The Maoris in the Great War
Chapter VIII. — Maori Raiding Parties (1916)
Maori Raiding Parties (1916).
The Pioneers had carried on their trench duties with admirable courage and endurance under harassing conditions but were getting impatient for an opportunity of taking the offensive and having a cut at the Germans. So early in July, the G.O.C consented to the Battalion making a raid, and there was keen anticipation of an exciting night enterprise. Fifty men were picked from each Maori company, from volunteers, and training was started under Captain R. I. Dansey.
One night (July 3rd), about 9.30 o'clock, Lieut. Dansey saw a man on the roof of a factory in rear of the billets holding a light in the direction of the camp's trenches. He searched the roofs but failed to catch the fellow, so he put, all the civilians in the building under arrest and handed them over to the Assistant-Provost Marshal. An enemy bombardment of Armentieres followed immediately the showing of the light. The shelling was particularly heavy and lasted until midnight; the guns used were 5.9-inch, 8-inch, and 11-inch howitzers; incendiary shells were also fired. Several buildings were burned and considerable damage was done, but the casualties in the town were not great. The same night the enemy raided L'Epinette Salient and captured a bombing post of five men. The German barrage de feu which encircled L'Epinette, caused a hundred casualties in the 1st Auckland Regiment, who garrisoned the post.
The Maori raiding party was engaged in bombing practice and physical training, and a model of the section of the enemy's trench to be attacked, was laid out on the ground near the Pont de Nieppe. All ranks were very keen about the coming night adventure, and the volunteers were far in excess of requirements. The C.O. and his officers reconnoitered the ground over which the attack would be made.
At 10.45 o'clock on the night of July 9th, a party, consisting of five officers and 80 other ranks under Captain Dansey, attempted the raid on the German trenches. The raid was to page 82 have been made on the 12th, but instructions were received from Divisional Headquarters to get it off on the 9th, so preparations were rushed on. The party, however, found the wire in front of the salient had not been cut, and therefore, was withdrawn. On the return across No Man's Land the men came under a heavy fire of shrapnel from the enemy, and one man (L.-Cpl. Toka) was killed and three were wounded. Trench 84 and the post at Petty Curry were also heavily shelled for about half an hour and four men were wounded in the trenches. The New Zealand artillery put up a counter-barrage fire but were stopped by telephone after ten minutes. The raiding party returned to billets at 4 a.m. It was a bitter disappointment to the Maoris, who had thus lost their longed-for chance of using the bayonet on their foes.
A Raid that Failed.
Next night, July 10th-11th, half an hour before midnight, the Maori raiding party went out again and had a nerve-trying experience in the dark. The wire was cut by trench mortars between 7 and 8 p.m., but scouts found that the fire had not sufficiently destroyed the entanglements, so half an hour's shelling was spent in clearing a track for the raiders. The attacking party, however, were nearly cut off by an enemy force in No Man's Land and had to retire to Petty Curry. There were no casualties. The New Zealand artillery fire was immediately opened and it was hoped caused some casualties among the enemy massed in the open. The Germans' return fire was very poor, and no casualties were caused in the trenches. During the raid the N.Z.F.A. shelled the Railway Salient and put down a barrage fire on the communication trenches in rear of it. Smoke was released from the Pioneer trenches, and drew a heavy fire from the enemy's guns and mortars and a considerable amount of shelling directed on the town.
The following is Lieut.-Col. George A. King's report on the Pioneers' attempted raid of the night July 10th-11th:—
“Scouts under Lieut. Vercoe left the gap south of Petty Curry at 11 p.m. At 11.22 they reported to me that the gap in the enemy's outside wire was not passable owing to the way page 83 the artillery had blown it about. The remainder of the raiding party then moved out into No Man's Land and formed up in rear of the scouts. The wire was very difficult and a gap was not cleared until 12.30 a.m. The scouts then moved round the end of the second wire and found a good gap in the third row and so got up to the enemy's parapet, which was about fifteen feet wide on the top. Many Germans were walking about on the parapet to the right of the gap, and as their movements seemed out of place Lieut. Vercoe sent two scouts down inside of the third wire. By this time the whole party was inside the wire and extended ready to rush the trench. Up till now there had not been a shot or a flare fired from any of the enemy's trenches opposite trenches 83 and 84, and this unusual quiet on the part of the enemy caused a general feeling among the raiders that a trap had been set for them.
