THE SOMME SECTOR - The Battle of the Ancre. November 1916 Based on extracts from the Regimental War Chronicles of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light infantry Vol 26 1916-1917
lst-8th.-Still in billets at Mailly Maillet. All ranks were kept fairly well employed in working parties, which took from 200 to 300 men daily, with proportion of officers. The weather was for the most part bad, and the trenches and overland tracks became very bad.
On the 7th the 64th reinforcement (43 men) arrived.
November 9th.-Relieved the 24th R.F. on the whole Redan Sector, normal frontage of two battalions, the disposition of companies being: Right Front.-C Company, Captain Littledale. Left Front.- B Company, Captain Peploe.
Support (distributed along Chatham Line).-A Company, Captain Hill.
Headquarters in the Advanced Brigade H.Q. at White City.
The relief began up 6th Avenue about 4 p.m., and was effected without incident. The day was very fine and sunny. The trenches were found to be, on account of the weather, in an appalling condition, in many places impassable, so that traffic was generally overland after dark.
About 9.20 p.m. Captain Peploe was very badly wounded by a sniper (said to be lying out in "No Man's Land ") at quite short range, in the leg near the thigh. This occurred while he was on his way to visit the Bombing Post on the north face of the Redan. He died a few minutes after being wounded while being brought in.
Lieut. V. E. Fanning succeeded to the command of B Company.
November 10th.-Another fine day, the wet condition of the trenches changing to one of heavy sticky mud, which made progress even more difficult. Conference of C.O.'s at Brigade H.Q. at Beaussart at 3 p.m., when was made known the amended Scheme of Operations, now becoming probable.
November 11th.-"X" day (according to the Scheme), or the day next but one before "Z" day (the day of zero).
The Regiment was relieved in the evening by the 2nd H.L.I., and took over the Hotel de Ville area of Mailly Maillet.
November 12th.-"Y" day. The G.O.C. 2nd Division met all C.O.'s at 5th Brigade H.Q. at 10 a.m. The remainder of the day, until the Regiment moved up to the trenches after dark, was spent in equipping, issuing stores, etc.
The Regiment moved off by companies from billets, so as to clear Mailly Maillet by 10.15 p.m., taking up assembly positions as under:- A Company, in Valade Trench, north of 6th Avenue; D Company, thence southwards. These two companies in column of half companies, forming the first two waves of the Regiment in the attack. C Company, in the north end of Mountjoy Trench; B Company, thence southwards towards White City.
All these positions were occupied without incident, the night being singularly quiet, with a thick mist.
Regimental H.Q. moved to join Headquarters with the 24th R.F. in Buster Trench.
November 13th.-"Z" day. All the above preparations were made and dispositions taken up by 3.45 a.m.
Map from "The History of the Second Division"
The following is a summary of Operation Orders :--
Objective.-The 24th R.F. on the left of the 5th Infantry Brigade, having on their right the 2nd H.L.I., and on their left the right battalion of the 6th Infantry Brigade, were to take and consolidate that part of the German Front System opposite to them as far east as a trench referred to as the Green Line.
This was to be attacked by the 24th R.F. in four waves, with the 52nd Light Infantry following in support, ultimately to pass through the 24th R.F. and capture that part, to its front, of a trench referred to as the Yellow Line, but to be prepared to afford all possible support, if and when required, to the 24th R.F.
BRIEF NARRATIVE OF EVENTS. On the 5th Infantry Brigade front, the attack, which began at zero 5.45 a.m., by a short but very heavy bombardment of the German Front Line System, came as a complete surprise to the enemy, and within the Green Line very little (if any) resistance was encountered. Considerable inconvenience and some casualties were, however, caused by a party of about 40 Germans, who remained for nearly 48 hours "unmopped-up" in the German Front Line about the point to which it was intended to dig the Cat Street Tunnel—possibly because they happened to be just at a point of junction between two attacking brigades, for which the troops of neither felt directly responsible.
The thick mist made the keeping of direction very difficult.
