NARRATIVE OF OPERATIONS ROUND GAVRELLE 28th APRIL TO 4th MAY 1917 18th DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY
NARRATIVE OF OPERATIONS ROUND GAVRELLE 28th APRIL TO 4th MAY 1917
5.15pm. The Battalion moved into some trenches 1000yds S.W. of BAILLEUL as reserve to 63rd R.N. Division, which was then holding the GAVRELLE and OPPY sectors of the front line and which had been engaged in an attack on the enemy.
11.0pm. A Coy moved out to hold HILL 80 (about 1000 yds E. of BAILLEUL) as reserve to 188th Bde which was occupying the GAVRELLE sector. 10 Vickers guns were also on this hill.
5.0pm. The Battalion moved back 1500 yds to near BOIS DE LA MAISON BLANCHE as our casualties had amounted to 5 killed and 18 wounded, mostly owing to the German shelling of the batteries which were now moving into the trenches we occupied.
9.0pm. Every available man and animal was employed the whole night in carrying material up to our forward dumps near GAVRELLE and BAILLEUL.
9.0pm. Our Artillery barraged the German lines: the answering German barrage came in 7 minutes. (Our feint barrages had been also carried out at 9.0pm. on May 1st and at 4.0am. May 2nd)
10.30pm. The Battalion moved off for GAVRELLE. Enemy’s artillery actively shelled parts of the road up, but by working round dangerous localities, and by good fortune, we reached the trenches at 1.30am without casualties.
1.30am. A & D Coy’s were in trenches South of GAVRELLE – ARRAS Road and C & B Coy’s North of it.
1.45am. Enemy put fairly heavy barrage on our trenches. Company Commanders good organisation had by this time nearly completed settling down their men and our casualties were few. As the German barrage was mostly on the depleted Front Line Trenches and not on the crowded No Man’s Land, our leading Battalions also lost only a few men.
2.10am. The German barrage had ceased and his rifle and MG fire was dying away.
3.45am. Our barrage opened and was answered by the enemy within 2 minutes.
5.15am. Runner from 16th WEST YORKS brought verbal message for help. B Coy 18th DLI at once ordered to report to Col. CROYDON for orders. Our attack evidently failed.
5.40am. News from Brigade that the enemy had captured WINDMILL and that we were to retake it. C Coy 18th DLI (2Lt HITCHIN DSO) ordered to retake it, after due reconnaissance.
5.50am. Brigade reported 1 Company 12th Y&L had moved off as reinforcements towards trenches North of GAVRELLE on South side of ARRAS – GAVRELLE Road.
6.05am. D Coy DLI moved N. to Bn HQ.
6.30am. Left flank of 16th WYR reported to be in air and counter attack by enemy to be advancing from OPPY WOOD. Col. CROYDEN with about a platoon holding a position near railway line and our attackers were retiring in large bodies. Enemy’s Artillery, MG and rifle fire was very lively, and casualties occurring pretty fast. There was naturally no organisation for the time, excepting the Coy’s of the Support Battalion. (18th DLI).
B Coy 18th DLI was sent off to the West of our trenches to stop a possible hostile turning movement round our left rear, and to detail a platoon as a strong point in some trenches N of railway and N.W. of HILL 80.
D Coy 18th DLI had come up was sent to FLABBY and FLURRY trenches to cover us from the N.E. and N.
A Coy 18th DLI was called up to R. H.Q. (½ Coy as support for B Coy and ½ Coy as reserve at Btn HQ.)
3 MG’s were told off to Col. CROYDON to cover the ground to the N.E. N. & N.W.
2 MG’s were told off for reported commanding positions near where sunken road crosses our trenches S. of railway.
3 MG’s were in reserve at DLI HQ (one of these was later sent to the southern of the so-called ditches S. of ARRAS – GAVRELLE Road)
7.0am. The 3 Commanding Officers met at HQ of 18th WYR and decided as follows:-
Col. CROYDON to organise a defence to the North with the men he had in hand, and such others as were coming in past him.
