On 7th November 1917, 7th Suffolk were behind the lines near the village of Blagny. The had marches there the previous day to begin a special new type of training with tanks.
The forthcoming attack which was to be mounted later that month called for the large scale use of tanks to punch a hole in the Germans defensive bulwark; the Hindenburg Line. The infantry would advance in close co-operation with them and rush through the gaps the tanks created and press on to take the second line.
The plans were bold and audacious. They required total secrecy and the the need for much training of the infantry. The tanks had already been witnessed by the Suffolk Regiment with no great success. 8th Suffolk mistrusted them after their poor direction and performance at Thiepval on the Somme, and 4th Suffolk disliked them as for a lack of petrol, they could have changed the outcome of the the battle of Fitzclarence Farm at Ypres. However now, many tens of tanks would be brought up ad used right along the line, so it was important that they infantry knew how to work with them.
Each subaltern in the assaulting waves was issued with an allotted tank. He would then train his men to work in cooperation with its crew. They memorised signals of coloured flags and discs so that they could call their tank to stop, move left or right or carry on as they commanded. The platoon would followed behind in close formation. Like sardines, sections of men they had to bunch up in to neat rows behind each track, with a third section spaced back in the centre.
Over specially constructed hurdles of wire in the training area, the tanks and infantry practiced. The tank would cut the gap in the wire, then moved on just a few yards to allow the infantry to fan around its side and break left an d right. The tank would continue and the follow on troops would come up quickly and assume the positions of those just vactated.
7th Suffolk had not experienced tanks before, but every day throughout early November, they trained, and got better and better at their craft. Each day however, the orders would change and a new method would be employed. Then the signals were changed and a new set had to be learnt. Quite clearly, the powers that be were changing the requirements of the attack on a daily basis.
On 10th November, training with the tanks introduced a new aid; the sledge. Of the three tanks making the initial break in the line, the three that followed towed sledges packed with small arms ammunition and bombs. The assaulting waves would have exhausted theirs as the consolidated the front line and would need more as the second wave came to the cut wire, however a hit from German artillery would destroy them. On the 11th the orders were changed again so that men following the tanks with sledges, had to advance 100 yards in their rear to avoid being destroyed if the sledge received a direct hit.
The artillery and their smoke barrage would be all important to cover them to the wire. The training continued.
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.