The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records
Chapter XII — The Battle of Havrincourt-Epehy
The Battle of Havrincourt-Epehy
The positions on which the enemy had been driven back at the close of the Battle of Bapaume (21st August-1st September), the second stage of the British offensive, he appears to have intended to hold firmly for the time. Under cover of strong resistance from his rearguards he proposed to make a gradual and deliberate withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, saving equally guns men and material. But the development of the Battle of the Scarpe (26th August-3rd September), the third stage of the British offensive, precipitated his movements. By our success on the Searpe the northern hinge of the Hindenburg Line itself was broken, and his organised positions west of it were turned for many miles southward. His plans had to be summarily revised and his armies to be withdrawn hastily on the famous fortress and its outlying bulwarks. In this chapter we are to trace 3 distinct phases of activity, in which the New Zealand Division was engaged during the part it played in the fourth stage of the British offensive. Firstly it was to attack the enemy in semi-prepared positions where, till the disaster on the Scarpe caused him to reconsider his policy, he had intended to make a tentative stand. Then, as he retreated on the Hindenburg Line outposts, it was to carry out a rapid pursuit under conditions closely approximating to open warfare. Lastly, in a distinct reversion to the trench warfare type of operation, it was to assault these outposts with a view to obtaining a position for attack on the main Hindenburg Line beyond.
For 2nd September the IV. Corps proposed to continue the policy of pressing the enemy withdrawal in co-operation with the Corps on the north and south. On the right the 42nd Division was instructed to capture Villers-au-Flos; on the left the 5th Division was to take the high ground east of Beugny with Delsaux Farm. The New Zealand Division in the centre would conform with the more important movements on its flanks by an advance driving the enemy off the bare, broad crest overlooking Haplincourt. Both flank Divisions were assisted by tanks. Exploitation was to be carried eastward if possible. Of the 5 field artillery brigades at the page 461disposal of the Division, 2, the 2nd (Army) and 3rd Brigades, were earmarked to support the Division's operations. The 1st Artillery Brigade and an (Army) brigade supported the 42nd Division's attack. The other (Army) brigade cooperated with the 5th Division.
On the evening of 1st September, the 2nd Infantry Brigade took over the whole Divisional front, placing 2nd Otago1 on the right and 1st Canterbury on the left. The battalions marched up round the outskirts of Bapaume, which was being heavily shelled and bombed by aeroplanes. Hostile artillery was similarly active in the forward area, and before relief was completed 2nd Otago had sustained several casualties. Batteries moved up behind Fremicourt.
2 p. 455.
At 12 noon a weak enemy counter-attack at the junction of 1st Canterbury with the 5th Division about Delsaux Farm was repulsed, and prisoners were captured. This flank was strengthened by further machine guns. An hour later 2nd Otago reopened the attack on their objective. The 42nd Division, now in possession of their objective, had restored the 2 held artillery brigades lent to them. These were consequently available for intensifying the barrage which was described by the Corps artillery representative, who chanced to witness it, as the best barrage that he had ever seen. The attacking line was similarly strengthened. A fresh company was employed with 2 platoons of the original company and with a third from another company. The group of huts on the Haplincourt road half a mile west of Haplincourt was strongly held, and a sunken road running at right angles to the main road was full of machine guns. Pressing the attack vigorously, however, Otago cleared hutments and sunken road and then pushed on, still under machine gun fire, to another sunken road beyond. Here they were but a little short of the line aimed at.
All through the afternoon the Canterbury company had been struggling with the hornets' nest about the tanks. The position was in itself formidable and most difficult of approach. In the end they had recourse to artillery. A platoon from one of the support companies came up to lend a hand, and a barrage was put down at 6 p.m. Cpl. P. S. Putman working his section round the flank under heavy fire succeeded in killing or capturing the crews of the flank machine guns. The remainder of the garrison then surrendered readily. Together with the tanks Canterbury captured 30 prisoners with 4 machine guns, bringing their total bag to 150 prisoners and 20 machine guns. They had also secured a field gun. Taking page 463advantage of this barrage and the enemy's preoccupation, Otago also made a further advance and secured the line of their objective. To them too the Germans now offered but feeble resistance, and swelled Otago's captures for the day to a grand total of 200. They claimed in addition 60 machine guns, the sunken road alone yielding 17, 3 trench mortars and much other material. By nightfall the 2nd Brigade was established in advance of the objective assigned. The 5th Division had taken Delsaux Farm, but were checked by heavy fire in front of Beugny.
It had been originally intended that the Corps should confine itself on 3rd September to consolidating the ground gained and the clearing of enemy "pockets." Later in the evening of the 2nd, however, it was decided that the 5th Division should take Beugny, which in view of our capture of the high ground south might prove now to be defended with less resolution. Two brigades of the New Zealand artillery were lent for the operation. Less important tasks were assigned to the other 2 Divisions. The 42nd Division would be satisfied with securing a position favourable for an attack on Barastre. The New Zealanders would establish themselves in the valley below the slopes on which their line now rested. They were not to go even as far as Haplincourt village and wood which had been reported full of machine guns and were to be bombarded.
During the night 2nd/3rd September the enemy made no attempt to recover the ground lost during the day, and his artillery and machine gun fire were not above normal. He was indeed in no position to strike back, for that day English troops and Canadians had broken the Drocourt-Quéant Line in the north, and as a repercussion of the blow, his whole front along the Fourth and Third Armies was being hurriedly withdrawn. Before dawn his fire died away, and soon after day broke vast coils of smoke from burning dumps could be seen rising behind his lines in Vélu Bertincourt and elsewhere. Patrols pushed forward with alacrity and found Haplincourt and its wood clear.
After a hasty breakfast the main advance was continued. A troop of Scots Greys attached to the 2nd Brigade was allotted to the 2 battalions in the line for the purpose of establishing liaison with flank units. The 2nd (Army) Artillery Brigade was detailed to support the pursuit. It was an ideal autumn day. The sky was flecked with gossamer clouds, and a few slight showers cooled the air. Haplincourt page 464was occupied by 7 a.m. By 8.20 a.m. the 42nd Division had reached Barastre and were through Haplincourt Wood, while on the left, Beugny, yesterday so formidable, fell without opposition to the 5th Division. In the centre the New Zea-landers moved forward rapidly. Many fires started by the enemy were still ablaze when passed. By 9.30 a.m. 1st Canterbury reached the western edges of Vélu Wood and the outskirts of Bertincourt with little resistance.1 Their left was slightly troubled by machine gun fire from Vélu. In Bertincourt itself and on the high ground east of it there were a few machine gun posts. Ere long, however, Scots Greys patrols reported that Bertincourt was clear of the enemy, who were holding the high ground and the Bapaume-Péronne railway east of it, and before noon the village was in our possession. The left too had cleared the intricacies of Vélu Wood, and the whole line reached the railway. We were now among the old British rear lines which had gone down before the avalanche in March. Over these lines the returning tide was now to flow strongly, till 3 days later it beat against the barrier of the Trescault Ridge. The enemy had succeeded in destroying or withdrawing most of his material, but on the Bertincourt station platform 1st Canterbury found a 5.9-in. howitzer.
