An appreciation of the situation from point of view affecting 64th Inf. Bde

Loose in p 56.

SECRET

B.M. 577

 

AN APPRECIATION OF THE SITUATION FROM POINT OF VIEW AFFECTING 64TH INF. BDE.

 

  1. The two recent successes during September drove the enemy back from elaborately prepared positions running approximately North and South through HOOGE and GLENCORSE Wood respectively. The German line now rests on the main PASCHENDAAL ridge. For the defence of their previous positions the Germans were able to assemble troops for the attack in a comparatively safe area east of the PASCHENDAAL ridge. This assembly place still exists for them (so far as this brigade is concerned it is to northwards of BECELAERE), but it is no longer a safe position.       The eastern slope of the ridge where counter-attacking troops would have to form up will be within our standing barrage when we have occupied our second objective, and will be in view of our advanced posts.

 

  1. The morale of the German troops cannot be otherwise than badly affected by their recent adverses. They have seen themselves driven back on both occasions when we attacked and they have seen their counter-attacks smashed and the limited successes which have occasionally attended these counter-attacks have been invariably nullified shortly afterwards.       Troops coming up to replace shattered divisions have heard their comrades’ stories, and recent voluntary surrenders have shown the effect of these on newly arrived regiments.

 

  1. The objective of the Brigade is the extreme left (Southend) of the high ground of the German position. From the starting off point, the ground falls till it reaches POLYGONE BEEK. The ground on either side of this is marshy and churned up by shells.       The beek is narrow but has water in it. Unless however, there is heavy rain the ground is passable at a slow rate.       The fact that Germans have been able to counter-attack across this ground proves this. On the right boundary of the **** advance, the road which crosses the beek will probably assist matters. On the east of the beek, the ground rises fairly steeply up to the top of the ridge which is reached on the first objective.

The advance to the second objective is on the top of the ridge. The chief obstacle to this advance are the village of REUTEL and the line of block-houses running northwards from east end of village.

As this is the left of the German line on the ridge top, we must expect that its defences will have been carefully and strongly prepared, and success will, to a great extent, depend upon the assaulting troops keeping right up to the tail of the barrage.

The strong points in the POEZELHOEK Valley are likely to be well equipped with machine guns, which may harass our advance from the right flank.  Special artillery arrangements have been made to deal with this matter.

 

  1. As regards counter-attacks.

The troops which capture the first objective may expect immediate counter-attacks by local reserves from REUTEL unless these have been shattered by our barrage fire. The supporting companies should be able to deal easily with such attacks if the front line has failed to do so.

The troops on the first objective must also be prepared to deal with a larger counter-attack coming from direct east. This attack should however, be completely broken up by our barrage fire.

On the second objective troops must be prepared for immediate counter-attacks on a large scale. The German main reserves are probably dug in on the slopes North of BECELAERE and in position to advance at once.  Our advanced posts should be able to give due warning of such an attack, which must be dealt with by rifles and machine guns.  The standing artillery barrage will also in this case help to break up the attack.

Later on – possibly at dawn on day after our attack – organised counter-attacks on a large scale must be expected. By this time our positions will have been further consolidated and troops re-organised and readier to beat off attacks.

 

  1. The plan for the attack is based on an attack in depth. The narrow front (250 yards) allotted to the Brigade permits of this. One battalion attacks and occupies first objective, and a second battalion assisted by one company of support battalion attacks and consolidates second objective. Two more companies of the support battalion move up to positions of readiness east of POLYGONE BEEK and the remaining company holds our original front line. The reserve battalion remains in position behind.

The battalions have been detailed for their special jobs but each battalion must be prepared to carry out any of the allotted tasks. The difficulties of communications make it more than ever essential that commanders on the spot must act on their own initiative to meet any situation which may arise.  This applies to platoon, company and battalions commanders equally.  Whenever any unit moves and acts contrary to its ordered actions, the commander must take care to pass back information of what he has done to his immediate superior and other commanders affected by the change in dispositions.

 

  1. The Brigade enters the battle at a late stage and is faced with the difficulties necessarily attendant to such conditions as regards preparation of trenches and dumps etc., and forming up for the attack. But such difficulties are far from being insuperable and in no way tend to mar success. The morale of all ranks is high. We go into the battle with the will to win. On either flank we have first class divisions. The Germans in front are fully conscious of, and affected by their constant reverses and retirements.

There is therefore, every reason for all ranks to feel confident and determined to add one more chapter to the great record of our Brigade and Division.

 

H.R. Headlam

Brigadier General

Commanding 64th Inf. Bde.

1.10.17

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APPENDIX “Z” to OO 143 1 October 1917

APPENDIX “Z”

 

MOVES TO ASSEMBLY POSITIONS.

 

Units will move to assembly positions on the night 3rd/4th Oct. as under, so as to be in position by 5 a.m. –

 

(a). 9th K.O.Y.L.I. in depth 180 yards from present front line.