“At about 12.45 a.m., one of the scouts who had been sent along the wire to the right (south) reported to Lieut. Vercoe that he had counted the heads of 69 Germans crawling along outside the middle row of wire to cut the party off. Captain Dansey immediately swung up the left flank of the raiders to meet the Germans with bombs. The movement was not complete before another scout reported a still larger body of the enemy outside the entanglement nearest our trenches also trying to cut off the raiders. The party was moving in a crescent formation.
“Captain Dansey then decided, as the danger of getting surrounded was too great, to withdraw his raiders. The party withdrew quickly and in good order, the scouts forming the rearguard. The enemy followed up as far as the line of small trees about 75 yards from our post at Petty Curry, throwing bombs.
“As soon as the raiding party got inside our wire I gave a signal for artillery barrage to be formed. The first howitzer shell arrived within 30 seconds of the rocket breaking. The infantry garrison at Petty Curry opened rifle and machinegun fire on the enemy, who were plainly visible at one time. The 18-pounders' fire covered most of the ground across which the enemy were retiring and the howitzer shells were bursting well along the German parapet. I consider that the fire of page 84 rifles and guns must have caused considerable loss to the enemy, as considerable noise and confusion were observed amongst them as they retired, which they did rapidly.
“The Pioneers retired on to the right flank party of the raiders and returned to the trench via south end of Haig's Barrier. The whole party, including raiders, communication post and flank party, were safely in our trenches by 1.30 a.m. without any casualties.
“Lieut. Vercoe is quite satisfied that the gap through the enemy's inside entanglement had been specially made by the enemy to encourage our party to rush the parapet, and I am of the opinion that Captain Dansey undoubtedly saved the party from total loss by withdrawing when he did, and that great credit is due to Lieut. Vercoe and his scouts whose careful work disclosed the trap in time for it to be avoided. All ranks behaved exceptionally well during the retirement under bomb-fire, and there was absolutely no noise or confusion.
“As a raid the operation was a failure, as no information was gained, except that the enemy is very much on the alert and that he had at least 150 men available for a counter-stroke.”
On the night of the 16th, Lieut. Kaa took a patrol out ready to go into No Man's Land, but was not allowed to make the raid owing to a New Zealand gas attack having been arranged. Next night Lieut. Vercoe took a patrol (A Company) out from Petty Curry but saw nothing of importance.
After this date patrol parties went out frequently at night. One of A Company, led by Lieut. O'Neill, reported having located an enemy listening post and also found a telephone cable running from No Man's Land under the German wire; this they cut.
There was at this time tremendous artillery activity along the front. The Pioneers' O.C. wrote in his diary on July 19th: “There is an awful row going on from our people and the Boches is shelling an oat paddock about 200 yards north of us, with 5.9 h.e.”
At this time the duties undertaken by the Pioneers in defence of Armentieres were multifarious and heavy. B Company parties were working on the support and second support lines in the 3rd Brigade sector between La Chappelle and Armentieres and the Bois Grenier; D Company was engaged in the sawmill and on concrete works and R.E. dumps.
The following were the instructions for the N.Z. Pioneer Battalion raid on German trenches:—
(July 8th, 1916.)
Battalion Orders NO. 1.
Orders for Minor Enterprise on Night of July 10th-11th, 1916.
(1) Attacking Party.—A party as under, will carry out a raid on German trenches at C. 220.127.116.11. on night July 9th-10th if wire is cut, failing which on night July 10th-11th.
- O.C. Scouts.—Lieut. Vercoe, Sergeant Dufaur and 10 other ranks.
- Assaulting Party.—Sergeant Heath and 14 o.r.
- No. 1 Bombing Party.—Lieut. Vercoe and 8 o.r.
- No. 2 Bombing Party.—Sergt. Roto-a-Tara and 4 o.r.
- No. 3 Bombing Party.—Cpl. Johnson and 8 o.r.
- No. 4 Bombing Party.—Lieut. Kaa and 8 o.r.
- No. 5 Bombing Party.—Sergeant Angel and 4 o.r.
- Communication Party.—Lieut. Dansey and 2 o.r.
- Right Flank Patrol.—Lieut. O'Neill and 6 o.r.
- Signallers.—4 o.r.
- Stretcher-bearers.—Cpl. Otene and 4 o.r.
- (a) To capture machine-guns and trench mortars.
- (b) To secure two prisoners for identification.
- (c) To kill as many Germans as possible.
- (3). Objective.—The German salient 500 yards west of Les?? ?—Hallots and communication trenches within a radius of 50 yards.
