The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records
Entanglements—The entanglements were approximately 35 yards thick and about 4 feet 6 inches high. The wire, which was very strong, with heavy barbs close together, was erected on knife-rests and screw-stakes. Before the bombardment it had been in good order.
Parapet—The parapet was fully 20 feet wide at the base and 6 feet wide at the top. There were no sandbags, and the trenches were revetted with lattice work. There was a very shallow "Borrow Pit," completely clear of wire, in front.
Trenches—There were no dugouts under the parapet, but there were shallow shelters. At one point in the parapet there was a large bomb store with iron doors. Out of these doors three men came, a fourth remaining inside with the doors shut. These doors were blown in by an engineer when the raiders withdrew. In the front trench a pump shaft was found leading from a deep well to a pumping station some distance in rear. The shaft page 46was demolished by an engineer, who followed the pipe line for 10 yards to the rear but could not find a pump. The trench was about 6 feet deep. It was narrow, strongly traversed, and floored with duckboards. There was a traffic trench at the back of the parados, through which about every 20 yards there was an opening to the front line.
Parados—The parados was not so high as the parapet. In it were a number of dugouts, several of which had beds. They were all very strongly constructed, with a thick solid roof supported by heavy iron girders. The floor of most of the dugouts was level with the floor of the trench, but a few were a little deeper from the trench level. In all of them it was possible to stand up. They were lighted by electricity, and the doors all faced towards the enemy's rear.
Machine Guns—No machine guns or snipers' positions were found.
The Enemy—An officer was taken prisoner but would not cross No Man's Land, and had to be shot. The enemy were evidently expecting to be relieved, for their packs were made up. A number of these, including one belonging to an officer, were brought away, and from them a. Corps Intelligence Officer obtained a number of useful papers. On account of the expected relief there was little in the dugouts.
The trench was not heavily held.
Our Artillery—Our artillery co-operation was very good. The parapet was in places much knocked about, and one dugout was considerably damaged. The parados was hit in many places, much damage having been done.
There were very few dead as the results of our shelling, but what men there were had no fight left in them.
Enemy's Artillery—The enemy's reply started 5 minutes after our bombardment had commenced. No. 1 Locality, Central and Port Egal Avenues and Graham's Post suffered a fair amount of damage.
Miscellaneous—No steel helmets were found, but spiked helmets with Prussian and Saxon badges, a quantity of clothing, a number of books, flares, rifles, bayonets, and a pair of field glasses were brought back.
The Division was not, however, to be exempt from the vicissitudes of war, and ill fortune attended the next few page 47ventures A raid by 2nd Wellington, directed at the trenches near the Frelinghien Brasserie, on the following night, 2nd/3rd July, at 11.30 p.m. was unsuccessful. As soon as ever our bombardment started, the enemy put down on and in front of our parapet a heavy artillery fire which by accident or design fell with special weight on a drain in No Man's Land, where our party lay prior to the moment for moving forward. None the less at the appointed time the raiders advanced to the enemy's entanglements through machine gun fire, which caused further severe casualties. There only a gap of about 6 feet had been cut, and as the raiders dribbled through this and forced their way into the trench, they were bombed in detail by the Germans, who had evacuated their front line and threw their bombs from a close support trench. The artillery plan on this occasion was while shelling the flanks and encircling the position by the customary protective box barrage, to bombard the interior of the position only for the final 10 minutes so as to give the raiders a chance to capture a number of prisoners. Though well conceived, however, this idea actually allowed the enemy time to collect smoke bombs and grenades, and was considered afterwards to have been a mistake. An enemy attempt to follow up the raiders was frustrated without difficulty. More serious, however, was the intense enfilade machine gun fire to which the withdrawal was exposed. But it was carried out with consummate steadiness and skill, and thanks to this the casualties proved less than had been with reason feared. An officer and 11 men were killed and 2 officers and 34 rank and file wounded. In addition, 5 men were missing. Where all behaved with courage, exceptional gallantry was shown by Coy.-Sergt.-Major W.E Frost, who assisted Lt, R, E. V. Riddiford to cover the withdrawal. Paying no heed to the imminent danger to his own life, Frost twice returned under heavy fire to the German lines through the enemy wire and carried back 2 seriously wounded men who, lying within a few feet of the enemy's parapet, would certainly but for his action have been killed or taken prisoners. Frost was recommended for the V.C. and awarded the D.C.M. and Medaille Militaire.1 Great devotion to duty was shown also by the regimental stretcher-bearers under Sergt. L. R. Nicholas who remained at their post in the front line under continuous heavy shelling for an hour and a half.
