The tremendous rush of the German Army had broken through on a wide front. The Fifth Army was falling back on the Somme and the Germans following on its heels were surging on towards Amiens to cut the railway communications, isolate the Channel ports and destroy the British Army. The division was ordered to entrain for the Somme.
The New Zealanders had marched straight into the gap that had developed between the Fourth and Fifth corps. At all costs this gap had to be closed, and closed without an hour's delay.
The general plan of battle was for the 1st Brigade consisting temporarily of 1st and 2nd Auckland and 1st Rifle Brigade to advance through Mailly Maillet along the Puiseux Road, in the direction of Serre, while the 2nd Brigade on the right were to go through Auchonvillers and, if possible, to Beaumont Hamel.
The Rifles formed an outpost line in front of the Mailly-Maillet. Now it was a race for the ridge running roughly from in front of Beaumont Hamel to Hébuterne. If the enemy could gain it they would be in an excellent position to push further attacks. If it were taken by our men, we would have observation far up the valley of the Ancre. The Germans won, but they could not hold it all for the 2nd Brigade on the left moved forward and swept them back to the left of La Signy Farm, while the 1st Brigade, moving at first in column of platoons, deployed out into artillery formation until they reached the apple-trees and a long hedge where they commenced to encounter intense fire. They were temporarily checked, but just as evening fell they made an irresistible rush and carried the ridge in front of them. The darkness deepened, and in strange contrast the sugar refinery that lay to the centre caught fire and blazed luridly throughout the night. Only in the centre in front of La Signy Farm and toward the Serre Road did the enemy hold the high ground. The race had been a close one and the result was by no means certain.
Throughout the 27th, 28th and 29th, the enemy continued to search for a gap through which he could pour and so bring us to ruin, but with every passing day our hold grew firmer. The resolute defence, although it was not tested to anything like the breaking-point, was too strong for the attack. During the afternoon of the 27th the first batteries of the New Zealand artillery came up through Mailly-Maillet, and were in action before evening.
Lying in front of the New Zealand position, and in some parts dominating it, was the ridge and farmhouse of La Signy. Possession of this would not only greatly strengthen the line and drive the enemy elsewhere into the valley below, but would also give observation for some miles to the eastward. The 4th Rifles with 2nd Auckland in the centre and 1st Wellington on the right were chosen for the operation which was to be attempted at 2 p.m. on Easter Sunday, 30 March. There was no preliminary bombardment but a shrapnel barrage went down just on zero hour.
On 5 April the enemy made his final attempt against the Rifle Brigade and the 2nd Brigade, who were then holding the line. They brought up a considerable power of artillery and shelled with intensity front and back areas alike. All communications were cut. For three hours the storm continued, and then they flung in their infantry. The first attack broke down completely thirty yards from our line. Two hours later they came again in great force and overwhelmed the advanced post to the east of La Signy. This gave them some room in which they could deploy and bring their trench mortars into action. They sent bombing parties up every sap, but were stopped and beaten back time and time again by steady riflemen who did not dream of running; by Lewis-gunners who manoeuvred to get out on flanks; by bombers who concealed themselves in front of our posts and fell suddenly upon the enemy as they crept cautiously toward our blocks. Next day rain fell heavily. There was for the time being little infantry activity. The German offensive on the Somme had been brought to a standstill.