the further side to the Blue. The 2nd Brigade, at present holding the line, would be withdrawn into Divisional reserve prior to operations. The Rifle Brigade, which arrived at Poperinghe from Vieux Berquin on 3rd October, was employed under Corps direction on cable-burying, road construction, and the digging of emplacements for the heavy artillery. Their machine gun company, however, was taken over by the Division for co-operation in the forthcoming attack.
In the first days of October, though the nights turned noticeably colder, the days were still warm and the weather favourable. The British guns remained normally active. In every phase of the Ypres Battle our artillery programme was altered to mystify the enemy as to the moment of launching the next blow. The previous attack had been preceded by a 24-hours' intense bombardment. For the forthcoming operation severe preliminary bombardment was dispensed with, and the hurricane fire reserved for zero. Two-thirds of the ammunition allotted for harassing fire on roads and approaches were expended by night, and special precautions were taken to avoid any slackening at dawn. On misty days, when night conditions were reproduced, the amount of ammunition fired by day was correspondingly increased. Practice barrages were carried out daily. The enemy artillery fire, particularly on the roads, was little less active than our own. Long-range pieces shelled Poperinghe. On either side the use of bombing aeroplanes for dispersing and harassing the great congestion of troops and material in the battle area became an increasingly marked feature of the struggle. The Engineers toiled at the construction of duck-board-tracks across the waste of shellholes and at the repair of the cratered roads. In the line of fortified shellholes the 2nd Brigade carried out active patrolling about the Hanebeek swamps and at Dochy Farm, where they found and killed a page 258small party of Germans. Early in the morning of 1st October a strong German patrol attacked a 1st Canterbury advanced post in a shellhole. The post was held by a Lewis gun team under L.-Cpl. R. H. Halligan. After a few rounds the gun jammed, and Halligan and his 3 men leaving the shellhole attacked the enemy with bombs, killing 4 and driving the remainder to flight. From the dead important identifications were secured. At the beginning of our evening barrage on the 2nd two or three elderly Prussians wandered into our lines.
On the evening of 2nd October, under good weather conditions, the 4th and 1st Brigades moved up from Ypres to take over the trenches. Each brigade disposed 2 battalions in the front line in considerable depth, 2 companies being echeloned back for a distance of 500 yards and the rear 2 companies for a further distance of 500 to 800 yards. The 2 supporting battalions took over the old British and German front lines. The 4th Brigade front was held by 3rd Auckland on the right and 3rd Otago on the left, with 3rd Canterbury and 3rd Wellington in support. Each of these supporting battalions left half their personnel behind to move forward on the following day. The 1st Brigade took over the front positions with 1st Wellington1 on the right and 1st Auckland on the left, and placed in support behind the former battalion 2nd Auckland, and behind the latter 2nd Wellington. The 2nd Brigade Machine Gun Company remained in the line. Two battalions (1st Canterbury and 1st Otago) of the 2nd Brigade were left in the forward area as reserve troops for the 4th and 1st Brigades respectively in case of counter-attack. The remainder of the 2nd Brigade moved back into Divisional Reserve.
1 Major H. Holderness, vice Lt.-Col. Cook, invalided.
The weather just held up. It was a dark night but exceptionally quiet lulled by the absence of a preparatory bombardment,. the enemy calculated on our not pet being ready to deliver the next stroke, and he had himself every reason for avoiding heavy artillery activity. For he was, on his part, moving troops up over the Hanebeek for a dawn attack. A Reserve Division had been brought up to thrust astride the Ypres-Roulers railway, and a Guards Division lay ready to follow it and consolidate the positions won. The attack was to be extended southwards by other divisions, and the filial objectives included Zonuebeke and Polygon Wood. His men were therefore silently deploying out opposite our own, and it was vital to him not to have there assembly disorganised by the British artillery.
The New Zealand companies were guided forward to their positions without noise or confusion. A platoon from each battalion in the posts was extended at 25 yards' interval to show the alignment. During this assembly the enemy, masking his own designs by a maintenance of normal machine gun page 260activity, caused several casualties. Our own movements, however, passed completely unnoticed, and the guiding platoons rejoined their companies. The men were not overloaded. The battalions for the Red Line carried 120 rounds of ammunition and the attackers of the Blue Line 170, One Mills grenade had been found sufficient for the present form of fighting. The men were heated, however, by the march and by the construction of their shallow trenches. Now, as they knelt down on the oozy soil in such protection as these shelters and shellholes afforded, a, clammy drizzle began to fall, and a strong westerly wind chilled them to the hone. Shortly before zero the forward posts quietly withdrew into battalion reserve.
Everything remained normal on the New Zealand front On the right, opposite the Australians, the Germans appeared nervous and repeatedly fired flares bursting into clusters of yellow lights. 'There at 5.30 a.m. his guns opened a strong bombardment which gradually worked down on the New Zealand front. The shells fell in the unoccupied area just in rear of the support companies, aid casualties were few; but there was a general feeling of relief when at 6 a.m. precisely our own guns opened.
It was still dark and misty, but the drizzle had temporarily ceased. The intensity of the barrage, specially designed to deal with the new defence tactics of the Germans, satisfied the most exacting. Exclusive of the heavy and medium howitzers the Division was supported by a hundred and eighty 18-pounders and sixty 4.5-in howitzers. Super-heavy guns and howitzers engaged special points, and there were 4 distinct artillery barrages in addition to a machine gun barrage, to take the assaulting columns forward, break up counter-attacks, and protect the infantry on the captured objectives. They covered a depth of 1000 yards. Nearest the advancing lines was the creeping shrapnel barrage of the field guns; beyond it a stationary curtaill of fire was provided by the light howitzers and a proportion of the field guns. At increasing distances from the advancing infantry a third barrage was given by the 6-in. howitzers and a fourth by 60-pounders, 8-in. and 9.2-in. howitzers.
A vivid picture is given of the work of the guns in the following letter of a New Zealand artilleryman:—
“Those who heard it say it was tremendous, the din, but we in the pit heard it not at all, or only in a subconscious way, to be remembered afterwards, heard nothing but the page 261vicious whanging of our own guns, nothing but the jerk of the breach as it opened and the snap as it closed again, nothing but the clang of falling "empties" and the rattle of the live shells as the No.4 jammed them on, nothing but the ticking of the watch covering the interval between the rounds and the No.1's voice: 'Thirty more left! Elevate five minutes! Drop one hundred!' then the watch's ticking again till he opened his mouth once more, and before the 'Fire!' had hardly left it, the spiteful tonguing of the gun, her rattle! and quiver as she settled down, and the hiss of the buffer coming home.
“Normally our old 'B' gun is the pick of the bunch, but the whang she got the day before had put her on edge, and she behaved not nearly as sweetly as usual. Still, we were lucky to have her going at all, for that was more than we thought possible at first. The firing lever slipped occasionally, and No. 3 swore bitterly; the 'bubble' deeper, tricks, ad his curses became deeper, the range-drum jumped at each shot like a nervous maid, and the trail stuck like a mule in the Flanders mud. But when the buffer on the run-up stopped within a few inches of home each time, I, too, felt that language was needed As the rang, lengthened and her nose pointed further skyward the brute got worse, and between sticking trail and sticking buffer, the sweat came down in streams, blinding my eyes and tasting salt to my tongue; but we got there with the last, neither skipped nor lagged behind. Of the two, that last is the greater crime, for a late shot in the lifting barrage often means death to many of our fellows.”
The shrapnel of the creeping barrage lashed the appointed line 150 yards in front of the foremost tape except opposite a small re-entrant on the left brigade subsector, where it fell 50 yards westward. At this point, with a long first bound it picked up the rest of the barrage, which then rolled forward slowly in a straight line all along the Dvisional front, lifting 60 yards every 3 minutes with certain pauses up towards the Red Line. The object of the frequent practice barrages had been to mystify the enemy as to the delivery of the actual attack, and it had been calculated that the artillery barrage in itself might riot betray the movement of our infantry. In order, therefore, to preserve the effect of surprise as long as possible, the 3 groups of 60 machine guns detailed for barrage page 262work did not open fire with the artillery but waited for 5 minutes. The Germans, however, were not to be deceived. In a few moments their machine gun barrage opened, with special intensity on our left flank. Four minutes after zero a heavy machine gun barrage was placed on the Zonnebeke-Langemarck Road, and a few moments later on the same spot there fell an artillery barrage which tore gapsin the 2nd Wellington lines then crossing it. This barrage remained heavy for some 30 minutes, after which it became more scattered. Throughout the attack the assaulting Battalions were not greatly harassed by hostile artillery fire. In response to variously-colored lights fired from the pillboxes the German guns continually shortened range as our advance progressed. Their barrage, however, was-in-managed and fell always just in real of our leading battalions.
