“Enemy Counterattacked. 13 Officers And 219 O-Ranks Missing. HQ And 'A' Company Surrounded And Captured"
Following their initial advances at the Battle of Cambrai, the 7th and 9th Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment had cause to celebrate. Their gains had been nothing short of spectacular. Ground taken, minimal casualties and vast amounts of materiel and prisoners taken.
As they consolidated their gains; the 7th around the rear of Lateau Wood and the ground that dropped off it is rear, and the 9th, around the bridges and the hills to the east of Marcoing, they felt that they had thoroughly routed the Germans and that this might be well on the way to a large scale breakthrough, but this was not the case.
Early on the 30th December what seemed like the impossible happened. After a ferocious artillery barrage, the Germans counterattacked and broken through in a number of places along the Allied front line.
Forging a wedge below Lateau Wood, they drove westwards between 7th Suffolk in Reserve lines near Pam Pam Farm, and their counterparts to the north, then swung round and retook the wood. In minutes the Battalion were in retreat and moving southwards. Those who had been wounded in the barrage had to be left. Everybody was pushed in a disorganised retreat heading southwest towards Gouzeaucourt. The day’s entry in the Battalion War Diary, probably the most complete dairy of any Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, noted the chaos of the day with a brief entry; “Enemy counterattacked. 13 officers and 219 o-ranks missing. HQ and A Company surrounded and captured. Enemy broke through the division on the right and attacked Battalion in the rear”
For 9th Suffolk, they had been more fortunate in that they only had two Company’s in the front line when the German attacked in their sector. C Company were routed from a post they occupies, but after regrouping, they retook the position. The Transport lines, which were not far behind the position, feared a full breakthrough as was being reported all along the line, and withdrew to safety near Ribecourt. Luckily for 9th Suffolk, the German attack against them, lacked the ferocity that their counterparts to the south had suffered and they held on, being reinforced hour by hour repelling the invaders.
The Battle of Cambrai, though successful in the initial stages, was woefully ill-planned for the following build-up to secure the gains that were made during the first day. Supplies were not brought forward, reserves were pitifully sparse and the tank; the saviour of the battle was not much good when sand bags and small arms ammunition were needed for men in the trenches. The ‘poor bloody infantry’ took the brunt as usual.
Though many of those 232 men of 7th Suffolk would within days, be confirmed a prisoners of war, the losses encountered that day, were the biggest since the attack at Ovilliers on the Somme almost 18 months before. For a Battalion that had started the campaign so successfully, it was a crushing blow.
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.