Historical Context The first and second battles of Ypres were offensives launched by the German Army, but third Ypres was a British initiative aimed at achieving a breakthrough in Flanders and the destruction…
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Redeployment During his time in command of the BEF Gen Sir Douglas Haig issued eight despatches, which covered British operations from December 1915 until the end of the war in November 1918. They were…
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The Tynedale district today (www.tynedale.gov.uk) Introduction On the 20th of April 1915, eleven hundred men from the Tynedale district of Northumberland, embarked for the continent with the local volunteer battalion of the Northumberland…
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By the 8th of April the whole of the 50th Divn had move northwards from the Somme to the Merville area and new drafts of men had arrived to replace those lost during March on the Somme. On the 5th Capt Robson had returned with a draft of 250 men for the 4th Bn and on the 6th a further 102 arrived, described in the 4th Bn diary as of poor physique and all under the age of 19.
The 50th Divn were destined to relieve the Portuguese Divn in the front line east of Merville on the night of the 9/10th April. The 151st Bde were to be the first in the front line and in preparation for this had moved into billets in the town of Estaires1. The 149th Bde were billeted north and west of Merville2 with the 4th Bn centred on the village of Arrewage3. During the morning of the 9th events led to the relief plans being rapidly amended.
Tuesday, 9th April 1918
At 4am the Germans opened up with a heavy bombardment of the line between Bethune4 and Armentieres5. The towns of Merville, Estaires and La Gorgue6 were continually hit, reducing houses to rubble and the outbreak of fires was widespread. By 4.30am all communication with the Portuguese Divisional HQ by land line had been cut. The relief orders for the Portuguese were cancelled and the 151st Bde carried out a prearranged move to a series of defence posts south of the River Lys. Between 5 and 5.30am the 149th and 150th Bdes were ‘stood to’ and prepared to move forward at an hours notice. A forward 149th Bde HQ was established at the front, while the rear Bde HQ remained with the Divn (map ref: K29.a).
At 6am orders were issued to the engineers to prepare the River Lys bridges for demolition.
At 7.30am orders were issued for the 149th and 150th Bdes to move to an assembly point at Chapelle Duvelle7 (map ref: L.26 Central) on the eastern side of Merville. 2nd Lt Kipling went in advance of the Bn to reconnoitre the route and ascertain that it was still possible to get the transport through Merville in view of the heavy shelling it had been subjected to.
The 4th Bn set off at 9.45am and fortunately, only sustained one casualty by the time it reached the outskirts of Merville. The Bn halted here to allow the 5th Bn to pass, then continued through the badly damaged streets of the town, noting that the bridges were still intact.
At 10am, 50th Divn HQ received reports that the Portuguese were under attack and by 11am it was confirmed that the enemy had broken through the lines of the entire Portuguese sector, and had then turned north and south to attack the flanks of the 40th and 55th Divns . The Portuguese retreated through the lines of the 151st Bde, having abandoned all their guns, therefore the position held by the 151st Bde was now the front line.
The 4th Bn reached the assembly point and received orders to take up concealed positions in nearby farms (map ref: L.30.d). The 151st Bde made contact with the enemy around 12 noon and from thereon were involved in fierce fighting during which they were steadily forced back to the Lys and Lawe rivers.
Meanwhile, at 1.15pm, 149th Bde HQ issued orders for the 5th and 6th Bns to move and occupy positions at Trou Bayard8 (map ref: G.19.G), to the north of Estaires. The 4th Bn stayed where they were, but were placed under the direct orders of 50th Divn HQ. The Bn was not made aware of the dire situation on the front line until after the arrival of the cookers at 2pm and dinner had been served. The Bn was placed at the disposal of the 151st Bde and in accordance with instructions, marched towards the water tank in Estaires. On reaching the outskirts of Estaires, at 3pm Coys moved off the road and deployed in artillery formation, moving forward to take up position in local farms on the northern side of Estaires (map ref: L.23.d) to await battle orders. Under 151st Bde instructions, 'D' Coy were dispatched to guard the railway at Beaupre. Bn HQ was established at a farm (map ref: L.23.d.6.3) and 'A', 'B' and 'C' Coys dug in near strong points, in the vicinity of the water tank. The Bn was in position by 5pm.
Meanwhile 149th Bde HQ was established at 2.30pm alongside 150th Bde HQ at Pont de Poivre9. During the afternoon the 150th Bde had been taking up defensive positions on the northern bank of the River Lys to the east of Estaires and as far northeast as Sailly. An enemy column, advancing from the south, reached the River Lys near Nouveau Monde10 around 3pm and was soon firing on the northern bank with machine guns.
At 3.15pm the 5th and 6th Bns NF were in position to provide support for the 150th Bde, with orders to counterattack any part of the front line that may be breached. The line of the rivers Lys and Lawe was to be held at all costs.
At 3.45pm the GOC 150th Bde received a message from Divn HQ stating that the 4th Bde was also moving up to provide support, with orders to counterattack immediately if the enemy should succeed in crossing the river. The Bn arrived and at 5.15pm were immediately placed under the command of Lt Col G.O. Spence (5th DLI (150th Bde)) who coordinating the River Lys defences.
Sgt Thompson with a patrol of fifty men was dispatched to reconnoitre Pont De La Meuse11 and to establish contact with elements of the 5th DLI who were holding the bridgehead. 2nd Lt Lawson and a patrol of ….. left to reconnoitre Pont Levis12 and make contact with the 5th DLI at that location. Capt J.V. Gregory (OC 4th Bn) arranged with Lt Col. Spence to send one platoon to map reference L 29a.O.4. The platoon duly moved off and joined Sgt Thompson and his men who were already at that spot.