Meanwhile these units allotted for the capture of the Red Line were pressing 'down towards the reedy channel of the Hanebeek. Each battalion was on a 2-conmpany frontage. They moved in sections in single file covered by a, screen in extended order like beaters. The formation, in itself suitable for dealing with the enemy pillboxes, was also adapted to the nature of the ground, where the little ridges between the lips of the shell-craters provided the sole tracks for advance. The assaulting infantry had not gone more than 200 yards when they came on the first lines of the enemy which were to have carried out the attack anticipated some 10 minutes by our own. Another 200 yards in rear was the second, but both lines had been decimated by our artillery fire. On the 1st Auckland front alone were about 500 corpses, and generally along the whole line every shellhole held 1 to 4 dead Germans, Few wore steel helmets, and only here and there was a bayonet fixed. Some of the survivors fought pluckily with rifle fire, but when it came to bayonet work and close quarters, neither physically nor morally were they a match for their' assailants. In the I. Anzac dressing stations and casualty clearing stations the proportion of prisoners suffering from bayonet wounds was noted as unusua1ly high. The majority of the Germans surrendered readily.
More determined resistance was offered to the 4th Brigade by the occupants of the pillboxes, whose morale had not suffered from our artillery. Duchy Farm and Riverside were occupied with ease, but about 100 yards from the Hanebeek and the pillboxes about Otto Farm heavy machine gun and rifle fire broke on the advancing lines. These works page 263also, however, were ]lot lo give much trouble. As 3rd Auckland rushed forward towards the group of the Farm pillboxes in their sector, the garrison of 15 came out with hands up, leaving 4 dead and 4 machine guns. ln the larger group on the other side of tin; Farm a 3rd Otago party, led with consummate gallantry by Pte. D Mackenzie mopped up 35 prisoners and 4machine guns.
It was know that the Hanebeek was a quagmire of shell-holes full of water. The barrage had been arranged, therefore, to halt here so as to cover the crossing. As it was, the men picked their way through the shellholes without overmuch difficulty, and the rear. waves coming up and halting here for our curtain of fire to lift suffered somewhat heavily from the enemy barrage which was naturally placed at this spot. More-over, a sickly grey daylight was now in the sky. The leading troops became din targets for the machine guns on the bare terraces of' the Gravenstafel hill, and when the barrage at length lifted, they lost no time in pressing closely (some 40 yards) after it.
On the right, 3rd Auckland beat down by rifle and Lewis gun fire opposition at pillboxes on the sites of various ruined farms, and captured their garrisons and 3 machine guns. On their left 3rd Otapo pushed past the important works at Van Meulen, leaving then to he dealt with by a specially appointed party, who captured here a machine gun and 50 prisoners. As the battalions made steadily up-hill for the Red line, the shells of our heavier guns and howitzers were now passing high over head on to the reverse slopes, but the 18-pounder fire fell in a sheer unbroken curtain in front. Near the wed, smoke shells, fired by the left hand gun of each batter, fell suddenly amid the shrapnel and continued for 5 minutes. At that pre-arranged signal the infantry-knew that the protective barrage was being formed and that they were on the Red Line. Both battalions reached it up to time-table.
Here the barrage halted 150 yards in front for an hour, and battalions pushed out strong parties to clear dugouts and pillboxes in their immediate front. The enemy machine gunners and infantry who did not at once surrender were shot. These pillboxes were particularly close to 3rd Auckland, whose parties here captured 8 machine gum. Opposite 3rd Otago the protective barrage was placed beyond Gravenstafel, and n company cleared the pillboxes and other concrete shelters by the ruins and captured 100 prisoners. All the page 264forward parties, on completing their mission of clearing the area up to the “Red Protector,” where our covering barrage continued, withdrew to the Red Line to help in the consolidation already under way. 3rd Otago in all captured 200 prisoners and 8 machine guns, and 3rd Auckland a, corresponding number of prisoners and 15 machine guns.
On the lower slopes northwards and on the flats towards the Stroombeek the 1st Brigade had similarly reached their objective. In this area the battalions detailed for the capture of the first objective were 1st Wellington on the right and 1st Auckland on the left. 1st Wellington, like the two 4th Brigade battalions, had to cross the Hanebeek just before it turned sharply-westwards.
[Photo by Capt. S. Cory Wright
1st Auckland on the left beyond the Hanebeek were faced from the outset with heavy fighting. Under a blast of machine gun fire from Aviatik Farm and the shellholes the first Line of the attack withered away. Most effective help was given by the light trench mortars. Unfortunately one of these was destroyed early in the morning, but the other, admirably handled, came time after time to the assistance of the infantry. Some 200 yards in front of the tape. Line, at. Dear House and Aviatik farm, were groups of pillboxes. Auckland's right was held up for a few moments by machine gun fire from dear House, but the leading platoon surrounded the pillbox and captured guns and crews. Similarly, after a shower of bombs, Aviatik Farm fell to 2nd Lt. C. F. Sea-ward's platoon, and the successful attackers were able to pick up the barrage before the Red Line.
In a line with these concrete structures was a further group at Winzig, just off the Auckland front on the extreme right. of the XVIII. Corps. machine guns from here played on Auckland's left and threatened to arrest progress. Partly attracted by the magnetism which fire exerts over brave troops, and with a view to protecting their flank, partly perhaps owing to the confusion in the darkness or to a desire to maintain touch with the troops on the left, themselves swinging towards the north, 1st Auckland gradually diver& on to the front of the 48th Division, where they captured in turn Winzig, Albatross Farm, aid Winchester, with over 200 page 266prisoniers, and carried the Red Line in front. The 48th Division troops had suffered heavy casualties under the distant machine gun fire, which also harassed Auckland, from the Bellevue Spur down the Stroombeek valley. They were not at the moment able to fill the line. Auckland therefore stayed where they were. A troublesome machine gun in front, was silenced by the remaining light trench mortar, and the infantry consolidated with their usual rapidity. The original Auckland objective was captured by the left company of 1st Wellington.
Thus there was for a time a considerable gap in the centre of the Red Line, and the two 1st Wellington companies were faced with the manifestly impossible task of consolidating the whole front. This gap was filled first by the Wellington company in support and later in the day also by the reserve company. By 10 a.m, however, the right Auckland Company had moved into the New Zealand area to already constructed trenches. Along the whole of the Red Line, as soon as the immediate front was cleared, every man worked with a will at consolidation. Down in the Stroom-beek flats 1st Auckland soon struck water, but on the slopes the other battalions found good soil, and by the time that the barrage moved forward, though the line was riot yet connected, the different posts were 4 or 5 fret under cover.
While this consolidation was in progress, the remaining battalions of the 2 brigades, which with their attached sections of machine guns had left their assembly positions at zero, passed through the Red Line in splendid order and assembled under the barrage on the Red Protector. From south to north this line was formed by 3rd Canterbury and 3rd Wellington in the 4th Brigade area, and 2nd Auckland arid 2nd Wellington on the 1st. Brigade front. Their assembly was; complete a few minutes after 8 a.m. It was their task to develop the advance over Abraham Heights and the continuation of the crest northwards down the eastern slopes, On these they would establish first the intermediate objective (the Blue Dotted Line), and then the final objective: (the Blue Line). The light trench mortars which had co-operated in the attack on the Red Line now joined these battalions, and the machine guns took up positions in front of the Red Line to move with the infantry to the: crest and the Blue Dotted Line, where they could cover our advance down the far slopes by engaging enemy machine guns on the Bellevue Spur over the Ravebeek.page 267
At 8.10 a.m. the barrage lifted to move forward by bounds of 50 yards every 4 minutes. It maintained irreproachable density and accuracy. The troops at once met resistance in the shellholes, and as soon as ever the extended wave of beaters crossed the crest, machine gun fire beat against them in a steady driving hail from the main ridge and from Bellevue Spur. A pre-arranged smoke screen was formed by our artillery. Along they commanding positions, and this and the dull light to same extent blinded the Germans' observation, but their machine pulls took a toll of casualties. The hostile artillery fell mostly on the western slopes of the spur and on the Hanebeek valley.
