NARRATIVE OF OPERATIONS
20TH (LIGHT) DIVISION – 20TH NOVEMBER 1917
1. ORDER OF BATTLE.
Divisional Commander Major General W. Douglas Smith C.B.
B.G.C. 59th Inf Bde. Br. Genl H.H.G. Hyslop, D.S.O.
B.G.C. 60th Inf. Bde. Br. Genl F.J. Duncan, C.M.G., D.S.O.
B.G.C. 61st Inf. Bde. Br Genl. W.E. Banbury, C.M.G.
59th Inf. (10th K.R.R.C. A/Lt. Col. A.C. Sheepshanks, D.S.O.
Bde. (11th K.R.R.C. Lt. Col. G.K. Priaulx, D.S.O.
(10th R.B. Lt. Col. L.H.W. Troughton, M.C.
(11th R.B. Lt. Col. A.E. Cotton, D.S.O.
60th Inf. (6th Oxf & Bucks L.I. Lt. Col. C.R.C. Boyle.
Bde. (6th K.S.L.I. A/Lt. Col H.E. Welch.
(12th K.R.R.C. A/Lt. Col G. Moore, D.S.O.
(12th R.B. Lt. Col H.L. Riley, D.S.O.
61st Inf. (12th King’s (L’pool) Lt. Col. A.N. Vince, D.S.O.
Bde. (7th Som. L.I. Lt. Col C.J. Troyte Bullock, D.S.O.
( 7th D.C.L.I. Lt. Col H.G.R. Burges-Short.
(7th K.O.Y.L.I. Major L.P. Storr.
Pioneer Battalion (11th Durham L.I.) Lt. Col. G. Hayes.
R.E. Units 83rd Field Coy. Major I.W. Massie, M.C.
84th Field Coy. Major P.G. Norman, M.C.
96th Field Coy. Major P.F. Story, D.S.O.
2. DISPOSITIONS OF TROOPS AT ZERO.
Map “A” is attached shewing dispositions of troops at Zero, which were as follows:-
(a) 60th Inf. Bde.
Front Line. 12th K.R.R.C. – from Rly. In R.8.c. to R.14.b.7.7.
Front Line. 6th Oxf. & Bucks L.I. – from R.14.b.7.7. to R.14.d.9.7.
Support. 12th R.B. – about R.14.a.8.7.
Support. 6th K.S.L.I. – about R.14.b.2.3.
The role of the front line battalions was to capture the BLUE Line from R.3.a.15.60. to R.10.a.3.5., after which the 2 Support Battalions were to take the BROWN Line from L.32.d.5.5. to L.34.b.2.5.
(b) 61st Inf. Bde.
Front Line. 7th D.C.L.I. – from R.14.d.9.7. to R.20.b.65.35.
Front Line. 7th Som. L.I. – from R.20.b.65.35. to R.21.c.4.6.
Support. 12th R.B. – about R.20.a.
Support. 12th King’s (L’pool). – about R.20.d.3.5.
This Brigade attacked in 3 waves as follows:-
(i) 2 Coys of 7th D.C.L.I. were detailed for the capture of the trenches about CORNER WORK about R.15.central, while the Som. L.I. were to capture LA VACQUERIE.
(ii) The 2 remaining Coys. of the 7th D.C.L.I. and 2 Coys. of the 12th King’s (L’pool) were detailed to take the BLUE Line from R.10.a.5.6. to R.16.b.6.4.
(iii) The 7th K.O.Y.L.I. and the remaining 2 Coys of the 12th King’s (L’pool) were to take the BROWN Line from L.34.b.2.5. to R.5.d.2.9.
(c) 59th Inf. Bde. In and about GOUZEAUCOURT to carry out a special task as described in paras. 3 and 4 (iii).
Map “A” attached shows the objectives:-
BLUE Line. 1st Objective.
BROWN Line. 2nd Objective.
RED Line The Defensive Flank to be taken up by 59th Inf. Bde. in touch with 12th Div. on right flank to the South, and in touch with 29th Div. on the left flank to the North.
The final position actually reached by 9 p.m. is as shewn on attached map “B”.
