From this time onwards his character and judgment bulked larger and larger as one of the factors which made for the success of the Allies. In January Britain gave her last proof of the resolution with which she was waging war. Already she had shown that no question of money could diminish her ardour, for she was imposing direct taxation upon her citizens with a vigour which formed the only solid basis for the credit of the Allies. Neither our foes nor our friends have shown such absolute readiness to pay in hard present cash, that posterity might walk with a straighter back, and many a man was paying a good half of his income to the State.
But now a sacrifice more intimate than that of money had to be made. It was of that personal liberty which is as the very breath of our nostrils. This also was thrown with a sigh into the common cause, and a Military Service Bill was passed by which every citizen from 19 to 41 was liable to be called up.
It is questionable whether it was necessary as yet as a military measure, since the enormous number of 5,, volunteers had come forward, but as an act of justice by which the burden should be equally distributed, and the shirker compelled to his duty, it was possible to justify this radical departure from the customs of our fathers and the instincts of our race. Many who acquiesced in its necessity did so with a heavy heart, feeling how glorious would have been our record had it been possible to bring forward by the stress of duty alone the manhood of the nation.
As a matter of fact, the margin left over was neither numerous nor important, but the energies of the authorities were now released from the incessant strain which the recruiting service had caused. The work of the trenches was made easier for the British by the fact that they had at last reached an equality with, and in many cases a superiority to, their enemy, in the number of their guns, the quantity of their munitions, and the provision of those smaller weapons such as trench mortars and machine-guns which count for so much in this description of warfare.
Their air supremacy which had existed for a long time was threatened during some months by the Fokker machines of the Germans, and by the skill with which their aviators used them, but faster models from England soon restored the balance. There had been a time also when the system and the telescopic sights of the German snipers had given them an ascendancy. Thanks to the labours of various enthusiasts for the rifle, this matter was set right and there were long stretches of the line where no German head could for an instant be shown above the parapet.
The Canadian sector was particularly free from any snipers save their own. The first serious operation of the spring of upon the British line was a determined German attack upon that section which lies between the Ypres-Comines Canal and the Ypres-Comines railway on the extreme south of the Ypres salient; Hill 60 lies to the north of it. In the line of trenches there was one small artificial elevation, not more than thirty feet above the plain.
This was called the Bluff, and was the centre of the attack. It was of very great importance as a point of artillery observation. During the whole of February 13 the bombardment was very severe, and losses were heavy along a front of several miles, the right of which was held by the Seventeenth Division, the centre by the Fiftieth, and the left by the Twenty-fourth. Finally, after many of the trenches had been reduced to dirt heaps five mines were simultaneously sprung under the British front line, each of them of great power.
The explosions were instantly followed by a rush of the German infantry.
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In the neighbourhood of the Bluff, the garrison, consisting at that point of the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers, were nearly all buried or killed. To the north lay the 10th Sherwood Foresters and north of them the 8th South Staffords, whose Colonel, though four times wounded, continued to direct the defence.
It was impossible, however, to hold the whole line, as the Germans had seized the Bluff and were able to enfilade all the trenches of the Sherwoods, who lost twelve officers and several hundred men before they would admit that their position was untenable. The South Staffords being farther off were able to hold on, but the whole front from their right to the canal south of the Bluff was in the hands of the Germans, who had very rapidly and skilfully consolidated it.
A strong counter-attack by the 7th Lincolns and 7th Borders, in which the survivors of the Lancashire Fusiliers took part, had some success, but was unable to permanently regain the lost sector, six hundred yards of which remained with the enemy. A lieutenant, with 40 bombers of the Lincolns, 38 of whom fell, did heroic work. The attack had extended to the north, where it had fallen upon the Fiftieth Division, and to the Twenty-fourth Division upon the left of it.
The Great War - The British Campaign in France and Flanders, Vol. III
Here it was held and eventually repulsed. Of the company of the 9th Sussex who held the extreme left of the line, a large portion were blown up by a mine and forty were actually buried in the crater. Young Lieutenant McNair, however, the officer in charge, showed great energy and presence of mind. He held the Germans from the crater and with the help of another officer, who had rushed up some supports, drove them back to their trenches.
For this McNair received his Victoria Cross. The 3rd Rifle Brigade, a veteran regular battalion, upon the right of the Sussex, had also put up a vigorous resistance, as had the central Fiftieth Division, so that in spite of the sudden severity of the attack it was only at the one point of the Bluff that the enemy had made a lodgment—that point being the real centre of their effort.
They held on strongly to their new possession, and a vigorous fire with several partial attacks during the next fortnight failed to dislodge them. Early in March the matter was taken seriously in hand, for the position was a most important one, and a farther advance at this point would have involved the safety of Ypres.
speedalwhetipdia.tk The Seventeenth Division still held the supporting trenches, and these now became the starting-point for the attack. A considerable artillery concentration was effected, two brigades of guns and two companies of sappers were brought up from the Third Division, and the 76th Brigade of the same Division came up from St.
Omer, where it had been resting, in order to carry out the assault. The general commanding this brigade was in immediate command of the operations. The problem was a most difficult one, as the canal to the south and a marsh upon the north screened the flanks of the new German position, while its front was covered by shell-holes which the tempestuous weather had filled with water. There was nothing for it, however, but a frontal attack, and this was carried out with very great gallantry upon March 2, at in the morning.
