SECRET. 20th Division No. G.338.
SUMMARY OF OPERATIONS
CARRIED OUT BY THE 20TH (LIGHT) DIVISION
Between 11th and 29th September, 1917.
1. ENEMY DISPOSITIONS. Between the 11th and 26th September, the Sector opposite the Divl. front was held by the 25th I.R. and 185th I.R. (208th Div.). The 25th I.R. held the line from LANGEMARCK – STADEN Railway to the CEMETERY in U.23.b., and the 185th I.R. from about the CEMETERY to PHEASANT FARM. Each Regiment had three battalions disposed in depth. The average company strength in the 25th I.R. was 70, and in the 185th I.R. 60.
It was known at the time, that the counter-attacking Div. for this sector was the
234th Div. located in the ROULERS Area. In the light of subsequent events, it appears that the 234th Div. was unable to carry out any counter-attacks against us owing to the fact that it had to relieve the 36th Div., which was opposite the 51st (Highland) Div. on our right. The 10th Ersatz Div. was brought in to take the place of the 234th Div., but was also unable to carry out any counter-attacks, as it had to relieve the 234th Div. which suffered an unusual number of casualties during the short period it was in the line.
2. TAKING OVER THE LINE.
(a). on the 11th September the 20th Div. took over the Right Div. Sector of the XIVth Corps Front from the 38th Div. the 51st (Highland) Div. (XVIIIth Corps) was on the right and the Guards Div. on the left.
One Brigade was placed in the line, the 61st, with two battalions in the line E. of LANGEMARCK, one in the AU BON GITE Area, and one in the IRON CROSS Area.
(b). The strength of the Div. had been much reduced since the capture of LANGEMARCK, and the average fighting strength of units was about 350.
(a). The task of the Div. was the capture of the GREEN Line which corresponded approximately with the Line of KANGAROO and BEAR Trenches, but included in addition ‘t GOED TER VESTEN FARM. An intermediate objective was selected upon which a pause was to be made in order to allow the 51st (Highland) Div. on our right (who had further to go) to come up into alignment before a further advance. This line was known as the RED dotted Line.
(b). On the left flank the RED dotted Line and the GREEN Line co-inclined between the SCHREIBOOM – KORTEBEEK Road and the LANGEMARCK – STADEN Railway.
4. PLAN OF ATTACK.
The plan of attack can be summarised as follows:-
(a) The attack was to be made in two bounds. The first bound was to be to the RED dotted Line, from which the infantry were to advance to the GREEN Line at Zero plus one hour twenty-five minutes.
The reasons for including the RED dotted Line and the GREEN Line in one objective on the left flank lay in the fact that a network of trenches existed between the jumping off line and the final objective (GREEN Line), which it was thought might be strongly held and would escape the barrage on the resumption of the advance had a pause been made midway between the jumping off line and the GREEN Line.
(b) The attack was carried out by the 60th Inf. Bde. on the right and 59th Inf. Bde on the left; these had taken up their battle positions in the front line during the nights of 18th/19th and 19th/20th September. Each Bde. attacked on a two battalion front, one battalion of each Bde. being in support and one in Reserve. The supporting battalions were both E. of LANGEMARCK, and the battalions in Bde. Reserve were placed in the STEENBEEK valley, but E. of the Stream. Special provision was made by the 60th Inf. Bde. to protect its right flank against counter-attack from the direction of POELCAPPELLE.
The 61st Inf. Bde. was in Divl. Reserve on the CANAL.
5. CONCENTRATION AND ASSEMBLY.
(a) A taped jumping-off line was laid out square with the objective, and in front of the area upon which it had been reckoned that the enemy’s barrage would fall.
The jumping-off line was not identical with the most advanced line held at the time, but was withdrawn slightly on account of the enemy being in close proximity to our front line and in such positions that had this not been done, our initial creeping barrage would not have fallen on the hostile trenches and organised shell holes just in front of them.
(b) The 59th and 60th Inf. Bdes. relieved the 61st Inf. Bde in the line on the night of the 18th/19th and 19th/20th. On the night of the 19th/20th, the assaulting battalions took up their positions for the attack under cover of patrols left out on the original front line, which withdrew one hour before Zero.
The deployment was effected without incident.
6. ARTILLERY PLAN.
The main features of the artillery plan consisted in:-
(a) A 24 hours hurricane bombardment which started off about 4.0 a.m. on the 19th September. Subsequent interrogation of prisoners pointed to the fact that the enemy was taken by surprise when the attack commenced, owing to the fact that he considered the hurricane bombardment represented the first day of a prolonged bombardment such as had usually been carried out.
(b) The usual creeping, standing and searching, distant, and smoke barrages, were carried out.