The remainder of ‘A’ Coy under Lt Nicholson went forward to hold the house on the near side river bank between Pont de la Meuse and Pont Levis.
At 6pm the 6th Bn was ordered to move (map ref: G.15.c) northeast in order to protect the left flank of 150th Bde by patrolling the line of stream running from the north into the Lys (map ref: G.10.b), in case the enemy crossed the river at Bac St Mur13.
Sgt Wigham led a platoon and two Lewis guns over Pont Levis and reported to the 5th DLI (map ref: G.25.a.8.2).
Then, under the command of 2nd Lt Lawson, they set up a defensive position on the far bank covering the bridge approaches.
2nd Lt Lawson, who had just rejoined the Bn after from leave, was wounded near Pont Levis and left behind (he was in fact captured by the enemy and made a good recovery from severe wounds in a German hospital).
Around 7pm, Maj. Gen. Jackson ordered the 151st Bde to withdraw to the northern bank of the Lys and the engineers to destroy the Lys bridges, “because the enemy had brought its field guns forward and was systematically smashing up the bridgehead garrisons at point blank range” (). The main bridge at Estaires (Pont de la Meuse?) was successfully blown up, but Pont Levis survived (detonator wires believed to have been cut by shellfire).
At 9.10pm the 5th Bn was ordered to take up a position in strong points near Trou Bayard (map ref: G.19.b) and connect up with the 4th Bn.
At 11.45pm 149th Bde HQ received a message from the 150th Bde stating that the enemy held the Bac St Mur to Croix de Bac road (north and east of Sailly). The enemy was reported to have crossed the canal further north but no definite information was obtained regarding this. The remainder of the night was quite for the Bn and rations were received and distributed to Coys.
For the 50th Divn the first day fighting in the Battle of Estaires was over. The original British line from Givenchy to Bois Grenier had collapsed, and when darkness fell ran roughly Festubert, Le Touret, Le Cason, Vielle Chapelle, Pont Rigneul and round the north of Lestrem. From here the 50th Divn held the northwestern bank of the Lawe and Lys rivers through La Gorgue, passing east of Estaires and on to the west of Sailly aur la Lys. The line then continued to Croix du Bac, north of Fleurbaix and on to just north of Bois Grenier. A big dent on a ten mile front.
Wednesday, 10th April 1918
At 1.55am, orders were issued for a realignment of the Divn front. These orders, received at 151st Bde HQ at 3.30am, stated that the line was to be realigned before dawn, with the 51st Divn side stepping west and relieving the 8th DLI up to and including Lestrem Bridge14, the 149th Bde would take over defences currently held by the 5th DLI. This was to be from Pont Levis (incl) to the Lys, opposite Rue de la Lys15, with one Bn in the front line and two held in reserve. The relief of the 5th DLI was to be carried out by a portion of the 4th Bn, with the remainder of the Bn returning to the command of the 149th Bde. So by dawn the 150th Bde was on the left flank of the Bde front, the 149th in the middle and 151st on the right.
Due to a misunderstanding between the 149th and 150th Bdes, Pont Levis was left unguarded during the night, however, at 5.40am the 4th Bn was ordered to send two platoons to take up a position at the bridge alongside the 5th DLI (may have been 5th Bn NF). Capt Robson set out with two platoons from ‘C’ Coy at 6.30am to try and strengthen the defences at the bridge, but by this time fighting had recommenced. They were immediately held up by heavy machine gun fire on open ground and Capt Robson was wounded. Another attempt at reinforcement was made by a third platoon from 'C' Coy.
Again enemy machine gun fire prevented this and 2nd Lt Davison (accompanying the CO and 2nd Lt Essex) was wounded whilst reconnoitring the position. Despite tough resistance put up by the 5th Bn, elements of the German 35th Divn finally forced their way across Pont Levis around 7.30am.
Meanwhile the rest of the Bn had been ordered to redeploy to Ferme Quennelle16 and returned to the command of the 149th Bde. The move was supposed to have been completed before dawn, but the Bn did not receive the order until it was light. Bn HQ and ‘B’ Coy were held up on the way, so HQ had to be established at map ref L.19.b.3.4, with the revised position notified to Bde HQs.
‘B’ Coy occupied a position at Pont De Poivre (Harlech Strong Point) 17 and made contact with a Coy from the 6th Bn, commanded by Capt Stafford. They were entrenched 100 yards to the rear of Harlech on the opposite side of the Trou Bayard Road. ‘B’ Coy immediately threw out a screen in front that reported the enemy were endeavouring to push machine guns towards them.
Having crossed Pont Levis, Ferme Quennell fell to the enemy as they forced their way into the south eastern part of Estaires and captured some of the houses on the north side of the main street.
Under very difficult circumstances the Bn was reorganised near the Trou Bayard Road, linking up with Bns on either flank.
Bn HQ were informed at 7.30am that the right flank of 'C' Coy was ‘in the air’ and that they were unable to re-establish a link due the number of casualties they had suffered. Sgt Major Osborne took a platoon from ‘B’ Coy to protect the right flank of ‘C’ Coy and eventually succeeded in establishing a line connecting ‘A’ & ‘C’ Coys, taking a few casualties in the process.
At 9.30am the defensive line was reported continuous and the 6th Bn were ordered to counterattack towards Pont Levis to drive the enemy out of Estaires. They passed through the ‘B’ and ‘C’ Coy lines and succeeded in driving the enemy back to the church in Estaires and Pont Levis, but were threatened on the left flank and brought to a standstill.
There were two or three factories near the river which the 6th Bn were able to use to pour machine gun fire on the bridge approaches. Nevertheless, the enemy continued to pour across the bridge and work their way through the houses, gardens and cemetery on the northern side of Estaires, as well head northeast and to the west.