The infantry left their trenches in the dark and crept forward undiscovered, dashing into the enemy's line with the first grey glimmer of the dawn. The right of the attack formed by the 2nd Suffolks had their revenge for Le Cateau, for they carried the Bluff itself with a rush. So far forward did they get that a number of Germans emerged from dug-outs in their rear, and were organising a dangerous attack when they were pelted back into their holes by a bombing party.
Beyond the Bluff the Suffolks were faced by six deep shelters for machine-guns, which held them for a time but were eventually captured. The centre battalion consisted of the 8th Royal Lancasters, who lost heavily from rifle fire but charged home with great determination, flooding over the old German front line and their support trenches as well as their immediate objective.
The left battalion in the attack were the 1st Gordon Highlanders, who had a most difficult task, being exposed to the heaviest fire of all. For a moment they were hung up, and then with splendid spirit threw themselves at the hostile trenches again and carried everything before them. They were much helped in this second attack by the supporting battalion, the 7th Lincolns, whose bombers rushed to the front. The 10th Welsh Fusiliers, who were supporting on the right, also did invaluable service by helping to consolidate the Bluff, while the 9th West Ridings on the left held the British front line and repulsed an attempt at a flanking counter-attack.
In spite of several counter-attacks and a very severe bombardment the line now held firm, and the Germans seem to have abandoned all future designs upon this section. They had lost very heavily in the assault, and men with 5 officers remained in the hands of the victors. Some of the German trench taken was found to be untenable, but the 12th West Yorkshires of the 8th Brigade connected up the new position with the old and the salient was held. So ended a well-managed and most successful little fight. Great credit was due to a certain officer, who passed through the terrible German barrage again and again to link up the troops with headquarters.
Extreme gallantry was shown also by the brigade-runners, many of whom lost their lives in the all-important work of preserving communications. Students of armour in the future may be interested to note that this was the first engagement in which British infantry reverted after a hiatus of more than two centuries to the use of helmets.
Dints of shrapnel upon their surfaces proved in many cases that they had been the salvation of their wearers. Several observers have argued that trench warfare implies a special trench equipment, entirely different from that for surface operations. In the middle of March the pressure upon the French at Verdun had become severe, and it was determined to take over a fresh section of Hue so as to relieve troops for the north-eastern frontier.
General Foch's Tenth Army, which had held the sector opposite to Souchez and Lorette, was accordingly drawn out, and twelve miles were added to the British front. A brisk skirmish which occurred in the south about this period is worthy of mention—typical of many smaller affairs the due record of which would swell this chapter to a portentous length.
In this particular instance, a very sudden and severe night attack was directed by the Germans against a post held by the 8th East Surreys of the Eighteenth Division at the points where the British and French lines meet just north of the Somme. This small stronghold, known as Ducks' Post, was at the head of a causeway across a considerable marsh, and possessed a strategic importance out of all proportion to its size. A violent bombardment in the darkness of the early morning of March 20 was followed by an infantry advance, pushed well home.
It was an unnerving experience. Not only did they hold up the attack, but with the early dawn they advanced in turn, driving the Germans back into their trenches and capturing a number of prisoners. The post was strengthened and was firmly held.
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The next episode which claims attention is the prolonged and severe fighting which took place from March 27 onwards at St. Eloi, the scene of so fierce a contest just one year before. A small salient had been formed by the German line at this point ever since its capture, and on this salient was the rising known as the Mound not to be confounded with the Bluff , insignificant in itself since it was only twenty or thirty feet high, but of importance in a war where artillery observation is the very essence of all operations.
It stood just east of the little village of St. This place was known to be very strongly held, so the task of attacking it was handed over to the Third Division, which had already shown at the Bluff that they were adepts at such an attack. After several weeks of energetic preparation, five mines were ready with charges which were so heavy that in one instance 30, pounds of ammonal were employed. The assault was ordered for in the morning of March It was known to be a desperate enterprise and was entrusted to two veteran battalions of regular troops, the 4th Royal Fusiliers and the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers.
A frontal attack was impossible, so it was arranged that the Royals should sweep round the left flank and the Northumberlands the right, while the remaining battalions of the 9th Brigade, the 12th West Yorks and 1st Scots Fusiliers, should be in close support in the centre.
At the appointed hour the mines were exploded with deadly effect, and in the pitch darkness of a cloudy rainy morning the two battalions sprang resolutely forward upon their dangerous venture. The trenches on each flank were carried, and 5 officers with men of the 18th Reserve Jaeger fell into our hands. As usual, however, it was the retention of the captured position which was the more difficult and costly part of the operation.
The Northumberlands had won their way round on the right, but the Fusiliers had been partially held up on the left, so that the position was in some ways difficult and irregular. The guns of the Third Division threw forward so fine a barrage that no German counter-attack could get forward, but all day their fire was very heavy and deadly upon the captured trenches, and also upon the two battalions in support. On the night of the 27th the 9th Brigade was drawn out and the 8th took over the new line, all access to it being impossible save in the darkness, as no communication trenches existed. The situation was complicated by the fact that although the British troops had on the right won their way to the rear of the craters, one of these still contained a German detachment, who held on in a most heroic fashion and could not be dislodged.
On March 30 the situation was still unchanged, and the 76th Brigade was put in to relieve the 8th. The 1st Gordons were now in the line, very wet and weary, but declaring that they would hold the ground at all costs. It was clear that the British line must be extended and that the gallant Germans in the crater must be overwhelmed.
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