Tag Archives: Ypres

August 1917 – A Summary

19 August 1917

On 19 August 1917 a composite company of tanks from G Bn went in to action near St Julien, east of Ypres.  The action became known as the Cockcroft Action.  The orders were for the tanks to cross the Steenbeke at St. Julien and, due to the boggy and crumped nature of the ground, proceed in single file along the Poelcapelle Road, crossing the original front lines and then proceeding across the front of the 48th Division from right to left and consecutively engaging the rear of strongpoint’s at: Gun Pit, Hillock Farm, The Triangle, Mon Du Hibou and Cockcroft. Upon reaching the far end of the Triangle junction they were to turn left towards Langemarck, cross the original front of the 11th Division, engage Cockcroft and re-enter the original British Front Line.  The attack was a success and the casualties in the supporting infantry were considerably lower than they would have been had they not had the support from G Bn’s tanks.  One soldier, Pte George Mungall, died of his wounds.

22 August 1917 

34 tanks were in action on 22 August 1917. They were from (from north to south) D Bn (12 tks), F Bn (8 tks), C Bn (10 tks), and B Bn (4 tks). For their actions on 22 Aug (and in some cases for their actions on days either side) there were 6 MCs, 12 MMs and 4 DCMs awarded to officers and men of the Corps. One of those DCMs was awarded to LCpl Ernest Jagger of D Bn. He had been awarded an MM at Bullecourt on 3 May 17.  Nineteen tankies died on 22 August.

The most ‘famous’ action of 22 Aug was that of F41 Fray Bentos commanded by 2Lt George Hill. The tank engaged an MG in Somme Farm, then Gallipoli, and then ditched at 7.20 am. The tank remained ditched in no mans land and under fire until abandoned on the night of the 24 Aug 17. Remarkably only one crew member, Pte Ernest Braedy, was killed.  2Lt Hill’s report of the event ends with: “At 9.00pm on the evening of the 24th, the crew having manned their posts for 62hrs and having been 72hrs in the tank decided to evacuate.”

23 August 1917 

4 tanks from B Bn were in action on 23 Aug 17 in the vicinity of Clapham Junction, approx 5kms east of Ypres.  3 tanks were hit an knocked out.  2Lt Colley, commander of B5 Bystander, was killed, as was Pte Carlson.  Neither has a known grave; they are remembered on the Tyne Cot memorial.

27 August 1917

7 tanks from 1 Coy A Bn were due to advance via the Hooge Gap to Clapham common in support of 41st Bde’s attack on Inverness Copse and Glencourse Wood. Each tank was to support half an infantry company. 5 tanks set off (2 broke down) but due to the state of the ground and appalling weather conditions the tanks took 9 1/2 hrs to move the 1 1/4 miles to their starting point – at times the mind was up to their sponsons. The tanks were hit by a German barrage. Capt Vardy, the Sect Comd, was killed and 13 men were injured.

Further north 4 tanks from 11 Coy D Bn were in support of 1/7th and 1/8th Worcesters. The tanks were to move up the Poelcapelle Road to Triangle Farm and to wait until called upon by the infantry. One tank slipped off the road and became stuck between 2 trees. The other 3 reached Triangle Farm and assisted the infantry attack on the German strongpoints. One tank fired forty rounds into each of the many blockhouses near Vancouver Farm. The enemy retired and at least fifty of them were killed with the tank’s Lewis guns. The Germans counter attacked and the tank ditched and was abandoned. The second tank slipped off the road and became ditched twice but was successfully unditched. It then ditched for a third time with water above the engine and so the tank was abandoned. The third tank also engaged a number of blockhouses killing about 30. At 4.45pm the tank moved forward to assist an attack by the infantry but after 75m the road was blocked by a blown up derelict tank [identity unknown]. At 6.15 pm the infantry withdrew as they were in danger of being outflanked, the tank was trying to bring its Lewis guns to bear when the petrol tank was pierced and was immobilised. The tank was surrounded by the enemy and was abandoned. Pte Twigg was killed.

3rd Ypres

On 31 July 1917 the newly formed Tank Corps fielded its biggest fleet of tanks yet deployed in to action. Of the 9 Tank Bns in existence, 5 were committed to the opening assault with 2 more being kept as Army Reserve. These 5 Bns were A, B, C, F, and G and each Bn planned to use 2 of its 3 companies in the opening assault. Thus on 31 July 1917 120 tanks went in to action.

The allocation of tanks to Corps and Divisions was as follows:

1st Tank Brigade (G Bn: supporting XVIII Corps (39, 51, 11, 48 Divs)
2nd Tank Brigade (A & B Bns) supporting II Corps (24, 30, 18, 8, 25 Divs)
3rd Tank Brigade (C & F Bns) supporting XIX Corp (15,55,16,36 Divs)

Of the 120 tanks sent in this day, just over half ditched or broke down although some of these rallied later. 28 tanks were knocked out. In general terms the tanks were able to make it to the line of the 2nd objectives.

42 tankies were killed on 31 July. 15 MCs and 39 MMs were awarded for actions that day.

It started raining on the afternoon of 31 July.

Oosthoek Wood

A British soldier directs a Mark IV tank as it crosses an old trench in Oosthoek Wood, near Elverdinghe.

In preparation for their forthcoming operations at the 3rd battle of Ypres (which would start on 31 July 1917), between 30 June and 2 July 1917 C Bn moved to Oosthoek Wood which is just north of the road from Poperinge and Vlamertinge.  The wood gave the Bn good cover and space to operate but because the unloading ramp was outside the wood the Bn’s arrival at their Tankodrome was seen by German spotters in observation balloons.

On 4 July 1917 the Germans heavily shelled the wood for several hours.  The Bn Orderly Room was hit, injuring the Adjutant and the Bde Supply Officer, who died the following day. Also hit were the workshops, the transport area, and the company lines.  Five soldiers and 5 horses were killed and 3 tanks were hit.

The casualties were buried in the nearby newly constructed Gwalia Cemetery.

As a result of the shelling the Bn moved to a new camp.

 

Prints and canvasses of the image used here can be purchased from the Imperial War Museum here