O.C. Signal Company R.E. 2nd Tank Bde.
SECRET COPY NO 37
2ND TANK BRIGADE
REPORT ON OPERATIONS
27TH SEPTEMBER, 1918
- General Plan.
- Preliminary Preparations.
- Approach Marches.
- Rallying Points.
- Casualties : Personnel. Casualties : Tanks
- Anti-Tank Defence.
- A.F. Co-operation.
- Lessons & Suggestions.
2nd TANK BRIGADE: REPORT ON OPERATIONS; 27th September 1918
Reference Maps : Sheets 57.c.NE & SE., and 57.b. NW.
- The 2nd Tank Brigade, consisted of 15th Tank Battalion, No 1 G.C. Company, No 2 Tank Supply Company, and a Composite Company of 8 Mark IV Top Towing Gear Tanks.
(i). 15th Tank Battalion was allotted to Corps as under:-
VI Corps, Two Companies,
XVII Corps One Company.
(ii) Corps sub-allotted Tanks as under:-
VI Corps (3rd Division, Two Coys (“A” & “C”) less One Section of 4 Tanks. (Guards Division, One Section (“C” Company 4 Tanks.
XVII Corps (63rd Division, Two Sections, (6Tanks.) “B” Company.
(52nd Division, One Section, (4 Tanks). “B” Company.
(iii). Tanks of No. 1 G. C. Company and No. 2 Tank Supply Company were allotted to Corps as under:-
VI Corps. (9 Tanks of No. 1 G.C. Company,
(9 Tanks of No. 2 Tank Supply Company.
XVII Corps. 9 Tanks of No 2 Tank Supply Company.
(iv). Five Supply Tanks were allotted to 15th Tank Battalion, (4 from No. 1 Tank Supply Coy. and One from No 2 Tank Supply Coy.)
(v). The Composite Company of 8 Mark IV Top Towing Gear Tanks (attached to No 1 G.C. Company) remained in Third Army Reserve at H.21.b.0.3.
The General Schemes of VI and XVII Corps were as under:-
XVII Corps. (a) Capture of RED Objective, by the 52nd Division on the Right, and the 63rd Division on the Left; Dividing Line – MOEUVRES-GRAINCOURT Road (inclusive to 52nd Division). This Attack was to be carried out in two Phases –
First Phase. Capture of CANAL DU NORD as far South as E.26..b.7.6., and the trench running through E.27.b., E.28.a.,E.22.d. and E.23.a.
Second Phase. Capture of remainder of RED Objective. The 52nd and 63rd Divisions were timed to start the second phase at ZERO plus 180 minutes.
(b). Capture of BROWN Objective by 63rd Division. This included the capture of the Villages of GRAINCOURT and ANNEUX. The troops detailed for the capture of GRAINCOURT were to start of the commencement of the Second Phase, – (see above) – and go right through. The Barrage was timed to lift off the South Eastern corner of GRANDCOURT at ZERO plus 270 minutes.
(c). Capture of BLUE Objective. The 57th Division was ordered to pass through the 63rd Division on the BROWN Objective at approximately ZERO plus 300 minutes for the capture of CANTAING & FONTAINE. The 57th Division was also ordered to keep one Brigade in hand for the purpose of exploiting its advance as far as the CANAL D’ESCAUT and of securing the Crossings.
(a). The3rd Division, with the exception of its extreme Right and the Guards Division, were to attack together at ZERO Hour, and were to advance under a creeping barrage to capture the First Objective, (RED). (Pace of barrage – 100 yards in 4 minutes)
The Guards Division were to be prepared to maintain a defensive flank to the North up to the First Objective, until the XVII Corps had joined up and cleared the trenches to the North.
(b). At ZERO plus 110 minutes, 3rd Division, with the exception of its extreme Right and the Guards Division, were timed to advance to the BROWN DOTTED Objective, which included the capture of FLESQUIERES and the trenches in its vicinity, (Pace of barrage – 100 yards in 4 minutes)
(c). At ZERO plus 180 minutes, 3rd Division and the Guards Division were to advance to the capture of the BROWN Objective. The 42nd Division (IV Corps), was also to advance in conjunction with the Right of the 3rd Division.
The BROWN LINE East of FLESQUIERES, was timed to be reached at ZERO plus 210 minutes.
The Left of the Guards Division was to capture the BROWN Objective when the 63rd Division (XVII Corps), had taken GRAINCOURT.
(d). At ZERO plus 270 minutes, the 3rd and Guards Divisions were ordered to be prepared to advance to exploit to the BLUE DOTTED LINE, capturing RIBECOURT,PREMY CHAPEL and the GRAINCOURT Line.
