Battalion War Diary (May 11th – 27th):
May 11th PC VERDUN (2203 – 29845): Btn HQ moved from ROUCY at 9pm to relieve 4th Btn 221st Reg Inf France as Support Battalion JUVINCOURT Section. Relief complete by 2am on 12th inst. 1st Wors Regt in Front Line, 2nd Northants Regt in Reserve at BOUVANCOURT. A & D Coys. Attached to 25th Inf Bde near BERRY AU BAC.
May 12th Raining almost all day. Quiet. Capt. W WESTON came up at night to take charge of letters A & D Coy.
May 13th Quiet. During the evening there was heavy shelling on our right, South of the River AISNE.
May 14th Very Quiet. C Coy with 2 Platoons moved from CP TULIPE to CP ROSE changing w/ 2 platoons of 1/Worcesters Regt. [Front Line]
May 15th Quiet. Very hot sun. Enemy shelled BOIS DES BOCHES during the evening.
May 16th Quiet. Officers of the 2nd Northamptonshire Regt reconnoitered the line previous to taking over. Maj EDWARDS reported to Battalion.
May 17th GC HENRY (2215-2997): The Battn moved up to relieve the 1st Worcestershire Regt in the Front Line being relieved in Support by 2nd Northamptonshire Regt. Relief not complete till 3:45am on 18th. C Coy on Right, D in Centre, B on Left with A in Support. 25th Bde on our right (2nd E Lancs Regt), 23rd Bde on left (2nd Devons).
May 18th Quiet day. Very hot.
May 19th Divisional Commander visits the lines in the morning.
May 20th Very quiet. Heat continued.
May 21st Very quiet. Patrols have been out from each front Coy all night, every night in this sector.
May 22nd Quiet. Officers of 2nd Northants Regt reconnoitered the line – which they are to take over from us. Enemy artillery rather active during night.
May 23rd Weather thundery. Some rain in afternoon. Order received for relief on 24th
May 24th Much cooler & dull. Battalion relieved in Front Line by 2nd Northants. Arrived VENTELAY early morning May 25th
May 25th VENTELAY. Regiment reached reserve billets in the early morning. Remainder of day spent in cleaning up
May 26th Sunday Services. In the afternoon received warning of likely enemy attack. 9:20pm Btn moved up to ROUCY.
ROUCY May 27th, 1am: Enemy barrage opened, VENTELAY neighbourhood & transport lines gassed. About 4:30am Battalion ordered forward to AISNE line. Retiring fight to MONTAGNE de GUYENCOURT. Casualties heavy & details ordered, under 2nd Lt Greaves, to move up to VENTELAY about 9:30pm. Transport moved to wood S. of MONTIGNY [SUR VESLE] & about later 11:30pm to VANDEUIL.
At 4:30am [on May 27th] the battalion was ordered forward to the AISNE line and from this time until June the battalion suffered some of the most severest casualties, fighting a rearguard action against troops which overwhelmingly outnumbered them at all points and forced the line back to MONTAGNE de GUYENCOURT, heights near JONCHERY and high ground N. of TRESLON.
Lt. Col. JOHN D. MITCHELL, CMG, DSO
Narrative May 27th, 1918
The Sherwood Forresters left Roucy at 6:15am and marched towards La Pecherie Bridge via the Concevreux-Cormicy Rd and the Bois de Gernicourt.
Platoon marched at 200 distance.
There was very little hostile shelling until the road just into the Bois de Gernicourt but here the enemy were heavily shelling the road running through the wood towards the canal. The Battalion suffered a considerable number of casualties, one platoon being wiped out by two 5-9s* which fell on the road in the middle of them, a certain number of gun limbers** were knocked out on this road.
On reaching the North edge of the wood a man of the 24th Infantry Brigade was met who told us that the enemy were just coming down to the river. The commanding officer and the leading platoon pushed forward out of the wood and started to make their way to the canal. At the same time, the enemy put down a barrage along the line of the canal 300ft South of it consisting of HE and gas shells which caused a thick haze all along the canal.
The platoon was checked by a thick wall of wire and by the shelling and only five men reached the canal with the CO. The enemy, in large number, were advancing towards the river from the direction of Butte aux Vents and reached the edge of the canal on the North side of the river as we reached the canal and offered machine gun fire on our troops as they came down the ridge between the canal and the Bois de Gernicourt.
