Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918
Turn of the Tide.
While the Regiment was thus temporarily retired from the scene of active operations, in which it had played such a leading part, preparations were being speedily advanced for the launching of a great offensive movement. The Third Army had been ordered to press back the enemy towards Bapaume without delay, and to make every endeavour to prevent his destroying the system of road and railway communications in rear. In compliance with this order, the 37th Division was to attack and capture the high ground east of Bucquoy and Ablainzeville, further north; and following upon this operation, the 5th Division and the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division were to be ready to push forward to the line Irles-Bihucourt. The New Zealand and 42nd Divisions were to co-operate in the first phase with artillery and machine gun fire, at the same time advancing their fronts to a general line extending along the eastern edge of Puisieux-au-Mont and the high ground to the immediate south; and in the second phase by advancing to conform with the 5th Division to the general line extending along the western side of Miraumont. The attack was to contain all the elements of surprise; every effort being made in assembling troops to maintain secrecy.
A readjustment of the New Zealand Divisional sector completed on the night of August 19th-20th, resulted in the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade holding the Divisional front, with the 1st Infantry Brigade in support; the 2nd Infantry Brigade being concentrated in reserve positions. In accordance with this readjustment, the 2nd Battalion of Otago had on the evening of the 18th moved into the Chateau de la Haie switch, northeast of Sailly-au-Bois, and on the 19th the 1st Battalion moved from Rossignol Farm to a bivouac camp on the northern outskirts of St. Leger. On the 20th the Regiment was fitted and equipped as for battle, and at an early hour on the follow-page 330ing morning, in compliance with concentration orders affecting the 2nd Infantry Brigade, the 1st Battalion moved forward to Bayencourt and bivouacked in the orchards in the outskirts; while the 2nd Battalion had moved across overnight to the eastern edge of Sailly-au-Bois.
Lieut.-Colonel W. S. Pennycook arrived from the United Kingdom on, August 20th, and took over command of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment; Lieut.-Colonel J. B. McClymont proceeding to England on duty.
Fall of Bapaume.
The Third Army, Commanded by General Sir Julian Byng, launched its attack on the morning of August 21st. The morning broke wet and misty, and it was well on to midday before the sun penetrated the heavy fog, which, though favouring the opening stages of the attack, was calculated to cause loss of direction to troops moving over new ground. The 3rd (Rifle) Brigade, representing the New Zealand Division, gained its furthest objectives, nightfall finding it on a line well over 1,000 yards to the east of Puisieux-au-Mont, with patrols pushed forward to a point approximately midway between Achiet-le-Petit and Miraumont. The general line reached by the Third Army approximated to that of the Arras-Albert Railway, and over 2,000 prisoners were sent to the rear.
The way was now clear for the launching on August 23rd of what was regarded as the main attack by the Third Army and the Divisions of the Fourth Army north of the Somme; with the remaining Divisions of the Fourth Army south of the Somme co-operating by pushing forward and covering the flank. The front to be affected extended over a distance of 33 miles from the junction with the French, north of Lihons, to Mercatel. With the launching of this great sweep immediate and important successes were achieved; and on the succeeding days the pressure was maintained and the battle continued. On the New Zealand Divisional front stubborn opposition was met with at the outset in the locality of Beauregard Dovecote, near Miraumont, and the high ground north-east of it; but by the 23rd the line occupied was in advance of the Albert-Arras Railway.page 331
The Regiment had continued in bivouac over the 22nd, passing the time for the most part in pleasant idleness, but ready to move at one hour's notice. Batohes of prisoners were periodically coming down from the line; but otherwise there was little or no indication of the development of events along the front. On the 22nd a reconnaissance was made by the Commanding Officer and the Company Commanders of the 1st Battalion of the forward area and its approaches. On the 23rd, following upon an order for the concentration of the 2nd Brigade in the area immediately south of Bucquoy and west of the railway line, the Regiment moved towards the line of battle. The 1st Battalion passed over familiar ground, through Hebuterne and Puisieux-au-Mont, and after encountering a certain amount of gas shelling in the latter stages of the march, reached some old trenches, until recently occupied by the enemy, near Bucquoy, where it settled down for the night under temporary shelters. Rain commenced to fall shortly afterwards. The 2nd Battalion of the Regiment had followed a parallel course further north, skirting the northern side of Rossignol Wood and the southern side of Biez Wood, and also experienced slight trouble from the effects of enemy gas shelling.
