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Trench Raid at Wieltje 10th January 1917.
1/5th Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
Wieltje is a small village approximately 2 miles to the north east of the town of Ypres in Belgium. During WWI it formed part of the allied held salient around Ypres and was on the frontline of trench warfare that had developed during the conflict.
Trench raiding had become a permanent feature for both sides and had developed due to lessons learned from previous encounters with opposing forces. The purpose of trench raids was mainly to kill the enemy, destroy his strongpoints, to gain intelligence including the capture of prisoners if possible and to maintain aggression within the fighting troops.
The L.N.L Regiment were no strangers to this part of the front line which ran from Wieltje to the south of Railway Wood, when a decision was made that a raid was to take place the officers would plan and implement it.
In the days leading up to the raid, when not in the trenches the battalion sheltered at the Yser Canal Bank, where there was a series of underground tunnels and dugouts.
Lt Robert Keith Makant MC was to lead the raid he had seen action winning the MC in a bombing raid at Guillemont on 9th August 1916, having attended lectures in hand to hand combat amongst others he was also the battalion and 155th Brigade Bombing Officer.
A final rehearsal of the raid took place with all combatants on the 9th January 1917 on spare ground adjacent to the town prison of Ypres in the presence of the Divisional Commander who having observed the practice expressed his approval of their display.
The planned raid on the enemy position of Cambrai Trench was to be carried out at 17.15 hrs on the 10th January 1917 at two points between references: C.29.a. 27. 98 – C.23. c. 32. 03 of the St Julien trench map.
In total there would be 3 officers and 140 volunteers involved consisting mostly of the L.N.L Regiment and attached personnel of 1 NCO and 7 O.R. of the Royal Engineers utilised for their specialist knowledge.
The troops were divided into two parties:
Right party ‘A’ under command of 2 Lt John Cecil Frankland ‘C’ Company
Reserve officer: 2 Lt Charles Warburton Whitaker attached to the L.N.L. from the 8th Manchester Regiment.
Left party ‘B’ under command of Lt Robert Keith Makant MC.
Both parties assembled at 15.00 hrs in their respective positions ‘A’ at Prowse Farm and ‘B’ at Scottish Trench / Lone Farm. An allied artillery barrage began at 15.10hrs on the enemy positions around the point of the raid and also further along the enemy line, used as a feint so as to confuse the enemy over where the attack was to be made. At 16.40 hrs both groups left their trenches crossing the front line at 17.00hrs to a forward ditch running S.E. from Argyle Farm from where they would launch the attack. At 17.15hrs both parties advanced on their chosen enemy positions, the Right party almost immediately came under enemy machine gun fire from a promontory in the enemy position named ‘Kaiser Bill’ to their right front. The wire here had not been cut and their commander was killed early in the attack, the troops carrying explosive torpedoes had also become casualties from a shell. 2nd Lt Whitaker had received three wounds though he continued to direct his men, as this party no longer had the means to cut the wire and advance to their objective he gave the order to retire.
Lt Makant MC and the Left party found all the wire cut at their point of attack and entered the enemy trench with little opposition at point C29.a.27 98. Having entered they met with strong and stubborn opposition the enemy appeared to be prepared for the attack bombing the attackers from unseen positions. Close quarter fighting ensued with the L.N.L. bombing 2 dugouts and an observation post, it was reported one L.N.L soldier accounted for 10 enemy soldiers alone. Throughout the attack signal rockets and Very lights were sent up and the enemy barrage being laid down was considered heavier than usual. A bugle call was the signal for the allied troops to retire, which having done as much as they could did so. The typed LNL daily war diary page concludes with casualties. Killed: 2/ Lieut J.C. Frankland. Wounded: 2/Lieut C.W. Whitaker 2/ Lieut Alun Jones. A pencilled hand written addendum lists OR’s killed 7, wounded 48, missing 2.
The following reports are transcribed verbatim from enclosures contained within the 1/5th battalion War Diary for the 10th January 1917 and highlight where developments may be made for future incursions into enemy territory at the planning stage.
1. [Ref No: 1143/19 (G).]
Preliminary Report on Raid carried out by the 1/5th L.N.Lan. Regt., 166th Infantry Brigade on the afternoon of the 10th January 1917.
