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

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1916, NIGHT OF AUGUST 19th / 20th – RAID ON THE GERMAN TRENCHES NEAR SUGAR LOAF

Laventie, Showing The Fauquissart Sector 1916 From the The Story of the 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.

Laventie, Showing The Fauquissart Sector 1916
From the The Story of the 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

At 10 p.m. on August 19 a raid upon the German trenches near the ‘Sugar Loaf’ was carried out by A Company. The raid was part of an elaborate scheme in which the Australians upon the left and the 2/5th Gloucesters on our own front co-operated. The leading bombing party, which Bennett sent forward under Sergeant Hinton, quickly succeeded in reaching the German parapet and was doing well, when a Mills bomb, dropped or inaccurately thrown, fell amongst the men. The plan was spoilt. A miniature panic ensued, which Bennett and his Sergeant-Major found it difficult to check. As in many raids, a message to retire was passed [1]. The wounded were safely brought in by Bennett, whose control and leadership were worthy of a luckier enterprise.

[1] [Footnote 1: A failure of this kind was far less due to any indetermination of the men than to the complex nature of the scheme, which any misadventure was capable of upsetting. On the occasion the ‘order to retire’ was said to have been of German manufacture, but such explanation deserved a grain of salt. Owing to the danger of its unauthorised use, the word ‘retire’ was prohibited by Army orders.]

From The Story of the 2/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.

During this tour of duty C Company made a raid on the night 19th / 20th August.

The rough outline of the trenches that were raided was an inverted T, affront trench of some eighty yards with a communication trench running back from the center.

The raiding party was divided into six sections: two were to act as flank guard; a third was to be the covering party, and was detailed to take up its position on the parapet of the German front line trench at the same point and to work respectively right, left and up the communication trench. The signal for the attack was to be the fist shot from the artillery which, it had been arranged, would open fire on the enemy’s support line and shorten to the front line immediately after the raiders had evacuated the trenches.

Two novelties were introduced into the plan. Firstly the raid was to be made on the same night and an hour or so after a similar operation had been carried out on exactly the same sector by another battalion. Secondly, the preliminary bombardment was to be dispensed with.

In these ways it was hoped to take the enemy by surprise – and this indeed proved to be the case……

In preparation for the raid the Company spent the previous fortnight behind the lines. Each day the attack was rehearsed on some disused trenches which approximately resembled the plan of those to be raided. Each night No Man’s land was carefully reconnoitered………..

Despite the hope that that the war might end on August 18th, the fateful day rolled round (19th). The raiders trudged up to the frontline about 10 p.m. and spent a desultory hour or so quaffing rum and blackening hands and faces. At about 12.45 a.m. they moved out into No Man’s L, and the various sections took up their allotted positions, the three that were to enter the trenches and the covering party, lying down in a ditch which ran nearly parallel to the German line and about forty yards from it……

Everything was depressingly quiet, as is usually the case just before a raid. A light mist hanging over the scene lent an eeriness to the picture: an occasional Verey light alone relieved the darkness; nothing was so audible as one’s breathing; the merest whisper jarred.

Thus they waited. Some dozed nonchalantly; some watched the luminous hand moving slowly yet inexorably towards the hour of zero. One minute still to go – thirty seconds – fifteen – ten! There was a slight brazing of limbs. Suddenly – a sound from far behind – faint, but unmistakable – the guns had opened fire. The raiders rose up and, rushing towards the German trenches, reached them as the first shell burst on the support line. What a moment ago, might have been a meadow outlying some English village, was now a caldron of flames and metal. The night air was riven by screaming shells; hundreds of Verey lights transmuted the darkness into a dazzling carnival; the quivering gun flashes from the German counter-barrage illuminated the distant sky-line; rat-tat-tat of innumerable Vickers guns, the muffled explosion of bombs; the ear-piercing bursts of the 4.9s completed the transformation. The enemy was taken completely by surprise, as is shown by the fact that the first sentry whom the raiders encountered was still looking out over No Man’s Land and was bayonetted through the back. Dugouts were bombed as well as several of the enemy who were endeavoring to escape.

The battle was at its height when  shell from one of our batteries, falling short, burst in the fire bay close to one of the raiding sections. A certain amount of disorganization resulted and taking advantage of the occasion, some cute German shouted “Retire.” The raiders, taking the order to be a genuine on, immediately scrambled out of the German lines. The guns almost at the same time shortened their range on to the enemy’s front line, so that the mistake was of little consequence.

