The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Part 3.—Miraumont, August 23rd
Part 3.—Miraumont, August 23rd.
Main operation commences August 23rd—1st Battalion's preliminary advance with the 42nd Division to secure the Dovecote, 2.30 a.m.—Enemy counter-attack—1st Battalion's main advance, 11 a.m.—General results.
The main operation opened on August 23rd, and consisted of a series of strong assaults along the greater part of the front of 33 miles from the junction with the French at Lihons, near Chaulnes, to Mereatel, near Arras.
In our vicinity, the 5th and other Divisions on our left were to advance at 11 a.m. on August 23rd, with the object of capturing Irles, Achiet-le-Petit, and Achiet-le-Grand, and we were to co-operate by advancing 800 yards to take a sector of about 1,500 yards of railway immediately north-east of Miraumont. But the jumping-off line was unsatisfactory while the enemy still held the Dovecote position, and to remedy this defect a preliminary attack was planned for the early hours of the morning. For this action the 1st Battalion came into line during the previous evening, relieving the 3rd; and the southern boundary of the Division was moved 800 yards nearer the Dovecote, with its direction modified so that it ran south-east.
The final line ran north-east and south-west some 400 yards from the main railway-line, its left near the eastern point of the triangle patrolled but not wholly held by the 3rd Battalion during the fighting of the previous two days. On the right, which was slightly bent back, connection was made with the flanking troops of the 125th Brigade, who had now succeeded in finally pushing the enemy back from the much-contested position at the Dovecote.
As these same platoons of the 1st Battalion were to attack again at 11 a.m., in connection with the main advance, there was little time or opportunity for consolidation beyond some strengthening of the shell-hole positions gained. Careful reconnaissance was all-important, and some excellent work in this connection was carried out by Lieuts. Kirk and Ellingham down the exposed slopes across which the troops they commanded were to pass. For the special confirmatory information of headquarters, too, Sergeant C. R. Wilson, of the battalion scouts, under continuous fire from machine-guns and snipers, made a complete reconnaissance of the new line, and supplied an accurate report as to the exact locality of each advanced post. Our line was very much exposed, and all through the forenoon machine-gun fire was heavy, especially from the high ground to our left beyond the valley. There appeared to be no serious attempt to launch a general counterattack, but, from 9 a.m. onwards, parties of the enemy repeatedly advanced against the right company. One of these, coming forward with considerable boldness under cover of the long grass, was held in check by one man, Lance-Corporal G. Hunter, who was in a shell-hole in advance of the line. Four of the enemy fell to his rifle, and the Germans took cover and brought machine-gun fire to bear upon him; but, though page 354wounded three times, he still held his ground and maintained his fire, and here, as elsewhere, the enemy failed to make any impression on our line.
When the detailed orders for the main attack were received by the battalion just before 8 a.m., Major Shepherd found to his dismay that the opening barrage would fall upon two platoons that had in the previous attack, advanced far beyond the objective, and being now in a valley dominated by a ridge occupied by the enemy, were quite unable to move in daylight. Fortunately, though at the last moment, efforts of Brigade Headquarters to have the barrage line advanced proved successful.
The task allotted to the six attacking platoons was somewhat peculiar. The 5th Division, after sweeping through Achiet-le-Petit and across the slopes to the south of it, was to increase the frontage of its attack so as to extend south-wards across our front and take in Irles. We, on our part, were to render that extension safe by clearing the valley immediately to our front, keeping touch throughout with the 5th Divison, and then forming a defensive flank facing south-west This involved a swinging movement through slightly more than a right-angle.
The action opened with a good barrage, which moved down the railway-line from left to right in lifts of 100 yards every four minutes. The artillery supplying immediate covering-fire for the 1st Battalion was that New Zealand formation known as the 2nd (Army) Brigade; and the Otago Machine Gun Company gave additional support by barraging the farther slope of the valley through which the railway ran, "C" Company advanced on a two-platoon frontage, while the two platoons of "B" Company on the left, moving round in echelon, maintained touch with "C," and at the same time conformed to the movements of the right flank of the 5th Division. Machine-gun fire throughout was intense, and considerable opposition was met with, especially by the sections on the left, but the operation was successfully completed within the time laid down. Excellent leadership and dashing gallantry were displayed by Sergeants W. B. Timmins, R. J. Sinclair and P. G. Craig as temporary platoon commanders on the loss of their officers. A heavy trench-mortar, seven machine-guns, and 76 page 355prisoners were captured, the greater part of the spoils falling to the "B" Company men as they cleared up the area about the railway line.
On this day brilliant results were everywhere obtained. Irles, Achiet-le-Petit, Achiet-le-Grand, Bihueourt, Gomiecourt, Ervillers. Boyelles and Boiry Becquerelle were taken, and the British forces were in position astride the Arras-Bapaume Read. There was still a pronounced salient on the Thiepval Ridge, but the position of the German Divisions there was becoming extremely perilous. The attack made earlier in the day both north and south of the Somme had met with equal success, and evidences were abundant that along the whole of the front the enemy was becoming disorganized and confused.