The bombardment by the Heavy Artillery and the Divisional Artillery started according to programme. At first retaliation by the enemy was slight. His Artillery was assisted by two aeroplanes which flew rather lower than usual over our lines.
Towards 5 p.m. the enemy Artillery became more active, our front line South of Wieltje receiving most attention. The Raiding parties ‘A’ and ‘B’ advanced respectively from PROWSE and LONE FARMS and reached the rendezvous, (the ditch running South-East from ARGYLE FARM), with few casualties.
The Right party ‘A’ in its advance from the rendezvous lost its Bangalore Torpedo party by shell fire, and the wire being found insufficiently cut, no entry was possible. The officer in Command, who was wounded, decided to withdraw his party. His scouts had found the German parapet manned and were bombed by the enemy, thus preventing the wire being cut by hand.
The Left party ‘B’ found the wire well cut and entered the German trenches; they were immediately met by opposition. They were bombed and owing to the darkness were unable to ascertain the direction from which the bombs were coming. About eight Germans were encountered and these were killed. They showed no inclination to surrender.
The party succeeded in destroying two concrete dugouts. Owing to increased opposition and the difficulty of exercising control in the darkness the progress was very slow, and when the signal for retirement was given it had only succeeded in penetrating about 50 yards. This party brought back identification of the 162nd Infantry Regt. No prisoners were taken.
There was a marked increase of hostile Artillery as compared with other raids carried out by this Division on the front, which greatly handicapped the operation.
The bombardment of the enemy’s trenches immediately North of the YPRES-ROULERS Railway at first, no doubt, deceived the enemy as to the intention of the operations as at first he replied with a fairly heavy barrage, which gradually slackened off.
After Zero an Officers’ patrol sent to ascertain the damage done to the enemy’s trenches reported a lane cut through the enemy’s wire at l b c 15.55 and the front trenches in the locality appeared to be much damaged, but the patrol was prevented from making a close reconnaissance owing to their presence being discovered and subsequently being fired on by Machine Guns.
The casualties were as follows:
Missing (believed killed) 4
N.B. The above casualty figures were as near to accurate, though figures were to vary slightly. Receipt of this report at H/Q prompted the following initial response.
2. [ Ref: 55th Division No. 1143/21 (G) ]
With reference to the preliminary report on raid last night by 1/5th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment forwarded under 55th Division No. 1143/19 (G) of 10/1/17. I submit at once the following deductions in case any similar enterprises are in contemplation in the near future. If any further lessons come to light they will be brought to your notice.
1. We must now expect a heavier barrage to be developed by the enemy than we have been used to lately. Accurate location of the enemy’s batteries and careful counter battery work will be a necessity in future raids. The enemy has become accustomed to being raided on this front, and knows what to expect when our artillery fire becomes intense. His artillery are likely to be registered on ground in front of the trenches bombarded and to be ready for immediate action.
2. Our artillery was somewhat inconvenienced by hostile aeroplanes, which were enabled to observe and spot our batteries without difficulty owing to the absence of our aircraft. His own planes seem to have increased in number lately. It therefore seems desirable in such operations in future to send up planes to keep his at a distance.
55th Div. H.Q. H.S. Jeudwine Major General.
11th January 1917. Commanding 55th Division.
The following unsigned page of five questions was also attached at this point, but the queries posed are only partially addressed in the continuing same date correspondence.
1. Were the aeroplanes sufficiently engaged by the A.A. Guns ?
2. Why were no arrangements made for understudies to the torpedo party ? were spare torpedoes carried ?
3. Was failure to cut the wire on the Right due to the casualties in the T.M. Batteries ? What were these casualties ? Did the 18 pdrs. do their share of wire cutting ?
4. The scouts of the right party found the German parapet manned. It appears therefore that the raiding party were not sufficiently close up to the barrage. In both these cases the enemy were evidently not much shaken by our Artillery fire.
5. At what stage were the heaviest casualties incurred before the raid, during the raid, during the stay in the enemy’s trenches or during withdrawal.
3.[ Ref 55th Division No: 1143/24 (G). ]
By direction of the Corps Commander I submit the following notes, in addition to those already forwarded, on points on which experience has been gained in recent raids made by this Division.
1. Wire cutting. The surest and most effective way of cutting wire is with 18-prs or Medium Trench Mortars. Of these 18-prs are the most generally applicable. Provided the wire can be observed it can always be cut by them.