It had been prearranged that the sections would reassemble in the ditch from which the attack started, the flankers naturally remaining where they were. This was done in order that the party on returning might not get caught by the German barrage which was then falling heavily on the Battalion’s front line. Only one member of the entire party disregarded the precaution and unfortunately was killed just before he reached the safety of his own trenches. The rest remained out in No Man’s Land for forty or fifty minutes while the shells from both sides hissed and shrieked overhead. Eventually the British Artillery barrage died down and ceased and the German guns followed suit in a few minutes. When all was quiet again, the party walked back to its trenches without sustaining a single casualty on the journey.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-08-19
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Fauquissart
Entry Quiet day – Wire cutting by our Artillery and TM’s 9.30 – 9.45pm and 10pm – 1230pm. Two small Raids were carried out on our Right Centre front. The first took place after Artillery preparation at PM by one company of 2/4th OXFORD and BUCKS LI. The second raid was upon the same front without Artillery preparation at AM (20/8/16) by one Company of 2/5 GLOSTERS. Wire was found to be cut and the second Raiding Party entered Enemy Trenches and inflicted loss on enemy with Bombs and Bayonet. Both Raiding Parties suffered slight casualties only. (2nd/Lt S WHITWORTH, 6th Manchesters joined Bn)

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1916, JULY 19th – THE BATTLE OF FROMELLES

The Battle of Fromelles – Order of Battle for British and German forces.

The Battle of Fromelles – Order of Battle for British and German forces.

Extracted From The Regimental Chronicles of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

The 61st Division were to attack on the line from Bedford Row to Bond Street, the 184th Brigade on the front from Sutherland Avenue exclusive to Bond Street inclusive, the 183rd Brigade were on the right, and the Australian Division on the left.

The 2/1st Bucks and the 2/4th Berks were in the trenches and were to make the attack, one Company (C) of  the Battalion was in immediate reserve just north of the Rue Tilleloy, and the remainder of the Battalion remained in reserve at their billets. Owing to a misunderstanding of orders, a platoon of C Company, which was destined to carry trench-mortar ammunition across No Man’s Land after the attack had been established in the enemy’s trenches, was kept in the front line and suffered very heavily in the bombardment. An intense bombardment was kept up from 11 a.m. till 6p.m., when the assault was delivered, but owing to the machine-gun fire of the enemy the assaulting Battalion could not get across No Man’s Land and suffered very heavy losses.

About 7 p.m. the Battalion was loaded on to motor-buses and moved up towards the firing-line, and was sent up to take over the line held by the Berks and the Bucks. The relief was completed by 11, and at 11.30 the C.O., who had been ordered to remain at the Battle Headquarters, received orders to organize an attack with two companies on the Sugar Loaf, being told that he would find a party of Engineers with consolidating material at a certain point for which he was to provide a carrying company.

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

This harassing warfare had a crisis in July. The operations of July 19, which were shared with the 61st Division by the 5th Australian holding trenches further north, were designed as a demonstration to assist our attack upon the Somme and to hold opposite to the XI Corps certain German reserves, which, it was feared, would entrain at Lille and be sent south. That object was achieved, but at the cost of severe casualties to the divisions engaged, which were launched in daylight after artillery preparation, which results proved to have been inadequate, against a trench-system strongly manned and garrisoned by very numerous machine-guns. The objectives assigned to the 61st Division were not captured, while the Australians further north, after entering the German trenches and taking prisoners, though they held on tenaciously under heavy counter-attacks, were eventually forced to withdraw. ‘The staff work,’ said the farewell message from the XI Corps to the 61st Division three months later, ‘for these operations was excellent.’ Men and officers alike did their utmost to make the attack of July 19 a success, and it behoves all to remember the sacrifice of those who fell with appropriate gratitude. It was probably the last occasion on which large parties of storming infantry were sent forward through ‘sally ports.’ The Battalion was in reserve for the attack. C Company, which formed a carrying party during the fighting, lost rather heavily, but the rest of the Battalion, though moved hither and thither under heavy shelling, suffered few casualties. When the battle was over, companies relieved part of the line and held the trenches until normal conditions returned.