(c) The pace of the creeping barrage was altered on this occasion, and commenced at 50 yards in two minutes for the first 200 yards of the advance, thence to the first objective (RED dotted Line) at 50 yards in three minutes.
The first barrage lift was ordered at Zero plus three minutes.
(d) The combined barrages covered a depth of approximately 2,500 yards, and the smoke barrages were placed on the high ground about KORTEBEEK, about U.18. central, and about V.19.a to screen the attack from the enemy’s view.
7. MACHINE GUN BARRAGE.
The machine-guns of the Division were divided into:-
(a) Consolidating guns.
(b) Barrage guns.
(c) Reserve guns.
The Machine Gun Coys. of the assaulting Bdes. (each less two sections) were under the direct orders of their B.Gs.C.
The barrage guns, consisting of the Divl. Machine Gun Coy. and the Machine Gun Coy. of the Bde. in Divl. Reserve were under the orders of the D.M.G.O., while the reserve guns, being the remaining two sections of each of the two forward Machine Gun Coys., were kept back to replace casualties and to form a reserve in case the operations should be unduly prolonged or should unforeseen developments have occurred. These reserve sections of the 59th and 60th M.G. Coys. were placed at the disposal of B.Gs.C. as soon as the GREEN Line had been captured.
8. DISCHARGE OF OIL DRUMS.
As it was anticipated that the advance against EAGLE TRENCH, which was known to be strongly held, would be stoutly opposed it was arranged to discharge oil drums from projectors on to the portion of EAGLE TRENCH immediately W. of the CEMETERY. This discharge was to take place at Zero plus 2 minutes.
290 projectors were ready in position at Zero hour, and these were successfully fired at the given moment. Eye witnesses, however, state that the oil drums, owing to the range having been miscalculated fell on the area immediately E. of EAGLE TRENCH, and that the flaming oil therefore did not affect the garrison, but on the other hand lit up the surroundings and showed the enemy our advancing lines. There is no evidence at present to refute this statement which is believed to be correct.
9. THE ATTACK.
(a) The attack commenced at 5.40 a.m. on the 20th September. The first reports showed that the advance had not been uniformly successful. This was confirmed by the first contact aeroplane patrol sent out at 8.0 a.m. which showed that whilst the left of the 59th Inf. Bde. had reached its final objective (GOED TER VESTEN FM. (exclusive) and Westwards) the right of the 59th Inf. Bde. and left of the 60th Inf. Bde. had been held up by the enemy in EAGLE TRENCH about the SCHREIBOOM – RED HOUSE Road and SCHREIBOOM – KORTEBEEK Road. The right had advanced slightly, but was apparently held up by the enemy who were still holding EAGLE HOUSE and LOUIS FARM.
(b) Owing to the above delay the infantry ceased to gain any immediate value from pre-arranged Artillery programme, which, after the pause on the RED dotted Line continued to sweep forward. Owing to conflicting reports received regarding the exact situation of the infantry it was considered inadvisable to bring the barrage back to EAGLE TRENCH. Three contract aeroplanes were sent out at intervals (at 8.30 a.m., 9.30 a.m. and 12.45 p.m.). flares were called for at 9.30 a.m. and showed that our infantry had advanced still further on the left, and had reached their final objective, i.e. BEAR TRENCH. On the right a slight advance had been made, but the centre was still shown as being held up.
(c) Orders were issued at 1.30 p.m. for the attack to re-commence at an hour to be notified later when the situation had been definitely cleared. Owing to the difficulty of passing orders up to the front line it was decided that a properly organised attack could not take place for several hours following the clearing up of the situation.
(d) The Artillery programme was to be in the main a repetition of the morning programme, with the exception that there would be no pause on the RED dotted Line, and that the pace of the creeping barrage would be 50 yards in three minutes, and that it would remain on its first line for 15 minutes, in order to allow the infantry to get close up to it. It was arranged that some smoke shells should be fired into EAGLE TRENCH just W. of the CEMETERY in order to mask the enemy’s machine-guns while the infantry were getting into position. In the light of after events, this precaution proved to be a very necessary one, as EAGLE TRENCH was found to be a breast-work with an average command of 8 feet, and all movement between LANGEMARCK and EAGLE TRENCH, unless screened by smoke, would have been absolutely out of the question. Smoke barrages were also arranged on the flanks, as had been done in the morning attack. The machine-gun barrage was the same as in the first attack. The final objective for this new attack was to be the GREEN Line, and the attack was to be carried out by the Supporting battalions of the assaulting Bdes., their place being taken by the Battalions in Bde. Reserve.