 

(b). 15th Durh. L.I. in depth 180 yards and 30 yards West of 9th K.O.Y.L.I.  Battn H.Q. with H.Q. 9th K.O.Y.L.I.

 

(c). T.M. Battery and carriers and 4 Machine Guns and carriers 20 yards behind 15th Durh. L.I.

 

(d). 10th K.O.Y.L.I. 20 yards behind T.M. Battery.

 

(e). 1st E. York R. immediately West of GLENCORSE Wood.

 

O.C. 9th K.O.Y.L.I. will mark out by white tape the line where rear of his battalion will rest.

 

O.C. 10th K.O.Y.L.I. will mark out where his front line will rest.

 

Units will take the greatest care to make as little noise as possible when forming up.

64TH INF. BDE O.O. NO 143. 1 October 1917

Pp 56-58.

SECRET.

Copy No. 2

64TH INF. BDE O.O. NO 143.

Ref Maps 1:10,000 S

OOSTHOEK

WESTHOEK

KRUISEBECKE

SHREWSBURY FOREST

Oct 1st 1917

 

  1. (a). The Second Army will attack on a day to be notified later against the high ground REUTEL – NOORDENDHOEK – MOLENAALELSTHOEK – NIEUWE MOLEN.

(b). The 5th Division will attack on the right of the 21st Division – objective the line J.21.d.65.95 – J.16.d.8.6. – J.17.a.2.2. – J.11.c.55.05.

(c). The 7th Division will attack on the left of the 21st Division – objective, the line J.12.a.1.5. – J.6.c.35.20. – J.5.b.7.0. – J.5.b.30.15.

The names of the actual units on flanks of the Brigade will be notified later.

 

  1. The objective of the 21st Division is the line J.11.c.55.05 – J.11.d.2.3. – J.11.d.65.75. – J.11.b.95.15. – J.12.a.1.5.

The duty of the 21st Division is to form a defensive flank facing South, South-East and East with a view to protecting the Southern flank of the attacking troops on the North, and obtaining observations of the REUTELBEEK Valley and the spur running S.E. to BECELAERE.

 

  1. The 64th Inf. Bde. on the right and the 62nd Inf. Bde. on the left will carry out the attack. The 110th Inf. Bde. will be in Divisional Reserve.

 

  1. Brigade boundaries will be as follows:-

Southern.  J.16.b.1.9. (approx) – J.11.c.55.05.

Northern.  J.10.d.2.5. – J.11.c.40.55 – J.11.d.2.7. – J.11.d.65.75.

 

5.As soon as the final objective has been reached:-

(a). Posts will be pushed out to obtain the necessary observations.

(b). The final objective will be consolidated as a front line.

(c). REUTEL Village, the block-house on the line J.11.d.1.3 to J.11.d.20.68 and thence N.N.E. to about J.11.b.5.4. will be consolidated as a support line.  (see air photographs).

(d). In the event of the attack on the second objective being successful, the S.P. at J.11.c.6.3. – J.11.c.6.7. – JUDGE Trench to J.11.a.85.10. and thence due North to boundary will be consolidated as a reserve line.

Should the Second Objective or the attack of the 5th Division on our right be unsuccessful, the line J.11.c.2.5. – JUDGE Trench and thence as above will be consolidated.

  1. The objectives for the Brigade are as follows:-

1st Objective. – The line of the road J.11.c.55.05. TO J.11.c.63.57.

2nd Objective. – The line J.11.c.35.55. – J.11.d.2.3. – J.11.d.65.75.

  1. The Brigade will attack as follows:-

 

(a). The 9th K.O.Y.L.I. will attack and capture the first objective.

 

(b). The 15th Durh. L.I. will go through the 9th K.O.Y.L.I. and attack and capture the second objective.

 

(c). The 10th K.O.Y.L.I. less 1 company will be in support.  One company will be attached to 15th Durh L.I. and move under orders from O.C. 15th Durh L.I.

 

(d). The 1st E. York R. will be in reserve. Altered night of 3/4 Oct.

 

(e) The 64th M.G. Coy will detail four guns for the following objectives:-

Two guns will go to J.11.d.4.6. (approx) and two will go to J.11.c.9.2. (approx). The officer in charge will be with O.C. 15th Durh L.I. and will not move forward until news has been received that the objective has been taken.  The location of the guns will not be altered, unless, on arrival in the area, better tactical positions can be found to cover our new front.

 

(f). The 64th T.M. Bty will detail four guns to be attached to the 9th K.O.Y.L.I.  These guns will move forward as soon as the first objective is taken.  A percentage of VARLEY Bombs will be carried.  Ammunition is to be husbanded and no rounds are to be fired until definite objectives which are holding up the advance are located.  The special task for these guns is to be prepared to deal with the strong points at West end of REUTEL and prevent Germans here interfering with the advance of 15th Durh L.I.  These strong points will not be under artillery fire after the first objective is taken.