1 Frost died on 27/8/16 as the results of wounds sustained while extricating a wounded horse from a wagon in Armentières.
The Maoris were keenly anxious to emulate these achievements and revive in modern battle the traditions of their warrior stock. Fortune, however, was to be unkind. They proposed to raid the trenches opposite the locality called Pety Cury in our left brigade subsector on the night 9th/10th July. The enterprise was to be "silent" without artillery support but in combination with a dummy raid on Brune Rue to the south. With intense chagrin the Maoris found that a gap cut previously in the German wire by our artillery was now closed, and that the entanglements were too dense to permit of ingress. Attempting it again on the following night, 10th/llth July, while a diversion was carried out on a flank, they cleared a gap after some time and deployed silently inside the wire ready to rush the trench. But the German sentries had observed them, and strong German patrols crept out on either side to cut them off. The crawling forms of the enemy were, noticed just in time, and the raiders having no chance against their very superior numbers withdrew without confusion. The enemy followed them up with some deliberation over No Man's Land, wasting his bombs, till he reached within 70 yards of our trenches. Once the Maoris had clambered over our parapet, the garrison's machine guns and rifles lashed their pursuers, who could now be faintly discerned, and followed them up with fire as they retreated in disorder and with casualties to their own trenches.
The following night, llth/12th July, a raid by 2nd Otago at Pont Ballot was also a failure. The wire was reported to have not been cut. On the 13th/14th, while gas was released on the 2nd Brigade subsector, a large raid by 1st Otago from the 1st Brigade trenches marked the high-water mark of our reverses. Assembled in No Man's Land, the raiders were swept by a tremendous concentration of shrapnel and machine gun fire which burst out the very instant our bombardment started. No regiment was less likely to be disheartened or deterred from a project by any form of hostile opposition than the hard-bitten soldiers of Otago. With their lines raked by fire, they pressed as far as the enemy's entanglements, and only then, after they had lost three-quarters of their strength, was the order to withdraw reluctantly given and as reluctantly obeyed. By the time that the party regained our trenches, 4 officers were killed and 4 wounded, and 50 other ranks killed and over 100 wounded. Only 6 men indeed returned unhurt out of the original muster. As in the case of the 2nd Wellington raid on 2nd/3rd July, such page 49was the uncanny promptitude and deadly accuracy of the enemy retaliation that it seemed certain that the Germans had acquired information through unguarded conversation either in a town estaminet—for Armentieres was not without its German agents—or over the telephone. The shelling was extended to the batteries and about midnight caused the death of Capt. J. L. H. Turner, commander of the 4th Howitzer Battery.
This disaster was to some extent avenged on the night 14th/15th by a successful raid of the 4th Rifles at the Lille Road Salient. An excellent track 10 feet wide was cut through the wire by our trench mortars. The real attack was preceded half an hour previously by a dummy raid on the same spot. Intense havoc had been wrought by our artillery. The trenches were completely obliterated. The remains of several dead were so shattered that it was impossible to procure identification. The raiders lost only 1 man killed and 2 wounded. An effort by a German flank party to work round our rear was dispelled by the protecting scouts with bombs, and the enemy fled immediately.
1 p 35.
A period of comparative quiescence now followed, due mainly to a shortage of ammunition caused by a stupendous explosion in one of the great northern depots.1 A final raid was made on 12th August, when Capt. G. C. W. Armstrong and a party of the-3rd (Auckland City) Company of 2nd Auckland captured 2 prisoners and a machine gun with insignificant casualties. The scene was again the Breakwater, and a powerful artillery diversion was made on Frelinghien. The trenches in front of the village, which also were subjected to concentrated shelling, were reported to have been strongly manned. It so happened that at the time of the raid a German patrol was in No Man's Land. All but 1 of the patrol were killed, and he lost his way and wandered into our trenches near by. These identifications were of importance as confirming the presence of the VI. Reserve Corps on this part of the front in place of the XIX. Corps which had been transferred to the Somme.
If this offensive and aggressive policy did not fulfil its entire purpose, which indeed it was too much to hope for, it was none the less shown by manifold indications to have imposed an exhausting strain on German resources and to have seriously impaired German nerves. The Army Commander, ever ready to recognise merit, expressed his appreciation of the energy and devotion displayed by calling in person at the various brigade headquarters to express his satisfaction and thanks.