(e) Before the situation had been cleared as regards this new attack, the 51st (Highland ) Div. On our right were heavily counter-attacked, and it was reported that they had been driven out of ROSE HOUSE and DELTA HOUSE, and had withdrawn to the PHEASANT FARM Line, and that they were about to counter-attack with a new battalion to restore the situation.
(f) Zero hour was ultimately fixed for 6.30 p.m. From 5.30 p.m. onwards a series of S.O.S. alarms occurred, and at Zero some batteries were actually firing on their S.O.S. Lines, and were a few minutes late in getting on to their barrage lines for the attack. As, however, fifteen minutes had been allowed for the initial barrage line all guns were firing on their barrage lines before the advance of the infantry commenced.
At 8.7 p.m. the 6Oth Inf. Bde. reported that they had every reason to believe they had gained the trenches round EAGLE HOUSE and LOUIS FARM, and that prisoners had been captured. An observer, flying at a low altitude believed that our men were in the portion of EAGLE TRENCH S. of the SCHREIBOOM – RED HOUSE Road.
At 9.15 p.m. the 60th Inf. Bde. reported that from 60 to 70 prisoners from 185 I.R. had been captured.
A contact patrol which was to have reported upon the result of the attack was unfortunately brought down, but by 10.0 p.m. it appeared clear that our whole line had been advanced, and that a portion of EAGLE TRENCH had fallen into our hands. The situation as regards the Northern portion of EAGLE trench lying between the SCHREIBOOM – RED HOUSE and SCHREIBOOM – KORTEBEEK FARM Roads was still obscure.
On the left the 59th Inf. Bde. were in their objective with their right flank refused, forming a defensive flank to the East, this flank being joined up to their right battalion front line which had taken up a position opposite EAGLE TRENCH, astride the LANGEMARCK – SCHREIBOOM Road. This concludes the operations on the 20th September, 1917.
10. (a) At 6.30 a.m. on the 21st September a contact aeroplane calling for flares
showed our line to run from KANGAROO TRENCH on our right Divl.,
Boundary in a straight line to the neighbourhood of BLUE HOUSE. The
Southern portion of EAGLE TRENCH appeared to be held by us, and
also BEAR TRENCH on the left. This reconnaissance confirmed the
situation of the evening of the 20th. A special aeroplane sent out to
accurately locate the enemy reported that a party of the enemy still held
the Northern portion of EAGLE TRENCH, but that not more than about 40
could be seen.
(b) At 5.20 p.m. on the 21st September a new attack was ordered to take
place at 5.30 a.m. on 22nd September, in conjunction with two tanks, for
the capture of the remaining portion of EAGLE TRENCH. By the special
request of the O.C., 1st Bde. Tanks the role of the infantry detailed for this
attack was to be secondary to that of the tanks who would advance down
the SCHREIBOOM – LANGEMARCK Road and branch off N.E. and E.
towards CHINESE HOUSE and BLUE HOUSE, and endeavour to enfilade
that portion of EAGLE TRENCH still held by the enemy. The infantry
detailed for the attack were to be lined up facing N.E., opposite EAGLE
TRENCH, and at a given signal from the tanks denoting that the enemy
wished to surrender or were retiring, the infantry detachment (which was
to consist of a total of 50) would rush the trench.
This attack did not materialise owing to the fact that the tanks became derelict in LANGEMARCK.
(a) The situation throughout the 22nd remained the same. Endeavours had
been made to extricate the tanks, and it was hoped that these would be
able to take part in the attack on EAGLE TRENCH on the morning of the
23rd. as, however, the arrival of the tanks was problematic an alternative
plan was made, and orders were issued at 4.50 p.m. on the 22nd for a
similar attack with tanks to be carried out as had been ordered on the 21st,
but in the event of the tanks not being available at Zero hour (5.30 a.m.) a
combined attack from the W. and S. was to be made against the portion
of EAGLE TRENCH still holding out, preceded by a hurricane
bombardment by Stokes guns. The attach from the S. to be a bombing
attack covered by a barrage of No. 23 Mills rifle bombs, while the attack
from the W. would be above ground.
The hour fixed for the Stokes bombardment was 7.0 a.m. A smoke
barrage was also arranged; it was placed on a line just S. of KANGAROO
TRENCH opposite the point of attack.
