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The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Chapter XV. The Battle of the Scarpe

Chapter XV. The Battle of the Scarpe.

Third stage of the offensive—First Army extends the front of attack northwards — First Army's preparations — First Army strikes at the outworks of the Hindenburg tine, September 2nd —Third and Fourth Armies prolong the attack southwards—2nd Brigade pushes forward to a depth of a mile—Enemy begins to fall back to the Canal du Nord—New Zealand Division follows—2nd Brigade maintains contact—New Zealand Rifle Brigade in Divisional Reserve—2nd Brigade captures Metz and clears Havrincourt Wood by dawn on September 7th, and is relieved by the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.

The time had now arrived for the opening of the third stage of the offensive, when the front of attack should be extended northwards by the First Army, which, in accordance with the general plan of operations* was to follow up the successes of the Third and Fourth Armies By suddenly striking at the western extremity of the Hindenburg Line.

During the last week of August, the First Army, by driving in the enemy salient formed east of Arras by the advance of the Third and Fourth Armies, had been preparing for this, blow. The troops of the First Army were now within assaulting distance of the strong trench-system known as the Drocourt-Queant Line, which ran from the Hindenburg Line at Queant to the Lens defences about Droeourt.

On September 2nd the Canadian Corps, together with the XVIIth Corps of the Third Army, successfully attacked this system, stormed the maze of trenches at the junction with the Hindenburg Line, and thereby caused the enemy to commence a precipitate retreat along the whole front to the south of it. The Third and Fourth Armies prolonged the line of attack as far south as Peronne.

The pressure on the enemy opposite our Divisional front this day was maintained by the 2nd Brigade, which pushed forward the line to a depth of a mile.

* See p. 344.

page 375

During the night of 2nd/3rd September, the enemy fell back rapidly on the whole of the Third Army front, as well as on the section facing the right of the First Army; and by the evening of the 3rd he had taken up positions along the general line of the Canal du Nord, which passes through or near Peronne, Ytres, Hermies, Inchy-en-Artois, Ecourt St. Quentin, and to on to the Sensee River east of Leeluse. This movement was followed by a withdrawal, on the 4th, from the east bank of the Somme south of Peronne. By September 8th the enemy was holding the general line Vermand, Epehy, Havrincourt, east bank of Canal du Nord. South of the Somme, the French pushed him back beyond Ham and Chauny to the line of the Crozat Canal.

Everywhere, as the enemy withdrew, our troops pressed forward to keep in touch with him. On September 3rd the 2nd Brigade had to move forward nearly four miles to maintain contact, and there was a corresponding advance of the whole Division, General Russell now establishing his headquarters at Fremicourt. The countryside was alive with infantry, artillery of all calibres, transport, tanks, whippets, all moving eastward—a truly stirring sight. Even the observation balloons, still floating high, made a corresponding advance.

On September 4th the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, as Divisional reserve, moved to the area between Favreuil and Fremicourt, reconnoitring parties going east as far as Bertincourt to keep battalions informed as to the ever-changing situation. Transport lines and quartermasters' stores were brought up to the north side of Bapaume.

We relieved the 1st Brigade in support on September 6th, Brigade Headquarters being established at Villers-au-Flos, in what had been a Corps Headquarters before the March retreat. The 1st Battalion was quartered in Haplincourt Wood, the 2nd Battalion east of Barastre, the 4th in a trench-line farther east, and the 3rd, temporarily attached to the 2nd Brigade, which was still in the line, in the trenches south-west of Bertineourt. Lieut-Col. Jardine returned from leave and resumed command of the 2nd Battalion.

The 2nd Brigade, having taken Neuville on the 5th September, completed its fine work by capturing Metz-en-Couture and clearing Havrincourt Wood by dawn on the 7th. That page 376afternoon we relieved the 2nd Brigade, but, owing to the changing situation, took up a line well to the eastward, with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions in the front line, in that order from the right, and the 1st in reserve. We held the whole Divisional front of 3,000 yards.

Lieut.-Col. P. H. Bell, D.S.O., commanding the 3rd Battalion, was wounded while reconnoitring the front,* and on his being evacuated, Major Murphy was transferred from the 2nd Battalion to command the 3rd.

* This was Lieut.-Col. Bell's last reconnaissance. He was still in hospital when the Armistice was declared, and did not rejoin the Brigade.