(e). The 62nd and 2nd Divisions would them move forward from their Assembly Positions behind the 3rd and Guards Divisions respectively as the advance progressed, so as to be in position either-
(i). To complete the capture of the BROWN LINE should the leading Divisions not have succeeded,
(ii) To take up the advance from the BROWN LINE should the leading Divisions not have advanced beyond this Line, or
(iii) To pass through the leading Divisions on the BLUE DOTTED LINE to capture the BLUE Objective, and afterwards to exploit success to the GREEN DOTTED LINE.
For this purpose, not less than one complete Brigade was ordered to be kept in hand by the Divisional Commanders concerned.
- A Map showing the various Objectives and Areas of Tank Action is attached, (See Map “A”). Not with this archive.
- The action of each Tank Company is dealt with in the succeeding pages.
The General Plan of projected Tank Operations was stated by G.S.O. 1, Tank Corps, at a Conference of Tank Brigade Commanders, held at 2nd Tank Brigade Headquarters, COUTURELLE CHATEAU, on morning of September 19th 1918.
I was informed that this Brigade would not take part in the Battle, with the exception of 15th Tank Battalion (Mark V and Mark V Star) which would be placed under the Command of 1st Tank Brigade. I accordingly detached 15th Tank Battalion to 1st Tank Brigade.
On 23rd September I was notified that this Brigade would take over 15th Tank Battalion again, and that I would be responsible for all Tank Operations on VI and XVII Corps fronts.
I therefore got into immediate touch with the G.Os. C., VI and XVII Corps, also visiting Third Army Headquarters and G.O.C. 1st Tank Brigade.
I instructed my Staff to render every assistance to the 15th Tank Battalion in the preparations for the Battle.
2nd Tank Brigade Headquarters opened at GOMIECOURT, (A.23.d.central) on morning of September 25th.
The time for preparations being short, reconnaissance for these Operations had to take a very general form.
R.O’s were relieved by Section Commanders and Assistant R.O’s of most of the reconnaissance connected with Approach Marches, and were thus enabled to concentrate on the Forward Area.
The Area can be looked on as a simple one; the Country retains a good deal of its peace-time appearance, landmarks are plentiful, features like BOURLON WOOD being unmistakeable general guides to direction. Some R.O’s, Tank and Section Commanders were already familiar with the Area, having taken part in the First Battle of CAMBRAI in November 1917.
During the reconnaissance for Approach Marches, Tank and Section Commanders had ample opportunity to see something of the enemy country in advance, and they were all familiar with their Objectives in advance. One O.R. was employed on “Z” day in an O.P., and was able to send back useful information about the progress of the Attack.
- Issues of Maps, Photos etc.
Maps were issued in adequate quantities on 1.20,000, 1/40,000 and 1/100,000 scales. The 1/20,000, 57.c.NE., New Edition, was received on “Y” Day. The 1/20,000 Sheet was used as the Battle Map. Barrage Maps were obtained from Corps to allow of an issue of one to each Tank and Section Commander.
Photographs. 12th and 13th Squadrons were visited, and very useful oblique photographs were obtained, covering the sectors of each Company. In addition there were the photographs used in the First Battle of Cambrai. No fault can be found with the supply of oblique photos. Battalion and Coy. R.O’s should not issue to their Tank Commanders photographs which do not concern their Area, but should select one or two good photographs taking in the necessary Objectives, and Landmarks, for each Tank Commander. There were several excellent mosaics of the CANAL DU NORD, a particularly useful one being obtained from 13th Squadron on “X” Day. Landmark sketches, Notes on the Canals and Country ahead, as well as Obstacle Maps showing Sunken roads etc., were supplied by 2nd Tank Brigade. Locations of all derelict tanks in the Area were given to 15th Tank Battn. before operations, and Tank Commanders marked them on their Maps.
CANAL DU NORD.
This was expected to be a serious, if not insuperable, Obstacle. Fortunately only one Company of the 2nd Tank Brigade had to cross it in action, the others crossing at the tunnel during Approach Marches. From photographs and other information, the most likely crossings were selected, and named “A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and “E”. Those were discussed by Company concerned, 15th Tank Battalion, and 2nd Tank Brigade H.Q., and finally settled on. XVII Corps and Divisions were informed of the location of these Crossings, and all Tank Commanders concerned were made acquainted with them. The Crossings selected for the Northern Sections were all satisfactory, but Tanks were able to cross with comparative ease between “A” and “B” Crossings. The Canal was passable in many places as the walls had fallen in or been broken by shell-fire, and it was not the Obstacle expected.
