New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18
Chapter XI. Breaking the Hindenburg Line
Chapter XI. Breaking the Hindenburg Line.
By September 7th the Division had reached the outer defences of the famous Hindenburg Line, on which it was to be expected that the enemy divisions would make a strong effort to impose a check on the advance of the British Armies, and save themselves from the growing disorganisation which was making itself apparent in their ranks. A successful attack upon this line, the last and strongest of the enemy's prepared positions, would be far-reaching and momentous in its consequences. Failure to break through would seriously stay the advance, and would go far towards reviving the declining morale of the German Armies. The Hindenburg Line, which really consisted of a whole series of entrenchments and fortifications, extended in places to ten thousand yards in depth, and was so skilfully sited as to take the greatest possible advantage of the configuration of the country through which it ran.
A few hours after midnight on September 6th messages were received at artillery headquarters that both the New Zealand and 37th Divisions were well into the heart of Havrincourt Wood, and were approaching its eastern edge. The commander of the 2nd Brigade met his battery commanders at six o'clock in the morning and rode forward and reconnoitred positions between Metz and the wood. These were occupied by 9 a.m. Enemy shelling during the move caused some casualties in the Brigade, which also lost about a dozen horses. Beyond some shelling at the 3rd Brigade waggon lines, enemy batteries did not display much activity during the day. Both the 3rd Brigade and the 210th Brigade advanced their guns after the 2nd Brigade had completed its move, but the 210th Brigade could not get all its guns up during daylight, as the positions were overlooked from the high ground south-east of Gouzeaucourt; individual sections were got on to the position, however, the remainder of the guns going in under cover of darkness. page 269Some effective shooting was carried out on parties of the enemy which were seen to be moving freely about Trescault and the country to the immediate south. On completion of the relief of the 2nd Infantry Brigade by the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade, Lieut.- Colonel R. S. McQuarrie assumed command of the group comprising the 3rd and 2nd Brigades, N.Z.F.A., and the 210th Brigade, R.F.A. The 1st and 223rd Brigades remained superimposed.
On September 8th the forward movement was continued, and Gouzeaucourt Wood was cleared. Although there was a good deal of intermittent shelling about some battery positions, the day was quiet so far as the artillery were concerned. Preparations were made for an operation to be carried out at 4 a.m., on the 9th by the New Zealand Division, acting in conjunction with the 17th Division. The objective of the New Zealand Division was the high ground east of Gouzeaucourt Wood and along the Trescault Ridge. This attack did not meet with complete success, however, and after the barrage had advanced through its various stages batteries continued firing on their final line to enable the infantry to dig in where they stood.
The enemy was now back on to a very strong line of defence. North of Havrincourt he had taken shelter behind the Canal du Nord. From the neighbourhood of Havrincourt southwards his main line of resistance was the Hindenburg line, which after passing through the village of Havrincourt ran south-east across the Beaucamp, La Vacquerie, and Bonavis Ridges to the Scheldt Canal at Bantouzelle, whence it followed the line of the canal to St. Quentin. Strong German forces held formidable positions about Havrincourt and Epehy, which had to be taken before the attack on the Hindenburg Line could be launched. Plans were therefore laid for an attack on September 12th, by the IV. and VI. Corps of the Third Army, on a front of about five miles in the Havrincourt sector, employing troops of the New Zealand, 37th, 62nd, and 2nd Divisions. This attack was originally planned for September 11th, but was postponed for twenty-four hours. During the two or three days preceding the attack, batteries were busy getting their guns forward for the assault, and page 270stocking the new positions with ammunition up to five hundred rounds per gun for the 18-pr. batteries, and four hundred rounds for the howitzers. The 1st Brigade positions in or near Havrincourt Wood were occupied on the evening of the 9th, and as batteries were to remain silent until the opening of the attack, a gun guard only was maintained on the position. This lessened the risk of casualties, in addition to affording the gunners some brief respite from the guns. The New Zealand Division, with Trescault Spur as its objective, was supported by six field artillery brigades, three batteries of six-inch howitzers and four six-inch trench mortars, which had been sent forward and placed at the disposal of the G.O.C. 3rd (Rifle) Brigade. The three brigades then in the line—the 210th, R.F.A., and the 2nd and 3rd Brigades, in that order from right to left—covered the whole divisional front on the opening barrage line; the remaining three brigades were superimposed. The attack opened up well at 5.25 a.m., and the first objectives were early reported in the hands of the infantry, but thereafter the enemy's resistance hardened, and further progress was achieved only by dint of hard fighting. Enemy artillery fire was heavy on the forward areas, but battery positions suffered only some spasmodic shelling.