Two platoons from ‘B’ Coy, commanded by 2nd Lt Bull, were ordered to advance in the direction of Pont Levis and report to Major Temperley (OC 6th Bn), but they were subjected to severe machine gun fire on open ground and were held up before reaching their objective, suffering many casualties in the process. Major Temperley informed them that they were no longer required, so those that were left returned to ‘B’ Coy and manned Harlech Strong Point.
By 10.45am Bn HQ had dug in, to the rear of the 5th Bn position. ‘D’ Coy returned from guarding the railway at Beaupre during the morning and was instructed to dig into the rear of the Bn HQ position. For the next few hours it was relatively quiet, although needless to say the Germans continued to strengthen their bridgehead.
A heavy enemy bombardment and attack commenced around 4pm, forcing the 5th Bn to withdraw and leaving the left flank of the 4th Bn exposed. ‘D’ Coy were sent to cover the left flank, reporting themselves ‘well dug in’ between the crossroads at Trou Bayard and Cul De Sac Farm18, although taking a few casualties in the process.
'A' Coy of the 5th Bn at 'Harlech Strong Point' came under the orders of the OC 4th Bn and two platoons were placed to link up the left Bn and ‘D’ Coy. OC ‘B’ Coy reported that the enemy was moving forward his machine guns slowly and endeavouring to bring enfilade fire on all the strong points at 'Harlech'. The enemy was unable to do this before nightfall and remained in the positions he arrived at. As soon as it was dark ‘A’ Coy of the 5th Bn exchanged places with 'D' Coy thus bringing the Bn together and simplifying the organisation.
Thursday, 11th April 1918
At midnight orders were received stating that 'A' Coy of the 5th NF would be relieved by a Coy from the 4th East Yorks, who would take up a position at map ref: L.23.d.6.3. ''D Coy formed up on their left and the remainder of 'C' Coy withdrew to the rear of Harlech strong point, the position just vacated by 'D' Coy . Bn HQ moved back to a new position which was consolidated before dawn.
By 2am the 149th held a line running from the Estaires - Neuf Berquin road to just west of Trou Bayard. The 5th Bn held the right sector, the 4th the left sector and the 6th were held in reserve. When dawn broke on the 11th, the 151st Bde were on the right flank, the 149th in the centre and 150th on the left. At 7am the enemy was reported to have occupied Trou Bayard.
By 10am 'D' Coy on the left and 'B' Coy were holding their positions against repeated attacks supported by heavy trench mortar and machine gun fire. However, the Bn right flank was now exposed because the 5th DLI (151st Bde) had been forced back, the enemy were heading for Neuf Berquin and the 5th Bn NF had been withdrawn. Harlech Strong Point was very heavily shelled at point blank range from the river at Estaires and was subjected to a considerable amount of gas. The 6th Bn was brought forward to try and re-establish a line, but they were unable to progress very far, so by 2pm the line was gradually being forced back. The Bde maintained contact with the 29th Divn on the left flank, but the right flank was now very exposed.
The Bn war diary indicates that at 2pm "a general withdrawal, necessitated the removal of Battn Hdqrs to a farm at L.10.b.9.6. The afternoon and evening were spent in the collection of stragglers, the reconstruction of the line for defence. The withdrawal was made through the 29th Div who were dug in, in our rear, and & became necessary owing to the withdrawals of the right & left flanks”. Unfortunately, the withdrawal was not communicated to the Coys on the Bn flanks, consequently they only became aware of the situation when they realised the enemy was outflanking them. The Bn was given instructions to dig in alongside the 29th Divn, however, when the 6th NF with two coys moved forward to counterattack the 4th NF moved forward with them. This position appears to have been held for the rest of the day. However, at a conference between Brigadiers that night, a decision was taken to fall back to a new line.
Meanwhile that evening, the enemy on the right flank had entered Merville.
Friday, 12th April 1918
The withdrawal began at 2.30am and by dawn the 149th Bde had vacated its positions at L10b (sheet 36 .. NE) and was on the march to new positions running from the village of Vierhouck (incl) to the crossroads on the Neuf Berquin-Vieux Berquin road (map ref: K.11d.7.8. to L.13.b.16), just south of Pont Rondin. The 4th and 5th Bns under the command of Lt Col Irwin, provided the flank and advanced guards. They were followed by the 6th Bn and a few from the 4th Bn, under the command of Major Temperley, and then the reinforcement Bn under OC Corps Troops.
Information was received that the enemy had machine guns in Neuf Berquin and was firing down the road towards La Couronne. A party from the 4th Bn was sent out before dawn to engage these machine guns, but they were unable to acquire a position of vantage until nearly daylight and were then unable to move forward.
By 6.30am the 149th Bde was reported to have crossed the Neuf Berquin-Vieux Berquin road, encountering light opposition and a half hour later, the 6th Bn had occupied Vierhouck19, and were forming a defensive flank along the road leading to Pont Rondin20, their new line running from south of the village round the western edge (map ref; K.12c). The reinforcement and 5th Bn stretching to the Neuf Berquin-Vieux Berquin road. The 4th Bn dug in behind to provide support, at map ref K.12.d.
“The official despatches record that: "At about 8am the enemy attacked in great strength on a front extending from south of the Estaires - Neuf Berquin neighbourhood. After very heavy fighting ... he succeeded in the afternoon in overcoming the resistance of our troops about Doulieu and La Becque, forcing them back in a north-westerly direction.”
