"Large Numbers Of The Enemy Were In Both Our Original Front And Support Lines But Fighting Appeared To Continue"
At 3.00 am on 28th March 1918, the Germans put down a heavy barrage behind the Battalion’s frontage which gradually crept backwards until about an hour later, it was causing heavy casualties to the men in the front line.
By 6.30 am, news was received from the King’s Own Royal Lancaster’s (K.O.R.L.) to state that their section of the line to the north, was still intact and that there was no sign of the enemy.
However, to the south, elements of the 15th Division were retiring above ground in the face of an enemy attack. To the Battalion’s front, the enemy was now seen coming on in great numbers. Emerging from his dug-out, the C.O. Lieutenant-Colonel Likeman, hurriedly ordered ‘Y’ Company (under Lieutenant Rae) to the right to bolster the flank of the Battalions frontage. Occupying Mackenzie Trench, the enemy were seen to continue forward and by 8.00am, they had worked round behind the Company and were attacking north along the trench.
Seeing that he was in danger of being enfiladed, Rae decided to retire. He pulled his men back through ‘X’ Company’s position to the north where two solitary Vickers guns of the M.G.C., worked tirelessly to cover their retirement. Rae returned to find the Commanding Officer of ‘Z’ Company out in the north but within minutes, Rae was wounded. Rae’s withdraw was observed by the C.O. at Battalion HQ, and seeing that their position was in danger of being overrun, Colonel Likeman sent the Adjutant, Captain Russell forward to mop up several groups of stragglers that had become separated and pull them back to the safety of an area along the old railway line, where the wounded Lieutenant Rae had been consolidating.
By 8.15am, the K.O.R.L. were forced back by enemy infantry, who were now into their front line and were bombing their way along to Mackenzie Trench. Within minutes, they had reached the remains of the cross roads to the west of the village and were bombing into Rae’s area along the railway.
Now ‘Z’ Company in the north under Captain Baker, were cut off from the rest of the Battalion and seeing the enemy coming on, ‘X’ Company in the north now began to retire. ‘Y’ Company were now enfiladed, and went to ground in what remained of a trench in their sector. ‘W’ Company, under Captain Simpson, was now in danger of being enveloped. Turning half of his remaining men half-right, Simpson was now fighting both to the front and the right.
With their left flank now in the air, Captain Russell now organised what he could of the remaining men and fought the enemy off on the left flank. At times, the Germans were only 30 yards away, but the defenders succeeded in keeping them back. “The situation round Z Coy (right front) had been very obscure for some time” wrote a report in the Battalion War Diary, “and large numbers of the enemy were in both our original front and support lines but fighting appeared to continue till about 9.30am”.
Within minutes, Lieutenant’s Coote and Wainwright, reported to the C.O. that they along with 3 NCOs had managed to escape and that ‘Z’ Company was now lost. The situation was bleak.
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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