2nd Tank Brigade Reportr on Operations : 23rd & 24th Oct. 1918. 10 Nov 1918

SECRET

Copy No 33.

 

Stamp 2ND BRIGADE TANK CORPS

Z 7/21

Date 10/11/18

 

2nd TANK BRIGADE REPORT on OPERATIONS : 23rd & 24th Oct. 1918.

 

CONTENTS

  1. – General Plan.
  2. – Preliminary Preparations.
  3. – Reconnaissance.
  4. – Approach Marches.
  5. – Operations.
  6. – Rallying Points.
  7. – Conditions.
  8. – Communications.
  9. – (i) Supplies

(ii) Action of Supply Tanks.

  1. – (i) Casualties : Personnel,

(ii)       do      : Tanks.

  1. – Anti-Tank Defences.
  2. – Lessons and Suggestions.

 

SECRET                            2nd TANK BRIGADE

 

REPORT ON OPERATIONS: 23rd & 24th October 1918.

Reference Maps: 57.b., 1/40,000

23rd OCTOBER 1918

  • GENERAL PLAN.

In order to assist the Attack of the Third Army, the Fourth Army (IX and XIII Corps) was ordered to secure a defensive flank facing East and South-East.

The 2nd TANK BRIGADE (10th and 301st (American) Tank Battns.) operated with the Fourth Army.

The Objectives of the Fourth Army were the high ground over-looking the CANAL DE LA SANBRE and OISE between CATILLON, and the BOIS L’EVEQUE, the BOIS L’EVIQUE and the Villages of FONTAINE-AU-BOIS, ROBERSART and BOUSIES.

Tanks were allotted as follows:-

301st (Amer.) Tank Battn. to IX Corps, 1 Company of 12 Tanks to 6th Divn. (1Section (3 Tanks) was with both 1st and 6th Divisions)

10th Tank Bn. to XIII Corps, 1 Company 8 Tanks to 18th Div.

1 Company to 25th Div. for 1st Objectives.

1 Company 7 Tanks to 18th Div. for final Objective.

Objectives and Tank Areas of Operations are shown on the attached Map.

(2). PRELIMINARY PREPARATIONS.

Information was received on the 19th October, at a Forth Army Conference, of the projected Attack, and steps were taken to get in touch with IX and XIII Corps.

Arrangements were made for Battalion Commanders and the O.C. No. 4 Tank Supply Company to make liaison with the various Divisions, and all Divisions were also visited by G.O.C. 2nd Tank Bde prior to “Z” Day.

Battalions were ordered to establish their H.Q. close beside the Headquarters of the Divisions with which they were operating, and similar arrangements were made for Company and Section H.Q. to be in close proximity to Infantry Brigades.

Before the Attack opened, Company, Section and Tank Commanders were familiar with the tasks allotted to them.

  • RECONNAISSANCE

Time for reconnaissance was limited to 2 or 3 days, and the information forthcoming about the Area behind the enemy’s line was not extensive, or very reliable.

The BOIS L’EVEQUE was expected from civilian statements and photographs to be almost impassable for Tanks, and this proved to be the case. Statements about the RICHEMONT River varied very widely, and the photographs of it did not show any tracks crossing it except at the Bridges.  Actually it proved to be a considerable Obstacle, in some places, especially in the neighbourhood of mills, and negligible in others.  No Tanks crossed during the action, as one Section was knocked out before reaching it, and 3 Tanks ditched in a mill-dyke before reaching the river itself.  This river was reconnoitered by two R.O.s on different days at a point just in front of our line.  For the MONTAY-POMMEREUIL area the supply of Vertical photographs was adequate, but only a few very indistinct obliques were available, and the need of these was strongly felt.

Approach routes were in nearly all cases chosen and taped by Battalion or Company R.O.s, and those Routes crossed the SELLE at Tank Bridges which were completed on X-Y day.

The Tank Commanders of 10th Tank Battalion all had good views of the Country in front of them from O.P.s on the high ground West of LE CATEAU.

The Sector of the 301st American Tank Battalion was more enclosed and difficult to observe, but all Tank Commanders were made as familiar as possible with it before “Z” day.

After daylight very few cases occurred of Tank Commanders losing direction, except in the very “blind” orchard country round BAZUEL and FONTAINE.

The value of taping, of really good annotated oblique photographs, and of layered maps, were all exemplified during these operations.

Considerable difficulty was experienced in reconnaissance, as the exact position of our front line was never definitely known, and constantly changing. R.O.s in more than one case walked through the line unawares, and came under the fire of snipers or machine-guns.

