Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (The 2/4th Battalion)

Research and Resources around the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during WWI

Archive for the tag “Spring Offensive”

Sergeant Robert Henry Pipe

Robert Henry Pipe was the last of four brothers to die within a year of each other. Please see the page on Lance Corporal Edwin George Pipe

Robert Henry Pipe

Rank: Serjeant
Service No: 200939
Date of Death: 29/03/1918
Age: 26
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, 2nd/4th Bn.
Grave Reference II. B. 11.

From the Woodbridge, Suffolk Roll of Honour

Sergeant 200939, 2nd/4th Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. Died 29/03/1918. Age 26. Son of William Dalby Pipe and Emma Pipe of 9 Queen’s Road, Beccles, Suffolk. Buried at Etretat Churchyard Extension (near Le Havre).

From the Woodbridge Reporter dated 30th Jan 1919, there are details of Woodbridgians who fell in the Great War. Against Robert H Pipe it says:

Robert H Pipe, assistant teacher at the Council School, died of wounds received in action on 29th March 1918. He was 26 years of age and joined the forces in September 1914.

National Probate Calendar, 24 July 1918:

PIPE Robert Henry of 28 Seckford Street Woodbridge Suffolk died 29 March 1918 in France from wounds. Administration (with Will) London 24 July to William Dalby Pipe printer’s estimating clerk. Effects 416 1s 1d.

The Germans Strike, 21st March 1918: The Biscuit Boys

The Germans Strike, 21st March 1918

The Biscuit Boys, Volume 8, Section 314, The German Offensives, 2nd/4th Battalion (Royal Berkshires), March 1918

When the storm of the great German offensive broke upon the 5th Army, the 2nd/4th Battalion (Royal Berkshires) was back in the rear zone at Ugny. At 05:00 on the 21st, when the German offensive was sweeping on with all its vigour, battle stations were ordered to be manned.

At 08:30 the Berkshire Battalion was at Marteville, the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry being in the forward area, and the 2/5th Gloucestershire in the battle zone. The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire held on in the forward area till 16:20, when the Enghien Redoubt which they were holding had been surrounded. Under sanction conveyed to them by a buried cable, they then endeavoured to cut their way back, but only a very few succeeded in doing so.

Interview with Sir Hubert Gough, The First World War 1914-1918, Personal Experences of Lieutenant-Colonel C. a Court Repington

From The First World War 1914-1918, Personal Experiences of Lieutenant Colonel C. a Court Repington, C.M.G, Commander of the Order of Leopold, Officer of the Legion of Honor, Volume II, London, Constable and Company Ltd., 1920

“Sunday, April 7. Sir Hubert Gough telephoned in the morning and came up to dinner at Maryon. He had been sent home by order of the War Cabinet, who are searching for military scapegoats in order to deflect criticism from themselves. It would have been more just if they had sent themselves home. He was looking uncommonly fit and well, and told me all the story of the 5th Army during the days of March 21-28. His forces were :

8th Army Corps, Butler: 58th, 18th, and 12th Divisions; 2nd and 3rd Cavalry Divisions.

18th Army Corps, Ivor Maxse: 36th, 30th, and 61st Divisions; 20th Division in reserve.

19th Army Corps, Watt: 24th and 66th Divisions, 50th Div. and 1st Cav. Div. in reserve.

7th Army Corps, Congreve; 16th, 21st, and 7th Divisions; 39th Division in reserve.

Total : 14 divisions, about 100,000 rifles, and 1500 guns.

He was reinforced by one more division, the 8th I think, in the evening of the 23rd. He had against him Von Hutier’s 18th Army, with four Army Corps of 40 divisions, of which 23 in first line and 17 in close support, with 3500 guns. These figures are confirmed by our printed G.H.Q. Intelligence Report which he showed to me. Gough’s front extended for 40 miles, and was too thinly held. No more reserves were available for him. His troops were insufficiently trained and rested, and, on an average, only one week’s training had been given to them since Jan. 20, when they took over the line. He had instructions that it would be better to lose ground than men. Also, the reorganisation had only just been completed, and the change from 12 battalions to 9 in all divisions had greatly disturbed people, besides reducing the infantry by 25 per cent, of its strength. He had also reported that the Press attacks on generals were liable to undermine the confidence of the men.

Gough had known for a month that he would probably be attacked, and Petain had been sure he would be ever since Von Hutier’s Army appeared in Gough’s front. Gough had a well- placed outpost line, or forward zone, running from Amigny along the river Oise to Moy, thence west of St. Quentin, and so along the road to Le Catelet. It had strong posts which mutually flanked each other. His battle zone was behind this, running past Tergnier, Essignol, Roupy, Massemy, Hargicourt, Lempire, past Epehy, to the north of Gouzeaucourt, and thence to Metz-en-Couture. He had 11 divisions in front line and 3 in reserve, plus his cavalry. He had never heard such a bombardment as that which opened on him on March 21. There was a dense mist, and
the Boche masses flowed in between his outpost positions, cutting the wire and isolating the posts which were turned and captured, though many held out for long after being surrounded. The firing was all done at 50 yards, and no mutual support was possible. On the Oise front the enemy prepared bridges and rafts overnight. The two months of dry weather had made all the marshes by the river dry. His men had fought well, but by the end of the second day the enemy had broken four gaps in his battle line by taking the fortified points of Tergnier, Essignol-le-Grand, Massemy, and Hargicourt, and he had to decide whether to fight on where he stood and be broken, or to go back fighting. He
chose the latter course, which was in consonance with his instructions and really the only course practicable, as he was overwhelmed by numbers.