It is worthy of note that the Germans, with the exception of one Landmine at “A” Crossing, had not turned the Canal into a more serious Obstacle on this Brigade front, probably because they are not yet fully conversant with the capabilities of Heavy Tanks. There was a case of attempted Tank Obstacle construction in incomplete portions of the Canal, North of 2nd Tank Brigade Front. This described in Notes issued 1st Tank Brigade.
Tank Commanders on the whole maintained direction well. The avoidance of sky-lines still leaves something to be desired. There were again several cases of Tanks being knocked out through unduly exposing themselves on the sky-line. The importance of this matter cannot be too often or too strongly impressed on all Officers.
There were one or two cases of ditching, principally due to the numerous trenches.
REPORT on OPERATIONS: “A” COMPANY 15th Tank Battn. (Major ALLEN)
27th September 1918
- “A” Company, 15th Tank Battalion, (8 Mark V and Mark V Star Tanks) was ordered to work with 3rd Division, VI Corps.
The orders given to O.C “A” Company were (i) to assist the Infantry in capturing RED LINE, ( between HAVRINCOURT and FLESQUIERES) and (ii) to assist in the capture of the BROWN LINE ( 1,000 yards East of FLESQUIERES).
- APPROACH MARCHES.
All Tanks reached Starting Points, but the Approach March was rendered difficult by congestion of traffic, ammunition dumps, light railways and our own batteries, and heavy hostile gas and H.E. shelling Yorkshire Bank.
- ACTION OF TANKS.
No 1 Section, (3 Tanks), No. 2 Section, (3 Tanks), and No 4 Section, (2 Tanks), Total – 8 Mark V Star Tanks, started at ZERO from K.27.a.
Nos 1 and 4 Sections proceeded down PUTNEY AVENUE with no 2 Section on their left. Two Tanks became ditched in Sunken Road K.22.c., but were ultimately unditched with the aid of 40 German prisoners. 6 Tanks reached FLESQUIERES and East of the Village.
The 6 Tanks went forward, passing the Infantry 200 yards West of first Objective. SILHEM CHAPEL and WOOD SWITCH (first Objective), were packed with enemy infantry who were in great confusion, unable to move one way or the other. All Tank guns were brought to bear on them and great losses were inflicted, case shot being fired at point-blank range.
In the HINDENBURG Support Line in K.16.d., a number of Germans were seen standing on the fire steps, firing at our advancing infantry. One tank took these by surprise from the rear with the result that our infantry occupied the trench.
The Tanks then proceeded slightly beyond the First Objective, finally coming back under cover of the Ridge to prepare for the advance on to the Second Objective.
Ten minutes later the Tanks left the First Objective, accompanies by the Infantry towards FLESQUIERES. Some enemy machine-guns and infantry were mopped up en route. In FLESQUIERES there was heavy fighting and many of the enemy were killed coming out of the houses, all Tanks again having excellent targets. One Tank of No 1 Section was knocked out by a direct hit in FLESQUIERES.
The remainder of the Tanks then continued the advance to the BROWN LINE, 1,000 yards East of FLESQUIERES, preceding the Infantry, who co-operated very well the whole time. In K.24.b., and L.19.c. our Infantry were held up by hostile machine-guns. Tanks went forward and silenced a number of these in SCULL SUPPORT and KAISER TRENCH, whereupon the advance continued.
On the BROWN LINE, magnificent enemy targets were seen and they were engaged by all tanks with Hotchkiss and 6-pounder case-shot. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy, which has since been confirmed by the numbers of dead in this area. One tank then proceeded 250 yards East of the BROWN Line. One Tank received a direct hit at L.13.c.8.8., and another became out of action at L.13.c.7.4. with mechanical trouble. The remaining tanks rallied.
All Tank Commanders were much impressed with the way in which our Infantry attacked, and the rapidity with which they advanced. They co-operated extremely well with the Tanks, indicating targets, and seizing the opportunities created by tanks.
The good mutual co-operation between Tanks and Infantry undoubtedly contributed largely to the success of this operation. O.C. “A” Company reports that the machine-gun fire from KAISER TRENCH and SCULL SUPPORT was intense, and without the assistance of Tanks it would have been difficult to gain a footing there.
3rd Division reached BROWN LINE up to time, and alone took over 2,500 prisoners, besides killing and wounding very large numbers of the enemy.
The following letter was received at 2nd Tank Brigade Headquarters, from Major-General C.J. DEVERELL, C.B., Commanding 3rd DIVISION.
General Staff, 3rd Divn. GS. 1804
“To G.O.C. 2nd TANK BRIGADE
All ranks, 3rd DIVISION, are united in their admiration of the work done yesterday by the two Companies (“A” and “C”) of the 15th Battalion, Tank Corps, co-operating with the Division.
They played a great part in the success gained, and their gallantry and determination to assist us to their utmost was much appreciated by all ranks of the Division.