As the troops pressed down the eastern face towards the Ravebook, centers of resistance had to be overcome all along the line. On the extreme right 3rd Canterbury was held up temporarily by 2 pillboxes in Berlin Wood. These resisted a slap-dash attempt to rush them by bombs, but fell before a little model set-piece attack by 2 platoons. A machine gun and 17 Germans were taken. The total captures of this battalion were 8 machine guns and 86 prisoners. When nearing the crest, 3rd Wellington similarly met obstinate fighting about 2 well-conceaded pillboxes which had not been marked on the map. A frontal assault was frustrated, but 2nd Lt. F. C, Cornwall directed the survivors into 2 parties, which worked from shellhole to shellhole round each Hank and bombed the enemy position from the rear. There was another check for 20 minutes round a group of pillboxes on the site of the farm known as Berlin, but the ubiquitous light trench mortars delivered a short hurricane bombardment, and the place was rushed. On the north side of the Gravenstafel road, a joint attack by 3rd Wellington and 2nd Auckland captured a German Battalion Headquarters in the group of pillboxes at Waterloo which were a work later to witness such tragic scenes. 3rd Wellington secured 8 maachine guns and 150 prisoners. By 9.30 a.m. the moppers-up of both 4th Brigade battalions had cleared all the nests, and their front troops were in full possession of the Blue Dotted and Blue Lines.
In the 1st Brigade sector 2nd Auckland and 2nd Wellington breasted the slopes at Korek and reached their final objectives with equal punctuality. The former battalion on the right hail to cross an intense machine gun barrage on the lower slopes of the spur and last all its senior officers. The infantry pressed forward through the danger zone as speedily as the barrage would allow, and trench mortar personnel, page 268Slinging their weapons like Lewis guns, advanced scarcely less quickly. On the 2nd Auckland front in particular, the one mortar's co-operation with the infantry was again invaluable through the rapidity with which the team came into action and the demoralising effect of their bombs on the German machine gunners.
On approaching the pillboxes amid the chaotic jumble of brick eaps that had been Korek, our lines were checked by deadly machine gun fire at close range. The Germaus were here in force. Within a few minutes the mortar placed a barrage all round the spot, and the garrison of 80 came out and surrendered. As our screen neared the Blue Line, another enemy machine gun fired short rapid bursts. The mortar dropped a few rounds about it, and the crew came forward with their hands up. Just beyond the objective a third gun came into action. Five rounds were fired at it. The Germans waved a rag in token of surrender the mortar ceased fire., Then the enemy, instead of coming forward, began to run back. A few well-placed shots shepherded them, and they turned and came in. The group of ruins at Calgary Grange fell to a combined attack of Aucklanders and Wellingtons. In their advance 2nd Auckland captured altogether 9 machine guns and 200 prisoners.
In the low country on the extreme left 2nd Wellington, though troubled by distant machine gun fire, met at first comparatively little fighting. Like 1st Auckland on' the Red Line, but to much lesser extent, 2nd Wellington also encroached on the XVIII. Corps front, but the 3 platoons which so erred were, on their arrival at the Blue Line, at once brought across to the New Zealand area. Only when the Wellington screen was approaching the Stroombeek did they encounter signs that their further progress would be obstinately resisted. On the far bank the featureless waste was broken by a group cofindefined concrete blockhouses well hidden in the ruins of Kronprinz Farm. They were covered by a wired trench in front, ad here the Germans defended themselves with resolution. The platoon commander was wounded, bat under the same Sergt. Foot, who had distinguished himself at Basseville1 and whose work now won a bar to his D.C.M., our men gradually forced their way nearer and nearer, and at length rose with a: ell anti went in with the bayonet. Not less than 7 machine guns arid 39 prisoners were captured here, and the saps were left full of dead.
1 p 238.
Marked gallantry won D.C.M.s for Sergts. M Ward and C. E. Meazies. The one led his company forward with splendid leadership after all the company officers had become casualties. The other was a Lewis gun sergeant. Wounded early in the day he refused to withdraw, During consolidation he placed a captured machine gun in position, visiting his men under heavy machine gun fire and himself kept in action one of his guns when its crew were destroyed.
The dugouts at Kronprinz Farm had formed a battalion headquarters, and the papers and plans captured in the orderly room-yielded valuable information. The total captures claimed by 2nd Wellington were 10 machine guns and 213 prisoners.
At Kronprinz Farm the left flank of the Division was joined by the 48th Division, whose line northwards fell somewhat short of the final objective. On the right flank, the 3rd Australians after severe fighting had seized the whole of their Blue Line well up to schedule time. Observers in the contact aeroplanes, patrolling with great difficulty in the high wind and rain, marked on their map the line of our red flares all along the II. Anzac objective.
To cover the consolidation the various barrages continued for varying periods after the capture of the Blue Line. The shrapnel curtain fell 200 yards in front on the Ravebeek and on the road which ran along its valley at the foot of the Bellevue Spur past the ruins of Peter Pan and Yetta Houses, towards Adler Farm. 200 yards further on, our 4.5-in. howitzers and some 18-ponders bombarded the trench elements along the lower. slope which were swept also by our machine guns. The 6-in. howitzers' line was 800 yards, and that of the heavier pieces, 8-in. and 9.2-in. howitzers and 60-ponders, 1000 yards away from the Blue Line, on the pillboxes on the top of Bellevue Spur. The smoke screen was similarly retained for nearly 2 hours. The heavier and more distinct barrages remained stationary for a quarter of an hour and then progressed along the eastern slopes of Bellevue Spur for 45 minutes, reopening fire later at definite times and for definite periods. The machine pun barrage ceased as the howitzers lifted, but the near shrapnel curtain maintained its protection for a further period of 3 hours, when it also gradually died away.
By that time not only the troops oil the Red, but those also on the Blue Line were under cover. Our foremost trenches were not greatly harassed by enemy artillery, which page 270played rather on the reverse slopes of the Gravenstafel Spur and on the batteries. The 1st Artillery Brigade guns in particular were severely punished, 5 being put out of action. Throughout the day our batteries were also shelled by a high-velocity naval gun which did considerable damage and inflicted many casualties. On the forward slopes it was the activity of the enemy's snipers and machine guns which accelerated the task of consolidation. The Bellevue Spur pillboxes looked clown commandingly across the whole valley back to Korek. The Blue Line was constructed like the Red as a continuous trench and not merely as a line of posts. It was consolidated and held in such a manner and in such strength as to ensure the repulse of counter-attacks before it, and to secure a good starting-point for the next stage of our attack. 300 yards in rear of the Blue Line on the forward slopes beyond the crest, a line of shellhole posts was constructed on the' Blue Dotted Line which would gradually be connected and act as support positions. On this line some battalions had kept their leading companies leap-frogging the supporting companies through to the Blue; others, having made both it and the Blue successive objectives for the same troops, occupied it with their reserves. Behind the crest the Red Line, with a fine field of fire along its length, was now continuous and capable of a stout defense as a reserve position. As soon as the Blue Line battalions had passed through them, parties of 1st Wellington commenced communication trenches forward over the crest. With the additional task of consolidating the Red Line on 1st Auckland's front, they were unable at the time to accomplish much. By dusk, however, the garrisons of both Red and Blue Lines in particular could he well satisfied with their positions. Between the 3 lines, posts were arranged chequerwise at suitable places.
The Battle of Broodseinde was a signal success for the British arms. It is true that the Armies' objectives were not fully secured, aid that certain portions of the ground won as at Polderhoek Chateau on the extreme right flank of the attack, were regained by German counter-strokes. It was, too, a disappointment that the plans formed for immediate exploitation of our success had to be abandoned, owing to a check on the Fifth Army's left, though it appears doubtful whether much further progress would have been actually realised. It was in conformity with these plans that 2nd page 271Wellington pushed out towards Adler Farm and established posts which were later withdrawn. On the other hand, in the centre of the Second Army front, General Bird-wood's Australians and some British troops had thrust the line well over the main Passchendaele-Broodseindec ridge, 9000 yards of which were now held in front of Noordemdhoek Molenaar-elsthoek and Broodseinde Unusually heavy casualties had been inflicted on the enemy, and over 5000 prisoilers captured.
Of these the New Zealand Division provided no less than 1159, draw from 4 different Divisions,1 In the day's operations it captured also 60 machine guns and a large quantity of war material, which included some maps and documents of the highest value for our Intelligence Staff'. The Gravenstafel Spur gave excellent observation on to the north end of the Passchendaele Ridge and formed a strong buttress on which to bend the line back from the ridge, should the General Staff consider it advisable to break off the battle. The first essay in the new methods of warfare went even more smoothly than was expected, and the value of the training at Lumbres was proved.