A halt had been ordered east of Bertincourt for the-purpose of reorganisation, while patrols were to be pushed forward to cover further advance. It so chanced that at tins stage the first real opposition was encountered. In front of the railway the ground falls to the hollow, below the surface of which is hidden the tunnel of the Canal du Nord. Beyond the hollow it rises again to the picturesque village of Ruyaul-court, slightly under a mile east of the railway. Here the enemy's rearguards were still in strength. His field artillery fired over open sights at our patrols. Our Lewis guns engaged and silenced them, but the Germans were able to man-handle them out before our own artillery could destroy them. There was ample evidence of numerous machine guns in the gardens. and outhouses on the western edge of Ruyaulcourt. The 5tn Division was well up on the left, but the right was not yet in line. We could therefore afford to wait quietly till dusk, keeping clear of Bertincourt, now under heavy hostile shelling.
1 By the evening of 19th March 1917, during the German retreat, the British infantry had reached the line Barastre-Vélu with cavalry in touch with the-enemy at Bertincourt.
In view of the enemy's retirement the Third Army had issued orders for the advance to be continued on the following day (4th September), with the additional and thrilling instruction that the XVII. Corps on the north should move on Cambrai. When the enemy's main line of resistance was located, our advanced guards were to engage it closely but to refrain from attacks on a large scale until a properly organised operation was sanctioned by the Army. It was expected that the Germans would stand at bay on the Scheldt Canal to Banteux and the Hindenburg bine thence northwards. But till the enemy's line of resistance should be definitely located the bulk of the heavy artillery would be rested and reorganised. Similarly all heavy tanks and whippets were withdrawn into Army reserve for rest prior to major operations. The Corps right was directed to move on the trenches east of Metz-en-Couture, the New Zealanders in the centre on the trenches at the eastern edge of Havrin-court Wood, and the left on the trenches cast of the Canal du Nord and north-east of Havrincourt village. If resistance should be offered to the New Zealanders in the Wood, it would be turned from the north and the south by the flank Divisions. Troops were to be kept in depth.
In the evening (3rd September) the 37th Division relieved the 5th in the left sector. With the New Zealand Division troops of the 3rd Hussars replaced the Scots Greys as a substitute for Divisional cavalry. The 2nd Brigade made arrangements to relieve 2nd Otago and 1st Canterbury, who had borne the burden of the hard fighting of the 2nd and the arduous patrol work of the 3rd.page 466
Apart from considerable gas shelling the night was quiet, and the weather remained fine. During the hours of darkness the enemy fell back from Ruyaulcourt, and 1st Canterbury patrols pushed through it and in the morning established posts on its eastern outskirts. Sniping and machine gun fire, however, were active from Pauper Trench in front. In it our Lewis guns killed several Germans. With the dawn the British balloons rose startlingly close behind the front line and were ineffectually attacked by enemy aircraft. In the early morning 1st Otago1 on the right and 2nd Canterbury2 on the left passed through the leading troops on the railway and resumed the advance at 7 a.m. There was no barrage. Each attacking battalion was supported by a section of 18-pounders and by machine guns and light trench mortars. By 7.30 a.m. they had crossed the hollow and cleared Ruyaulcourt, in which a few machine guns remained till the last moment that permitted retreat, causing some annoyance to 1st Otago's flank in the open country south. At the other end of the line Canterbury's left pressed on to the high ground north of Ruyaulcourt, and after half an hour's bombardment of Pauper Trench the 2 front Canterbury companies attacked and cleared it, taking some 50 prisoners, with machine guns. They were now on bare gentle slopes overlooking a shallow valley. On the far side the ground rose on to an undulating tract of pasture ground. Beyond it some 1500 yards distant from our patrols was the dense bulk of the great Havrincourt Wood, in which Byng had hidden his tanks for Cambrai in 1917.
With hands up a large number of Germans came forward over the valley, in which they were securely hidden from their artillery and machine guns, but an untimely activity on the part of our own guns, misapprehending their intention, drove them back. From the western edge of the Wood enemy field guns fired salvoes on our advancing patrols, but were silenced by our admirably handled machine guns and forward sections of artillery. Particularly fine work was done by Lt. J. Mayer, of the 2nd Battery. One of his guns was destroyed, and he had serious casualties in men and horses, but in face of heavy fire he kept his section close up to the infantry.
1 Major Hargest, vice Lt.-Col. Charters, on special duty.
2 Major Wilson, vice Lt.-Col. Stewart, on leave.
By the early afternoon the left Canterbury company, in line with the 37th Division troops, had reached within 600 yards of the Wood. The right was still somewhat in rear in touch with 1st Otago, who had successfully cleared resistance in a chalk-pit south of Ruyaulcourt, but were harassed by heavy enfilade machine gun fire from the huts on the road leading to Neuville-Bourgonval. That village itself was strongly held, and for the moment checked the 42nd Division. The Otago patrols, among whom a party led by Pte. A. G. Akroyd was conspicuous for resourcefulness and initiative, were withdrawn, and the area was searched by artillery. On a renewed advance, only 1 machine gun was in action, and under cover of Lewis gun fire the resistance was overpowered, and the gun and crew captured. Till Neuville-Bourgonval should be cleared by the 42nd Division, the right flank was flung back astride the road.
The capture of Neuville-Bourgonval, however, might prove no easy task. Soon after 1 p.m. numbers of the enemy were seen advancing in open order towards it from the east, but they were dealt with by our artillery, machine gun and Lewis gun fire, and dispersed. In the evening (7.15 p.m.) the 42nd Division attacked the village under a particularly heavy barrage and succeeded in capturing the northern half. 1st Otago co-operated on the left and advanced their line on the northern outskirts, capturing 45 prisoners. The southern page 468portion remained with the enemy. As a result of his resistance in and about Neuville-Bourgonval, there was a considerable re-entrant in the right of our line, where Otago, in touch with the 42nd Division, lay astride the road leading to Metz-en-Couture. Beyond our right the Germans had posts in the southern part of Neuville-Bourgonval and a strong garrison in the trench system east of the village.
