Part Two THIRD BATTLE OF IEPER

THIRD BATTLE OF IEPER

Tuesday the 31st of July – Saturday the 10th of November
1917.

Between July 31st and November 10th the British launched
a series of attacks known as the Third Ieper, or more
simply Passchendaele. British troops fought many battles
against the Germans and the elements. The almost constant
rain had turned the battlefield into a sea of mud and
destroyed any hope of a major advance. The initial attack
failed but despite of this further attacks were ordered.

At 3.50.a.m. on Tuesday the 31st of July the 12th Division
of the British army advanced in driving rain. North of Ieper
advances of 2 miles were made and Pilckem Ridge was
captured from the Germans, but further south, around the
Menin road the attack was far less successful. Constant
bombardment in this area had destroyed the drainage
system and water could not run away. Shell holes were
filled with water and everywhere the earth had turned to
mud.
It is said that when Lt-Gen Sir Launcelot Kiggell (Haig’s
Chief of Staff) visited the battlefield for the first time after
the fighting was over and when he saw the conditions he
burst into tears saying “Good God!! Did we really send
men to fight in this?”
By the time that the British finally seized control of
Passcendaele ridge in November their casualties had risen
to over 300,000 and there was no chance of a major
breakthrough.

Following close behind the creeping barrage, “C” and “D”
Companies of the 1st Battalion Worc’s swept forward over
the enemies front and support line trenches. They met little
opposition. The organization of the attack had been careful,
and “mopping up” parties dealt with the enemy dugouts in
quick succession. The existence of a tunnel under the road,
behind the enemy’s lines, had long been known, and it had
been anticipated that it would give much trouble, but in the
event it was captured easily enough, and forty prisoners
were taken.
The ground over which the advancing troops advanced was
a wilderness of shell holes and mud, and intermittent rain
during the previous days had soaked the soil and was
continuing to fall. At the German support trench the two
leading companies called a halt and started to dig in, while
“A” and “B” Companies of the 1st Battalion Worc’s in the
second line, passed through, and advanced through the tree
stumps of Chateau Wood and captured James Trench.
Then came the first serious opposition, a hail of machine
gun fire, and a heavy barrage of shells from the enemy
guns. Fortunately the German shells fell upon Chateau
Wood, behind the advancing companies, but the machine
guns were a serious problem for the advancing troops. The
objective of the two companies was a small spur which
protects southward from the Bellewaerde Ridge. On that
spur where several concrete block houses. Several had been
smashed by the British guns, but one was still intact. From
that cover the enemy used a machine gun with great and
deadly effect, and the advance was checked.
Lieutenant E.C.Barton led forward a small party, Sergeant
W.Moore and nine men. Working their way from shell hole
to shell hole they advanced some five hundred yards under
heavy fire, closed in on the block house and rushed it,
killing or capturing all within.
Lt E.C.Barton was awarded the M.C.and Sgt W.Moore the
D.C.M.

Further along the line the advance was held up by a light
enemy machine gun firing from a shell hole. Two Lewis
gunners, Lance Corporal C.Richards and Private S.Fudger,
brought their weapon into action. The German machine gun
ceased fire, but reopened as soon as the advance was
resumed. The two Lewis guns promptly attacked.

The Lance Corporal shot down the German gunners with
his revolver and captured the machine gun.
Lance Corporal C.Richards and Private S.Fudger were both
awarded the D.C.M. for this action.
Those brave deeds enabled the advance to continue. The
attacking troops breasted the slope, crossed the sky line,
and dug in on their objective, the forward crest of the spur,
facing the Westhoek Ridge.