Though heavy, the price paid for these successes could not, in view of the magnitude of the results, be regarded as excessive. The 1st Brigade lost 12 officers and 180 men killed, with 700 other casualties. 1st Auckland paid severely for trespassing into the Stroombeek valley and under machine gun fire from Yetta Houses suffered more heavily than the other battalions. By the time of their relief 7 officers, including Major A. G. Mahan, were killed and 4 wounded; over 50 other ranks were killed and 200 wounded. In the 4th Brigade over 600 had been wounded; 10 officers and 120 men had hen killed. The severest losses in the brigade had fallen on 3rd Wellington. The artillery had come off cheap, losing 2 officers and 6 men killed and 4 officers and 19 men wounded.
1 The majority of these were from the 20th Gorman Division, which this day lost two thirds of its effectives. This Division included the notories 77th Infantry Regiment, which in 1914 was responsible for the atrocities at Malines: see also p. 367.
The coincidence of the 2 attacks, the enemy's losses, and the successful British advance entailed confusion in his plans and a disorganisation both among his artillery and infantry which ensured quiescence for the next few days. His shelling was continued, but was light and scattered. All along the Second Army front, in different local counter-attacks, the lack of cohesion, no less than the mixture of units for thickening up the line, clearly betrayed his straits.
No grand counter-attack developed on the New Zealand front. Some isolated attempts were indeed made, but on receipt of early warning, given by S.O.S. signals or the long blown streamers of the smoke bombs dropped by our special counter-attack aeroplane, were at once checked by our artillery. Thus, shortly after midday on 4th October, some 200 of the enemy assaulted east of Kronprinz Farm. The '2nd Wellington sentries fired the red-over-green-over-yellow S.O.S. rockets, and our batteries smote the attack ere it developed. About 4.30 p.m., again, enemy advancing from Passchendaele were scattered by our artillery and machine gun barrage. To provide against eventualities the reserve company was moved forward, and 1st Otago was brought up to near the brigade headquarters in Capricorn Keep. Later in the afternoon about 300 enemy were seen assembling in shellhole positions at Peter Pan and along the lower slopes of Bellevue. The artillery barrage invoked could not have been placed more happily. It smashed up the attack completely. The 2nd Auckland sentries on the Blue Line could observe the dead lying where they fell and the wounded crawling laboriously back up the hill. Further small attacks after dark were repulsed with artillery, machine gun, Lewis gun, and rifle fire, and served only to swell the enemy's-casualty roll.
Dry weather had prevailed during the earlier part of the day, and the evacuation of wounded proceeded smoothly. Early in the afternoon, however, heavy rain set in and page 273speedily converted the whole area into a quaking morass. It had not been found possible to push the dumps as far forward as had been intended. Over the almost impassable surface the mules became bogged, and one was actually-drowned in the Hanebeek. The labours of the carrying parties were correspondingly aggravated. Under these disadvantages the last of our wounded, with a few exceptions still in the aid posts, were carried back to the dressing stations, aid food and munitions were brought to the wet, tired, muddied but cheerful men in front. The movement forward of guns and heavy material proved of surpassing difficulty. At the earliest possible moment the Engineers and Pioneers were set to work on the construction of a tramway system, the repair of the Gravenstafel road, the lying of mule tracks, and the extension of duckboard tracks for the infantry. It was necessary, too, to provide landmarks in the featureless waste of mud and shellholes. Every 25 yards a line of posts painted white on our side blazed the track beyond the point whew the duckboards ended, and notice-boat&, giving the names of all farm sites and places of importance shown on map, were to prove invaluable. Throughout the night rain fell intermittently. Without opposition the infantry patrolled the miasmatic pools of the Ravebeek and Stroombeek and the ruins of Fleet Cottage.
The 5th dawned grey and dismal, and chilly rain fell all but continuously during the day. The mud and water in the forward trenches reached almost to the men's knew. The enemy's artillery activity was desultory, and evidence pointed strongly to a withdrawal of his guns as a result of our advance or county-battery work. On the Bellevue Spur stretcher-bearers with a Red Cross fag were moving about the saps collecting their casualties.
Advantage was taken of this quietness to complete the dispositions of our forward troops, arranged with a view to minimising losses, ensuring depth of defense and facilitating the approaching relief by the 49th Division. Troops from the Blue took over the Red Line, and the bulk of the support battalions, thus relieved, consolidate new positions further in rear. The 1st Auckland d companies still in the XVIII. Corps area moved back hi the late evening (5th Octobers) to behind 2nd Auckland on the Red Line. Shortly after-wards a brigade of the 49th Division came to relieve both forward brigades on the New Zealand sector. That evening the 2nd Brigade traveled back by lorries to the Winnezeele page 274area beyond Watou The 1st and 4th Brigades on completing their relief moved to the old British and German front line and thence on 6th October to the northern outskirts of Ypres. On the latter date the 4th Brigade left by lorries for the reserve area at Eeeke. The 1st Brigade remained in the battle area, with headquarters at Poperinghe, to take over from the Rifle Brigade the duties of the working brigade engaged under Corps control. On the 6th the command of the sector passed to the incoming Division, and General Russell's Headquarters moved back to Watou. The artillery remained in the line, and the New Zealand C.R.A. continued to command the field artillery on the 49th Divisional front. The Engineers Pionerrs and various medical unit were also left under the G.O.C. 49th Division. At the same time in the southern half of the Corps sector the 3rd, Australians made may for the 66th Division.
Funeral of Lt.-Col. G. A. King
In the end it was decided to persevere aid deliver the nest blow 9th October. The state of confusion in the enemy forces appeared to offer a considerable chance of exploitation of success. Arrangements were therefore made for the concentration of cavalry, including the I. and II. Anzac Mounted Regiments, in forward areas, and for the rapid entrainment of 1ightly equipped infantry brigades of reserve Divisions, should an opportunity occur for pursuit. this connection certain of the New Zealand troops in the reserve area moved to positions of closer proximity to the railway, and the Corps Staff prepared a timetable for 2 brigades of the New Zealanders and of the 3rd Australians, which would enable them to be entrained at short notice and detrained at Hell Fire Comer east of Ypres to press the German retreat.
But from 5th October the weather continued unfavorable, hindering dike the work of consolidation and the advance of the guns, and making the ground still more unsuitable for movement. The exploitation scheme. was cancelled and in stead a further deliberate stroke was ordered forth 12th. On the II., Anzac front this would be delivered as on the 4th by the 3rd Australians and the New Zealanders who relieve the 66th and 49th Divisions after their. attack on the 9th. For the New Zealand attack General Russell selected the 2nd and 3rd Brigades, the latter of whom had, as has been noted, handed over its tasks under the Corps Engineers to the 1st Brigade. The 4th Brigade would be used as Divisional reserve.
The main purpose of the attack deliver on the 9th was to swing up the Allied left. In the extreme north the French anti the British XIV. Corps carried all before them up to their final objectives in the outskirts of the Houthoulst Forest, and the line was driven well eastwards north of Poelcapelle. South of that point success was considerably less marked. The XVIII. Corps on the left of II. Anzac made little progress. South of the railway I. Anzac, who formed the pivot of the main attack, captured Nieuwemolen and their first objective on the main ridge. On the Anzac front the objective of the 66th page 276and 49th Divisions had been the Bellevue Spur and the high ground that lay opposite Bellevue, south of the Ravebeek. Part of the troops, delayed by the miserable conditions of a 4-mile march through quagmires in rain and inky-black darkness, did not reach their assembly in time. The 66th Division on the right carried Keerselaarhoek and made good progress, but becoming exposed to enfilade fire from Bellevue, which the 49th did not succeed in capturing, were ultimately obliged to fall back. In the evening the troops lay on their first objective some 500 yards in advance of their starting point. The southern Division's right rested on the railway east of Keerselaarhoek on the lower slope5: of the main ridge. Thence the position ran north past a mutilated copse, known as Augustus wood, down the slope to the Ravebeek. The 49th Division met them in the valley at Marsh Bottom and continued the line along the bottom of the Bellevue slopes above the Ravebeek just beyond the farm ruins at Peter hi and Yetta Houses to the XVIII. Corps boundary east of Adler Farm. Small pockets mere established further up the Bellevue slopes on the western edge of Wolf Copse, Wolf Farm and a cemetery on the northern boundary. Casualties had been heavy, and conditions imposed extreme hardship.