(b) As had been expected the tanks could not extricate themselves from
LANGEMARCK to move forward to their rendezvous on the
LANGEMARCK – SCHREIBOOM Road just E. of LANGEMARCK by the
(c) At 6.25 a.m. on the 23rd the enemy attacked our posts S.E. of LOUIS
FARM, LOUIS FARM itself, and the CEMETERY. These attacks were
driven back by machine-gun and fire and 22 unwounded and one
wounded prisoner were taken. These prisoners formed part of the 208th
Divl. Sturm Abteilung. Following this attack by the enemy we carried out
the pre-arranged attack at 7.0 a.m., the troops taking part being
detachments of the 12th K.R.R.C. and 10th R.B., totalling about 80 all
ranks. The preliminary three minutes Stokes bombardment was very
effective, and covered by the rifle grenade barrage our assaulting infantry
advanced to the attack, the detachment from the South being the first to
While the enemy in EAGLE TRENCH were engaged with this
detachment, the detachment of the 10th R.B. assaulted EAGLE TRENCH
from the West and carried it, and after a short and sharp fight, in which
our casualties were not heavy 86 unwounded and 8 wounded prisoners
were captured, and in addition 10 M.Gs. Had it not been decided to
attack that portion of EAGLE TRENCH held by the enemy on the morning
of the 23rd a local success might conceivably have been gained by the
enemy and a fresh attack by us on EAGLE TRENCH might have been
necessary; as it was our attack completely upset the enemy’s calculations
and we gained an important success.
(d) The majority of the prisoners belonged to the 208th Div. Sturm Abteilung
who stated that a concerted attack against the Divl. front had been
arranged, the attack to be carried out by a portion of the 185th I.R.
assisted by the Sturm Abteilung. This fact accounted for the large
number of prisoners taken, which, by the evening of the 23rd reached the
satisfactory figure of one Officer and 102 O.R.
An aeroplane reported at 9.25 a.m. that 16 Germans still remained in
EAGLE TRENCH in the fork of the road between SCHREIBOOM – RED
HOUSE and SCHREIBOOM – KORTEBEEK FARM Roads.
Subsequently it became known that the 16 Huns seen by the aeroplane
were dead Germans.
From the night of the 18th/19th September to the 23rd September there
was little or no cover for the troops, except existing shell holes and a few
concrete dugouts; during the whole of this time they were exposed to
heavy shelling day and night and yet these were the troops which carried
out the attack on the 23rd September. It had been decided not to relieve
the 59th and 60th Inf. Bdes. until the night of the 23rd/24th September, by
which time it was expected that the situation in EAGLE TRENCH would
have been cleared up.
(a) The information elicited from the prisoners is of interest:-
The 208th Div Sturm Abteilung, consisting of about 200 men, were used against us for local attacks. This detachment attacked our right near WHITE HOUSE on the 16th September, but were so heavily engaged by our Artillery that it never reached out lines and retired with about 60 casualties.
On the evening of the 20th it carried out an unsuccessful patrol, losing 24 men, 8 of whom were taken prisoners. Practically all the Sturm Abteilung were either captured or killed after their attack on LOUIS FARM, the CEMETERY, and EAGLE TRENCH on the morning of the 23rd.
The 185th I.R. had suffered very heavily during our attacks and its third battalion was practically wiped out. It was no longer able to hold its sector, and the 25th I.R. which had suffered less was placed in support of the 185th I.R.
During the period under review the effectives of the regiments opposed to us had been reduced by over 30%; their fighting qualities and morale were much shaken, and they were unable to carry out any decided counter-attack.
13. By the evening 23rd the 59th and 60th Inf. Bdes. were well established on the line LOUIS FARM, the CEMETERY, CHINESE HOUSE and BEAR TRENCH, and the 61st Inf. Bde. took over the line on the 23rd/24th; the 59th and 60th Inf. Bdes. being withdrawn to the MALAKOFF AREA and CANAL AREA respectively.
The task of the 61st Inf. Bde. during the next few days was to straighten the line in order that the relieving Divisions (4th and 29th ) might have a good jumping off line for the further operations which were contemplated. This was effected by the evening of the 27th/28th.
Patrols which had gone out nightly had not discovered the enemy in any strength in KANGAROO TRENCH. The enemy made no attempt to drive us out of our newly captured positions, but contented himself with heavily shelling the whole area and especially the region between our front line and the STEENBEEK STREAM.
14. Between the 12th and 26th September a total of two Officers and 156 O.R. were taken prisoner by the Division. They belonged chiefly to the 185th I. R. and the Sturm Abteilung of the 208th Div.
15. The 61st Inf. Bde. was relieved in the line by the 12th Inf. Bde. (4th Div.) on the night of the 28th/29th September, and at 10.0 a.m. on the 29th the G.O.C. 20th Div. handed over commands of the Right Sector, XIVth Corps Front to the G.O.C. 4th Div. while the 20th Div. was withdrawn to the PROVEN Area into Corps Reserve.
(Sd) W. Douglas Smith
Commanding 20th Division.
1st October, 1917.