The German raids on the Divisional sector were neither so numerous as our own (4 as against 11), nor did they achieve as substantial success. The first was launched at 1st Auckland in the l'Epinette Salient on 3rd/4th July. An effort made on the same night against the Australians on the right was repulsed by machine gun fire. The assault on the l'Epinette was accompanied by a heavy bombardment from 10 p.m. till 11.45 p.m., and after an interval from midnight to 12.45 a.m. Just prior to the commencement of the bombardment the enemy fortified his nerves by a sing-song in his trenches. On the S.O.S. call our artillery put down a barrage on the enemy parapet and in No Man's Land, but shortly after midnight the raiders rushed through it and made for our trenches. In No Man's Land they were broken up by a listening post of 5 private soldiers who threw no less than 80 Mills Bombs at their adversaries. In the end 1 of our post was killed, 1 crawled back to the trenches severely wounded, and the other 3 were taken prisoners. Examined later, the ground showed signs of a desperate struggle. The efforts of these out-numbered but undaunted men prevented all but. a, handful of the enemy from entering our trenches. At these a machine gunner threw a bomb, and I of the party was wounded and fell into our hands. The rest after a brief show of fighting fled, leaving behind them 2 mobile charges. Apart from the 3 prisoners, our casualties, all inflicted by the bombardment, were 33 men killed and 3 officers and over 60 men wounded. The Divisional artillery fired over 4000 rounds in direct connection with the attack, The German casualties were unknown, but “several were heard to squeal,” and in the grey dawn of the following morning, the sentries reported that many killed and wounded page 52were being taken over the enemy parapet. Under this ordeal the Aucklanders' behaviour was stolid and resolute. The commanding officer reported that he believed not a man had left his post without orders.
- English defeat at sea
- 7 cruisers sunk
- 1 damaged
- 11. small craft sunk
- Hip Hip Hurrah!
1 31st May 1916.
By this proximity and by its configuration the salient was marked out as a particularly vulnerable spot in our defences. In the first days of July our Engineers had destroyed a mine tunnel by a camouflet which probably caused the death of German miners and may have furnished an immediate motive for the raid. On 8th July the Mushroom was garrisoned by 1st Canterbury. A fierce bombardment was opened at 9.10 p.m. which lasted for 50 minutes. It completely destroyed the trenches and caused very heavy casualties. One 8-in. and several 5.9-in. unexploded shells were found next morning, At 10.15 p.m. 2 red rockets shot up in the German lines, and the enemy attacked. The first assault was repelled by the survivors in our trenches under Sergt. S. G. Brister. At 10.50 p.m. there was a lull. Soon after 11 p.m., however, the bombardment recommenced, and attacking on both flanks, the enemy by a prodigal use of bombs succeeded in forcing their way in. The German officer in command of the party haughtily summoned Brister to surrender, and when he refused fired at him point-blank with his revolver, wounding him in the face. Simultaneously Brister flung a bomb at the officer and was “certain that he got him.” But the garrison, losing heavily, was yard by yard forced down the communi-page 54cation trench till they reached a block. Here they stood at bay and continued to hurl their bombs into the Mushroom.
All the Canterbury officers on the spot had been killed or wounded, and the counter-attack was led forward by Lt. E. H. T. Kibblewhite, a machine gun officer, whose section was posted in rear of the Mushroom. With a mixed party of machine gunners, sappers and infantry he reoccupied the salient in half an hour from the time of the German entry. Flanking parties of the Battalion were sent into No Man's Land to cut off the raiders but without success. Our dead had not been searched nor had the dugouts been ransacked. A man who with 2 dead comrades was pinned under a wooden frame of the trench reported that the Germans had been fully occupied in carrying back their dead and wounded. The sandbags on the parapet indeed were marked with their blood-stains. They secured 3 prisoners. Our casualties were in addition 2 officers and 21 other ranks killed and 3 officers and 90 other ranks wounded. Throughout the attack our artillery bombarded the enemy's position and on his withdrawal concentrated on his communication trenches in order to harass the raiders' return. This activity, however, brought down a fresh storm of shell on our own area, preventing the rescue of the wounded. So the guns were asked to discontinue, and the remainder of the night was spent in excavating the buried, some of whom though shaken were still alive, and in repairing our trenches and opening communications. The breaches in the front line parapet were repaired by dawn.