The relief, if it could be called a relief, of the exhausted troops began on 10th October. The 3rd Australians moved into the right sector, and the New Zealanders, filing over the Gravenstafel ridge, crossed the Ravebeek-Stroombeek valley to the general line Marsh Bottom—Peter Pan—Yetta Houses. Somewhat severe shelling was experienced on the march-up. One or two advanced posts of the 49th Division lay only 150 yards from the German lilies on Bellevue Spur, but in view of the forthcoming attack and the necessary barrage arrangements, no advantage was to be gained by taking over a series of isolated half-determined posts on the heights. As it was, the front line was much confused, and the 4th Rifles, for instance, relieved elements of no less than 6 battalions. The 2nd Brigade took over the right subsector, establishing their headquarters at the Capitol, a redoubt west of the Hanebeek valley. The Rifle Brigade in the left subsector made their headquarters well forward at Korek. Each brigade was disposed in great depth on a 1-battalion frontage. 2nd Otago, with 2 companies of 2nd Canterbury, held the 2nd Brigade front, and the 4th Rifles the northern area. The command of the whole Divisional sector passed on the following page 277morning (11th October), and Divisional Headquarte took up their former position on the Yser Canal. Engineers Pioneers and medical units together with the artillery of the outgoing Division remained in the line, and an infantry brigade was placed at General Russell's disposal pending the arrival of the reserve (4th) New Zealand brigade.
In the artillery preparation for the attack on the 12th the prominent factors were intense counter-battery work and the so-called "isolating" fire directed on advanced enemy Strong Points. As the German artillery constantly shifted their positions, no effort was spared first to locate active batteries in the morning, and then to destroy them in the afternoon. The enemy's communication trenches were blocked by knocking in lenghts of 10 yards. It was necessary to bombard by heavy artillery his wire entanglements, machine gun emplacements, pillboxes, telephone exchanges and observation posts, but it is interesting to note a growing insistence, at this time, on the principle that terrain should not he reduced to such crater condition as might unduly hamper our movement and communication after the attack. Practice assault barrages were fired, and series of shrapnel and gas barrages, preceded by high-explosive storms, were passed over the hostile shellhole system and dugouts for the purpose of inflicting losses and reducing morale. Bivouacs hutments and likely places of assembly were bombarded by day and night with sudden short violent bursts of concentrated fire.
The fulfillment of all these tasks demanded enormous supplies of ammunition. In the case of the majority of the gun positions, the state of the forward roads was such as to preclude the use of mechanical transport. Pack animals were largely employed. Conditions were so adverse that the Staff sanctioned and gave authority for a reduction of rates of fire, should the task of replenishing dumps be found insoluble. Rut the artillery, knowing how much the infantry depended on their efforts, worked with an energy and enthusiasm to which no finer tribute can be paid than the mere statement of the for that no pun had to diminish its rate of fire for shortage of ammunition.
Even more serious, however, than the ammunition question was the problem of moving the guns forward. A gun was considered to be in action when it was prepared to open fire on S.O.S. lines either by map or registration, and had 200 rounds dumped at its position. It was now laid down page 278that not more one third of the guns should be out of action at any one time, owing to moving forward; and in the shortness of the time available, this provision, should in itself, added to the gunners' position were prepared beforehand, mid ammunition was taken forward and protected from the rain During the night 9th/10th October one or two sections were hauled forward with the utmost difficulty It took 5 hours of daylight on the 10th to bring forward a single gun of the 1st Battery and another of the. 13th. In the afternoon 2 howitzers of the 15th were bogged beyond St. Julien and the teams and men trying to extricate them were subjected to heavy shelling. The locality was bombarded through, the night, and coming forward again before draw on the 11th the gunners found the road blocked with dead horses, dead men and destroyed vehicles,. By almost superhuman efforts the howitzers were dragged to the new pit by 7.30 a.m., and by the afternoon eight 18-pounders and 4.5-in. howitzers were well forward, but with a lamentable deficiency of stable platforms. The heavies were faced with even greater difficulties.
The object of the Forthcoming attack on 12th October was to renew and extend the effort of the 9th. The Fifth Army would again push forward on the left of the battle front. The whole of the Second Amy attack would he delivered by Australians and NewZealanders Its aim was to strengthen our hold on the mail ridge by-the capture of Passchendaele village and of the Goudberg Spur to the north. The main attack on the Second Army front would be carried out by II. Anzac. As their northern flank would be safeguarded by the XVIII. Corps advancing some 2000 yards, so on the south a brigade of I. Anzac would secure their right by connecting the new line with the positions already won over the crest of the main ridge southwards. The II. Anzac plan allotted the capture of Passchendaele to the 3rd Australians and that of the Goudberg Spur to the New Zealanders the furtbest depth of advance was some 2500 yards. On the New Zealand sector each brigade frontage was about 750 yards. Each of the 2 attacking brigades was given full disposal of its machine gun company. The other 3 companies; were employed for barrage work. The artillery and machine gun barrages were arranged or lines similar to those adopted on the 4th the and the artillery received instruction to be prepared to move batteries forward, after the final objective was gained, with a view to barraging the enemy,'s country from 1000 to page 2792000 yards beyond Passchendaele. The Division had the direct support of a hundred and forty-four 18-pounders and forty-eight 4.5in. howitzers.
Owing to the failure on the 9th the Divisional plans previously drawn up had to be largely recast. The shortness of the time available for preparations and reconnaissance, and the indefiniteness of the information obtained from the relieved Division added to the Staff's difficulties. Hurried measures had to be taken for the selection of headquarters: md medical posts and station, the extinction of signal communication, planked roadway and duckboard tracks, the bridging of streams ad morasses, and the taping of approach routes. In particular, there was insufficient time to deal with the fields of barbed wire on the Bellevue Spur. Their formidable nature was even now insufficiently realised by the outgoing Division. The trenches themselves, forming part of the once strong Zonnebeke-Staden line, had been destroyed by. our artillery., but since the 9th the entanglements, especially round the Strong Points and pi11boxes, had been assiduously strengthened They were closely reconnoitered on the night of the relief (l0th/llth October) by a 2nd Otngo patrol under Sergt. Travis and their strength could be gauged from the Gravenstafel ridge. The 2nd Infantry Brigade Head-quarters secured some assistance from the heavy artillery, but the damage done was small. For all these reasons a postponement of the attack would have been welcomed, but the decision did not rest with the Division or with the Corps. The Army's orders had been issued, and Divisions were but pawns in the tremendous game played over these Flanders swamps and ridges.
The forming-up lines were taped well in rear of our posts to ensure that the leading waves should start level and in line with the 9th Division troops on their left, and that the creeping barrage should open on all points held by the enemy close to our positions. The principles that governed the siting of the foremost tape line were, on the one hand, that it should be not less than 150 bards from the opening barrage line, and on the other, not more than would allow the infantry to close up under the barrage before it lifted. In the evening (11th October) the 4th Brigade detrained at Ypres and relieved the reserve brigade of the 49th Division, placing its 2 foremost battalions in the old British and German front lines on either side of the Wieltjc-Gravenstafel road.
The afternoon and evening of the 11th were cold and bleak. The skies were an unrelieved grey, and the desolate landscape of mud, marsh, shellholes and bald ridge took on an even more inhospitable and forbidding appearance. At dusk the assaulting brigades struggled up to their positions. Shelling was normal, and the troops were spared the gas which incommoded the Australians, but the ground, respecial1y in the valleys, was extremely heavy and in many places flooded. At every-step men sank over their ankles and frequently up to their knees the mud. It was not difficult to understand horn the English troops on the 9th had failed to reach their positions in time. In such country, even on prepared tracks, a mile an hour was good progress for formed troops, but over the mud of the forward area it was necessary to allow a period of 4 hours for each mile. At 2 a.m. a drizzle started and added to their discomfort. Five crossings made of cocoa-nut matting had been laid over the Ravebeek by the 1st Field Company of the New Zealand Engineers. Much assisted by these, the leading troops reached their positions well up to time, with the second battalion closed up on the heels of the leading one on the eastern bank.
1 Capt. W. G. Bishop, vice Lt.-Col. Pow, "B" Teams.
The 2nd Brigade on the right aimed equally at taking each objective with 1 battalion and leap-frogging the next through, but adopted a different of its reserve The leading battalion 2nd otago would be used to carry the Red line; the next, lst Otago. would pass through them to the Blue Line; and leap-frogging them in turn would come 1st Canterbury charged with the capture.of the final objective. 1st Canterbury was strengthened by 1 company of the reserve battalion,2nd Canterbury. Of the other 2nd Canterbury companies, 2 were temporarily lent to 2nd Otago and 1 to 1st Otago as local reserves These 3 companies, however, were to be employed only in the went of necessity, aid it was intended that on the Otago battalions' taking their objectives the should pass again under Lt.-Col. Mead's orders and consolidate a line about Meetcheele. There they would help 1st Canterbury to break up any counter-attack on the 2nd Brigade front, or, if necessary, support the Australians with 1 company in the capture of Passchendaele.
