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The Battle of Aubers Ridge

Battle of Aubers Ridge, 9th May 1915

Report of 2nd Infantry Brigade

At 8.30 pm the Brigade moved into battle positions in sub-section D 2, (Richbourg L’Avoue) relieving the 1st Guards Brigade.

Dispositions were as follows: Bde. HdQrs: House in Rue Du Bois.
Fire and Support trenches - 1st Northamptons 2nd Royal Sussex
2nd line - 2nd Kings Royal Rifles5th Royal Sussex
3rd line - 9th Liverpools1st Loyal North Lancs
Section : No.7 Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery  -  Centre of Fire trenches
Section : One and a half inch mortars and Four inch mortars  -  on left of supports with 2nd Royal Sussex

Lowland Field Co. Royal Engineers, on left of Reserve Breastworks.

During the night the Royal Engineers bridged the large ditch between the support and fire trenches, and also the ditches in front of our fire trench.

The morning was bright and good for observation and at 5.00 am our guns bombarded the enemy’s breastworks, wire and support trenches deliberately until 5.30 am when the shelling became intense.  Clouds of dust were raised so t hat it was not possible to see much beyond our breastworks.

During the intense bombardment the firing line and supports of the 2nd. Royal Sussex and 1st Northamptons climbed over the parapet, two men of each platoon carrying a light bridge, and ran forward to gain a line about 80 yards from the enemy’s parapet.  The battalion in the second and third line moved up as the trenches in t heir immediate front became vacant.

As soon as our men appeared over the parapet the enemy opened a heavy rifle and M.G. fire and shelled our front lines.

When our intense bombardment ceased at 5.40 am the 2nd KRR and the 5th R. Sussex were arriving in the fire trenches and shortly after two companies 2nd KRR and nearly all 5th R. Sussex crossed the breastwork and went forward in support.  As soon as our guns ceased shelling the enemy’s breastworks, the enemy’s fire increased, and we lost very heavily, chiefly from the German machine-guns on our left which swept across the few yards of open ground between our trenches and those of the enemy.  Our men continued to advance very pluckily but only very few succeeded in getting as far as the enemy’s wire.

At 06.05 am a message was received from 2/KRR that the enemy’s wire had not been cut by our fire, and later a similar report was received from the 1/L.Lancs.  At 6.20 am the assaulting troops could get no further.

The situation remained unchanged until 8.20 am when 1st Guards Brigade was ordered to relieve the 2nd. Brigade.  Orders were issued for the 2nd Brigade to withdraw all their men and re-form behind the breastworks.  This was done as far as possible but as any movement by those who were lying out between the enemy’s parapet and ouyr own at once attracted the enemy’s fire, only a few men got back to our trenches before dark.

At 10 am orders were received from the 1st Division that our artillery would bombard at 12 noon and that 2nd and 3rd Brigades would again assault at 12.40 pm with fresh battalions, the 1st Guards Brigade being ordered to withdraw to its position in reserve.

On receipt of these orders the 2nd Brigade moved into the following positions:

9/Liverpools and 1/L.N.Lancs            fire and support trenches.
2/K.R.Rifles and 5/R.Sussex             2nd line
1/Northamptons and 2/R.Sussex      3rd line

At 11.30 am the bombardment and second attack was postponed and at 2.0 pm cancelled, owing to the heavy casualties of the 2nd Brigade.

At 5.00 pm the 1st Guards Brigade was ordered up into the front trenches, and the 1/L.N.Lancs (2nd Brigade) was ordered to hold the fire trench during the attack of the 1st Brigade.  The bombardment commenced at 5.20 pm and at 4.00 pm the 1st Brigade attacked from the left half of the line where the 2/R.Sussex had attacked in the early morning, the Black Watch and Cameron Highlanders being the assaulting battalions.  As the assaulting troops advanced, many of our officers and men who had been lying out in the open since early morning joined in the assault.  At 4.15 pm the 1/L.N.Lancs were ordered to support the Black Watch, but a few minutes later when it became apparent that the 1/st Brigade attack had no chance of getting through this was cancelled.

At 5.00 pm the 2nd. Brigade relieved the 1st Guards Bde. and held that line until the 5th Brigade (2nd Division) took over the line at 3.25 am on 10th inst. when the 2nd Brigade went into billets in the area of LE TOURET, MARANS, AVELETTE, MESPLAUX.  Brigade Headquarters arrived at Marans at 4.45 am.

The Brigade casualties amounted to 70 officers and 1,793 other ranks, of whom 19 officers and 292 other ranks were killed, 40 officers and 946 other ranks wounded and 11 officers and 555 other ranks missing.

From the time our men climbed over the breastworks the enemy kept up a heavy shell and rifle fire, but it was his machine gun fire which caused most of our casualties.  From the CINDER TRACK on our left, where the enemy’s trenches bend forward towards sub-section D.3, his machine guns enfiladed the whole of the 300 yards of open ground which our assaulting troops had to cross before arriving at the German wire and breastworks, neither of the latter had been so badly damaged as anticipated.  The evidence of those who got near it shows that the parapet was loopholed some 2 feet above ground level and further points to the fact that the enemy’s machine guns are fired from pits in front of the wire, whence a grazing fire is obtained.

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9th Batt. Devons
Jan-April 1917