These 2 low hills were to be the scenes of the New Zealanders' engagements in the final stages of the Third Battle of Ypres.
The heights at Broodseinde, the objective of the first operation, would be seized by I. Anzac in the centre of the Second Army line. Their right flank would be covered by operations on the southern curve of the salient, their left by all advance of II. Anzac. Further to the north the Fifth Army would conform by striking out along their sector up to and beyond Poelcapelle. The whole front affected amounted to some 7 miles. The necessary alterations of troops had been rapidly effected, and the fresh Divisions such as the New Zealanders were now familiarising themselves with their assaulting positions.
From the main ridge, on whose plateau in front of II. Anzac lay the shattered houses of Passchendaele, various small subsidiary spurs run out north-westwards, separated from each other by the headwaters of the sluggish streams characteristic of this part of Flanders. Two such spurs faced the New Zealand Division, one immediately confronting their trenches, the other in ochelon northwards behind it. The nearer and more southerly one of these rose just over the small stream of the Hanebeek, which lay immediately beyond our front line. It was called the Gravenstafel Spur. Soon after it projected from the Passchendaele Ridge its even crest was broken by an isolated almost imperceptible rise called Abraham Heights; thereafter it fell gradually towards the ruins of Gravenstafel and Korek, and beyond them to the plains. As the Hanebeek drained the slopes which faced the New Zealanders, so its reverse slopes to the north were drained by another stream which in its upper part was called the Ravebeek but presently, after receiving some small tributary channels, the Stroombeek.
The object of the forthcoming attack on 12th October was to renew and extend the effort of the 9th. The Fifth Army would again push forward on the left of the battle front. The whole of the Second Army attack, starting on the 12th of October, 1917 would then be delivered by Australians and New Zealanders. Its aim was to strengthen our hold on the main ridge by the capture of Passchendaele village and of the Goudberg Spur to the north.
The II. Anzac plan allotted the capture of Passchendaele to the 3rd Australians and that of the Goudberg Spur to the New Zealanders the furthest depth of advance was some 2,500 yards. On the New Zealand sector each brigade frontage was about 750 yards. Each of the 2 attacking brigades was given full disposal of its machine gun company. The other 3 companies; were employed for barrage work. The artillery and machine gun barrages were arranged or lines similar to those adopted on the 4th the and the artillery received instruction to be prepared to move batteries forward, after the final objective was gained, with a view to barraging the enemy,'s country from 1,000 to 2,000 yards beyond Passchendaele. The Division had the direct support of a hundred and forty-four 18-pounders and forty-eight 4.5in. howitzers.
Owing to the failure on the 9th the Divisional plans previously drawn up had to be largely recast. The shortness of the time available for preparations and reconnaissance, and the indefiniteness of the information obtained from the relieved Division added to the Staff's difficulties. Hurried measures had to be taken for the selection of headquarters: md medical posts and station, the extinction of signal communication, planked roadway and duckboard tracks, the bridging of streams ad morasses, and the taping of approach routes. In particular, there was insufficient time to deal with the fields of barbed wire on the Bellevue Spur. Their formidable nature was even now insufficiently realised by the outgoing Division. The trenches themselves, forming part of the once strong Zonnebeke-Staden line, had been destroyed by our artillery, but since the 9th the entanglements, especially round the Strong Points and pillboxes, had been assiduously strengthened. They were closely reconnoitered on the night of the relief (10th/11th October) by a 2nd Otago patrol under Sergt. Travis and their strength could be gauged from the Gravenstafel ridge. The 2nd Infantry Brigade Head-quarters secured some assistance from the heavy artillery, but the damage done was small. For all these reasons a postponement of the attack would have been welcomed, but the decision did not rest with the Division or with the Corps. The Army's orders had been issued, and Divisions were but pawns in the tremendous game played over these Flanders swamps and ridges.
In the early morning of the 11th the enemy artillery shelled the forward areas with some intensity. Thereafter the day passed quietly enough. Final conferences were held, and liaison was established with the 3rd Australians on the right and with the 9th Division (XVIII. Corps) on the left. Every possible effort also was made to clear the forward aim of the British wounded who had fallen on the 9th and still lay famished and untended on the battlefield. Their stretcher cases crowded the regimental aid posts. Many more lay in the shellholes in front. All wounded found were fed, and as far as preparations for the attack could permit were carried back to the dressing stations. Those that could not be brought back were dressed in the muddy shellholes. On the morning of the 12th many of these unfortunate men were still lying upon the battlefield, and not a few had meantime died of exposure in the wet arid cold weather.
The forming-up lines were taped well in rear of our posts to ensure that the leading waves should start level and in line with the 9th Division troops on their left, and that the creeping barrage should open on all points held by the enemy close to our positions. The principles that governed the siting of the foremost tape line were, on the one hand, that it should be not less than 150 bards from the opening barrage line, and on the other, not more than would allow the infantry to close up under the barrage before it lifted. In the evening (11th October) the 4th Brigade detrained at Ypres and relieved the reserve brigade of the 49th Division, placing its 2 foremost battalions in the old British and German front lines on either side of the Wieltje-Gravenstafel road.