The Rifle Brigade had benefited neither by the training nor rest which had fallen to the others at Lumbers. For the last 6 weeks it had been constantly exposed to shell-fire, to marches averaging 7 miles a day, and to the arduous conditions accompanying night work in forward areas. After digging over 50,000 yards of cable 7 feet deep, they were not in a state to make a sustained effort or to undergo a prolonged strain. The 2nd Brigade were considerably fresher. Nevertheless it was remembered afterwards that the feeling of buoyant confidence, which usually inspired the New Zealanders on the eve of an attack, was on this occasion lower pitched. They were insensibly affected by their exposure to miserable weather in undrained shellholes, the page 282sight of the unbroken wire, and the knowledge of the previous failure. None the less, every man steeled his heart and, checking dispiriting speculation, grimly determined to do his duty.
Winter time had been introduced on 8th October, arid the zero hour for the next action of the battle on Fridays, 12th October, was 5.25 a.m. Throughout the night the enemy's. nervousness and apprehension of an attack had been shown by a multitude of flares, and about 5 a.m. he opened a fairly heavy bombardment of the assembly area, occasioning unfortune casualties. It was a particularly unkind blow of fortune that these were heavy in the Stokes trench mortar personnel, and that the small amount of ammunition which it had beem found possible to bring forward was now destroyed. As the troops waited under the rain, there were few whose: thought in these last moment did not revert to the barbed wire and the pillboxes, and whose prayers were not fervent for an overwhelming barrage, sufficient of itself to blast a passage through the thicket of wire, or to spread such an efficient shield before them that they could cut their way through by hand with the minimum of aimed hostile fire.
1 On the 11th the C.R.A. had reported that effective artillery support could not be depended upon.
As soon as the British guns opened, the enemy artillery-fell again, without marked increase, on the forward assembly lines and back to Waterloo. On the western slopes of Graven-stafel it was somewhat heavier, and the rear battalions suffered. Much more serious to the leading troops were the enemy machine gun barrages which their crews, effectively protected against our weak artillery fire, placed forthwith along the front of the hillside. In addition to these barrages the upper valley of the Ravebeek was swept by fire from the trenches by Crest Farm oil the main ridge in front of Passechendaele The hill slopes were also covered by immediately effective enfilade fire from the Source Trench system which continued the Bellevue defences northwards on the high ground into the XVIII. Corps area. Special evidence is given of the admirable order. alignment distances anti intervals, in which the assaulting battalions, despite the fire and the nature of the shell-torn country, advanced to the attack. Men dropped steadily, but at the outset the progress was satisfactory. Shortly after leaving the starting point, part of the 2nd Rifles were held up by an enemy Strong Point, but a gallant act by C.S.M. J. W. Voyle, who unaccompanied worked to the flank and killing 3 Germans captured 2 and a machine gun, enable the advance to proceed. The first wounded brought back word that all was going well.
About 6 a.m. a strong wind set up, and the drizzle turned to heavy rain which, after a brief respite in the morning, was to fall continuously throughout the day and add to the miseries of defeat and wounds. Owing to this heavy rain and mist. observation from the rear was difficult even after full daylight. As the leading riflemen drew further up the lower slopes, the intensity of the machine gun fire grew heavier. On these cratered and sodden hillside.: a quick rush forward or a charge at the deadly guns was utterly impossible. Under the stream of lead the attack must either he wiped out or effect slow progress by bounds from shellhole to shellhole The number of machine guns the pillboxes along the crest seemed tom be reinforced and particular severe grazing fire was directed at the Rifles from a forward position half-way up the ridge opposite the 2nd Brigade on the right.
As the pace slackened and the forward ranks grew thinner, the rear battalions pressed up to fill the gaps in front of them. page 284Thus the storming line was no longer composed of the original battalion but received accretions from the troops following. The different units became speedily intermingled, and it was a composite party of the 2nd 3rd and 4th Rifles, together with some Scotsmen of the 9th Division, that Sergt. A. K. Coley of the 4th Battalion led to the capture of the cemetery on the extreme left. Here, after stark fighting, the party killed 20 Germans and captured 3 prisoners and 3 machine guns. They dug themselves in on this position, of great tactical importance for both Divisions, and established posts 150 yards eastwards.
In the centre also of the Rifle Brigade attack, elements penetrated beyond Wolf Farm and to the edge of Wolf Copse. Parties of Germans could now he seen retreating without arms over the sky line. The machine gun fire, however, so far from slackening, accentuated as our barrage passed beyond the crest, and all attempts to force a way through the wire instantly brought down annihilating fire from the inaccessible pillboxes beyond. No better fortune appeared to attend the 2nd Brigade on the right struggling up from Marsh Bottom, for in the pillbox which raked their own advance the riflemen could observe a strong party of Germans firing at the Otago men in the wire about the Gravenstafel road.
The Rifles' casualties were already heavy. In the 3rd Battalion, Lt.-Col. Winter-Evans and practically the whole of his Headquarters had fallen. About 8 a.m. Lt.-Col. Puttick arrived at Wolf Farm. Grasping the situation, he ordered the troops of the 3 leading battalions to dig in. The 1st Battalion was not yet engaged, but where the others had failed it was thought costly and futile to throw it in also. When it should come up, it would be better policy for it to dig a support position in rear. From 9 a.m. the enemy infantry regained courage, and during the rest of the morning formed parties, some with light machine guns, were observed advancing back over the crest all along the ridge. These were discerned also by the artillery and infantry observers at Korek, and gun fire directed on them. Two enemy machine guns were planted on the roofs of the pillboxes on the summit, and many men were visible both on the top of the concrete and in the neighbouring saps.
The 1st Battalion, meantime, unconscious that the leading troops were held up, crossed the Stroombeek under distant snipers' fire. As they approached the Peter Pan—Yetta Houses line, molestation from snipers and machine gun fire became acute, and it was obvious that all was not well in front. On finding the 3 leading battalions arrested, they dug, as Puttick suggested, a support line 150 yards in rear of the road which ran from Wolf Farm to the cemetery.
Astride the Gravenstafel road and in Marsh Bottom the 2nd Brigade, after heroic efforts, were similarly baffled. 2nd Otago had speedily found that the enemy was holding his front system in considerable strength. Under a torrent of rifle and machine gun fire they pressed on to the entanglements. They found them here 25 yards, here 50 yards wide, and altogether unbreached. Only where the sunken Gravenstafel road ran up the hill was there a lane. It proved a veritable lane of death, for the men who, on seeing their comrades foiled by the wire barrier, made in desperation and knowledge of their peril for the open passage on the road, were one and all mown down by the cunningly-sited machine guns which commanded this trap from either side. Rifle grenades and Lewis guns were used with effect on the machine guns in the shellholes outside the blockhouses, and under this covering protection 2nd Otago fought desperately to break through page 286the wire and reach the pillboxes before the barrage, such as it was, lifted from them. Among these brave men Major W. W. PT. Turner showed surpassing bravery. He cut his way through the first belt of wire before being riddled with bullets. The two 2nd Canterbury companies attached to the battalion were soon involved, and both Capt. E. J. Fawcett and Capt. C. R. Rawlings, who commanded them, were severely wounded in endeavoring to work round the flanks.
1st Otago, who followed, were not destined to see the Blue Line. They pushed into the gap left by the heavy casualties, and with the survivors of the leading troops, officers and men tried to crawl under the wire. Several succeeded in cutting a passage through the first band of entanglements and a few also through the second belt, just beyond which were the pillboxes, surrounded for the most part by an interior ring of wire. 2nd Lt. J. J. Bishop and 2nd Lt. N. F. Watson actually reached the aperture of one pillbox and were in the act of throwing a bomb inside it when they were killed. In the left company of 1st Otago every officer was killed or wounded, and out of 140 only 28 men remained. With these Sergt E. C. H. Jacobs showed undaunted initiative by endeavouring to work round towards the north and assault the pillboxes from a flank where it was thought possible that the wire might permit of progress. He and his men reached Wolf Copse but there, like the Rifle Brigade, found further advance completely arrested. The reserve company of 1st Otago suffered as severely. All the officers but one were killed or wounded. In helping him Sergt. T. A. Bunbury showed qualities of leadership, that on a, happier field would have been likely to yield complete success.