After the 8th Division, his first reinforcement was a division sent by Franchet d’Esperey. Then Pelle came up with his Corps, but the French would not place them- selves under his command. Gough claims that his Army, as a whole, was never broken, and that it retained its alignment during the eight days, March 21 to 29. He
lost about 60 per cent, of his strength in killed, wounded, and missing, and some 600 guns. He brought with him some of Maxse’s notes, which mentioned particularly the fine conduct of the 61st Division, under Colin Mackenzie. Maxse mentions the 2nd Wilts and 16th Manchesters of the 30th Division as having heroically resisted five hours of furious bombardment and then the attack of two German divisions. Their H.Q. in the redoubt line were holding out and fighting hard several hours after they were surrounded by masses of the enemy. Several others held their redoubt line till late in the evening, and the division fought steadily back to Moreuil, which it reached on the 29th. The 36th Ulster Division had had three battalions overwhelmed in the forward zone similarly, and men of the 12th Royal Irish were still holding out in the racecourse redoubt after 24 hours of incessant fighting. The 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at Fontaine-les-Clercs repulsed 12 desperate attacks. The retreat was effected in good order, and there were daily rearguard actions. Maxse notes that
some of his artillery served under French generals in the ‘last critical days ‘ of these operations.

One of Gough’s papers gives a German order on Field Strengths, dated Jan. 26 last. This shows infantry battalions to be 870 all ranks, or 1004 with their M.G. com- panies. This is called the Feldstdrke, and the term * fighting strength ‘ is no longer to be employed. Evidence shows that in the northern portion of the battle front from the river Sensee to the Cambrai-Bapaume road, 9 miles, there were 9 Boche divisions in line and 8 in reserve. On the front from the Cambrai-Bapaume road to La Vacquerie and La
Fere there were 23 divisions in line and 17 in close reserve. Therefore we were opposed by 61 divisions on the battle front on March 21. A further 22 divisions came up later. It is reported that the Crown Prince’s Group of Armies comprises the Argonne group under the orders of the 16th Corps Staff. This group extends as far east as Varennes.

So far as I can make out from Gough’s account, the retreat of the 5th Army before overwhelming numbers was the only course open after the four holes had been punched in his battle line. He is rather sore at being sent no reserves except the one division. He told me that Haig had told him that he expects to be sent home in a week’s time. Drove Gough down to London. Gough had taken over two Corps from Byng, Dec. 18 ; one Corps front, 18,000 yards, from the French on Jan. 20 ; and the remaining Corps front, 30,000 yards, about Feb. 15.”

Mark Simmons

Private (Acting Lance-Corporal) 27251 2nd/4th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Born in Wendover. Lived in Tring Road. Enlisted at Aylesbury. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Soldiers Died erroneously record his name as Summons. Killed in action 23rd Larch near Prernont

On the I8th of March the battalion took over the Forward Zone between Fayet and Gricourt. C Company took the left front and B the right front. Two platoons of A Company were posted in the road near the Needle. Of the counter-attack companies, two platoons of A and the company HQ were at the Willows (M 28 c 1 5) and D Company and battalion HQ were in Enghien. The next two days were spent in improving the position and sending out patrols to check the German line, as it was considered likely that the attack would begin on the 21st. From 4.30am on the 21st the battalion’s position was heavily shelled, much use being made of gas shells fired onto the keeps and back areas. At 9am, under a heavy smoke barrage, the German infantry attacked. The forward Zone was penetrated and Enghien Redoubt surrounded. D Company and battalion HQ held out here until 4pm, when they attempted to fight their way out. The survivors of the battalion, probably less than 50 men, joined the 2nd/5th Gloucestershire Regiment. Fourteen officers were missing, four missing believed killed and one missing. Five other ranks had been killed, 32 were wounded, 31 wounded and missing and 494 missing. The survivors of the battalion were formed into a composite battalion with the remainder of the Brigade. On the night of the 22nd the composite battalion guarded the bridge-heads on the Somme at Voyennes and Offoy. During the day the regiment lost 1 wounded, 1 wounded and missing and five missing. On the 23rd, when the Brigade rested at Languevoisin and Billancourt, the regiment lost one officer killed and six men wounded.

From his place of burial, well to the east of the battalion’s position on the 21st, it seems lively that he, in fact, died of wounds in German hands on the 23rd, having been wounded and captured on the 21st. Buried in Premont British Cemetery; Plot 3, Row AA, Grave I.

Map of the Front Line March 21st 1918, The First day of the Operation Michael, The German Spring Offensive.

Map Frontline, 21st March 1918, North of St Quentin

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