The afternoon and evening of the 11th were cold and bleak. The skies were an unrelieved grey, and the desolate landscape of mud, marsh, shellholes and bald ridge took on an even more inhospitable and forbidding appearance. At dusk the assaulting brigades struggled up to their positions. Shelling was normal, and the troops were spared the gas which incommoded the Australians, but the ground, especially in the valleys, was extremely heavy and in many places flooded. At every-step men sank over their ankles and frequently up to their knees the mud. It was not difficult to understand horn the English troops on the 9th had failed to reach their positions in time. In such country, even on prepared tracks, a mile an hour was good progress for formed troops, but over the mud of the forward area it was necessary to allow a period of 4 hours for each mile. At 2 a.m. a drizzle started and added to their discomfort. Five crossings made of cocoa-nut matting had been laid over the Ravebeek by the 1st Field Company of the New Zealand Engineers. Much assisted by these, the leading troops reached their positions well up to time, with the second battalion closed up on the heels of the leading one on the eastern bank.
In an attack on a comparatively narrow front, experience had shown the advantages of giving each of a series of objectives to a single battalion. This principle was now adhered to. On the north, from front to rear, the Rifle Brigade battalions were the 4th the 2nd 1
the 3rd and the 1st. The 2nd Battalion was to seize the first objective (the Red Line) 1 Capt. W. G. Bishop, vice Lt.-Col. Pow, "B" Teams.
Beyond the Bellevue defences; the 3rd Battalion the next objective (the Blue Line.) at the point where the spur abutted on the main ridge, from the Ravebeek on the south over to the upper valley of the Paddebeek on the north; and the 1st Battalion the final objectives (the Green Dotted and Green Lines) on the Goudberg Spur. The 4th Battalion, holding the line, was marked as brigade reserve and, by a somewhat unusual manoeuver, was follow each assaulting battalion to its goal. Eventually it, was intended to form a support in rear of the final objective: and assist in swashing a counter-attack.
The 2nd Brigade on the right aimed equally at taking each objective with 1 battalion and leap-frogging the next through, but adopted a different of its reserve The leading battalion 2nd Otago would be used to carry the Red line; the next, 1st Otago. would pass through them to the Blue Line; and leap-frogging them in turn would come 1st Canterbury charged with the capture.of the final objective. 1st Canterbury was strengthened by 1 company of the reserve battalion,2nd Canterbury. Of the other 2nd Canterbury companies, 2 were temporarily lent to 2nd Otago and 1 to 1st Otago as local reserves These 3 companies, however, were to be employed only in the went of necessity, aid it was intended that on the Otago battalions' taking their objectives the should pass again under Lt.-Col. Mead's orders and consolidate a line about Meetcheele. There they would help 1st Canterbury to break up any counter-attack on the 2nd Brigade front, or, if necessary, support the Australians with 1 company in the capture of Passchendaele.
The Rifle Brigade had benefited neither by the training nor rest which had fallen to the others at Lumbers. For the last 6 weeks it had been constantly exposed to shell-fire, to marches averaging 7 miles a day, and to the arduous conditions accompanying night work in forward areas. After digging over 50,000 yards of cable 7 feet deep, they were not in a state to make a sustained effort or to undergo a prolonged strain. The 2nd Brigade were considerably fresher. Nevertheless it was remembered afterwards that the feeling of buoyant confidence, which usually inspired the New Zealanders on the eve of an attack, was on this occasion lower pitched. They were insensibly affected by their exposure to miserable weather in undrained shellholes, the sight of the unbroken wire, and the knowledge of the previous failure.
None the less, every man steeled his heart and, checking dispiriting speculation, grimly determined to do his duty. Winter time had been introduced on 8th October, arid the zero hour for the next action of the battle on Fridays, 12th October, was 5.25 a.m. Throughout the night the enemy's. nervousness and apprehension of an attack had been shown by a multitude of flares, and about 5 a.m. he opened a fairly heavy bombardment of the assembly area, occasioning unfortunate casualties. It was a particularly unkind blow of fortune that these were heavy in the Stokes trench mortar personnel, and that the small amount of ammunition which it had been found possible to bring forward was now destroyed. As the troops waited under the rain, there were few whose: thought in these last moment did not revert to the barbed wire and the pillboxes, and whose prayers were not fervent for an overwhelming barrage, sufficient of itself to blast a passage through the thicket of wire, or to spread such an efficient shield before them that they could cut their way through by hand with the minimum of aimed hostile fire.