1 p. 49.
The final German effort was nipped smartly in the bud. In the early morning of 28th July a 2nd 'Wellington listening post near the Lys heard stealthy and suspicious sounds about their wire. A flare revealed a party of 20 Germans some 30 yards away. Without hesitation they were attacked with bombs and driven off, leaving behind them much equipment. So far from obtaining identifications, they betrayed their own by losing one of their party, whose body with the tell-tale numerals on the tunic was brought into our lines.
Throughout this period the enemy's artillery endeavoured to keep pace with our own lavish expenditure of shell. Some days were marked by particular virulence. On 1st July, for example, possibly in retaliation for the bombing of Lille Railway Station by a number of aeroplanes on the previous evening, he shelled the great church of Notre Dame in Armentieres with a 5.9-in. naval high-velocity gun. It was new on this front and was surmised to be the one which had attained sinister notoriety at Ypres. It fired from a mounting in a railway loop beyond Perenchies. 58 rounds were fired from 7.30 a.m. to 10.6 a.m. and 18 rounds from 10.34 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. The first round was a hit, the thirty-sixth brought the spire down, and the fire was throughout extremely accurate. Our heavies retaliated, putting round for round into Comines. Two days later, in page 56combination with the enemy raid on l'Epinette, after Houplines had been shelled during the daylight, Armentieres was heavily bombarded after dark with high-explosive up to 10-in. and with incendiary shells. The naval gun was again active. Many houses were set on fire, the streets damaged, and several casualties inflicted both among troops and civilians. The 1st and 2nd Artillery Brigade headquarters received several direct hits. The quartermaster stores of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Headquarters were burnt to the ground. The headquarters of the 1st Field Ambulance were demolished but the patients removed without casualties. The headquarters of the 4th Rifles were not so fortunate. An 8-in. shell scored a direct hit on the building, and Major A. E. Wolstenholme, the Battalion. Second-in-Command, and Capt. F. E. Guthrie, the Regimental Medical Officer, were killed. Every gun in the Division the Corps and the Army retaliated, the Army heavies putting round for round into the village of Lambersart, which lying beyond the ridge was occupied by the Headquarters of the Division opposed to us, and the bombardment on either side was the heaviest that the New Zealanders had yet witnessed. As the following days brought no abatement of the enemy's artillery fire, it was decided not to treat patients in the 2 Ambulances in the town. This step threw a greater amount of work on the Divisional Rest Station in rear and the remaining Ambulance which had charge of it.
In our artillery programme, apart from the unrehearsed revenge which a harassed battalion or company commander or on a larger scale an infantry brigadier could always summon, there were several definite prearranged and frequently varied systems of retaliation. The broad principles were that such retaliation should follow on the provocation as soon as possible, that it should be of greater volume, and delivered with bigger guns, and, if possible, be such as to connect itself in the enemy's mind with the fire which provoked it. This last principle was sometimes disputed on academic grounds, but certainly for the front line garrisons, when the foundations of their world shook under hostile bombardment, the moral tonic administered by the battering of their persecutor's own trenches was incomparably more effective than a shelling of his back areas. Thus as a rule forward areas suffered for forward areas, billets for billets, and so on. These retaliations culminated in the so called Retaliation X for the shelling of Armentières, when all page 57artillery brigades were called on, and the “heavies,” if the bombardment were serious, would shell Lille.
Towards the middle of July this intense activity quietened down, on our side owing to the temporary shortage of ammunition, alluded to above, and on the German side through a similar shortage or a withdrawal of guns. The total ammunition expended by us during the last 10 days of the month did not exceed the average daily consumption of the first week.