The enemy appeared to be very thick on the ground and were advancing in groups of about 25 men each with intervals and distances of about 100ft. As they reached the edge of the canal they lined up and moved to either flank looking for crossings.
A sapper was found near the bridge over the river and he demolished the bridge a few moments after we arrived (at about 7am).
A post was then formed on the South bank of the canal covering the demolished bridge over the river and the undamaged bridge over the canal and the CO then went back to take up a position on the ridge just behind (between the canal and the Bois de Gernicourt).
Intermittent rifle and MG fire went on but the enemy made no attempt to cross the canal.
About an hour later, (8am), an officer and 12 men arrived, sent by the OC Sherwoods to strengthen the canal post and I moved off in the direction of Gernicourt. There was no garrison in Ouvrage Ouest, or in the trench between there to send, and Gernicourt (supposed to be manned by a French MG company).
Small parties of our men (25th Infantry Brigade) could be seen along the North bank of the canal immediately North of Gernicourt.
I made my way back to the Bois de Gernicourt and on the way a Machine Gun opened fire from the high ground just S.E. of Pontavert Bridge, South of the Canal.
The enemy must have crossed near Pontavert and by occupying the high ground enfiladed*** the position just taken up by the Sherwoods. I gather that the Sherwoods then fell back to the West edge of the Bois de Gernicourt and held on here till 12 noon. The machine guns of the 8th Btn which came up behind the Sherwoods went into position on this line.
On reaching PC Division I found the place unoccupied and when we got to the West edge of the wood we saw a party of about 20 Germans at the SW corner of the Bois de Gernicourt moving towards the Concevreux-Cormicy Rd. We hurried back to warn a French Machine Gun detachment in the SW corner of the wood but just before we reached them they ran out into the open, were fired on by the party of Germans, and surrendered.
We moved back through the wood to the Concevreux-Cormicy Rd and found a large number of stragglers moving from the wood towards Bouffignereux. A post was formed on the Bouffignereux road 200ft from the Concevreux-Cormicy Rd and fire was opened on the small party of Germans. About 1/2hr later the party retired towards the high ground near Pontavert bridge, probably forced to do this by the Sherwoods who formed a defensive flank facing West at the NW corner of the Bois de Gernicourt.
Two aid posts were doing a lot of work at the South end of the Bois de Gernicourt (one 1/C of the MO Sherwood Foresters) and motor ambulances were leaving from these two posts all the time I was there.
Gunners who we met in the wood stated that all the guns North of the river had been lost and a large number destroyed by enemy shell fire.
As I came back through Roucy parties of the enemy could be seen moving from Pontavert, in the direction of Concevreux across our left flank, and parties of our own troops, 25th Division and 8th Division Lewis gun School**** were moving onto the Boufignereux – Roucy Line.
At about 4 pm I visited Bouffignereux and our line then came along the North edge of the village, thence westwards along the North edge of the wood which lies just South of the railway from Bouffignereux to Roucy. The enemy were advancing in small parties all along the front and were being held up by Lewis guns and rifle fire about 400 ft in front of our line. Large bodies of the enemy could be seen collecting in the woods along the South bank of the canal.
From reports it appears that the Sherwoods in the Bois de Gernicourt and the garrison of Gernicourt defences held out till 12 noon and then fell back onto Hill 180.
Major George Rowland Patrick Roupell, VC, CB
Glossary & Notes:
HE = High Explosive [Shell]
MG = Machine Gun
TM = Trench Mortar
*The 15 cm schwere Feldhaubitze 13 (15 cm sFH 13), was a heavy field howitzer used by Germany in World War I. The British referred to these guns and their shells as “Five Point Nines” or “Five-Nines” as the internal diameter of the barrel was 5.9 inches (150 mm).
**A limber is a two-wheeled cart designed to support the trail of an artillery piece, or the stock of a field carriage such as a caisson or traveling forge, allowing it to be towed. The trail is the hinder end of the stock of a gun-carriage, which rests or slides on the ground when the carriage is unlimbered.
*** Enfiladed: Gunfire directed from a flanking position along the length of an enemy battle line.
****There was a Divisional Lewis Gun School going on prior to the attack.
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