Col. CARTER to organise any men who passed his HQ and send them under Officers or NCO’s to assist B Coy 18th DLI on the West side of our trenches.
Col. CHEYNE to organise some support for Col. TAYLOR of whom the Bde could give no news.
Col. CROYDON reported that the enemy were systematically shelling southwards down the trench from OPPY and that his men could not live under the terrific explosions which blew the trench to pieces while MG’s on a ridge opposite constantly swept that line of trenches.
Enemy’s fire was still heavy on our trenches which had no depth of system, and the situation was not very bright.
7.30am. C Coy DLI could be seen approaching the MILL in a very soldierly fashion, advancing with bounds and with protective bodies out; one actual attack was seen to be beaten back, but fresh attempts were made by the Company (a separate report of this operation is attached). 50 men 18 WYR and ½ A Coy DLI were in trench west of GAVRELLE and south of GAVRELLE – ARRAS Road in addition to the Company 12th Y&L.
7.55am. Men of E.YORKS REGTS reported to be retiring W. from OPPY corroborated the fact that our left flank was in the air.
8.20am. All wires to Brigade cut.
8.35am. 3 separate messages sent by runners to the Brigade stating that our plans were purely defensive for the moment, and that we proposed holding a large strong point W of NW of GAVRELLE.
8.50am. Telephone to Brigade open again.
9.0am. Lt FINDLAY (B Coy DLI) reported his Company and some 30 details were strongly posted and concealed. That he could not move as a body now that the dust and smoke had cleared off, and that there were no signs of the Germans turning our flanks – the situation seemed easier to the North, so the second half of A Coy DLI was sent to assist Col. TAYLOR’s possible retirement.
Patrol from B Coy DLI out towards OPPY.
9.20am. 2 Coy’s 12th Y&L reported on HILL 80.
9.55am. Liaison Officer at Brigade informed that our Artillery were shelling the WINDMILL keeping C Coy DLI out of it. Things now looked better and re-organisation of odd details begun so as to get them into proper Units.
10.10am. Col. TAYLOR’s message to Brigade asking for help passed through the Battalion telephone. A & D Companies at once sent to him (as a matter of fact they could only dribble a few men at a time across to him by daylight as the ground was under enemy observation and very heavily shelled at each attempt to move up)
11.10am. Patrol reports enemy not advancing from OPPY.
1.10pm. Lt HITCHEN DSO (C Coy) reported capture of the MILL.
3.0pm. Col. CROYDON began to push North towards OPPY with the details he had collected and organised.
5.30pm. A & D Coy’s DLI strongly in position E of GAVRELLE under Col. TAYLOR’s arrangements.
7.0pm. Position now secure as under:-
Col. TAYLOR with A & D Coy’s DLI 3 MG’s and 100 men E and SE of GAVRELLE supported by 1 Coy Y&L and 1 MG South of GAVRELLE – ARRAS Road.
Lt HITCHEN DSO and C Coy holding the MILL.
Lt FINDLAY and B Coy DLI under orders to hold trench just N of GAVRELLE as soon as he could move. Col. CROYDEN with some 200 details and 5 MG’s covering left flank and to NE and reaching to a point well North of Railway.
2 Coy’s Y&L and some Hotchkiss Guns on HILL 80.
1 Coy Y&L in R.C.2
Casualties, 18th DLI 1 Officer, 120 OR’s
(Signed) R.E. CHEYNE, Lt Col.
Commanding. 18th Bn. Durham L.I.
The National Archives Reference WO95/2361/1
REPORT BY 2nd LIEUT. HITCHIN D.S.O. (18th DLI) REPORT BY 2nd LIEUT. HITCHIN D.S.O. (18th DLI)
ON CAPTURE OF WINDMILL – GAVRELLE. 3rd MAY 1917
At 5.30am on 3rd May it was reported that the WINDMILL N.E. of GAVRELLE had been taken by the enemy and 4 Vickers Guns and 2 Stokes Mortars had been knocked out.
