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World War 1


Operations after the Battle of Ancre February 1917, WW1

By 18 November 1916, British attacks on The Somme front were stopped by the weather.

In France, the British 32nd Division (V Corps) advanced slightly into unoccupied ground on 2 February near the Beaucourt-Puisieux road and next day Puisieux and River trenches, running north from the Ancre west of Grandcourt were attacked by the 63rd Division.

World War 1

Surprise was attempted, despite moonlight and snow on the ground. Two battalions advanced on a 1,300-yard (1,200 m) front, with one battalion guarding the left flank. Neighbouring divisional artilleries co-operated and a decoy barrage was fired near Pys, on the Fourth Army boundary. Counter-battery fire began on all German batteries in range of the attack at 11:03 a.m. and seven heavy artillery groups bombarded Grandcourt, Baillescourt Farm, Beauregard Dovecote and German trench lines. Direction was lost during the infantry advance but by dawn the wreckage of Puisieux and River trenches had been captured, apart from about 200 yards (180 m) in the centre and posts on either flank. A German counter-attack on the right at 10:30 a.m. recaptured a post and at 4:00 a.m. a second attack was stopped by artillery fire. In the evening another British battalion continued the attack, as German counter-attacks were made all night, which recaptured several posts near the river. The last part of Puisieux Trench was captured in the morning at 11:30 a.m., with 671 British casualties against 176 German prisoners taken. Grandcourt on the south bank of the Ancre had been made untenable and was abandoned by the Germans overnight, which led the British to bring forward an attack on Baillescourt Farm, to late on 7 February by the 63rd Division and captured, along with part of Folly Trench south of Grandcourt, taken by the 18th Division.


A 2nd Division battalion was ordered to prepare a trench raid for the night of 4/5 February. The raiding-party was to have two officers and 60 men with stretcher-bearers, for an attack on a salient at the junction of Guard and Desire Support trenches, to take prisoners or documents, destroy machine-guns, study the state of the trenches and the way the Germans were holding the line. Stokes mortars but no artillery was to be fired before the raid and when it began a box barrage was to be fired to isolate the objective. White suits were provided, in case of snow on the ground and all means of identification were to be removed by the raiders, who were told to give name, rank and number only if captured. A deputy was to be chosen to take over if the raid leader became a casualty. That night the battalion, the 1st Royal Berkshire, was relieved and went into reserve near La Boiselle. Trenches resembling the target were found and used for five day and night rehearsals. The attack was scheduled for 3:00 a.m. on 5 February and the party moved forward to the Miraumont dug-outs at 6:00 p.m. on 2 February. The battalion commander made a reconnaissance and chose the jumping-off position. Three wooden markers, painted black on the British side and white on the German, to mark the centre and flanks of the raiding route were placed in no man's land, about 30 yards (27 m) beyond the British wire.

About 15 minutes before zero hour the party stole forward in pairs, wearing white smocks and helmet-covers and formed two waves 15 yards (14 m) apart at the tripods. Three more tripods had been placed 30–40 yards (27–37 m) further on, to help the raiders keep direction. The Stokes mortars of the 99th Trench Mortar Battery opened fire, one mortar firing rapid at a particular German post at zero and one minute later the divisional artillery began the box-barrage, as the raiding party moved to within 50 yards (46 m) of the objective and lay down. As the Stokes mortars ceased fire the party rushed the German position, through three rows of barbed wire, each 2.5 feet (0.76 m) thick. The first wave moved towards the east side of the salient, then from there to the western face, as the second wave jumped over the trench and ran along the parados, until they saw Germans in the trench near the apex. Several Germans were shot and the rest taken prisoner. After 20 minutes searching dug-outs, the party withdrew with 51 prisoners (including two officers) having smashed a machine-gun and KIA or wounded 14 German soldiers. One raider was KIA and 12 wounded. Another raid was ordered for 8/9 February then postponed until 10 February.


On this raid several Germans were KIA as they retreated and soldiers in four dug-outs were killed with hand-grenades, when they refused to surrender. Seven prisoners were taken and the party of 36 had three KIA, seven wounded and three missing. The Germans retaliated on 12 February, when about 70 men raided the area between posts 9 and 10 and took seven prisoners. Five were found between the posts but machine-gun fire prevented no man's land being searched.


The Fourth and Fifth Army Generals were Douglas Haig, Hubert Gough, Henry Rawlinson and French General Robert Nivelle. Erich Ludendorff was in overall command of the German First Army.

The German withdrawals, due to British pressure in the Ancre valley and then retreats to intermediate defensive positions in the Bapaume salient, two weeks before the scheduled retirement to the Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung) in Operation Alberich.


The Germans then withdrew further on 11 March, forestalling a British attack; the main German withdrawal from the Noyon salient to the Hindenburg Line (Operation Alberich) commenced on schedule on 16 March.

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