BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
OPENING OPERATIONS OF THE GREAT BRITISH ADVANCE.
Secret. 5TH Infantry Brigade Order No. 318.
1.General Plan. (a) VIth Corps is to capture the Ablainzeville-Moyenneville Spur on a date which has been notified to all concerned. This attack is to be carried out by the 2nd Division on the right and the Guards Division on the left.
(b) If the above operation is successful, 3rd Division (passing through 2nd Division) on the right and Guards Division on the left are to capture the line Arras-Albert Railway.
(c) On the capture of the Railway, Cavalry and Tanks are to exploit the success in the general direction of Bapaume.
Guards Division and 3rd Division are to occupy and consolidate any ground gained by the Cavalry and Tanks in front of them.
2. The attack is to be carried out by the 99th Infantry Brigade and 2nd Guards Brigade.
3. (a) The 5th Infantry Brigade will be attached to the Guard Division for the operation, and will be in Divisional Reserve. (b) It will be prepared for either of the following alternatives :— (i) In the event of a great success, to assist in covering the left of the advance by coming in between the 2nd Guards Brigade and the 3rd Division, (ii) To relieve the 2nd Guards Brigade on the second night after the attack.
4. The 52nd Light Infantry will hold itself in readiness to move forward immediately on receipt of orders to support 2nd Guards Brigade.
5. Battalions of the 5th Infantry Brigade will be prepared to move in the following order for either of the alternatives in para. 3(b):-- 1.The 2nd Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry. 2.The 2nd Highland Light Infantry. 3.The 24th Royal Fusiliers.
6.Concentration. The concentration and assembly will be carried out after dark on the night preceding the attack.
Orders will be issued later regarding the assembly of the 5th Infantry Brigade.
7.Headquarters :-- 2nd Guards Brigade. Brigade H.Q.—Hendecourt X.17.a.14. Right Battalion.—Bank at S.26.c.7.5. Left Battalion.—Egret Support. Reserve Battalion.—Boiry, S.20.a.8.5.
5th Infantry Brigade. Brigade H.Q.—W.23.c.1.9. 24th Royal Fusiliers—X.19.c.8.2. Battalion H.Q. for remaining Battalions and H.Q. of 5th T.M. Battery will be notified later.
8. Zero Hour will be notified separately.
Acknowledge. E. J. de C. Boys, Major, Brigade Major, 5th Infantry Brigade. 20th August 1918. Issued at 12.45 p.m. secret.
ADDENDUM No. 1 TO 5th INFANTRY BRIGADE ORDER No. 318. 1. In continuation of Order No. 318, concentration of 52nd Light Infantry and 2nd Highland Light Infantry will be carried out as follows :-- 52nd Light Infantry.—From Front Line to Hameau Switch. East of Ransart-Adinfer road. To move at 3.30 a.m., and to be clear by 5. a.m.
2nd Highland Light Infantry.—Battalion H.Q. and 1 company from Front Line to Billy's Bank. 3 companies from Front Line to Hameau Switch. West of Ransart-Adinfer road. To move at 3.30 a.m. and to be clear by 5 a.m.
2. After withdrawal from the Front Line, units of the 5th Infantry Brigade will be disposed as follows :-- 24th Royal Fusiliers.—No change.
52nd Light Infantry.—H.Q., Hameau Farm, X.20.d.2.0. 4 Companies, Hameau Switch. Front and Support Lines east of Adinfer-Ransart road.
2nd Highland Light Infantry.—H.Q., X.27. to 8.2, and 1 company Billy's Bank. 3 Companies, Hameau Switch. Front arid Support Lines west of Adinfer-Rarisart road. 5th T.M. Battery.—In shelters W.23.a, 5th Brigade Headquarters.—W.23.C.1.9.
3. Battalions in the line will send out patrols as usual up to the time of Withdrawal.
4. During the operation the following signals between Tanks and Infantry will be used :-- (a) Infantry to Tanks.—Helmet on rifle pointed in direction required = Tank wanted. (b) Tanks to Infantry.--Red and Yellow Flag = Broken down. Go on. Green and White Flag = Come on. Red White and Blue Flag = British Tank coming back to rally.
5. A contact aeroplane will call for flares at the following hours : zero plus 1 hour, zero plus 3 hours, zero plus 5 hours, zero plus 7 hours.
The signal to denote the assembly of the enemy for counter-attack is the dropping of a red smoke bomb over the place where the enemy are seen.
