SUBJECT: Notes on Operations. 20th Division No. G.840.
In reply to your G.25/5 of the 16th August.
1. Generally speaking it was not too fast; it was only in the very boggy ground that the waves were unable to keep up with the barrage.
All the Officers and men whom I have talked to are loud in their praise of the barrage.
3. As regards the Right Brigade front:-
(a) Ground very deep in mud and cut up by shell fire throughout. From the BLUE LINE Westwards and Southwards for about 400 yards was a regular bog.
Several men, including the Commanding Officer of the 6th K.S.L.I. were stuck thigh deep in the mud and had to be pulled out by other men.
(b) It was impossible to advance across the bog leading to the BLUE LINE in any formation other than some half dozen single file columns which wound their way between the pools of mud and water. This afforded some favourable opportunities for hostile machine guns.
(c) On the whole the state of the ground broke up formations and also impeded the individual. It therefore called for a special effort from all officers and N.C.Os. in leading their men on as well as special determination on the part of every individual to get forward through the mud. It made the subsequent tasks of carrying parties extremely difficult.
(d) On the other hand the soft state of the ground undoubtedly saved us many casualties from shell fire. This was especially the case during the forming up of the 6th K.S.L.I. and 12th K.R.R.C. before ZERO hour West of the STEENBEEK. They were very heavily shelled. They could not take cover even in shell holes for these were full of water, yet their casualties at this period were very few.
As regards the Left Brigade front, the advance was retarded as far as the GREEN LINE, especially on the extreme left. The hour’s halt on the GREEN LINE saved the situation in that it allowed everyone to reach their proper position in time.
4. There are several points I propose to bring to notice in a subsequent letter.
The following are in the nature of preliminary observations:-
(a) The concrete blockhouses appear to have only a narrow arc of fire as a general rule. At least one blockhouse which was giving trouble surrendered as soon as an organised party of men rushed up to it in a determined way.
(b) The importance of visual signalling does not yet seem to be fully appreciated.
(c) The work of the Artillery F.O.O’s, was admirable, and the liaison between artillery and infantry all that could be desired.
(d) A considerable quantity of S.A.A. was expended by Lewis Gun and rifle fire against low flying aeroplanes, with the result that there was a shortage of ammunition when required to repel counter-attacks. (This has already been dealt with in your G.4/29 of the 18th August).
(e) The necessity for consolidation to be put in hand at once on the attainment of an objective, whether the Officer in charge of the party is there or not. When elated by success our men are apt to neglect consolidation and to walk and sit about in the open.
(f) It is important for a Battalion Commander to have a company under his own hand.
(g) When halted under the barrage men should stand and not kneel. A man kneeling in a shell hole is apt to stop there.
(h) The YUKON pack was freely used on the Left Brigade front and was a great success. It was found that one man could carry a box of S.A.A. and a box of bombs.
(i) The concentration on the East bank of the STEENBEEK was admirably carried out under intermittent artillery fire and machine gun fire from AU BON GITE, the garrison of which fired off Very Lights throughout the night; yet at Zero the waves were in their places and ready to go forward. I think this most difficult manoeuvre reflects the greatest credit on Brigadiers and C.O’s.
(j) The question of providing Trench Wireless Sets for communication between F.O.O’s and Artillery has been suggested by my B.G., R.A. Severe losses have taken place nearly every time among F.O.O. parties in their endeavours to maintain a long line under a heavy fire. One instrument with each attacking Divisional Artillery would assist enormously, and save the loss of many Officers and men, whose services cannot be replaced by untrained reinforcements.
(sd) W. DOUGLAS SMITH,
Commanding 20th Division.
21st August, 1917.