(Sgd) C.J. DEVERELL
Comdg. 3rd DIVISION
28th September 1918
REPORT ON OPERATIONS: “B” COMPANY, 15th Tank Battn.
ALLOTMENT OF TANKS.
52nd Division: 4 Tanks (Capt. Forster’s Section).
63rd Division: 6 Tanks ( Capt Hutton’s Section)
(Capt. Gibson’s Section)
PLAN of OPERATIONS for TANKS.
- The main role of the 4 Tanks allotted to 52nd Division was to assist the Infantry in capturing the HINDENBURG LINE (West of the CANAL DU NORD) in E.26.b. & d., K.2.b., to junction with VI Corps (Guards Division). After these trenches had been cleaned up, the Tanks were to endeavour to cross the Canal near the CAMBRAI Road, and assist in the further advance.
- The 6 Tanks allotted to the 63rd Division were required to operate as follows:- 4 to cross the Canal as soon as possible after ZERO, and assist the Infantry in capturing the HINDENBURG Support Line. The other two Tanks (under Captain Gibson) were to go forward with the ANSON Battalion from TADPOLE COPSE and assist in the Second Phase of the Operations.
The Approach March was successfully carried out, but crews were much inconvenienced by hostile gas shelling in the neighbourhood of MOEUVRES. Some of the men were affected by this, & several cases of vomiting and sickness occurred.
- Section with 52nd One Tank developed serious mechanical trouble during the Approach March, and could not start. Three Tanks started from E.25. at Z plus 5 minutes. They first of all assisted in dealing with wire and portions of trench in E.26.a. They then turned right and proceeded down the HINDENBURG LINE, returning repeatedly to maintain touch with the Infantry, of whom they got ahead on several occasions. Considerable opposition was met with in this Sector the whole time. All three Tanks got right down the HINDENBURG LINE as far as the CAMBRAI Road, and one crossed it five times. Enemy machine-guns were very active from all directions, but particularly so from SPOIL BANK in E.23.c. Field guns and shell-fire generally directed against Tanks was heavy, and one Tank received a direct hit early on in the morning, wounding the Tank Commander and all his crew, but he carried on the action until only he and one of his crew were fit to stand, when the Tank received another direct hit and became out of action. Both the remaining Tanks were put out of action in the HINDENBURG LINE in E.25.d., one receiving three direct hits and the other two. Of three Officers and 23 Other Ranks who went into action with these three Tanks, one was killed and19 wounded, some slightly. Although these Tanks all finally became casualties, they reached the most important of their Objectives first, and inflicted severe damage on the enemy. One Tank succeeded in establishing touch between 52nd and Guards Division South of CAMBRAI Road.
- Action of 6 Tanks with 63rd The Four Tanks of “B” Company allotted to 63rd Division specially for the First Objective all started from SAND LANE South of MOEUVRES, intending to pick up the Infantry near the Canal in B.15.c. One Tank caught fire in Sunken Road in E.20.c. and was completely burnt out. Of the remaining 3, two started at ZERO, and immediately proceeded towards the Canal Crossing “B”, B.15.c.2.4. They saw none of our Infantry, but were heavily machine-gunned by the enemy. They then turned towards MOEUVRES to look for the Infantry, who were then advancing from there. Having gained touch with these, they then went straight for the Canal ahead of the Infantry, and crossed it between “A” and “B” Crossings in E.15.c. They saw a Tank of the 7th Tank Battalion blown up in “A” Crossing. When they reached the Eastern side of the Canal they were well ahead of the Infantry and were fired upon heavily by hostile machine-guns. The splash was particularly bad inside the Tanks. They then went up and down LYNX TRENCH as arranged, firing their guns at hostile machine-gunners and who were on top of the parapet and in the open. Many machine-guns and crews were dealt with and 6-pounders were used most effectively against these. One machine-gun and its crew were run over and squashed. On the whole the German machine-gunners in this part put up a good fight. The furthest point reached by these Tanks was E.22.b. Both Tanks later developed mechanical trouble one autovac and one gear. these defects could not be remedied and necessitated the Tank periodically halting. On returning to Rally one got a direct hit and became out of action. At 7 a.m. one of these Tank Commanders sent a pigeon message from well East of the Canal regarding his gear trouble, which was received at 2nd Tank Brigade H.Q. The remaining Tank of this Section proceeded North East of SAND LANE to pick up its Infantry East of MOEUVRES as arranged, but at E.20.b.3.0. it caught fire in the Sunken Road. This delayed the advance of this Tank, but as soon as the fire was got under control and extinguished, it proceeded towards “C” Crossing and while looking for it became badly ditched in LOCK STREET TRENCH. This Tank was therefore unable to cross the Canal, but both the Tank Commander (Lieut. THOROUGHGOOD) and his crew got out of the Tank with their machine-guns and helped to support the advance of the Infantry by their fire. The Tank Commander reports that he and his crew assisted by one Corporal (Corporal CLARKE) and one other rank of the 1/7th Scottish Rifles (52nd Div.) to capture 35 Germans who were holding out near Lock No. 5.