Following on the relief of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade by the 1st Infantry Brigade on the night after the attack, Lieut.- Colonel I. T. Standish assumed command of the advance guard artillery. The group consisted of the 211th Brigade R.F.A., and the 3rd and 1st Brigades, N.Z.F.A., each of which was affiliated to a battalion in the line. The 2nd Brigade, with the remaining two R.F.A. Brigades was superimposed. On the following evening, however, the 210th and 211th Brigades were withdrawn from the Division, and were replaced by the 27th Brigade, R.F.A., only. The New Zealand Division, less artillery, was relieved by the 5th Division on September 15th, and went into corps reserve. The New Zealand Artillery, with attached brigades of R.F.A., remained in the line under the command of the 5th Division, but orders were then received transferring the 2nd (Army) Brigade, N.Z.F.A., to another area under the V. Corps. The Brigade succeeded in withdrawing its guns from the line without casualties, in spite of very heavy page 271bombing by enemy aeroplanes. The brigade had already suffered about thirty casualties as the result of a heavy gas-shell bombardment in the early hours of September 14th while batteries had been engaged in firing on S.O.S. The affected areas were temporarily evacuated where possible, and every precaution was taken; but the total casualties ran into big figures. The 1st Brigade suffered even more severely. In the 15th Battery the battery commander and three other officers and forty-one other ranks had to be evacuated, and in the 1st Battery there were about twenty cases. The German batteries continued very active all day, and for about two hours in the morning the 18-pr. batteries of the 2nd Brigade were shelled by 28 c.m. howitzers. A good deal of material damage was done about the positions, one gun being blown a distance of thirty yards. Fortunately no casualties were suffered.
During the three nights following the relief by the 5th Division enemy night bombers were particularly active over Havrincourt Wood and the neighbourhood. They did not inflict a great deal of damage, however, and were not permitted to go unscathed, two of them being brought down in one night by British aeroplanes. On September 18th the artillery supported an operation by the 5th Division, which was engaged in throwing out a defensive flank to cover an attack by the 38th Division on the right. The enemy replied to the barrage fire by shelling batteries with guns of all calibres, and further heavy concentrations of gas were put down during the afternoon.
The 1st Brigade and No. 1 Section of the Divisional Ammunition Column withdrew to their waggon lines after dark on September 19th, and came under the orders of the C.R.A., New Zealand Division. The following night the 3rd Brigade, less the 4th Battery, which remained in action attached to the 123rd Brigade, also withdrew to waggon lines. Both brigades remained in rest until a day or two before the launching of the Battle of Cambrai and the attack on the Hindenburg Line on September 27th. The time was devoted to cleaning up and overhauling clothing and equipment, all of which had become sadly in need of attention during the four weeks' fighting in which the artillery had been engaged without respite since page 272August 21st. On September 23rd these units commenced to make preparations for their return to the line. Positions were selected for the 1st Brigade batteries in Havrincourt Wood, and for those of the 3rd Brigade in the vicinity of Metz, most of them close to the road running from Metz through Havrincourt Wood. Until these positions were occupied on the night of September 25th-26th, batteries devoted their energies towards preparing emplacements, and getting ammunition forward, a great deal of it being lifted from the positions recently vacated behind Metz. For the attack on September 27th the 1st Brigade was attached to the 42nd Division, and the 3rd Brigade to the 5th Division. Each field artillery brigade was to superimpose one of its 18-pr. batteries on the front covered by the remaining two, the 4.5in. howitzer batteries to distribute their fire along each brigade front. In addition to forward observing officers, each group sent forward on the day of the attack a forward intelligence officer, who was given every possible facility for communicating with his group. Trench mortars were to engage in wire cutting and assist in the initial stages of the barrage.
The attack was launched behind a close barrage at 5.20 a.m. on September 27th. The 5th and 42nd Divisions made fairly substantial progress, but complete success was not achieved. A second attack the following morning gave better results, and both the 1st and 3rd Brigades were able to advance their guns, the 1st Brigade in the afternoon, and the 3rd Brigade in the evening. During the night, September 28th-29th, the New Zealand Division returned to the line again, and command of the artillery on the sector passed to Brigadier-General G. N. Johnston, C.R.A. of the Division.