6. Arrangements are to be made by the C.R.E. Guards Division to open the following roads for traffic as soon as possible :-- (a) Adinfer-Ayette-Moyenneville; (b) Boiry-Aerodrome in S.26.C.- Junction with Ayette-Moyenneville road in A.2.a.; (c) Boiry-Moyenneville.
7. Completion of withdrawal will be reported by the code word " Ball."
E.J. de C. Boys, Major, Brigade Major, 5th Infantry Brigade.
Acknowledge. 20th August 1918. Issued at 7.45 p.m.
Portions of the above orders were given verbally, by the Brigadier General to the O.C. 52nd and O.C. H.L.I., at H.Q. Right Battalion. Zero hour was to be 4.55 a.m. tomorrow (21st August).
Lieut.-Colonel R. B. Crosse, D.S.O., then drafted the following Regimental Order :-- Secret (to be communicated to officers only, until after 4.30 a.m. tomorrow).
Tonight the front held by the 5th Infantry Brigade (2nd H.L.I, on the right, and 52nd on the left) will be taken over by the 2nd Guards Brigade, who, in conjunction with the 99th Infantry Brigade, will make an attack on the front dawn.
Tanks will co-operate, and the objectives will be : (1) Moyblain Trench, (2) the Courcelles Ridge. The whole will be an operation subsidiary to the main one which extends for many miles south of us, and of which the part on our front is as under :--
The 3rd Division, now behind us, will pass through the 2nd, and the Guards Divisions on the objective (2) above, and, with the assistance of Tanks, will take the main line of railway east of it. Cavalry and Light Tanks will then break all further resistance.
After relief tonight, the 5th Infantry Brigade, which comes under the Guards Division, will be distributed as under :—24th R.F. in normal position of Reserve Battalion; 52nd and 2nd H.L.I, in Hameau area. Inter-battalion boundary as already given out.
A state of instant readiness to move will prevail from zero hour onwards. Brigade H.Q. as at present. The Brigade may or may not be required, and it will act according to circumstances, if at all.
Rations will be delivered to new positions of companies. One limber will report to each company in present positions, to take all stores, etc., to new positions. H.Q. will use D Company's limber, which must call at H.Q. Two G.S. wagons will come to the Support Company to collect and remove greatcoats of A, C, and D Companies, and will call at H.Q. and B Company for theirs. Front companies must carry coats in bundles to Support Company. Further details when known.
R. Crosse, Lt.-Col., 20.viii.18. Comg. 52nd Light Infantry.
August 20th -Major Field, M.C., Lieut. Horley, and N.C.O.'s (representatives of O.C.'s companies) proceeded during the afternoon to reconnoitre the Hameau area, and allot accommodation to companies; and the move was effected about 3.5 a.m. (21st) without incident, Regimental H.Q. being still on the move at zero hour. H.Q. finally established at Hameau Farm, and a forward echelon of transport, limbers, cookers, and watercarts brought to a valley just in rear of the companies. Greatcoats were sent to Pommier in section bundles. An extra bandolier per man was issued, and rations and water brought up.
August 21st.-The 5th Infantry Brigade was attached to the Guards Division, and was placed in Divisional Reserve, and the Regiment was warned to be ready to move immediately, to act in one of the alternate ways mentioned in Brigade Order 318.
About 10 a.m. orders were received to proceed to a position of readiness on the Ayette-Moyenneville road, so as to move farther forward or to a flank, if required by the G.O.C. Guards Division. The move to the position of readiness was completed in the early afternoon, Regimental H.Q. being established at the H.Q. of the Right Company of the Right Battalion in what had been the Left Brigade Front of the 2nd Division in the British line prior to zero hour today. The day was exceedingly hot, and the heat, combined with the absence of shade, was very trying to all ranks; it was very pleasant, therefore, later in the afternoon, to receive the order to re-occupy the old front line on the Brigade front, for the purpose of better shelter. Accordingly, the move was carried out, rations and water brought up, and every one settled down to a good night's rest, from which we were not disturbed. The novel situation of being in the front line of so many months, and without having to observe the accustomed precautions and stand to arms—a dismal rite long associated with dawn in this area, appealed to the troops, and amused then to no small extent.
August 22nd.-Ordered to move back to the Reserve Battalion area. The move and settling in in the heat of the day were arduous and exhausting. Soon after 10 p.m. a Brigade Warning Order was received as follows :--
1. The 2nd Division is to attack from the Moyenneville-Achiet-le-Grand Railway Line tomorrow morning.
5th Infantry Brigade to capture Behagnies and Sapignies. 6th Infantry Brigade, Ervillers.
Two battalions 99th Infantry Brigade will protect southern flank of 5th Infantry Brigade.