4. PLAN OF ATTACK.
(a) (i). The essence of the plan was to effect a surprise, overwhelm the enemy with a sudden rush of Tanks followed by Infantry, and to penetrate the first line before he had time to realise the nature or locality of the attack. With this end in view, there was no preliminary bombardment or wire cutting by the Artillery. The attack, besides being preceded by waves of Tanks was covered by standing barrages which included smoke. These barrages were arranged to lift from objective to objective as the attack progressed.
(ii). The 20th Div. was allotted 60 Tanks, and these were distributed to Brigades as follows:-
Right assaulting Bde. (61st Inf. Bde.) 1 Bn. – 36 Tanks.
Left assaulting Bde. (60th Inf. Bde.) 2 Coys – 24 Tanks.
(iii) The 59th Inf. Bde. was held in Reserve, but as soon as the successful issue of the operations undertaken by the two assaulting Bdes. Was notified, namely, the capture of the BROWN Line, this Bde. was ordered to advance down the LA VACQUERIE Valley, to follow the line of the Sunken Road from LA VACQUERIE Village to R.5.c.95.40., seize the bridges over the ST QUENTIN CANAL between MASNIERES and MARCOING until the arrival of the 29th Div., and then to establish itself on the line M.2.d.9.7. – LES RUE VERTES so as to form a defensive flank to cover the operations of the 29th Div. towards MASNIERES and MARCOING. This Bde. was also ordered to cover itself with an advanced guard, a portion of which was seize the crossings over the ST QUENTIN CANAL, if unoccupied, at G.26.b.4.4. – L.24.c.8.5. – L.23.d.9.3., and to form a bridgehead at the first-named place until relieved by the advanced guard of 29th Div. the 59th Inf. Bde. was allotted 10 Tanks for this operation to be taken from the original 36 allotted to the 61st Inf. Bde., which were to be at the disposal of the B.G.C. 59th Inf. Bde. as soon as the BROWN Line (2nd objective) was captured.
(b) The action of the artillery on Zero day consisted:-
(i). In placing a barrage on each objective prior to its being assaulted.
(ii). Forming smoke screens in front to cover the advance of the Tanks.
(iii). In neutralising hostile batteries.
(iv). In bombarding O.P’s, the positions of assembly, rest billets, and known centres of communication and command.
(c). The 2 assaulting Bdes. and their respective Tanks were moved to the assembly positions after dusk on “Y/Z” evening. Considerable congestion of traffic occurred N. and S. of R.19.central on the GOUZEAUCOURT – VILLERS PLOUICH Road which the Tanks had to cross at R.19.d.1.8. and R.19.b.3.2. in order to reach their positions of assembly. This congestion was due to the following causes:-
(i). Transport and Infantry personnel of 2 other Divs. Using this road instead of the one allotted to them.
(ii). The blocking of the Northern end of the two Tank crossing places by trains on the light railway which crosses the road near R.19.central. and then runs parallel to the road to VILLERS PLOUICH between the road and broad gauge railway.
These unforeseen difficulties somewhat delayed the assembly, but nevertheless all the units taking part in the assault were in position by
The assembly positions were all approximately 1,000 yards from the enemy front line, and the noise of assembly was no doubt covered by the pre-arranged intermittent bursts of machine gun fire throughout the night.
5. ACCOUNT OF THE ACTION.
It suffices to say that the attack by the Infantry and Tanks allotted to this Division went entirely according to plan from the hour of Zero 6.30 6.20 a.m., until the 59th Inf. Bde. took up its position so as to form the defensive flank facing Eastwards. The enemy was completely surprised, and in those places where he held out for a time, his resistance was overcome by Infantry and Tanks.
The enemy front line was reported taken about 6.45 a.m., the BLUE Line, 1st Objective, about 9.30 a.m., then the BROWN Line about 12 noon. The 59th Inf. Bde. took up their position forming a defensive flank while the 29th Div. moved on MASNIERES and MARCOING, the bridges across the Canal at and W. of MASNIERES having been seized by the 59th Inf. Bde.