Watched from the Chatham Trench near its junction with Buster Trench, the attack appeared to go very well; but soon after dawn it became obvious that on our left it was going far from well.
According to the programme the joint H.Q. of the 24th R.F. and ourselves were to move across to approximately selected position in German lines as soon as definite information was received that the Green Line was taken; but, owing to the uncertainty of the situation on the left, and the ultimate necessity of forming a defensive flank facing northwards, orders were received to delay this move. H.Q. 24th R.F., therefore, remained stationary throughout, i.e., until relieved, and our H.Q. moved forward about midnight, 14th/15th November, to the position approximately selected. Brigade H.Q. had not then moved forward, and did not subsequently do so.
Presumably the failure of the 3rd Division, attacking on the left and north of the 2nd Division, in front of Serre, was responsible for the failure of the 6th Infantry Brigade (on our left) to get forward. Elements of this Brigade, with parts of the 24th R.F. and of the Regiment, combined to form this defensive flank until it was finally taken over on the night of 13th/14th November by the 22nd R. Fusiliers, of the 99th Infantry Brigade in Divisional Reserve.
The Regiment sustained a certain number of casualties in the advance, including Captain Kite, from our own artillery, due to an attempt to follow our barrage too closely; but otherwise the casualties west of the Green Line were inconsiderable.
There was a great deal of bombing of German dugouts west of the Green Line and elsewhere. An officer saw one soldier throw 21 bombs in succession down the steps of a German "Regimental Command Post" in Munich Trench east of the Green Line.
In the advance forward from the Green Line the leading waves appear to have lost direction, and to have wheeled forward northwards in the mist into a communication trench known as Lager Alley, running east and west between the Green and Yellow Lines, and so parallel to the real and correct line of advance. This mistake was discovered, and the Yellow Line was penetrated by elements of all companies who had by now become thoroughly mixed up.
In the Yellow Line no British troops could be found right or left, although on the right, elements of the 17th R.F. had also entered it. These also, however, failed to get touch on either flank, and withdrew.
Considerable fighting ensued in the Yellow Line, in Munich Trench, and in Lager Alley, our forward parties being at one time all but surrounded. After some difficulty and numerous casualties, a withdrawal, covered very well by bombers and Lewis-gunners, was effected to the Green Line, which was consolidated.
On the night of the 15/16th November the 2nd H.L.I, and the 24th R.F. were withdrawn to billets in Bertrancourt, while we and the 17th R.F. returned to the old British Line.
On the afternoon of the 17th November the 17th R.F. and ourselves were withdrawn to billets in Mailly Maillet.
CASUALTIES BETWEEN THE 13th AND 17th NOVEMBER.
November 13th.-- Killed : 2nd Lieut. A. 0. W. Webster-Jones (A Company).
Wounded : Captain W. J. Littledale (C Company), Captain R. B. Kite, M.C. (D Company). Captain N. W. Hill (A Company), accidentally wounded and remaining at duty. 2nd Lieut. F. C. L. A. Lowndes (A Company), 2nd Lieut. O. H. M. Sturges (B Company), 2nd Lieut. H. Vernon (C Company). 2nd Lieut. T. A. Ionides (died of wounds on the 16th).
Missing : 2nd Lieut. H. Davies (C Company), 2nd Lieut. R. A. Creswell (D Company), 2nd Lieut. J. D. C. Holland (D Company), known to be severely wounded.
November 14th.—Killed : Lieut. V. E. Fanning (B Company).
November 15th.—Killed: Captain H. W. H. Rawson.
Total casualties during the period : 13 officers and 235 other ranks, of whom 10 were killed, 149 wounded, and 76 missing.
View across Redan Ridge from Redan Ridge Cemetery No2. 2OBLI casualties lie in all three of these cemeteries.
This was the area reached and held by the 52nd 13-14 November 1916
1. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, 1916-17. Vol 26 : compiled and edited by Lieut.-Colonel A.F. Mockler-Ferryman: London : Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1918
2. History of the Second Division 1914-1918: Everard Wyrall: London : Thomas Nelson and Sons 1921