Narrative of Operations November 1917

Appendix II

 

EXPERIENCES GAINED IN THE RECENT OPERATIONS

20th and 21st November 1917.

 

1 ASSEMBLY.

 

It is essential that Staff Officers with a full knowledge of orders for the forthcoming operations should control the traffic during the assembly and forming up of troops prior to attack. The assembly and forming up of troops prior to attack.  The assembly and forming up was carried out up to time and successfully – but hitches occurred owing to an insufficient number of Staff Officers having been utilised.

 

In circumstances where the assembly of four Divisions can only take place by means of the roads originally at the disposal of one Division, the number of Staff Officers available from that Division for traffic control is insufficient.

 

The Staff Officers of the incoming Divisions had little or no time to grasp the essentials of the problem.

 

It is suggested that on such occasions a special Traffic Control Conference should be held and the points for which each Division should be responsible agreed upon.

 

 

  1. R.A.

 

The operations under review have proved that a satisfactory barrage can be fired without previous registration, if care is taken to ensure accuracy of line beforehand.

 

If sufficient R.A. Officers are available it would be of the greatest assistance if an Artillery Liaison Officer could be attached to each forward Battn. for the purpose of keeping Battalion Commanders informed of Artillery arrangements and enabling them, when possible, to obtain Artillery co-operation.

 

The fascines carried by batteries proved most useful.

The enemy barrage, which fell on our front and support lines, was feeble and ragged.

 

The timing of our barrage and the proportion of smoke fired, i.e. from 18-pdrs 1/ 3 smoke appeared to be satisfactory.

 

It was again demonstrated that in an attack, risks can safely be taken that would not otherwise be justified, batteries can get into and out of action in the open, without undue casualties.

 

In all operations of this nature close co-operation between R.A. and Tanks is essential. The R.A. must know exactly the forming up places of the Tanks in order that there may be no chance of Tanks masking the fire of batteries.  Instances occurred during the recent operations in which Tanks, owing to the nature of the ground, were obliged to form up in positions which temporarily masked the fire of guns.

 

 

  1. R.E.

 

The light railway proved unreliable and could not be depended upon for getting up material other than ammunition during the time of preparation.

The urgent necessity of large parties of pioneers being employed at the earliest possible moment to repair roads, cut wire, fill in trenches, and make temporary bridges, etc., was most marked, and artillery will be seriously hampered when this is not attended to on a large scale.

 

  1. COMMUNICATIONS.

 

(a). R.A.  It is strongly recommended that a limbered G.S. wagon be substituted for a Brigade Cable Cart, which is in no way suited for travelling over rough country and is incapable of carrying the amount of  wire required.

D.1 and D. 3 are the heaviest cables suited for Artillery Bdes. And Batteries.

The use of mounted orderlies was most necessary as all other methods of communication continually failed.

 

(b). Tanks.  It is most necessary that routes for returning Tanks should be laid down and marked back to the original front line as the greatest difficulty was experienced in coping with the damage done to lines by returning Tanks.

 

(c). Power Buzzer and Amplifiers.  The arrangements were for these to work from original Bde. forward Station to Cable Heads.  As events proved they were not required in this position, and in the subsequent advance distances were too great.

 

(d). Wireless Sets.  One set was allotted to the 59th Inf. Bde., and one to the 60th Inf. Bde.  Both these sets were eventually used at Bde. H.Q., but they were not carried forward quickly enough.  In future it should be laid down that the set moves with the Brigade Staff.

 

(e). Visual.  Visual Signalling again proved of great value in spite of the use of smoke.  The Lucas Lamp was much superior to any other system – a minimum issue of 6 per Battalion is recommended.

 

(f). Pigeons.  The number of pigeons available (10 birds for this Division) were insufficient; 10 birds with each Brigade forward party would have been invaluable.  Eight messages came through by this means.

 

(g). D.R’s – Motor Cyclists and Mounted.  The Signal Service rule that Despatch Riders can go by any road at any time does not appear to be known to Traffic Control personnel.  Mounted men were stopped and delays caused.

 

  1. TRAINING AND EMPLOYMENT OF INFANTRY WITH TANKS.

 

(a) Training.

(i). Realistic training of infantry with Tanks is essential to the success of operations of this nature.  The lack of training in this particular instance was counteracted by the element of surprise, but in all future operations, or operations of a deliberate nature, careful prolonged training will be essential.

 

(ii). Enemy machine guns and points of resistance should be simulated either by men or rattles in unknown localities, so that the subordinate commanders should have the opportunity of dealing with conditions as they present themselves on the spot.