  • APPROACH MARCHES.

The Approach March of the 12 Tanks of 301st American Tank Battalion from BUSIGNY to lying-up place at W.11.d.central – a distance of 7,000 yards – was carried out successfully.  The march from lying-up place to jumping off places was carried out without incident.  The Approach Marches of the 10th Tank Battalion – 6,000 yards – were successfully accomplished in spite of heavy hostile shelling, including considerable gas.

301ST American Tank Bn.                      Of the 9 Tanks that were due to start, all went over the front line at ZERO, and followed the Barrage.  In the Section operating on the right, with 1st and 6th Divisions, only one Tank reached its final Objective.  One Tank was ditched in a small marsh, about 400 yards from its final Objective, and the third tank lost direction in an orchard near its first Objective.  All three Tanks of the Section working in the centre with 6th Division reached their final Objective, and reported very little opposition.  Two Tanks of the Section working on the left with 6th Division reached their Objective, and the third Tank came within 200 yards of its final Objective.  An observer who saw these Tanks in action reported that they practically cleared up the whole of the ground between R.10 and the BAZUEL-CATILLON road.  All Tank Commanders report that they met with very little opposition, and had very few good targets.  The Infantry were somewhat slow in following up the Tanks, probably owing to the poor visibility and enclosed nature of the Country, and great difficulty was experienced in maintaining touch with them.  The Tanks reduced strong points and broke paths through the hedges for the Infantry, and all the Infantry Commanders expressed themselves as being well pleased with the work of the Tanks.  Two Tanks went in a second time, at the request of the Infantry, and reduced a Strong point which was holding up the Infantry.  The Tank that was ditched was got out, and was brought in by its crew.  All 9 Tanks rallied.  No Tanks were put out of action by the enemy, and no special anti-tank measures were met with.  Very few A.P. bullets were used by the enemy.  5 men were slightly gassed, and no other casualties were suffered by the Battn.

(“B” Coy)

10th Tank Battalion.       One Section worked with the 54th Bde.  Two Tanks of this Section were to co-operate in an attack on the first Objective, and two Tanks on the Second Objective.  One of those Tanks broke down from track trouble, at K.22.a.1.2, and never reached the Starting Point.  Of the other 3, 1 was knocked out just after leaving the Starting Point.  The remaining two tanks went on to the first and second Objectives, rendering invaluable assistance to the Infantry, and knocked out enemy machine-gun posts.  Both  Tanks rallied and were used in action on the 24th instant.  The other Section of “B” Company operated with 53rd Brigade.  Two tanks were to leave their Starting Points at Q.6.a.2.8, cross the River RICHEMONT at JAQUES Mill and proceed to the neighbourhood of L.20., for the Attack on the Second Objective.  The two remaining Tanks were to assist the Infantry in clearing a copse in K.30.a., cross the River RICHEMONT near  EVILLERS Wood Farm, and co-operate in the Attack on the First Objective.  Of these Tanks, one had its crew gassed at the Starting Point, and one was knocked out by a direct hit soon after leaving the Starting Point.  The two remaining Tanks did good work in K.36.b., and K.36.d.; one was later knocked out and ditched.

“C” Company.  Two Tanks developed Mechanical trouble at  Q.22.central before operations started (broken Coventry chains).  A third Tank developed mechanical trouble on the Approach March.  Of the remaining five tanks, 3 became ditched at R.2.a.05.20.  This was due to the enclosed nature of the ground and mist and darkness.  Another Tank passed under the Railway bridge at R.2.d.8.3. and moved up the sunken road towards POMMEREUIL where it did great execution among the hostile machine-guns and enemy personnel.  The remaining tank (co-operating with the 74th Bde. in the attack on the final Objective,) on passing the village of POMMEREUIL found heavy fighting going on there.  It immediately engaged enemy machine-guns and successfully mopped up the village, later accompanying the Infantry towards the northern edge of the BOIS L’EVEQUE.  It then rallied at L.14.central.  about 11-30 hours this Tank was ordered to break up a local counter-attack to the South of BOUSIES and assist the Infantry in reaching the final objective.  It successfully engaged two machine-gun nests, but was finally knocked out by a field gun in the neighbourhood of L.5.c.8.8.