 

  1. Units will move as follows at Zero:-

(a). 9th K.O.Y.L.I. will advance to first objective.

(b). The 15th Durh. L.I. will follow close behind the 9th K.O.Y.L.I. and form up East of the POLYGONEBEEK and as close as possible to line of first objective, ready to advance to the assault of the second objective.

(c). 10th K.O.Y.L.I. less 1 Coy will remain in assembly position until it is ascertained that the first objective is captured.  As soon as this is known, two companies will go forward, cross the POLYGONEBEEK, and dig in facing S.E. along line of road in J.10.d.9.4. and J.11.c.3.5.  An officer with two orderlies from each of these two companies will proceed to advanced H.Q. of 9th K.O.Y.L.I. and 15th Durh L.I. respectively.  The above is not to prevent O.C. 10th K.O.Y.L.I. moving his battalion to a safer position forward if it is found that hostile barrage comes down on his assembly position.  These two companies will be available either separately or together if necessary, to support either of the above battalions.  The above orders are in no way to check the O.C. these two companies immediately moving forward on his own initiative to support the front line if it is counter-attacked.  If the two companies, (or one of them) move forward. O.C. 10th K.O.Y.L.I. will immediately go forward with his reserve company and occupy the position on East of the POLYGONEBEEK vacated by these companies.  If he does this, Bde H.Q. and O.C. 1st E. York R. will be immediately informed, and O.C. 1st E. York R. will send a company to occupy our original front line.

(d). 1st E. York R. will remain in its assembly position.  An officer with orderlies is to be at H.Q. 10th K.O.Y.L.I. to keep in touch with the situation.

 

  1. Each assaulting battalion will be responsible for guarding its own flanks.

 

  1. All ranks must be thoroughly impressed with the importance of assisting any unit held up in the advance. X

 

  1. Each battalion will detail two men to search dug-outs in the captured territory. These men will wear “INTELLIGENCE” brassards. Orders re sending back documents have already been issued.                                     D

 

  1. Bayonets are to be fixed a few minutes before Zero. Care is to be taken that they are fixed quietly and do not glitter in the moonlight. X

 

  1. The compass bearing of their objective must be known by all officers. It is of utmost importance that proper direction is maintained. X.

 

  1. O.C. units will ensure that:-

(a). No officers or men take into action any maps showing our trenches or dispositions or letters or clues to identification except identity discs.

(b). That all ranks know that the word “RETIRE” is never used and if heard will on no account be acted upon.                                                   X

 

  1. Tanks will co-operate in the attack on second objective and their programme will be issued later. Infantry will, however, in no way depend on action of Tanks.

Tanks will carry S.A.A. which will be thrown out, if Tank gets stopped.     X.

 

  1. Situation reports must be sent regularly each half hour to Bde. H.Q. and whenever anything of special importance occurs.

 

  1. Positions of dumps will be notified later.

 

  1. Commanding Officers must ensure that their men get food and hot tea before attack commences.

 

19.Great coats of 9th K.O.Y.L.I. and 15th Durh L.I. will be tied in bundles and left at positions occupied before assembly.  Men must be warned not to leave any of their private property in the coat pockets.

Great coats of 10th K.O.Y.L.I. and 1st E. York R. are to be tied in bundles and left at battalion transport lines and will be brought up later if required.  No private property to be packed in the coats.

Great coats will be worn “en banderole”.                                                       X

 

  1. Hour of Zero will be notified later.

 

  1. Watches of 9th K.O.Y.L.I. and 15th Durh L.I. will be synchronised by telephone at 12 midnight 3rd/4th October.

The 10th K.O.Y.L.I. and 1st E. York. R. will each send an officer to Bde. H.Q. on their way to their assembly position to synchronise watches.

 

  1. The following will be carried by all battalions:-

(a). The unexpired portion of Z day’s and Z + 1 day’s rations.

(b). So far as issue permits every man exclusive of rifle grenadiers will carry one rodded Mills (No 23) or other kind of bomb, and two blank cartridges.  These grenades will be considered as a reserve for the rifle grenadiers, or if the situation demands it can be used as a bomb.

(c). With the exception of companies named below, every man will carry 170 rounds S.A.A.

The two leading companies of 9th K.O.Y.L.I. will carry 120 rounds only.

(d). 250 shovels will be carried per battalion. These will be carried down the men’s backs.                                                                                                            X

(e). Each man will carry 4 sand bags.                                                             X

 

  1. Instructions as to the lighting of flares by front line troops will be issued later. All ranks are to be made to understand the extreme importance of lighting these flares.
  2. Slightly wounded officers and men will remain with their battalion and “carry on”. It is forbidden to assist wounded men back to our lines. This order is to be made known to all ranks.

 

  1. The following Appendices are attached or will be forwarded later:-

Appendix “A”             Artillery arrangements.

“        “B”                        Administrative arrangements.