But when at length the guns opened, it was at once apparent that the infantry must rely on their own efforts. Faced by insuperable difficulties a not inconsiderable proportion of the artillery had been unable to each forward positions. Other guns had been knocked out by the enemy's, artillery, and time had not permitted of their being replaced. The general absence of stable platforms and the oozy morass of the guns' positions, into which the trails sank after a few rounds, effected their accuracy, and the consequent necessity of frequent relaying diminished the density of the fire. Not only was the barrage weak and "patchy," but there was a limited amount of short shooting, which was scarcely avoidable under the circumstances and which fell as far back as cur support lines. As the barrage moved up the hill towards the pillboxes, where above all it was vital to increase in strength, it became on the contrary still more ragged and could hardly be distinguished at all by the observers at Korek. On the Bellevue Spur the howitzers flung their projectiles in profusion, but without that shattering destructiveness which it was their function to accomplish, for in the semi-liquid mud a large proportion of the shells buried them. On the 11th the C.R.A. had reported that effective artillery support could not be depended upon.
As soon as the British guns opened, the enemy artillery-fell again, without marked increase, on the forward assembly lines and back to Waterloo. On the western slopes of Gravenstafel it was somewhat heavier, and the rear battalions suffered. Much more serious to the leading troops were the enemy machine gun barrages which their crews, effectively protected against our weak artillery fire, placed forthwith along the front of the hillside. In addition to these barrages the upper valley of the Ravebeek was swept by fire from the trenches by Crest Farm oil the main ridge in front of Passechendaele The hill slopes were also covered by immediately effective enfilade fire from the Source Trench system which continued the Bellevue defences northwards on the high ground into the XVIII. Corps area. Special evidence is given of the admirable order. alignment distances anti intervals, in which the assaulting battalions, despite the fire and the nature of the shell-torn country, advanced to the attack. Men dropped steadily, but at the outset the progress was satisfactory. Shortly after leaving the starting point, part of the 2nd Rifles were held up by an enemy Strong Point, but a gallant act by C.S.M. J. W. Voyle, who unaccompanied worked to the flank and killing 3 Germans captured 2 and a machine gun, enable the advance to proceed. The first wounded brought back word that all was going well.
About 6 a.m. a strong wind set up, and the drizzle turned to heavy rain which, after a brief respite in the morning, was to fall continuously throughout the day and add to the miseries of defeat and wounds. Owing to this heavy rain and mist. observation from the rear was difficult even after full daylight. As the leading riflemen drew further up the lower slopes, the intensity of the machine gun fire grew heavier. On these cratered and sodden hillside.: a quick rush forward or a charge at the deadly guns was utterly impossible. Under the stream of lead the attack must either he wiped out or effect slow progress by bounds from shellhole to shellhole The number of machine guns the pillboxes along the crest seemed tom be reinforced and particular severe grazing fire was directed at the Rifles from a forward position half-way up the ridge opposite the 2nd Brigade on the right.
As the pace slackened and the forward ranks grew thinner, the rear battalions pressed up to fill the gaps in front of them. Thus the storming line was no longer composed of the original battalion but received accretions from the troops following. The different units became speedily intermingled, and it was a composite party of the 2nd 3rd and 4th Rifles, together with some Scotsmen of the 9th Division, that Sergt. A. K. Coley of the 4th Battalion led to the capture of the cemetery on the extreme left. Here, after stark fighting, the party killed 20 Germans and captured 3 prisoners and 3 machine guns. They dug themselves in on this position, of great tactical importance for both Divisions, and established posts 150 yards eastwards.
In the centre also of the Rifle Brigade attack, elements penetrated beyond Wolf Farm and to the edge of Wolf Copse. Parties of Germans could now he seen retreating without arms over the sky line. The machine gun fire, however, so far from slackening, accentuated as our barrage passed beyond the crest, and all attempts to force a way through the wire instantly brought down annihilating fire from the inaccessible pillboxes beyond. No better fortune appeared to attend the 2nd Brigade on the right struggling up from Marsh Bottom, for in the pillbox which raked their own advance the riflemen could observe a strong party of Germans firing at the Otago men in the wire about the Gravenstafel road.
The Rifles' casualties were already heavy. In the 3rd Battalion, Lt.-Col. Winter-Evans and practically the whole of his Headquarters had fallen. About 8 a.m. Lt.-Col. Puttick arrived at Wolf Farm. Grasping the situation, he ordered the troops of the 3 leading battalions to dig in. The 1st Battalion was not yet engaged, but where the others had failed it was thought costly and futile to throw it in also. When it should come up, it would be better policy for it to dig a support position in rear. From 9 a.m. the enemy infantry regained courage, and during the rest of the morning formed parties, some with light machine guns, were observed advancing back over the crest all along the ridge. These were discerned also by the artillery and infantry observers at Korek, and gun fire directed on them. Two enemy machine guns were planted on the roofs of the pillboxes on the summit, and many men were visible both on the top of the concrete and in the neighbouring saps.
