The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records
Foreword by Lt.-General Sir G. M. Harper, — K.C.B., D.S.O., Commanding IV. Corps
Foreword by Lt.-General Sir G. M. Harper,
K.C.B., D.S.O., Commanding IV. Corps
After the evacuation of Gallipoli the New Zealand Division was ordered to France and arrived in April, 1916.
At the time both sides were involved in trench warfare. The British, in conjunction with the French, attacked during the autumn on the Somme. The enemy was not sufficiently reduced in numbers, armament or moral, for a decision to be obtained. It was not then considered justifiable to attack at various periods on several portions of the front. Communication had not been sufficiently perfected, nor was the artillery considered adequate. In an offensive on a comparatively narrow front the enemy was naturally able to concentrate his artillery and reserves against the particular portion attacked, with comparative safety to the remainder of his front.
In 1917 the British plan was more ambitious. The Arras offensive in April was succeeded by the attack on Messines Ridge, afterwards by the Ypres offensive in July, and later, in November, by the Cambrai attack supported by tanks. In each case, however, the attack definitely ceased before being undertaken elsewhere. As in the preceding year, the enemy, after suffering initial losses, was able to concentrate in such force as to make further attacks very costly.
In these offensives the success of a Division depended mainly upon artillery support. If the plan had been well devised, if the artillery support was adequate, and further, if the infantry had been well trained and practised in the tasks they had to carry out, they generally took their objective with comparatively slight loss. It was, however, in the consolidation after the attack that losses were chiefly incurred. Divisions therefore suffered heavy losses from machine guns if unsuccessful in the first instance, and if successful, from artillery fire in the later stages. In either case, after a few days' fighting they had to be withdrawn to recuperate and refit. It was thus impracticable for a Division to make a prolonged sustained effort against the enemy.
During this period the New Zealand Division made several gallant attacks, but for the reasons given above, they page xivwere not able to make their individuality properly felt, nor impress their full fighting powers upon the enemy. Their opportunity came, however, when, in 1918, the Division joined the IV. Corps at the critical time in March, when it completely checked the enemy's advance at Beaumont-Hamel and Colincamps, and closed the gap between the IV. and V. Corps. By a brilliant stroke it drove the enemy from the commanding ground at La Signy Farm, south of Hébuterne. This enabled observation to be obtained over the enemy's lines. A period of trench warfare then ensued. During this time the New Zealanders established a complete ascendency over the enemy. By carefully considered and well executed raids they gave him no respite, and identifications of the hostile units were obtained whenever required. It was this ascendency which compelled the enemy to evacuate the ground about Rossignol Wood.
In the great attack which commenced in August 1918 the New Zealand Division played a most brilliant part in the operations on the IV. Corps front. Its efforts were crowned with almost continual success. Of these the most notable were the capture of Bapaume, after having driven the enemy from Grévillers and Biefvillers; the brilliant night advance from Welsh Ridge, which, on the 1st October, led to the capture of Crèvecoeur; and subsequently the great attack on the 8th October, when the Division broke through the northern portion of the strongly organised Masnieres Line and penctrated far into the enemy's line at Esnes and Haucourt. These successes were finally crowned by the skilful attack which led to the surrender of the fortress of Le Quesnoy and the driving of the enemy through the Forest of Mormal.
During the period the New Zealanders were in the IV. Corps they captured from the enemy 287 officers, 8745 other ranks, 145 guns, 1419 machine guns, and 2 tanks, besides much other material. These continued successes constituted a record which it is safe to say was unsurpassed in the final series of attacks which led to the armistice.
What were the causes which conduced to these successes? Firstly, the New Zealander was endowed to a marked degree with bravery, individuality and initiative. Every man fought intelligently. If a portion of the attacking line was checked, the remainder worked their way forward, dealt with the enemy opposing the advance, or relieved the situation so that an advance was possible on the whole front. Secondly, page xvthe Division was kept up to strength throughout the operations. It was thus possible to retain brigades of four battalions, whereas in the British Divisions a, reduction to three had become necessary.
The Division was kept up in physique as well as numbers; but numbers, endowed with intelligence and bravery, are not in themselves sufficient to ensure victory.
The Division was particularly fortunate in its commander. Major-General Sir A. H. Russell was a soldier by training and by nature. Imbued with sound tactical ideas, he was able to launch the Division in attack with a sound plan and a reasonable chance of success. He thought out problems beforehand, in fact, he was always thinking ahead. He inspired those whom he served and those who served him with the utmost confidence. His staff was thoroughly efficient, as was not surprising with a commander of this calibre. The Division was also fortunate in its brigadiers and subordinate commanders, who were selected in accordance with their fighting capacity. The consequence was that throughout the Division there was mutual confidence and whole-hearted co-operation. It was this that contributed to success as much as, and even more than, the qualities of the individual fighting soldier.
New Zealand may well be proud of the Division that contributed so largely to the ultimate defeat of the enemy. Its achievements were splendid, and as such, they should be recorded in history.
Commanding IV. Corps.