With the resumption of the general attack on the 24th orders were issued for the New Zealand Division to assault and capture Loupart Wood and Grevillers to the east of it; the 37th Division of the same Corps (the IV.) operating on the left, with Biefvillers as its objective. The 1st Infantry Brigade was entrusted with the first stage of the New Zealand Division's task; the 2nd Infantry Brigade was to move in support, and finally push through the 1st Brigade to the capture of the final objective, which was represented by Bapaume and the high ground to the east of it.
The attack was launched at 4.30 a.m. The 1st Brigade made rapid progress on the left until Grevillers was reached, when heavy machine gun fire was encountered and the advance temporarily checked. By 7 a.m. the village was reported to be in our hands. On the right, strongly placed enemy machine guns in the southern edge of Loupart Wood required the co-operation of two extra tanks before the Wood could be reported clear. On the left the 37th Division had met page 332 stiff opposition in its advance on Biefvillers, and was temporarily held up in rear of the village.
The 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade (commanded by Brigadier-General R. Young, C.M.G., D.S.O.) had now moved forward to its point of concentration near Achiet-le-Petit. At 8.30 a.m. the 2nd Battalion of Otago on the right and the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury on the left advanced on a line between Grevillers and Biefvillers to the continuation of the attack and the capture of the final objective. Otago moved forward in artillery formation until the western outskirts of Grevillers were reached. At that point the Battalion extended, its right flank resting on the northern edge of the village. The line of Grevillers was gained after certain opposition had been dealt with; but the foremost troops had barely cleared the village when machine gun fire assailed them from the front and from either flank. The destructiveness of this fire caused the formation of the leading waves to become somewhat disorganised. The 10th Company, held in reserve, was pushed forward to fill the gaps. The trenches which fronted the eastern side of the village and gave observation towards Bapaume on the ridge beyond were gained and occupied; but the growing intensity of the machine gun fire and the heavy nature of the shelling threatened the progress of the main advance. In the meanwhile the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury, on the left, had been temporarily held up, as Biefvillers was not clear of the enemy as reported. The most advanced elements of Otago had succeeded in penetrating along the road and railway line as far as the outskirts of Avesnes-le-Bapaume, some of them actually reaching as far as the Bapaume-Albert Road, to the right of Bapaume. Lieut.-Colonel Pennycook (commanding the 2nd Battalion) and Lieut. H. S. Sanson (Assistant-Adjutant) had now gone forward to personally reconnoitre this advanced situation. But the enemy, apparently more reassured since our main advance had been checked, or appeared to be, now delivered a counter-attack against the left flank of our foremost position. This was preceded by a process of infiltration, by which the enemy succeeded in massing strongly against our left. Then by intense rifle and machine gun fire, delivered at close range, they overwhelmed and practically wiped out the whole of our advanced elements; though actually they made no page 333 attempt to follow up their success. It was under this severe fire that Lieut.-Colonel Pennycook and Lieut. Sanson were shot down, their bodies being recovered on the following day when the advance was taken up by the 1st Battalions of Otago and Canterbury, Lieut.-Colonel Pennycook's command of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment was thus tragically cut short within a few days of his arrival from the United Kingdom. It might be suggested that he had gone much further forward than in his capacity of Battalion Commander there was actual necessity for him to have done; but certainly under the heavy fire which he encountered when the enemy attacked he displayed fine coolness and self-possession until his end came.
The obviously increasing strength of the enemy west of Bapaume and in the locality of the railway line and Avesnes, made impracticable any further advance for the time being, and the Battalion was forced to hold on and dig in where it was, which was in front of Grevillers. Over the left of the 2nd Brigade front the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury reached Biefvillers, a few of the enemy remaining there up to the last moment and then making their escape in the direction of Sapignies, to the north-east. As with Grevillers, Biefvillers came under the heavy fire of enemy artillery almost as the enemy were driven out. The most advanced troops of Canterbury, as was the case with Otago, had been forced to withdraw from the approaches to Avesnes; the general line occupied by the troops of the 2nd Brigade concerned in the attack finally extending across the eastern side of the villages of Grevillers and Biefvillers. The right flank of the attack was secured by troops of the 1st Infantry Brigade; but touch had not been gained with the Division on the left. The continued heavy shelling of the area occupied and of the two villages increased the number of casualties already incurred; the total losses sustained by the 2nd Battalion of Otago being six officers and 105 other ranks.