The Cloth Hall August 1917.  (Stackes)

The Menin Gate August 1917. (Stackes)

On the left the 2nd Northamptonshire had stormed the ruins
of Hooge and Bellewaerde Farm and had gained the highest
ground of the Bellewaerde Ridge. The first pahse of the
attack had been triumphantly accomplished.
Further to the left the attack of the 23rd Brigade had been
equally successful. That Brigade was commanded with
conspicuous gallantry by Col Grogan, the former
Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion Worc`s. His
Brigade Major, Capt F.C.Roberts of the Regiment, was
awarded the M.C. for daring personal reconnaissances
made during the day under heavy fire. During that same
day, Major H.St.J.Jefferies of the Regiment, commanding
another battalion of the 8th Division, the 1st West Yorkshire,
also gained the D.S.O.

Then, according to the plan, the two supporting battalions
of the 24th Brigade were to come through and take the next
objective. Tanks were to assist in that second phase, soon
the tanks were seen approaching, lumbering forward over
the captured trenches, but the boggy muddy ground
rendered their movements slow and clumsy at best, most of
the tanks where “ditched” or broke down, and the only one
which came past the Battalion was hit and destroyed by the
enemy’s shell fire.
At this time the enemy’s gun fire had increased. Under a
rain of bursting shells the 2nd East Lancashire advanced
through the lines of the 1st Battalion Worc’s and pressed on
to attack Westhoek. The enemy’s fire was so fierce that the
East Lancashire’ having sustained heavy casualties were
forced to dig in where they could short of their objective.
The reserve of the 8th Division, the 25th Brigade, came up in
their turn. The 2nd Lincolnshire’s passed forward through
the lines of the Worcestershire’s, but the enemy’s
23
resistance had stiffened, and the Lincolnshire’s suffered
heavily during their advance from machine guns in
Glencorse Wood. Eventually the Lincolnshire’s and the
East Lancashire’s consolidated a line which ran in a
shallow semi circle facing Westhoek.

On the right flank the situation was extremely dangerous.
The 30th Division had not succeeded in advancing beyond
“Stirling Castle” and from the high ground about
“Glencorse Wood” several machine guns were firing and
strafing the open ground. These machine guns could take
the 8th Division front in enfilade, and counter attacks were
also threatening the situation. To protect the right flank
Colonel Davidge led forward two companies of the 1st
Battalion Worc’s. He formed them as a defensive flank
facing Inverness Copse, with the objective of linking the
line of the 8th Division with that of the 30th Division at
Stirling Castle.
For his brilliant leadership on this occasion Colonel
Davidge was awarded the D.S.O. His Adjutant 2/Lt.
W.C.Stevens, was awarded the M.C.

Intense gun fire continued throughout the day. The morning
had been dull and cloudy. Towards the evening heavy rain
came on and continued into the night, obscuring the view
and soaking both the troops and the ground beneath them.
Casualties were counted, well over 200.

4 officers were killed ( Capt.F.J.O`Brien, 2/Lt.E.S.Collins,
2/Lt.H.C.Stephens, 2/Lt.R.A.Budden and 22 other ranks.
Wounded 5 officers ( Lt.E.C.Barton, 2/Lts R.A.Hart,
G.N.Perham, G.B. Harrison and T.Comoys ) and 157 other
ranks.
49 Missing
The 1st Battalion Worc’s captured 170 prisoners and one
machine gun

That night Tuesday the 31st of July and the following day
were miserable. Under pouring rain the officers and men of
the 1st Battalion Worc’s held firm on the ground they had
captured. Digging in as best they could, while the enemy’s
fire swept the ridge.

Late in the day Wednesday the 1st of August word came
that they would come relief, and presently the relieving
Battalion came splashing their way up through the mud,
and proved to be none other than the 3rd Battalion Worc’s.
The relief took some time, but eventually the 1st Battalion
Worc’s got clear and marched back down the Menin Road,
while the 3rd battalion Worc’s settled down to take their
places.