During the day the enemy's artillery had been active with guns and howitzers of all calibres up to 8-in. over the whole area, and especially in the neighbourhood of Ruyaulcourt. Together with a liberal profusion of gas this shelling continued throughout the night, but the troops were well spread out and casualties generally light. In the open, splinters flew wide, and 2nd Canterbury lost 13 out of their 15 stretcher-bearers. Patrols secured touch with the enemy on the edge of the Wood. The 5th was spent for the most part quietly in improving our positions. In the morning, however, 1st Otago set about straightening the re-entrant on the Metz-en-Couture Road. Prisoners and a machine gun were captured in small enterprises in which a very fine platoon commander, 2nd Lt. W. H. Junge, showed exceptional powers as a fighting leader. In the late afternoon (5.30 p.m.), in view of readjustments on the Corps front, to be referred to presently, the 42nd Division attacked on a larger scale. Three companies of Otago co-operated. Their objective was a trench system between Neuville-Bourgonval and a sunken road that ran parallel with the western edge of Havrincourt Wood and crossed the Metz Road. Otago were entirely successful. Fifty prisoners were captured in the trench and road, but unfortunately, while Junge was rounding up some Germans who had surrendered, he was killed by a machine gun firing from the Wood. The 42nd Division fulfilled their task of completing the capture of the village prior to handing over the line.
The V. Corps on the right were now also over the Canal du Nord, and the VI. Corps on the left had reached its western bank about the great spoil-heap near Hermies. Here the deep trough of the canal might prove a serious obstacle, but it was not yet certain that the enemy would contest it. Corps Commanders were instructed to continue to adhere to the principle of pressing the enemy with advanced guards, with the object of driving in his rear guards and outposts and ascertaining his dispositions. Troops were to be rested as much as possible, resources conserved and communications improved with a view to a vigorous resumption of the offensive in the near future. As many Divisions and artillery brigades as possible were to be withdrawn into reserve for rest and training.
In accordance with this policy, the Corps front was on the night 5th/6th September reconstituted on a 2-Divisional basis. The 37th took over the northern sector of the New Zealand line, which extended southwards to include that of the 42nd Division. This increase of frontage necessitated the employment by the leading brigade of 3 battalions in the line. The remaining battalion would be in support. A battalion of the support brigade was allotted as reserves. 2nd Canterbury's line down to Matheson Road was handed over to the 37th Division, and it side-stepped southwards. Similarly 1st Otago extended their right to take over part of the 42nd Division's position east of Neuville-Bourgonval. The remaining 1000 yards were given to 1st Canterbury who came in on the right. 2nd Wellington was placed at General Young's disposal as amobile reserve.
The 3 field artillery brigades covering the 42nd Division's front passed under General Napier Johnston's command. The second of the 2 British (Army) brigades hitherto attached to the Division was handed over to the 37th Division. A battery of 9.2-in. howitzers and a brigade of R.G.A., consisting of 3 batteries of 6-in. howitzers, was affiliated to the Division. The 2nd (Army) Brigade, 1 of the British field artillery brigades, and the 3rd Brigade covered the front, while the remaining 3 brigades remained in Divisional reserve but were maintained in action for S.O.S. On the following day, in conformity with Army instructions, 1 of the 42nd Divisional Artillery brigades was withdrawn, and the remaining page 4702 brigades with the 1st N.Z.F.A. Brigade were superimposed over the whole front.
While these various readjustments were in progress, the 2nd Canterbury area and Ruyaulcourt were heavily gassed, and the infantry reliefs were considerably hampered and delayed. This artillery activity covered a further enemy withdrawal south of Havrincourt Wood. The shelling eased off towards morning, and patrols early reported signs of evacuation.
While making a personal reconnaissance at 10 a.m. of a Strong Point in the trenches east of Neuville-Bourgonval, Major Hargest, his intelligence officer, and a sergeant ran unexpectedly into and took prisoners a party of 5 Germans with a machine gun. Shortly afterwards in the same vicinity another small Otago party under 2nd Lt. A. E. Byrne captured 21 Germans. These, however, were the final rearguards. Infantry patrols and a section of Otago Mounted Rifles, now attached from the XXII. Corps Mounted Regiment as Divisional cavalry, were pushed forward as a screen, and the other troops followed. The advance continued throughout the day, 6th September, with little opposition.
Under a blue sky and scorching sun 1st Otago moved with remarkable rapidity. They were supported most effectively by a section of the 9th Battery (2nd Lt. A. F. Downer) which over open sights engaged enemy infantry and two 77-mm. guns in Metz. Here the battalion was for a time checked, but by the late afternoon had succeeded in enveloping the village. Metz had been captured by the British in the first week of April 1917, in the last stages of the German withdrawal on the Hindenburg Line, and had been fortified by them with 2 lines of inner and outer defences. Otago carried the inner defences shortly after 6 p.m. Enemy resistance, however, was appreciably stiffening, and a section of Otago Mounted Rifles, attempting to reconnoitre Gouzeau-court, came under heavy machine gun fire. Towards evening the German guns bombarded Metz, where a large mine crater was blown at the cross-roads, with marked vindictiveness. The outer defences were part of the long line of old British trenches which had been set as a distant objective for the advance on 4th September. It extended southwards over the Fins and Revelon Ridges and northwards along the eastern edge of Havrincourt Wood. Despite the increasing fire, however, both right and centre battalions pushed on these trenches, and by nightfall 1st Canterbury held the Quivering and page 471Quotient sectors cast and south-east of Metz, 1st Otago the Quack and Quality positions to the east and north-east.
Meantime on the 2nd Canterbury front energetic reconnaissances by O'Grady and others established that the enemy still held Havrincourt Wood strongly as late as 3 p.m. It was no part of our purpose to force a passage at a costly price if the Wood could be enveloped. Shortly afterwards, however, signals were given by an aeroplane that the enemy was moving. At 5 p.m. our posts were on the western edge with fighting patrols among the trees. In combination with the troops on the left, 2 companies began to work through the forest. By 10 p.m. after an arduous and perplexing passage they had penetrated to within 50 yards of their objective in the important Quaff Trench which continued Quality northwards on the eastern edge of the Wood. Here the German rearguards proved too strong to be pushed without proper reconnaissance. Two Canterbury platoons had gone astray in the dense bush, and touch had been lost with the 37th Division. The line was consolidated for the night with a defensive flank formed by the support companies. Throughout the remainder of the night officers' patrols fruitlessly scoured the Wood in search of the lost platoons and the 37th Division troops on the left.