It was now decided that the attack should be renewed on the following morning, August 25th, by the other units of the 2nd Brigade, namely, the 1st Battalion of Otago and the 1st Battalion of Canterbury. On the morning of the 24th Otago had moved by stages to a position across the railway line and south of Achiet-le-Grand, digging in on the reverse slope of the ridge, where it remained throughout the day.page 334
At this stage all roads forward were choked with the movement of troops, of artillery, tanks, armoured cars, ammunition and supply limbers, and the varied machinery and accessories of war, presenting at once an extraordinary panorama of all the elements and phases incident to the launching of a great offensive, and at the same time reflecting the stupendous nature of the organisation entailed. Already long rows of 18-pounders, almost wheel to wheel, with 4.5in. howitzers and the heavier artillery in rear, conscious of their might and with a splendid contempt for the necessity of concealment, periodically burst into violent fire, as if to emphasise to the enemy how close at hand were defeat and disaster. Towards evening a great number of German aeroplanes flew low over this vast concentration of men and artillery, emptied their machine guns into passing targets and showered bombs over the forward area.
Orders for the following day's operations were changed frequently during the night. It was finally decided that with the 1st Battalions of Otago and Canterbury operating side by side, the 63rd Division co-operating on the left, the objective assigned to Otago would be firstly the line of the Bapaume-Arras Road; secondly a line extending from the village of Favrieul to the Bapaume Cemetery, including Monument Wood. Otago was thus disposed on the left of the 2nd Brigade front. At 2 a.m. on the 25th the Battalion, under the command of Major J. Hargest, commenced to move forward to its point of assembly in the trenches surrounding Biefvillers, During the concluding stages of this operation the enemy subjected the village and its approaches to a considerable amount of gas and high explosive shelling; notwithstanding which assembly was completed in good time. The dispositions for the attack involved 4th Company, commanded by Captain E. V. Freed, M.C., on the right, and 8th Company, commanded by Major L. M. Scott, M.C., on the left, as the two leading Companies; with 14th Company in close support; and 10th Company in reserve.
The assault was delivered at 5 a.m., being supported by an effective artillery barrage. The enemy was almost immediately encountered in considerable strength; but the extreme density of the morning fog permitted many of the page 335 attacking troops to reach unobserved within point-blank range of the German machine guns, which constituted the first line of real resistance. The crews, huddled round their guns and uncertain of the development of the action, realised too late that the attacking troops were upon them. An extraordinarily large number of machine guns, sited so as to threaten any advance east of Biefvillers, were with their crews thus completely knocked out before half the distance between that village and the Bapaume-Arras Road had been covered. Without check, the leading Companies topped the crest of the rising ground, gained the Bapaume-Arras Road and then proceeded to advance beyond it. But from that point an intense volume of machine gun fire burst upon them; and as the fog had now lifted and casualties were severe, further progress became impossible. Four heavy tanks, which were late in arriving, now lumbered through our advanced line with the intention of clearing the machine gun nests in the locality of Monument Wood and the Bapaume Cemetery, but had only progressed a short distance when they were knocked out in quick succession. The final line established by 4th and 8th Companies was astride the Bapaume-Arras highway, commencing from a point on the northern edge of the town. An armoured car which had previously exchanged several bursts of fire with our own troops owing to a misunderstanding, now attempted to penetrate along the road leading into Bapaume, but failed to achieve any definite object beyond revealing some of the enemy machine gun strength which held the town.
The Battalion's casualties during thisoperation were heavy, particularly those of the right Company, the 4th, which lost over 50 per cent of its initial strength, including its commander, Captain E. V. Freed, M.C., who was shot down when in the van of the attack. Captain Freed was a fine type of soldier, very determined, and indifferent to all danger where his purpose was to be achieved. Although mortally wounded and nearing the end he had insisted on being carried to Battalion Headquarters when on the way out to the Dressing Station in order to report the situation. There was a high percentage of casualties among the senior n.c.o.'s of the Battalion, and in this list was Sergt.-major W. Schaumann, of 4th Company, who was killed at the extreme point of the morning's advance.page 336
Over the right of the 2nd Brigade front, Canterbury was at the close of the attack established against the western outskirts of Bapaume; and still further to the south troops of the 1st Brigade had materially advanced the general line. The original intention of waging a direct assault against the enemy stronghold of Bapaume was now shaping in the direction of envelopment from either side.