Due to the failure of the 1st Bn KOSB to link up on the left flank, the 149th Bde was forced to withdraw at 9.30am and take up a position in conjunction with the Guards Bde, who during the night had dug in behind them (map ref: K.12.b and L.7a). At 10.30am, the Guards on the right flank counterattacked the enemy in Neuf Berquin, but were forced to withdraw to their original line. Heavy fighting continued all day and at nightfall (6pm) the relief of the 149th Bde began. The 4th Bn were relieved by the Guards Bde and withdrew to Vieux Berquin where orders were received to march to the transport lines at La Tir Anglais21 and rest for the night. By this time the 1st Australian Divn were beginning to arrive and were taking up positions in front of the Bois Deval22 between K 7 b (map ref: 36a N E) and La Couronne.
13th - 16th April 1918
After this much needed respite, the Bn marched to billets in abandoned farms just behind the line and allowed as much sleep as they could get. They had been relieved from actual front line fighting, but along with the rest of Bde were lent to the 5th Divn and set to work digging a defence line through the Bois de Vaches23. Although returning to billets on the conclusion of work every day, they were under orders to move at ten minutes notice and occupy the defence line if the enemy launched an attack on the Bois de Nieppe24. These were comparatively quiet days and casualties were few, although there was a certain amount of shelling, particularly from one gun, nicknamed the ‘Silent One’. Its heavy calibre shells arrived before any warning screech was heard, probably due to high velocity.
More than 70 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were killed in action or died of wounds during the Battle of the Lys. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in the Lys Offensive, select the link.
When the Lantern of Hope Burned Low
“Let me here pay my personal tribute to the Ambulance personnel of the Battalion. The conduct of the stretcher bearers was superb. Roads were shelled and swept by machine gun fire alternately. Two or three squads were knocked out – one whilst carrying Lieut Stiles of the Trench Mortar Battery – but, driven off the roads, the indomitable SB’s carried their wounded comrades across the fields, over ditches, sometimes more than two miles. The Regimental Aid Post was hit by a shell when crowded to the doors with stretcher cases from our own and a neighbouring Division. Yet Capt Grierson went about his work of mercy unresting, unhasting, a fine example to all”.
The Lys - Military Units
1st (Australian) Division - Consisted of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Infantry Bdes
The 1st (Australian) Bde - Comprised of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Bns.
The 2nd (Australian) Bde - Comprised of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Bns.
The 3rd (Australian) Bde - Comprised of the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Bns.
29th Division - Consisted of the 86th, 87th & 88th Bdes
The 86th Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - Royal Fusiliers, 1st Bn - Lancashire Fusiliers and 1st Bn - Royal Guernsey Light Infantry.
The 87th Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - South Wales Borderers, 1st Bn - King’s Own Scottish Borderers and 1st Bn - Border Regt.
The 88th Bde - Comprised of the 4th Bn - Worcestershire Regt, 2nd Bn - Hampshire Regt and 1st Bn - Newfoundland Regt.
31st Division - Consisted of the 4th Guards Bde, 92nd and 93rd Bdes.
The 4th (Guards) Bde - Comprised of the 4th Bn - Grenadier Guards, 3rd Bn - Coldstream Guards and 2nd Bn - Irish Guards.
The 92nd Bde - 10th & 11th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt, 11th Bn - East Lancashire Regt.
The 93rd Bde - 15/17th & 18th Bn West Yorkshire Regt, 13th Bn - York and Lancaster Regt.
40th Division - Consisted of the 119th, 120th & 121st Bdes.
The 119th Bde - Comprised of the 13th Bn - East Surrey Regt, 18th Bn - Welsh Regt. 21st Bn - Middlesex Regt.
The 120th Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - Royal Scots Fusiliers, 10/11th Bn & 14th Bn - Highland Light Infantry.
The 121st Bde - Comprised of the 12th Bn - Suffolk Regt, 13th Bn - Yorkshire Regt. 20th Bn - Middlesex Regt.
50th (Northumbrian) Division Consisted of the 149th, 150th & 151st Bdes.
The 149th (Northumberland) Bde comprised of the 1/4th, 1/5th & 1/6th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.
The 150th (York & Durham) Bde - Comprised of 1/4th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt, 1/4th and 1/5th Bn - Green Howards.
The 151st (Durham Light Infantry) Bde - 1/5th, 1/6th and 8th Bn - DLI.
51st Division - Comprised of the 152nd, 153rd and 154th Infantry Brigades.
The 152nd Bde 1/5th and 1/6th Bn - Seaforth Highlanders, 1/6th Bn - Gordon Highlanders.
The 153rd Bde 1/6th and 1/7th Bn - Black Watch, 1/7th Bn - Gordon Highlanders.
The 154th Bde 1/4th Bn - Seaforth Highlanders, 1/4th Bn - Gordon Highlanders, and 1/7th Bn - Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
55th Division - Consisted of the 164th, 165th and 166th Bdes.
The 164th Bde - Comprised of the 1/4th Bn - King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regt), 2/5th Bn - Lancashire Fusiliers and 1/4th - Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regt.
