Why keep pressing forward? Bring up the artillery, let them register their targets, use the heavy's to cut the wire, etc etc. It’s the extent of the “duty of care” before sending the infantry forward that I was trying to highlight (and also find an answer too). And I think after that initial thrust had burnt out, this scenario is much closer to how the offensive was conducted.
I'd be interested to hear you expand slightly on this - to what extent would you have the artillery pounded the same positions? Are you proposing that you blast the enemy where they stand, and let them reinforce those positions, and blast them ad infinitum? Thereby cutting out the need to send the infantry in?
You ask why they should keep pressing forward. I'm not sure whether you mean in each individual instance or as the whole army as a whole. Off the top of my head I would have thought constant movement of the enemy was desirable, giving him no time to construct impregnable defences, and secondly, the nearer Germany the action went, the more dispiriting for the enemy, and encouraging for the allies.
Now this is hardly going to back up the thought that movement was really important. I mentioned previously, the Worcesters at Pigeon Trench. You didn't take me up on that remark, and I have no idea if you know about what happened there or not. So I will type out some extracts from the 'Worcestershires in the Great War. It comes as a bit of a shock to me, maybe not you, that this was still possible after all that was supposed to have been learnt in the years before.
'‘the 100th Brigade, including the 2nd Worcs, were to attack down the Targelle valley towards Ossus.
That attack, as we have said, was subsidiary to the main operation, and could not be expected by itself to achieve any great success; consequently, since there were not enough tanks and artillery to assist adequately the whole front of attack, all the tanks and most of the available guns had to be concentrated behind the main attack further south, leaving only inadequate support on the front of the 33rd Division. Also, the subsidiary attack was to be started earlier than the main attack in order to deceive the enemy and to engage the fire of the German guns. That latter provision entailed an especial disadvantage for the 2nd Worcs; for the Battalion formed the extreme right flank of the subsidiary attack, and consequently the Worcs companies would have to advance with their right exposed to enfilade fire from Lark Spur until the subsequent movement of the 12th Division further to the right.
The task thus set to the 33rd Division was so formidable that the Brigadier of the 100th Brigade, Brig-Gen A W F Baird, reported officially that in his opinion success could not be expected unless the attack was assisted either by tanks or by more artillery, or unless the enemy’s machine-guns were effectively blinded by a heavy curtain of smoke. But his remonstrance was unavailing. It was essential to secure the success of the decisive attack further south; and neither guns nor tanks were sufficiently numerous to be spared. The orders must stand………….
Two footnotes at this stage…(1) The attack of the 33rd Division was supported only by the 33rd Divisional Field Artillery – two Field Brigades, without any addition of heavier pieces. In contrast, the decisive attack on the right was supported by 44 Field Brigades and 21 Brigades of medium or heavy artillery, and was assisted by a strong force of tanks. (2) The similar protest of General Cayley, at the Battle of Scimitar Hill. In that case the timely representations of the Brigadier saved his Brigade from being sacrificed uselessly in an attack which could not have achieved any useful success, having no available fresh forces behind it; but Gen Baird’s attack formed an essential part of a definite plan to gain decisive success; and though the Brigade was sacrificed, the Army gained the victory which won the War.’
JON’S NOTE – So this has cleared up one of my long standing queries…. While the Canadians and Australians were being the fantastic strike forces that they undoubtedly were, what part did the Brits play in the taking of the Hindenburg Line? They became the blood donors that enabled the attack to have every chance of success. But you don’t get written into the history books for that.
Back to the History, what happened next?……..
‘At 5.30am, the guns behind the 33rd Division opened fire and the battle began. Scrambling out of their trenches the Worcestershire platoons advanced as rapidly as possible through a storm of German shells; but the rain of the previous days had converted the shattered ground into deep mud, and the laden troops could not keep up with the barrage. The British shrapnel burst for a few minutes along the line of the sunken ‘Gloster Road’ and then moved on down the valley. As soon as the shells ceased to burst over the road, the German M-Gs came into action one after another. From the cutting in front and from the Cross-Roads to the right came the hard stammer of the their firing, and under the hail of their bullets the attack withered away. Through the smoke of the shell-bursts, the platoons in rear saw their comrades in front collapse, but they pushed on in their turn only to meet a like fate. All the platoons of the two leading companies had been shot down and the majority of the two support companies had fallen before the survivors came to a halt half-way to the road and took cover as best they could.
