Page 324 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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At about 4 a.m. on 22nd March the German bombardment
opened for the next stage of his attack. The shelling lasted for
nearly five hours and fell with great severity on the rear area, and
particularly on the "Brown Line," where many casualties were
caused. Once again a thick fog was spread over the whole country–
side. At about dawn the German infantry attacked in dense masses.
Skene's platoon was overwhelmed almost at once, but a runner
managed to slip through with news of the situation and "A" and
"D" Companies (now combined) of the 6th found a gap and also
slipped away just in time. They re-formed in a trench farther back
. and joined with other troops in holding up the German advance for
a while. Soon, however, German bombers entered the trench from
the left and orders were issued for every officer to take command of
any men of his own battalion whom he could find and make his way
towards Roise!. This retirement was harried by machine-gun fire
from four low-flying German aeroplanes, painted red; but it was
conducted in good order with occasional halts to drive off the
pursuers when they pressed too close. Eventually "A" Company
joined some dismounted cavalry lying in the open near Georges
Copse, about 1,200 yards west-south-west of Templeux, and joined
with them in holding up the enemy's advance. The position could
not, however, have been held for long and a move was made towards
some trenches farther to the rear. Captain Lee and a number of
his men were hit by the hail of bullets which greeted this withdrawal
and were taken prisoner.
The enemy then swept on, burst into the "Brown Line" and
surrounded the battalion headquarters of the 6th. Two officers
alone escaped-Captain E. G. Dingley (the medical officer) and
Sutherland (the assistant adjutant). The
latter collected such survivors as he could and took up a position
some seventy yards in rear, where he was killed shortly afterwards.
His party, and others like it, nevertheless fought gallantly throughout
the morning and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. But the
fog made it impossible to discover where the Germans were attacking
in strength or what the real direction of their advance was; and the
result was that they were able t o penetrate into small sections of the
"Brown Line" which there were insufficient troops to guard and to
fight their way along it until eventually they gained possession of
the whole system of the "Brown Line." The survivors of the brigade
then fell back slowly towards Roisel, where another stand was made
by the 2nd/7th, reinforced by a detachment of the Motor Machine
Gun Corps. They succeeded in checking the Germans until they
found both their flanks exposed and were therefore compelled to
retire. By now the troops of the 50th Division had taken up a
defensive position farther back and the brigade was ordered at
12.30 a.m. to withdraw through them and to assemble at Cartigny.
This was accomplished soon after 2 p.m. The 6th Battalion re–
organized itself, Captain ]. S. Barker assuming command in
succession to Major T.
Biddolph, who had been taken prisoner in