That night the Bn relieved the 9th Bn DLI in the Sanctuary Wood trenches. Relief went quite quietly. At 8am on the 13th the enemy began shelling Hooge Ridge1, just to the left of the Bn. The bombardment continued all day with the Germans firing an estimated six thousand shells. Sanctuary Wood was on the receiving end of some of them and a few fusiliers from the 4th Bn wounded. The night passed off fairly quietly. During the morning of the 14th there was only little activity. In the afternoon the enemy shelled Hooge Ridge again and late in the afternoon attacked opposite the Rifle Bde positions but were beaten back. A good amount of stuff was thrown over the 4th Bn trenches, killing four men and wounding about 13 or 14. On the right flank, opposite the 17th Divn, the enemy in the afternoon bombarded very heavily and attacked taking a few of our trenches. Our Bn transport was shelled while returning through Kruisstraat2, one Cpl was killed and two men wounded. Just before 3.30pm on the 14th the enemy opened up with a heavy bombardment on the Hooge trenches, held by the 24th Divn, on the immediate left flank of the 50th Divn. At 3.30pm shelling of trenches 37, 38 and 39 (opposite Hill 60 and astride the railway) and the area to the rear held by the 150th Bde. The 149th Bde had the 7th Bn on the right and the 4th on the left, the 6th Bn in close support and the 5th in Bde reserve. The 149th Bde, however, seem to escape the very heavy bombardment to which units on their right and left were subjected; ''The whole of the day the trenches immediately to our right and left came in for a very heavy and, at times, intense bombardment, and it was apparent that the enemy intended to put in an attack at some point or other''. All the approaches up from Kruistraat were shelled with 'whizz-bangs'3 and HE, and the Bde Office at Zillebeke4 dugouts was blown in and a good deal of material destroyed.The bombardment continued until 5pm.
15th Feb 1916
The night was disturbed and at 4.30am a counterattack was made on the lost trenches but failed. The whole of the day was rather disturbed; the enemy shelled Hooge Ridge and round about, but nothing further happened. On the 14th there was an attack on the left flank, during which some of the enemys’ bombers were opposite our trenches, but they were spotted and dispersed. During the night two rifles, two grenades and the belongings of one of them who was shot were safely recovered to the trenches. The information gained turned out to be of great value to GHQ. At 8pm another counterattack was made on the lost trenches and met with partial success.
16th Feb 1916
The whole of the day was quiet on both sides. In the evening the Bn was relieved from the front line by the 6th Bn and moved into close support redoubts. HQ went to Maple Copse5. Capt JR Robb and 2nd Lt Scaife returned from leave and no officers being due, all leave went to men.
17th - 20th Feb
Nothing much to record during these four days. The Bn supplied seven working parties, each night and lay in support during the daytime. On the night of the 20th we came up to trenches again and took over from the 6th Bn. Owing to the low strength of the Bn, the 7th Bn take control of the right hand trench, relieving the pressure greatly.
21st Feb 1916
In trenches at Sanctuary Wood. A good deal of snow on the ground, but artillery less active on both sides
22nd - 24th Feb 1916
All these three days passed quietly, and there were no casualties
Sanctuary, Square & Armagh Wood - Military Units
17th Division - Comprised of the 50th, 51st and 52nd Bdes
The 50th Bde. Comprised of the 10th Bn - West Yorkshire Regt, 7th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt, 7th Bn - Yorkshire Regt, 6th Bn - Dorsetshire Regt.
The 51st Bde. Comprised of the 7th Bn - Lincolnshire Regt, 7th Bn - Border Regt, 8th Bn - South Staffordshire Regt, 10th Bn - Sherwood Foresters.
The 52nd Bde. Comprised of the 9th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers, 10th Bn - Lancashire Fusiliers, 9th Bn - Duke of Wellington’s Regt, 12th Bn - Manchester Regt
24th Division - Comprised of the 17th, 72nd and 73rd Infantry Bdes
The 17th Bde. Comprised of the 8th Bn - Buffs, 1st Bn - Royal Fusiliers, 12th Bn - Royal Fusiliers, 3rd Bn - Rifle Brigade.
The 72nd Bde. Comprised of the 8th Bn - Queen’s, 9th Bn - East Surrey Regt, 8th Bn - Queen’s Own and 1st Bn - North Staffordshire Regt.
The 73rd Bde. Comprised of the 9th Bn - Royal Sussex Regt, 7th Bn - Northamptonshire Regt, 13th Bn - Middlesex Regt, 2nd Bn - Leinster Regt.
50th (Northumbrian) Territorial Division - Comprised of the 149th, 150th and 151st Infantry Brigades.
The 149th (Northumbrian) Bde - Comprised of 1/4th, 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/7th Bns - Northumberland Fusiliers.
The 150th (York & Durham) Bde - Comprised of 1/4th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt - , 1/4th & 1/5th Bn - Green Howards and 1/5th Bn - Durham Light Infantry.
The 151st (Durham Light Infantry) Bde - Comprised of 1/5th (Cumberland) Bn - Border Regt, 1/6th, 1/8th and 1/9th Bn - DLI.
1st Canadian Division - Comprised of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Bdes.
The 1st Canadian Bde. Comprised of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Bns Canadian Infantry.
The 2nd Canadian Bde. Comprised of the 5th, 7th, 8th and 10th Canadian Infantry.
The 3rd Canadian Bde. Comprised of the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Bns Canadian Infantry.
If would like to read the full story of the 4th NF in World War 1, then please select here
149th Bde in position. The order of battle from Estrees1 to a point 1000 yards north of Assevillers2 was 5th DLI, 7th DLI, 4th NF, 6th NF with the 5th NF held in reserve on the Assevillers-Fay road under the command of the GOC 149th Bde.
The morning of the 26th the enemy attacked again in strength, south-west and west from Nesle3, no doubt with the intention of separating the French and British Armies and interfering with the detraining arrangements of the former by the capture of Montdidier4.
To the left of the 149th Bde the 66th Divn were attacked and fell back under pressure leaving the left flank exposed. Two Coys from the 5th Bn counterattacked and restored the situation, but the 66th Bde continued to retire. With their northern flank exposed the 149th Bde retired to the Rosieres – Vauvillers line.
The 149th Bde, 5th and 7th Bn DLI retired under orders at 10am to the line Rosieres-Vauvillers. The 4th Bn withdrew through Fay and (2pm) Foucaucourt5, to Herbevillers6 and occupied posts around village of Vauvillers7.