On the right company front in the marshes down by the Ravebeek, where our lines joined those of the Australians, were 2 pillboxes that were equally active with those on the hill but less completely fortified by entanglements. As it was, the obstacles of wire mud and enemy fire were formidable enough to daunt the stoutest-hearted. Here, however, the gallantry and readiness for self-sacrifice which strewed the slopes above with the bodies of brave men mere to show what, even without artillery support, a New Zealand attack could accomplish under the most adverse conditions and against the greatest odds. 2nd. Lt. A. R. Cockerelled his platoon from one muddied crater to another against these blockhouses and the trench connecting them, half the party alternately page 287covering the advance of the other with rifle grenades. Under this fire some of the Germans in the trench sought the shelter of the concrete. The others surrendered. While the embrasures in the pillboxes commanded their approach, the attackers were bound to lose heavily, but at last,, holding the garrison in front with Lewis guns fire, Cocker ell himself and a handful worked round the rear arid secured the entrances. Threatened with annihilation by bombs the trapped occupants, some 80 in all, did not hesitate to surrender. They were sent to the rear. Cockerell himself after hand to hard fighting, in which he hail bayoneted several Germans, had by miraculous good fortune come through unscratched, but of his platoon only one man was low left. Him he dispatched to battalion headquarters at Waterloo for urgent reinforce-ments, but saw him killed on the way. Fortunately some Australians now appeared, and with them Cockerell garrisoned the pillboxes. Of the condition in the Ravebeek valley some idea is given by the fact that 5 of the Australians sent hick with messages to Otago headquarters were shot in the attempt. This feat of arms, which under any circumstances would have been brilliant, stood out of this calamitous day all the more conspicuously. Cockerell's initiative leadership and courage won him an "immediate" D.S.O.
While he was thus storming the pillboxes in the swamps, 1st Canterbury had crossed the Ravebeek and joined the other 2 battalions hillside Shortly after the attack opened, an unlucky shell had burst disastrously on their Headquarters then moving up the road. Lt.-Col. King and the Regimental Sergeant-Major were killed, and the Adjutant anti nearly all the rest of the Staff wounded. Later in the day a detachment of his old Pioneers came up for King's body. On his death Major D. Dobson, M.C., had assumed command, but was almost immediately afterwards wounded by a sniper, and command fell to a subaltern (Lt. A. C. C. Hunter), until Major Stitt came up from the rear. Undiscouraged by the failure of the other battalions, 1st Canterbury in turn faced the machine guns and made for the wire. The bravery arid determination of their efforts as of the leading troops, said the official report, were magnificent They were also in vain. The Bellevue snipers and machine guns picket off any man that exposed himself, showing marked quickness in distinguishing officers.
Every unit in the 2nd Brigade had now flung itself at the enemy position. In the end here, as on the Rifle Brigade page 288subsector, the company commanders ordered their men to dig in where they lay, close under the wire oil the ridge, and about Laamkeek in the Ravebeek flats. Runners were sent back with reports on the situation to Waterloo where all 4 battalions had their headquarters. Throughout the day communications mere to be at all times difficult owing to weather mud and hostile fire. It was found impossible to establish forward brigade stations, and the only medium of communication with the attacking companies was b runners, whose casualties exceeded on this day the even normally high rate inevitable through the nature of their duties. On this occasion the runners brought back the penciled and muddied message-forms safely. Lt.-Col. Smith went forward to try to reorganise the attack, but on reaching the hill-side was quickly satisfied that nothing which courage and self-sacrifice could accomplish had been left undone, and that further efforts at the moment were predestined to failure. Snipers made his return to Waterloo difficult mud dangerous, rind Lt.-Col, Charters, who with his intelligence officer attempted later to make an independent reconnaissance, was forced to abandon the attempt after his companion had been wounded.
Some of the barraging machine gun units, whose duty it was after the capture of the first objective to provide covering fire for the further advance from the Bellevue Spur, had by now come forward. Although puzzled by the volume of hostile fire, they had continued to push well up the slopes before they grasped that the Kew Zealander' habitual success, taken for granted an this occasion also, had not been realised.1 The remainder were reorganised in time on the forward slopes of the Gravenstafel ridge, whence they fired on to the Bellevue defense over the heads of our infantry.
1 In much the same way 2nd 1.t. A. Bonpard's signal party. who were laying lines to the proposed Rifle Brigade forward station, rwchrd the front liue and uere extricated only with rliffiarlltp and thanks to Rongard's coolness and skill.
Had the plane offered the slightest prospect of success, none would have welcomed it more cheerily or striven more whole-heartedly for its realisation than the experienced soldiers who now, with the more limited but more intimate knowledge of “the men on the spot,” discussed the position in the candle-lit dugout at Waterloo. They were unanimous, however, in urging its abandonment. Casualties were heavy, particularly in officers, and the troops were exhausted. The wire was still unbroken, and on the one hand our men were too near it to permit of bombardment, while on the other it was impossible to bring the intermingled units back for reorganisation in daylight under full view of the enemy snipers and machine gunners. Their first representations in this direction were disregarded. All possible measurer, of reorganisation were proceeded with. The 4 battalion commanders, fully satisfied of the hopelessness of the task, made ready to accompany their men and share their fate in the certain extinction of the brigade. Similar measures were taken by the Rifle Brigade.page 290
By the early afternoon, however, although in the north the Guards and English county Divisions reached their objectives, the general situation on the right wing of the battle was profoundly modified. The left of the 9th Divisions had made little progress, and the small parties of Scotsmen on the right flank who had penetrated to their final objective were captured or killed or. obliged to fall back. On the south the left brigade of the Australians, faced by much the same obstacles as the New Zealanders, had been similarly checked. The right brigade had swept on triumphantly to the second objective below Crest Farm, but becoming exposed by our failure at Bellevue Spur to extremely heavy enfilade 2nd reverse fire from that direction, and with their right flank also in the air, owing to a check to the I. Anzac brigade, were forced to withdraw. Under these altered circumstances,, the renewal of the attack by the New Zealand brigades was definitely abandoned; as was another project, for some time entertained, of utilising the Rifle Brigade alone in a turning movement from the north-west.
The decision to cancel the attack was arrived at too late to interfere with the artillery programme, and at 3 p.nl. the barrage recommenced. It was now considerably latter than it was the morning, but had little effect on the well-protected machine guns. It was all but well-protected machine guns. It was all but inevitable that some of the of the 18 pounders and howitzers should fire short, and shell landed with devastating effect on a rifle Brigade forward post of 18 men in the centre of the position. The survivors were withdrawn to the main line As it happened, however this barrage fell on 3 parties of Germans assembling for a counter-attack. Two suffered severely, and refused to face the open. The third, in the northern sector, was to some extent protected by the dead and broken ground used to corer their assembly and succeeded in rushing one of our forward ports east of the cemetery. Any. further advance that may have been interested was checked by Lewis gun and rifle fire.
Thus amid unceasing rain, continual machine gun fire and desultory shelling the curtain falls on the ill-fated attack on Bellevue. It was the Division's one failure on a large scale. And it is difficult to describe the troops' mortification and chagrin. It would be incorrect to say that their losses arid hardships did not for the moment affect their spirits, but officers and men dike of the battered brigades were generally anxious and expressed a wish to make another attempt, after renewed bombardment of the wire, to atone for their page 291non-success and to complete their work before the Division should be relieved. After experiences like those just undergone, none but troops of the finest calibre are capable of such determination. Their wish, however, was not to be realised. But if the sense of failure rankled, there was no secret shame arising from any suspicion that where they had failed other troops might have succeeded, or that they had fallen one iota short of their most exacting conception of duty. They had indeed done everything possible and impossible. They had poured out their blood like water. The bodies of 40 officers and 600 men lay in swathes about the wire and along the Gravenstafel road. The 2nd Brigade had lost 1500 men, the 3rd Brigade 1200. About 20 wounded who had fallen in shellholes beyond the first belt of wire were taken prisoners. The artillery alone had again suffered lightly. 100 Germans were captured, including a battalion commander.
1 p. 248.
In the evening the difficult task of reorganisation was carried out with a remarkable precision and orderliness which reflected the highest credit on subordinate officers and the many n.e.o.s who now commanded platoons and companies. As in view of a future attack it would be necessary to bombard the ridge anew, the bulk of our troops were withdrawn to the lower slopes of the hill a short distance in advance of the line from which they had started at dawn. A series of posts was retained further up the slopes. A firm hold was maintained especially on the cemetery, whence the line ran through Wolf Farm to Peter Pan. Each brigade distributed 2 battalions in the front area as far back as the Stroombeek, the line running, from right to left, 1st Otago, 2nd Otago, 1st Rifles, 2nd Rifles. The 2nd Brigade posted the 2 Canterbury battalions on either side of the Wieltje road on the forward slopes of Gravenstafel Spur. The Rifle Brigade held the northern declivities beyond Korek with 1 battalion and placed the other in reserve nearer the Hanebeek. The 4th Brigade battalions withdrew again from the western slopes of the Gravenstafel ridge to the rear. Shortly after 10 p.m. the redistribution of troops in the battle area was complete. The line was now held continuously except for the gap between the 2 brigades. It war filled on the following day by 2 companies of 2nd Canterbury.