“A” Company. 7 Tanks of this Company arrived at K.22. at 20.30 hours on 22nd Oct., where they lay up until 0410, 23rd October, during which time they were heavily shelled, one Tank being knocked out by the barrage (shell on track).  At 0410, 6 fighting  Tanks moved off from K.22.b.50.50.  No 1 Section deployed at L.13.d and went into action with the East Surreys.  No 2 Section deployed at L.7.d and went into action with the 7th Buffs.  One Tank was knocked out by a direct hit at L.11.a.0.0. after having been in action in BOUSIES.  All 6 Tanks were heavily engaged in BOUSIES and as far as the GREEN DOTTED Line.  When the Infantry were established on the GREEN DOTTED Line; the Tanks were told they were no longer required and rallied at L.14.central.  it was reported to O.C. 10th Tank Battalion by G.O.C. 18th Division and G.O.C. 55th Inf. Bde. that these Tanks had rendered great service to the Infantry and that the co-operation throughout of Infantry and Tanks had been eminently satisfactory.  Many machine-gun emplacements were knocked out and very severe casualties inflicted.

24TH October 1918.

10TH Tank Battalion.  As the final Objective had not been gained during the first day’s operations, it was decided to continue the Attack on the morning of the 24th instant.  It was thought 8 Tanks would be available to co-operate.  The use of these Tanks was arranged by G.O.C. 2nd Tank Brigade with O.C. 10th Tank Battalion, who arranged the details of the Attack with the G.O.s C. 18th and 25th Divisions.  Four Tanks of “A” Company were allotted to 18th Division to co-operate with the 55th Inf. Bde., 2 Tanks to the 74th Inf. Bde., and 2 Tanks to the 7th Inf. Bde.  Owing to the two broken down Tanks at Q.22.central not arriving in time, only six Tanks were available eventually.  Of these, 4 remained with the 55th Inf. Bde. as originally allotted, 2 with the  74th Inf. Bde.; 7th Inf. Bde. operating without Tanks.  The four Tanks of “A” Company with the 55th Inf. Bde. accompanied the Infantry to the final Objective, assisting them materially, and remained behind with the Infantry under cover for the greater part of the day, clearing up various nests of machine-guns when called upon, and eventually rallying, towards the evening, at L.14.central.  One Tank went into action about 1630 hours, and remained in action until 2200 hours and did most valuable work, in the region of RENUART Farm, and Road, to F.23.b.2.7., enabling the Infantry to advance their line and occupy the above positions.  It also blew up an enemy dump and inflicted very severe casualties.  This tank did not rally until 25th instant, owing to its supplies being exhausted.  Of the two Tanks operating with the 74th Inf. Bde., one Tank reached the front line, and broke down owing to engine and gear trouble.  It was able, however, to help the Infantry in the initial stages of the Attack by covering fire.  The remaining Tank had considerable trouble with the clutch, and was late in reaching the Starting Point, but soon caught up the Infantry and accompanied them to the final Objective.  This tank, which came under very heavy shell fire, sustained no damage while advancing, but on breaking down for the second time, was hit while returning to the rallying Point.

From the experience in this Battle, in spite of the considerable success of Tanks in this Operation, it is apparent that the success would have been much greater if the Attack had started at dawn instead of by moonlight.  Tanks ditched in places they might have avoided in daylight, and were unable to take full advantage of their weapons.  It is also worthy of note that the Infantry Attack only really began to make satisfactory progress after dawn.

 

  • RALLYING POINTS.

 

301st American Tank Battn.                   57b.  W.11.d.central

10th Tank Battalion.       “A” & “B” Companies – 57.b. K.18.d.2.3. later to L.14. cent.)

“C” Company, L.14.central.

In spite of considerable rain, which fell on the days preceding the operations, the going for Tanks was good – the effect of the bombardment on the ground was negligible. The Y-Z night was fine, with a bright moon, but a heavy ground mist hampered the operations at the start, and several tanks lost direction.  The Attack did not progress satisfactorily until after daybreak.

The Country between the Second and final Objectives consisted of orchards and thick hedges, and the absence of landmarks made the keeping of direction extremely difficult.

All Tank Battalion and Company Commanders were in direct communication with Infantry Divisional and Brigade Headquarters respectively and telephonic communication was satisfactory.

A Wireless Station was installed near 18th Division H.Q. and one  Wireless Tank was allotted to 18th Divisional H.Q. and one to 10th Tank Battalion.

The former was knocked out early in the operations, but the latter worked satisfactorily throughout.

Dropping Grounds were established at each Battalion and Company Headquarters. 8th and 73rd Squadrons, R.A.F., obtained useful information which was dropped on Company and Battalion Dropping Station.