Losses throughout had been slight. 1st Otago captured 70 prisoners with 26 machine guns and a 59 in. howitzer. 1st Canterbury similarly secured numerous machine guns and two 77-mm. guns. Even 2nd Canterbury in the fastnesses of the Wood had contrived to capture a few prisoners. Nowhere till the close of the day had opposition been severe, and the line had been advanced over 2 miles. No more illuminating evidence of the aggressiveness vigour and dash of the New Zealand battalions could be cited than the reiterated admonitions addressed to them by the Divisional staff against undue impetuosity. The infantry were most efficiently backed by artillery and machine guns, and the very rate of progress saved casualties, for on repeated occasions the Germans put down barrages on ground over which the advance had already passed, thus providing object lessons to the gunner of the futility of map-shelling and the essential importance of observation of fire.
During the night, 6th/7th September, 1st Canterbury had been unable to secure touch with the enemy, but 1st Otago patrols penetrating the fringe of Gouzeaucourt Wood and working north of it were much hampered by fire. Just page 472before dawn, 7th September, the active machine guns in Quaff ceased, and 2nd Canterbury carried it with slight resistance and pushed on to the eastern edge of the Wood. In the daylight they regained touch with the 37th Division. The lost platoons returned at 7 a.m. All 3 battalions were now confronted by the Trescault Ridge, and our advance had nearly reached its limits. Along this important height machine guns were in great force, and field guns in Trescault village on the north sniped over open sights down the valley at our patrols. Our 18-pounders “pasted” the trenches, and howitzers bombarded the enemy field guns. These latter were silenced, but machine guns and well-posted snipers made progress infinitely difficult. By noon, however, posts were established in front of Havrincourt Wood. The right and centre of our line pushed well into the valley and into the subsidiary southern corridor which held the greater part of Gouzeaucourt Wood, a long segment of thick bush straggling eastwards up the ridge. The enemy appeared to reinforce his already numerous machine guns, but we succeeded in establishing posts inside the edge and round the southern fringe of Gouzeaucourt Wood. The Rifle Brigade, however, were to relieve in the evening. In view of the difficulty of handing over these advanced posts about Gouzeaucourt Wood, it was decided to withdraw them on to the Quotient Quack Quality and Quaff trenches on the near side of the valley. The weather had turned colder, and much rain fell during the day.
While the infantry and artillery had been straining hard after the retreating enemy, the vast and complex machine of the administrative services had worked at intense pressure and with gratifying smoothness. Field ambulances followed close in rear. Engineers reconnoitred dugouts, searched for boobytraps, constructed defensive posts, and repaired roads. Not the least of their responsibilities was the supervision of the water supply. They cleared wells, tested the water, and put up notice-boards giving the results. They erected power-pumping plant and hand-pumps, and installed storage-troughs and water-cart filling-points. The whole rear area indeed seethed with the active movement that attends an advancing army. The effect on the German prisoners is happily illustrated by the remarks of an intelligent Guards n.c.o. captured a few days later in the neighbourhood:
“Passing back under escort I saw things that I could scarcely believe—such transport, such horses, such men and page 473these masses of artillery! I compare them with our wretched iron-wheeled transport, skidding all over the place and blocking the roads in wet weather, our scanty and badly-fed horses, and those boys pretending to be Guards.
“We still have a certain amount of artillery, but you must have five guns to our one, and we are not well off for shells, whilst you seem to have an endless supply.
“No! Germany is defeated, and the sooner we recognize it the better, but you will admit we have put up a good fight. No nation could have done more.”
The infantry relief was carried out in pitch darkness, and the South Island battalions withdrew to the position of support brigade. The Rifle Brigade took over the line with the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th1 Battalions, in that order, from south to north. The 1st Artillery Brigade batteries were now on the western edge of Havrincourt Wood, the 2nd between the Wood and Metz, 1 of the 2 attached 42nd Divisional brigades south of Metz, with the other attached brigade and the 3rd Brigade superimposed further in rear.
The morning of the 8th broke very cold with a high wind from the south. Whatever hopes the Rifles had of emulating the rapid progress of the 2nd Brigade were doomed to disappointment. There was no abatement of the enemy's fire, and our posts on the forward slopes under Havrincourt Wood were aggressively sniped and machine-gunned from the high ridge over the valley. It became increasingly manifest that we were at length approaching the main line of resistance.
1 Major Barrowclough, vice Lt.-Col. Beere, wounded 26th August.
2 It is convenient to apply this name to the whole of the high ground between Gouzeaucourt and Trescault, and reserve the name Trescault Spur for its proper use as designing the northern extremity of this ridge.
The ridge, along whose crest ran the road from Gouzeaucourt to Trescault, was fortified by old British trenches. On its eastern brow was the strong and important African Trench running north and south along the ridge and overlooking Gouzeaucourt village. African Support on the western slopes above Gouzeaucourt Wood commanded the top of the ridge. Further north Lincoln Reserve and other trenches continued African Trench along the knuckles of Borderer and Beaucamp Ridges. There also on our side of the main spur, some 200 yards under the crest, ran a chord line connected in its turn with the African system southwards, and known as Snap Trench. Further down the slope lay Snap Reserve. A multitude of saps ran up from Snap Reserve to Snap Trench, and the German position on this western slope was further strengthened by many deep-sunken roads whose banks afforded admirable vantage points from which to rake our advance with grazing machine gun fire. Of these roads, 2 ran towards Gouzeaucourt, 1 eastwards from Metz and 1 south-eastwards from Havrincourt Wood. These were cut at right angles by an old British "corduroy" road traced along the hillside and parallel to our own positions and to African Support and Snap Reserve which lay just above it. At the junctions of this old road, with the Metz Road at Queen's Cross, and the Wood Road at Dead Man's Corner, the Germans had by digging into the steep banks improvised redoubts which they held in force.
The first effort on the high ground was planned for 9th September when the V. Corps on the right proposed to carry the part of the tableland west and south-west of Gouzeaucourt, including African Trench as far north as the Metz Road. The New Zealanders were instructed to protect the V. Corps' left flank by capturing and holding African for another 1000 yards northwards, thence refusing their left along a convenient communication sap down to Dead Man's Corner, and thereafter down the Wood Road back to the south-east edge of Havrineourt Wood. With this object in view the 8th was spent for the most part in necessary preparations. Patrols from the 2nd Rifles, however, penetrated Gouzeaucourt Wood, and a small party under Rflmn. J. C. Dibble surprised and dispersed with Lewis gun fire an enemy attack on an isolated British post to the south. Later these patrols were forced back by superior numbers of the enemy working round their page 475right flank. In the evening they again penetrated part of the wood, and it was only after dark, when they were withdrawn in conformity with barrage plans, that the enemy reoccupied it in strength.