It was not possible to send a message back across that open ground swept by M-G fire, and it was not until after 10am that it cold definitely be reported that the attack had failed. About that time a merciful mist drifted down and veiled the battlefield. Under cover of that mist the survivors of the attack regained Limerick Trench. German shells were still raining down all around, and a tremendous thunder of gunfire on the right flank told them that the main attack had been opened along the whole front of the Fourth Army.
Throughout the rest of that day shells and bullets struck around the trenches which the survivors of the Battalion were holding. Orders for a further attack were followed by counter-orders; and the position was unchanged when darkness fell.
That night came cheering news. The great attack on the right had been successful. The Bellicourt defences had been stormed, the St Quentin Canal had been crossed, and the Hindenburg Line was broken.
The fall of the main defences further south entailed the retreat of the enemy in front. Patrols were sent forward before the dawn. They found the sunken road empty save for a few dead. Cautiously, they made their way down the valley, reconnoitred ‘Pigeon Trench’ and found it deserted, then pushed on to the bank of the ground west of the canal had been evacuated.
Unopposed, Colonel Storney and the remnants of the Battalion advanced over the battle ground. Between ‘Limerick Trench’ and ‘Gloster Road’ were lying the bodies of the brave officers and men who had made the attack. They lay in little groups of crumpled forms, platoon after platoon stuck down by the hail of bullets. None had crossed the sunken road.
On the left and closest to the road lay Lt R K Wright’s platoon of C Coy. In front lay the subaltern, a bomb grasped tightly in his hand; behind him lay his men, all struck down in the moment of charging. ‘His leading’ recorded the Battalion War Diary, ‘must have been magnificent.’
To the right and but little further from the enemy position were found 2nd Lt G Lambert’s platoon. They too had all been killed; and they lay, riddled with bullets but still in line facing forward, their dead subaltern a few yards in front.
Further to the right, the two leading platoons of D Coy had closed towards the Cross-Roads, and they lay strewn in a semi-circle as the machine-guns had caught them. ‘Their position’ says the War Diary, ‘bore witness to the splendid effort they had made to reach their objectives.’
Of the four platoons which had led the attack every officer and man had been killed by the storm of bullets at close range. The ground behind was littered with the dead and wounded of the other platoons who had followed them. In all, 8 officers and 80 NCOs and men had been killed, 3 officers and 150 men wounded.
That sacrifice of brave men must at first have seemed useless to the survivors of the Battalion – who indeed wrote bitterly of the weakness and ineffectiveness of the supporting artillery fire; but the sacrifice had not been useless. The attack had diverted much of the enemy’s artillery, and had drawn to the defences in front a fresh German Division, the 30th Division, from the enemy’s reserves. Thus weakened, the enemy’s line further south had given way before the attack of the Fourth Army; and the strongest bulwark of Germany was broken. The officers and men of the 2nd Worcs who lay dead in the valley of the Targelle were part of the price, an inevitable part of the price of the decisive victory of the War, the greatest battle ever won by British arms.’
Note – The enemy who actually met the attack were Jager battalions of the Alpine Corps, a formation which had gained a high reputation.
While I have typed this out, I have felt in turn, sick and close to tears. And it has now reminded me why I became so animated in entering this thread. Jon, of course your original question was perfectly reasonable, but I can't abide the disparagement to the 100 Days when mentioning the idea that the true defeat of the German Army was before 8 Aug, when I know about the likes of Pigeon Ravine. The sheer cheek of it being suggested that it was basically over before the last 100 Days is indigestable. I'll have to live with it!