1 The following extracts from the private diary of a senior and experienced officer are of interest:—
- October 11th—We all hope for the best tomorrow, but I do not feel as confident as usual. Things are being rushed too much. The weather is rotten, the roads very bad, and the objectives have not been properly bombarded. However, we will hope for the best.
- October 12th—Today has been a very bad day for us. We were hung up a very short way from the starting point. The situation is not yet very clear, but it is almost certain our men came up against a lot of pillboxes, concrete and ferroconcrete constructions, very strong and with machine guns. No guns can smash them up except with much concentrated fire. They are very small and strong and hard to hit. They are arranged chequerwise and form a very stiff obstacle. My opinion is that the senior general who direct these operations are not conversant with the conditions, mud, cold, rain and no shelter for the men. Finally, the Germans are not so played out as they make out. All our attacks recently luck preparations, and the whole history of the war is that when through preparation is not made, we fall.… You cannot afford to take liberties with the Germans. Exhausted men struggling through mud cannot compete against dry men with machine guns in ferroconcrete boxes waiting for them.
The night was dark and squally, without a break in the continuous rain. The appalling conditions restricted infantry hostility on both sides. Our untiring artillery began to shell Bellevue Spur, but otherwise the night was quiet and no S.O.S. was asked for Rations and water were taken forward without much molestation from machine gun fire. The enemy was also engrossed in reorganising his defences and removing his wounded.
This last problem involved on our side extraordinary difficulties. Even before the attack, dressing stations and regimental aid posts as well as the battlefield itself were crowded with the wounded of the 49th Division. Our own casualties very speedily added to this congestion. No duckboard track existed forward of Gravenstafel Spur, and in the broken state of the country, made still more difficult by the wretched weather, 6 and sometimes 8 men mere required for a single stretcher-case. During 12th October, 400 men of the 4th Brigade had been detailed to clear the aid posts but were able to evacuate only a portion, whose places were at once refilled. Every possible shelter was given to the wounded. When the regimental aid post at Kronprinz Farm was already over-crowded, further stretcher-cases were brought into the 2 dugouts, each 12 feet by 10 feet, which formed 2 battalion headquarters. By the evening these 2 rooms held no less than 56 men, consisting of the staffs of the 2 battalion headquarters, doctors and medical orderlies, and wounded. Outside dozens of stretcher-case lay in the cold driving rain and hail. Without sleep and snatching food at odd moment the regimental medical officers toiled unremittingly and uncomplainingly. Even more lamentable were the conditions at Waterloo. Both places were spasmodically shelled, and it was worse than useless to bring further hundreds of wounded men off the battlefield to already congested localities from which for the moment it was impossible to evacuate them. In the Medical Corps casualties were abnormally heavy, 13 trained men being killed and over 70 being wounded in the 4 Ambulances.
On the 13th the brigades employed every available man of their support battalions who, through themselves worn with strain and want of sleep, repeatedly while light lasted traversed the unimaginable 3-mile journey back to the dressing-station at Spree Farm. They made also urgent representations for additional assistance in carrying down the wounded. As a result, 1200 men of the 4th Brigade and parties of Army page 294Service Corps and artillery personnel were despatched to the forward area, but even then the Division alone was not equal to clearing the field. Assistance was invoked from Corps who ordered the 49th Division to place their reserve brigade at the New Zealanders' disposal. A battalion of this brigade came into the forward battle area.
On the stricken hill-slopes themselves there was throughout the day an informal truce. Our stretcher-bearers worked without interruption right up to the wire which had been lapped by the furthest wave of our attack. The enemy also continued to remove his own wounded. Snipers on both sides dealt instantly with any one not carrying a stretcher, but the bearers did their work without molestation, and the German marksmen and gunners who looked down on the rows of our 200 stretcher cases at Waterloo fired no shot there. By the afternoon of the 14th all surviving wounded had been evacuated.
On the same day II. Anzac received notice that it would be presently relieved by the Canadian Corps. It was decided that pending relief the 3rd Australian and New Zealand Divisions should stay in the line.1 Immediate steps were taken to relieve the 2nd and 3rd Brigades by the 4th Brigade. 3rd Auckland and 3rd Otago moved up during the afternoon by small parties to behind Gravenstafel Spur, and by 10.30 p.m. were holding the front line with the other battalions of the brigade in support positions north and cast of the Hanebeek. The 2nd Brigade went into support west of the Hanebeek, the 3rd Brigade into reserve in and about the old British and German front lines. Half their machine gun companies remained to strengthen the forward defences.
1 A brigade of the 49th Division moved on the 15th into tactical support to the numerically weaker 3rd Australians.
On the 16th the Rifle Brigade entrained for Lumbres and the 2nd Brigade moved back to the reserve area. The latter was relieved in the support zone by the 1st Brigade, now released from Corps employment. In response to our artillery activity that of the enemy was every day increasingly aggressive. His guns had naturally not been disorganised by our abortive action on the 12th to the same extent as in previous attacks. Hence the artillery duel was more quickly resumed. He strove untiringly to destroy our batteries and prevent our guns being moved forward. Our heavies about Spree Farm were subjected to violent shelling, and three 9.2-in. howitzers were destroyed. The infantry positions on Gravenstafel Ridge and further east suffered considerably, but there was now little machine gun or rifle fire. Behind the Ridge, our battery positions, tracks and cross-roads were periodically shelled with high-explosive and mustard gas. The German air service was extremely active. Many large flights crossed mid recrossed our lines. Bombing aeroplanes repeatedly visited Abraham Heights and Waterloo, and low-flying planes harassed the troops in the shellholes and on the roads, and reconnected our positions at dusk and dawn and throughout the day. Our own artillery remained active, but patrols found the wire on Bellevue still practically intact.
The sector passed on the 18th from II. Anzac to the Canadian Corps, who assumed for the time command of such portions of the II. Anzac Divisions as remained in the area. page 296II. Anzac Headquarters moved back to Hazebrouck. On the following evening the 1st Infantry Brigade took over the forward area from the 4th Brigade, which went into support. The Canadian advanced guards were now all about Ypres, and the withdrawal of the Division followed apace. The 2nd Brigade went to Lumbres on 21st October. The 4th Brigade, which in the second phase of the Division's operation's, from the 11th to the 22nd, had sustained 400 casualties, followed it on the 22nd.A proportion of the transport accompanied units by rail. The remainder was formed into transport groups and went by road. The command of the Divisional sector passed to the 3rd Canadian Division on the 23rd, and that night the 1st Brigade was relieved in the line and moved back into support. On the 24th it passed into reserve, and on the 25th entrained at Ypres and Dickebusch for Lumbres. With the exception of the artillery and 1 company of Field Engineers employed by Corps, the whole of the Division was now already concentrated in or on the way to the training area. It is noteworthy that, despite all obstacles, on no occasion had any task set the Engineers been left uncompleted.
Despite every effort, despite colossal expenditure of lives and munitions, neither the coast line with its promise of strategic possibilities nor even the whole ridge had been secured. The number of British casualties had been unprecedented. The enemy had justifications for his paeans of satisfaction. On the other hand, the strong fibre of the British stock withstood the strain, and morale and determination remained generally unimpoverished. Assurance was theirs that failure was due not to inferior generalship or equipment or fighting qualities, but to the mud and weather and unpropitious elements. Moreover, though on the surface Germany appeared unshaken, though no tangible gains, commensurate with our losses, rewarded the British effort, yet a profounder scrutiny of the enemy's position and a larger outlook made for confidence. In addition to the efforts of our Allies elsewhere and to the disintegrating effects on the civil population of the blockade and our propaganda, the enemy's field forces were being ceaselessly exposed by the British armies to a grinding process of attrition. Germany fought magnificently, but her man-power and her spiritual and material resources were being sapped and drained with a cumulative effect, which was not to be fully alleviated by the release of her troops from Russia. Ypres of 1917, and the Somme of 1916, were not isolated self-contained episodes with little or no hearing on the subsequent evolution of the drama. Directly and powerfully their influence was to be felt in the dénouement of 1918.
1 For the co-operation of the New Zealand artillery with the Canadians see foot-note, p. 298.