For the forthcoming attack the 4th Rifles on the left in front of Havrincourt Wood were not affected. The 2nd Rifles on the right would carry African System and the communication trench to Dead Man's Corner and clear that Strong Point. The 3rd Rifles1 in the centre would form a 1200 yards' defensive flank from the cross-roads to Havrincourt Wood. Arrangements had been made for heavy artillery to bombard trenches and roads on the eastern slopes of the ridge, the Couillet Valley, and the outskirts of Gouzeaucourt. A creeping barrage would support the main New Zealand attack on the 2nd Rifles' front. A standing barrage would be placed on Snap Reserve in front of the left battalion. Protective curtains of machine gun fire were also provided.
1 Major Murphy (transferred from the 2nd Bn.), vice Lt.-Col. Bell, wounded 7th Sept.
The 2nd Rifles employed 2 companies, using a support company to mop up Gouzeaucourt Wood and assist the leading companies in an emergency. The right company was commanded by an extremely gallant and capable officer, Lt. D. Kennedy, M.C., who prior to the attack had made a fine personal reconnaissance of the position. Faced by the impenetrable dark thickets of Gouzeaucourt Wood, his company boldly pressed in 2 columns up the Metz Road towards Gouzeaucourt and along another smaller track through the trees. The garrison at Queen's Cross was killed or captured in a brief struggle, and African Support was won after stubborn fighting. It was still dark, and the company, which had crossed several trenches on the way, believed and reported that they were in African Trench itself. Some 70 prisoners were captured, consisting mostly of Jägers, but including some men of the 6th (Dismounted) Cavalry Division. There was no sign of the troops on either flank. The V. Corps' assault had been unable to make progress, and the 2nd Rifles' left company, skirting the north edge of the wood and coming under intense machine gun fire from Dead Man's Corner, had been forced into the cover of shellholes round its north-eastern edge. When dawn came, Kennedy realised that he was not in his final objective, but with the company already isolated and with African Trench in front stoutly held, no attempt at further progress could for the moment be contemplated. It would be no mean achievement to hold the ground already won, for both flanks were in the air, and in his rear there was a strong German garrison in the southern part of Gouzeaucourt Wood, which the support company had not thoroughly cleared. The support company, indeed, had suffered somewhat heavily, and the company commander was the only officer left.
Part of this company, however, were to strengthen Kennedy's left. For, about 7 a.m., seeing the left company checked Sergt.-Major G. P. Webster and Sergt. T. R. Ken-page 477nerley rushed forward with the right half of the company to occupy their place in African Support, They were covered by Kennedy's fire and carried the position. Each of the 2 leaders captured 2 machine guns and killed their crews. An attempt was at once made to help the left company by bombing up African Support towards Dead Man's Corner. Led by a fearless n.c.o., Cpl. G. Fruin, a little party reached this point. They captured 2 machine gnus and 16 prisoners, and killed many of the retreating enemy. This deadly Strong Point cleared, 2 platoons of the left company also were able to reach African Support, and led by 2nd Lt. E. G. Bates, D.C.M., bombed past Dead Man's Corner northwards up the trench itself for 200 yards beyond. Their bombs were already running short, so here they established a block.
Before fresh supplies of bombs could reach them, the enemy fell on them from the northern end of the trench in overpowering strength and with inexhaustible quantities of bombs, and the mingled personnel of the left and support companies were driven back down African Support southwards. The hold on Dead Man's Corner was lost, Very hard fighting ensued about 1 p.m. Pressing his advantage, the enemy forced the posts established towards Dead Man's Corner to fall back nearer Gouzeaucourt Wood. All his efforts to recover the southern portion of African Support were in vain. On the contrary, repeated sorties led by Fruin1 and by n.c.o.s of the right company made desperate attempts to clear the communication trenches leading up to African. Their pressure was not adequate, however, to dislodge the enemy from his strong position, though they forced him to invoke artillery protection.
1 Fruin died of wounds after further conspicuously gallant work on the 12th.
Under cover of a heavy bombardment he attacked our whole front from African Support to Dead Man's Corner, pressing down the saps with great vigour. Everywhere he was completely repulsed, except before Dead Man's Corner, where he temporarily compelled 1 post to withdraw. At dusk the riflemen recovered it. During the day the 2nd Rifles lost an officer and 14 men killed, 68 men wounded and 2 missing. Of the 150 prisoners captured by the brigade nearly all were taken by the 2nd Battalion.
While this fiercely-contested battle raged on the 2nd Rifles' front, the 3rd Battalion on the left was very much less successful. The right company, held up by the 1917 British entanglements and coming under heavy fire from Dead Man's Corner, not yet contained, managed to approach the objective. The left company suffered severely from machine guns on the crest and in Snap Reserve and advanced positions which the barrage chanced to miss. Only a handful reached their goal. Reinforcements were at once hurried up, but these also lost heavily. Almost immediately the enemy counter-attacked, and the left company was forced back to the starting line. Several wounded men lay still out in the open, 200 yards in advance of our line. Desperate efforts to rescue these resulted only in additions to the casualty roll. Sergt. J. Keatley had gone back with despatches to battalion headquarters. He was already wounded in the face, but returned to the line. He now went out himself, under a hail of bullets, and rescued first 1 and then another wounded man. On reaching a third he found him already dead.
This check in turn exposed the right company's posts. They withdrew towards the eastern edge of Gouzeaucourt Wood and took up a position about a hedgerow some 300 yards in front of their original line. Touch was maintained with the 2nd Battalion, and a defensive flank on the north was put round the wood. Here they were heavily bombarded and subjected to salvoes of small bombs of combined page 479gas and explosive which burnt the grass and earth black and caused considerable casualties. Four prisoners were taken. The 3rd Battalion lost an officer and 25 other ranks killed, and 4 officers and 66 other ranks wounded.