During the afternoon the Companies of the 1st Battalion of Otago were reorganised and dispositions readjusted in view of a further operation planned for the evening. The intention now was to advance the line across the Bapaume-Favrieul Road, and at the same time effect the capture of Favrieul village. The two Companies committed to the attack were the 14th (commanded by Captain T. Sim, M.C.), and the 10th (commanded by Captain S. C. Greer) from right to left. The operation, preceded by a furious barrage in which the heavy artillery played an important part, was attended by complete and immediate success. On the right 14th Company, after meeting with resistance at one or two points, hunted the enemy from the cover of an extensive dump which lay across the track of the advance, and quickly reached its objective. On the left 10th Company was entrusted with the difficult task of clearing the southern part of Favrieul and the wood on the western side of it. This it effected with great dash. Early in the operation casualties occurred among the officers; and when Captain Greer was forced to retire wounded, 2nd-Lieut. J. A. Miller took over the command and with his Company gained the objective set it. Unlike the morning's attack, the casualties were comparatively light. Troops of the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury now pushed through Otago and established a line of outposts on the high ground adjoining the Bapaume-Beugnatre road. The situation on the left of the 2nd Brigade front was somewhat compromised during the evening by a withdrawal of elements of the 37th Division, which was concerned with the capture of the northern part of Favrieul; and it was found necessary to send forward one platoon from 8th Company to make the position secure. During the night there were indications that the enemy was endeavouring to filter back to the Bapaume Cemetery; but with the assistance of troops of Canterbury Battalion the right flank was strengthened and these attempts frustrated.page break page 337
The captures effected over the day of the 25th by the 1st Battalion of Otago totalled 270 prisoners (including a Regimental Commander and his staff, and a medical officer, who assisted for several hours in dressing our wounded), large quantities of small arms and artillery ammunition, an extensive engineering dump, one 77 mm. field gun, five anti-tank rifles, four light trench mortars, and over 40 machine guns. The number of enemy dead left across the ground gained was very considerable. Our casualties totalled seven officers and 211 other ranks.
The successful operations of the Regiment on the 25th were largely instrumental in determining the ultimate fate of Bapaume. On the 26th General Sir Andrew Russell, G.O.C. New Zealand Division, visited the headquarters of the 1st Battalion of Otago, and personally offered his congratulations on the success achieved.
The 2nd Infantry Brigade was now in support to the New Zealand Division, and the Regiment accordingly remained in the area between Bapaume and Grevillers over the succeeding few days. Opportunity was afforded for reorganising Companies and posting reinforcements; there was also work to be done in the direction of salvaging the battlefield of abandoned material, and in burying the dead. The men of Otago who fell in action on the 25th found their last resting place on the summit of the morning's advance, adjoining the Bapaume-Arras highway, and on the northern outskirts of the town.
Early on the morning of the 26th troops of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade had passed through our foremost line, and in conjunction with the 1st Infantry Brigade continued the advance. An event of unusual interest on this day was the dropping by aeroplanes in our forward areas of several boxes of small arms ammunition, attached to parachutes. The town of Bapaume was still occupied by the enemy, who continued to direct machine gun fire on all observed movement from the summit of the terraced fortification on the southern side of the town and from other points of vantage. The 3rd Brigade continued the advance beyond the Bapaume-Beugnatre Road to the north-east; but attempts to advance on the southern flank of the enveloping movement continued to meet with strong opposition. During the night of the 28th-29th page 340 huts, and was on this occasion entirely successful. At 6 p.m. Canterbury improved the general situation in an attack launched behind artillery fire, Otago at the same time taking advantage of the opportunity to straighten its line. The enemy, who had held out during the day, now surrendered freely, having evidently been brought to the limits of their resistance. The captures effected by the 2nd Battalion over the day totalled 200 prisoners, one enemy tank, about 60 machine guns, three trench mortars, tank rifles and other material. Our own casualties were fairly heavy, but light compared with those of the enemy.