 

(iii). Training should impress on the Infantry the absolute necessity of not keeping too close to the Tanks and of not bunching.

 

(iv). The most careful training is required in the matter of keeping direction of Tanks, and the strictest discipline should be inculcated in troops at training.

A real course must be mapped out, real trenches and real wire. Taped trenches and imaginary wire give quite a wrong impression.

 

(v). After reaching the final objective there is a tendency for men to unload themselves of their various impediments and wander about. This, of course, is chiefly due to the loss of officers.  Training then, must include practicing of casualties among officers and N.C.O’s.

 

(b). Employment.

(i). The formation adopted, namely, irregular lines of Sections in file was found to be satisfactory, but it is suggested the 5 Tanks per Section would give better results that the present Sections of 3.  With 3 Tanks, if one becomes a casualty, the pre-arranged plan for mopping up becomes ineffective, and the Infantry attached is left alone, and probably would not get through the wire.

 

(ii). Marauding Tanks are required to attack enemy nests and pockets.

 

(iii). During the attack Tanks were destroyed by approaching within point blank range of enemy field guns.  in one instance, 4 Tanks were discovered “knocked out” within 150 yards of a hostile Battery.  It would appear that known positions require special attention.  The Infantry operating with a group of Tanks should advance in front of the Tanks on approaching a known Battery, and put the enemy out of action with Lewis Gun fire, the accompanying Tanks slowing down or halting under cover.  An inspection of the battle-field showed that this could have been done in several cases.  The enemy Batteries in question were all clear of the “wired-up” zone, and therefore the Infantry did not require Tank assistance.

 

(iv). Very clear markings are required on Tanks so that affiliated Infantry can recognise their own.

 

(v). In this particular attack the enemy did not appear to discover the approach of the Tanks until these were within about 200 or 300 yards.

 

  1. EQUIPMENT OF INFANTRY.

 

The equipment as laid down in S.S. 135 was found satisfactory. The ordinary picks and shovels issued are too heavy for Infantry who have to attack over a considerable distance.  Entrenching tools proved of no use and were merely an encumbrance.

 

  1. MACHINE GUNS.

 

The principle of sub-dividing machine guns into Barrage Groups under Divisional control and consolidating guns under direct Brigade control was again found to be a suitable arrangement. Brigades in their turn allotted certain guns to Battns. for use as “opportunity guns”.  In principle this seemed a sound arrangement, but in practice the C.O’s of Battns. neglected to give these guns a task, and owing to inexperience, or lack of initiative, these guns were not used to the best advantage by their crews.

 

  1. LEWIS GUNS.

 

The Lewis Gun confirmed its value in every way. In one instance, after enemy guns had knocked out 2 Tanks, our Lewis gun fire killed all the gunners and allowed the advance to continue.

Lewis Gun teams were the first to cover and make possible the capture of the bridges. Too great stress cannot be laid upon the need for ample supplies of ammunition for Lewis Guns; Yukon Packs loaded with spare drums on pack animals were most useful in this connection.

Luminous sights proved of great value.

 

  1. EMPLOYMENT OF CAVALRY.

 

In the operations under review, 2 troops of Corps Cavalry attached to 59th Inf. Bde. rendered invaluable service in maintaining touch between the 59th Inf. Bde. and the 12th Division on the BONAVIS – CREVECOEUR Ridge.  As the operations of the 59th Inf. Bde. were in the nature of open fighting, the attachment of Cavalry was both necessary and suitable.  Cavalry would, however, not have been of great use to the 60th and 61st Inf. Bdes. whose duty it was to break through the HINDENBURG LINE.  Some mounted orderlies should be attached to all Bdes. as an adjunct to the Signal Service.

  1. BOMBS.

 

“P” Bombs were not found necessary.

 

  1. MOVES OF HEADQUARTERS.

 

It must be insisted that no Headquarters must close down one Station before another is established. Several instances occurred of Headquarters moving forward and all communication being lost for a considerable time.

 

  1. CAPTURE OF STRONG POINTS.

 

The capture of strong points was effected in every case by out-flanking tactics, using Bombers and Lewis Guns.

 

  1. SNIPERS.

 

Snipers were employed with considerable success in LES RUES VERTES and RUE DES VIGNES, and many casualties caused. One sniper killed 7 Germans in RUE DES VIGNES on the 21st November.

Telescopic sights were found useful, but the difficulty in replacing them in cases of loss caused diffidence in bringing them forward.