The stubbornness of the opposition and the number of counter-attacks attested the enemy's anxiety to maintain intact a deep outpost zone in front of his main line of resistance. Intercepted wireless messages in themselves indicated more and more clearly that the disorganisation of the German Command and troops, resulting from the last fortnight's operations, had been rectified, and that systematic opposition must be expected. In these comparatively local operations of the 9th the Division's role had been dissociated from the IV. Corps and co-ordinated with the action of the V. Corps on its right. Plans were already, however, completed for a resumption of the general advance of the Army with a view to carrying this outpost zone, including the Trescault Ridge, as a first step to the breach of the whole Hindenburg Line. These operations were to be followed some days later by a Fourth Army advance from Gouzeau-court southwards beyond Epehy with a similar object.
The Third Army blow was to be delivered by the IV. and VI. Corps. The right flank was to be protected by the capture of the Trescault Ridge. For this purpose the 37th Division, on the left of the IV. Corps, and troops of the VI. Corps thence northwards would carry out preliminary operations with the object of securing favourable attack positions. The main attack would take place on 12th September. Then, at one and the same hour, the 62nd Division of the VI. Corps would assault Havrincourt village, and in a movement from the south-west, so as to turn the village of Trescault, the New Zealand and 37th Divisions would storm the Trescault Ridge. The right flank of the New Zealanders would be protected by an advance of a company of the 38th Division on the left wing of the V. Corps south of Gouzeaucourt Wood. The V. Corps also agreed to prolong the barrage on our right flank and to maintain a standing barrage for 2 hours after zero on African Trench, south of the portion to be attacked by them, and on Gouzeaucourt village and the approaches from it to the ridge. All brigades of heavy and field artillery now out of the line for rest or training were instructed to be in action on the night 10th/11th September, and certain batteries were ordered to move forward to advanced positions. Several of these were overlooked from high ground to the page 480south, and hence a proportion of our guns would be compelled to remain silent till the moment of attack.
The 37th Division already on 9th September had by peaceful penetration reached the north-eastern edge of Hav-rincourt Wood, and by the evening of the 11th both it and the VI. Corps were in position. The New Zealanders were already as far forward as possible, and the intervening days were spent in effecting local improvements. The 3rd Battalion quietly effected considerable progress towards the objective of the 9th north of Gouzcaucourt Wood The 2nd Rifles consolidated their position in African Support, placing light mortars on their right flank and to deal with Dead Man's Corner on their left. One of their patrols, under Cpl. N. G. Stone, had won and occupied this Strong Point on 10th September. But on the evening of the 10th the enemy made a final costly effort to recover African Support. In captured British helmets his infantry rushed Dead Man's Corner and regained it. Then they bombed fiercely from it and from African Trench towards the Support line, but were repulsed with Lewis gun fire and chased back to Dead Man's Corner and their trenches with grenades. By nightfall on the 11th the V. Corps left had joined up with Kennedy in African Support. Renewed attempts to cross the crest and penetrate African Trench in front were foiled.
2nd Lieut. H. J. Laurent, V.C.
The weather had turned cold and stormy, but the morning of 12th September was fair and cool. At zero, 5.25 a.m., the supporting artillery broke into a destructive fire on the German positions. The 3 batteries of 6-in. howitzers bombarded the enemy's field guns and selected targets in Couillet Valley. Along the New Zealand objectives the 6 field artillery brigades swept African Trench and Snap Reserve and provided a creeping barrage. The 4.5-in. howitzers opened on the first objective, and then on the 1st and 4th Battalion fronts, when the 18-pounder creeping barrage approached within 200 yards, lifted on the second objective, in order to ensure our men's safety, subsequently lifting again from the second objective in the same way on to selected targets beyond. Two machine gun companies provided an elaborate machine gun barrage. Four medium trench mortars bombarded Dead Man's Corner, a second cross-roads, and trenches 500 yards further north. Six light trench mortars co-operated in bombarding Dead Man's Corner itself and other Strong Points along the slopes.
In front of the 2nd Battalion the barrage rested on its opening line for 6 minutes, and then lifted on to African for 15. Under its cover the 2 attacking companies pushed their way through the wire in front of African Support and "got close down to the barrage in splendid style." On the barrage lifting from African they poured into the trench on its heels and worked deadly execution among the Germans. The right company alone killed from 60 to 80. The company of the 38th Division on their flank did not succeed in coming forward, and Kennedy's right again remained exposed.page 482
After their experience on the 9th the right company had been determined to make no mistake this time about reaching their final objective. Part of one platoon, amounting to 12 men, under Sergt. Harry John Laurent had been ordered to push beyond it as a fighting patrol. Laurent chanced to cross at a portion which was ungarrisoned and where the wire had been obliterated. Not recognising in the shallow and battered trench the notorious and formidable African, he passed far beyond it, losing some men from fire on the way. Marvelling that they saw no sign yet of African, his party went 700 yards beyond it and were fast approaching a sunken road near Gouzeaucourt, on which, with trench elements in front, the enemy rested his support line. Laurent saw now that he had come too far, but before withdrawing he resolved to attack the hostile supports. Shells and machine gun fire had reduced his party to 7, but each man was a fighter of proved courage and skill. Quickly and coolly making his dispositions, he led the charge. The fighting that followed illustrates well the effect of surprise and dash. The little party played havoc in the support line, killing some 20 of the enemy and taking the whole of the remainder prisoners. They were now being fired at from all sides, and their captives showed signs of making trouble. A grizzled senior officer, probably a company commander, was found at a telephone summoning assistance. He was shot dead by Rflmn. M. Healy, who had already killed 10 of the enemy by bullet and bayonet. The telephone wire was cut, and a few of the more fractious prisoners were killed. The remainder thereafter quietened down and were hurried to our lines. The bag amounted to 111 rank and file, and an officer with 2 messenger dogs. On the way back 1 of their captors was killed. This extraordinarily enterprising and successful achievement won Laurent the Victoria Cross.
Meanwhile the left company had carried the northern part of African Trench to the battalion boundary, killing large numbers of the enemy and taking 46 prisoners. Its outer flank also was exposed owing to the 1st Battalion right company swinging northwards, and down this gap almost immediately strong German bombing parties came from the continuation of African Trench itself in Lincoln Reserve, and from a communication sap. They suffered heavy casualties, but force of numbers enabled them to work round our rear. Under this pressure, the left company recoiled on the sunken Wood Road which ran obliquely midway between page break page 483African Trench and Support to Dead Man's Corner. The riflemen tried repeatedly to win back the lost trench but failed.