Operation Order with details of attack will follow.
2. The 5th Infantry Brigade will concentrate tonight as follows:-- 2nd Highland L.I..-N.W. of Moyblain Trench—A.B.b.3.045. to F.l8.c.10.00. 24th Royal Fusiliers.-On a line parallel to 2nd Highland L.I., and 400 yards N.W. of H.L.I, position. 52nd Light Infantry.-Fox Trench in F.I6., or nearest suitable ground.
5th Infantry Brigade H.Q.—F.16.d.80.80. (with 99th Infantry Brigade). First Line Transport.-0ld Brigade H.Q. at W.23.c.1.9.
Moves will be made as soon as possible after receipt of these orders, and arrival reports with positions of Battalion H.Q. will be despatched when in position to F. 16.d.80.80.
Owing to gas shelling all valleys, Moyblain Trench and the derelict huts in F.l7.d. will be avoided.
3. The following will be taken by each soldier :-- One white Very light, one white ground flare, one extra bandolier, and two days' meat and biscuits. Economy in water is to be urged on the troops by all officers.
4. O.C. 24th Royal Fusiliers will detail Major Knust, M.C. to report to Brigade H.Q. as liaison officer between Brigade and Division.
Battalions will detail one junior officer each for liaison between Battalions and Brigade, to remain with Battalions, and be prepared to report the situation to Brigade H.Q. when sufficient details are forthcoming.
Acknowledge. E. J. be C. Boys, Major,. Brigade Major, 5th Infantry Brigade. 22nd August 1918
Action was taken on the above order. Another day's rations were brought up by the Quartermaster, Major Field, M.C., having previously ridden up to find out our situation.
August 23rd.-The move was completed by about 2 a.m. The final order (No. 319, as below) was not received until about 4.40 a.m. in the new positions, but no great inconvenience was thereby caused, and nearly everyone was able to get several hours' early morning sleep before explanations had to begin, and it was not necessary to move the Regiment forward until 10 a.m.
Secret. 5th Infantry Brigade Order No. 319.
Map Reference : Ervillers Special Sheet, 1/20,000. 22nd August 1918.
1. 3rd Division is attacking Gomiecourt in the early morning August 22nd/23rd. 52nd, 56th, and Guards Divisions are attacking Boiry Becquerelle, Boyelle, and Hamelincourt at 4.45 a.m. on August 23rd.
If the attack of the 3rd Division on Gomiecourt is successful, 2nd Division will attack Behagnies and Ervillers, and 37th Division IVth Corps will attack Achiet-le-Grand and Bihucourt.
2. Guards Division has been ordered to keep touch with left of 2nd Division during attack. Boundary, Gridline between A..12. and A.18., B.7., and B.13.
3. 2nd Division will attack as follows :-- 5th Brigade Objective,Behagnies and Sapignies; 6th Brigade Objective, Ervillers.
5th and 6th Brigades will pass through these villages and consolidate the eastern side at least 200 yards clear of the villages. 99th Brigade with 2 battalions will occupy the ridge running between Sapignies and Bihucourt, protecting the right flank of the 5th Brigade and getting touch with troops of 37th Division which are attacking Bihucourt.
4. 2nd Highland Light Infantry will lead and capture Behagnies. 24th Royal Fusiliers will follow 2nd H.L.I, at a distance of 500 yards and capture Sapignies., 52nd Light Infantry will follow 24th R.F. at a distance of 1,200 yards, and come into a reserve position at G.6.a. about Railway Line.
5. Battalions will move to attack on a two company frontage of 700 yards.
At 8 a.m. 2nd H.L.I, will assemble with their right on Ablainze-ville Courcelles road at A.19.b.50.25. and left on Courcelles Alley at A.14.c.40.40.
24th R.F. and 52nd Light Infantry will keep touch with 2nd H.L.I. and follow at the given distances.
6. The right of the attack will direct and move on line A. 19.b.50.25.—A.22.d.20.60. (Arras-Bapaume railway), skirting north edge of Gomiecourt; thence south-east on to respective objectives.
7. Two sections A Company 2nd M.G. Battalion have been allotted to the Brigade :—One section as guns of opportunity, 2 guns with 2nd H.L.I., and 2 guns with 24th R.F.; one section reserve with 52nd Light Infantry.
8. Ten Whippet Tanks of 6th Battalion under Captain Chapman will work with 5th Brigade.
The Tanks will move just south of Gomiecourt after crossing Gomiecourt-Sapignies road, and will act as an advanced guard to battalions with special attention to the right flank. Three will pass north of Behagnies, three between Behagnies and Sapignies, and four will pass south of Sapignies.