Any movement on the unsheltered face of the hill brought instant and deadly fire, and the Rifle battalions sustained further severe losses as they dug themselves in among the shell holes from the cemetery along the hillside down towards Marsh Bottom. On their right, between them and the 2nd Brigade, there had been from the outset a gap, due partly to flooded and impassable marshes, partly to an effort to swing past or outflank a pillbox. Into this gap Puttick had pushed 2 of his platoons with a view to bringing Lewis gun and rifle fire on the enemy machine guns which harassed the 2nd Brigade. Their action lessened the intensity of the German fire but could not develop sufficient volume to silence it and allow the Otago infantry to advance. Nor were their numbers adequate to bridge the full extent of the gap. Over the whole front, indeed, it was doubtful if the Rifles' line mustered now more than 500 bayonets. As they scrambled from crater to crater, splashed by shell-bursts and floundering over the slippery and treacherous slope, the semi-liquid mud had not merely plastered the troops from head to foot, but had also clogged rifles and Lewis guns. Now that they were checked, their first thought was to clean their weapons and render then serviceable to meet a counter-attack or kill any of the enemy that exposed themselves in the crest saps.
The 1st Battalion, meantime, unconscious that the leading troops were held up, crossed the Stroombeek under distant snipers' fire. As they approached the Peter Pan—Yetta Houses line, molestation from snipers and machine gun fire became acute, and it was obvious that all was not well in front. On finding the 3 leading battalions arrested, they dug, as Puttick suggested, a support line 150 yards in rear of the road which ran from Wolf Farm to the cemetery.
Astride the Gravenstafel road and in Marsh Bottom the 2nd Brigade, after heroic efforts, were similarly baffled. 2nd Otago had speedily found that the enemy was holding his front system in considerable strength. Under a torrent of rifle and machine gun fire they pressed on to the entanglements. They found them here 25 yards, here 50 yards wide, and altogether unbreached. Only where the sunken Gravenstafel road ran up the hill was there a lane. It proved a veritable lane of death, for the men who, on seeing their comrades foiled by the wire barrier, made in desperation and knowledge of their peril for the open passage on the road, were one and all mown down by the cunningly-sited machine guns which commanded this trap from either side. Rifle grenades and Lewis guns were used with effect on the machine guns in the shellholes outside the blockhouses, and under this covering protection 2nd Otago fought desperately to break through the wire and reach the pillboxes before the barrage, such as it was, lifted from them. Among these brave men Major W. W. PT. Turner showed surpassing bravery. He cut his way through the first belt of wire before being riddled with bullets. The two 2nd Canterbury companies attached to the battalion were soon involved, and both Capt. E. J. Fawcett and Capt. C. R. Rawlings, who commanded them, were severely wounded in endeavoring to work round the flanks.
1st Otago, who followed, were not destined to see the Blue Line. They pushed into the gap left by the heavy casualties, and with the survivors of the leading troops, officers and men tried to crawl under the wire. Several succeeded in cutting a passage through the first band of entanglements and a few also through the second belt, just beyond which were the pillboxes, surrounded for the most part by an interior ring of wire. 2nd Lt. J. J. Bishop and 2nd Lt. N. F. Watson actually reached the aperture of one pillbox and were in the act of throwing a bomb inside it when they were killed. In the left company of 1st Otago every officer was killed or wounded, and out of 140 only 28 men remained. With these Sergt E. C. H. Jacobs showed undaunted initiative by endeavouring to work round towards the north and assault the pillboxes from a flank where it was thought possible that the wire might permit of progress. He and his men reached Wolf Copse but there, like the Rifle Brigade, found further advance completely arrested. The reserve company of 1st Otago suffered as severely. All the officers but one were killed or wounded. In helping him Sergt. T. A. Bunbury showed qualities of leadership, that on a, happier field would have been likely to yield complete success.
On the right company front in the marshes down by the Ravebeek, where our lines joined those of the Australians, were 2 pillboxes that were equally active with those on the hill but less completely fortified by entanglements. As it was, the obstacles of wire mud and enemy fire were formidable enough to daunt the stoutest-hearted. Here, however, the gallantry and readiness for self-sacrifice which strewed the slopes above with the bodies of brave men mere to show what, even without artillery support, a New Zealand attack could accomplish under the most adverse conditions and against the greatest odds. 2nd. Lt. A. R. Cockerelled his platoon from one muddied crater to another against these blockhouses and the trench connecting them, half the party alternately covering the advance of the other with rifle grenades. Under this fire some of the Germans in the trench sought the shelter of the concrete. The others surrendered. While the embrasures in the pillboxes commanded their approach, the attackers were bound to lose heavily, but at last,, holding the garrison in front with Lewis guns fire, Cocker ell himself and a handful worked round the rear arid secured the entrances. Threatened with annihilation by bombs the trapped occupants, some 80 in all, did not hesitate to surrender. They were sent to the rear. Cockerell himself after hand to hand fighting, in which he bayoneted several Germans, had by miraculous good fortune come through unscratched, but of his platoon only one man was low left. He dispatched to battalion headquarters at Waterloo for urgent reinforcements, but saw him killed on the way. Fortunately some Australians now appeared, and with them Cockerell garrisoned the pillboxes. Of the condition in the Ravebeek valley some idea is given by the fact that 5 of the Australians sent hick with messages to Otago headquarters were shot in the attempt. This feat of arms, which under any circumstances would have been brilliant, stood out of this calamitous day all the more conspicuously. Cockerell's initiative leadership and courage won him an "immediate" D.S.O.