Since coming into the line the endurance of the 4th Battalion on the left in Havrincourt Wood and on the forward slopes east of it had been severely tested. The Wood itself had been continually drenched with gas, and our forward posts were commanded by the enemy on the Trescault Spur. They had therefore welcomed the prospect of capturing the hill and being relieved from German observation. Following now close behind the barrage, the troops of the 1st Battalion in the centre and of the 4th Battalion on the left advanced evenly and steadily uphill towards their first objective in Snap Reserve. At one point the 4th Rifles' advance was held up by the fire of 2 German machine guns. L/Cpl. W. F. Turner rushed forward with his Lewis gun, and though under direct and very heavy fire kept his gun in action and eventually silenced the enemy guns, thereby enabling his platoon to capture the position. Generally, not more than the usual difficulties were encountered, and both battalions reached their first objective along the whole front and up to time. Green flares notified our success to the watchers on the other side of the valley. The protective barrage remained for 10 minutes 200 yards east of the first objective, and the position along Snap Reserve was thoroughly cleared. On the lifting of the barrage and on our infantry movement towards the second objective, extraordinarily heavy machine gun fire from Snap Trench and the systems on Beaucamp Ridge at once lashed the parapets and made progress over the open utterly impossible. Pressing up the saps parties of the 1st Battalion succeeded in securing a footing in part of their final objective and in intermediate trenches. Sergt. E. S. Ellingham with remarkable resolution eventually, after 3 unsuccessful attempts from which only a handful of men survived, established a post in a commanding position. A small group of the 4th Rifles at one time appear to have reached Charing Cross. But, for the most part, the tide did not succeed in rolling further up the hill from Snap Reserve. Repeated efforts were made by Sergt. C. K. Jennens, Cpl. E. C. Fletcher, L.-Cpl. W. Melntyre and L.-Cpl. G. A. Pap-worth, M.M., to eject the enemy from the saps connecting Snap Reserve and Snap Trench, but the ensuing bombing encounters achieved no result.page 484
While their strenuous efforts were making little headway, the right company of the 2nd Rifles in African were being very hard pressed. On this part of the sector in particular the Jägers displayed their traditional resolution and staunchness. After the left company's reverse, both Kennedy's flanks were now exposed. On the right the enemy pressure from Gouzeaucourt by various covered approaches became insistent. By 8 a.m. the hostile artillery fire, which from the outset had been fairly heavy, had slackened. Blasts of machine gun fire, however, swept the whole position incessantly, and the wide shallow trench littered with the German corpses was open to enfilade sniping and machine gun fire from both flanks.
During the morning the enemy counter-attacks were stopped dead, and the pressure was relieved by a successful thrust, carried out by a support platoon (Sergt. A. I. Batty), who captured 26 prisoners and 7 machine guns. In the early afternoon, however, after repeated efforts, the Jägers fighting with grim determination forced the exposed right of the 2nd Rifles back a little way north of the Metz Road. Our men, among whom. Sergt. F. Ellery was prominent, "did extremely well," and after being twice pushed north bombed their way down again to the Metz Road. But then their bombs ran out, and they were gradually driven up African to a point some 200 yards south of the Wood Road held by the left company. To this narrow sector both the Wood Road from Dead Man's Corner on the left and another sunken road on the right extremity afforded approach from the support positions under a certain degree of cover. It was in addition served by a communication trench in the centre between the roads. Here bombs could be rapidly brought forward, and here all the enemy's efforts from both flanks and from the front were defied.
Throughout the day the response of our artillery had been prompt and effective, and now in the early afternoon they covered the approaches from Gouzeaucourt with a particularly excellent barrage which appreciably lessened the German aggressiveness. Despite continued enemy shelling, 2nd Lt. L. R. Pulham of the 6th Battery maintained his wire and sent in admirable reports of the positions of the hostile machine guns. While the riflemen themselves gave abundant credit to the fine standard of the work done by the artillery and machine guns, no praise could be too high for the magnificent stand which the 2nd Rifles, and in particular their right company, made throughout this fiercely contested day. Only skilful dis-page 485positions saved heavy casualties. They got off cheaply with 11 men killed and an officer and 44 men wounded. Kennedy's position was taken over in the evening by platoons of the 3rd Battalion company attached as reserves. For his splendid leadership throughout this fighting he received the D.S.O.
In maintaining communications through the gassed and shelled valley and Gouzeaucourt Wood, runners and signallers showed qualities of even more than their wonted energy and determination. One or two instances of the spirit which animated them may be quoted. After the hostile barrage had broken all forward line communications, Sergt. E. V. Manson, M.M., of the Divisional Signal Company went out early to get the lines through and worked unceasingly for 7½ hours under the gas and shell bombardment. By that time he had restored the communications. On one occasion during the period he was gassed and fell unconscious. Half an hour later he was brought-to by the explosion of a shell alongside him and continued his work. Later in the day he organised a party to lay new lines to the left and centre battalions and again carried out his work despite the enemy fire. Rflmn. G. Burgess of the 2nd Rifles was employed as a linesman, mending and laying telephone wires between battalion headquarters and the headquarters of companies. Breaks in the wires were recurring almost unceasingly. Burgess was out day and night following the lines and restoring communications. Towards the end of the operations he was almost dead with exhaustion and lack of sleep, yet continued to perform his trying work steadily rapidly and uncomplainingly. Others, such as Rflmn. M. Berry, of the 3rd Rifles, were at times out for 5 hours on end.
At 7 p.m. a further attack was made on the left by the 4th Battalion to establish their line in the final objective. Stubborn resistance was again encountered, but by 7.30 p.m. they occupied Snap Trench from inside the area allotted to the centre battalion as far as the northern boundary. During the day Cpl. A. Gillam had been conspicuous for good work. When his platoon was held up by an enemy's Strong Point with 3 machine guns, Gillam and another man worked round to a flank of the position and then with great dash rushed the machine guns across the open. Throwing bombs into the sap, they jumped in and shot or bayoneted the entire garrison of 3 officers and 12 men, saving many casualties to their comrades and enabling the advance to be resumed. The Gouzeaucourt-Trescault road in front, the battalion's ultimate page 486objective, was found to be impossible, but an advanced post was established 100 yards west of Charing Cross. Orders were received from Division that for the moment no further effort was to be made to reach the objectives. Units were to reorganise and consolidate. The right flank in particular was to be protected by mortars. In view of the possibility of further enemy pressure, immediate counter-attack troops were to be detailed and kept within striking distance of the crest.
While arrangements were being made to give effect to these instructions, the Germans launched another thrust at the centre of the line. At 10.30 p.m. the enemy poured up his saps from Borderer and Beaucamp Ridges and recovered the southern portion of Snap Trench on the centre battalion's front, forcing the garrison as far back as the "corduroy" road running north from Dead Man's Corner. There touch was effected by means of a communication sap with the 4th Battalion's right in the northern part of Snap Trench. Casualties were by this time considerable. The 4th Battalion had lost 2 officers and 18 men killed and 3 officers and 46 men wounded. In the 1st Battalion 2 officers and 22 other ranks had been killed, 4 officers and 73 men were wounded and 14 men were missing.
