Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918
Plans were now being prepared for the development of important operations against the enemy on the 8th. Simultaneously the artillery commenced a bombardment of the Masnieres trench line and wire, but the damage effected was reported to be inconsiderable. At 4.30 p.m. on October 7th the 1st Battalion of Otago commenced an approach march to relieve the right Company of the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury fronting the Masnieres-Beaurevoir defence line, and take up other forward positions. There was an absence of shell fire during the crossing of the Canal, and the relief was completed by 9 p.m. The 1st Battalion of Otago was now organised in the following order from front to rear: 14th Company in the front line; 4th and 10th Companies in the sunken roads in rear; and 8th Company in dug-outs to the north of Cheneaux Wood. In the same connection, the 2nd Battalion of Otago took up positions in trenches in front of Le Quennette Farm.
The operations planned for October 8th involved an attack over a wide front by the Third and Fourth Armies. The New Zealand Division, in conjunction with the 37th page 356 Division on the right, and the 3rd Division on the left, was to attack and establish itself on the line represented by the sunken road south-west of Esnes, Le Grand Pont, Esnes Mill, and the Esnes - La Targette Road. If opportunity offered, success was to be exploited in the direction of securing Esnes and a line extending approximately 1,000 yards east of and parallel to the Esnes - La Targette Road. On the north the 3rd Division was similarly to exploit success in the direction of Wambaix village.
The New Zealand Division's share in the attack was entrusted to the 2nd Infantry Brigade on the right, and the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade on the left. The operation was to be supported by artillery barrages of considerable weight and by large numbers of tanks, and one forward section of artillery was, as hitherto, to be attached to each attacking battalion. Across the 2nd Brigade front, the 1st Battalion of Otago, on the right, was to lead the advance in conjunction with the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury. In the further subdivision of tasks, 14th Company of the 1st Battalion of Otago was assigned the capture of the first objective; 4th Company was then to pass through and attack the second objective. Finally, 10th Company on the left, and 8th Company on the right were to advance through 4th Company; the former to effect the capture of Esnes, and the latter to exploit success south of that village.
The night preceding the attack was wet and intensely dark, and the enemy, apparently anticipating a resumption of operations, intermittently shelled the area of assembly.
At zero hour, 4.30 a.m. on October 8th, troops of 14th Company, which constituted the leading wave of the assault, moved forward behind a splendid artillery barrage. Fairly heavy artillery and machine gun fire was encountered almost from the outset, and when the formidable Masnieres-Beaurevoir defence line was reached, the wire was found to be uncut in places and very deep. The advance in consequence became temporarily checked. The resistance of the German infantry, however, lacked determination, and by means of Lewis gun fire and bombing the enemy was finally driven from his trenches. Troops of the right Division were not yet in line, and a post on the right flank of Otago's advance caused considerable trouble until surrounded and broken up page 357 by two platoons of 14th Company under 2nd-Lieut. W. McKean, D.C.M., M.M. This post contained four machine guns and about 40 of the enemy. By 5.40 a.m. 14th Company was digging in on the high ground of the first objective, south of Lesdain.
The 4th Company now advanced through the foremost troops, and following in the wake of the artillery barrage, proceeded to the capture of the second objective. Passing to the north of Pelu Wood, comparatively slight resistance was met with, nor did the wire in front of the German trenches to the south-west of Esnes present any serious opposition. The 4th Company consolidated on the hedge line south of Le Grand Pont, and 8th and 10th Companies moved up in rear in readiness to continue the advance at 9.30 a.m., the scheduled time. During this operation Captain J. P. Hewat, whose connection with the 1st Battalion of the Regiment extended over a very long period, was killed by shell fire, and the Rev. R. S. Watson, M.C., Presbyterian Chaplain attached to the 1st Battalion, was wounded while directing and assisting casualties to the Regimental Aid Post.
At an earlier stage it had been observed that the enemy was evacuating the village of Esnes in front, but that when the advance had temporarily halted parties had commenced to filter back. At 9.30 a.m. 8th and 10th Companies passed through 4th Company and continued the advance under cover of the artillery barrage. Rifle fire was encountered from the southern edge of Esnes, also from the high ground near the Esnes-Walincourt Road, and it was found necessary in consequence of the situation on the right to refuse that flank to the enemy. The 10th Company advanced and effected the clearance of the village of Esnes and established the line on the eastern and northern sides of it. In order to secure the right flank 14th Company was escheloned south of Esnes, and machine guns posted to command the valley still further to the south, and to deal with enemy machine gun fire from that flank. On the left, heavy fire was being encountered from the factory on the road between Esnes and Haucourt, and from the high ground south-east of Longsart. The established line now encircled the village of Esnes from its eastern side, and the attack had proved entirely successful.page 358
In the interval, the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment, in compliance with orders received at 8.15 a.m., had pushed across the Canal and taken up positions in support of the leading Battalions. During the afternoon it advanced still further, and finally settled down between the Masnieres line and that which had formed the morning's first objective.
On the left, in the course of the morning's operations, the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury encountered strong resistance at certain points in the Masnieres system, particularly from machine guns which had been over-ran by the leading waves in the semi-darkness of the early morning. The first objective, a sunken road running south from the eastern edge of Lesdain, was gained at 6.30 a.m., and finally, in conjunction with the operations carried out by Otago on the right, the advance cleared Le Grand Pont and then passed to the north of Esnes, where touch was gained with the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade. This Brigade, after gaining its first objective, found that the enemy's resistance for a considerable distance beyond that point had almost completely broken down, large numbers giving themselves up without offering fight. By 9.30 a.m. the final objective along the Esnes-La Targette Road was reached. From that point patrols pushed forward until stiffening resistance was met with from the direction of Longsart.
By 1 p.m. five out of the six Artillery Brigades concerned in the attack and working under the direction of the New Zealand Division, were in action on the eastern side of the Canal de l'Escaut. The captures in material and prisoners of war during the morning had been very heavy, and included many field and machine guns. The contribution made to the total by the 1st Battalion of Otago amounted to 100 prisoners, one 77 mm. field gun, and eight machine guns; our casualties numbered five officers and 139 other ranks. Esnes village had been heavily mined by the enemy; while during the night abandoned dumps in the railway circuit adjoining the village were persistently shelled.
At 3.30 p.m. on the 8th about 50 of the enemy counterattacked down the gully immediately to the north-east of Esnes, but were driven off by our fire. During the same afternoon the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury relieved elements of our troops in their sector, and the line was adjusted page 359 accordingly; while later in the day touch was gained with the Somersets on the right at Hill 135, east of the Esnes-Walincourt Road.