The New Zealand Divisional front now extended from a point immediately west of Haplincourt in the south, to the Fremicourt-Lebucquiere Road near Delcaux Farm in the north. The night remained quiet, except that the enemy's bombing aeroplanes passed almost continuously overhead. The glare from extensive conflagrations behind the enemy's lines suggested that a wide retirement was in progress. Early on the morning of the 3rd patrols discovered that Haplincourt had been evacuated. Fires were now burning in Lebucquiere, Velu, and Bertincourt, still further to the east. The 2nd Battalion of Otago at once pushed forward to regain touch with the retiring enemy. No resistance was encountered until the outskirts of Bertincourt were reached, at which point the enemy engaged our advanced troops with the fire of 77 mm. field guns directed over open sights from the locality of Ruyaulcourt. Lewis guns were brought into action, but the enemy succeeded in getting his artillery out of reach. A line was established along the Ytres-Cambrai Railway, extending across the front of Bertincourt. Velu Wood, on the left, had been cleared, and by nightfall the 1st Battalion of Canterbury was also on the line of the railway, and in touch with the 5th Division on its left. To the right of the New Zealand Division, the 42nd Division had not advanced sufficiently at this stage to be in line. Patrols were pushed forward to Ruyaulcourt, which was found to be held, though lightly, and posts were established by the Battalion for the night well in advance of the main line. Throughout the hours of darkness the enemy harassed our infantry with blue-cross gas shells.page 341
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion of the Regiment had kept pace with and in rear of the general advance, taking up successive positions, first on the high ground east of Bancourt, and then in the valley west of Haplincourt, astride the Haplin-court-Bancourt Road. In the afternoon the Battalion was in position just west of Bertincourt, from which point no further advance was made that day, the 3rd.
Orders were now issued for the advance to be resumed at 7 a.m. on September 4th, The most distant objective aimed at, in conjunction with the flanking Divisions, was represented by the trench systems east and north-east of Havrincourt Wood. Approximately, the line of advance laid down for the New Zealand Division was across the Canal du Nord, and through the villages of Neuville-Bourjonval and Metz-en-Couture, and the southern half of Havrincourt Wood. North of Ruyaulcourt the waterway of the Canal du Nord ran into a deep tunnel and then followed a course underground for a distance of 4,500 yards, to a point south of Ytres. It therefore did not present any obstacle to our advance.
In compliance with orders for a general advance on the morning of the 4th, it was decided that advanced guards, acting as fighting patrols, should precede the main body, and that in the event of heavy resistance being encountered, our troops were not to undertake any operation calculated to involve casualties, but were to await artillery support, behind which the advance would then be continued. At 6.30 a.m. the 1st Battalion of Otago, in artillery formation of platoons, with patrols well in front, moved forward round the right flank of Bertincourt. The order of battle was as follows: 8th and 14th Companies in front, 10th Company in support, and 4th Company in reserve. One section of artillery, one section of Vickers guns, and four light trench mortars accompanied the Battalion. At 7 a.m. the line held by the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment was passed through, the first enemy resistance met with being from the deep chalk pits to the right of Ruyaulcourt, and from the southern side of the village itself. Our patrols pushed ahead, and a line extending along the west and south of Ruyaulcourt was gained. Touch was maintained with Canterbury on the left, but there was a gap of 1,000 yards on the right to where the 42nd Division could be seen moving from Ytres in the direction of Neuville-page 342Bourjonval. Rather heavy machine gun fire was now being encountered from the forward side of Ruyaulcourt; our patrols were accordingly withdrawn and the area briefly searched by the supporting artillery. At 9.15 a.m. the patrols commenced to push forward again, and on the left gained ground in face of slight opposition. On the right 14th Company met more determined resistance. Lewis gun fire was brought to bear on its centre, and the position then rushed, nine men and a machine gun being captured.
Neuville, to the south-east of Ruyaulcourt, was still occupied by the enemy. In front of these two villages was the more formidable barrier of Havrincourt Wood. Its greatest depth following the line of our advance was about 3,500 yards, and with the trees bearing dense foliage it afforded the enemy excellent cover and shelter, while the tallness of the timber assured facilities for maintaining observation over the approaches. It was realised that the enemy would not be readily dispossessed of his hold over this extensive wood; and heavy machine gun fire from its western side and the sunken road in front strengthened this belief.
There were indications that the enemy was filtering back to Neuville in increasing numbers. Two platoons of 10th Company were now astride the Ruyaulcourt-Neuville Road; while further to the left Canterbury had continued its advance into the valley between Ruyaulcourt and Havrincourt Wood, and by a flanking movement had succeeded in clearing some of the trenches on the western side of the Wood.