New Zealand Artillery crossing the River Selle by a bridge constructed by the New Zealand Engineers under heavy shell-fire [Official Photo
The 3rd Brigade, supporting troops of the 5th Division, on the right, did not move forward on the 29th, as the extent of the 5th Division's advance did not necessitate a change of positions. Orders were actually received to move forward to the neighbourhood of La Vacquerie, but when Battery Commanders went forward to reconnoitre positions, they found this area still in occupation by the enemy. At noon the Brigade received orders to remain for the time being in the positions near Beaucamp. Waggons and limbers, which had been brought forward in anticipation of a move, were parked on the outskirts of Metz. When the brigade assisted in supporting a further attack by the page 2745th Division on September 30th better progress was made, and by evening the 18-pr. batteries were in action near La Vacquerie, and the 4th (Howitzer) Battery near Gonnelieu.
The early days of October were occupied with preparations for a resumption of the general advance on October 8th. In the meanwhile everything was kept in readiness to meet any possible change in the situation. Orders were issued for reconnaissances to be made as far forward as possible, and it was arranged that in the event of an advance one brigade of artillery was to follow closely in support of each infantry brigade, the remaining brigades advancing their batteries as the situation required. As advanced positions were selected they were to be stocked with ammunition, and made ready for occupation. The Divisional Trench Mortar Officer was ordered to get mortars into position on the night of October 2nd to cover the canal crossings. The positions selected by the 1st Brigade were in the bend of the canal, south-east of Masnieres. They were not occupied immediately, but the 7th Battery was so badly shelled on the afternoon of October 2nd, that it was moved to its forward position, and there remained silent. That night the 3rd Brigade took over the positions of the 123rd Brigade, R.F.A., situated about a mile north-east of La Vacquerie. On the night of October 3rd the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade relieved the 1st Infantry Brigade in the line, and command of the Left Group Artillery, consisting of the 1st Brigade and the 124th and 317th Brigades, R.F.A., passed to Lieut.-Colonel Standish, and of the Right Group, comprising the 3rd Brigade and the 210th and 211th Brigades, R.F.A., to Lieut.-Colonel McQuarrie.
A deliberate bombardment of the enemy's known positions was carried out during the afternoon of October 4th, with the object of destroying his personnel and damaging his morale. Attention was paid to all sunken roads, as well as trenches and machine gun posts, to the Esnes Torrent Ravine, and to the valley running north-east from Crevecour. The heavy artillery co-operated by shelling Bel Aise and Pelu Wood. Early the following morning there were indications of an enemy withdrawal on the front. When the enemy commenced to shell Vaucelles, and was seen to be retiring all batteries were ordered into their barrage positions. By the close of the day the 1st page 275Brigade was established in the positions which had been reconnoitred on October 1st, and the 3rd Brigade was getting into action immediately east of the main road to Cambrai. Shortly before midnight the Right Group, assisted by the 90th Brigade, R.G.A., carried out a heavy bombardment on Lesdain. A forward observing officer who had crossed the canal during the day usefully directed the fire of his group, using a loop wireless set for his communications, and sent back a good deal of valuable information. Observed shooting and harassing fire were carried out on the 6th, and on the 7th. On this latter day batteries of the 3rd Brigade went into action in fresh positions near the southern end of Cheneaux Wood.
It had been expected that the crossing of the canal at this point would entail a difficult and, perhaps, costly attack, and preparations for an attack were actually being made when the enemy so unexpectedly withdrew from his formidable positions. The Division was, therefore, able to cross the canal without any heavy losses, and it became possible to establish the batteries of the 3rd Brigade on the eastern bank of the canal before the launching of the attack on Esnes.
On October 8th the New Zealand Division in conjunction with the 37th Division on the right and the 3rd Division on the left, attacked at 4.30 a.m., with the aim of establishing itself on a 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 by securing Esnes and a line approximately one thousand yards east of the Esnes-la Targette Road. The night preceding the attack was wet, and rain was still falling when the guns opened the barrage. The advance of the infantry was so rapid that within a few hours of the opening of the attack the guns were going forward again, and by the early afternoon the great proportion of the field artillery supporting the Division was in action east of the canal, having crossed on bridges erected or repaired by the Engineers. In consequence of reports having been received that a fresh German division was marching south-west on Cattenieres, it was considered probable that the enemy might launch a counter-attack from the north-east during the afternoon, and it was, therefore, decided not to move all the guns east of the canal. page 276The 317th Brigade remained west of the canal with S.O.S. lines east of la Targette. The 1st Brigade positions were some distance north-east of Crevecour, and those of the 3rd Brigade in the neighbourhood of Pelu Wood. The day had been a very successful one for the Division, and casualties were small in both artillery brigades, though the 1st Brigade unfortunately lost two officers killed.
