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New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18

St. Yves

page 177

St. Yves.

From June 12th onwards, enemy fire on artillery areas and roads began to display a marked increase; and the fact that a good deal of this fire came from opposite the Divisional front showed that the enemy had recovered his confidence, and brought his guns forward again. After the batteries of the Division had settled down in their advanced positions they commenced firing 900 rounds per battery per day on enemy roads and communications behind the Warneton lines in preparation for a further advance, which had been ordered for the evening of June 13th. The artillery were to support the infantry of the New Zealand Divison, which relieved the troops of the 3rd Australian Division in the line on June 12th, in the St. Yves sector. In this operation the line was to be advanced to a depth of 1,500 yards, and as it was not thought that the undertaking would prove particularly difficult, it was to be carried out without any artillery support in the way of a barrage. Late in the afternoon of the 13th, however, information was received that the 25th Division, which was to co-operate on the left, would not advance without artillery support. The New Zealand Division's original plans were adhered to, however, but the attack was only partially successful. The 3rd (Rifle) Brigade reached its objective, but the 2nd Infantry Brigade on the left came under heavy fire from the German artillery, and did not succeed in pushing home the attack.

A second attempt, supported by an artillery barrage, was more successful next evening. The attack was fixed for 7.30 p.m.; but it was after 6 p.m. when the instructions for the creeping barrage were received by Group Headquarters, and battery commanders got their orders from the runners barely in time. Fire died down to normal at 9.30 p.m., but the heavy shelling to which the Messines Ridge and the whole area between the ridge and Wulverghem had been subjected all day went on unabated.

From the 17th of June the amount of harassing fire carried out by the Division was gradually decreased, but hostile shelling of roads and villages and battery positions continued without diminution right to the end of the month; Ploegsteert Village page 178and approaches, and Hyde Park Corner, being shelled at odd times of the day and night; and Neuve Eglise occasionally. On the nights of June 17th and June 18th, the 1st and 3rd Brigades N.Z.F.A., exchanged positions with the 3rd and 6th (Army) Brigades, Australian Field Artillery. The 1st Brigade batteries were in and about Ploegsteert Wood, and the 3rd Brigade batteries were further south, on the right of the Divisional front, the 11th Battery being near Le Bizet. Head-quarters of the 3rd Brigade at Tilleul Farm were so heavily shelled on the 19th that a move was made to Grand Rabesque Farm. On account of infantry patrols being close to the River Lys no fire was to be placed west of that river. From June 19th the Divisional front was covered by six brigades of field artillery—the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd New Zealand Brigades, the 175th Brigade R.F.A., and two brigades Australian Field Artillery.

The activities of the artillery were now no more than normal, and the usual routine of events came as something of a relief after the strenuous happenings of the past month; no peace was had, however, from the enemy counter-battery guns, which continued persistently active. Heavy casualties were suffered on the 20th, and the 11th Battery, which was shelled all day, lost five men killed and three wounded. The position was made untenable and a fresh situation was reconnoitred and occupied the following night.

During the shelling on the 20th one section was located in a small cottage, the guns firing through the windows. This building was set on fire as a result of the enemy shelling, and the ammunition stored in the pits exploded and destroyed both guns. Three or four gunners managed to make their escape from the burning and shattered ruin, but the remainder were killed by the explosion. Including those guns which were casualtied during July, the battery had eleven guns put out of action during the fighting along this front, and of that total no less than seven were totally destroyed.

The Artillery covering the front was considerably weakened by the withdrawal on the 25th and 26th of June of the 2nd (Army) Brigade N.Z.F.A., which went out to waggon lines near Steenwerck, and of the 7th Brigade A.F.A. Orders were page 179issued in consequence to decrease fire gradually in the hope that the enemy might do likewise. This policy, however, had not had the desired effect up to the end of the month, when the New Zealand batteries were withdrawn from the line for a brief period of rest. This was in the course of the relief of the New Zealand Division by the 4th Australian Division. The 1st Brigade batteries were relieved by the 10th Australian Brigade, and those of the 3rd Brigade by the 11th Australian Brigade, reliefs being completed by the night of the 1st July. Both brigades and the Divisional Ammunition Column were concentrated at waggon lines in the vicinity of Westhof Farm. Divisional Artillery Headquarters were at Vieux Berquin.

The 3rd Brigade was now commanded by Lieut.-Colonel N. S. Falla, vice Lieut.-Colonel Standish, who had proceeded to England on duty. Major Glendining, for the 11th Battery, assumed command of the Divisional Ammunition Column, and the 11th Battery was commanded by Captain J. G. Jeffery.