“        “C”                        Signalling arrangements.

“          “D”           Medical arrangements.

“          “E”           Machine Gun arrangements.

“          “F”            Employment of R.E. and Pioneers.

“         “Z”           Moves to assembly positions.

 

  1. Bde. H.Q. will open in the crater at J.13.c.65.10. at 6 p.m. Oct 2nd.
  2. Acknowledge.

A.F. Macdougall

Major,

Bde. Major, 64th Inf. Bde.

Issued at 10 p.m. to:-

Signals.                                    Copy No. 1.

1st E. York. R.                         Copies Nos 2 – 6.

9th K.O.Y.L.I.                            “         “   7 – 11

10th K.O.Y.L.I.                          “         “   12 – 16

15Durh. L.I.                                “         “   17 – 21

64th M.G. Coy                            “         “   22 – 23

64th T.M. Bty.                         Copy No. 24.

21st Division.                              “       “  25.

62nd Inf. Bde.                            “       “  26.

110th Inf. Bde.                                       “       “  27.

Inf. Bde.                                       “       “  28.

126th F. Co. R.E.                        “       “  29.

14th N.F. (Pioneers)                    “       “  30.

No 1 Coy “A” Bn. Tanks.          “       “  31.

War Diary etc.                         Copies Nos 32 – 40.

War Diary of 2/6th Sherwood Foresters for September 1917

WAR DIARY of 2/6th Sherwood Foresters for September 1917

 

Place       Date    Hour                                                Summary of Events and Information

  1. of WINNEZEELE 1.9.17 to 19.9.17 Fighting Strength

J.2.b.8.8.                                                                                  Officers  18.  O.R.s 816

(Sheet 27)                                                        Training in accordance with Fifth Army letter S.G. 840/7 dated 24.8.17.

FORGE                     20.9.17 to 22.9.17       Marched from J.2.b.8.8. to L.7.d.5.3. and arrived there at 12 Noon.  The Battn was L.7.d.6.3.  (Sheet 27)                                      billeted, and Coy Training was carried out.

VLAMETRINGHE   23.9.17 & 24.9.17       Marched to H.11.b.8.3 and arrived in a Temporary Camp for the night.

H.11.b.8.3.                                                      Practice attack which was carried out at 5.50 am Sep 26th.

(Sheet 28)                   24.9.17 10 am to 12 Noon      Battn marched to Trenches.   Fighting Strength 21 Officers 609 Other Ranks.   A training nucleus of 5 Offrs and 108 Other Ranks were left behind at the Q.M. Stores.  Relieved 2/5th South Staffs in front line running from

10 pm.             GRAVENSTAFEL ROAD (D.13.d.80.85.) to DOWNING TRENCH (D.14.c.35.40.)

25.9.17 6 pm. To 6.30 Artillery practiced barrage for operations on the 26th. Battn fairly heavily shelled.  2 O.R.s wounded.

Taped Kicking off positions

26.9.17 5.50 am.        After heavy Artillery Barrage Battn left its kicking off positions, with 2/7th S.F. on the left and the 177 Bde on the right.

The objective which was from D.14.d.3.6 inclusive to GRAFENSTAFEL ROAD (exclusive) was reached about 7.30 am.  A number of prisoners were taken.

The enemy shelled our positions during the day.

27.9.17 8 pm.             Shelled heavily during the day.

Relieved the 2/5th Bn S.F. in the front line who had held the 2nd objective.

29.7.17 9 pm.             Battn relieved by the Anzacs and took up position in the old British Front Line in the rear of WIELTJE.

Total Casualties 11 Officers  220 O.R.s

Major

Cdg. 2/6th Bn Sherwood Foresters.

 

War Diary of 9th Canadian Artillery Brigade September 1917

CONFIDENTIAL

 

WAR DIARY Of 9th CANADIAN ARTILLERY BRIGADE

 

From September 1st 1917 – To September 30th 1917

 

 

References  LOOS 1/10,000, LENS 1/10,000

FIELD M.4.c.00.30.

1.9.17       11 p.m.      The visibility today was fair.  Six enemy balloons were up in the early morning as well as a great many enemy planes, but all activity ceased after 9.00 a.m.  Several of the enemy were seen about a mile behind the front line and they were immediately fired on and dispersed.  Enemy artillery was fairly quiet during the 24 hours, but as usual he did some counter-battery work.

 

2.9.17                      The visibility today was fair.  No enemy balloons were observed today, but four enemy planes patrolled their own lines in the early morning, two of which crossed our lines and flew over our rear area for about half an hour, flying very high.  Enemy movement appeared to be below normal today, but a considerable number of trains were observed in the rear area between MEURCHIN and CARVIN.  Enemy artillery was below normal, except for some heavy counter-battery work which they carried out in the neighbourhood of the LOOS CRASSIER.

Operation Order Number 105 was issued today relating to the relief of the 9th Brigade C.F.A. by the 6th Divisional Artillery R.F.A. to take place on the night of the 4th/5th September.