At 4pm the Bn made a successful counterattack at Framerville8 and with the exception of the eastern end drove the enemy out of the village, but withdrew to Vauvillers posts at midnight.
27th March 1918
When dawn broke the 149th Bde occupied a line from Rosieres (excl) with men of the 5th DLI in support.
The enemy attacked the Rosieres line at about 8am. On the left and in the centre they were driven off, but on the right a Labour Coy fell back until a counter attack restored the situation.
Meanwhile the 50th Divn had practically been reduced to the 149th Bde which was holding four thousand yards of line between the 66th and 8th Divns. The retirements north of it had led to a warning order for a withdrawal being issued, but this had been misinterpreted by the Bns in the line, which at about 1pm began to fall back, abandoning Vauvillers near the junction with the 66th Divn. The position at Vauvillers was held until noon, at which time they withdrew because the troops on both flanks had retired.
At 12 noon an attack developed along the whole of the front line held by the 8th, 50th, 66th and 39th Divns. The 66th Divn retired at 1pm, followed by the 5th Bn NF at 2pm.
The 8th Divn, which had at once formed a defensive flank, attacked on the right while on the left the 7th (Pioneer) Bn DLI and 22nd Entrenching Bn, with some 66th Divn reserves, went forward.
About 3pm, these troops, well supported by artillery, were under way, and struck the enemy, who was advancing in eight or ten waves. They drove the foremost waves back and re-established the 50th Divn line, recapturing Vauvilliers.
At 3pmBrigadier-General Riddell lead the Bde in the counterattack by all available troops, including details from Bde HQ, which drove the enemy back from Harbonniers 9 over our old line except that we did not retake Vauvillers although the 4th Bn held the western half of the village. Very heavy losses were inflicted on the enemy and two machine guns and 50 prisoners taken.
The success was only temporary, for the Germans attacked once more and, when the defenders ammunition began to run short, broke in south of the village and enfiladed the line, causing another retirement.
7pm the line withdrew to the light railway between Rosieres station and crossroads half mile east.
They were halted on the light railway that ran diagonally behind the position. The enemy was already taking advantage of the gap that had been left, consequently a counterattack was organised from both flanks.
So by the evening the counter-attacking troops and the 50th Divn were back again on the light railway east of Harbonnieres.
At 8pm the enemy made another determined attack, advancing in no less than twelve waves, but was repulsed again.
That night (27th-28th) the allied line, south of the Somme, ran from Mesnil-St-Georges (west of Montdidier) to Hamel via Boussicourt, Arvillers, Warvillers, Rosieres and Harbonnieres.
More than 17 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were killed in action or died of wounds during the actions at Rosieres. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained at Rosieres, select the link.
1. The 149th Infantry Bde will attack on the morning of the 26th inst, 4th NF on the right, 5th NF in centre and 7th NF on left, - 57th Div are attacking on our right, with 4th/5th Loyal North Lancs as their left battalion.
2. The battalion will attack on a 3 company frontage each company being on a platoon frontage.
‘A’ company on right, ‘B’ company in centre and ‘D’ company on left. ‘C’ Company will be in reserve on a 2 platoon frontage.
3. (a) Platoons will leap frog and capture and consolidate the objectives already given them i.e. FIRST WAVE to HUTS, SECOND WAVE to line V.18.104.22.168 – V.2.c.5.1. THIRD WAVE to final objective V.2.a.3.0 to V.2.d.15.55.
(b) Reserve company will move forward with attacking waves to a point approximately 200 yards west of the HUTS.
(c) ‘A’ company will detail parties to obtain touch with battalion on their right at the following points.
(a) Concrete shelter at V.8.a.1.8.
(b) Ditto at V.2.c.4.1.
(c) ROAD BRIDGE at V.2.d.0.6.
4. Two machine guns will accompany 4th wave of ‘B’ Company.
5. Two Stokes Mortars will be attached to ‘C’ company and will be available to fire at any strong points holding up the attack.
6. Barrage will begin to creep forward at ZERO + 8 minutes and will creep at the uniform rate of 100 yards in 8 minutes throughout. Lifts will be at 50 yards at a time.
7. Taping out of the assembly trench will be carried out under an officer from Battalion HQ. One line of tape will be laid from the Railway Embankment at point V.1.d.0.2. to V.7.b.6.5. Two guides will be left at the end of the tape on Railway Embankment. A short length of tape will be laid at right angles to assembly tape to mark the left of ‘D’ company, short lengths of tape will be laid at right angles to assembly tape every 130 yards to mark company frontages. The assembly tape marks position of leading wave.
8. ‘A’,’C’ and ‘D’ companies will move forward to assembly positions at 7pm tonight each company providing its own covering party. ‘B’ company will withdraw to the assembly tape at 11pm. Completion of assembly will be notified by code word ARRAS, sent by runner to battalion HQ.
9. 1 contact aeroplane will be flying over companies front at zero + 1 hour 30 mins and at zero + 3 hours heading troops will show their position to contact aeroplane only when called for
(a) by Claxon horn
(b) by series of white Very lights dropped from the plane.
12. Reports will be forwarded to battalion HQ at TAUBE FARM as frequently as possible and at least once in the first hour after zero.
13. Battalion HQ will open at TAUBE FARM at 7pm tonight.
14. Zero will be at the fall of the barrage. Time of this will be notified later, also synchronisation of watches.
15. General compass bearing of attack 55 degrees magnetic.
Issued at 1.30 pm
Copies to CO ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’.
4th Battalion War Diary
CORRIGENDA TO OPERATION ORDER NO 1A
1. Owing to the swampy state of the ground on the right of our attack, it has been decided to attack on a 2 Coy frontage instead of a 3 Coy frontage. ‘B’, ’C’ and ‘D’ companies will have dispositions exactly as laid down in O.O. no 1A.
