T.E. Sandall, History of the 5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment (1922)


The Battle of Bellenglise and the Breaking of the Hindenburg Line

September 20th was spent by the Battalion in building shelters for themselves at Tertry; fortunately the day was fine. On the 21st after the morning had been devoted to practising the attack the Battalion at dark moved up to the line and relieved the 46th and 48th Battalions Australian Infantry in the right sub-sector, the relief being completed at 11 p.m., A and B Companies being in the line, D in support, and C in reserve. The 22nd passed quietly, the area being shelled along the whole front with gas and H.E., but no casualties were sustained, although on the 23rd 2 Other Ranks were killed and 7 wounded.

On September 24th the 1st Division attacked on our right, and in order to assist this attack, a minor operation, the capture of Pontruet village and Forgans trench, was ordered to be carried out by the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment, the Battalion being detailed to mop up the trench system behind their advance. The attack was in a S.W. direction under a creeping barrage and the operation was quite successful, although all the objectives were not taken. Two enemy posts were captured by our right company on the left flank of the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment, and the line captured was consolidated; 150 prisoners were taken. During the 25th our forward positions were somewhat heavily shelled, and an inter-company relief was effected in the evening. The trench line was held [p175] until the evening of the 27th, when the Battalion was relieved by the 1/6th South Staffordshire Regiment, and moved back to reserve trenches near Le Vergier, where we rested during the 28th.

No attempt will be made to describe the operations of the 46th Division as a whole, but a general idea of the scheme is necessary in order to understand the part played by the Battalion. The 46th Division was ordered to cross the St. Quintin canal, capture the Hindenburg line, and advance to positions beyond and consolidate them for defence, after which the 32nd Division would pass through the line, and continue the attack. The 30th American Division on the left were to attack simultaneously about 1,000 yards to north, and after crossing the Canal turn south, and gain touch with the 46th Division, and advance with them. The 137th Brigade on a three Battalion front led the Divisional attack, followed by the 138th and 139th Brigades, each on a one Battalion front, the 138th Brigade on the left, and the 139th Brigade on the right. The 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment was the leading Battalion of the 138th Brigade, followed by the 1/5th Lincolnshire, and 1/5th Leicestershire Regiments. As soon as the 137th Brigade had crossed the Canal, and captured their objective, the 138th Brigade Battalions were to continue the advance by the leap-frog method, the 1/4th Leicestershire having gained their objective would consolidate it for defence, the 1/5th Lincolnshire passing through this line would capture their objective, the village of Magny La Fosse and the high ground beyond, and finally the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment would pass through our line, capture, and consolidate the final objective of the Brigade, joining hands with the 30th American Division on our left and the 139th Brigade on our right.


At 3 a.m. on September 29th the Battalion left Le Vergier to take up assembly positions on Ascension Ridge. Zero hour was 5.30 a.m., when the 137th Brigade advanced. At 8.45 a.m. the Battalion moved forward to jumping off positions in the Hindenburg system west of the Canal. There was a dense fog, nothing whatever could be seen, and the advance had to be made on a compass bearing, but was successfully accomplished, the exact positions were attained, and the Battalion formed up with three Companies, B, A and D, from right to left in the front line, with C Company in support. The attack of the 137th Brigade had been a complete success, and at 10.30 a.m. the Battalion moved forward in artillery formation to the bridge across the Canal, resuming this formation and then extending into open formation as we approached the line which by 12 noon had been occupied by the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment at the west end of Magny La Fosse, in touch with the Americans on our left and the 139th Brigade on our right. At 12.30 p.m. the Battalion advanced from this line under a creeping barrage which advanced 100 yards in 4 minutes, to Magny La Fosse village, flanking troops simultaneously advancing on our right and left. At this point, where the barrage was picked up, four tanks who were co-operating in the attack, moved forward with the Battalion. The right Company followed its tank, which moved forward along a trench system, successfully cleared the trench and ground and reached its objective without very much opposition. The centre Company sent two platoons to encircle the village on the south side, while two platoons moved through the village itself. The left Company moved forward and reached its objective without much opposition.

When nearing the village, Corporal W. Spooner; [p177] seeing that an enemy machine gun firing from the edge of a wood might hold up the advance, rushed forward with two sections, put the gun out of action, and captured four machine guns and 50 prisoners in the wood. Private H. Sproston, when the N.C.O. in charge of his Lewis gun section was wounded, took over the command of the section, knocked out an enemy machine gun that was giving trouble and led his section into the village with great determination, capturing two machine guns and 40 prisoners. Private A. Cooper, in command of a section, located a machine gun, which was causing casualties, led his section to a flank, charged the position and captured the gun with its team. The large number of prisoners taken caused some delay in the advance, so the support Company was pushed forward, in order to keep up with the barrage, cleared the east end of the village and occupied the objective, which was reached at 1.20 p.m. At 1.50 p.m. the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment passed through our line towards their objective, about 1,000 yards east, which they successfully occupied, and the Divisional objective was thus obtained.