 

3.9.17                       The visibility today was good.  Five enemy balloons were observed up during the day and several enemy planes were also seen, but they did not attempt to cross our lines.  Enemy movement was practically nil during the whole day.  Enemy artillery was very active during the night on our support trenches and in the vicinity of the Town of LOOS, shooting intermittently with bursts of fire.  During the night there was considerable artillery activity on both sides on the zones to our right and left, although our front remained normal.

 

4.9.17                       The visibility today was fair.  Five enemy balloons were again observed on our front and stayed up most of the day.  Enemy planes were not so active and were only seen in the morning during which time they remained well behind their own lines.  Movement of men in the enemy lines was almost nil, but considerable horse and motor movement was observed in the rear country.  During the night the enemy at different times put up a spectacular display of rockets, using green, red, orange and white lights.  They also bombarded the area between LOOS and MAROC with about 10,000 gas shells mixing in a large number of High Explosive shells.  The bombardment started at 12 p.m. and continued for about two hours and was the most intense concentration of hostile artillery ever experienced by this brigade.  The new German gas (mustard) was used and while we had no serious casualties, many men the next day found their eyes seriously affected and a small number developed bronchitis.

Operation Order Number 106 was issued today. This refers to the 31st and 36th Batteries leaving the LOOS Area and going into action under RALSTON’S BRIGADE in the VIMY area.  The Headquarters, 33rd and 45th Batteries with the 35th and 39th Batteries of RALSTON’S BRIGADE are to proceed to Rest Camp in the rear.

 

5.9.17                       From this date to the 22nd inst. the Headquarters and four batteries mentioned herewith were in rest at MAGNICOURT, a small village nestling among some rolling hills.  The men had a splendid rest during this time and many parties were sent for the day to ST POL.  In addition an Infantry band was engaged on three different occasions which was very much appreciated.  General sports for the men were held on two occasions and some Indian Cavalry billeted near here very kindly offered to assist in the days sports.  Their horsemanship and other feats were magnificent and filled our men with surprise and admiration.

 

22.9.17                     Operation Order No 107 was issued today under which this Brigade moved to new Wagon Lines near VILLERS au BOIS.  The Brigade remained at rest at this point until the end of the month most of the time being devoted to cleaning equipment and grooming horses.  On the afternoon of the 29th a half holiday was declared, the men attending the Corps Sports held at VILLERS au BOIS.  These were very much enjoyed by all ranks.

 

 

Major

A/C.O. 9th Carscallen’s Brigade C.F.A.

(9th Brigade C.F.A.)

October 1917

October 1917

Passchendaele

 

The Battle of Broodseinde began on the 4th October 1917, using the “bite and hold” tactics of September 1917, which General Sir Herbert Plumer utilised with the successful attacks on the Menin Ridge and Polygon Wood. The battle was the last assault launched by Plumer in good weather. The operation’s aim was to complete the capture of Gheluvelt Plateau and occupy Broodseinde Ridge. The British attacked along a 14,000 yards front and by coincidence, Australian troops met attacking troops from the German Reserve Division in no man’s land. The Germans were attempting to re-capture their defensive line when the assaults commenced simultaneously. The Germans had reinforced their front line in an effort to delay the British capturing their forward positions, until reserve divisions could intervene. The German reinforcements were in the most vulnerable area to British artillery who inflicted devastating casualties on the Germans opposite. The capture of  Zonnebecke and Broodseinde was another advance that had been made into the German positions, which seemed at long last, to be on the verge of collapse. Plumer had achieved remarkable success. Inflicting three major defeats in two weeks and creating enormous damage to the German Army. The Germans began to plan for a slow withdrawal from the Ypres salient, even at the risk of uncovering German positions further north and the Belgian coast.

At the Battle of Poelcappelle on the 9th October 1917, the French First Army and British Second & Fifth armies attacked on a 13,500 yards front, from south of Broodseinde to St. Jansbeek. They advanced halfway from Broodseinde Ridge to Passchendaele, on the main front. Both sides suffered many casualties. Advances in the north of the front were retained by the British and French troops but most of the ground taken in front of Passchendaele and on the Becelaere and Gheluvelt spur was lost to the German counter-attacks. The return of the heavy rain and resulting mud was the main cause of the failure to hold captured ground. The fighting strained German fighting power to the limit but the German forces managed to prevent a breakthrough although it was becoming far harder to replace their losses.