The enemy's losses were incomparably heavier, as was subsequently attested by the evidence of his captured cemeteries where cross after cross bore the name of a soldier of the Jäger Division with the date of 12th September. In the course of the stubborn day's fighting the Rifle Brigade captured close on 400 prisoners and about 1500 yards of trench objective. While not attaining their full purpose, they had won a footing in African Trench, cleared once for all Dead Man's Corner, and now held the northern part of Snap Trench to the left boundary. Here they were in touch with the 37th Division, who had reached their final objective north-east of Trescault village, and here they commanded good observation over Beaucamp Ridge. Northwards the VI. Corps had effected a breach in the Hindenburg Line itself and after a severe struggle carried the greater part of Havrincourt village. The results of the Havrincourt phase of the battle were sufficiently satisfactory, as bringing our assault positions within measurable distance of the enemy's main line of resistance.
The unremitting effort of his troops during the last 3 weeks was recognised by General Hart in a Special Order:
"I congratulate all ranks upon their splendid work during the recent operations.page 487
"The Brigade took part in 8 engagements within a period of 22 days, capturing 1281 prisoners and very large quantities of war material.
"The gallantry skill determination and endurance displayed under strenuous conditions is worthy of the highest praise."
During the night (12th/13th September) the 1st Infantry Brigade relieved the 3rd. It was raining heavily, and conditions were wintry. There was considerable shelling, and bombing fights were in progress during the relief, which was not completed till 4.30 a.m. The 1st Brigade held the line with 1st Auckland on the right, 1st Wellington in the centre, and 2nd Wellington on the left.
The following day was wet and stormy, and the greasy mud in the sloping trenches on the hillside made movement slow and laborious. Despite discomfort and the fatigues of a trying relief, the 1st Brigade battalions had no intention of sitting still. Possibly they underestimated the difficulties, but in the case of 1st Auckland on the right and 1st Wellington in the centre it was desirable to improve the positions taken over from the Rifles. From the early hours of the morning they pushed posts forward and made preparations for a larger effort in the afternoon. At 3.30 p.m. after sharp bombardment of the numerous machine gun posts by artillery and light trench mortars, 1st Wellington, in the centre, in conjunction with the left company of 1st Auckland, initiated concentric bombing attacks to recover the southern part of Snap Trench. Wellington met with very strong resistance. A record is preserved of the consummate gallantry shown by L./Cpl. L. Greenbank. Leading his section, he rushed a machine gun post. Then, in spite of heavy casualties, he continued the attack with his 2 remaining men, bombed a superior enemy from their strong position, and gained his objective. Another post was established on Beaucamp Ridge, but after being held against repeated attacks it was eventually withdrawn. A portion of Snap Trench, however, was won, and 2nd Lt. R. L. Okey contrived to extend it to a stretch of 200 yards. While consolidating he was driven out. He immediately counter-attacked and reoccupied his gains. Eight prisoners were captured in the Wellington attack, but on the whole the progress effected was inconsiderable, and one platoon, counter-attacked from 3 different directions, fought its way out with heavy casualties, having 13 men missing. On the right 1st Auckland for the moment achieved page 488better results in African. They sent a bombing party to work north from their existing foothold, and another party to work south into it from the sap running from Dead Man's Corner. These effected junction, and a further 400 yards of African were now in our hands.
Later in the evening the Jägers girt up their loins for a final and decisive effort. Shortly after 6 p.m. under cover of a heavy barrage, a party of 50 attacked 2nd Wellington near Charing Cross, but were driven off by our fire. In all 3 separate assaults were made on 2nd Wellington. The S.O.S. was put up, and the enemy retired, suffering casualties in our barrage. A little later it was the turn of 1st Auckland. Their newly won section of African was heavily counterattacked by troops pressing down Lincoln Reserve and communication saps from the north. Our posts were driven down African to their old footing between the sunken roads. Even this last stronghold was to be lost. At 1.45 a.m., 14th September, supported by liquid fire, the enemy again attacked with the result that he regained the whole of African Trench and forced our posts back to African Support. Thus here the crest of the ridge once more became No Man's Land, and extended observation was rendered impossible for either side. At 4.30 a.m. a further determined counter-attack, also with liquid fire, was delivered on the 1st Wellington line in the centre at the point where Okey's platoon still guarded their gains. It was beaten back. The Jägers were indeed worthy foemen, and the balance of honours did not lie overwhelmingly in the New Zealanders' favour. Stubborn resistance in African was to be offered also to the 5th Division who, attacking it on 18th September in the Epehy phase of the battle and again on the 27th in the opening move of the attack on the Hindenburg Line, succeeded in carrying it only in the morning of the 28th.
All these German attacks had been accompanied by intense hostile artillery activity, especially on our battery areas. An unusually heavy gas bombardment in the early morning of 14th September on the 2nd (Army) Brigade area caused exceptionally severe casualties. All officers and men of the 15th Battery at the guns were gassed. The area was evacuated. In their new positions the 18-pounder batteries were shelled by two 28cm. howitzers, and 1 gun was blown about 30 yards from its pit.
In the evening of 14th September, 5th Division troops relieved the 1st Infantry Brigade in the line, and the com-page 489mand passed to the new Division on the following day. Divisional Headquarters moved back to Favreuil and the infantry brigades to bivouacs round Biefvillers Bihucourt and Sapignies. The Divisional artillery for the moment remained in the line, but the D.A.C. came into reserve and was bivouacked between Favreuil and Sapignies. The 1st Artillery Brigade was withdrawn on the 19th, and the 3rd Brigade, less a howitzer battery, on the 20th. On the 16th the 2nd (Army) Brigade had come under orders of the V. Corps, and on the 21st it passed to the command of the XVII. Corps on the left of the Third Army.
On 18th September, on a 17 miles' front south of Gouzean-court, the Fourth and Third Armies undertook operations which were the second phase of the fourth stage of the offensive, in which the Havrincourt operations had been the first phase. They were successful over practically the whole front. In the Havrincourt-Epehy Battle (12th-18th September) the 2 Armies had captured nearly 12,000 prisoners and 100 guns. What was of no less importance was that the stage was now set for the attack on the Hindenburg Line and other artificial obstacles, the smashing of which was a necessary prelude to the final and overwhelming blows of October.