The freedom with which the enemy surrendered was very noticeable, and the Battalion alone captured 400 prisoners, including several officers, and an artillery group commander, 7 field guns, and 20 machine guns. Our casualties during the advance were 1 Officer wounded, 5 Other Ranks killed, and 35 wounded, but some 20 further casualties were sustained later in the day from the enemy bombardment of the newly captured position. During the day Private F. H. Barker did excellent work as a linesman, as he had done during the preceding operation on September 24th, going out under heavy fire to maintain communications, and gained the Military Medal; Lance-Corporal J. Harris although [p178] himself wounded continued to carry out his duties for many hours as a stretcher bearer, showing great gallantry and devotion to duty, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, as also was Corporal W. Spooner, and Privates Sproston and Cooper, whose gallant conduct has been referred to, were awarded the Military Medal, as also was Lance-Corporal A. Scragg, who, although wounded, continued to lead his section with great determination until the final objective was obtained.

The consolidation of our position having been completed, on the 30th C Company were again withdrawn into support and the remaining Companies were distributed over the Battalion frontage, each Company having one platoon in support. During the day the enemy kept up a steady artillery bombardment, and we suffered a few casualties. At 7 p.m. the Brigade front was reorganised, the 1/4th and 1/5th Leicestershire Regiments holding the line, while the Battalion was withdrawn into Brigade Reserve in shelters and cellars at the west end of Magny La Fosse. A warning order was received that the Battalion might be required to co-operate with the 32nd Division early next morning in an attack on Joncourt and Estrees, and a reconnaissance of the ground was therefore carried out, but we were not called upon, and October 1st passed quietly.

On October 2nd, the Battalion paraded in the afternoon, and was addressed in congratulatory terms by the Brigadier on the operations of September 29th. The Transport and Quartermaster's Stores were brought forward and joined the Battalion at Magny La Fosse; in the evening the C.O. attended a conference at Brigade Headquarters with reference to the attack planned for the next [p179] day, October 3rd, by the 46th Division, when the 138th Brigade would act as Divisional Reserve. On the morning of October 3rd orders were recceived to occupy a position in the railway cutting, which was reached at 10.30 a.m. At noon the Battalion was ordered to replace the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment in support of the 139th Brigade in the trenches of the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme line; and this move was completed by 2 p.m. At 3 o'clock two Companies were ordered to follow in close support of the 1st Monmouthshire Regiment, who were passing through them to repel a counter attack from the direction of Fresnoy Le Grand, and A and B Companies spread out along the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme line between the limits given. The attack of the morning had been successful, and all objectives gained, but about this time our positions on the eastern edge of Montbrehans were evacuated, the 1st Monmouthshire Regiment withdrawn, and our two Companies moved back. At 11 p.m. the 138th Brigade was ordered to relieve the 139th Brigade, and the 1st Monmouthshire and 1/4th Leicestershire Regiments took over the front line, while the Battalion moved in close support, with one Company in the sunken road, two Companies along the eastern edge of Ramiecourt, and one Company in the sunken road on the right. The shelling during the day was heavy, and two other ranks were killed, and 14 wounded.

Captain I. H. Lloyd-Williams, R.A.M.C, the Battalion Medical Officer, was awarded the M.C. for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the actions on this day and on September 29th. The Regimental Aid Post on October 3rd was in a most exposed position, and Captain Lloyd-Williams [p180] worked for 24 hours continuously under heavy shell fire attending to the wounded.

An enemy counter attack was expected on the 4th, and all preparations were made to meet it, but it did not develop, and in the evening the Brigade was relieved by the 21st and 24th Battalions Australian Infantry, and the Battalion was withdrawn to a line of trenches and dug-outs between Etricourt and Nauroy, the move being completed at 1 a.m. on October 5th. At 7.30 p.m. the Battalion moved to other trenches in which there was very little shelter of any kind, but the weather was fine, there was no enemy artillery activity, and the next two days were spent quietly in cleaning and refitting. Many congratulatory messages were received with reference to the recent operations, including one from Major-General W. Thwaites, C.B., the late Divisional Commander. Special mention must be made of the excellent work done by the Transport at this period, and great credit is due to Lieut. H. B. Linley, the Transport Officer, who brought it up to, and maintained it in, a high state of efficiency. In spite of many difficulties on no single occasion did the Transport fail to deliver rations and stores every night to the Battalion.