The First Battle for Passchendaele, starting on the 12th October 1917, was another Allied attempt to gain ground around Passchendaele. Heavy rain and mud again made movement difficult and little artillery could be brought closer to the front. Allied troops were exhausted and morale was beginning to falter. After a modest British advance, German counter-attacks recovered most of the ground opposite Passchendaele. There were 13,000 Allied casualties, including 2,735 New Zealanders, 845 of whom had been killed, wounded or missing. This was the worst day for losses in New Zealand history. At a conference on the 13th October 1917, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig and the army commanders agreed attacks should stop until the weather improved and roads could be extended. On the 22nd October 1917, the 18th Division of XVIII Corps attacked the east end of Passchendaele, while the XIV Corps alongside the 34th & 35th Division attacked northwards into Houthulst Forest. The attack was supported by a regiment of the French 1st Division on the left flank of the 35th Division. The intention was to block a possible German counter-attack on the left flank of the Canadian Corps as they attacked Passchendaele and the ridge. The artillery of the Second and Fifth armies conducted a deception bombardment to simulate a general attack. Poelcappelle was captured but the attack at the junction the 34th & 35th divisions was repulsed. German counter-attacks pushed back the 35th Division in the centre. The French attack captured all its objectives. Attacking on ground soaked by rain and cut up by bombardments, the British had struggled to advance in places and lost the ability to move quickly to outflank German pillboxes. The 35th Division infantry reached the fringes of Houthulst Forest but were pushed back in places after being outflanked. German counter-attacks made after the 22nd October 1917 were at an equal disadvantage and were also costly failures. The German 4th Army was prevented from transferring troops from the Fifth Army and from concentrating its artillery fire on the Canadians as they prepared for the next   Battle for Passchendaele.

Four divisions of the Canadian Corps had been transferred from Lens to the Ypres salient in preparation for the Second Battle for Passchendaele. The Canadians relieved the Australian II Anzac Corps on the 18th October 1917, and the operation was scheduled to be three limited stages. On the 26th October 1917, the Third Canadian Division captured its first stage objective at Wolf Copse, then swung back its northern flank to link with the adjacent division of the Fifth army. The Fourth Canadian Division captured its objectives but was forced to retire from Decline Copse. The German counter-attack and the failure of the communication between Canadian and Australian units was the cause of the Canadian retirement. The second stage began on the 30th October 1917, to complete the previous stage and gain a foothold for the final assault on Passchendaele. The attackers on the southern flank quickly captured Crest Farm and sent patrols beyond the final objective into Passchendaele. The attack on the northern flank met with exceptional German resistance. The Third Canadian Division captured the two farms, Vapour and Furst, together with the crossroads at Meetcheele but remained short of its objective, which was the devastated village of Passchendaele. The Battle continued into November 1917.

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Western Front

On the 17th October 1917, the Battle of La Malmaison began. The Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig had requested numerous times that the head of the French Army General Philippe Pétain should begin the long-delayed French attack on the Chemin des Dames. The French artillery preparation started on the 17th October 1917 and on the 23rd October 1917, their Sixth Army commanded by General Paul Maistre began the attack.  The German defenders were swiftly defeated. The French advanced 3.7 miles (6.0 km) capturing the village and fort of La Malmaison, gaining control of the Chemin des Dames Ridge. As the French paused to prepare their second attack, the Germans thinking they had the French beaten launched a counter-attack. They ran headlong into the second French barrage and were forced back. The Germans withdrew to the north of the Ailette Valley early in November 1917. On the 25th October 1917, Pétain called a halt to his operation as he believed he had achieved all that was requested of him. Haig was pleased with the French success but regretted the delay as it had kept Allied forces at Passchendaele maintaining support for the French at La Malmaison.

On the 21st October 1917, the first American soldiers entered combat when units of the U.S. Army 1st Division were assigned to Allied trenches in the Luneville sector near Nancy in France. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) had started to arrive in June 1917 and they were sent to training camps as the troops were untrained, ill-equipped and far from ready for fighting on the Western Front. Commander-in-Chief of the AEF General John Pershing established bases in France to train his new arrivals with their new British and French supplied equipment. Each American unit was attached to a corresponding French unit. On the 23rd October 1917, Corporal Robert Bralet of the 6th Artillery was the first U.S. soldier to fire a shot in anger when he discharged a French 75mm gun into a German trench. On the 2nd November 1917, Corp. James Gresham and Privates Thomas Enwright and Merle Hay of the 16th Infantry became the first American soldiers to die when the Germans raided their trenches near Bathelemont, France.

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Other Theatres

On the morning of 15th October 1917, Mata Hari was taken from her prison cell in Paris to an army barracks for her execution. Dutch born Margarethe Zelle had married a Dutch army officer but the marriage failed.  She took on the name of Mata Hari in the role of an Indian Temple dancer and moved to Paris. By 1914 her exotic dances had allowed her to become a successful courtesan to many high ranking military officers and politicians. With Holland being a neutral country she was able to cross European borders freely. The French secret police induced her to travel to Spain to develop relationships with German naval and army attachés and report back to Paris any intelligence she received. The French secret police suspected her of being a double agent and on her return to Paris in February 1917 she was arrested, and charged with being a German spy. At her trial in July 1917 she was found guilty of being a spy, convicted and sentenced to death. She was executed by firing squad on the 15th October 1917.

