This account is from the Battalion War Record from the Manchester Regiment 21st (Service) Battalion – in ‘Flanders, France and Italy’ detailing the two days of battle at Croisilles. This record can be viewed at Archives Plus and is a fascinating account of the Manchester Regiment’s involvement in the war. A precursor to the Battle of Arras that began on the 9th April 1917. Following this battle a company was sent to attack Bullecourt.
Images from the Documentary Photographic Archive at ArchivesPlus, Manchester – images show soldiers who were with the Manchester Regiment. For more images click here to visit the Flickr page.
April 1st, 1917
At 7.45pm, on April 1st, the battalion left camp at Courcelles to take part in a general attack on the line Ecout-Longate-Croiselles. The battalion took up a positing on a taped assembly line N.W. of St. Leger. At 4.15am on the 2nd, the troops, under the supervision of Major Kemp were in position. Meanwhile, a platoon of “A” company, with three Lewis guns under Lieut. A.S. Russell, had taken over the outpost line form the 2nd Royal Warwick, and, forming three posts, patrolled in front of the assembly line. Another platoon of “A” company, under 2nd. Lt. E. H. Richards, was detailed with “C” company to form a strong point.
The assembly was carried out in an orderly manner, and in remarkable silence, care having been taken beforehand to prevent accoutrements rattling, and notwithstanding the bright moonlight, and the fact that the enemy occupied a railway embankment only some few hundred yards distant, the operations were not observed by the enemy outposts. The objective of the attack was the capture of Croiselles and the adjacent ground. At zero hour, 5am, Lieut. A. S. Russell withdrew his platoon in rear of “C” company, and immediately afterwards the pre-arranged barrage opened. As the barrage lifted “B” and “D” companies advanced to attack the first objective, with the 2nd Queens on the left, and the 1st South Staffords on the right. “C” company followed at 100 yards interval to make good the final objective. 2nd Lieut. Richards stood by with his platoon ready to form the strong point as soon as the first objective was taken. Lieut. Russell retained his platoon as part of “A” company in reserve at the advanced report centre, of which he took charge as forward observations officer.
The railway embankment, which lay in front of the first objective, really constituted the first objective itself, and proved a formidable obstacle. It was about 40 feet high, and its face covered with brambles. The flanks of the embankment were wired, whilst above the culvert was a strong point, also wired, with M.G. emplacement. Further, numerous sniper’s posts were dug in along the top.
As the front line approached the embankment it was met by heavy M.G. and rifle-fire, from the top of the embankment, and, as was ascertained later, from a Machine Gun hidden in the culvert; at the same time enfilade M.G. fire opened from the direction of Croiselles. The top of the embankment was, however, carried after a short sharp struggle, but the enfilade fire from the left increased to such intensity that it was impossible to maintain the position, and the line retired down the embankment. “D” company on the right, managed to get a Lewis Gun team over the embankment and engaged a M.G. which had apparently been withdrawn from the embankment along the sunken road and was now raking this road. Finally, by a process of dribbling men over the embankment and by sending them through the culvert, both “B” and “D” companies finally established themselves in the sunken road by 10 am. Meanwhile “C” company, in the endeavour to follow up on “B” and “D” had got merged in those companies. To assist “C” company, however, managed to reform, and pushed forward, availing itself only of the Lewis gun team under Lieut. Russell. By 11.15am “C” company had established itself in the final objective, and opened up communication with the 2nd Queens and 1st South Stafford on left and right. Posts were established, and the operations now successfully concluded. On the night of the 3rd the battalion was relieved by the 1st R.W.F.’s and marched back to camp at Courcelles.’
At the end of the report on the battle a number of casualties were listed.
Killed – 2nd Lieut. E.H. Richards. (2nd Lieut. E.H. Richards of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) is buried in the British Cemetery at Croisille.)
Died of wounds – 2nd Lieut. R. P. Davies
Wounded – Captain H.C. Ellis, Lieut. A.F.D. Knight and 2nd Lieuts D.E. Adams and G.H. Tomkinson.
Other ranks – 20 killed and 68 wounded.
Further reading –
Map image courtesy of www.longlongtrail.co.uk – this website is a site all about the soldiers, units, regiments and battles of the British Army of the First World War, and how to research and understand them.
* Image of Croisilles from the Imperial War Museum – http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205284123