At 7.15 p.m. two platoons of 10th Company, with a Company of the 42nd Division co-operating, resumed the advance behind an artillery barrage of considerable intensity. The village of Neuville was cleared of the enemy, and the line established on the northern and eastern sides of it. Platoons of 8th and 14th Companies now pushed forward and occupied portions of Ponder trench, north-east of Neuville. At nightfall the Divisional line extended approximately along the eastern side of Neuville, and skirted the western front of Havrincourt Wood, touch being gained with the 37th Division on the north, and with the 42nd Division at Neuville on the southern flank. The Battalion's casualties for the day numbered 20 wounded, and the prisoners 45.page 343
During the following day, the 5th, brief patrol encounters improved our position at one or two points. Warning orders were now issued for an operation which aimed at establishing, in conjunction with the 42nd Division, the line of Pestle-Proud trenches extending along Green Jacket Ridge between Neuville and Metz-en-Couture; the Neuville-Hermies Road running parallel with the western edge of Havrincourt Wood; and the spur to the east of Ruyaulcourt. At the same time orders were issued for a readjustment of the IV. Corps front. This meant that there were to be two Divisions in line, the New Zealand Division holding the right sector on a three-battalion frontage; the 37th Division the left sector; the 42nd Division to participate in the attack set out for the evening of September 5th, and then to be withdrawn.
The attack was launched as arranged at 5.30 p.m. behind a heavy artillery barrage. The 8th, 10th, and 14th Companies of the 1st Battalion of Otago gained and consolidated their objectives, operating in conjunction with the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury. During this attack, 2nd-Lieut. W. Junge, of 10th Company, was fatally shot when engaged in clearing a trench of Germans who had ostensibly surrendered. He had rejoined his Battalion only five days previously from England after receiving his Commission, previous to which he had enjoyed a fine reputation as a senior non-commissioned officer. The prisoners captured during the day's operations numbered 103, while many more were diverted to the neighbouring Division on being sent back. Our casualties numbered 49.
In accordance with the readjustment of the Corps front previously referred to, the Battalion was now to side-slip to the right. The 8th and 14th Companies were relieved by troops of the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury, and 4th Company took over positions in front of Neuville. The relief by 4th Company, effected under a heavy bombardment, was seriously complicated by the fact that the troops of the 42nd Division were not holding the line claimed, and that elements of the enemy had filtered back.
The morning broke quiet, and there were indications of further withdrawals by the enemy. After a brief fight, a machine gun and infantry post on the high ground overlooking Neuville was surrounded and rushed by a party from 4th page 344 Company, 25 Germans, including one officer, being captured. Arrangements were immediately effected by Lieut.-Colonel Hargest for maintaining touch with the enemy and exploiting success. Patrols from 4th and 10th Companies pushed down to and occupied Proud and Pestle trenches, overlooking Metz-en-Couture, many more prisoners and machine guns being swept up by 4th Company on the way. On the left, our patrols discovered that enemy parties were still in occupation of the western edge of Havrincourt Wood, though numbers of them had been observed moving back carrying full packs. Late in the afternoon our troops had penetrated the Wood to a considerable depth. Over the interior there were several extensive clearances as a result of the enemy's activities in the direction of timber getting; but the density of the trees and undergrowth in other parts demanded cautious movement in order to avoid anything in the nature of surprise.
Our advanced troops, moving in the form of a screen, had by 6 p.m. penetrated the village of Metz, into which the enemy was directing spasmodic bursts of 77 mm. shell fire. Prior to this German batteries were observed hurriedly withdrawing from the valley in rear of Metz towards Gouzeaucourt. Quotient Avenue, on the eastern side of Metz and overlooking Winchester Valley, was occupied by 4th and 10th Companies. At this stage enemy artillery could plainly be seen firing from Dead Man's Corner on the high ground of Trescault Ridge. But within a few minutes these impromptu gun positions were entirely obscured by bursting shells and clouds of smoke and debris, and when our "heavies" ceased fire there was no evidence of the presence of German artillery.
The 7th was a day of much individual effort and very little material progress. Our advance had now reached what might be regarded as the outer defences of the great Hindenburg System. The Trescault Ridge confronting us was the first of a long series of commanding heights fortified with a labyrinth of trenches and strong points, the former not always deeply dug, but the whole deliberately sited and the defences stiffened by long and deep belts of wire entanglements. Moreover, the enemy now appeared to have reinforced his front with a fresh Division; as his resistance wherever it was tested throughout the day proved to be much more active and determined.