At 4.15 p.m. the situation was reported to be as follows:-
20th Div. in the BROWN Line with a defensive flank thrown out in M.2., the 12th Div. on the right held the BROWN Line including LATEAU WOOD, and were continuing the defensive flank to M.8.a., the 6th Div. held BROWN Line and PREMY CHAPEL Ridge, and were in touch on left with 51st Div. in BROWN Line near Corps Boundary. The 29th Div. held NINE WOOD with troops across Canal at L.33.a.0.8., while the 88th Inf. Bde. (29th Div.) were working through MASNIERES in co-operation with 59th Inf. Bde.
Div H.Q. moved forward from W.9.d.7.3. to VILLERS PLOUICH where they were established at about 2.45 p.m.
The situation at 9 p.m. on evening of the 20th was as shewn on the attached map marked “B”.
At 10.20 p.m. on the night of the 20th, orders were received from III Corps to the effect that every effort was to be made to gain possession of the MASNIERES – BEAUREVOIR Line to allow the early passage of Cavalry and also to capture CREVECOEUR.
The role of the Div. was to push on to CREVECOEUR, seize the bridges there and effect a junction with the 29th Div in CREVECOEUR. 12 Tanks from 3rd Bde. Tank Corps were placed at the disposal of 20th Div. for this purpose.
The 59th Inf. Bde. were detailed for this operation, and Zero hour was fixed in conjunction with the 29th Div for 11 a.m. The 12 Tanks were to assemble in G.33.c. The attack by the 29th Div. was, however, cancelled, and the 59th Inf. Bde. were to attack alone.
This attack was only partially successful, the assaulting columns coming under enfilade fire from high ground N. of Canal and E. of RUMILLY, and several efforts were made during the day to cross the Canal at CREVECOEUR, but owing to the bridges not being strong enough to bear Tanks, and the fact that some Tanks had run out of fuel and could not be moved, no appreciable advance was made. At 10 p.m. on the evening of the 21st the situation was as follows:-
11th K.R.R.C. consolidating about REVELON CHATEAU and guarding the bridges from the W bank of the Canal; 11th R.B. forming a defensive flank covering the crossing at G.34.a.2.9. and G.34.b.2.9., while 1 Coy. of the 10th R.B. held bridgehead in M.5.c. This Coy. was forced to retire during the night, and all efforts to destroy the bridge in M.5.c. failed.
6. (a). GENERAL RESULT.
The general result of the operations of the 20th and 21st Nov, were as follows:-
Thorough disorganisation of the enemy.
A large breach in his defensive system.
A loss to him of considerable personnel and guns.
On the other hand our lines at the conclusion of the operations formed a very dangerous salient completely overlooked from the high ground E. of RUMILLY.
The total number of unwounded prisoners captured by the Div during these operations was 17 officers and 700 other ranks, including one Regtl. Commander. The prisoners were chiefly men of the 9th Res. Div. and 54th Div.
Our casualties during the attack itself were slight; the total casualties up to 12 mn. The 20th/21st being only 31 Officers and 515 O.Rs.
(d). MATERIAL CAPTURED.
A list of material captured is given in Appendix “I”
(e). LESSONS LEARNT
Any lessons learnt from these operations are to be found in Appendix “II”.
10th December 1917
LIST OF CAPTURED MATERIAL.
Map Spotting. Calibre. Condition Ammunition.
L.28.c.55.20. 15 c.m. All badly damaged. (Blown Plentiful.
(L.Z. 7) Up, no sights.)
L.34.a.95.40. 77 m.m. Bolts and breaches missing. Plentiful.
(in open) No sights.
L.34.d.50.90. 77 m.m. No sights. 1 no wheels. Plentiful.
L.36.b.30.01. 12 c.m. (4) 1 can probably be fired. Very Plentiful.
(L.Z.21.) (Captured The remainder no breeches.
French or All no sights.
R.6.a.75.70. 10.5 c.m. (3) 1 complete with sights. Very Plentiful.
(R.X.24.) Remainder no sights.
G.33.a.0.0. A.A. G uns (4) Complete.
on 4 wheeled
R.5.a.00.90. 77 m.m. 1 sight only All used more (R.X.33.) being collected.
L.34.a.2.6. 1 T.M.