By this time our patrols, which included Maori patrols, completely dominated No Man's Land, where their troubles were caused, not by active opposition, but by the searchlights which played along the enemy wire and by the rustling of the grass, which, though the Germans cut it with characteristic thoroughness near their own wire, lay thick in the middle of No Man's Land. Instead of sending out patrols himself, the enemy fired “pineapple” bombs at the points likely to be crossed by us and bombed his own wire. Generally his morale was surprisingly low, and on several occasions our sentries with mingled astonishment, and contempt saw a German put his rifle on the parapet and pull the trigger without taking aim, the bullet raising a spurt of dust in No Man's Land or passing high overhead. His machine guns were active and admirably handled as usual, and it was not often that they gave their position away, as by smoke from an overheated gun drifting in the moonlight against a dark background of bushes. Only now and again strong enemy patrols ventured out, and bombing fights ensued, almost invariably to our advantage. Various devices were employed to destroy or capture these hostile patrols, and on 26th July a familiar German booby-trap was utilised with apparent success. A patrol of the 3rd "Rifles laid out wires with bombs attached, and withdrew a little distance to await results. First 1 German appeared followed by 12, but their route did not take them in the way of the trap. The L/Cpl. in charge of our patrol therefore shot the leader. His men bombed the rest of the party, and only 3 were seen to escape. Alarmed by the noise, immediately afterwards another German party approached, and one of their number becoming entangled in the trip-wire exploded the bombs. This time not a man was seen to escape. The second explosion brought, down a gust of machine gun fire and shrapnel, and our patrol on its way to make investigation was compelled to withdraw. One man, Rflmn. Woods, was wounded and unable to drag himself in, page 58his absence being discovered only when the patrol returned. He could not be found that night. On the following evening he was searched for by a patrol under Sergt. R. Simmers. The patrol itself was surprised and heavily bombed by the enemy who were lying in wait, 1 of our men being killed and 4 wounded. Simmers returned the bombing', drove off the enemy, and continued to advance with the 4 riflemen remaining. He located Woods, who was still alive, and returned with him and all his party and the body of the dead soldier to our trenches.
During the first week in August the 18th Division came into the centre sector of the Corps front between the 5th Australian Division on the right and the New Zealanders on the left. The Rifle Brigade was relieved by troops of the new Division, and the New Zealand front was therefore contracted to its original length. In connection with this re-organisation the 4th Artillery Brigade recovered its 8th 10th and 14th batteries from the respective groups. Various British units were now coming up from the Somme fighting, and several valuable lectures were given on the terrain, the tactical methods of the opposing armies, questions of supply, and experience generally in the battle. Towards the end of the week orders were received that the Division would be relieved by the 51st (Highland Territorial) Division, from the Somme, in order to release it for a period of preparatory training for battle. The relief commenced on 13th August, and was completed on the 18th, when the command of the sector passed to the Highlanders, and the Division marched out after a continuous stay of 3 months in the line.
During this period they had sustained 2500 casualties. 25 officers and 350 other ranks had been killed. 70 officers and 2000 men had been wounded, and 30 men were missing. Some of these last were in enemy hands, others had been blown to pieces by explosive or buried irretrievably in trench cataclysms. On the 14th, 2 battalions of the Rifle Brigade, marching back with the newly issued Lewis gun handcarts to the railhead at Steenwerck, were inspected informally by H.M. the King. The infantry entrained there for the concentration area at Blaringhem. They were followed by the batteries who trekked the 27-mile march with their guns via Estaires, Vieux Berquin and La Motte.
On the 20th the entraimnent of the Division was commenced at Arques and St. Omer for a training area east of Abbeville where it was to pass under the command of the X. Corps of page 59the Fourth Army. The concentration in this new area was completed by 22nd August. Headquarters was at Hallencourt, the artillery in billets about Longpre, the 3 infantry brigade areas being Yonville Airaines and Limercourt respectively.
Meanwhile the Divisional Cyclist Company1 had reached France in July. In accordance with the Army policy, which transferred this unit with the mounted squadron from the control of Divisions to that of Corps, the company was taken on the strength of II. Anzac Corps Headquarters. In the Mounted Regiment, there was 1 New Zealand and 2 Australian squadrons. In the Cyclist Battalion the balance was to be reversed, and reinforcements were drawn on to make 2 New Zealand companies. The command of the battalion was given to Major (later Lt.-Col.) C. H. S. Evans who had organised and trained the New Zealand company from its formation. At the end of August 1 platoon of the battalion was attached to the Division to be used as runners and orderlies in the forthcoming operations.
The Division followed with keen interest the passing into law in New Zealand of the Military Service Act on 1st August, This measure of far-reaching political and historical importance was brought to the notice of all ranks in the following Divisional Routine Order of 13th August: “The New Zealand Government wishes the men of the New Zealand Division to feel that the Military Service Bill just passed by both Houses of Parliament represents the assurance of New Zealand both to the Motherland and to her troops in the field that the obligation to keep the ranks full will be carried out as long as men are available.”
1 p. 7.
1 p. 56.