- (4) Organisation.—The O.C. attack will move out from starting point at Petty Curry at zero, preceded by scouts. Assaulting party will accompany the O.C. attack. These parties will move in best formation for ground. Bombing parties will move in rear of assaulting page 86 party in line of parties in single file; No. 1 on the right. Communication party with telephone will move in rear of bombing parties. Cpl. Otene and two stretcher-bearers will accompany communication party. Right flanking party will move at zero from gap south of Petty Curry and get into position at corner of drain at C. 23 C. Centl. One sapper N.Z.E., will accompany Lieut. Vercoe and another will accompany Lieut. Kaa to demolish machine-gun emplacements, etc. Two men from scouts will enter trench after a footing has been gained and act as Intelligence party.
- (5) Preparations.—All officers concerned in attack will make a special reconnaissance of the position to-night (July 8th-9th). All other ranks will be exercised over specially prepared model of the objective to-night after dark. Identity discs and all maps, papers or other means by which men could be identified will be left at Battalion H.Q. before marching out. No N.Z. buttons will be worn on the jackets. All ranks will be clothed as lightly as possible, and no web equipment will be worn. All ranks will carry 10 Mills bombs in special carrier. No rifles or bayonets will be taken. Officers and sappers will carry revolvers. Other ranks will be armed with mérés. Officers will carry luminous watches, which will be carefully checked before starting. Faces will be well blacked. White armlets six inches wide will be worn by all ranks on both arms, but will be covered until enemy's wire is reached. Only Maori will be spoken by all parties after leaving starting point.
- (6) Plan of Action.—The whole party will leave Petty Curry at zero and will crawl out and take up position as near as possible to the enemy's wire without being seen. Communication party will take up position in large shell hole half-way across No Man's Land and keep touch with starting point by telephone. At 20 minutes past zero (0.20) the artillery will commence diversion on Brume Rue (1.5B. 4.8). Scouts will examine breach in enemy's wire and if necessary will clear a track through to enemy's parapet, and on completion of the job will report to O.C. attack. O.C attack with assaulting party will then rush point of salient. Nos. 1, 2 and 3 bombing parties under Lieut. Vercoe, will move under cover of enemy's parapet for 50 yards south and will then enter enemy's trench and clear it out. Nos. 4 and 5 bombing parties will enter trench in rear of assaulting party. Scouts, except for two Intelligence men, will not enter the trench but will make all arrangements for a clear get-away for the party. O.C. attack will remain at point of entrance to trench throughout, and will keep up communication with O.C. Communication Post in No Man's Land by means of orderly. A white tape will be run out from gap in our wire by rear man of No. 1 bombing party and will be fastened to end of gap in enemy's wire on arrival, and will serve as a guide for return journey. Gap in enemy's wire will also be marked with white rag by scouts while attackers are in enemy's trench. Prisoners will be handed over to scouts at entrance of trench and they will hand them over to O.C. Communication Post. In the event of a machine-gun being captured, O.C. raid will at once send it with two men to our own trenches. Wounded will be carried back to Communication Post and taken thence to our own trenches on stretchers. Raiders will not remain in enemy's trench longer than 15 minutes, and may be withdrawn earlier at discretion of O.C. raid. Signal to withdraw will be given by whistle by O.C. raid, and on signal sounding it will be passed on by all who hear it, and O.C.'s parties will then withdraw their men to entrance, and get them across No Man's Land as quickly as possible. After satisfying himself page 87 that all men have left the trench, O.C. raid will form a rear-guard of the scouts, and cover the retirement to our own lines, picking up Communication Post on the way.
- (7) Rolls.—Will be made out in triplicate and will be checked before men leave billets. The men will be checked into trench on return from the raid, and again by Major Buck at the junction of Wessex Avenue and Subsidiary Line.
- (8) Return.—On entering our trenches raiders will move straight into support trenches—A Company into S83, C Company into S84—and will remain until bombardment stops, and will then proceed to billets via Wessex Avenue and “Y” Route.
- (9) Position of Officers.—During the raid the C.O. and M.O. of the Battalion will remain in Petty Curry locality and keep touch with the raid via Communication Post.
- (10) Artillery Fire.—The artillery of centre and left groups will make a diversion on 15.b.4.8 from 0.20 until 0.65. If the O.C. raid wishes a barrage de feu put round the section attacked he will put up our S.O.S. rocket, when artillery will switch on to that section and continue until notified to stop by telephone by O.C. Battalion.
- (11) Flank Patrol.—Lieut. O'Neill's party will leave our trenches at the junction of trenches 82 and 83 and will crawl out and take up position in No Man's Land and prevent enemy patrols or machine-guns from firing on raiders. They will return on seeing signal for barrage fire or on hearing whistle for withdrawal of raid, and will report at S83.
GEORGE A. KING, Lieut.-Col.
Commanding N.Z. Pioneers.