While he was thus storming the pillboxes in the swamps, 1st Canterbury had crossed the Ravebeek and joined the other 2 battalions hillside Shortly after the attack opened, an unlucky shell had burst disastrously on their Headquarters then moving up the road. Lt.-Col. King and the Regimental Sergeant-Major were killed, and the Adjutant anti nearly all the rest of the Staff wounded. Later in the day a detachment of his old Pioneers came up for King's body. On his death Major D. Dobson, M.C., had assumed command, but was almost immediately afterwards wounded by a sniper, and command fell to a subaltern (Lt. A. C. C. Hunter), until Major Stitt came up from the rear. Undiscouraged by the failure of the other battalions, 1st Canterbury in turn faced the machine guns and made for the wire. The bravery arid determination of their efforts as of the leading troops, said the official report, were magnificent They were also in vain. The Bellevue snipers and machine guns picket off any man that exposed himself, showing marked quickness in distinguishing officers.
Every unit in the 2nd Brigade had now flung itself at the enemy position. In the end here, as on the Rifle Brigade subsector, the company commanders ordered their men to dig in where they lay, close under the wire oil the ridge, and about Laamkeek in the Ravebeek flats. Runners were sent back with reports on the situation to Waterloo where all 4 battalions had their headquarters. Throughout the day communications mere to be at all times difficult owing to weather mud and hostile fire. It was found impossible to establish forward brigade stations, and the only medium of communication with the attacking companies was b runners, whose casualties exceeded on this day the even normally high rate inevitable through the nature of their duties. On this occasion the runners brought back the penciled and muddied message-forms safely. Lt.-Col. Smith went forward to try to reorganise the attack, but on reaching the hill-side was quickly satisfied that nothing which courage and self-sacrifice could accomplish had been left undone, and that further efforts at the moment were predestined to failure. Snipers made his return to Waterloo difficult mud dangerous, rind Lt.-Col, Charters, who with his intelligence officer attempted later to make an independent reconnaissance, was forced to abandon the attempt after his companion had been wounded.
Some of the barraging machine gun units, whose duty it was after the capture of the first objective to provide covering fire for the further advance from the Bellevue Spur, had by now come forward. Although puzzled by the volume of hostile fire, they had continued to push well up the slopes before they grasped that the New Zealander's habitual success, taken for granted an this occasion also, had not been realised. The remainder were reorganised in time on the forward slopes of the Gravenstafel ridge, whence they fired on to the Bellevue defense over the heads of our infantry.
Some time elapsed before new of the check reached the 2nd Brigade headquarters. The Brigade Major, Major Richardson, was sent forward without delay to discuss the position personall with the commanding officers at Waterloo. He had scarcely arrived and been acquainted with the general blackness of the situation when a message came through for him on the telephone. It was of disconcerting tenor. There arise occasions in war when a General has to steel his heart and in view of the larger situation call on exhausted and weakened troops for renewed efforts against, what locally-seems impossible. He does not know their particular difficulties, but he knows of the progress effected elsewhere, with its possibilities of reaction in their favour, and it is his function to discount the effect local failure may have exercised on morale, and turn reverse into success by further stern pressure, such was the situation now. While the New Zealanders were completely held up, the right wing of the 3rd Australians had crossed their first objective successfully and penetrated to their second; and on the northern flank, elements of the 9th Division had actually reached their final objective north of Goudberg Copse. The Corps ordered therefore the suspension of the attack for the moment and its renewal at 3 p.m. Divisional Headquarters had accordingly arranged for the barrage to be brought back to the Red Line and issued instructions in compliance with Corps orders. Two battalions of the reserve brigade were to move to the western slopes of Gravenstafel Spur, now comparatively free from shelling, and the 2 leading brigades were to take instant measures to reorganise with a view to renewing the attack in the afternoon. The final objective for the day was limited to the original second line (the Blue). The advance on the Goudberg Spur must be postponed. It was suggested that the pillboxes might be carried by an attack from the north-west by the Rifle Brigade, while a holding attack was delivered from the south-west by 2 companies of the 2nd Brigade, the whole of the remainder pressing forward with 2 battalions abreast on each side of the Gravenstafel road.