9. The leading line of 2nd H.L.I, will cross the Arras-Bapaume railway at zero hour.
10. Zero hour will be 11 a.m. 23rd August.
11. (a) At zero hour the Field Artillery barrage will be put down on approximately the line G.5.a.8.6.—A.30.b.0.4.—A.17.d.6.9.—A.11.d.6.0.
The barrage will then lift approximately 300 yards every two minutes.
On reaching the villages of Ervillers, Behagnies, and Sapignies, the barrage will dwell, lifting off the villages as follows :—Ervillers at zero plus 70 minute ; Behagnies at zero plus 2 hours; Sapignies at zero plus 2 ½ hours.
There will be no standing barrage between the villages. After lifting, the artillery will form a protective barrage to the east of the villages.
(b) Heavy Artillery will bombard the villages and selected points to the east.
12. Headquarters will be as follows: — 2nd Division HQ., F. 9. d. 4. 9.; 5th and 99th Brigades, F.16.d.8.9. ; 6th Brigade, F.11.c.4.6. As the attack moves forward 5th Brigade H.Q. will be established probably at Dorothy Trench (A.27.b.).
13. Advanced lines of troops will indicate their positions by firing white Very lights.
They will use their ground flares instantly when called by Contact Aeroplane.
14. Battalions of 5th Infantry Brigade will acknowledge.
E. J. de C. Boys. Major, Brigade Major, 5th Infantry Brigade.
August 23rd (continued,).- At dawn the 3rd Division was successful in its attack on Gomiecourt, so that it became possible for the second phase to begin, viz. : the 2nd Division to attack, 5th Infantry Brigade on the right, 6th Infantry Brigade on the left, the objectives being the villages named above on the Arras-Bapaume road. The 2nd H.L.I, was to take Behagnies, the 24th R.F., following, were to take Sapignies ; and we were to follow and come into a reserve position.
The leading wave of the 2nd H.L.I, was to cross the Achiet-le-Grand — Arras railway at 11 a.m., the remainder of the Brigade following at the distances laid down.
The advance was under a good artillery barrage, to which the Regiment experienced little or no retaliation until approaching the line north and south through Courcelles-lez-Comte, where shells began to fall among the small columns, or " worms," in which the Regiment had been disposed ; B and C Companies in the front line, right and left respectively, covered off by D and A Companies respectively; Regimental H.Q., in two columns, following slightly in rear of the 2nd Line until nearing Gomiecourt, where a temporary H.Q. was established with a view to finding out the exact situation on the immediate right, i.e., farther south, as it did not appear to be progressing as it should, A pair of scouts, however, brought back more reassuring information, and the advance proceeded, and was carried out in perfect order and steadiness, in spite of the trying shell fire. Short of their objectives the leading battalions were held up by machine-gun fire, and operations locally became stationary. Regimental H.Q. were established in a dugout at Triangle Copse, N.E. of Gomiecourt, arriving at about 1 p.m. Instead of being empty, as was expected, the dugout was found to contain a German medical officer (Guards Reserve Regiment) with his complete staff and bearers, about 50 in all, also several wounded Germans and 9 machine-guns.
This dugout, at the corner of the triangular copse, and clearly marked by the large mound of excavated earth, soon became a target for enemy artillery. Moreover, being under view from the position about the Bapaume-Arras road still held by enemy machine guns, it was soon subjected to shooting of all kinds, and its occupation rendered undesirable.
Towards 1.30 p.m. a shell burst in the entrance of the " verandah " at the top of the dugout stairs, the floor of which was about 6 ft. below ground level and full of men.
At 2.15 p.m. the situation was that the 24th R.F. and 2nd H.L.I, were held up in front of Behagnies, and A Company (Left Support) of the Regiment was in touch with both front companies of the Regiment, as well as with 24th R.F. and 2nd H.L.I., and troops of the 99th Infantry Brigade on the right. The situation remained unaltered until 6 p.m., when the O.C. C Company reported that the 24th R.F. had withdrawn slightly in front of Sapignies. As this move placed three companies of the Regiment in front of the 24th R.F. support company, these companies (A, B, C) were withdrawn to the Sunken Road (A.29.d.—A.SO.c.), the Regiment having been ordered to remain in reserve. Touch was kept throughout, and the fourth company (C) of the Regiment was in position on the high ground about A.24 central. About the time of this withdrawal enemy aeroplanes bombed the Sunken Road, inflicting several casualties on A and D Companies. The remainder of the night passed without any change in the situation. Major G. Field, M.C., arrived at about midnight and took over command from Captain Blagrove. Total casualties about 80.
