War Diary - 10th Battalion

Hill 70 - 15-18 August 1917Appendix 28 - Narrative

This is a transcription of the account of the battle of Hill 70, near the Lens area in northern France, from the War Diary of the 10th battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division, Canadian Expeditionary Forces

In terms of manpower, this was an expensive battle. The 10th lost 60% of their operational strength during this action; "B" Company lost 75% of their men in the first 2 days of action.

Every attempt has been made to faithfully translate the record. In order to improve the readability, certain abbreviations have been expanded. Where words could not be made out, italics are used for the "best guess" on the meaning. Some names that have been mispelled in the original diary have been corrected.

Diary

The diary has been transcribed from the original text, which can be seen below.

Index

Page 1 (original entry can be seen here)
Page 2 (original entry can be seen here)
Page 3 (original entry can be seen here)
Page 4 (original entry can be seen here)
Page 5 (original entry can be seen here)


Page 1

Headquarters

2 nd Canadian Infantry Brigade
Operations vicinity of Hill 70 14/18 August 1917

On 14/8/17 this unit was notified that ZERO HOUR for the attack on Hill 70 would be at 4:25 am on 15/8/17. The 10 th Battalion was ordered to be in its assembly area at 3 hours before ZERO HOUR. The assembly area being that portion of a line drawn south through the JUNCTION of REGENT ST. and CAMERON ALLEY.

The Battalion was to attack with A Company on the right and B Company on the left each on a 2 platoon frontage and forming the 3rd and 4th waves. D Company was holding the FRONT LINES so was actually in the assembly position and only required to close to the left to be in position. A, B, and C Company commenced to move into their assembly positions at 12:30 am.

11:30 pm on 14/8/17 to 2:00 am the enemy shelled the area to rear of LOOS LA MAP with gas shells which made the assembly very difficult for A and C Company. At 2:25 am B Company reported that it was assembled and in position 2.05 am. 2:50 am the enemy was still using 5.0 shells about battalion Headquarters at 0.33.d.06.02 and vicinity of LOOS LA MAP. 3:15 am and all companies had not reported themselves as in their assembly positions. Lt. Graham went forward and ascertained that all Companies were actually assembled. 3:25 am D Company reported that it was assembled ready to attack at 3:20 am. 3:54 am A Company reported that it was assembled at 2:20 am. 3:39 am wired to Brigade that 3 Companies had reported as assembled and ready to attack. 3:50 am the whole area to the rear of the assembly position was subjected to the 0.P shell bombardment. At 4:00 am C Company reported that it was assembled at 3:20 am. The runner had difficulty getting through the barrage. Wired Brigade the code word "Aberdeen” to inform that the Battalion was ready to attack. 4:00 am only 2 causalities in the Battalion up to this time, but 3 men sent out gassed a direct hit having been made on one.

4:07 am the guns opened. According to the synchronization of watches with the Brigade ZERO HOUR was 2 minutes late. This did not interfere with the attack in any way. The Battalion advanced to the attack 4:31 am the first enemy shell fell in the battalion area in reply to our barrage. At ZERO HOUR the enemy threw up RED FLARES, a very large RED FLARE going up to the left of our Battalion front. At 4:50 am the attack had gone well and the 3 rd and 4 th waves had “leapfrogged” the 1 st and 2 nd waves and were going well toward the BLUE LINE. The 7 th Battalion were close behind and all clear of our FRONT LINE system. At 5:05 AM Lt. Easterbrook advanced from the Battalion headquarters to report centre with his signal section leaving CAMERON ALLEY. At 5:50 am the enemy placed a very heavy barrage on our FRONT LINE but as this was clear we suffered no casualities from it. At 5:21 am the report was received that the BLUE LINE was captured, and consolidation commenced.

The strength of the Battalion at 12:01 on 15/8/17 was as follows:

  Officers Other Ranks
Headquarters
3 (INCL M.O.)
27
A Company
4
150
B Company
4
150
C Company
4
150
D Company
4
150
Battalion Reserve
6
45
Total
48
675

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Page 2

A Company under Capt, C. Stevenson M.C. captured its objective without delay. Capt. Stevenson being wounded in the shoulder and neck but remaining at duty until ordered to leave and report to the Medical Officer. This company mopped up the old German Front Line established bombing posts and Listening posts, 2 platoons following the 3 rd and 4 th waves to the BLUE LINE and attending to all mopping up. This company came under Machine Gun and GRATENWERFER [1] fire, but overcame same in short order.

D Company under Capt. L. J. Carey M.C. obtained its objective and mopped up in a similar manner to A Company but had a slightly more difficult task, meeting with considerable opposition in the enemy close support line. This Company captured 2 enemy power buzzers and a LISTENING SET.

C Company under Acting Capt. F. A. Ladd who was severely wounded, having one leg broken in two places and shrapnel in both legs above the knee before he reached his objective. Lt. Pearson took over the command and supervised the capture of the right portion of the Battalion part of the BLUE LINE. This company suffered heavily losing about 50% of all ranks. Captured 2 Machine Guns and 2 GRATENWERFER .

