“During These Attacks, The Battalion Behaved Splendidly And It Is Regretted The Casualties Were Heavy”
Late in the afternoon of the 14th September, the CO received fresh orders for a further attack the following day.
This time the original objective was to be reached, bypassing the Quadrilateral. It was a point mid-way between the villages of Lesboeufs and Morval; around 1000 meters in distance. By pushing north-west, they hoped to advance past the strongpoint and thus suffer the minimum of casualties.
Early on the morning of the 15th September, the forward Battalions of the Brigade moved forward for the attack. 9th Norfolks and 1st Leicesters were to move first at 6.20am, and in support, 2nd Sherwoods 9th Suffolk were to move up in the second wave (both Battalions now being severely depleted in strength).
The initial attack went in, but was met again by accurate and determined enemy artillery and machine gun fire. Grinding to a halt, 9th Suffolk were called up to support 9th Norfolk who could advance no further.
It was now about 7.50am, and the enemy artillery had been constant for over an hour. This pounding fire along the Suffolk line prevented C Company advancing. They too could not even leave their trench due to the enemy machine gun fire from the Quadrilateral that kept sweeping the parapet.
Via a continual monitoring of the situation, the CO saw a chance around 8.30 am when for a brief minute or so, the fire slackened. A small group of men which included the CO, got up and made a dash into no-mans-land. They could get no further than 50 or so yards before the guns of the Quadrilateral barked back into life. Around 8.30am, the CO: Lieutenant-Colonel A.P. Mack was killed in the open. He had gone forward in this ‘lull’ with Battalion HQ to ascertain the situation. Aged 53 when he died, he was with the Battalion when it arrived in France in 1915, succumbing to a broken bone in his foot upon disembarkation. Born at Paston near Norwich, he came from a military family. His younger cousin would work on defeating the U-Boat in the Atlantic in the war that was to come.
The situation was however grim. No senior officer in the forward Company’s survived. Retreat was inevitable but, under the continuous shell fire, the forward elements of the Battalion succeeded in linking up with their comrades on the flanks. By 11.00 pm, relief of these men, was completed and elements of the 14th D.L.I. (Durham Light Infantry) came to replace the shattered and depleted ranks of the Battalion.
Seven officers had been wounded along with 90 other ranks. Four officer, including the CO and 35 other ranks were dead, and countless more were missing. Lieutenant Fitch was awarded the Military Cross for consolidating the position under heavy shell and machine gun fire, and Lieutenant and Adjutant Claude Allerton was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his assuming command of the Battalion when Colonel Mack and all the senior officers had been either killed or wounded. Fitch would later be sent to America as part of a training mission and would later die of influenza on 1st November 1918.
The battles against the Quadrilateral were to be the first ones fought in close co-operation with tanks. The barrages that had crept forward in the opening phase of the attack on the 13th, should have left gaps, through which armour could pass, but the failure of the tanks to even get onto the battlefield, meant that the infantry were to fight on their own. This was again the case on the 15th, when if armour was present, with infantry co-operation the Quadrilateral might have been overcome.
The official history of the 6th Division wrote briefly in 1920 of the action; “In spite of the greatest gallantry, the Suffolks could not take the strong point.” The Regimental History also wrote in 1927 of the day in somewhat underestimated terms; “On September 15th the offensive was resumed...Thus opened the battle of Flers-Courcelette. The final objective assigned to the 71st Bde was the occupation of the ridge between Morval and Les Boeufs. But the task of the 6th Div on that day was an unenviable one and the goal beyond their reach; for immediately in front of them lay the Quadrilateral, still intact, bristling with machine-guns and absolutely barring the way”
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.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.