The Raid at Hill 70

4th Canadian Infantry Brigade Order No. 142 outlined the details of a raid on the German lines in detail. The order specifically directs the Battalion in the intention and actions during the raid and was an important preparatory step for the Battalion, and the other Battalions of the Brigade for the attach on Hill 70 on April 14, 1917.

The 2nd Canadian Division was on the right (south) of the 1st Canadian Division with the 4th Brigade in the center of its area of operations. The area was residential with a steadily increasing density of buildings to the south-east as the area of operations approached the town of Lens proper.

The earlier part of the month of August 1917 had been a wet one. Constant and persistent rain interfered with Battalion training and other aspects of Battalion operations in the rear lines. On August 4, 1917, the Battalion moved along with the other Battalions of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade into the Brigade Support at Cite St. Pierre.  The following day approximately half the Battalion strength of 350 other ranks was tasked with carrying up trench mortar ammunition. This task was again assigned to the Battalion on the 6th of August.

It was on August 8, 1917, that the Battalion relieved the 19th Battalion in the Laurent Sub Sector and was working to prepare for the trench raid outline in the orders. The trench raid involved elements of the 18th, 20th, and 21st Battalion. The 18th Battalion furnished portions of two companies (“C” and “D”) comprising of 103 men. The 20th Battalion made a note of giving their soldiers “a good meal” before the raid. The 20th Battalion furnished number 9 and 14 Platoons totalling 72 men of all ranks. The 21st Battalion comprised of Lieutenants D.J. More and H.J. Wood, along with 115 other ranks.

Preparations included the establishment of supplies, especially grenades, at the Brigade Dump and detailed orders for each unit with coordination occurring between the artillery and the Divisional Machine Gun Officers.

All the Battalions had the same basic tasking for the early morning raid on August 9, 1917. To raid the enemy trenches and secure prisoners and effect casualties. The Battalions also intended to destroy enemy dugouts and strongpoints as a subsidiary goal of the raid. A total of 290 men were set to raid the enemy trenches with Zero Hour set at 4.15 a.m. local time. With watches synchronized the artillery began firing. It laid down its barrage in front of the German front-line for two-minutes and then lifted and proceeded to pound the German front-line trenches for six minutes. It lifted again and formed a protective (box) barrage that would be sustained for forty-one minutes. In addition, the Divisional Machine Gun Officer had organized a protective “box” barrage using Vickers Machine Guns. With the combined firepower of the artillery and machine guns the box barrage would help isolate the raiding party from any German counter-attacks.

The intention of the raid was to be carried out in twenty-six minutes. From the moment of Zero Hour the raiding parties would “jump off” and follow the barrage as close as practicable and carry out their assigned tasks and then return to their trenches. Each Battalion would furnish their own covering parties: groups of men who would lay down harassing fire if the Germans were to fire upon the retreating raiders and to help bring in the inevitable casualties from the raid.

18th Bn. Order no. D143

August 8, 1917

Ref. LENS 1/10000

  1. INTENTION: To raid Enemy front for prisoners, information and to secure identification and to effect casualties.
  2. STRENGHT: “D” Coy – 2 officers & 60 OR’s. “C” Coy – 1 Officers & 40 OR’s.
  3. OBJECTIVE: Enemy front line from N.7.d.7.2 to N.13.a.9.5 and also to secondary line about 100 yards in rear.
  4. ARTILLERY: From ZERO to ZERO + 2 minutes, a barrage will be laid in front of German Front line from left Bn boundary to 13.b.40.9.5. At ZERO + 2 minutes it will lift to German Front line until ZERO + 6 minutes. From n.13.b.40.95 to N.13.a.9.5 the barrage will be laid on the German Front line from ZERO to ZERO + 6 minutes. At ZERO + 6 minutes the whole barrage will life and form a protective barrage around raiding party until ZERO + 41 minutes.
  5. TIME: Raiding Party will follow barrage and remain in the enemies lines not later than ZERO + 26, when they will withdraw.
  6. “B” Coy, 18th Bn will discharge GREEN rockets at 6 different places in our front line at ZERO = 26 as signal to withdraw.
  7. MACHINE GUNS: The D.M.G.O [Division Machine Gun Officer] had arranged for a Machine Gun “box” barrage protecting the raiding party in the Enemy area.
  8. All parties must be in position at 3.45 A.M. and report when in position to Bn. H.Q. at N.7.c.o.7 who will report to Bgde [Brigade] HQ by code word “BLOW”.
  9. The attacking units will furnish their own covering parties and they will also be responsible for getting all members of the party including casualties back to the trenches.
  10. Any prisoners captured will be sent back to Bgde H.Q. as soon as possible.
  11. An Officer of the Bgde Staff will be at Bn HQ to collect information from Officers and OR’s returning from the raid.
  12. The M.O. [Medical Officer] will make all necessary arrangements for the care and evacutation of the wounded.
  13. Units may draw from BGDE DUMP at M.10.d.7.1 all necessary supplies.
  14. Watches will be synchronized at 9 P.M. and 1 A.M. and all officers and OR’s must be in possession of the correct time.
  15. -Col. L.E. Jones, 18th Cdn. Bn. will be in immediate command of the entire operation, with headquarters at N.7.c.0.7.
  16. ZERO hour will be 4.15 AM.