No pigeons were available.

Liaison Officers from other Battalions in the Brigade which were not operating, were detailed to all R.P.s, to bring in information by the early afternoon to 2nd Tank Brigade H.Q.

This system worked well.

(9). SUPPLIES.

(i) Each Tank carried one half-fill on the carrier to its Starting Point, and filled up before going into action.  Dumps of Ammunition and Petrol, Oil and Grease, were formed, supplies being sent up in Brigade lorries under Company Equipment Offrs., who were accompanied by limbers.  When the lorries could go no further, supplies were unloaded into limbers and carried forward.  Fills were provided at the Rallying Points.

(ii). Action of Supply Tanks.  No 4 Tank Supply Company was allotted to XIII Corps, and their Tanks were sub-allotted as follows:-

XIII Corps Artillery,               2 Tanks.

18th Division,                           6 Tanks.

25th Division,                           5 Tanks.

The Section attached to 25th Division reached the Regulating Point at L.20.central at 1100 and reported to the Divnl. Representative, but was not employed.

The Section attached to the 18th Division delivered all Supplies correctly to time, and rallied at P.21.d.9.2.

One Tank was employed laying cable. On the morning of the Battle, this Tank was reported as having successfully laid cable and opened an Office at L.14.c.

The Section attached to 104th Brigade R.F.A. dumped 1500 rounds of 18-pdr., 450 rounds of 4.5, and 450 4.5 charges.

No 4 Tank Supply Company had been withdrawn, and was on the point of proceeding to the Entraining Station, when it was suddenly called upon to remain for the Battle.  The useful work this Company was able to perform at such very short notice, reflects great credit on No 4 Tank Supply Company.

(10) CASUALTIES.

23rd October.                                  PERSONNEL.

301st American Tank Bn.                       5 Other Ranks slightly gassed.

 

10th Tank Battalion.                              Officers.          O. Ranks

Killed,                                     –                       1

Died of wounds,                     –                       1

Missing,                                   –                       9

Wounded,                               2                      9

Wounded, at duty,                  –                       2

Wounded, gassed                   –                       6

Totals                          2                      28

24th October.

10th Tank Battalion.                               Officers.          O. Ranks

Wounded,                               –                       5

Wounded, at duty,                  1                      2

Wounded, gassed,                  –                       1

1                      8

TANKS

 

23rd Oct.     Intended     Actually   Knocked   Ditched   Mech    Rallied

for action     started        out                       trouble

301st Amer.    9 & 3            9              –              1@             –           9

Tank Bn.       in reserve

10th Tank       23 & 1          10            7              4              1@        8

Battn.           wireless

 

24th Oct.

10th Tank          8               6             1              –                2x         4

@ Rallied later

x 1 put right

 

(11). ANTI-TANK DEFENCES.

Nothing new was encountered.

 

(12). LESSIONS and SUGGESTIONS.

 

  1. It was again evident in this Operation that it is most essential to retain a large proportion of the available Tanks in reserve, for the almost inevitable second days’ operations. In this case it had been arranged in advance, that the reserve Company of 10th Tank Battalion was only to be employed in the event of the Attack developing satisfactorily into a one day Battle.  Finally however there remained a certain part of the final Objective untaken, And it was necessary to put in six Tanks which had been in action on that day, again on the following day.

As a principle this is bad. Tank Crews cannot satisfactorily take part in two attacks without at least 24 hours interval.  This is not yet fully understood by Infantry Commanders, who often seem to expect Tanks to fight on throughout one day, work all that night, and then start off again with the first wave at ZERO next day.

  1. I suggest that the moonlight Attack with Tanks did not justify itself, as actually very little progress was made until daylight, and the only result was that several Tanks were ditched in the early stages of the attack, which would have been alright had they not jumped off until dawn.
  2. I consider it is of primary importance that as much training as possible be undertaken during the Winter months, between Infantry and Tanks, and that this training should be of the most elementary character, i.e., demonstrations of a platoon, supported by one or two tanks and held up in the open by m.g. fire, the machine-guns being supported by one or more field guns. It is not sufficiently understood that Infantry can protect a Tank against a battery, just as a Tank will protect Infantry against machine-guns, and for this reason I consider that a Tank might be supported by one or more Infantry Lewis gun teams, who are used to working with a Tank, and who would not necessarily accompany the Tank at close quarters.

 

H.K. Woods

Brigadier General

Commanding 2nd Tank Brigade

Headquarters

2nd TANK BDE.

9.11.1918.

WAM.

 

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