When the advance was resumed at 5.20 a.m. on the 9th, the reply to the barrage fire of the guns was slight, and it was soon discovered that the enemy was withdrawing from his positions. The infantry pushed on as rapidly as the barrage would permit, and were soon moving forward east of the railway line, which ran west of Cattenieres and Fontaines-au-Pire. After finishing the barrage the 3rd Brigade reconnoitred positions north of Longsart. These were occupied at once, the 11th and 13th batteries sending out forward sections, which kept close up with the infantry, and materially assisted their advance. The 1st Brigade occupied positions of assembly south of Seranvillers, where batteries remained until the following morning. The infantry entered Fontaine on the afternoon of the 9th, and pressing determinedly on, had reached the long straight road from Cambrai to Le Cateau, and cleared Beauvois, by the early morning of October 10th.
On the 11th Briastre was taken, and the Division reached the line of the river Selle. The guns moved forward early in the morning, after reports had come through that the infantry were advancing and meeting with little opposition. After sending the 13th Battery forward in support of the infantry, the 3rd Brigade remained in positions of readiness until it went into action near Beauvois. The 1st Brigade also took up positions near Beauvois during the afternoon, and at dawn on the 11th relieved the 3rd Brigade as advanced guard artillery. In order to cover the crossings of the River Selle, and the country east of the river, the 1st Brigade moved forward again to Viesly, batteries being in action there by about 9 a.m.
It was in these two towns of Beauvois and Caudry that the New Zealanders encountered the first civilians liberated from the dominion of the enemy who had invaded their country. In the earlier stages of the great advance the enemy had made a page 277practice of clearing each village of its inhabitants before it became involved in the fighting, and sending them to the rear. By the time the Division reached Caudry, the advance had become so swift that the enemy was apparently unable to follow this usual practice, and both in Beauvois and Caudry, he had grouped the civilian inhabitants in the rear or eastern portion of the town, the buildings in which they were sheltered being indicated by red cross flags which flew from the roof.
During the brief period that batteries remained in reserve in this locality they naturally saw a great deal of the overjoyed inhabitants, from whom they learnt much regarding the miseries which they had had to suffer during the long years their towns were occupied by the enemy.
The 1st and 3rd Brigades both enjoyed a brief respite from active fighting, from the 12th to the 18th of October, and in addition to giving the horses a much-needed rest, units were provided with an opportunity of overhauling their guns and equipment. The whole Division, with the exception of the Divisional Ammunition Column, was relieved by the 42nd Division. The 1st Brigade was relieved by the 210th Brigade, R.F.A., and with the 3rd Brigade, which was then in Divisional Reserve, occupied rest billets at Beauvois. The horses were given as much grazing as possible, and benefited considerably by the rest. A visit was paid to the lines on October 15th by the Prince of Wales. On this day also orders were received for the artillery to return to the line, under the orders of the 42nd Division. The weather was bad on October 16th, heavy rain falling in the morning, when Brigade and Battery Commanders from both brigades went forward to reconnoitre positions east of Viesly and south of Briastre. The 1st Battery selected a flank position for one gun, which was to harass the railway line running from Briastre to Solesmes, and the sunken road south of the latter town. With the 223rd Brigade, R.P.A., the two New Zealand brigades formed the Right Group of the artillery supporting the 42nd Division, the group being commanded by Lieut.-Colonel F. B. Sykes R.A. who formerly commanded the 2nd Brigade, N.Z.F.A. Three guns per battery were taken to the positions on the night of October 18th, the remainder following next night, when the carting of ammunition was also page 278completed. The 15th (Howitzer) Battery was so heavily shelled that it was found necessary to move the guns to another position near by.
On October 18th Lieut-Colonel I. T. Standish relinquished command of the 1st Brigade, in order to proceed to New Zealand, his place as Brigade Commander being taken by Major C. N. Newman.
On October 20th both brigades fired in support of the 42nd Division, which attacked from Briastre with the 5th Division on its right, and the 62nd Division of the VI. Corps on its left. The attack was supported by three batteries of six-inch howitzers, in addition to six brigades of field artillery. For forty-five minutes after zero, which was at 2 a.m., one 18-pr. battery of the 1st Brigade fired incendiary shells into the railway triangle south of Solesmes; the remaining two 18-pr. batteries fired a smoke screen, and the 15th (Howitzer) Battery shelled the railway triangle and the railways abounding it. After completing this phase the brigade remained superimposed, first on the Bight Group front, and later on that of the Left Group. The barrage was maintained to its final stages, but the Division did not succeed in reaching its objectives. A further attack, made later in the day under cover of artillery fire, was somewhat more successful. Early in the afternoon both brigades fired on S.O.S., in response to an order from Group Headquarters, but it was ascertained later that this was designed as a form of counter-preparation to break up the massing of enemy troops.