 KILLED IN ACTION JULY 19th 1916

3560 Lance Sergeant Arthur Lunn

Corporal Reginald Harding

5417 Private Frederick William Bateman

5148 Private Charles Bryden

202028 Private Sidney Butler

2990 Private George Jones

6736 Private William John Jones (Formerly 1347, Welsh Regt.)

4317 Private George Edward L. Simpson

4167 Private William Arthur Taylor

3022 Private George Tolley

From the War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-07-19

Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Location France, Laventie

Entry Artillery preparation opened at 11am attack at 6pm 2/1 BUCKS on our LEFT. AUSTRALIAN Division on Left of 2/1 BUCKS. 183rd Bde on our Right and 182nd Bde on Right of 183rd Bde, 8th and 61st Divisional Artillery behind our lines. Casualties Officers 3 Killed (Lt Col J H BEER, 2/Lieut G S ABBOTT and 2/Lieut F C D WILLIAMS) and 2 wounded (Major T SHIELDS and 2/Lieut D R GIBSON). Other ranks 35K, 115W and 8 Shell Shock. Bn relieved by 2/4 OXFORD and BUCKS LI at 1030pm. Marched back into billets at RUE DE LA LYS (G.27.c.2.2 1/2).

184 Infantry Brigade Report on Operations, 19th/20th July 1916

The following details are extracted from a great Web site: http://www.purley.eu/H142.htm. The site details the operations of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment, but within it is contained a wide range of information on the 184th Brigade and the Battalions that made up the Brigade.

“On the 19th July the Brigade (with 183rd Brigade on our right and the 15th Australian Brigade on our left) was ordered to attack, capture and hold with two battalions (2/1 Bucks and 2/4 Royal Berks) the German Front and Support Lines from N 14 a 60. 25 to N 8 d 95. 10. – Two Companies of the 2/4 Oxfords were placed at the disposal of the Brigadier to occupy our front Line in the event of all Companies in the Assaulting Battalions being absorbed in the same: the 2/5 Glosters and remaining two Companies of 2/4 Oxfords were in Divisional Reserve.

The following were also placed at the disposal of the Brigadier: 3rd Field Company R.E. and ‘B’ Company 1/5th Duke of Cornwall’s L.I (Pioneers)

By 9.0.a.m. the Brigade was disposed, in accordance with orders. (vide Sketch No.1).

2 Vickers Machine Guns were posted in the front Line in support of the attack, 4 Vickers Machine Guns were detailed to follow the Assaulting Companies on the positions being captured. 6 Vickers Guns were detailed for indirect fire from vicinity of JOCKS LODGE. Owing to the difficulty of coming within effective range, only one Stokes Mortar was detained to bombard the SUGAR LOAF, it was arranged for 4 Stokes Mortars to follow the Assaulting Companies.

The Assaulting Companies No. 1 & No. 2 were ordered to attack in 4 waves at 20 yards distance.

The 3rd Company was to follow as soon as the position was reported captured, carrying consolidating material. Each
consolidating Company had 4 R.E. and 4 Pioneers detailed to accompany same – An R.E. and a Pioneer officer were also
detailed to supervise work of consolidation.

A portion of Reserve Companies were ordered to carry across NO MAN’S LAND reserve bombs and S.A.A.

Arrangements were made for a party of 3rd Australian Mining Company, under Major Coulter, to blow up, by means of an
ammonal pipe, a continuation of the RHONDDA SAP, after this had been effected for the Pioneer Company attached to the Brigade to dig a communication trench between N 8.d. 25. 15 on the SUGAR LOAF to the RHONDDA SAP – parties working from both sides.

Diary of Events (11. a.m. to 6. p.m.)

11. a.m. Our Artillery opened fire

11.50.a.m. Reported that enemy had shelled our Left Sub-section heavily – some casualties.

12.55 p.m. Report received that enemy’s Artillery fire had diminished slightly – A few salvos on RUE DE TILLELOY

1.20. PM. Report received ROTTEN ROW Communication Trench heavily shelled by 77 mm.

2.10.p.m. Report received that our Support Trenches were heavily shelled with H.E.