- The two Tanks (Capt. GIBSON’S Section) who had to participate in the attack towards GRAINCOURT and ANNEUX, arrived at their Starting Point (TADPOLE COPSE) at 4-20 a.m. where they were unable to find the Infantry with whom they were to advance. At ZERO plus 15 the Section Commander decided to send his Tanks on along the pre-arranged route in spite of the fact that he could not find the Infantry, hoping to pick up these somewhere on route. The Tanks were delayed in reaching the Canal, by the numerous trenches they had to cross, and did not arrive there until 6-45 a.m. Here they found both “A” and “B” Crossings blocked; the former by 7th Battalion Tank which had struck a land-mine and was out of action; the latter by Artillery who were passing through. The Section Commander decided that it was necessary to tow the disabled tank of the 7th out of the way. This was done, resulting in further delay. Touch with the Infantry not having been established, the Section Commander ordered the two tanks to proceed down LYNX TRENCH, mopping up any enemy who might be there, and then to rally at the Advanced Rallying Point in E.27., where they were to await orders. He then returned to MOEUVRES, where his Company Commander was, to obtain his instructions regarding these two tanks. These having been obtained, he returned to his two tanks, which in the meantime, having encountered no enemy, had reached the Rallying Point, where they were approached by the G.S.O. 3 of the 63rd Division, who asked if they could assist in mopping up the trenches at the junction of KANGAROO TRENCH and the HINDENBURG SUPPORT. This was agreed to, and at 2-15 p.m. they went over accompanied by Infantry, who were led by a Lieut-Colonel. The enemy ran away from behind the HINDENBURG SUPPORT LINE in E.28., fired on by a Tank Hotchkiss and 6-pounder, also by the Guards Div. from the Right Flank.
Our Infantry occupied their Objective and pushed on beyond it, towards ANNEUX and GRAINCOURT.
The G.S.O. 3, 63rd Division, who had followed up the Attack, then thanked the Tank Section Commander, (Captain GIBSON), for the good work these two Tanks had done.
At this point Tanks had only a little petrol left.
About 4-30 p.m. the G.S.O 3 63rd Division, brought up a Brigadier-General (Brigade not ascertained) who asked if Tanks could go forward with his Brigade, who were then about to resume the advance. He was informed that they had very little petrol left, but would go on if he (the Brigadier-Genl.) would accept responsibility for Tanks being stranded right forward without petrol. The Brigadier-General agreed to this, and said he wanted to get his Brigade on to the MARQUION Line.
The 2 Tanks went forward and picked up the Infantry in E.29.c. (North of GRAINCOURT). From this point they preceded the Infantry and passed through between ANNEUX and GRAINCOURT, encountering practically no opposition.
About F.26.c. Tanks came under a lot of machine-gun fire from the direction of FONTAINE-NOTRE-DAME. Both Tanks were turned broadside on and fire was brought to bear on the German machine-guns in order to support the Infantry advancing on the left. Parties of the enemy who were seen coming over the crest towards the MARQUION Line were engaged by all Tank guns which could be brought to bear. The enemy ran away and many casualties were caused.
Soon after this some heavy shells, believed to have been fired from trench mortars, fell very close to the Tanks. These two Tanks reached a point about 1,000 yards from CANTAING before completing their work.
Petrol was then almost finished, crews were much exhausted, having left the final lying-up place about 12 midnight, 26/27th September. The work required of the Tanks was completed, so they were withdrawn to a point well East of the Canal, where they had to remain, as the petrol had entirely given out.
Some petrol was later obtained, from a casualty tank of the same Company, and these two tanks returned to Rallying Point on September 28th.
The following telegram was received from G.O.C. 63rd Division on the evening of 27th:-
“Most grateful for splendid assistance given this Division by “B” Company’s two Tanks to-day under Captain GIBSON.
REPORT ON OPERATIONS: “C” Company, 15th Tank Battalion.
(7 Mark V Tanks). Major SKEGGS.
“C” Company left HAVRINCOURT at 1 a.m. on 27th Sept., following in rear of “A” Company.
The Approach March was a difficult one, owing to several sunken roads and battery positions having to be crossed. Heavy shelling was encountered in K.32.b., where one Officer and 3 Other Ranks were killed. One Tank got ditched in K.27.a. owing to inability to swing due to the failure of the epicyclics.