On October 21st the 2nd Brigade rejoined the Divisional Artillery, and Lieut.-Colonel Falla took command of a group consisting of the three New Zealand Brigades and two Brigades of the 42nd Divisional Artillery. The 2nd Brigade batteries, which had been ordered to rendezvous west of Rieux in the morning, went into action east of the river Selle, to the south of Solesmes. The 1st and 3rd Brigades advanced their batteries to positions about a mile beyond Belle Vue. The 1st Brigade had been allotted an area further to the east, but this was found to be under both observation and heavy machine gun fire from the neighbourhood of Beaurain, and was unapproachable by daylight. The weather continued unfavourable, and hostile fire page 279being heavy during the afternoon and night, the work of occupying the position and stocking them with ammunition was completed under difficulties. Casualties were suffered in every brigade, and at the 12th Battery waggon lines about a dozen horses were killed and as many more wounded by shell fire.
Preparations were now being made for an attack on October 23rd, to be made by troops of the Third and Fourth Armies, on a front of about fifteen miles, with the object of obtaining a line running from the Sambre Canal along the edge of Mormal Forest, to the neighbourhood of Valenciennes. During the first phase of the attack on the IV. Corps front the New Zealand brigades of artillery were to assist in the support of the 42nd Division, which was attacking with the 5th Division on its right and the 3rd Division of the VI. Corps on its left. The first objective for the 5th and 42nd Divisions was the ridge west of Beaurain; the 3rd Division was to attack Romries, north-east of Solesmes. An hour later the 5th and 42nd Divisions were to advance on a line running east of Beaurain. The attack was then to be taken up by the New Zealand and 37th Divisions, which were to pass through the foremost troops of the IV. Corps, and continue the advance in a north-easterly direction in conjunction with the 3rd Division on the left. In addition to the field artillery available for the support of the attack, three batteries of six-inch howitzers were employed to deal with sunken roads and ravines on the front of the Division. In dealing with villages in the line of the advance, shrapnel and smoke shell only were to be used by the field artillery, in order to conserve the safety of the French inhabitants as far as was possible.
Hostile fire was fairly heavy all along the front in the hours preceding the attack, the unfavourable weather conditions which prevailed having seriously interfered with counter-battery work. Areas in which the New Zealand batteries were situated were violently shelled during October 22nd, the enemy using a great number of gas and shells up to eight-inch calibre. The 3rd Battery had two guns disabled, but by taking parts from one to repair the other the battery was able to keep five guns in page 280action. The barrage opened up splendidly at zero hour, 2 a.m. on October 23rd, and though the enemy's reply was fairly violent, little of it fell about the batteries. Rapid and substantial success was achieved along the whole front, and by 7 a.m. all batteries of the 2nd Brigade were on the move to new positions east of Solesmes. The brigade completed its move while the remaining brigades were supporting the advance of the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade, which had taken up the attack after passing through the 42nd Division. That Division having completed its task, command of the artillery on the sector passed to Brigadier-General G. N. Johnston; the Left Group, consisting of the 2nd Brigade and the 210th and 211th Brigades, R.F.A., was commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Falla, and the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the Right Group by Lieut.-Colonel McQuarrie. The 2nd Brigade succeeded in getting 375 rounds per gun on to its forward positions by twelve noon, in time for the barrage to cover the advance to the final objective. A "shell storm" which fell on the brigade area caused a number of casualties, but the barrage was put down punctually at twelve minutes past twelve, and the New Zealand Infantry, who had already captured Vertigneul, and crossed the River Harpies in their first advance, continued the north-easterly movement, and finally entered Beaudignies after night had fallen, and secured the crossings of the river Escaillon, which flowed through the town. Thus they completed an advance for the day of over four miles.
The 211th Brigade, R.F.A., had been ordered to advance when the barrage reached the protective line for the Division's first objective, making every endeavour to get its guns forward in time to fire in the final barrage. The brigade did not succeed in this endeavour, however, and the barrage was therefore fired by the 2nd Brigade alone and was somewhat weak in consequence. The bridges over the Escaillon River having been reported fit to take field guns, the 1st and 3rd Brigades crossed the river during the afternoon, and occupied positions east and south-east of Vertigneul. While Brigade and Battery Commanders were reconnoitring these positions about midday, they were caught in the enemy's counter-barrage, and Major E. Gardner, Commanding 4th (Howitzer) Battery, was wounded.page 281
There were no civilians in Beaudignies when the artillery entered the town, but evidences of their hasty departure were on every hand. An abundance of vegetables grew in the gardens, and while the artillerymen remained in the town or its neighbourhood, they made the most of this opportunity of supplementing their fare.
