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

Important Successes

page 370

Important Successes.

At 9.30 p.m. on October 23rd instructions were issued verbally to the 1st Battalion of Otago and the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury to pass through the foremost troops of their respective Regiments, and continue the advance. Indications pointed to the enemy's resistance being seriously disorganised, with the possibility of an attempted withdrawal overnight. At 11.35 p.m. 10th Company (commanded by Lieut. H. R. Domigan) and 14th Company (commanded by Captain T. Sim), of the 1st Battalion of Otago, crossed the Ecaillon River and commenced a deep advance to the high ground east of Beaudignies. This was essentially a night movement. Patrols, supported by Lewis guns, preceded the Companies, which moved in artillery formation. The presence of thick hedges, interlaced with wire entanglements, accentuated the difficulties of movement by night, and demanded careful patrolling. Our scouts reported the enemy to be in strength south of the sunken road approximately half a mile east of Beaudignies. An attack under an artillery barrage was timed for 4 a.m. on the 24th, with the 37th Division disposed on the right of the 2nd Brigade of the New Zealand Division and the 3rd Division on the left. In view of that fact it was decided by the two Companies of the 1st Battalion to dig in north of the Beaudignies-Ghissignies Road, and await daylight and the arrival of the troops of the right Division. Touch was established with the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury on the left.

The advance accomplished by the New Zealand Division over the day of the 23rd had exceeded four miles.

On the morning of October 24th troops of the three Divisions, 37th, New Zealand, and 3rd, from right to left, launched their attack against the enemy as arranged. The artillery barrage under which the 3rd Division advanced on the left over-lapped the front occupied by Canterbury and necessitated a temporary withdrawal, the original line being re-established when the barrage had moved forward. At 7 a.m. English troops could be seen on the right of Otago advancing west of Ghissignies. Covering fire was directed on the practice trenches occupied by the enemy east of Beaudignies, and the two leading Companies of Otago advanced page 371 and effected the capture of 75 prisoners and seven machine guns. The left Company, the 14th, pushed forward to the sunken road, and then working to the. right brought flanking fire to bear on the enemy who were still holding out to the north-east. This enabled the right Company to continue; and the sunken road on the western side of the wood surrounding Farm de Beart was gained and consolidated. The enemy could now be observed digging in on the high ground west of Le Quesnoy. During the afternoon outposts were established on the eastern edge of the wood.

The Battalion's captures for the two days comprised 160 prisoners, 33 machine guns, four light trench mortars, and one 77 mm. field gun. Our casualties over the same period numbered six officers and 107 other ranks.

At 5 p.m. the Battalion was advised that it would be relieved by the 3rd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade; and when this was effected at 10 p.m., the Battalion marched back to Neuville.

The general situation now was that the advanced fine was within a mile of the citadel town of Le Quesnoy. Minor operations during the succeeding three days established the line to the north and east of the Le Quesnoy-Valenciennes Railway. Here, as elsewhere, the succession of heavy blows delivered against the enemy's front was exhausting his strength, depleting his reserves, and creating serious demoralisation in his ranks.

Operations conducted on the Flanders front during the closing days of September had witnessed the re-capture of Messines, Ploegsteert Wood, and other places familiar to the Regiment; followed during the opening days of October by an extensive enemy withdrawal along the whole front from south of Lens to Armentieres; the resumption of the British offensive a few days later forced the evacuation of Lille and a rapid retreat over a wide front.

When the 2nd Infantry Brigade was relieved by the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade on the night of October 24th, the latter, on receipt of information of an enemy retirement in a northeasterly direction across its front, immediately sent forward fighting patrols to maintain touch with the enemy. During the day of the 25th advances were made at certain points along the general line, the foremost elements reaching the page 372 Prechelles River, north-west of Le Quesnoy, and the level crossing over the Le Quesnoy-Valenciennes Railway.

Operations planned for the 26th included an endeavour by the 3rd Division to secure possession of Orsinval and Villers Pol to the north; the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade of the New Zealand Division was to co-operate by advancing against the enemy defences north and north-west of Le Quesnoy. The day was marked by heavy fighting and vigorous enemy counterattacks, preceded by increased enemy artillery, minenwerfer and machine gun fire directed against the railway and crossing north-west of Le Quesnoy. These counter-attacks were sanguinarily repulsed; but one effect of this sudden aggressiveness was that no advance was registered by us that day. Neither did the closing days of the month witness any major operation, although several damaging raids were carried out against the enemy and his advanced positions. By reason of the greatly increased weight of artillery now being employed, and the general alertness displayed, it was clear that the enemy was bracing himself for a stand. These efforts, it will be seen, were but as the last convulsive movements of a dying beast.