This Tank took three quarters of an hour to get out, and took considerable time to catch up the Infantry.
The role of “C” Company, (7 Tanks), was as follows:-
(a). One Section (4 Tanks) under Captain MANSFIELD, was detailed to operate with the Guards Division with the following orders:- (a) Rendez-vous in Sunken road K.9.d. by ZERO plus 1 hr. (b) Section Commander to meet O.C. 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, at Lock No. 7, K.9.c., and will advance under his orders to assist in the capture of PREMY CHAPEL.
(c) Should the advance of the leading troops of the 1st Guards Brigade be held up during the Approach March of the 3rd Guards Brigade to the BROWN LINE, O.C. 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards will send Section of Tanks forward to assist in overcoming opposition and give them a place of rendez-vous where they will meet him afterwards.
(d) If possible, however, the Section will be left fresh for the attack on PREMY CHAPEL.
- One Section of 3 Tanks (Captain McKERSIE) was ordered to support the Attack of the 3rd Division on to the Northern edge of FLESQUIERES Village, in conjunction with the two Tanks of “A” Company of the same Battalion, but not to become more deeply involved than necessary, as the Section would subsequently be required to assist the Guards in their Attack on PREMY CHAPEL.
Captain McKERSIE’S SECTION, (with 3rd Division), co-operated with the Tanks of “A” Company in the capture of FLESQUIERES Village, dealing particularly with the Northern end.
One Tank Commander with some men of the 1st Battalion Gordons, (3rd Division), reached the BROWN LINE, doing great execution en route, and was also responsible for running over and squashing several machine-guns with their crews. This Tank received a direct hit in L.13.b.,and was knocked out.
Of the other two Tanks of this Section, one became badly ditched early in the attack, and the other was hit and had mechanical trouble on the West side of FLESQUIERES, but subsequently rallied late in the afternoon. There were therefore no Tanks of this Section left to continue the advance towards PREMY CHAPEL with the Guards Division.
Captain MANSFIELD’S SECTION, (with Guards Division).
Captain MANSFIELD was unfortunately killed before reporting to O.C. 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards at Lock No 7.
The Section was then ordered by Major SKEGGS to assemble about K.18.a.9.0., to await the arrival of the Grenadier Guards.
Whilst waiting here, an appeal for assistance was received from a Company Commander of the 1st Gordons, (3rd Division). The Acting Section Commander responded without waiting for orders, and proceeded to assist in cleaning up of FLESQUIERES, performing excellent work and having good targets. One Tank reached the BEETROOT FACTORY in L.13.c where particular execution was inflicted on the enemy.
All 4 Tanks having completed their tasks, they rallied North of FLESQUIERES, ready to advance with the Guards Division as detailed in orders.
O.C. “C” Company (Major SKEGGS), met Lieut-Colonel Viscount GORT, Commanding 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, at the pre-arranged Rendez-vous and preceded with him through the Village of FLESQUIERES to arrange details of the Attack upon PREMY CHAPEL. These having been decided upon, the 4 Tanks were ordered by Major SKEGGS to proceed round the Northern edge of the Village to pick up the Infantry in L.13.c. and L.19.a.
All 4 Tanks reached the vicinity of the BEETROOT FACTORY in L.13.c., where they came under heavy Artillery fire. A 77 mm, field gun is reported to have opened direct fire on them from ORIVAL WOOD.
One Tank proceeded down the Sunken Road towards PREMY CHAPEL, and received several direct hits in L.13.d.
Three of these four Tanks were knocked out by Artillery fire in the BEETROOT FACTORY Area, and most of the Crews were wounded. The fourth was damaged but eventually rallied.
Of the 7 Tanks of this Company which started, 4 were completely knocked out, one was ditched, one had mechanical trouble, and one rallied. Two of the above subsequently rallied on 28th September.
Tank Commanders in this Company were also unanimous in their praise of the gallantry of the infantry.
Conditions were distinctly favourable. The weather, although somewhat uncertain prior to “Z” Day, was fine and clear on “Z” day itself. There was heavy rain on Y/Z night, which however ceased at 3 a.m.
The ground was dry and surface provided good going. The most serious Obstacles were the CANAL DU NORD, the numerous Sunken roads, and the wide trenches of the HINDENBURG LINE and Support Line. Most of the main Obstacles were located in advance.
These took place as follows:-
“A” & “C” Coys. Sep.22nd. BEHAGNIES to VELU WOOD, 12.000 yards.
15th Tank Bn. 24th/25th. VELU WOOD to HAVRINCOURT WOOD, P.12.b., 6,000 yards.
15th Tank Bn. 26th/27th. HAVRINGCOURT WOOD, P.12.b., to Starting Points, K.26.b. and K.27.a., 4,000 yards.
