WAR DIARY 9th CANADIAN ARTILLERY BRIGADE Dec 1916

CONFIDENTIAL

 

WAR DIARY 9th CANADIAN ARTILLERY BRIGADE

 

For Month of DECEMBER 1916

 

 

PLACE

G.9.b.3.8.

Near ARRAS

 

1-12-16         9.00 p.m.           Weather has been foggy all day.  Registration of our brigade zone was therefore impossible.

 

2-12-16         9 p.m.                Visibility still poor owing to fog.  Enemy Trench Mortars fired ineffectually at our front line from time to time during the day.  Our Mortars retaliated with good effect.  Machine gun and rifle fire in evening was slight.  Despite adverse weather conditions considerable registration was carried out by us.

 

3-12-16           9 p.m.               Observation still poor and visibility beyond enemy front line impossible.  Our F.O.Os report new and strong wire entanglements put up by the enemy.  At 9.00 a.m. this morning the 32nd Battery fired at enemy seen in a crater; a number of the rounds were seen to fall directly in the target.  The 36th Howitzer Battery engaged an enemy Trench Mortar which had been active all morning.  It soon became so hot for him that the enemy mortar was forced to cease fire. In the afternoon he had the audacity to again open fire whereupon our battery (How.) again fired upon and effectually silenced him.

 

4-12-16           9 p.m.              Observation on the whole poor.  Despite the lack of good visibility registration was carried out.

 

5-12-16            9 p.m.             Visibility fair.  Our F.O.Os reported considerable new work done by enemy.  Several working parties observed were fired upon and dispersed.

 

6-12-16           9 p.m.               Enemy Trench Mortars active.  Upon our firing in retaliation enemy sent up a rocket bursting into green stars.  Immediately upon this signal being given their mortars ceased fire.  We carried on with registration throughout the day.  At 7.15 p.m. one of our F.O.Os reported cheering in German lines.  An hour later cheers were heard again.  (This was doubtless due to receipt of news of German victories in RUMANIA)

 

7-12-16           9 p.m.              Observation very poor.  Enemy artillery was unusually passive.

 

8-12-16           9 p.m.              Owing to heavy mist visibility was indifferent throughout the day.  During the afternoon and evening enemy snipers were quite active.

 

9-12-16           9 p.m.              Observation still poor.  Enemy trench mortars were quite active during the forenoon but their effect was to a great extent nullified by our prompt and effective retaliation.

 

10-12-16         9 p.m.               Visibility only fair.  Our 18-pdrs fired upon and dispersed several working parties.  Enemy artillery unusually passive.

 

11-12-16         9 p.m.              Considerable enemy aeroplane activity during forenoon.  One of the German planes succeeded in getting as far back as ARRAS but was driven off by our own machines and A.A. guns.  In the afternoon our heavy and medium trench mortars carried on a successful bombardment of enemy lines.

 

12-12-16          9 p.m.              Visibility very poor.  Enemy artillery fire below normal.

 

13-12-16         9 p.m.               Enemy artillery very active throughout day.  We dispersed several working parties and retaliated.

 

14-12-16          9 p.m.              Visibility indifferent.  Considerable shelling by the enemy.

 

15-12-16         9 p.m.              Hostile shelling has been below normal today.  A German shell which exploded over our lines today burst in cloud of white smoke from which issued a shell or bomb to which was attached a small rod of steel.  Upon reaching the ground it exploded with a noise similar to a STOKES bomb.

For five minutes early this evening the enemy heavily bombarded our front line. At the end of that length of time it was shifted to the zone on our left.

 

 

16-12-16          9 p.m.              Visibility indifferent.  Considerable aeroplane activity both German and British.  We carried out a successful shoot with aeroplane co-operation this morning.  Several important points were then registered.

Operation ordered No 45 was issued tonight. This operation consists of two attacks; the Main Attack is composed of three raiding parties- Right, Centre and Left.  These parties are to be in the German trenches for one and a half hours.  The Secondary attack is to take place one hour, 45 minutes after the commencement of the Main one.  In preparation the Right Group is allotted the following tasks:-

(a) A Preparatory bombardment of tender spots in the enemy’s lines with 4.5” Howitzers.

(b) One hundred yards of wire cutting by 18-pdrs in conjunction with Trench Mortars.

