275 Bde. R.F.A. Narrative of Action July 31st 1917. 5 August 1917

APPENDIX ‘A’

275 Bde. R.F.A. NARRATIVE OF ACTION JULY 31st 1917.

At 12.30 p.m. O.C. Brigade went forward with B.C’s to NO MAN’S LAND to reconnoitre positions indicated.
No positions under cover could be found, but arrangements were made to occupy them such as they were. The batteries’ advance was unimpeded along Track No. 5 and down OXFORD ROAD, but there at the junction of this road with the POTIJZE – FREZENBERG ROAD they were hung up for hours owing to a Brigade of Division on our right blocking the road. Owing to this delay and the difficulty of crossing NO MAN’S LAND darkness was approaching before two of the Batteries were in action, so the other two Batteries were ordered to return to their former positions. Owing to the situation, the two batteries left in “No Mans Land” were ordered not to fire except in case of emergency.
Their subsequent withdrawal from “No Mans Land” on the following days, was a work of considerable difficulty owing to the continued rain. All guns were subsequently got back to their old positions on 4th August.
(sgd) W.J. Rettie Lt Col
Cmdg 275 Bde R.F.A.
5/8/17.

I have nothing further to add to reports of Battery Commanders and F.O.O’s, except that one lesson I think, is that it is a mistake for all the Artillery to be committed to forward positions which are dependent on the success of the operation before that is secured.

Had the three last Brigades to move been delayed for a little, many casualties would have been avoided and much wear and tear to horses and men.

It has also again been brought home to me, the great difficulty in advancing Artillery over shell-holed roads and country.

500 yds in “No Mans Land” took far longer than 1500 yds in our own land. It would have been better to advance this Brigade all the way by track No 5 and not have attempted to cut in on POTIJZE FREZENBERG ROAD.

NARRATIVE OF ACTION 31/7/17. A/275 BATTERY R.F.A.

The battery under my command stood to at 3.35 a.m. on the 31/7/17, and at 3.50 a.m. opened fire on the German front line continuing through the barrage table until 12.10 p.m. During the whole of this time no gun was out of action through being a casualty.

At a later period the battery was ordered forward to a position in “No Mans Land” C.29.c & d.
Position of batteries on the march C, – B, – A, – D.
The advance was much delayed owing to congestion on the POTIJZE ROAD, and about 6.30 p.m. when my guns were on No Mans Land abutting on the POTIJZE ROAD orders were received to return to my old position No 47.

Although the road was blocked with transport of all kinds, and a barrage was put up by the Bosche on POTIJZE ROAD near the point where the Bosche Front Line crosses, this order was carried out.

All six guns returned safely back in action to the old position and fired 600 rds S.O.S. on the night of July 31st- Aug 1st 1917.

Casualties. 1 O.R. killed. 9 wounded.
6 horses killed.
Lessons learnt. The need for thoroughly reconnoitring ground in which it is proposed to put batteries.
No Mans Land. The long grass prevents the sun getting at the soil to dry it in any weather and consequently in dry weather the ground would always be likely to be very soft; in wet weather, taking also into consideration the numerous shell holes. Impassable.
Traffic on Roads. I venture to suggest that the POTIJZE ROAD particularly Military Police would have been most useful in regulating the traffic which at some stages was chaotic. Despite the inclement weather and hardships, the day’s operations fully demonstrated that the unconquerable spirit is in no way diminished and all ranks of the battery which I have the honour to command maintain the illustrious traditions of the British Army to their fullest extent.

(sgd) S.H. Bradford, Major R.F.A.
O.C. A/275 Battery R.F.A.

NARRATIVE OF ACTION B/275 Bty R.F.A.
31/7/17.

Battery position at C.27.c.65.30. At Zero hour 3.50 a.m. the enemy, thinking an ordinary barrage was being put up, shelled No 6 Track and the Railway on either side of position as usual. This continued for about an hour there being no casualties in the detachment.

The position was intermittently shelled throughout the morning. At about 11 a.m. Lieut W.W. Wadsworth went forward with bridges to prepare the roads for the Brigade to advance.
At 12.10 the battery ceased fire according to programme, and shortly afterwards went forward to NO MANS LAND. Owing to the state of the roads owing to the weather and congestion everywhere, it was about 5 p.m. before the battery got into action. I had gone forward with Major Eills to O.P. from UHLAN FARM and could see our Infantry retiring to the Black Line. No S.O.S. Rockets were seen from the Infantry. The weather being very hazy, we decided to get each gun as it came into action on its line and open fire at once. We went back to the batteries, and giving orders to this effect tried to find O.C. Brigade to give him what information possible. We were eventually ordered to cease fire and remain in NO MANS LAND.

