Late on the afternoon of the 11th October, orders were received that the 7th Battalion would attack “Bayonet” Trench the following day and if possible, advance onwards to capture the ruins of Luisenhof Farm.
The 12th (Eastern) Division, strengthened by the attachment of the Newfoundland Regiment for the attack, were given several objectives to take and consolidate that day. 35th Brigade were allotted guns poured forth fire from every angle. Machine gun nests stationed at intervals along the German wire and out into no-mans-land, fired incessantly at the advancing Suffolks. The War diary of 7th Norfolks (on the Battalions left flank), noted that; After advancing about 50 yards, the Hun opened fire with machine-guns from both flanks and from in front. Our troops continued to advance but before reaching the “Bayonet” trench (for 7th Suffolk), “Scabbard” Trench (for 7th Norfolk) and “Hilt” and “Grease” trenches (for the Newfoundlanders).
In the darkness of the night, the Battalion moved forward into positions from which they would spring later that afternoon. Into the various shell holes and the partly dug remains of trenches they clambered awaiting the signal to advance. The Battalion Commander, Major Henty moved Battalion HQ forward at around 10.00 am in preparation for the advance.
As the artillery commenced at around 1:45 pm, the men in their forward positions awaited the command to advance. Such was the ferociousness of the barrage, that the men hoped that the wire would be cut and that their path forward would be unbarred. It was sadly not to be the case. Just as at High Wood, the attack was scheduled to start in the early afternoon. At 2.00 pm, the attack began. Four waves went across with every Company of the Battalion being involved in the opening phase; an unusual decision on the part of the Brigade Commander.
In theory, the staggered platoons of each Company would go over at allotted intervals, but due to all Company’s being forward, no sooner had the whistles blown, than chaos ensued with men bunching up and running for the German wire. Some platoons, that were not even supposed to be advancing until later, ran forward in the opening phase. It was complete chaos.
No sooner has the advancing waves got up and walked forward, before they were struck by devastating cross fire of every descriptions from all directions. German machine guns poured forth fire from every angle. Machine gun nests stationed at intervals along the German wire and out into no-mans-land, fired incessantly at the advancing Suffolks. The War diary of 7th Norfolks (on the Battalions left flank), noted that; "After advancing about 50 yards, the Hun opened fire with machine-guns from both flanks and from in front. Our troops continued to advance but before reaching the enemy’s trench, ran into barbed wire which had not been cut. The wire coupled with the M.G. fire prevented any further advance, and our men lay down in shell holes from where they brought rife fire to bear on the Germans, who were then standing up in their trenches shooting at them.”
On the left flank, the newly arrived Lieutenant Silver was killed in the open. He came from Cheapside in London and had only joined the Battalion in September. On the right flank, Lieutenant Herbert Sawyer was killed at the wire. He had been commissioned into 9th Suffolk the year before and was only transferred to the Battalion following the losses at Ovillers in July. Remarkable gallantry was shown by the officers and men of the Battalion that day, but it was to no avail. The preceding artillery had failed to cut the wire and those who did manage to reach the German wire found it in tact and completely impassable. It was four hours later before the first real news was received at Battalion HQ in “Grass Street” trench. It told of the complete failure of the attack, and soon afterwards, they survivors and the wound returned backing up the reports of failure.
Practically erased from Regimental History, the events of 12th October 1916 were later described later as a “calamitous day” for the Suffolk Regiment. Every single officer was a casualty. 11 officers and 111 other ranks were killed, with over 390 wounded. Not since 1st July has one single Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment suffered such severe casualties.
By the end of the attack, the 7th Battalion, had lost almost three quarters of its ranks. It would not be back up to fighting strength until early 1917.
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
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