On 28th April 1917, the 11th Battalion launched an attack against the German lines around and beyond the Chemical works at the village of Roeux, east of Arras.
At first light, 4.25am, the pre-arranged barrage was brought down along the German front line. For two minutes it rained shrapnel into the enemy’s front line before it ceased at 4.27am and the infantry advanced.
However, no sooner had the men got up and advanced, a mass of German machineguns opened up through the still setting smoke. The barrage had missed a complete line of German defensive trenches and they were soon firing back as the Cams-Suffolks advanced. Men dropped like they had down in the face of the withering fire at La Boisselle nine months earlier.
“My Company” wrote Captain Harmer “was ordered to attack the chemical works at Roeux, near Arras. A Company, which I was commanding acted as Support Company and advanced about 100 yards behind the two leading Company’s. It was quite dark when the attack began and my Company had to be extended over 700 yards, so that any control was impossible. I became separated from most of the Company by some buildings, and eventually found myself in a shell hole with two men; a Signaller and a Runner”
By 5.00am, it was clear that the attack had failed, though some men had managed to reach a quarry to the right of the Chemical Works. The remnants of the attacking waves, fell back into the front line and shortly afterwards, the Battalion Commander, Major G.L.J. Tuck, who had watched from the Second Line and saw the attack falter, came forward into the front line to “clear up the situation and re-organise the defence.”
The front line was full of wounded, but it was clear that many men had been lost in the attack. It was estimated that approx. 5 officers and 300 other ranks remained, along with 2 officers and about 60 men from the 16th Royal Scots who had been mixed up in the attack. These men were the ‘moppers-up’ who were to follow up the attacking waves.
Out in front Captain Harmer and a handful of men in a shell hole, had resisted numerous calls from the enemy to surrender, but as their ammunition was exhausted, they bowed to the inevitable and threw in the towel. Major Tuck’s presence in the front line was fortuitous for around 9.45 am, a hefty enemy counter attack commenced. Pushing up from the south from the direction of the village of Roeux, it cut into the front line and all communication was lost. On the Battalion’s right flank, Ceylon trench, was breached by the enemy and they pushed the Lincolns back to wards Mount Pleasant Wood. A dangerous enveloping salient was in danger of developing which would squash the 11th Battalion in the middle.
However, the line held and the enemy was repelled. Major Tuck established that the enemy had withdrawn over the railway line and were retreating back into Roeux itself and the Lincolns were pushing the enemy out of Mount Pleasant Wood slowly and surely using their skilful use of bombing teams. The reminder of the day was quiet, though no-one could disguise the utter disappointment of the failure of the attack and the grievous losses that had been incurred by the Battalion.
As darkness came, those who had made it to the quarry that morning, returned, bringing with them a handful of prisoners. At 10.00pm, the Battalion was withdrawn to allow a much wider artillery concentration to be put down across the whole of the former Cambs-Suffolks trenches. It was to be the precursor of another attack by another unit; an attack that was also to fail.
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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