(c) A Preliminary Bombardment commencing one hour and 45 minutes before the main attack and lasting 35 minutes.

(d) Barrages for Main and Secondary Attacks.

 

17-12-16         9 p.m.              Weather very foggy and visibility has been poor all day.  Enemy shelling has been below normal.  Despite the adverse conditions our batteries carried on with registration.

 

18-12-16         9 p.m.               Carrying out O.O. 45 our 18-pdrs and T.Ms have been wire cutting throughout day.  Owing to the wire being on knife rests and also being very thick, it has not yet been all cleared away.

 

19-12-16         9 p.m.              Having been granted an additional ammunition allotment we had one 18-pdr battery on wire cutting all day.  A report from the Infantry says that they are satisfied with the work done but would like the 4.5 Hows put on the wire.  Orders have therefore been given for the two Howitzer batteries to carry on with the wire cutting tomorrow morning.

At 10.30 a.m. the enemy heavily shelled our front line trenches with 77 m.m. and 4.1s. This bombardment lasted 15 minutes.  We vigorously retaliated doing considerable damage.

 

20-12-16         9 p.m.               MAIN ATTACK Our Heavies from 1.30 p.m. until the opening of the main attack carried on a successful bombardment of the enemy’s lines.  Our barrage was started sharp on time and was reported by the infantry as being excellent.  Our infantry two minutes after the artillery opened left their trenches and proceeded in good formation and as an observer said – leisurely.  Upon entering the enemy trenches they despatched a large number by bayoneting.  Other parties proceeded to dugouts and by dropping Ammonal tubes down them effected a large number of casualties.  A great majority of the dugouts thus treated caught fire, thus any who were fortunate enough to escape death from Ammonal were burnt to death.  Part of the attackers while advancing close under our barrage were unexpectedly held up by 15 of the enemy hidden in enemy Sap 19.  They, the Germans, were promptly taken prisoners.

Total number of prisoners taken, 1 Officer and 56 O.Rs

Killed & wounded – not yet ascertained.

Our casualties – (as far as yet known) 1 officer & 12 other ranks.

 

SECONDARY ATTACK Our infantry in the Secondary Attack did not reach their objective. The enemy concentrated all his fire in repulsing this attack; heavy barrage of 77 m.m. 4.2s 5.9s and a particularly heavy machine gun barrage stopped our Infantry shortly after leaving their trenches.  Our own barrage was reported as being most satisfactory.

Capt. D.C. Dick, Liaison Officer to the Right Battalion reported that the Infantry were delighted with the barrage put up by this Unit and also that the wire had been satisfactorily cut.

Lieut. L. St. J. Haskell, Liaison Officer with the Secondary Attacking party left the jumping off trench with the Infantry reeling out wire as they proceeded. He reported that our barrage was satisfactory but that the attack failed owing to the heavy concentrated barrage of 77s, 4.1s, 5.9s, machine gun and Trench Mortars put up by the enemy.

It is evident that the enemy placed greater importance upon the Secondary Attach than they did upon the Main one as all their fire was concentrated on that point.

 

21-12-16           9 p.m.             Our Operations yesterday completely battered down the enemy’ defences.  Smoke from burnt dugouts can still be seen today.  The Infantry report that the enemy has been slowly reoccupying his front line since early this morning.

 

22-12-16           9 p.m.             Visibility fair.  A very quiet day.  We dispersed several working parties.

 

23-12-16          9 p.m.              A quiet day.  Some new work observed and fired upon.

 

24-12-16         9 p.m.              One  of our planes flew over enemy front line and fired upon enemy with M.Gs.  Several small material dumps were located and registered today.

 

25-12-16         9 p.m.              Visibility has been good throughout the day.  Enemy activity has been below normal – practically no hostile fire of any sort.  Our artillery fired upon and dispersed several working parties.

 

26-12-16         9 p.m.              A very quiet day.  Our F.O.Os reported the placing of new wire in front of enemy’s front line trenches; also new work in trenches.

 

27-12-16         9 p.m.              A number of tender spots such as O.Ps Dumps and new work were fired upon by our batteries with good effect.

 

28-12-16         9 p.m.               Observation very poor.  Our Stokes guns actively bombarded enemy front line throughout day.  Four of our planes early in the forenoon flew over enemy lines.  They were ineffectually engaged by Machine and A.A. guns.

