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.