So far as the artillery were concerned, a period of abstention from active operations ensued until the close of October, when preparations were commenced for the great attack on November 4th, which was to prove a decisive blow for the disorganised and rapidly weakening German Armies. It was by no means a period of rest, however, for there were frequent changes of battery positions, and the enemy's artillery, despite the heavy losses and severe punishment which it had just suffered in the Battle of the Selle River, displayed a marked degree of activity, destructively shelling the villages in the area from which he had just been driven, and both gun and waggon line positions. On October 24th, when losses were fairly heavy in all three brigades, the 1st Battery suffered about a dozen casualties, in addition to the loss of about forty horses; while the 15th Battery had one of its howitzers put out of action by shell fire. As the 7th Battery had been withdrawn from the line to attend the Third Army Artillery School as demonstration battery, and the brigade was in a weak state, it was decided to place it in reserve, and the guns were withdrawn to the wagon lines. A position of readiness was selected for the 2nd Brigade on the north of the Pont a Pierres-Beaudignies Road, and while moving forward, viâ Pont a Pierres, the 6th Battery was caught in a shell storm, and had three men and several horses killed. The enemy continued to shell the area of the St. George's River, compelling the brigade to send its teams to the rear, with the exception of those of the 9th Battery, which, moved its. Guns forward to the vicinity of La Haute Borne, north of Beaudignies. After remaining in a position of readiness throughout the day of the 24th, the 3rd Brigade moved forward the following day to the south-western outskirts of Beaudignies. Batteries remained in those positions only twenty-four hours, after which they crossed the Escaillon River, and went into action on the eastern side of the Baudignies-Ruesnes Road.page 282
Following on the relief of the 2nd Infantry Brigade by the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade Lieut.-Colonel McQuarrie assumed command of the artillery in the line, consisting of the 3rd Brigade, and the 210th Brigade, R.F.A. The 2nd Brigade, in support, was superimposed on the group front, and the 211th Brigade was withdrawn to its waggon lines. As the 2nd Brigade was required for S.O.S. purposes only, gun crews were reduced to a minimum,. In view of the fact that there was to be no attempt at a general advance in the meantime, it was decided on October 27th to withdraw the field artillery on the Divisional front to defensive positions, and keep all waggon lines west of Le Trousse Minou. Leaving a section per battery in the forward positions, the 3rd Brigade withdrew to the south-west of Beaudignies, and the 9th Battery vacated its forward positions and rejoined the 2nd Brigade, which remained superimposed on the front of the 3rd Brigade. Of two batteries of medium trench mortars which had gone forward to dig positions, one was withdrawn and the other remained in action. On the last night of the month the 3rd Brigade and the 210th Brigade, R.F.A., went into rest positions on relief by the 1st Brigade and the 211th Brigade, R.F.A.
Included in those who were casualtied as a result of the vigorous daily shelling to whieh the artillery areas were subjected in the closing days of. the month, was Major J. M. Richmond, D.S.O., M.C., who was killed by a shell on October 27th outside the headquarters of the 2nd Artillery Brigade. Leaving New Zealand with the Main Body, Major Richmond served first as Adjutant of the Field Artillery Brigade, and later, when the force was reorganised, as Brigade Major of the Divisional Artillery. In this capacity he displayed ability of a very high order, the operation and other orders prepared by him being always remarkable for their lucidity and conciseness. After having been in command of the 9th Battery for two months Major Richmond had taken command of the 2nd Brigade on the day of his death, vice Lieut.-Colonel Falla, who proceeded to England at the close of the month to take command of the Artillery Reserve Depot. Major Richmond was buried in the cemetery at Solesmes, the funeral being attended by the G.O.C. Division, Major-General A. H. Russell, Brigadier-General page 283Johnston, and a number of Officers from the Divisional Artillery. Command of the 2nd Brigade passed to Major C. N. Newman, and Lieut.-Colonel Symon reassumed command of the 1st Brigade on rejoining the Division.
