Page 184 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME,
I9I6
155
Half a mile north-east of Angle Wood lay Falfemont Farm, at
the end of a spur known as Falfemont Ridge. The farm had been
turned by the Germans into a very highly fortified strong point.
During 23rd August orders were received that an operation pre–
liminary to an attack on Falfemont Ridge was to be carried out on
the afternoon of the 24th. The French on the right were to attack
Oakhanger Wood, six hundred yards north of Maurepas and the
same distance east of Angle Wood, while the I04th British Infantry
Brigade, which included the I7th Battalion, was to advance on their
left and enter the German lines between Falfemont Farm and a
point north-east of it. The I7th Battalion was to carry out this
operation by sending forward strong patrols, followed by two
companies. Although the operation was intended to secure a good
starting line for the bigger attack, it really involved attacking the
Germans' main second line with one battalion on a frontage of three
hundred and
fifty
yards. As no unit on its left would be attacking,
the battalion's left flank would have been completely in the air and
exposed to the strong point at the farm, with a gap of six hundred
yards in its left rear. Major Crook protested, but was overruled.
At 8.30 p.m. three companies of the Divisional Pioneer Battalion
came up to dig assembly trenches on the hillside east of Angle
Wood, where the IJth Battalion was to concentrate. Considerable
confusion occurred owing to the enemy bombarding the whole of the
front line and the back areas. The Pioneers, attempting to advance
through the shelling, got lost. One company were led by a liaison
officer into a German trench, which they approached from behind it,
were challenged and fired on, and made their way with difficulty
back to the British lines after a hand-to-hand fight. The other two
companies split up and never reached their work. The result was
that by daybreak on the 25th no assembly trenches had been dug,
no preparations for the attack had been made, the battalion had
concentrated east of Angle Wood as ordered, and the posts on its
left flank were unoccupied. Nevertheless carrying parties of the
20th Battalion and of the 23rd Manchester Regiment established a
dump of tools by midday, and the working parties had collected
enough from the 0ld trenches to begin converting shell holes into
a continuous trench line.
During the morning Brigadier-General Sandilands visited the
forward area. At noon the original orders were cancelled. Instead ,
the battalion was ordered to keep touch with the French as they
advanced and at the same time to maintain connexion with the
rest of the British line. Major Crook assembled his officers and told
them his plan for giving effect to these orders. Two minutes after
the French began their advance, "Y," "W" and
"z"
Companies
would advance in echelon at a hundred yards distance from each
other, taking their direction from "Y" Company, which would be
on the right and would be responsible for keeping in touch with the
French second wave. When the latter halted, "Y" Company
would halt, the remaining companies would conform, and
all
would