Medium Trench Mortars with Newton fuze are equally good if suitable positions can be found for them. But owing to their limited range and the fact that the ground immediately behind our front lines is generally under observation by the enemy this is often difficult. An additional difficulty is the nature of the soil on our front, which is so soft as to necessitate rather elaborate preparation for beds. If trench mortars are located by the enemy, which is easy for him if they fire much in the daylight, owing to their necessary proximity to the front line, they are likely to be knocked out before they can achieve their object. When they are used for wire cutting it is therefore desirable that they shall not fire longer than daylight than is necessary for them to range on their objective. It has been found that they can generally do this by commencing fire from ten to twenty minutes before sundown.
In the case of both 18-prs and Medium Trench Mortars a clear view of the enemy’s wire is essential.
2. Aeroplanes. I have already brought to notice the advisability of detailing planes to keep the enemy’s planes at a distance during our bombardment. This has become more important owing to the increase of hostile planes on our front. It may also be desirable specially to warn our anti-aircraft guns to be on the look- out, and perhaps to detail some to forward positions.
3. Box Barrage. It would appear that in some cases where a box barrage has been used the sides of the box have not had sufficiently intense fire to render them impassable, and consequently flank attacks by the enemy have been possible on the raiding party after it has penetrated. This has increased their difficulties and caused time to be occupied in resisting a flank attack which should have been devoted to exploring the region bombarded.
4. Degree of bombardment. Unless it is intended to make a regular attack, over the ground, to the support line, it is probably best not to obliterate too completely the communication trenches leading to it. If they are thoroughly blown in it is difficult for parties which have to work up them to reorganize them, and moreover these parties which have to work in the open, and form an easy target to enemy rifle and machine guns from the surrounding trenches. It is probably best to obliterate thoroughly the trenches around the locality to be raided, so that cover is denied to the enemy, while dealing only sufficiently severely with those inside the area to shake the nerves of any enemy who may be in them.
5. Programme. We have raided the enemy so often that in gaining experience ourselves we have also educated him. If he gets a hint of our intention he is likely to be prepared. It is therefore inadvisable to cut wire or bombard long before a raid, leaving an interval of tranquility in which he can prepare and organise his defence. Bombardment and wire cutting once begun should continue until the assault is launched.
6. Duplication of appliances etc. Anything or any party may be and often is knocked out by shell fire before reaching the place where it is to be used. Everything should therefore as far as possible be duplicated, and so placed that the duplicates are not likely both to be damaged. In the last raid owing to difficulties of observation the guns and trench mortars failed to cut the enemy’s wire completely at one point of entry. Bangalore torpedos had been prepared in duplicate, each with duplicate means of firing. But the two parties carrying the torpedos moved together, and both were knocked out by a single shell before they could get to the enemy’s wire. The party was unable to effect an entry.
55th Division H.Q. H.S. Jeudwine Major General
11th January 1917. Commanding 55th Division.
The Bolton Evening News of 30th January 1917 and the Bolton Journal & Guardian of 9th February 1917 contained reports on the raid amongst which were several notices on local soldiers involved, the majority of the fatalities being from the town. It was also stated that 2 Military Crosses, 1 bar to the Military Cross and 4 Military Medals had been won by the raiders.
Known casualties to date:
Killed in action:
* 2nd Lt John Cecil Frankland, * L/Cpl 3260 Alfred Guffogg, * L/Cpl 3522 William Paul Meadows, * Pte 2819 Ernest Nuttall, * Pte 3278 James Doohan, * Pte 3480 John Crompton, * 3714 Pte James Ireland, * Pte 3128 Thomas Warburton and * Spr 426416 Joseph Beardwood R.E.
* Pte 243749 Frank Gill later accepted as KiA 10.1.1917.
* Bar to MC. Lt Robert Keith Makant MC. * 2nd Lt Charles Warburton Whitaker 8 Manc Regt attd L.N.L. Regt (The second press reported MC winner has not been identified.)
Garry's grandfather and great uncles served in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment during WWI, 2 Gt uncles were KIA at Ypres and Mesopotamia. A regular worldwide battlefield visitor and exhibitor at the OMRS Convention he spent 36 years as a civil and RAF policeman and served on operations in Bosnia, Cyprus, Kenya, North, Central and South America.
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