Had the plan offered the slightest prospect of success, none would have welcomed it more cheerily or striven more whole-heartedly for its realisation than the experienced soldiers who now, with the more limited but more intimate knowledge of “the men on the spot,” discussed the position in the candle-lit dugout at Waterloo. They were unanimous, however, in urging its abandonment. Casualties were heavy, particularly in officers, and the troops were exhausted. The wire was still unbroken, and on the one hand our men were too near it to permit of bombardment, while on the other it was impossible to bring the intermingled units back for reorganisation in daylight under full view of the enemy snipers and machine gunners. Their first representations in this direction were disregarded. All possible measurer, of reorganisation were proceeded with. The 4 battalion commanders, fully satisfied of the hopelessness of the task, made ready to accompany their men and share their fate in the certain extinction of the brigade. Similar measures were taken by the Rifle Brigade.
By the early afternoon, however, although in the north the Guards and English county Divisions reached their objectives, the general situation on the right wing of the battle was profoundly modified. The left of the 9th Divisions had made little progress, and the small parties of Scotsmen on the right flank who had penetrated to their final objective were captured or killed or. obliged to fall back. On the south the left brigade of the Australians, faced by much the same obstacles as the New Zealanders, had been similarly checked. The right brigade had swept on triumphantly to the second objective below Crest Farm, but becoming exposed by our failure at Bellevue Spur to extremely heavy enfilade 2nd reverse fire from that direction, and with their right flank also in the air, owing to a check to the I. Anzac brigade, were forced to withdraw. Under these altered circumstances,, the renewal of the attack by the New Zealand brigades was definitely abandoned; as was another project, for some time entertained, of utilising the Rifle Brigade alone in a turning movement from the north-west.
The decision to cancel the attack was arrived at too late to interfere with the artillery programme, and at 3 p.nl. the barrage recommenced. It was now considerably latter than it was the morning, but had little effect on the well-protected machine guns. It was all but well-protected machine guns. It was all but inevitable that some of the of the 18 pounders and howitzers should fire short, and shell landed with devastating effect on a rifle Brigade forward post of 18 men in the centre of the position. The survivors were withdrawn to the main line As it happened, however this barrage fell on 3 parties of Germans assembling for a counter-attack. Two suffered severely, and refused to face the open. The third, in the northern sector, was to some extent protected by the dead and broken ground used to corer their assembly and succeeded in rushing one of our forward ports east of the cemetery. Any. further advance that may have been interested was checked by Lewis gun and rifle fire.
Thus amid unceasing rain, continual machine gun fire and desultory shelling the curtain falls on the ill-fated attack on Bellevue. It was the Division's one failure on a large scale. And it is difficult to describe the troops' mortification and chagrin. It would be incorrect to say that their losses arid hardships did not for the moment affect their spirits, but officers and men dike of the battered brigades were generally anxious and expressed a wish to make another attempt, after renewed bombardment of the wire, to atone for their non-success and to complete their work before the Division should be relieved. After experiences like those just undergone, none but troops of the finest calibre are capable of such determination. Their wish, however, was not to be realised. But if the sense of failure rankled, there was no secret shame arising from any suspicion that where they had failed other troops might have succeeded, or that they had fallen one iota short of their most exacting conception of duty. They had indeed done everything possible and impossible. They had poured out their blood like water. The bodies of 40 officers and 600 men lay in swathes about the wire and along the Gravenstafel road. The 2nd Brigade had lost 1500 men, the 3rd Brigade 1200. About 20 wounded who had fallen in shell holes beyond the first belt of wire were taken prisoners. The artillery alone had again suffered lightly. 100 Germans were captured, including a battalion commander.
As the obstacles were overwhelming, so the causes of failure are easy of analysis. Among the circumstances under which the attack was launched, notice has been made of the absence of adequate reconnaissance, the lack of time to make preparation, and the troops' physical exhaustion and want of assurance of success. These factors, however, were not to influence appreciably the course of events. Nor was the morale of the enemy infantry such that, had close quarers been reached, success could have been doubted. Some fled, the remainder made no effort to emerge from their trenches and pillboxes, assume the offensive and drive downhill their tired assailants, clinging by their eyebrows, as it mere, under the wire. The attempted counter-attacks were not pushed home. The reasons for our failure lay rather in the inevitable weakness of our artillery barrage, the nature of the ground, the strength of the machine gun resistance from the pillboxes, and above all in the unbroken wire entanglements. In the earlier stages of the Ypres battle the greater distance of our objectives and the severity of our preliminary bombardment had caused the enemy in conformity with his general change of tactics to withdraw his heavy. machine guns further in rear.
Mainly on account of the failure of this new policy and also because our later attacks were marked by comparative shortness of objective and by a decrease in the intensity and duration of our artillery preparation, he had reverted to his former practice of a stronger system of defense generally in his forward area and of massing machine guns in and close behind the front line. On this occasion both machine guns and pillboxes had been practically undamaged by our artillery. Neither the deep mud, however, nor the pillboxes, nor the machine guns, nor weakness of supporting artillery would even conjointly, as Cockerell's attack in the marshes demonstrated, have held our attack. The direct cause of failure was the wide unbroken entanglements against which infantry resourcefulness and fortitude broke in vain.