James W. Bell
Capt. & Adj.
[signed]

The 18th Battalion engaged in the raid on the morning of August 9, 1917, and the outcome did not meet its objective of obtaining prisoners but it did report that it caused “many casualties…upon the enemy” and penetrated a distance of 100 yards into the German lines. It gathered information on German wire obstacles, dug-outs and trenches and suffered 4 men of other ranks killed and 24 other ranks “slightly” wounded. Lieutenant Spencer and 7 men spent a day in a demolished cellar and Lieutenant T.R. Dougall was tasked, or volunteered, to located the missing men. During the search Lieutenant Spencer and one man found their way in, leaving five men unaccounted for. Lieutenant Dougall and Spencer attempted to locate the cellar but where unable to do so and were undoubtedly relieved to learn later that the missing men returned via another part of the line, most likely another battalion’s line, and reported to a Regimental Aid Post.

The 2nd Canadian Division War Diary relates that there were “very few of the enemy seen in the front line” during the raid and these men were “promptly killed”. None of the raiding parties was able to obtain prisoners.

War Diary August 1917 (6)

War Diary Entry, 18th Battalion dated August 9, 1917:

“In conjunction with the 20th and 21st Canadian Battalions the 18th Battalion raided the enemy front line trenches. The whole raiding party was under the command of Lieut-Col. L.E. Jones, C.O. 18th Canadian Battalion. The frontage raided by the 18th Battalion was the German front line for N.13.b.1.4. to N.7.d.70.15. Zero hour for this raid was 4.15 a.m. Artillery support was very good.

Although no prisoners were captured many casualties were inflicted upon the enemy, and very valuable information as regards to enemy trenches, wire and dug-outs was obtained. Our parties penetrated a distance of 100 yds into the German lines, our casualties being 4 o.r. Killed and 24 o.r. slightly wounded. All wounded were returned safely to our lines. The German barrage was very scattered. Our raiding party consisted of 35 men of “C” Coy under Lieut. H.[B]. Johnson and 65 men of “D” Coy under Lieut. D. Northcombe and Lieut. G.J. Spencer. Lieut. Spencer and 7 o.rs., one of whom was wounded, were unable to get back to our lines owing to daylight, remained in a demolished cellar throughout the day. Lieut. Spencer and one man found their way in, in the early part of the night and assisted by Lieut. T.R. Dougall they searched the whole area during the night but were unable to re-located the cellar in which the remaining 5 o.rs were. Upon the return of Lieut. Dougall and party a report came from the 4th Brigade H.Qrs that these missing men came in and hard reported to another Regimental Aid post.”

From the raid the General Officer Commanding was able to reports to the 2nd Canadian Division the following:

The 18th and 21st Battalion encountered “very strong” wire obstacles with the 21st Battalion able to gain their objectives with the use of Wire Cutters attached to their rifles. The 20th Battalion encountered no wire as it had been destroyed

The 18th Battalion found the German trenches not very heavily damaged with two dugouts being found. The 21st Battalion found three dugouts and one may have been a trap as it “collapsed entirely” after being destroyed with charges and the trenches in their sector were “badly knocked about”. The 20th Battalion found their sector’s trenches “very much damaged” and the cellars it investigated in a similar condition.

The front line was lightly held with any German found promptly killed. The balance of the German garrison retreated as the raiding parties advanced.

Several points of note were reported. Two bombing posts and machine gun emplacements where noted with appropriate co-ordinates and a line of machine guns were identified as well as potential German sniping positions at some housed.

The use of signals was effective with an red ground flares lighted in the German lines to indicate the withdrawal of the raiding troops from the engagement. The flares attracted German artillery on their own front line.

