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The War Diary  November 1917 
France    June 1916 to February 1918
November 1917
Gough's Bourlon Wood
Transcription
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The Attack on Bourlon Wood   
Commencing 22nd November 1917

Major H.P.B. Gough Commanding 17th Battalion The Welsh Regiment

[Transcribed from his handwritten report ]

November 1917
17th Welsh
Diary Pages:
Nov_17_P1
Nov_17_P2
Nov_17_P3
Nov_17_P4

November 1917
135th Field
Ambulance
Diary Pages
135FldAMb_P1
135FldAMb_P2
135FldAMb_P3
135FldAMb_P4
135FldAMb_P5
135FldAMb_P6

November 1917
Orders, Reports
& Casualty Lists etc.
Gough's Bourlon Wood
RAMC Report
Spcl DIv Order
Crozier's Special Order
Officer Casualties

 

Ref: MOEUVRES special sheet 1/20000

On  November 23rd 1917, the 119th Infantry Brigade with the assistance of "Tanks" and Artillery attacked the enemy positions in BOURLON WOOD.  At the same time BOURLON VILLAGE was attacked by the  121st Infantry Brigade on our left and FONTAINE-NOTRE-DAME by the 51st Division on our right.

The 119th Infantry Brigade attacked on a two  Battalion Front.  The 19th R.W.Fusiliers on the right and the 12th S.W.Borderers on the left.  The divide up line between the 2 Battalions was roughly the road running N & S through the wood.  The  road itself being given to the 19th R. W. F.

The 17th Welsh was in Support

The 18th Welsh was held in Reserve in and about GRAINCOURT

On the evening of Nov 22nd the 17th Welsh Regiment moved forward from DOIGNIES and spent the  night 22nd/23rd November in the Sunken Roads in E.30.c.

Shortly before ZERO hour (10.0 a.m. 23/11/19 17) the Battalion moved forward to its assembly position. A and D Companies through ANNEUX to the S edge of the CAMBRAI Road in F. 19 central,  B & C Companies to the sunken road in E 24B.

Orders were issued to Company Commanders as follows:
(1) A & D Companies to Support the 19th R. W. F.  
(2)  C & B Companies to Support the 12th S. W. B.  
(3) "D" Company to secure the Sunken Road through F. 14 and establish a Strong Point there.  
(4)  "B" Company to establish a Strong Point at about E.18.A.1.9.  
(5) All 4 Companies to be prepared to throw out defensive Flanks and to keep touch with troops on right & left  
(6) The advance to be checked on the road running E & W through F.13 a & b and posts  left to secure a position on the high ground on that General Line  

When the 2 leading the Battalions entered the Wood A & C Coys moved forward in Artillery Formation followed out at 200 yards distance by D & B Companies.

Early in its advance "A" Company became aware of a large party of the enemy on its right flank directing fire against the Division operating on our right.  This party  was successfully attacked and fifty prisoners taken without materially interfering with the forward movement of our troops.

After "A" Company had passed North of the Old Quarry in F. 14 c two small parties of the enemy appeared behind them and opened fire.  These were  successfully dealt with by "D " Company several  being killed and seventeen captured.  Therefore except for occasional snipers and a few small enemy parties no  further resistance was encountered on the right until the first objective (Road E  & W through F. 13. a & b) was reached by A Company at 11.45 a.m. 23/11/1917.

On the Left little opposition was met by C & B Companies.  A few  Snipers were accounted for and "B"  Company cleaned up a dugout the bag being 30 prisoners including an Officer and a Machine-Gun.  "C" Company reached the first Objective at 11.55 a.m. 23/11/1917 and B Company established a Strong Point at about E.18.a 1.  9.  by a.m.

At an early hour on the 23rd it became evident that the attack on  BOURLON VILLAGE was not progressing satisfactorily and the O/C "B" Company (Lieut A. R. Jones M.C.) was ordered to send another platoon to reinforce the garrison of the Strong Point on the left and form a defensive flank on be S. W. edge of the Village.

By 11.30 a.m. the 12th S. W. B. were hard pressed by the enemy in the North West portion of the wood and Captain DUNN (O.C. 'C' Company) sent up 2 platoons under  Lieut ENSOR to reinforce there.

Enemy pressure increasing still further, Captain DUNN took the two remaining platoons  of his Company  forward into the firing line with the results that the Enemy advance in was for the time being "checked". Meanwhile the enemy was counter attacking vigorously from BOURLON VILLAGE and the O.C. 'B' Company was ordered to move his remaining two platoons to the left flank.  The whole of 'B' Company was then hotly engaged and did splendid work under the leadership of Lieut A. R. Jones M.C.  2Lieutenant T. T. DAVIES of this company fought hard in an endeavour to clear the path of the Middlesex Regiment on his left   but without  avail, and in a little while  'B' Coy were fighting hard to maintain its own ground against the ever increasing pressure of Enemy troops debouching from the Village.