2.30.p.m. Telephonic communication with Front Line temporarily severed

2.44.p.m. Enemy firing 103 c.m. on BOND ST Communication Trench

3.25.p.m. The whole sectional Front heavily shelled. Communication effected by Runners

4.24 p.m. Our C.T’s. heavily shelled -BOND ST Communication Trench & PICANTIN AVENUE especially

5.15.p.m.Damage to our Front Line Parapet very severe (numerous casualties)

5.30.p.m. Owing to heavy casualties in Assaulting Companies of both battalions I gave orders for 2 platoons from reserve
Companies to reinforce former – the consolidating companies to be left intact.

6.00.p.m. Communication by telephone with Front Line re-established by laying an additional line from Advanced Battalion H.Q.

Up to 5.30.pm.owing chiefly to the crowded condition of our Front Line Trenches, considerable casualties had taken place,
amounting to 100 killed and wounded in 2/Bucks and 40 killed and wounded in the 4/Royal Berks. This necessitated reorganisation of the Assaulting and consolidating Companies.

At 5.45 p.m. on the right 4/Royal Berks commenced to file out through 2 Sally Ports. On emerging from same they encountered severe Machine Gun Fire – numerous casualties ensued. A certain proportion of the Right Company got through the Sally Ports but only in scattered parties – some of whom are reported to have reached the German wire but, beingunsupported and under heavy machine gun fire and shrapnel fire, were compelled to fall back, they reported that the Germanwire at X 20, X 21 was uncut. A few men only of the left company, 4/Royal Berks got through the Sally Port under heavy Machine Gun fire but failed to advance any appreciable distance. Whilst directing these men from the parapet Lt. Col. J N Beer was killed. Several officers were killed and wounded in endeavouring to initiate an organised forward movement.

At 5.40.pm. the 2/Bucks commenced to file through the Sally Ports but, owing to severe Machine Gun fire directed at the latter,
Lt. Col Williams decided to utilise the Rhondda Sap. This was carried out and the 2 Assaulting Companies were successfully
deployed from head of same., they were however subjected to heavy Machine Gun and shrapnel fire and a certain number of
casualties occurred, whilst waves were getting into position.

At 6.0.p.m punctually the 2/Bucks advanced to the Assault, a withering Machine Gun fire was encountered which mowed down
a large proportion of men, especially with the Right Company. A portion of Capt. Church’s Company on the left pressed through the enemy’s wire on the N.E. face of the Sugar Loaf and fierce fighting was seen to take place on the parapet. A good proportion of this Company, ably led by Captain Church (who was killed just before the glacis (sic) to enemy’s breastworks) got into the Germans trenches. (This has been substantiated by reports from the Right Battalion of the 15thAustralian Brigade)

Owing to the 4/Royal Berks having been driven back on their Right and the same thing having occurred to the Right Battalion
of the 15th Australian Brigade on their left, this lack of support on their flanks seriously impaired what chances the 2/1st Bucks
had of capturing the SUGAR LOAF. The C.O. is of the opinion (with which I concur) that if 2 Reserve Companies had been available at this period fro throwing into the assault, a substantial lodgement would undoubtedly been effected in the SUGAR LOAF. 61 missing N.C.O’s and men in this Battalion testifies to the belief that a considerable proportion of the Left Company of this Battalion got into the German Trenches.

Owing to want of support and heavy casualties the 2/1st Bucks were compelled to effect a withdrawal In accordance with orders,
C.O.s, 2/4 R.Berks and 2/1st Bucks then reorganised their battalions with the view to launching a second attack.

During the enemy bombardment shells emitting a dense column of light green smoke were observable in the vicinity of the Red House (Regimental First Aid Post)

At 6.0.p.m the 1/8 Cornwall’s left the Assembly trenches and proceeded to the Rhondda Gap and started improving it.

184 Machine Gun Company – The Machine Gun company fired 30,000 rounds with indirect fire and supporting the Infantry
attack. 3 of their guns were put out of action by bullets. They endeavoured to silence the enemy’s guns.

184 Light Trench Mortars – The one gun in the Front Line at 4.30. pm. fired 30 rounds on the SUGAR LOAF obtaining direct
hits.
Communications were maintained throughout the Operations from Brigade and Battalion H.Q. From Battalion H.Q. to the Front
Line they were cut between 2 and 3.p.m. but were re-established by 6,0.p.m. Runners were employed and were most satisfactory.”

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