The raid offered a series of conclusions for consideration with the upcoming attack. The wire was considered “passable” and the use of additional wire cutting would be of value. In the 4th Canadian Brigade Sector the enemy trenches were characterized as being “badly damaged” with few dugouts spaced a “considerable distance apart.” The Germans use Bombing Posts as a defensive work to support the front line and the posts located in the sector of the raid were destroyed. It appears that Commotion Trench is of tactical value to the Germans with movement from “Chicory via Combat and Conductor”. The Battalions were well familiar with the jumping off line and it was “in every way suitable” and the timing of attack at 4.15 a.m. was “correct”. Last, the position of the enemy barrage was now established.

4th Canadian Infantry Brigade
August 9, 1917

Report on Raid on Enemy Trenches at Outlined in O.O. 142.

Ref. Sheet
LENS 1/10000
36.SW.9.a

All parties reached their Objectives, but the enemy retired before the barrage, and no prisoners were captured; but the following information was obtained/

WIRE

The 18th Battalion on the Right found the wire very strong from N.13.b.1.8 to N.7.d.25.00, and the wire on CUTET Trench little damaged.

The wire in front of the 21st Battalion is very strong. The raiding party succeeded in passing over the rows of wire which was more or less damaged. The third or inner band is very strong – about 25 feet deep – and filed with loose wire. The men used their wire cutters and in 3 minutes had cut passages through in a number of places which enabled the party to gain their objectives. All Ranks are please with the results of training in the use of the Wire Cutters.

On the front of the 20th Battalion the wire was demolished and did not prove an obstacle.

TRENCHES

On the 18th Front the trenches were not heavily damaged. Two enemy dugouts were smashed and bombed but one seemed to be occupying them.

Only 3 dugouts were noticed on the 21st Battalion Front. One seemed to be a trap as it collapsed entirely after being blown in.

The enemy trenches are badly knocked about.

On the 20th Battalion Front the Trenches were very much damaged and so were the cellars in the housed which were raided.

GARRISON

The enemy is holding his front line very lightly, only a few men were encountered and these were promptly killed. All three Battalions report accounting for a number in this [action]. The remainder of the Garrison fled the approach of our parties.

POINTS TO BE NOTED.

There is a Bombing Post at N.13.b.15.80. A M.G.E. [machine gun emplacement] at N.13.b.5.7. The Machine Guns were fired from German Front Line from points between N.13.b.05.95 andN.13.a.95.60. Enemy has a Machine Gun and Bombing Post in house an N.7.d.6.8. Three of the enemy sniped from Houses about N.8.a.5.0.

SIGNALS

As an additional signal for the withdrawal, Red Ground Flares were lighted in the German Lines. Our parties at once cleared, and the enemy then barraged his own front line.

CONCLUSIONS

As a result of the operation it has been established that:-

  1. The front line wire is now passable throughout. In a few places additional wire cutting would be of material assistance.
  2. The enemy front line is badly damaged. There are a few dugouts in the front trench, but they are a considerable distance apart.
  3. The enemy defends his front line with Bombing Posts in rear. A number of these have been located, all of which were dealt with this morning.
  4. He apparently holds COMMOTION TRENCH in some strength. After our withdrawal our Observers reported a strong party moving from CHICORY via COMBAT and CONDUCTOR.
  5. The jumping off line selected is in every way suitable and is now well known by our men.
  6. The ZERO Hour, 4.15 a.m., was correct.
  7. The position of the enemy barrage is now definitely known.

Signed
Captain.
for G.O.C. 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade

The raid was not a complete success. No prisoners were obtained and at a cost of 29% casualty rate for the raiding parties. It did allow for a much better idea of the condition of the trenches the Battalions would be engaging and fighting in in the upcoming attack and the overall coordination and effectiveness of the fight on the ground with the interdicting fire of the artillery and machine gun units would increase the confidence of the men about to be engaged in the largest operation for the Canadian Corps since the attack on Vimy Ridge five months previous.

Battalion 18th 20th 21st
Killed in Action 4 11
Wounded 24 (slightly) 30 8 (slightly)
Missing 11

The 18th Battalion Dead

Private Mark Arnold: Killed in Action.

Private Horace Victor Burgess: He was killed by an enemy machine gun bullet through the head, on the morning of August 9, 1917.

Private Robert Andrew Given: Killed in Action.

Corporal Lloyd Tom Skilton: Killed in Action.

In a letter to Corporal Skilton’s mother, Lieutenant H.B. Johnson writes eloquently about her son and his words reflect the sense of duty and sacrifice for all the soldiers on this raid:

“”I had known him but a short time, but even in that short period I counted him one of my personal friends, and he had the confidence and love of all the members of his platoon. His company commander had the very highest opinion of him, and his death was a blow to the whole company. I hope you will temper your sorrow by proud thoughts of a boy who died a hero and a gentleman, fighting for his country.”

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