 

29-12-16       9 p.m.                Visibility fair.  During both morning and afternoon our heavy artillery carried on a systematic bombardment of tender spots in the enemy’s lines.  Our 36th Howitzer Battery fired upon and demolished a house in THELUS (A.12.b.1/2.3.) which from movement in vicinity has been suspected of being a Headquarters or billets.

 

30-12-16     9 p.m.                  A great deal of movement in enemy’s back country throughout day.  From the large number of men with full kits coming in and leaving the trenches it is suspected that a relief is taking place.  A number of parties were fired on and in two instances casualties resulted.  The heavy rain of last night has evidently played havoc with the enemy trenches as his men are going overland wherever possible.

 

31-12-16         9 p.m.               Visibility fair.  Enemy artillery was very active this morning; considerable shelling of our support lines and back country taking place.  The suspected relief of yesterday has been confirmed.  The enemy is still exposing himself for fire by going overland; doubtless this is due to the extremely muddy condition of the trenches.  Our 35th Howitzer Battery blew up a section of an important trench tramway this morning.  For several hours this morning the enemy shelled the town of ECURIE (A.27.b)

 

 

 

Lieut. Col.

Comdg 9th Brigade C.F.A.

 

 

 

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JANUARY 1917

 

JANUARY 1917

Various Fronts

During the early months of 1917 the terrible weather conditions dictated that the Western Front remained reasonably quiet. However, General Sir Douglas Haig was promoted to Field-Marshal on the 3rd January 1917. Haig was Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and King George V wrote him a handwritten note congratulating him. The conclusion of the note ended with the statement, “I hope you will look upon this as a New Year’s gift from myself and the country”. Haig and the newly-promoted Prime Minister David Lloyd George had a respectful working relationship, but was soon to become less cordial. During a stormy conference in Calais, Haig was infuriated when the BEF was placed under the command of the new French Commander-in-Chief Robert Nivelle.

Sailing east of Malta on the 9th January 1917, HMS “Cornwallis” was struck on her starboard side by a torpedo from German submarine U-32. With some of her stoke holds flooded she listed about ten degrees to starboard but the list was corrected by counter flooding to the port side. She was struck by second torpedo to her starboard side about 75 minutes later and quickly rolled over to starboard. She stayed afloat for about 30 minutes before sinking allowing all but fifteen of the crew to get off the ship. Fifteen members of the crew had been killed by the two torpedo explosions. HMS “Cornwallis” was a pre-dreadnaught battleship and at the beginning of the war had been assigned to bombard German submarine bases in Belgium. In 1915 she was ordered to the Dardanelles Campaign. She took part in the opening bombardment at Gallipoli and was the last ship to leave Suvla Bay covering the Allied evacuation in January 1916. After the Suvla Bay evacuation, she was transferred to the Suez Canal Patrol.

The British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had rejected the peace plan proposed by United States President Woodrow Wilson in December 1916. The Entente governments, including Belgium sent a formal note back to America on the 10th January 1917 outlining the demands for peace would be the outright defeat of Germany. The plan would entail the restoration of Alsace/Lorraine to France, the restoration of Belgium and finally Austria to be partly partitioned to Italy, Romania and Serbia. Germany issued a note, to President Wilson, on the 11th January 1917 stating they were convinced that their considerable territorial gains did not require any specific conditions or demands. They knew if their offer was rejected they would begin unrestricted submarine warfare even if it meant America was brought into the war on the Allied side. The view of the German military was if the peace plan was rejected the Allies would be responsible for pro-longing the war, not Germany.

Whilst in port at Yokosuka on the 14th January 1917 the Japanese battlecruiser “Tsukuba” exploded and sank in shallow water. At the time of the explosion approximately 200 crewmen were killed instantly and when she sank 20 minutes later more than 100 were drowned. More than 400 crewmen were on shore leave, otherwise the loss of life would have been far greater. A later enquiry attributed the explosion to a fire in the ammunition magazine possibly through spontaneous combustion from deterioration of the powder in the shells. “Tsukuba” had served initially during the blockade of the German port of Tsingtao in China in 1914. After the fall of the city, “Tsukuba” was sent as part of a search for the German East Adriatic Squadron in the South Pacific until the destruction of the German battle fleet at the Battle of the Falklands in December 1914. She remained in Japanese home waters during 1915 & 1916 as part of Japan’s contribution to the Allied war effort under the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.