In the evening the difficult task of reorganisation was carried out with a remarkable precision and orderliness which reflected the highest credit on subordinate officers and the many n.e.o.s who now commanded platoons and companies. As in view of a future attack it would be necessary to bombard the ridge anew, the bulk of our troops were withdrawn to the lower slopes of the hill a short distance in advance of the line from which they had started at dawn. A series of posts was retained further up the slopes. A firm hold was maintained especially on the cemetery, whence the line ran through Wolf Farm to Peter Pan. Each brigade distributed 2 battalions in the front area as far back as the Stroombeek, the line running, from right to left, 1st Otago, 2nd Otago, 1st Rifles, 2nd Rifles. The 2nd Brigade posted the 2 Canterbury battalions on either side of the Wieltje road on the forward slopes of Gravenstafel Spur. The Rifle Brigade held the northern declivities beyond Korek with 1 battalion and placed the other in reserve nearer the Hanebeek. The 4th Brigade battalions withdrew again from the western slopes of the Gravenstafel ridge to the rear. Shortly after 10 p.m. the redistribution of troops in the battle area was complete. The line was now held continuously except for the gap between the 2 brigades. It war filled on the following day by 2 companies of 2nd Canterbury.
All our attacks recently luck preparations, and the whole history of the war is that when thorough preparation is not made, we fall.… You cannot afford to take liberties with the Germans. Exhausted men struggling through mud cannot compete against dry men with machine guns in ferroconcrete boxes waiting for them. The night was dark and squally, without a break in the continuous rain. The appalling conditions restricted infantry hostility on both sides. Our untiring artillery began to shell Bellevue Spur, but otherwise the night was quiet and no S.O.S. was asked for Rations and water were taken forward without much molestation from machine gun fire. The enemy was also engrossed in reorganising his defences and removing his wounded.
This last problem involved on our side extraordinary difficulties. Even before the attack, dressing stations and regimental aid posts as well as the battlefield itself were crowded with the wounded of the 49th Division. Our own casualties very speedily added to this congestion. No duckboard track existed forward of Gravenstafel Spur, and in the broken state of the country, made still more difficult by the wretched weather, 6 and sometimes 8 men mere required for a single stretcher-case. During 12th October, 400 men of the 4th Brigade had been detailed to clear the aid posts but were able to evacuate only a portion, whose places were at once refilled. Every possible shelter was given to the wounded.
When the regimental aid post at Kronprinz Farm was already over-crowded, further stretcher-cases were brought into the 2 dugouts, each 12 feet by 10 feet, which formed 2 battalion headquarters. By the evening these 2 rooms held no less than 56 men, consisting of the staffs of the 2 battalion headquarters, doctors and medical orderlies, and wounded. Outside dozens of stretcher-case lay in the cold driving rain and hail. Without sleep and snatching food at odd moment the regimental medical officers toiled unremittingly and uncomplainingly. Even more lamentable were the conditions at Waterloo. Both places were spasmodically shelled, and it was worse than useless to bring further hundreds of wounded men off the battlefield to already congested localities from which for the moment it was impossible to evacuate them. In the Medical Corps casualties were abnormally heavy, 13 trained men being killed and over 70 being wounded in the 4 Ambulances.
On the 13th the brigades employed every available man of their support battalions who, through themselves worn with strain and want of sleep, repeatedly while light lasted traversed the unimaginable 3-mile journey back to the dressing-station at Spree Farm. They made also urgent representations for additional assistance in carrying down the wounded. As a result, 1200 men of the 4th Brigade and parties of Army Service Corps and artillery personnel were despatched to the forward area, but even then the Division alone was not equal to clearing the field. Assistance was invoked from Corps who ordered the 49th Division to place their reserve brigade at the New Zealanders' disposal. A battalion of this brigade came into the forward battle area.
On the stricken hill-slopes themselves there was throughout the day an informal truce. Our stretcher-bearers worked without interruption right up to the wire which had been lapped by the furthest wave of our attack. The enemy also continued to remove his own wounded. Snipers on both sides dealt instantly with any one not carrying a stretcher, but the bearers did their work without molestation, and the German marksmen and gunners who looked down on the rows of our 200 stretcher cases at Waterloo fired no shot there. By the afternoon of the 14th all surviving wounded had been evacuated.
On the same day II. Anzac received notice that it would be presently relieved by the Canadian Corps. It was decided that pending relief the 3rd Australian and New Zealand Divisions should stay in the line. 1 Immediate steps were taken to relieve the 2nd and 3rd Brigades by the 4th Brigade. 3rd Auckland and 3rd Otago moved up during the afternoon by small parties to behind Gravenstafel Spur, and by 10.30 p.m. were holding the front line with the other battalions of the brigade in support positions north and cast of the Hanebeek. The 2nd Brigade went into support west of the Hanebeek, the 3rd Brigade into reserve in and about the old British and German front lines. Half their machine gun companies remained to strengthen the forward defences.
