LESSONS LEARNT FROM THE RECENT OPERATIONS.
(i) The necessity of distributing troops with a view to being able to meet the enemy’s counter-attacks on reaching the final objective, i.e. the provision of a reserve close in rear of the assaulting troops. When the direction of the enemy’s counter-attacks can be foreseen, this can best be done by placing the reserve on the flank where danger threatens.
(ii) In the attack on LANGEMARCK, the counter-attack was expected from the direction of POELCAPELLE, and the distribution in depth of the 60th Infantry Brigade on a one Battalion front gave the latter one Battalion to meet this eventuality. The Divisional Reserve, i.e. 2 Battalions 38th Division, and 59th Inf. Bde. (less 2 Battalions), was distributed so that two Battalions, which had moved up to the neighbourhood of STRAY FARM at Zero hour, could be brought forward to the position of assembly about AU BON GITE in, roughly, half-an-hour.
2. ENEMY STRONG POINTS.
(i) The absolute necessity of thoroughly mastering the methods to be employed in capturing isolated strong points by individual platoons and similar detachments.
(ii) All platoons in the Division had, in a short period of training prior to the attack, carried out such exercises.
The following system was adopted as regards mopping-up, when the attacking waves were advancing through the village of LANGEMARCK.
(i) The actual attack on the village was made on a frontage of half a battalion (two companies), each Company attacking on a frontage of the platoon. The attacking companies being under strength, only consisted of three platoons each; two platoons were allotted the duty of mopping-up behind the assaulting platoon of each company; i.e. the moppers-up were 200 per cent of the attacking wave. The assaulting platoon acted as a covering party on reaching the GREEN LINE.
(ii) A special study was made of Intelligence Summaries, Aeroplane Photos, etc. before the attack, and definite orders were given to the mopping-up platoons as regards dealing with suspected dugouts, machine gun emplacements, snipers nests, etc.
(iii) Although the mopping-up platoons were supposed to advance in wave formation, the boggy and shell-pocked nature of the ground necessitated them generally moving in file.
(iv) Had the attacking companies consisted of their full complement of four platoons they would have been distributed so that one platoon attacked and three platoons mopped-up.
(i) Several instances occurred of sections losing their N.C.Os. and of platoons losing officer and N.C.Os. Fortunately in some cases a private came to the fore and took command with marked success.
(ii) When training, casualties to Officers and N.C.Os. should be more frequently practiced, and the command handed over to a private who has previously been marked down by his platoon or section commander as a likely leader.
(iii) The same applies to a company, the company commander becoming a casualty and the company handed over to each subaltern in turn.
(iv) It so often happens in an action that a junior officer finds himself the only officer left with a company, and unless he has had some previous experience in command, he will find it difficult to act quickly and do the right thing.
5. STAFF ORGANISATION.
(i) Every Staff Officer at Advanced Divisional Headquarters had an understudy, and work for each individual during the battle had been definitely apportioned beforehand. The organisation of the clerical staff had also been carefully arranged. Consequently there were no hitches in the General Staff work at Divisional Headquarters, and no accumulation of work; every matter was dealt with immediately it arose.
(ii) As an example; the greatest stress as regards actual operations occurred between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on August 16th, during which time the situation on the RED LINE was very obscure. Three telephones were constantly in use, and a great many telegrams were received and dispatched. It was during this period that the order for the relief of the Division by the 38th Division – to start next day – arrived. The organisation of the General Staff stood this somewhat severe test well; the operations were handled without any break, and the relief orders were duly issued at 2 a.m. on August 17th.
(iii) The Staff work of Brigades appeared to be too centralised in the Brigade Major, and on several occasions, when the latter Staff Officer was absent from his Headquarters, it was apparent that details connected with the operations, and certain facts resulting therefrom, were not generally known to the whole Brigade Staff.
6. RECONNAISSANCES BY STAFF OFFICERS.
(i) During the initial stages of an attack it is neither possible nor convenient for members of the Brigade Staff to carry out personal reconnaissances, owing to their presence being required at Brigade Headquarters for other duties.
(ii) After the last objective has been captured, however, Staff Officers should personally verify information sent to them through the Signal Service, or by Runners, in order that the exact situation may be definitely known.
(iii) On the conclusion of every battle there are periods of quietude, and opportunities frequently occur for personal reconnaissances whilst the enemy is recovering from the first effects of the attack.
(iv) Owing to the short period of training which junior members of the Staff now have, it is necessary that all reconnoitring officers should be given a list of questions which the Brigadier wishes answered in order that important points may not be overlooked through ignorance.
7. SIGNAL COMMUNICATIONS.
The following points were noticed with regard to Signal Communications. More technical details have been sent by my Signal Officer direct to your A.D.A.S.
(i) More use might be made of wires laid back to Brigade Forward Station by Battalions; whenever this was done, the result was satisfactory.
(ii) All concerned should be warned that if a pigeoneer becomes a casualty, his birds should be immediately released by his comrades if the basket in which they are found has evidently been abandoned and no facilities for transport are available. Although the expenditure of birds is justified, even when a very small proportion deliver their messages, it must be remembered that casualties amongst the birds entail the curtailment of a further supply until new birds have been trained.
(iii) Wireless and power buzzer are best used for supplementing other means of a communication, when these have broken down; no attempt should be made to rely directly on these two methods.
(iv) The amplifiers are useless unless moderately good accommodation is obtainable; i.e., they should not be taken in advance of Brigade Forward Station. If any part of their equipment miscarries they are out of action.
(v) (a) Arrangements for visual signalling had [been] made between the leading infantry and selected points in rear, whence information could be sent back to Brigade and divisional Headquarters.
(b) during the actual battle, the smoke caused by our own and the enemy’s bombardment prevented visual signalling being extensively used. During the afternoon of the 16th, however, it should have been possible to use this form of signalling to a considerable extent, and thus save the lives of runners, and also time. It was not, however sufficiently made use of, except by one or two F.O.O’s., R.A.
(c) It has been suggested that visual signallers be separated from the rest of the signalling personnel. If they have other work to do, and only attempt visual when the normal means have failed, the results are not likely to be good.
8. ANTI-GAS MEASURES.
(i) A considerable increase of gas shelling by the enemy was noticed, both of the ordinary poisonous variety, and of the mustard oil type. A feature of the latter is its persistency.
(ii) The necessity for continual practice in adjusting Box Respirators with the greatest possible speed has been still further emphasised.
9. STOKES MORTARS.
No valuable lessons as regards the employment of trench mortars were learnt during the operations, beyond the fact that it is better to have a few guns and a large amount of ammunition, than many guns and a limited supply of ammunition.
10. RIFLE GRENADES.
A small proportion of No. 24, (Improved) Hales, failed to explode. It has been suggested that the material used in the construction of the tube through which the brass striker drops is at fault, and that it becomes soft and sticky, thus holding up the striker.
(sd) W. DOUGLAS SMITH, Major General,
Commanding 20th Division
25th August, 1917.