The condition of affairs on the left flank had now become very serious and at 1.30 pm a message was sent back asking for reinforcements.  The 12th S. W. B. and the two Companies of the 17th Welsh though disputing every inch of ground were being forced slowly back when at p.m.  the 18th Welsh arrived.  Enemy progress was immediately stayed and our troops in their turn  began to gain ground.  For some time the line surged backwards and forward but when  night fell and the fighting ceased  our troops held all the High Ground and were within sight of the houses of BOURLON VILLAGE.

On the right rapid progress was made at first but at 12.45 p.m. a message was received from the 19th R. W. F. asking for reinforcements to be sent to the Eastern edge of the Wood.  This request had been anticipated. One company having been ordered to make good the the N.E portion of the Wood as soon as it became known that the R. W. F. had passed beyond the N edge giving to the left of the line being driven back from the N. EAST portion of BOURLON VILLAGE the R. W. F. were forced to drop back to the N edge of the wood and being subjected to considerable enemy pressure were reinforced by 2 platoons of 'A' Coy. 17th Welsh.

An attempt was made to dig in along the N & NE edges of the wood, but heavy shell fire and M-gun fire forced the line to drop back to a position about 100 to 150 yards inside. This line was worked on during the night of 23rd/24th  November.

Towards evening however the right centre had been driven back and a message was  sent to o.c. 'A' Coy to throw his left back towards the track running diagonally through a F. 13.b and link up with the right of 'C' Coy.  At midnight 23/24th November this function was effected and the line was continuous from F. 7.b.2.6 to F. 8.C..5.4 and thence by means of posts to the sunken road at F. 14.A..3.3 .

This operation was rendered the more difficult because by the time that the 17th Welsh and the 19th R. W. F. were very much mixed up and re-organisation was hampered by darkness.

At about 8.0 p.m. a 23rd of November the left of 'C' Company was at F.7.b. 2.6 and touch had been lost with 'B' Company 17th Welsh and 18th Welsh and the 12th S. W. B. Before midnight the right of the 18th Welsh had been located at F. 7.C..5.5 and instructions issued for  O.C. 'C' Coy 17th Welsh to establish posts along the road running from the N.E to S. W. through F. 7.C & for the 18th Welsh to throw back and extend their  right in order to gain touch.  This was satisfactorily effected and the whole  line was then continuous.

At dawn on the 24th November the enemy delivered a very heavy counter attack along the greater part of the front but mainly against the centre.  In the heavy fighting that follow 'B' and 'C' Company  17th Welsh lost all their remaining Officers and the Companies suffered very heavy losses.  On the right centre the line was driven back a considerable distance and the remnants of A &  D Companies in the N. E.  and E. portion of the wood were completely cut off.  These two Companies were almost surrounded and though putting up a determined resistance suffered very heavy losses.

The arrival of reinforcements stiffened the defence and despite all efforts of the enemy the whole of the High Ground in the Wood remained firmly in our hands.  During the day two efforts were made by Dismounted Cavalry and A & SH,  to recover the Eastern portion of the wood where some parties of A & D Companies  17th Welsh were still holding out.  These efforts failed but at dusk a considerable number of our men continued to get back and join up with the troops holding the main line of resistance on the High Ground.

At about midnight 24th/25th November a Battalion of Scots Guards and some King's Own Royal Lancs were brought up in an endeavour to re-establish our line around the edge of the wood.  The King's Own  proceeded along the main road running N & S through the Wood with the object of securing the N edge.

The Scots Guards proceeded to the Sunken road at F. 14 a.3.3 with the intention of securing the Eastern edge of the Wood.  On arrival at the Sunken road it was at once evident that the enemy held that portion of the wood East of the road running from N.W to SE through F. 7.d very strongly, and it was deemed advisable to wait till the morning before endeavouring to clear it.  The attempt was made on the morning 25th November but was only partially successful since the Guards withdrew once again to the High Ground.

At p.m. 25th a general  advance of the line was ordered. Progress was made by the Scots guards on the right of their attack the Units of the. 119th Infantry. Brigade on their left.  The Guards gamely left & the 119th Infantry Brigade right  however were able to make little or no progress and the attack came to a standstill.

During the 24th/25th  November an immense amount of work was done in  reorganising groups of leaderless men of different units & sending them back to the firing line as fighting units under a recognised leader.  The promptness with which this was done and the alacrity with which orders were obeyed alone rendered it possible to stiffen the line of resistance at the critical periods and enabled our troops to hold on to the all important  High Ground in the wood.  The astonishing valour and tenacity displayed by all  units of the 119th Infantry Brigade in the face of extremely heavy shelling and continuous counter attacks, the valuable aid rendered by the Scots Guards and Dismounted Cavalry enabled the 119th Inf. Bde to hold the important tactical position BOURLON WOOD until handed over to the 62nd division on the night 25/26 November 1917.

  

 

  Signed H.P.B. GOUGH
Major Commanding 17th (Service) Battalion The Welsh Regt