Page 196 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME,
1916
been transferred to it on Captain W. D. P. Mansell being killed on
12th October.
The attack was to take place in four waves. Lieutenant-Colonel
Burke felt that its real difficulty would arise after the 2nd Essex
had passed on from Dewdrop Trench and his line had to be extended
and that position consolidated. He therefore left Captain W. P. Salt
in the assembly trench with twenty-five non-commissioned officers
and men of the reserve, with the role of directing them on any portion
of Dewdrop Trench which might not have been cleared of the enemy
and of generally helping in its consolidation and the reorganization
of the troops in it.
The attack had been timed for II.30 a.m., but at that hour a
thick fog lay over the ground. In March, 1918, the Germans carried
out their most successful attacks in fog and mist. But on 23rd
October, 1916, the attack was postponed till the weather was clear,
and at 2.30 p.m. the battalion went over with a loud cheer, and had
to "double" in order to catch up the creeping barrage, which
appeared to begin a minute too soon. The German
I.
S.O.S." went
up practically at zero. Enemy machine guns opened fire immediately
on the assaulting troops; their artillery began a few moments later
to search the roads behind the British lines so as to prevent the
arrival of reinforcements.
Before many yards had been covered, men began to fall fast from
the machine-gun fire. A few, however, under Second-Lieutenant
J.
W. Watkins, with a Lewis-gun team, managed to get within
eighty or a hundred yards of Rainy Trench, but were there held up
At 3.30 p.m. he reported to Salt where he was, and added that
the attack appeared to have failed and that the troops on his
right had fallen b(ick. This message, the first news of
th~
attack
to arrive. reached the battalion headquarters at 5.10 p.m. Shortly
after 5.30 p.m. the situation appeared to be that Watkins and fifteen
men had dug themselves into a new trench in front of Rainy Trench,
that Salt had thirty men (including all the unwounded men he could
find) in the front line, and that the rest of the battalion reserve close
by had dwindled to some twenty men as a result of losses. In short,
there were 2 officers and 65 men left to the battalion in formed bodies
oU,t of the 6 officers and 298 men in the line at 2.30 p .m. All were
tired; some were exhausted.
At about the same time, Lieutenant-Colonel Burke received
information that the 2nd Essex Regiment had two companies digging
in on its final objective, and that another was about to attack Dew–
drop Trench from the east. He also received a message from 12th
Brigade urging the supreme need of capturing Dewdrop. At
5.50 p.m. therefore he ordered that every available man should be
used to attack and clear Rainy Trench and then to push on to
Dewdrop. No sooner had he done so than he discovered that the
information about the Essex was not true; and he received orders
to clear up the situation and to re-form his line in conjunction with
the Essex and the King's Own in readiness for an attack on Dewdrop.