The 2nd (Army) Brigade was withdrawn from the front of the New Zealand Division on September 15th, in consequence of orders having been received the previous day instructing the Brigade to be prepared to move to a new area under the V. Corps. The Brigade was on the march on the 16th, moving during the afternoon to new waggon lines which had been reconnoitred that morning south of Equancourt. Batteries were settled down in their new quarters by 6 p.m., but the night was disturbed by heavy enemy bombing and shelling. One man was killed, and about twenty others were either wounded or gassed. Orders had been received that the brigade was to be grouped in action with the 95th Brigade, R.F.A., and so on the morning of September 17th, gun positions were selected south-east of Heudecourt. As these positions were within plain view of the enemy in his trenches only five hundred yards away, arrangements were made to move the batteries in under cover of darkness. The guns were got up, and positions were stocked before dawn with 300 rounds per gun and 250 rounds per howitzer. Operation orders had been received detailing the part to be played by the brigade in assisting to support an attack to be made on the morning of the 18th by the 21st Division, and final preparations for this attack were completed in the early hours of the morning. Meanwhile battery positions were being heavily shelled with gas and high explosive, the 2nd and 5th Batteries suffering most severely. The brigade fired in the barrage, behind which the infantry advanced and took all their objectives, and spent the remainder of the day in harassing various points on the enemy's front. The following day an observing officer was sent forward to the infantry holding the line in front of Villers-Guislain, with permission to employ the fire of the whole brigade, if necessary. Observation was good, and there was a tremendous amount of movement behind page 284the enemy's front. This was engaged with brigade fire throughout the day, and though a great deal of ammunition was expended, its effect was such as to evoke enthusiastic comment from the infantry commander whose troops the brigade was supporting. Batteries withdrew to their waggon lines the same evening, and spent September 20th in cleaning up equipment and vehicles.
On September 21st, at 2.30 p.m., the Brigade was ordered to move northwards into the Lagnicourt area under the XVII. Corps, where it would be attached to the 40th Divisional Artillery. The column moved out about 7 p.m., and marching via Bus, Beugny, and Morchies arrived at its waggon lines in the new area north of Lagnicourt about daybreak. The Brigade was attached to the 57th Division for administration, but was tactically under the command of Headquarters, 40th Divisional Artillery. Positions were reconnoitred and stocked with ammunition, but were not occupied until the evening of September 25th. The brigade was to support an attack by the 57th Division on September 27th, and as it was required to advance its guns during the course of the barrage, forward positions were selected immediately in rear of the front line. After dawn on the 25th, all batteries essayed to get two hundred rounds per battery on to these forward positions, but when a total of six' hundred rounds had been dumped the enemy attacked under cover of a heavy barrage, and teams had to get clear of the area at the gallop. They returned at dusk, however, and succeeded in dumping 1,800 rounds on to the position, a performance which was regarded with a great deal of satisfaction, as the ammunition had to be taken almost to the front line.
Zero hour on the 27th was at 5.20 a.m., and after firing in the barrage until 5.50 a.m., one section from each battery moved forward, the remaining guns increasing their rate of fire. The route over which the guns had to advance was being heavily shelled, and before the sections had got into action one man had been killed and eight wounded. Notwithstanding this, the four sections were in action by 6.30 a.m., and as soon as they opened fire the remainder of the brigade advanced at the trot. Heavy page 285hostile shelling still persisted, but by 7.50 a.m. the whole brigade was in action, and firing in the barrage of the second phase of the attack. The infantry were held up on the Canal du Nord by heavy machine gun fire, so the engineers were not able to commence the cutting of passages for the advance of the artillery until about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The Brigade Commander, accompanied by his battery commanders, reconnoitred positions west of Anneux, several thousand yards east of the Canal, but orders were received that in the meantime the brigade would remain in its positions in defence of the Canal. Shortly before midnight orders were received that the brigade would rendezvous east of the Canal on the following morning.