2. ‘A’ company will NOT go to the assembly tape but will move from TRANQUILLE HOUSE to TAUBE FARM at 9pm tonight, when they will be in battalion reserve.
3. Hot tea and rum will be brought up tonight 1 guide per company to be at TAUBE FARM at 11pm to guide carrying parties.
Issued at 2pm
Copies to CO, ‘A’,’B’,’C’ and ‘D’
The CO reported the change to Bde HQ:
Summary of events
25th Oct 1917
Communication between Bn HQ and the front line was extremely difficult as the route was under direct observation and subject to incessant shelling by the Germans. This was especially so on the line running parallel with the road north-west and south east of Tranquille House, because it appeared to be an enemy barrage line. There was no cover except for shell holes, so it had not been possible to lay a telephone wire, or for a visual signalling system to be established.
Two runners did manage to reach the front line coy and all operation orders were delivered safely. However, it was a close call, because they had mistakenly overshot the front line by at least fifty yards and had been stopped before they stumbled on the enemy.
Front line company were constantly shelled by our own Howitzers, and some casualties resulted.
At 7pm Bn HQ moved forward to Taube Farm and the R.A.P. moved to Paschal Farm2 from Olga Houses3.
Between 7 and 9pm coys moved forward to their assembly positions.
The attack formation was altered twice in 12 hours. The original intention was, to attack on a 3 coy frontage, each coy being on a platoon frontage in depth, in 4 waves (1 platoon in each wave). After the relief it was realised that with the swampy ground on the Bn right flank, there would only be room for a two coy frontage. The CO reported this to Bde HQ (Appendix B).
Map 1 - 149th Brigade positions
25 Oct 1917
Summary of events
When 2nd Lt J.A. Burton actually laid the tape, he realised that there was only sufficient room for an attack frontage of one coy. Therefore, the front line platoon frontage was cut accordingly to one coy, the second coy was positioned to the rear of the right hand coy of the 5th Bn with instructions to wedge between the 4th and 5th Bn Coys at the front once the attack started. The third coy was held in reserve about one hundred yards to the rear of the front line coy (on a two platoon frontage) and the fourth coy under the Bn Cdr was positioned at Taube Farm4 and Tranquille House 5.
The Coys assembled in shell holes and dug-in, in the formation described above. A piece of tape was laid to mark the boundary between the 4th and 5th Bn. Hot food was packed in hay and carried up to the coys at the assembly points.
A leap frog system of attack, recently practised in training, was to be employed. The lead platoon was to take the first objective, the second platoon was to pass through to take the second objective, the third platoon the final objective. The fourth under the company commander were to be used for counter attack or consolidation according to the tactical situation.
26th Oct 1917
At 3am heavy rain began to fall again and at 4.05am the 4th Bn reported it was in position for the attack.
At zero hour, 5.40am, the barrage opened up and began to creep forward at a rate of one hundred yards every eight minutes. The fusiliers of the149th Bde rose to their feet to advance behind it, with the 4th & 5th Bn Loyal North Lancashires (57th Divn) on the right flank and the 35th Divn on the left. Had the 'going' been good, the troops who lay close up under the barrage (so close indeed that several casualties were suffered) waiting for the first "lift", would not have had a problem advancing at the rate of the creeping barrage.
'The rain had, however, done its deadly work, for all the gallant fellows could do was to drag themselves along through the thick clinging mud and water at a much slower pace than the barrage, which soon got ahead'. Then form "pill box" and shell hole murderous fire was poured upon them. Many fell dead; some of the wounded fell into the gaping holes of water and were drowned; fortunate were those who escaped, but on went the survivors' (Wyrell. p.244).
The allied barrage consisted entirely of shrapnel and was therefore quite useless against the first objective, which consisted of concrete huts. To make matters worse the rain continued to fall heavily and the condition of mud and water were perfectly appalling.
Bn HQ received a wire from the Bde Major at 8.50am stating that a wounded Forward Observation Officer had reported that the first objective had been taken and the men were advancing well to the second objective. This information proved incorrect because 2nd Lt Wood subsequently returned wounded and reported that casualties were heavy and the attack was held up in front of the Huts. The attack had actually ground to a halt about eighty yards west of the line of huts. The machine gun fire and sniping was so severe that any further advance was quite impossible and reporting the situation back to HQ extremely difficult. Two runners were sent to the front line to try and gather information but they both failed to return.
At 11am, 2nd Lt Burton was sent forward to reconnoitre and he confirmed that the attack was held up about one hundred yards short of the Huts. At 1pmSgt Thompson returned from the front line and confirmed 2nd Lt Burtons’ report stating that casualties were very heavy. Similar news was brought down later by Capt J.V. Gregory. This information was relayed to Bde HQ by pigeon and signaled by Lucas Lamp. Several messages were sent during the afternoon. Two platoons from the Reserve Company, under the command of 2nd Lts Peddie and Scott, were sent forward at 6pm to consolidate the original line held before the attack.
The Bn was relieved about midnight by the 4th Bn East Yorks and proceeded, via the duckboard track known as Railway Street6, to Rose Crossroads camp7. The 6th Bn DLI organised straggler posts in likely places to round up men returning from the front line and to guide them to camp.
Roll call revealed the appalling casualties suffered by the 4th Bn. 2nd Lts D.A. Smith, and W. Ruddy had been killed in action with 2nd Lt R.A.A. Simpson later dying of wounds. 2nd Lts G.R. Charlewood, A.W.P. Leary, H.B. Bell, J.R. Ruddock and R. Wood were wounded, and 2nd Lt R.G. Rayner and H. Stobbs were missing. Thirty-six fusiliers had been killed, one hundred and fifty-six wounded and sixty four were still missing. A total of two hundred and fifty six, more than fifty percent of those that had gone into action. The 5th Bn fared even worse with a total of 12 officers and 439 men either killed, wounded or missing. 7th Bn losses amounted to 11 officers and 246 men.