The battery was in communication with no one, and I was given to understand that no effort would be made to lay a wire to us and that we would have to act on our own initiative. Lieut Evans who was F.O.O. to the Green Line then reported with the information that we were holding the Black Line in strength. After spending the night under heavy rain and shellfire battery was ordered to go back to its old position. The ground had become a swamp and the horses were unable to work as they were up to their hocks. After 5 hours work, and after breaking a great amount of harness and all drag ropes one gun only was salved, the remaining guns being hopelessly bogged. Battery was under shell fire during the whole of this period. After communicating with R.A. detachments were withdrawn to the old position and a guard left over the 5 guns. An S.O.S. was fired with one gun after which orders were received to hand it over to C/275 Battery and withdraw to the Wagon Line. Parties worked daily in digging out the 5 guns and preparing the road out, help being given by the R.E.
On 4/8/17, all guns were removed from NO MANS LAND, and placed in Position No 85 at I.3.b.15.15.
(sgd) E.P. Johnson Major R.F.A
Cmdg B/275 Battery R.F.A.
4/8/17.

NARRATIVE OF ACTION 31/7/17
C/275 Battery R.F.A.

Our Artillery Barrage opened at 3.50 a.m. with little response by enemy on forward batteries. The tracks which had been made for the advance in rear of our support lines came in for a good deal of attention which was kept up during the whole operation, though only slightly after midday.

This battery was able to form up teams and limbers in rear of guns ready to advance. When the order was received to advance the guns were limbered up and drove off followed by the firing battery wagons. No difficulty was experienced in advancing from JUNCTION ROAD along Track 5 – OXFORD ROAD – POTIJZE ROAD – as route had been previously reconnoitred and a working party sent forward an hour before the battery was due to advance with bridges to bridge trenches and picks and spades to fill up shell holes.

Positions were taken up immediately East of KAISER BILL. No time was lost in getting guns into action, and lines laid out on the GREEN PROTECTIVE LINE, improving of positions being worked on the whole time. Timber was obtained from German Front Line and used for gun platforms and ammunition racks. Guns were camouflaged and disguised as much as possible.

UHLAN FARM was chosen as O.P., and telephone line laid out before Battery came up.
‘Look out’ men were posted to watch for S.O.S. Rockets.

The Battery remained in NO MAN’S LAND during the night July 31st/August 1st, and heavily shelled.

On August 1st orders were received to take up position in rear. Battery was kept in action and withdrawn by sections.

Owing to very heavy rain the ground had been turned into a quagmire which together with numerous shell holes made this movement rather difficult.

This was however overcome by collecting material from the German Lines and using it to construct a road 500 yds long to enable the battery to reach the POTIJZE ROAD.

No difficulty was experienced with rations or water.
Petrol tins fitted on footboard of firing battery wagons, and carrying reserve of water being most successful.

Everything went smoothly throughout the whole operation.

From experiences the following points are vital:-
1. Necessity of explaining to all officers, N.C.O’s and Specialists the outline of the scheme.
2. Definite and simple control of Battery.
3. Careful reconnaissance of all routes and study of map.
4. Sending forward a party to repair route before battery advances.
5. Leaving of nothing to chance, but paying attention to the smallest detail.

(sgd) Wm Eills Major R.F.A.
Cmdg C Battery 275 Bde R.F.A.
4/8/17.

NARRATIVE OF ACTION 31/7/17
D275 Battery R.F.A.

To a Battery of Field Artillery, except as far as concerns the Battery Commander, the F.O.O. and a few Signallers, the opening day of a big offensive is less interesting and less exciting than the days of preliminary bombardment and preparation for the Forward Move.

The programme for the day is stereotyped and known by every officer and every N.C.O. and if thorough preparation has been made “Z” Day is a day more cut and dried than any other.

For my own battery, the day opened at exactly midnight with a burst of 120 gas shells fired in the space of a few minutes at two of the enemy’s batteries, the opening of the gas bombardment which continued at varying rates and with varying chemicals until 3.35 a.m.