“B” Company, Sept. 22nd. BEHAGNIES to LAGNICOURT 10,000 yards.
15th Tank Bn. 24th/25th. LAGNICOURT to South of QUEANT, D.14., 3,000 yards.
26th/27th S. of QUEANT, D.14, to Starting Point, E.25, South of MOEUVRES, 5,500 yards.
Considerable gas shelling and traffic congestion were experienced in the latter stages of Approach Marches, but apart from this, they took place without incident.
These were selected as far forward as possible, consistent with safety, and were as follows:-
“A” Company, CHAPEL WOOD, K.23.c.
“B” Company, E.27.b.7.6.
“C” Company K.15.b.5.4.
K.18.a. Advanced R.P. for Section to operate with Guards Division towards PREMY CHAPEL.
On “Z” morning and afternoon, Rallying Points were visited by myself and other members of my Staff, and the position as regards fitness of Tanks and Crews, and their experiences, ascertained.
Communications were maintained by the following means:-
(a). Telephone and telegraph.
The practice, emphasised in former Reports, of maintaining direct communication between Brigade H.Q. and Units was necessarily somewhat modified owing to the short space of time available for construction and the distances involved.
Some Units were therefore put on to the nearest Divisional or Corps Exchange and were then available through VI Corps.
Brigade was in direct telephonic communication with VI Corps, 1st Tank Brigade, 2nd Tank Supply Coy., and all the necessary formations through VI Corps.
VI Corps was unable to allot a line for the exclusive telephone use of Brigade to 15th Battalion, but a direct sounder circuit was arranged, which proved most useful.
15th Battalion was in direct telephonic communication with 3rd Division. “B” Coy. detached, was in direct telephonic communication with 63rd Division.
Wireless proved most useful and a number of messages were received both at Brigade H.Q. and 15th Battalion H.Q. by this means.
A Wireless Station was erected at 15th Battalion Advanced H.Q. (J.29.a.1.0.) with one set working back to Brigade H.Q. on one wavelength and another working forward to sets in “B” Coy. and “C” Coy. (in a Tank) on another wavelength. As the Sounder Circuit gave trouble for some hours during the early part of the day, messages were sent between Brigade and Battln. By Wireless.
At ZERO, Communication between “C” Company and Battalion was obtained. The set was then moved to K.15.d.8.9., whence several messages were transmitted.
“B” Company’s set was erected at D.24.a.central under difficult circumstances owing to hostile shelling and communication was established about three-quarters of an hour after ZERO. Not much use was made of this Set during the battle, but it proved valuable during the afternoon of September 27th.
It seems doubtful whether a Set remaining at Company H.Q. is of real value. It should have a tank available to take it forward to a Rallying Point.
(c). DESPATCH RIDERS.
Two D.Rs were allotted to 15th Battalion for use under Battalion arrangements.
Two or three runs a day were made from Brigade to all Units.
16 Pigeons were available from XVII Corps Loft at GOUY for “B” Company.
15th Battalion (“A” & “C” Coys.) were allotted 24 pigeons from VI Corps Loft at BARLY.
They were very useful. Messages took about 1 ½ hours to reach Brigade Headquarters, and were repeated to Advanced H.Q. 15th Tank Battalion.
The standard of messages received from Tank Commanders was well above the average.
UNIT Date Killed Died of wounds Wounded Missing
- O.R. O. O.R. O. O.R. O. O.R.
15th Tank Battn. 27 Sept. 2 12 1 – 6 47 0 1
No 1 G.C. Coy 27 Sept. – 2 – – – 2 – –
2nd Tank Bde. 26 Sept. – – – – – 1 – –
TOTAL…. … 2 14 1 0 6 50 0 1
2ND TANK BRIGADE
TANK STATE. 24.9.18 to 29.9.18
See attached spreadsheet.
Named it their order of danger to Tanks, the enemy Anti-tank Defence measures encountered were as follows:-
- Field and Heavy Guns.
It was particularly noticeable that heavy guns were specially detailed for use against Tanks, directed by capable observers.
Field guns frequently used battery fire, the shells arriving almost simultaneously, indicating that the whole battery was firing on the target.
German machine-gunners were active against tanks, principally from close quarters. There were not many cases of penetration, but splash was unusually prevalent.
- Trench Mortars.
There was every indication that trench mortars were being used against tanks.
Large numbers of pits had been dug in the Area, dimensions 5’ x 12’ x 20’. Some of them were wired over, prepared for camouflage.
No Tanks of 15th Tank Battalion were put out of action by these, but one of 7th Battalion’s tanks encountered one at “A” Crossing, CANAL DU NORD.