From the early morning our patrols persistently endeavoured to penetrate the enemy strength along the upper slopes of the Ridge; but although Gouzeaucourt Wood on the right was eventually cleared by Otago and Canterbury patrols working in conjunction, elsewhere the dense wire and the enfilade rifle and machine gun fire directed from behind it, prevented our making any appreciable headway. The enemy positions were intermittently shelled throughout the day; but at nightfall the Battalion had to be content with establishing outposts on the lower slopes. The enemy artillery fire was gradually becoming more deliberate, our forward positions, Winchester Valley, and the village of Metz all receiving very considerable hostile attention.
During the early evening of September 8th the 1st Battalion was relieved in the line by the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade, and marched back through Metz and Neuville to trenches and shelters in the locality of Bertincourt and Ytres.
When the 1st Battalion of the Regiment took up the running from Bertincourt on September 4th, the 2nd Battalion remained in trenches on the outskirts of the village and in advance of the railway line. On the evening of the 5th orders were received to move to trenches in the vicinity of Ytres page 346 and Neuville. Over the 9th the 2nd Battalion strength was employed clearing the battlefield of dead, friend and foe, and on the following day a party of 300 men was supplied for trench digging. The 1st Battalion was by this time settled in comfortable hutments in the locality of Ytres and Bertincourt.
On September 11th the 2nd Infantry Brigade, now in support, was relieved by the 1st Infantry Brigade and passed into Divisional reserve. The Regiment accordingly moved further back. The 1st Battalion marched to Barastre and entered dilapidated hutments on the outskirts of the village, while the 2nd Battalion was transferred to Haplincourt, The accommodation available at the latter point was so limited that Battalion Headquarters was established in a "house" the front part of which only was left standing, and moreover was liable to fall over at any moment. Still, there was nothing new in this experience; for frequently maps had been studied and decisions arrived at with no better shelter than that provided by a shell-hole.
In the interval the New Zealand Division continued its advance against a stiffening opposition and against much more formidable country. The enemy was apparently holding the trench system on the ridge from Trescault southwards to a point near Gouzeaucourt in considerable strength, and with newly arrived troops. On September 9th an attack was launched in conjunction with the 17th Division, the objective of the New Zealand Division being the high ground east of Gouzeaucourt Wood, the sunken roads in the locality of Dead Man's Corner, and thence along the Trescault Ridge to the left to a point in advance of Havrincourt Wood. Strong opposition and heavy machine gun fire were met with. Over the right of the Division's attack, African Support was gained; Dead Man's Corner remained in the enemy's hands, and on the left, despite a heavy counter-attack, the objective was won and held. Seventy prisoners were taken, some of whom confessed they had not had a full meal for four days, a fact which apparently did not cause them to fight any the less stubbornly. Throughout the remainder of the day the enemy gas-shelled the forward area, and on the 10th, under cover of a heavy bombardment, attacked our positions in African Support, but was repulsed.page 347
On September 12th troops of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade again took part in a general attack, the objective being the Trescault Spur. The attack was launched at 6.30 a.m. behind an effective artillery barrage, and quickly reached the first line of the objective. Thereafter the enemy fought most stubbornly along the whole front, launching three vigorous counter-attacks against our advanced elements. The day's operations, however, had produced 490 prisoners and an appreciable advance in our line. At 1.45 a.m. on the 15th a strong enemy counter-attack, supported by liquid fire, was launched against the African trench junctions, and the garrison driven back to African Support.
The 5th Division had now commenced to relieve the New Zealand Division, and on September 15th command of the front had passed to the former Division.
A German Intelligence Summary, dated July 17th, 1918, captured during the course of the operations just concluded, contained full and accurate information bearing on the composition of the New Zealand Division. It included a complete illustration with colours of the distinguishing patches of the different Regiments, all of which were correct with the exception of those of the 1st Battalions of Otago and Canterbury Regiments, which apparently were unknown. The document also contained the following appreciation of the New Zealand Division: "A particularly good assault Division, Its characteristic is a very strongly developed individual selfconfidence or enterprise typical of the Colonial Englishman, and a specially pronounced hatred of the Germans. A captured officer taken at the end of April did not hesitate to boast of this while in the prisoners' cage."