During this time all but one or two of the enemy’s batteries were silenced. One 105 mm battery however persisted in its desultory fire on our Field Artillery positions, and at 3.25 a.m. one of my best Corporals, Corporal C.M. Parry as No 1 of his gun was killed.

At 3.35 a.m. there was a pause. Fresh detachments which had rested since 1.30 took over the guns, and laid for the first target in their barrage – CAMEL SUPPORT.

From 3.50 till 10 a.m. the barrage continued without incident – all calculated – it is needless to say – from map and calibration, though afterwards discovered that my bombardment of PLUM FARM which lasted for 28 minutes, had been observed from UHLAN FARM by 2/Lieut R.M. Jones to be most effective.

At 10 a.m. the teams with limbers and ammunition wagons arrived and were parked off the road in rear of the guns. horses were watered and fed, camouflaged gun covers and fascines for platforms were packed.

Meanwhile the barrage continued unabated.

At 12.15 p.m. I myself with Lieut S.L. Hannan and signallers went forward to meet the O.C. Brigade in JUNCTION ROAD, and with him endeavoured to find advanced positions. “No Mans Land” was thoroughly reconnoitred but nothing really good was found. Eventually at 2 p.m. a good position immediately in rear of our old front line and in front of WARWICK FARM was discovered.

Preparations were immediately made to occupy the position. A working party of 12 men and a dismounted Battery Staff of 8 signallers with the necessary equipment had advanced from the gun position. A track was prepared leading from the YPRES – FREZENBERG ROAD; lines of fire were laid out, gun platforms were started. I myself set out for UHLAN FARM which appeared to be a probable O.P. I found that I could see the WURST FARM – BOEWTLEER SPUR, and a wire was forthwith run out from the selected position.

Meanwhile at 12.10 p.m. the battery had ceased fire, having fired since midnight 3060 rds, and two hours later during a check in the advance of the Black Group, had moved forward under Captain G.H. Cleaver. By 4 p.m. he was on OXFORD ROAD immediately south of MONMOUTH COTTAGE. Here the battery remained for two hours subjected at times to shrapnel fire which however did very little damage. One driver – Driver A. Worrall was killed while advancing with the first line wagons down No 5 Track.

At about 6.30 p.m. I was summoned back from UHLAN FARM and given the unwelcome news that owing to the loss of the Green Line my battery had to return to its original position. In spite of a somewhat natural depression, the battery worked with a will and by 8.30 p.m. the guns were in their old pits near the junction of SAVILLE ROAD with the YPRES – ST JEAN ROAD.

The gunners though wet to the skin were filling up with ammunition and the teams which had almost miraculously escaped further casualties were on their way to GOLDFISH CHATEAU.

By 8.45 p.m. the guns with 500 rds apiece were ready to support their Infantry.

The remainder of the day was quiet and very wet.

The total casualties of the day were 2 O.R. killed and 2 O.R. wounded. Special acts of gallantry were hard to pick out except in the case of Gunner E. Gregson, who as linesman with 2/Lieut R.M. Jones showed conspicuous bravery, and has been recommended for the Military Medal. 2/Lieut R.M. Jones also showed great gallantry and has been recommended for the Military Cross. Several N.C.O’s however, did sterling work, and when a general list of recommendations is submitted will, I hope, be rewarded.
(sgd) H.U. Willink Major R.F.A.
Cmdg D/275 Battery R.F.A.
4/8/17.

Addendum. Special lessons learnt.

1. Camouflage – both green and brown – must be taken forward in large quantities.
2. In dry weather the very greatest precautions should be taken against a conflagration of camouflage.
3. Facines are most valuable in a soft ground for wheel platforms, and should always be taken forward.
4. Printed barrage tables help Nos 1 greatly, and should be available for batteries for all operations – major or minor.
5. Magnetic variations of battery compasses should be carefully checked, as it may always be necessary on days of no visibility to shoot by map and compass.
6. The enemy appeared to shell his old front line much more than our old front line on July 31st. the old German front line should be avoided.

REPORT OF F.O.O. B/275 Battery R.F.A.