Other Land-mines have been discovered in the Area, and a full description of these will follow.
- Anti-tank rifles.
A number of these were found but they were not used to any extent, nor did they do material damage.
No new enemy Anti-tank measure was brought to light in the course of these operations, so far as has at present been ascertained.
- No 8 Squadron and No 73 Squadron, R.A.F., co-operated with 2nd Tank Brigade during Operations on September 27th.
- A number of messages were dropped on Battalion and Company Headquarters during the Battle, while fresh Machines leaving the Aerodrome dropped consolidated Reports of information gained by the previous patrol, on 2nd Tank Brigade Headquarters.
This system worked well.
The large number of derelict Tanks from the First Battle of CAMBRAI made the spotting of Tanks actually engaged in this Operation somewhat difficult.
- Companies must again realise that they will not get messages unless they lay their ground strips out properly.
- It is suggested that in future operations Flight Commanders responsible for Tank protection should visit the Tank Companies with which they are co-operating prior to “Z” Day, when the action of Tanks could be discussed with reference to special help required from aeroplanes on particular bits of ground.
- The arrangements which were made for Tank Commanders to put out Red Ground Flares when fired on by Anti-tank guns though sound in principle, did not on this occasion work out in practice. Several cases occurred of Tank Commanders using these Flares North East of FLESQUIERES while being heavily shelled. No Aeroplanes were flying at the time and no action resulted.
SUGGESTIONS AND LESSONS LEARNED.
- The success of the operations of 15th Tank Battalion with 3rd Division proved the value of previous training with Infantry.
15th Battalion had carried out training with the 8th, 9th and 76th Infantry Brigades (3rd Division) on 13th and 14th September.
One Company from each Battalion of each Brigade acted as a Demonstration Company, whilst the remainder of each Brigade watched the operations.
3 Complete Sections of Tanks, working in relays, were employed, thus enabling the training to be continuous.
- The value of a Wireless Set carried in a Tank was clearly demonstrated.
- Instructions were issued that Company and Section Commanders would keep a reserve of pigeons for sending back information gained at Rallying Points and in the course of the Battle. As a result of this, valuable information as to the number of Tanks rallied and fit was received at Brigade Headquarters at an early hour.
- It is suggested that a white arrow disc be provided on each Tank to be used in conjunction with the red flares to indicate to aeroplanes the direction of fire from anti-tank guns.
- Tank Commanders considered that the proportion of smoke in their barrage, viz:- 1/6th and 1/10th, was insufficient to screen their Tanks. The clearness of the atmosphere, and the breeze, no doubt partly accounted for this.
- In the event of Tanks detailed for special work failing for some reason to find their infantry at the Starting Point, it is the duty of these Tanks to proceed in the pre-arranged direction until they gain touch with their infantry or with the enemy.
- Battalions should always make arrangements for the provision of hot meals at Rallying Points for crews coming out of action.
- The green and white flag (signal to “Come on”) should only be used in cases where our infantry have been held up and the Tanks have been sent forward to deal with some particular point. These signals should not be used when the attack is proceeding satisfactorily.
- In forwarding the following suggestion from 15th Tank Battn., I am of the opinion that every case must be judged on its merits and that no hard and fast rule regarding the position of Rallying points should be laid down. The advantages claimed by O.C. 15th Battalion for the final point of deployment as the final Rallying point are indisputable, if other conditions admit.
“Tactical. In regard to the settlement of the Rallying Point at the final conclusion of Tank operations, I am of the opinion that unless the advance is very considerable, and the strength of the Battalion permits of the provision of an adequate number of spare crews, so as to enable complete reliefs to be effected, the R.P. is best fixed at the final point of deployment. In the event of a further call being made on the Tanks, any advantages that may accrue from having the R.P. further forward so as to shorten the next approach march, are fully out-weighed by the greater promptitude with which the processes of rest and re-organisation may be undertaken in an atmosphere comparatively free, not only from hostile shelling and gas, but also from the noise and general disturbance due to the close proximity of our own guns. Communications, moreover, on which the promptitude and efficiency of the work of re-organisation largely depend, must of necessity be unreliable to a more forward R.P., in that the roads and tracks for a period succeeding operations are frequently passable by day only with difficulty, and after dark, if passable at all, only with great delay and uncertainty.
- SUPPLY TANKS.
If possible, when tanks are going to work with the Infantry, an infantry Officer should be attached to the Tanks for a period of, say, 4 days before ZERO, in order that he can keep the Tank Commanders informed of the probable movements and requirements of the infantry.
In the case of the 62nd Division, this was done, and was found very useful.
Commanding 2nd Tank Brigade
H.Q. 2nd Tank Brigade,
5th October 1918