On 15th October a spell of good weather set in, and with it our artillery commenced systematic bombardment and wire-cutting on all Strong Points, especially on Bellevue Spur and the slopes about Mectchecle that connected it with the main ridge. Passchendaelc itself, which overlooked so many of our artillery positions, was given over to destruction by the heavies, and kept by night and day under the fire of the lesser howitzers and 18-pounders to prevent alike repair and observation. Vigorous counter-battery work, gas shelling, and harassing fire on the German approaches were again in full swing on the whole front. While the heavies bombarded the actual dugouts on the Bellevue Spur and its wire, the 1 A brigade of the 49th Division moved on the 15th into tactical support to the numerically weaker 3rd Australians.
Divisional artillery had the special charge of "isolating" the occupants of the pillboxes. It was their function to keep the occupied areas under continual bursts of shell-fire, deluge them with gas, and cut off communications. In view of the proximity of our forward posts to the zone bombarded by the heavies, they were at first withdrawn half an hour before dawn and then re-established at dusk. The positions were specially marked to be readily recognisable, and every precaution was taken to conceal this movement from the enemy, whose erratic shelling showed that he was still ignorant of their actual locations. Eventually, however, in Marsh Bottom and the Ravebeek valley the forward posts were maintained continuously, as being less exposed to danger from our heavier than had been anticipated, and as occupying a much drier site than the "day" positions further down the valley, where in the most solid ground water was struck at less than 2 feet below the surface.
On the 16th the Rifle Brigade entrained for Lumbres and the 2nd Brigade moved back to the reserve area. The latter was relieved in the support zone by the 1st Brigade, now released from Corps employment. In response to our artillery activity that of the enemy was every day increasingly aggressive. His guns had naturally not been disorganised by our abortive action on the 12th to the same extent as in previous attacks. Hence the artillery duel was more quickly resumed. He strove untiringly to destroy our batteries and prevent our guns being moved forward. Our heavies about Spree Farm were subjected to violent shelling, and three 9.2-in. howitzers were destroyed. The infantry positions on Gravenstafel Ridge and further east suffered considerably, but there was now little machine gun or rifle fire. Behind the Ridge, our battery positions, tracks and cross-roads were periodically shelled with high-explosive and mustard gas. The German air service was extremely active. Many large flights crossed mid recrossed our lines. Bombing aeroplanes repeatedly visited Abraham Heights and Waterloo, and low-flying planes harassed the troops in the shellholes and on the roads, and reconnected our positions at dusk and dawn and throughout the day. Our own artillery remained active, but patrols found the wire on Bellevue still practically intact.
The sector passed on the 18th from II. Anzac to the Canadian Corps, who assumed for the time command of such portions of the II. Anzac Divisions as remained in the area. II. Anzac Headquarters moved back to Hazebrouck. On the following evening the 1st Infantry Brigade took over the forward area from the 4th Brigade, which went into support. The Canadian advanced guards were now all about Ypres, and the withdrawal of the Division followed apace. The 2nd Brigade went to Lumbres on 21st October. The 4th Brigade, which in the second phase of the Division's operation's, from the 11th to the 22nd, had sustained 400 casualties, followed it on the 22nd.A proportion of the transport accompanied units by rail. The remainder was formed into transport groups and went by road. The command of the Divisional sector passed to the 3rd Canadian Division on the 23rd, and that night the 1st Brigade was relieved in the line and moved back into support. On the 24th it passed into reserve, and on the 25th entrained at Ypres and Dickebusch for Lumbres. With the exception of the artillery and 1 company of Field Engineers employed by Corps, the whole of the Division was now already concentrated in or on the way to the training area. It is noteworthy that, despite all obstacles, on no occasion had any task set the Engineers been left uncompleted.
The failure of the 12th October definitely crushed any lingering hopes of carrying the remainder of the ridge before the winter. The capture of Passchendaele, however, and the adjacent part of the ridge northwards would relieve the artillery from direct observation, and a maintenance of activity here was desirable in view of the impending French offensive on the Aisne and of the intended British surprise attack in the vicinity of Cambrai, for which preparations were already afoot. The next general blow in the Ypres front was delivered on the 26th. The objectives now set the Canadians were less ambitious than those of the 12th. Their right flank was successful, but their left was again checked on the Bellevue Spur. Fresh troops attacked it in the afternoon and carried it. On the left of the splendid Canadian achievements, the Fifth Army made some progress against disheartening difficulties. After an interval of 4 days the Canadians made their next bound. They gained nearly all their Objectives, capturing the Crest Farm positions and reaching the outskirts of Passchendaele. Its ruins, and pillboxes with the greater part of the Goudberg Spur fell on 6th November, 3 weeks after the Australians and New Zealanders had aimed at their capture, together with the occupation of the whole of the intervening ground, in a single operation. Further efforts to extend our hold on the main ridge achieved little success, and the greatest and bloodiest battle in history died away.