Foreign Secretary of the German Empire Arthur Zimmerman sent a telegram to the German Ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, on the 19th January 1917. The telegram was sent in anticipation of the re-introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany. This action would almost certainly bring the Americans into the war against Germany and Eckardt was to approach the Mexican government with the proposal for a military alliance with funding from Germany. The prize for Mexico was to be the reclamation of the southern states of America lost in the 19th Century. The telegram was intercepted and decoded by British Intelligence and the contents passed to the American government. Outraged public opinion in America helped to support the eventual declaration of war on Germany in April 1917.

In the Africa theatre, General Reginald Hoskins replaced South African General Jan Smuts on the 20th January 1917. Smuts had been the commander of the East Africa forces since February 1915. The new British Prime Minister David Lloyd George wanted Smuts to attend the Imperial War meetings. Hoskins was appointed Commander-in-Chief of all British forces in South Africa.

HMS “Simoon” was part of the Harwich Force which put to sea to intercept a flotilla of German destroyers. Eleven VS & G class destroyers were known to be heading toward Zeebrugge from their German ports. The two naval forces made contact early hours of the 23th January 1917. HMS “Simoon” was leading the line of four destroyers and after an initial salvo, the German destroyer S50 discharged a torpedo which struck HMS “Simoon”. The torpedo exploded in the “Simoon’s” magazine causing heavy casualties. The destroyer HMS “Nimrod” recovered the survivors of HMS “Simoon”. Immediately HMS “Nimrod” was ordered by Commander Twrwhitt to torpedo and scuttle HMS “Simoon”. Darkness enabled the German destroyer S50 to escape the encounter before returning to Germany.

On the 31st January 1917, the German government announced the forthcoming unrestricted submarine warfare on Allied shipping. Included in the submarine warfare would be attacks on American shipping bringing supplies to the Allies and all hospital ships. The renewed submarine warfare would resume on 1st February 1917.

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Eastern Front

Alexander Trepov resigned his post as Prime Minister of Imperial Russia on the 8th January 1917, and Prince Nikoli Golitsin succeeded him. Prior to his assassination on the 30th December 1916, Grigori Rasputin was upset and annoyed with the appointment of Trepov as Prime Minister. Rasputin was concerned, as was Tsarina Alexandra, that Trepov’s study and proposals of western parliamentary systems would oppose Tsar Nicholas and the Tsarina to bring an end to the Romanov dynasty. Rasputin had a great influence on the Tsarina and consequently the Tsar who had absolute power in Imperial Russia. This influence was because of Rasputin’s ability to calm their son and stop the bleeding due to his haemophilia. Nicholas was opposed to parliamentary democracy and the relationship between him and parliament became bitter to the point where Trepov resigned. Morale in Russia was very low as the front line forces had suffered horrendous losses, and the civilian population was having to contend with severe shortages of all commodities. Civil unrest was now beginning to emerge with two rival institutions competing for power, the Duma (parliament) and the “Petrograd Soviet” (Provisional Government).

Dimitri Savelich Shuvaev resigned from his position as Russian Minister of War on the 17th January 1917. He was a serving member of the Russian army, mainly in staff positions primarily on logistics. The army of Tsar Nicholas suffered in its management of supplies which failed to get food and armaments to the forces in the field. The supplies were often available awaiting shipment. To address these problems Shuvaev was promoted to Minister of War in March 1916 but he was severely handicapped from the beginning. Tsar Nicholas had appointed himself commander-in-chief of the Russian army in the summer of 1915, and Tsarina Alexandra assumed the role of Head of state. In the absence of Nicholas the Tsarina grew ever more dependent on Rasputin who influenced her political view on home affairs. Ministers resigned and Alexandra, who was guided by Rasputin, replaced them. Until his murder in 1916 Rasputin continued his influence on the Tsarina. From the very beginning of his taking office Shuvaev had his logistical expertise rendered ineffective owing to the poor relationship between him and the Tsarina. Despite the fact Shuvaev was willing to work with the government, the Tsarina ensured he did not receive the political influence he needed in order to redress the logistics problem. His predicted resignation was welcomed by the Royal Court.