The brigade was early on the move next morning, and by 6 o'clock was at its rendezvous east of the Canal. Instructions were then received that the brigade was attached to the 89th Infantry Brigade of the 63rd Division, which was to pass through the troops of the 57th Division after they had gained their objective by crossing the Escault Canal. Two officers of the brigade were sent out to reconnoitre the route forward, and, if possible, report on the Canal crossings. At 8.30 a.m. word was received from the reconnaissance party that the infantry had not succeeded in crossing the Canal. After a conference of infantry and artillery Brigade Commanders with the G.O.C. 63rd Division, the brigade was ordered to rendezvous west of Anneux, and very shortly after got into action in the valley south of Fontaine-Notre-Dame. The 63rd Division, however, whose attack the brigade was to support, found that the 57th Division had not taken the Escault Canal, and therefore decided to await developments. Meanwhile the Brigade Commander endeavoured to obtain permission to open fire on the eastern side of the Canal, and drive the enemy from his positions, but the brigade was not allowed to fire. Later in the afternoon the 5th Battery got two guns into action, and engaged enemy movement on the Cambrai-Masnieres Road. Shortly afterwards the brigade received orders to bring its guns into action in the valley south of Fontaine-Notre-Dame, and a barrage was put down just east of the canal; this barrage was repeated after a brief interval, but the infantry were unable to force the passage of the Canal.page 286
The Canal was eventually crossed under cover of barrage fire at half-past six the following morning, and some hours later the infantry were observed making their way up the slopes towards the Cambrai-Masnieres Road. The 9th Battery sent one gun forward to engage any fleeting targets, and carried out some effective shooting. The bridge across the Canal was badly damaged, and was still being bombed and shelled by the enemy; the Brigade Commander crossed the Canal to reconnoiter positions for the batteries, but was driven back by machine gun fire after having advanced a short distance on the eastern banks. Two battery commanders were wounded during the day—Major R. A. Wilson, 6th Battery, and Major A. B. Williams, 5th Battery. Command of the 6th Battery passed to Captain L. Gardner, and of the 5th Battery to Captain W. H. Jones.
The advance did not progress very rapidly on the 30th; the artillery carried out heavy harassing fire during the day, and fired a barrage at 5.30 p.m., but the infantry were unable to make any headway. The brigade moved its guns forward about a thousand yards during the afternoon, and brought 250 rounds per gun on to the new positions.
On October 1st the brigade was transferred to the 57th Division which took over the line from the 63rd Division. By evening only four guns, from the 40th Divisional Artillery, had been moved forward across the Canal, but ultimately they were withdrawn, as no positions could be found for them where they could clear the steep crest which flanked the Canal banks on the eastern side. The brigade carried out normal shooting during following days, and at dawn on October 5th withdrew to the rest area in the valley east of Louverval. Some casualties had been suffered the previous day by heavy shelling of gun and waggon lines, extending throughout the afternoon and late into the night, and necessitating the withdrawal of the waggon lines to the Sugar Factory on the main Cambrai Road.
The brigade's rest was of the briefest possible description; twelve hours after the guns had been withdrawn from the line, orders were received for the support of an attack by the 63rd Division on October 7th. On the 6th, positions were selected just east of the Canal, north-east of Noyelles, and these were page 287occupied and stocked with ammunition by 6 p.m. Word was then received from 57th Divisional Artillery Headquarters, under which the brigade was grouped, that the attack had been postponed for twenty-four hours. The 9th Battery had been heavily shelled, and had lost one gun, and as the shelling of batteries became general, all the personnel at the guns, except one man per gun and one officer per battery, were sent back to the waggon lines for the night. The day before the attack was spent in improving the positions. Hostile artillery was consistently active, and every night enemy aeroplanes came over and bombed the whole area.
The 63rd Division's final objective in the attack was Niergnies, a small village about two miles south of Cambrai, and the road to the east. Zero hour was at 4.30 a.m. on October 8th; the enemy's reply to the barrage was light, and the infantry made good progress, Niergnies being reported taken within a few hours of the opening of the advance. Beyond that point the advance was held up by heavy machine gun fire. The enemy counter-attacked towards Niergnies about 11 a.m., using some captured British tanks, but the attack was met by artillery fire and stopped. At noon batteries were ordered to move forward east of the Noyelles-Cambrai road, in order to take part in a barrage to cover an attack on Awingt at 3 p.m. The move was carried out without delay, and all preparations made for the barrage, but the attack was postponed.
The brigade moved into a position of readiness the following morning, waggon lines were established on the eastern bank of the Canal, and headquarters was located at Rumilly. The brigade was now attached to the 57th Divisional Artillery, in support of the 19th Division. On October 10th, while the brigade was still in its position of readiness, it was ordered to move to the south-east of Cambrai. This move was carried out on the 10th, and the two following days were devoted to cleaning up the harness and equipment, and giving the horses as much grazing as could be obtained. Positions of readiness were occupied south-west of Rieux on the 13th, where batteries remained for almost a week, making the most of the precious opportunity of resting the horses and overhauling equipment.page 288
On October 19th batteries went into action east of St. Aubert, in order to fire a barrage at 2 a.m. on the 20th, to assist the 19th and 24th Divisions in an attack on Haussy. After firing in the barrage, orders were received to withdraw the guns to the waggon lines in readiness to move to the IV. Corps on October 21st, when the brigade was to rejoin the New Zealand Division.page break page break