B Company under Acting Capt. W. W. Thompson “Leapfrogged” D Company at the old German close support line and met with strong opposition but by prompt action soon cleared the way. This company had difficulty at first in keeping direction but Capt. Thompson corrected this and on arrival at BLUE LINE was exactly on his objective. During the advance Corporal Formal saw an enemy Machine Gun being put into action, he charged this gun but was shot through the right arm, but before the gunners could get the gun into proper action he had seized the barrel and tipped it over backwards down from the sap from which it had been brought. An officer and 8 Other Ranks then surrendered to him.

The whole of the Battalion portion of the BLUE LINE was captured by 5:12 am. At 5:30 am scouts Kootney and Laverson reported to Battalion Headquarters stating that they had located a suitable dugout for advanced Battalion Headquarters or Report centre. At 8:20 am Lt. Easterbrooke reported back bringing prisoners, having established a forward signal station. At 8:35 am all mopping up was reported as complete.

At 8:40 am ordered all companies to reequip and be ready to move forward to assist the 7 th and 8 th Battalions in capturing the GREEN LINE which had not been taken. During the day one platoon of C Company was loaned to the 7 th Battalion which was reported as very weak. C Company went forward at 5:00 pm but returned at 5:30 pm. At 5:50 pm orders went out for A, B, and C Companies to relieve the 7 th Battalion at the RED LINE which was the most advanced position of the Brigade. At 9:10 pm send Major Lefebvre forward to supervise relief of 7 th Battalion. At 9:15 pm the S.O.S. went up. The artillery opened at once but the barrage was slackened off at 9:25 pm. At 10:00 pm received Brigade Order 224 to carry out relief of 7 th Battalion which had been in progress for some time. At 11:00 pm S.O.S. sent up on our front but soon slackened down. At 11:50 pm relief going on satisfactorily. Brigade sent word to use great discretion in the use of artillery ammunition for a short time. At 1:30 am relief complete.

The strength of the Battalion at 12:01 on 15/8/17 was as follows:

  Officers Other Ranks
Headquarters
6 (INCL M.O.)
40
A Company
3
65
B Company
3
35
C Company
2
58
D Company
3
90
Battalion Reserve
40
Total
17
328

Battalion disposition: A, B and C Companies in the RED LINE. D Company in the BLUE LINE.

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Page 3

16/8/17 at 5:25 A.M. proceeded to conference at Brigade Headquarters where instructions were received to be prepared to attack the CHALK PIT and GREEN LINE at 4:00 P.M. Orders were at once issued and sent to all Companies. Receipts being returned to Battalion Headquarters at 12:00 P.M., at which time a wire was put through by Lieut. Easterbrook to the RED LINE. At 4:00 P.M. our barrage opened out in splendid style, strong and effective. At 4:21 P.M. the CHALK PIT was captured by A, B, and C Companies with D Company forward in the RED LINE as support.

A Company was under the command of Lieut. Gleam, but as he was uncertain and unsatisfactory, the command devolved on Lieut. N.A. McEachern who handled the company in a most excellent manner, and was a splendid example to his men. On arriving at a point about 200 yards from the CHALK PIT the company came under intense Machine Gun Fire and rifle fire, suffering very many causalities from the right flank, which was unprotected on account of the 5 th Canadian Battalion, which was attacking on the right being held up. It was not possible to counteract this, for if this had been attempted there would not have been sufficient men left to carry the objective, it was therefore necessary to accept the losses and capture the objective. Losses were greatly minimized by the simple expedient of the men advancing from shell hole to shell hole, but always keeping up with the barrage.

About 74 yards in Advance of the CHALK PIT a number of the enemy were encountered and dealt with. At this point one man from the 7 th Battalion and 2 men of the 8 th Battalion who had remained in shell holes from the previous day, joined the company and joined in the attack. At 4:15 P.M. the right area of the CHALK PIT was clear and wounded were being attended to, when a German was seen coming out of a dugout on the run. The sentry promptly blew his head off, immediately an explosion took place in the dugout causing us no causalities. Shortly after this another dugout was blown in causing us no casualities. When it was considered safe a search of the other dugouts was made and a German Medical Officer and 7 stretcher bearers were found, who rendered very valuable assistance in caring for our wounded. A German Signal Sergeant was also found in a dugout. He hesitated giving up his papers , and was dealt with by Private Iwamoto who obtained an enemy code book, which was promptly turned over to Lieut. McEachern. Two Lewis Guns and a bombing post were sent forward at once. Lieut. Graham made a daring reconnaissance forward along a communications trench, making the extreme advance of the Battalion. A block was out in and covered by Rifle Grenadiers and Lewis Guns. The balance of the Company consolidated the position as rapidly as possible, digging a trench parallel to the lip of the CHALK PIT. It became necessary to reinforce the Right Post which was under 19791 Sergeant J Wennevold, men for this purpose being drawn from “C” Company. This Post was made at M 32 d 4-1 and to the right of the Battalion Area, but as the 5 th Battalion had not come forward it was necessary to have this post very strong to protect our right flank. During the whole consolidation the whole front was subject to heavy Machine Gun fire and shelling from Field Guns. At 5:15 P.M. the enemy was observed to be massing on the right front. Word was sent to the artillery. Machine Guns and our Lewis Guns turned upon them., when our artillery barrage opened the enemy disappeared in confusion, his Machine Guns and snipers remaining very active.