August 24th.-The day passed quietly, Regimental H.Q. still at Triangle Copse. Casualties, 4 other ranks.
August 25th.-The following extract from a letter, from Major G. Field, M.C., to Lieut.-Colonel R. B. Crosse, D.S.O., in hospital, describes the events of this day : " At 1.30 a.m. on the 25th we got orders for the attack on Sapignies. This is roughly the scheme : 2nd H.L.I, and 24th R.F. were to attack Behagnies, and the Regiment was to follow 800 yards in rear of 24th R.F., whose zero hour was 3.30 a.m. We were to advance to a certain point between the two villages and then wheel round and attack Sapignies. To allow for this our zero hour was 4.30 a.m. Now commenced the troubles. The orders, I have said, arrived at 1 .30 a.m., when the Regiment was situated as follows : B Company, about 300 yards N.E. of H.Q.; A Company, about 400 yards E. of H.Q.; C and D Companies, about 2 miles away, they having relieved the 1st K.R.R.C. (99th Brigade) earlier in the day. I immediately got Blagrove (B Company) and Colvill (A Company) and explained the scheme roughly to them, only having a little time, and sent off a message to Bobby (C Company) and FitzGerald (D Company) to meet me at a certain point to hear the scheme. When I arrived there was no Bobby or FitzGerald; Could not wait, so left an orderly and went on myself to H.Q. 24th R.F. to see Colonel Pipon, and find out the exact forming-up point. " To cut a long story short: A and B Companies got there only just in time to follow at the proper distances from 24th R.F. Bobby's Company (C) arrived at 4.30 a.m., and FitzGerald's (D) at 4.45 a.m. I sent Bobby off to support the two leading companies, and he managed to get to where they had been waiting for the barrage to lift just about the right time, and A and B Companies having gone a little to the right of their proper directions, he was able to go in on their left. The whole three companies then went through the village together, meeting with very little opposition, and were able to establish themselves in the positions which had been ordered by the Brigade. The extraordinary thing is that we only had about 40 casualties in taking the village and in sitting tight afterwards (5 p.m.) through one of the worst barrages I have experienced during this war—all 5.9's, and lasting from 5 p.m. to about 8 p.m. I should have mentioned that, having captured both of these villages, (The 2nd Highland Light Infantry and the 24th Royal Fusiliers rushed into Behagnies while it was still dark, and cleared out the whole village. This enabled the force to get to the rear of Sapignies, which was stormed by the 2nd Oxfords— a battalion with such proud traditions that even now in semi-official documents it is still the 52nd Light Infantry." (Conan Doyle's British Campaign, Vol. 6.)) we were ordered to sit tight, and a brigade of the 62nd Division passed through us at 9 a.m. making for Beugnatre. About 9.30 p.m. we (the 5th Infantry Brigade) began to withdraw into bivouac just S.E. of Courcelles. Our troubles for the day were not over, for we had hardly got clear when a terrific storm came on, and every man got soaked to the skin; but, in spite of it all, the men were splendid, and we eventually got settled into our little cubby holes by about 1 a.m. (26th)."
The casualties in the day's fighting were :—Officers wounded : Lieuts Neville, M.C., Warren, M.C., FitzCerald, Smith, and 2nd Lieut. Sawers (slightly); other ranks : killed, 5; wounded, 59.
August 26th-31st.-Remained in the same bivouacs, reorganizing and training.
The reinforcements received during the month amounted to 45 other ranks.
1. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, 1917-18. Vol 27 : compiled and edited by Lieut.-Colonel A.F. Mockler-Ferryman Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1919
Map from The History of the Second Division 1914-1918.
2 members of the 52nd who have no known grave from between 23-25 August 1918 are commemorated on this memorial to the missing.
9 men of the 52nd who fell between 23-25 August 1918 are buried in the Gommiecourt South Cemetery.
Pte Bennett of the 52nd who died on 25th August 1918 is buried in the Achiet-Le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension.
2 soldiers of the 52nd who died between 23-25 August 1918 are buried in the Bac-Du-Sud British cemetery.
Pte Hincks of the 52nd who died on 23rd August 1918 is buried in the Bancourt British Cemetery.
2Lt Brown of the 52nd who died on 23rd August 1918 is buried in the Bienvillers Military Cemetery.
2 soldiers of the 52nd who died on 23rd August 1918 are buried in the Douchy-Les-Ayette British Cemetery.
3 soldiers of the 52nd who died between 24th & 26th August are buried in the St Hilaire Communal Cemetery Extension.