I was ordered to take my Company along trenches leading to WINDMILL and retake it. I accordingly took Company along trench as far as C.19.c.10 where trench became so shallow that it was impossible to proceed further without loss.
I here went forward with observer to make reconnaissance, but saw no signs of the enemy at WINDMILL; time did not, however, permit a thorough reconnaissance.
I therefore decided upon a frontal attack and issued the following orders to Platoon Commanders:-
Information about enemy same as in forepart of report.
Information regarding our troops. (Very little) garrison at WINDMILL may probably be holding out.
GROUND. No cover whatever.
OBJECT. To be taken at all costs.
Company will attack in 2 waves with right flank resting on right of house S of WINDMILL.
REPORTS. C.19.c.10 C.T.
Front wave to consist of No 9 Platoon (Sgt ELLIOTT) on the right of No 10 Platoon (Sgt CROSS) on the left (these platoons in 2 ripples.
2nd wave, No 11 Platoon. 2Lt G.F.LEAN in charge of attacking platoons.
3rd wave No 12 Platoon (Sgt CORNFORTH) I kept this platoon in reserve at C.19.c.10 which was the position of my Headquarters.
ZERO. 6.45am. Front platoons extend N & S of trench C.19.c.10 rear waves 75 yards behind.
ZERO (plus 2 minutes) Platoons move forward to assault. 1st bound, Road. 2nd bound, Railway, 3rd bound, WINDMILL.
At time stated the Company moved forward to assault, and the Germans sent up S.O.S. flares from W & SW of WINDMILL, and there was immediate retaliation from No Man’s Land with overhead shrapnel.
The 1st bound was reached with no casualties, but on crossing road a hail of machine gun fire was directed from C.19.c.5.2. approx, C.25.a.9.1. approx., and C.25.b.1.7. We reached Railway where 2Lt LEAN and Company retired on to road and reorganised; they again moved forward as far as Railway but had to retire from machine gun fire. I here reached and took charge of 1st wave. A third attempt was made and we succeeded in getting 50 yards from WINDMILL where we had to halt before final assault.
At this period the enemy began to retire which evidently attracted the attention of our observers, for immediately 4.5 Hows were turned on WINDMILL and our casualties were so heavy that I decided to retire on to Railway, and eventually had to withdraw to Road.
I again re-organised and found I had 50% casualties so decided to get WINDMILL by small fighting patrols, and as the enemy were now in front of WINDMILL, these moved forward as best illustrated in diagram.
No1 moved first, creeping from shell hole to shell hole, and finally stopped at a point previously pointed out from road. On reaching destination every other man of the party sniped whilst the second man consolidated, likewise 2,3,4, & 5 at ½ hr. intervals. The map references of the posts are:- C.19.c.35.40 – C.19.c.50.45 – C.19.c.45.50 – C.19.c.72.45 – and C.19.c.80.35. with the remainder in trench between C.19.c.42.12 and C.19.c.60.15.
At 11.30am the enemy were still holding house S of WINDMILL but were dislodged with rifle bombs.
Our snipers dealt effectively with enemy reinforcing line E of GAVRELLE also men retiring from trench N of WINDMILL.
During the afternoon I undertook a patrol accompanied by Sgt SPURGEON, our objective being reconnaissance of line 80 yards N of WINDMILL. We, however, found 4 Vickers Guns lying in shell holes, and after we had dismounted them they were dragged into small trench 25 yards N of No3 post. They had been taken from this trench by the enemy who failed to get them into his own line. We also found 2 Stokes Mortars in shell holes close by. Snipers were detailed to guard these taking up their positions from shell holes in front of posts, and when dusk fell, the guns were then removed to safety.
I advanced my Headquarters to C.19.c.42.12 and at dusk I strengthened posts by calling on my reserve platoon. A wire was also run from C.19.c.1.0 where we tapped into KEEL, thus doing away with runners to a great extent.
Relieved by 13th Y&L on night 3rd / 4th.
(Signed) H.E. HITCHIN, 2Lt. O.C. ‘C’ Company.
The National Archives Reference WO95/2361/1