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In the East African Campaign, the Battle of Mahiwa was fought from the 15th to 18th October 1917, between German and British Imperial forces. The battle began when the South African and Nigerian troops engaged a column of German forces at Mahiwa in German East Africa, which is present day Tanzania. With German Major-General Kurt Wahle’s force at Nyangao separated from Commander General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck’s main body, the British hatched a plan to cut-off and surround Wahle’s column by flanking it with their Nigerian force. They would then commit a large body of troops on a frontal attack and encircle the force. Three battalions of Nigerians, of Lieutenant General Jacob van Deventer’s South African army, were sent against Wahle’s troops at Nyangao and engaged him there on the 15th October 1917. Von Lettow-Vorbeck brought up re-enforcements to support Wahle. The Nigerians were soon threatened with encirclement and suffered severe casualties. A larger force had been sent by the British to attack the Germans from the opposite side. This was met with stubborn resistance while the Germans withdrew from Nyangao on the 16th October 1917 and dug in at Mahiwa 2 miles (3.2 km) from the their previous position. Despite attacks from the newly arrived British force, the Germans were able to hold their ground and counter-attacked on the 17th and 18th October 1917. The British Imperial forces were defeated taking over 2,700 casualties, out of 4,900 men involved, and were forced to withdraw. Although von Lettow-Vorbeck had inflicted the greater number of casualties on the Allies, the battle did not go as he had hoped. The German army suffered between 500 and 600 casualties, which was over thirty per cent of the force engaged. German supplies were extremely limited and four days of fighting had expended nearly all of their supply of smokeless cartridges. Without sufficient ammunition for their modern weapons the Germans were reduced to using rifles which fired black powder cartridges. Low on supplies and fearing another attack, von Lettow-Vorbeck decided to withdraw from German East Africa and continue his guerrilla war by invading Portuguese East Africa where he hoped to regain strength by capturing supplies from the ill-prepared Portuguese Army.

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The Battle of Caporetto, also known as the 12th Battle of the Isonzo, began on the 24th October 1917 along the Austro/Italian front near the town of Kobarid (now in NW Slovenia). All previous battles of the Isonzo were Italian offensives along the Austrian border. In a bid to keep Austro/Hungary in the war Germany had to help defeat the Italian army. A new 14th Army was formed using Austrian and German divisions, commanded by German Otto von Below. The battle was a demonstration of the effectiveness of the use of Stormtroopers and infiltration tactics. The use of poison gas by the Germans also played a key role in the collapse of the Italian Second Army. In September 1917, three experts from the German Imperial General staff went to the Isonzo front to find a suitable site for a gas attack. They proposed attacking the quiet Caporetto sector, where a good road ran west through a mountain valley to the Venetian plain. Foul weather delayed the attack for two days but on the 24th October 1917 there was no wind and the front was misted over. At 02.00 am, 894 metal tubes dug into the reverse slope were triggered electrically to simultaneously fire canisters of chlorine-arsenic agent and diphosgene, smothering the Italian trenches in the valley in a dense cloud of poison gas. Knowing their gas masks could protect them only for less than two hours, the defenders fled for their lives, creating a gap in the line, though 500-600 were still killed. At 6.41 am, 2,200 guns opened fire, targeting Italian reserves who were advancing to plug the gap. At 08.00 am two large mines were detonated under Italian strong points on the heights bordering the valley and the Austro/German infantry attacked. Soon they penetrated the almost undefended Italian fortifications in the valley, breaching the defensive line of the Italian Second Army. Forces had to be moved along the Italian front in an attempt to stem von Below’s breakout, but this only weakened other points along the line and invited further attacks. At this point the entire Italian front was threatened. The attackers in the Valley marched almost unopposed along the road toward Italy. Either side of this road, the Italians were able to force back the attacking troops, but the Italian Second Army commander Luigi Capello realized that his forces were ill-prepared for this attack and were being routed. Capello then requested permission to withdraw back to the Tagliamento. He was overruled by Chief of Staff General Luigi Cardorna who believed that the Italian force could regroup and hold out. Finally, on the 30th October 1917, Cardorna ordered the majority of the Italian force to retreat to the other side of the Tagliamento.

On the 30th October 1917, Paolo Boselli resigned as Prime Minister of Italy. Following Italy’s entry into the Great War against Austro-Hungary in 1915 Boselli made an important speech in support of giving full powers to Premier Antonio Salandra. After the Austrian offensive of May -July 1916, Salandra’s government fell and 78 year old Boselli became premier. He formed a coalition government and after recovering territory lost in the Austrian offensive, Italy had declared war on Germany in August 1915. Following Italy’s disastrous defeat at Caporetto, Boselli’s government fell. Boselli resigned and on the 30th October 1917, Vittorio Emmanuelle Orlando became Prime Minister, and continued in that role through the rest of the war.