3rd Battalion Worc’s HQ Hell Farm June 1917.
(Stackes)

The 3rd Battalion Worc’s had moved forward to “Half way
House” on the Monday the 30th of July the night before the
battle. There the Battalion had remained, until orders had
come to relieve the 8th Division on the Ridge. The Battalion
was now to experience a trial equal almost to any other in
its history. From the evening of Wednesday the 1st of
August to that of Sunday the 5th of August the 3rd Battalion
Worc’s remained in position. During nearly all of that time
heavy rain fell continuously and the enemy’s shell fire was
equally continuous. At night the front of the ridge was
25
plastered with gas shells of a new type which caused many
casualties.
The removal of the wounded was most difficult through the
deep mud and slime into which the sodden clay was fast
being converted into.

The worst trials were those of “D” company on the
defensive flank facing towards the Menin Road. That
position was shelled very heavily, and the company lost
half its strength in killed and wounded. But the survivors
held firm, cheered by the gallantry of 2nd Lieutenant A.
Brewer, who showed great bravery and coolness and
inspired all with his own spirit. He was awarded the M.C.
for his actions.
The other companies behaved equally well, but their
casualties were almost as severe. When at last, at 9.00 pm
after dark on Sunday the 5th of August the 3rd Battalion
were relieved by the 13th Cheshire’s, nearly one forth of the
Battalion had been put out of action.

22 killed, 3 officers (2nd/Lts. E.Dodd, A.W.Vint, G.P.
Brettell) and 103 N.C.O`s and men wounded.

After relief by the 13th Cheshire, the 3rd Battalion Worc’s
moved back down the Menin Road and through Ieper to
Halifax Camp to rest and do a certain amount of training.

On Wednesday the 1st of August the 3rd Battalion Worc’s
marched to Bellewaerde Ridge relieving the 1st Battalion
Worc’s in support to the front line held by 7th Infantry
Brigade also on the Westhoek Ridge. The Battalion
remained in this position until Sunday the 5th of August,
heavy rain fell continuously from the evening of Tuesday
the 31st of July until Saturday the 4th of August,
hampering further operations and causing intense
discomfort to the troops who had no cover whatsoever and
were heavily shelled throughout this period, a considerable
number of casualties being incurred including a large
number from the many gas shells.

Total casualties during this period, officers: 3 wounded.
Other Ranks: 22 killed, 103 wounded (about 25% of the
actual fighting strength of the Battalion).

Meanwhile, further south, the 10th Battalion Worc’s had
come into action. The 57th Brigade had been in reserve
during the opening attacks on Tuesday the 31st of July, and
not until Thursday the 2nd of August did orders arrive that
the Brigade would relieve the troops who had been engaged
in the front line. The relief took place on the night of Friday
the 3rd of August.. Marching forward in the darkness
through heavy rainfall the 10th Battalion Worc’s took over
the new front line from intermixed troops of the 56th
Brigade.

The fighting on Tuesday the 31st of July and the following
two days had not gained very much ground. Green Wood
had been cleared, and a line had been established on that
woods eastern side.
Further north, Hollebeke Village was in British hands, and
to the southward a proportionate advance had been made,
but no real tactical victory had been gained and the new
line was infinitely worse than that previously held, so far as
the troops were concerned. Rain and shell fire had
prevented any proper entrenchment, and the troops in the
front line were huddled in water logged shell holes in
complete misery.
The two front line companies of the Battalion took over a
line covering the eastern edge of Green Wood, with the left
flank established in the ruins of Gym Farm. Behind them
one company held Green Wood and the other Rose Wood,
while Battalion Headquarters were established at Denys
Wood in the rear.
For two miserable days and nights in extremely
uncomfortable conditions the 10th Battalion Worc’s held
these positions, fortunately without great loss.

Casualties from Friday the 3rd of August till Monday the 6th
were Killed 3, Wounded, 2 officers (Capt. B.M.Niblett and
2nd Lt H.M.Hales.

Direction of Attack 10th August 1917.

Advertisements
Gallery | This entry was posted in The Worcestershire Regiment August 1917 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Part Two THIRD BATTLE OF IEPER

  1. Val Stenson says:

    What an excellent & Comprehensive description of what happened & who was involved Thank you for all your hard work. Val.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s