As F.O.O. for 275 Bde R.F.A. I followed the 164th Infantry Brigade during the attack on July 31st. I took with me 5 signallers, each carrying ¼ mile metallic wire. We pushed forward as far as POMMERN CASTLE where we rested a short while, the men being very tired carrying the heavy signalling equipment and wire.
After leaving POMMERN CASTLE, owing to heavy hostile M.G. fire, we lost direction for a while arriving very exhausted at IBERIAN COTS. After a short rest, during which I took bearings for SOMME, we left under considerable M.G. fire and also very heavy shell fire arriving at SOMME at 11.20 a.m.
The Infantry were just gathering their prisoners when we arrived. There were two anti-tank guns and three machine guns at this place. We have [gave] first aid to all the wounded and sorted out the unwounded prisoners. These were sent away with their stretcher cases leaving SOMME clear of all unnecessary people and ready for the Brigade Forward Station. Nearly an hour after, the personnel of the Brigade Forward Station arrived but with insufficient wire. Half my wire was given to the officer in charge to bring his telephone wires up to SOMME. We then left SOMME for the O.P. I had chosen.
M.G. fire and rifle fire were very deadly during the whole of the journey which was accomplished by jumping from shell-hole to shell-hole. It was impossible to walk more than a few yards without drawing M.G. and rifle fire. We arrived at the O.P., a big shell hope near GALLIPOLI without casualties. It was an exceedingly good O.P. practically the whole of the Green Line on the Divisional Front being under observation. For the time we were safe from M.G. fire, but snipers were still active during the whole time we were under heavy shell fire, principally of large calibre. A 150 mm shell landed a foot of two from the O.P. throwing me right over and causing partial deafness. The whole party had a thorough shock. Shelling at this spot reached great intensity and caused us to retire once more to SOMME. The information I gathered from the O.P. I gave to the Artillery Officer in charge of F.O.O. Parties at SOMME.
A short while after the Germans could be seen counter-attacking on the Green Line. By this time I had established an O.P. just outside SOMME. There was no communication between SOMME and the Rear Station. I sent two signallers a short way behind to flash a general S.O.S. to anybody who could pick it up. I sent the three remaining men to lay a line from SOMME to RAT FARM. I however, had to retire from SOMME before this line was through. I picked up observation posts on the way back. Eventually I arrived at RAT FARM on the way back.

I had two casualties. One of the wounded men was safely taken back and the other was made as comfortable as possible.

I arrived with the remainder of my party at the battery position and gave the situation to my Major. I also reported the situation to the O.C. Brigade. On the following day I reported at R.A. Headquarters. The five men that formed the party showed great courage and endurance throughout the day. They were all eager to do any work detailed to them and were particularly cheerful under shell fire which they treated with contempt.

(sgd) J.A. Evans 2/Lieut
B/275 Battery R.F.A.

REPORT OF F.O.O. D/275 Battery.

We left our front line system at Z plus 20 minutes and keeping to the left of KAISER BILL reached UHLAN FARM just after the mopping up. Apart from occasional M.G. fire we experienced no difficulty, and I saw no shelling until Zero plus 1 hr 30 minutes when an enemy barrage was put down about 500 yds west of UHLAN FARM. I watched the advance on PLUM FARM where the enemy resisted and held up our Infantry for a few minutes until our barrage forced them to surrender. I went forward to PLUM FARM with a view to establishing an O.P. there, but on comparison in my opinion UHLAN FSRM was better, so I returned there. As UHLAN FARM was the Brigade Forward Station I had no wire to maintain.

Difficulty was experienced in sending back messages to Brigade Headquarters as no Artillery line was available until Zero plus 2 hours 30 minutes. I attempted to establish visual communication with MILL COTS by Lucas Lamp, but failed. Later on I noticed that the visual from the Black Line back to UHLAN FARM was particularly good. Visibility was bad, but it was quite possible to follow the movements of our Infantry.

At about Zero plus 4 hours, a mine was exploded at C.29.b.9.9. (approx) but did not cause any casualties.

After 45 minutes, the enemy barrage weakened and deteriorated into indiscriminate shelling.

Reports from the Infantry showed that presence of snipers in rear of our advance caused some casualties. I saw one of them located at a spot 300 yds to the right of PLUM FARM, and was put out action by a runner of the 9th Kings.

Zero plus 6 hours 20 mins the 164th Infantry Brigade went forward through the Black Line, and my duties as F.O.O. ended.

(sgd) R.M. Jones 2/Lieut.
D/275 Battery R.F.A.

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