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Middle East

The Battle of Wadi Musa was fought on the 23rd October 1917, when Ottoman soldiers were sent to deal with the Arab Sharifan Army, the military force behind the Lawrence of Arabia led Arab Revolt. The  Sharifan Army was camped at Wadi Musa in Jordan. The Ottoman Army was based at Ha’an in Jordon and was sent to deal with the North Arab Army. Turkish General Djemal Pasha ordered his forces to secure the Hejaz Railway by “any and all means”. Before the Ottoman forces reached Wadi Musa they were intercepted and ambushed by 700 Arab troops under the command of Maulood Mukhlis. 400 Ottoman troops were killed and another 300 were captured. The remaining Ottoman forces retreated leaving the railway intact and uncaptured.

Early in the morning of the 31st October 1917, Allied forces under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby launched an attack on Turkish positions at Beersheba, in Palestine, beginning the Third Battle of Gaza. With Allenby’s appointment to command the Egyptian Expeditionary  Force (EEF) in the wake of two failed attacks at Gaza in March and April 1917, he was tasked by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George with the capture of Jerusalem by Christmas 1917. In order to ensure the fall of Jerusalem however, Allenby needed first to break the Turkish line at Gaza-Beersheba overseen by the recently arrived Erich von Falkenhayn, the former German Army Chief of Staff. The previous two attacks at Gaza had to some extent foundered on account of water shortages. Allenby understood that establishing command of water supplies would be a key factor in his wider plan of capturing Jerusalem. Reinforcements were called in, including Italian and French troops, to support a renewed offensive against the Gaza-Beersheba line, which stood formidably between the Allies and the all-important city of Jerusalem. For nearly a week before the attack, three artillery divisions with over 200 guns bombarded the Turkish troops in order to trick the latter into believing that a full frontal attack would follow, similar to the previous offensives. The bombardment was the heaviest artillery attack of the war outside of Europe. Instead of a frontal attack, Allenby’s men launched a surprise attack at dawn of the 31st October 1917. Allenby sent 40,000 troops, which included the Light Horse Brigade of Australian Desert Mounted Corps, against the damaged Turkish lines. At 4.50 pm on the 31st October 1917, the Light Horse Brigade was in position and assembled behind rising ground 6 km south-east of Beersheba. The Australian Light Horse was used purely as cavalry for the first time, and though they were not equipped with cavalry sabres their long bayonets were equally effective. The Light Horse moved off at a trot, and almost at immediately quickened into a gallop. As they came over the ridge and onto the long open slope to Beersheba, they were seen by the Turkish gunners, who opened fire with shrapnel. After 3km Turkish machine-guns opened fire from the flank, but they were detected and silenced by British artillery. The rifle fire from the Turkish trenches was wild and high as the Light Horse approached. The front trench and the main trench were jumped and some men dismounted and attacked the Turkish defenders with rifle and bayonet from the rear. Some galloped ahead to seize the rear trenches, while other squadrons galloped straight into Beersheba. Beersheba and its crucially important water supply were captured that same day, before the Turks could execute a plan to contaminate it. Falkenhayn was forced to pull his Turkish troops back into the hills north of Jerusalem. The capture of Beersheba meant that the Gaza-Beersheba line was now occupied by the Allies. The casualties for the Light Horse were thirty-one killed and thirty-six wounded, and they captured over 700 Turkish defenders. Gaza fell a week later.

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THE GREAT WAR – OCTOBER 1917

 

 

THE GREAT WAR – OCTOBER 1917

Passchendaele

4th Oct                              Battle of Broodseinde

9th Oct                              Battle of Poelcappelle

12th Oct                             First battle of Passchendaele

26th Oct to 19th Nov       Second Battle of Passchendaele

 

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Western Front

21st Oct                             The first American troops entered trenches at Nancy

23rd Oct to 10th Nov          Battle of La Malmaison

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Other Theatres

 

15th Oct                             Execution of Mata Hari

15th to 18th Oct                Battle of Mahiwa

24th Oct                              Battle of Caporetto

30th Oct                             Italian PM Boselli succeeded by Orlando

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Middle East

23rd Oct                           Battle of Wadi Musa

31st Oct                               Third Battle of Gaza- Beersheba

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Passchendaele

4th Oct                              Battle of Broodseinde

9th Oct                              Battle of Poelcappelle

12th Oct                             First battle of Passchendaele

26th Oct to 19th Nov       Second Battle of Passchendaele

 

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Western Front

21st Oct                             The first American troops entered trenches at Nancy

23rd Oct to 10th Nov          Battle of La Malmaison

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Other Theatres

 

15th Oct                             Execution of Mata Hari

15th to 18th Oct                Battle of Mahiwa

24th Oct                              Battle of Caporetto

30th Oct                             Italian PM Boselli succeeded by Orlando

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Middle East

23rd Oct                           Battle of Wadi Musa

31st Oct                               Third Battle of Gaza- Beersheba

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