Summary compiled from 149th Bde War Diary, 4th Bn War Diary & History of the 50th Division,
Records show that at least 100 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were actually killed in action or died of wounds between the 25th and 27th of Oct 1917. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in this battle, select the link.
4th Battalion War Diary
The following is a list of points noted in the attack:-
1. Two machine guns were attached to the battalion in the attack. They went forward with the support company (in rear of 5th Bn) and did excellent work.
2. Two Stokes Mortars were to be attached but did not succeed in getting ammunition forward.
3. Communication to Bde exceptionally valuable and wonderfully maintained under a heavy barrage by the Bn. Signalling Officer (2nd Lt W.C.Clemitson) and the other signallers. The wire to 5th Bn almost instantly maintained, visual to Bde also kept up although the lamp was knocked over three times, and pigeons.
4. Wounded. Appalling difficulty in getting wounded as the slightest movement in the front line was checked by Machine Guns and sniping.
5. Liaison. Lt W.B. Hicks acted as liaison officer between the 4th Bn and the Bde on the right flank. Liaison with the 4th/5th Loyal North Lancashires maintained through 5th Northd Fus, who had an officer from that battalion with them.
6. Rations Cannot be brought up by transport in these conditions. Men must carry two days rations and also two Tommy cookers.
7. Kit as laid down appear the best, though many packs will probably be thrown away.
8. Hot food should always be carried up to the troops the night before the attack - also RUM.
9. Guiding appallingly difficult owing to the scarcity of landmarks, obvious landmarks, such as the railway are dangerous as the enemy naturally concentrates his artillery on them. We suggest a double line of pickets with plain wire on them. This is not conspicuous and very helpful.-
4th Battalion War Diary
(i) MESSAGES during the action
L.T.19 timed 12.20pm. Wounded officer left company reports attack on huts in V.1.D held up by many machine guns about 150 yards west of Huts. Right company held up in same position. Right company of SEED (5th NF) held up on same line. Impossible to work round flanks owing to swamp on right and machine guns on left. AAA. I have one company still in reserve in TAUBE FARM and TRANQUILLE HOUSE area AAA I do not propose to make another frontal attack with this company, as this appears to me to be a reliable report. AAA the officer states that Huts are very little damaged and full of machine guns AAA. Unless I receive orders to the contrary I will move Reserve Company up tonight at dusk to take over and reorganise front line AAA. Am investigating this information and will report later. AAA Ground very swampy and casualties very heavy in wounded officers company.
LT.20 timed 12.40pm In continuation of my L.T.19 I am unable to reach front line companies owing to machine gun fire and sniping from Huts and concrete emplacements. South of Huts. AAA There is not the slightest doubt that the whole attack is held up 100 to 150 yards west of Huts. I am unable to ascertain definitely position of troops on my right but they do not appear to have made much progress. AAA I am unable to estimate casualties.
LT 21 timed ? A very reliable Sgt has just brought back a report from front line. He states that 50 of our men and 2 officers are lying about 100 yards west of middle of Huts. Remainder of 3 companies, he thinks, are casualties. Total about 300. BOSCH planes have been flying low over front line shooting at them. Bosches have also sniped majority of our wounded as they tried to get back. Attack started in excellent order and was clear of BOSCH barrage before it came down – a few men succeeded in reaching HUTS but have not come back. Remainder caught by machine gun fire from HUTS and both flanks. Can you please give me assistance of large party to get our wounded out tonight with stretchers. It requires about 6 men per stretcher.
LT 22 timed 3.44pm Ref B.M.871
I am sending up 2 platoons tonight at dusk. They will consolidate original front line held before the attack and remaining 3 company’s will withdraw. I should like to send them out of the line. Is this possible please, and can staff captain arrange billets for them (probably 70 or 80 men). If the other company is not to be relieved, could you send water, rum, hot food and rations up for them and battalion HQ. Guides could meet ration parties and stretcher parties at PASCHAL FARM. I should also like a large carrying party with stretchers. Guides as above. – Sent by pigeon and substance of it by visual.
149th Bde War Diary
Speaking generally, the Bde was ordered to attack in a north-eastern direction between the southern border of the Houthhulst Forest and the Broembeek on a frontage running in an irregular manner through Aden House, and the principal objectives included "Hill 23," "Colbert Crossroads" and the groups of huts about seven hundred yards south-west of Schaap Balie. Aeroplane photographs were unfortunately not very clear, but they revealed an area that was capable of an obstinate defence, and one that might be rendered impassable by heavy rain. The chief obstacles were a double row of concrete huts or "pill-boxes," and ground that was already dangerously full of water- holes.
Heavy rain began to fall again at 3am and the "very few firm pieces of ground" became less in number; the water, trickling at first down the muddy sides of shell holes, soon became small streams, filling the occupants of the shell holes with gloomy prospects of success in the attack; pools of water widened almost to small lakes. Even in the darkness it was possible to discern stretches of water out in No Man's Land across which the attackers would have to pass.
2nd Passchendaele - Locations
1st Objective - Line of huts - approximately 300 to 400 yards distant.
2nd Objective - Approximately 500 yards distant.
3rd (Final) Objective - Colbert Crossroads and Hill 23.
Turenne Crossing - Road junction at railway crossing situated in 5th Bn front line prior to attack (Map1)
Ypres - Medieval Flemish town around which the salient formed in 1914. Known as Ieper in the Flemish language.