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Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

Raiding and Losses

Raiding and Losses.

In accordance with the promulgated policy of aggressiveness and general scheme of raiding, it was decided that 4th (Otago) Company would on the night of July 13th carry out a raid against the enemy's trenches. The objects of the raid were to obtain information, to harass and mystify the enemy, and to inflict as much harm upon him as possible. The personnel of the raiding party, all told, comprised six officers and 175 other ranks, this number including the assaulting parties, parapet and flanking parties, and the other details of raiding organisation, the whole under the command of Captain W. D. Jolly. Under the prearranged plan scouts and parapet party were to move out from the sally-port 45 minutes before zero hour and the flanking parties fifteen minutes before that time, and take up their positions in shell-holes with the object of protecting the flanks in the event of a counter-raid. The scouts were then to return and lead out the remainder of the raiding party to a concealed position in front of and distant 150 yards from the line to be page 102 assaulted. Our artillery was to open with a slow rate of fire 10 minutes before zero, at which moment artillery and trench mortars were to open with full intensity over the enemy's trenches and wire entanglements. Twenty minutes later the trench mortars were to direct their fire against the flanking trenches, while that of the artillery was to be lifted, thereby forming a semi-circular barrage round the area to be assaulted. Scouts and parapet party were then to rush forward, the scouts' duty being to ascertain the condition of the wire, return and lead the raiders through the gaps. The parapet party was to cross the enemy's trench and bomb suspected shelters in rear, while the assaulting parties were to work along the trench itself in four different sections. Meantime, the two flanking parties, facing half-right and half-left respectively, were to guard the flanks from our side of the enemy's wire, while special detachments were to watch the flanks from inside the wire. The 8th (Southland) Company was to provide a patrol to cover the right flank of the raiding party, the 10th (North Otago) Company acting similarly in respect of the left flank. All these duties were made perfectly clear and familiar by practice and training, and nothing was left to chance so far as preparation was concerned in order to ensure the success of the operation. But, alas, through some tragic cause, the whole affair was to prove a ghastly and expensive failure.

During the afternoon the enemy had carried out a certain amount of artillery fire which had all the appearances of a ranging shoot. The misgivings and suspicions aroused in not a few minds by this action were later only too fully confirmed. Every man was in his position in No Man's Land at the appointed time, and the artillery support was forthcoming as arranged. But no sooner had our barrage lifted and the raiding troops proceeded to move forward than a concentrated and murderous shrapnel and machine gun fire fell like a thunder-clap over No Man's Land between our front line and the objective. Under this withering and devastating blast the raiders vainly endeavoured to press forward. The casualties became increasingly heavy; all the officers were either killed or wounded, and when finally the order came to withdraw, merely a handful of men remained to stagger back to our lines. The whole affair page 103 was a tragedy; and though no definite information could, of course, be obtained on the point, the natural conclusion come to was that the enemy had secured warning of the raid, and the 4th Company walked into a trap only too well prepared.

The casualties sustained were:
Killed4 officers and 31 other ranks.
Wounded4 officers and 118 other ranks.
Reported missing6 other ranks.

This represented a total loss of 163 of all ranks. The casualty list included the following officers: Killed—Captain W. D. Jolly, Lieut. L. Millard, Lieut. T. Gillman, and 2nd-Lieut. G. Black; Wounded—Lieut. M. J. White, Lieut, J. G. Johnston, Lieut. E. Salmon, 2nd-Lieut. C. H. Clark.

The Battalion Commander was immediately confronted with the formidable task of getting in the many dead and wounded lying in No Man's Land. Every available man was requisitioned for stretcher-bearing purposes, and although everyone worked desperately hard throughout the night, and certainly no one harder and more regardless of danger than Pte. J. D. Stark, the task had barely been completed when daylight broke and put an end to operations. Further bearer parties were out on the following night over the track of the ill-fated raid, and one wounded man and 17 bodies were recovered. It was on the occasion of this renewal of the search that 2nd.-Lieut. A. G. Brockett was killed.

By all these losses of officers, non-commissioned officers and men the Regiment sustained a heavy misfortune; certainly the worst that had befallen any of its companies in so short a space of time during its fighting days in France, and reinforcements, both in officers and men, had to be asked for at once. The Battalion formation was now temporarily reduced to one of three companies instead of four; and in consequence of this fact and the extended line being held owing to the transfer of certain divisions to the area of the Somme, the three Companies, 8th, 10th, and 14th, were called upon to hold the line for a period of 32 continuous days without being afforded the opportunity of going back to the subsidiary line.

Major C. E. Andrews had now left for the United Kingdom on duty, and Major D. Colquhoun succeeded to the post of Second-in-Command of the 1st Battalion.

page 104

A raid on the enemy's lines had also been undertaken by the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment, then in reserve at Armentieres. The preliminary training was carried out at the Brigade Trench Warfare School of Instruction, and everything augured well for the success of the operation, which was timed for 1.30 a.m. on July 12th. At the appointed time assaulting, flanking, bombing and blocking parties took up their positions in No Man's Land, but the party sent across in advance returned and reported that they had failed to find any gaps in the enemy wire after patrolling and examining it over a distance of 100 yards. Captain D. E. Bremner, who was in command of the enterprise, reached within 20 yards of the enemy wire with his assaulting party. From there it was ascertained that the wire was intact, and deciding that it was impossible to breach it in the short time at his disposal, he made up his mind to withdraw. On the return journey some casualties were incurred as a result of an alarmed enemy's artillery and trench mortar fire.

Our artillery's assistance on the night of this operation was all that could be desired, fire being brought to bear on the enemy's front, rear and communication trenches. A diversion was also created over the Railway Salient. The enemy retaliated with a heavy barrage over our front and support trenches, opening and ceasing almost in unison with our own guns. Briefly, the raid was a failure because, primarily, the wire had not previously been cut by our guns and trench mortars as required, although those who were in command of the trench mortars claimed that the wire had been dealt with, and that the raiders went to the wrong place. The fact remained that the wire which confronted the raiding party was so thick that it could not have been cut sufficiently to afford a passage through in the time available under the rapid programme. Casualties numbered four killed and nine wounded.

On July 16th the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment took over the line from the 2nd Battalion of Wellington. Three days later a raid was carried out by troops of the 1st Infantry Brigade on enemy trenches immediately north of the Railway Salient, and on the right of Otago's sector, in order to give support to an attack by the XI. Corps in conjunction with the 5th Australian Division against the enemy system page 105 extending from Faquissart to La Cordonnerie. By way of participating in the minor operation, Otago Battalion had a considerable strength posted in No Man's Land in anticipation of and in order to check a possible counter-attack by the enemy. No action, however, developed as far as Otago troops were concerned.