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The Caucasus and Middle East Campaign

On the 3rd January 1917, Thomas Edward Lawrence (known as Lawrence of Arabia) set off with 35 Arab tribesmen on his first desert raid against the Ottoman Empire. They rode out of their camp under the cover of darkness to a Turkish encampment where they dismounted and climbed up a steep hill overlooking the area. They attacked the encampment with rifle fire until they were driven off. Returning to their own camp they stumbled across two Turkish soldiers and promptly captured them and taking them back for questioning. This minor triumph was spoilt by a tragedy when Lawrence had to execute one of his own raiders to prevent a blood feud developing amongst the tribesmen. Lawrence was haunted by this deed for the rest of his life. When the Great War began in 1914 Lawrence was an archaeologist who had worked extensively within the Ottoman Empire. The Arab Bureau of the Foreign Office supported the break-away Arab tribes, and when Lawrence enlisted in 1914 into the British Army he was commissioned as an officer and posted to the intelligence staff in Cairo. During the course of the war Lawrence was operating in intelligence affairs but also went on guerrilla raids with the Arab irregular troops.

In Mesopotamia Sir Frederick Maude’s British troops began launching minority diversionary attacks on Khadairi Bend on the 7th/8th January 1917. Khadairi Bend was a heavily fortified town on the Tigris River north of Kut-el-Amara.  Kut is located on the Tigris River which is modern-day Iraq, which had been occupied by the British and captured by the Ottoman troops in 1916. An effective artillery bombardment on the 9th January 1917 began the major attack on Khadairi Bend with the battle lasting almost three weeks. Vicious hand-to-hand fighting was encountered during the British offensive and the Turkish defenders counter-attacks resulting in heavy casualties before the town fell to the British on the 29th January 1917. The Battle of Khadairi Bend proved to be just the prelude to the major Allied offensive in Mesopotamia. Slow but sure progress was made owing to the heavy rains and the concern of London to keep the casualties to a minimum before the Second Battle of Kut- el-Amara, which began the following month.

On the 9th January 1917, following the surrender of the Ottoman defenders at the Battle of Magdhaba the Desert Column attacked the town of Rafah. Lieutenant General Philip Chetwode commanding the Desert Force, left El Arish the previous evening in readiness for the planned attack on the 9th. The Desert Force consisted of the Anzac Mounted Division, the Imperial Camel Corp Brigade, the 5th Mounted Brigade and the 7th Light Car Patrol. The individual forces surrounded the Rafah fortifications and by approximately 9.30 am a thirty-minute preparatory artillery barrage had begun against the town. Under cover of this barrage the attaching troops began their advance to within 2,000 yards (1,800 m) of the Ottoman defences. Fighting continued all day with the attackers making very little headway against a determined Ottoman defence. Gradually machine gun cross-fire gave the assaulting troops sufficient cover allowing them to get within 400 yards (370 m) of the central redoubt. By early evening the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade captured the central redoubt in a final bayonet charge, at the run with many of the soldiers firing their guns as they went. With the central redoubt in British possession, they were able to enfilade the remaining redoubts and the troops advanced and finally captured them. The Battle of Rafah was the final battle to complete the recapture of the Sinai Peninsula by the British forces during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

 

THE GREAT WAR – JANUARY 1917

 

THE GREAT WAR – JANUARY 1917

Various Fronts

3rd Jan           Sir Douglas Haig promoted to Field-Marshal

9th Jan           HMS “Cornwallis” sunk by submarine in the Mediterranean

10th Jan          Entente governments send joint reply to President Wilson over Peace Plan

10th Jan          Belgium’s reply to President Wilson would be the repatriation of their country

11th Jan         Austro-Hungarian/German refusal to accept responsibility should the plan be rejected.

14th Jan          Japanese battlecruiser “Tsukuba” exploded in docks

19th Jan           Proposal for Mexico to enter alliance with Germany

20th Jan          Hoskins replaces Smuts as Commander of the East African forces

23rd Jan           HMS “Simoom” sunk

31st Jan           Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare

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Eastern Front

8th Jan             Russian Prime Minister Trepov resigns

17th Jan           Russian Minister of War Shuvaev resigns

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The Caucasus and Middle East Campaign

3rd Jan             First desert raid by Lawrence of Arabia

7th/8th Jan     British artillery bombardment began on Khadairi Bend

9th Jan            British began major attack on Khadairi Bend

9th Jan            Battle of Rafah

29th Jan           British capture Khadairi Bend

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