An enemy aeroplane made a reconnaissance of the area, and in a short time the very heavy artillery turned on to the CHALK PIT and vicinity, The enemy obtained an enfilade fire down the CHALK PIT from the direction of LENS, also a number of batteries worked for over an hour shooting from the left.

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Page 4

C Company under Lt. Pearson M.C. advanced on the left of A Company forming one wave with two lines, with moppers up detailed. The tendency of the men was to swing to the right as the heavy fire was from that flank, but as soon as the CHALK PIT became visible the men straightened out and went straight at it. About 75 yards before reaching the CHALK PIT a trench full of Germans was encountered but they soon fled and were taken on by Lewis Gun which did very effective work. So many prisoners were taken that the situation became very serious for a short time as they outnumbered the attacking party, however they were sent to the rear apparently having no objection to going. Lt. F.J.W. Fane was wounded early in this operation and was wounded a second time about 7:15 pm, but remained on duty being an excellent example to his men, and assisting to repel an attack which was launched at 7:30 pm.

B Company under Capt. W. W. Thompson advanced on the left flank of the attack. At ZERO HOUR (4:00) pm, this company advanced at the double close up to our barrage, with the result that they came upon the enemy before they had an opportunity to bring their Machine Guns into action, and had few casualties in taking the left (NORTH) end of the CHALK PIT. About 60 yards before reaching the CHALK PIT, the men of this Company took cover in shell holes and engaged the enemy Machine Guns in the CHALK PIT. In less than two minutes they had obtained the superiority of fire and drove the enemy from his positions. When the enemy broke our men followed him closely and most satisfactory results were obtained on large groups of the enemy by our Lewis Guns and rifles. At 4:45 pm the enemy barrage was intense, but the Battalion was engaged in digging in on the enemy side of the CHALK PIT and did not suffer as heavily as might have been expected. At 5:30 pm the enemy attempted to counter attack but this was broken up. The Battalion did not at any time lose any of the ground it had gained, although the right flank was badly exposed and in grave danger several times, the enemy showing considerable determination in his efforts to re-take the CHALK PIT.

At 8:50 pm I asked the Brigade for reinforcements and ordered D Company, which was being heavily shelled to be prepared to move into the CHALK PIT. This move was not carried out as the enemy made no further attempts to counter attack, although movement in considerable numbers was observed on several occasions, but parties were soon dispersed by our artillery fire, which was most effective. At 9:10 pm D Company of the 4 th Canadian Battalion crossed our old front line and relieved the whole front line held by the 10 th battalion by 2:30 am. This relief was carried out in a most efficient and splendid manner. The battalion then returned to the BLUE LINE where it remained until relieved at 5:10 am on 18/8/17 by D Company of the 4 th Canadian Battalion.

This is briefly the narrative of the part taken in this action by this unit. Many lessons were learned which will prove very beneficial in the future. This battalion suffered the following casualties:

  Officers Other Ranks
Killed
1
49
Wounded
10
294
Missing
0
56
Gassed
0
36
Total
11
418

On being relieved on the morning of 18/8/17 the Battalion was subjected to a heavy gas bombardment, and they were compelled wear box respirators, but owing to the rough going many men were compelled to remove the face covering in order to see and extricate themselves from wire and holes.

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Page 5

The following were captured by this Battalion:

On 15/8/17

6 Machine Guns
2 Graterwerfers
2 Power Buzzers
1 Listening Set
100 Rifles
100 Prisoners (including 3 officers)

On 16/8/17

20 Machine Guns
3 Converted Lewis Guns
250 Rifles
125 Prisoners

It was only possible to salvage one Machine Gun being ’08 No 4662

The following officers and other ranks did exceptionally effective work

  A/Major H. Lefebvre
  A/Capt. W. W. Thompson
  Capt. C Stevenson M.C.
  Capt. L.J. Carey M.C.
  Lieut. F. A. Ladd
  Lieut. N. A. McEachern
226353 Pte. H. Brown V.C. (Died of wounds)[3]
19791 Sgt. J. Wennevold
625004 Pte. T. D. Fidgett
20187 Cpl. N. Purmal
213413 Pte. C.J. Cracknell
904767 Pte. H. Smith
430694 L/Cpl. G. P. Jones
81575 Sgt. D. Maxwell
174262 L/Cpl. J.T. Evans
81405 Sgt. C. A. Hood
898559 Pte. M. Mitsui

Lieut. Colonel,
Commanding

D. M. Ormond

10th Canadian Infantry Battalion

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Notes:

[1] The correct term is "Granatenwerfer"

[2] Private John Hamilton was one of those initially listed as missing, later declared dead.

[3] Awarded the Victoria Cross

A complete listing of all medals awarded to the 10th Battalion for the action on Hill 70 can be found here.