Page 142 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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TRENCH WARFARE,
1915-1916
II5
everywhere to make demonstrations in February, 1916, in order to
divert attention from the gigantic attacks on Verdun which began
on 21st February, and that, if possible, such efforts should improve
the line, it is not surprising that the local commanders should have
decided without much hesitation that an attack on The Bluff would
meet all requirements. The task was entrusted to the 124th Regiment
of the 27th (Wtirtemberg) Division commanded by General Count
von Pfeil und Klein-Ellguth.
Opposite this fonnidable array the line was held by the 17th
Division, in whose 52nd Infantry Brigade was the loth Battalion.
The 52nd Brigade was responsible for the sector immediately south
of the canal and also for both banks of the canal itself. The left
battalion of the brigade consequently had one platoon on The Bluff,
isolated from the rest of the unit and with no means of crossing the
canal except a plank footbridge about three-quarters of a mile
behind the front line. On 6th February, 1916, the left sector of the
52nd Brigade was taken over by the loth Battalion (Lieutenant–
Colonel T. S. H. Wade), with three companies in the line south of
the canal and "C" (Captain B. C. Winser) in reserve at battalion
headquarters, which were at a spoil bank on the south of the canal
close to the footbridge. "C" Company found the platoon which
garrisoned The Bluff, commanded by Second-Lieutenant T. C.
Walker, with Serjeant Hickenbottom as his platoon serjeant. The
trench held by this platoon was known as New Year Trench; and
from it a tunnel ran under The Bluff to the trenches of the 51st
Brigade on the left, occupied at this time by the 10th Sherwood
Foresters, with two companies of 7th Lincolnshire Regiment in
support.
The first few days of the battalion's tour were uneventful except
for intennittent enemy shelling of The Bluff and the 51st Brigade
,line with heavy high-explosive shells and trench-mortar bombs,
which turned out to be a very accurate registration of the British
front line at the point chosen for attack. But at 3.30 p.m. on 14th
February, while preparations were being made for an inter-brigade
relief and when the bombers and machine-gunners of the incoming
brigade were already in the line, the Germans opened a continuous
and heavy bombardment on both sides of the canal which, thanks to
their registration, completely flattened the parapet of the front-line
trenches over a wide area. Two platoons of "C" Company were sent
up to the sector held by "A" Company south of the canal owing to
a false report that half the company had been killed and its com–
mander, Captain A. H. Thomas, and Second-Lieutenant M.
J.
H.
Drummond were missing. These platoons were sent back to battalion
headquarters later in the evening. Between 5.30 and 6.0 p.m.
several explosions were heard and felt at battalion headquarters,
which proved to be the blowing of several mines. One of these was at
The Bluff, where Walker had put all his platoon, except himself and
the sentries, in the tunnel for protection during the bombardment.
The explosion blew in parts of the tunnel, and the majority of the