 

  1. STOKES MORTARS.

 

Stokes Mortars were brought forward, but were not of great use owing to the open nature of the fighting.

 

 

10th December 1917.

 

 

Alf Smith Field Service Postcard 23 November 1917

FIELD SERVICE POST CARD

 

Postmarked FIELD POST OFFICE 20 24 NO 17.

To T. Smith, 24 Palmerston Rd, Bowes Park, London N22 England.

 

I am quite well

I have received your letter dated Nov 15th 17 & parcel dated Nov 15th 17

Letter follows at first opportunity

 

Signature only. A. Smith  Date Nov 23rd

 

F Springett letter 23 November 1917

56153 Rfln F.W. Springett

A Company 3rd Platoon

51st G. Battn Kings Royal Rifles

Cliftonville

Margate

Kent

Nov 23rd 1917

 

My Dear Brother Sid,

Just a few lines in answer to your welcome letter received today, so pleased to hear that you were quite well, as it leaves me very well at present, except for a bit of a cold.

Very pleased to hear that you still have plenty of work, also that you are having a good time. The weather is rather cold down here but we don’t get much rain, that’s one thing.

I see we have another moon now. I expect the Germans will soon be over again to have another try to frighten us.  “Ha Ha”.

We have to get up and go down the cellars but Frank doesn’t stop there long.  I generally manage to crawl back upstairs and get in bed.  One night some of us were caught “my word” you should have heard the Officer crack on.  Ha Ha.

I heard from Dad the other day and he told me what he was giving Mother for her birthday of course with your help and Ted’s.

I think that’s a jolly good present for her.  Well she is well worth all she gets, “what do you say?”  I had a letter from Ted the other day.

The old Colonel is getting awfully strict, now we are in a regiment he’s properly put the wind up the troops this week.  Ha Ha.

One chap for swearing at a L/Corporal got 20 day’s pay stopped and 20 day’s pay stopped and 20 day’s C.B. this is some life. Ha Ha.  I have been awfully lucky I have never been up for orders yet, a jolly good record eh?

Things are a bit hopeful again, that’s a jolly good victory for us out in France this week.

Well, Sid I haven’t any more news this time, so will pack up.

You ask me if there is anything I want, which I am sure is very kind of you, of course another note would be very acceptable indeed.

Well Sid, I thank you very much for what you are doing for me, and hope to repay you some day.

Hoping this letter finds you quite well. I will close

With Best Love

I remain

Your Affec Brother Frank

 

With cover to Mr S.K. Springett, 29 Bath Road Dartford Kent

Postmarked Margate 9.45PM 23 No 17

F Hammond letter 23 November 1917

23.11.17

BEF

Dear Berth

Glad to receive Par’s letter today and to hear you are all keeping well.  I am having a nice quiet time at present just about half a dozen of us staying at a chateau.  It’s tres bien but rather expensive as they have a rather good wine cellar.  Sorry to have disappointed Mar but I am only 8th on the list for Leave which under present rate of leave I should be away in 2 or 3 weeks.  When I wrote saying I should be home ere this unexpected events happened still we have been having a rather quiet time lately and I have the anticipation which is next to realisation with a possible chance of Xmas or getting it at the same time as Geo.  So I am quite merry & bright.  No I haven’t heard from Geo Hand for a considerable time.  I don’t know whether he was in the Paschendale do but they have had some hard fighting round that part.  Still I should think he is OK somewhere in France.  So Byers turned up again.  He seems a decent fellow but I shouldn’t feel like visiting people during war time in civilian clothes after all this time if he had any sympathy for the British Empire.  I suppose his idea is I am alright and doing well and that’s all that interests me.  It’s alright but I haven’t much time for him at present anyway.  Glad to hear Par will be able to take things easier I suppose he’s a very hot man on gardening by now and is looked upon as an authority on gardening.

Yes I could just go some pickled cabbage and hot pot with a pint of the best.  We had our photograph taken here yday so will be sending you one if they turn out OK.  I hope Gladys does well again & doesn’t overdo herself she ought to take a days golfing if she gets the chance.  It’s a very fine time & such an interesting pastime.  I’m glad to hear the boys are waiting to see me.  I had a letter from Jack the other day I often drop him a line so I will enclose his letter.  You see how he’s got his eye on the pickles.  Isn’t he a lucky fellow he’ll be all stars & stripes before this game is over.  Well I think this is all this time.  Hoping to be seeing you all before long.  So Cheerho dear souls

Gussie