Battle of the Ancre Nov 1916

Battle of the Ancre, 63 Div

10th Service Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers were part of 190 Brigade under Brigadier General W.C.G.Heneker. Their Divisional Commander was Major General C.Shute

The 10th RDF attacked with 24 officers and 469 other ranks. 7 officers and 63 other ranks were left in reserve. The War Diary for Ancre Attack on 13 November 1916 (written by H Lecky, Captain, 2nd in command on behalf of Lt Col E St G Smith)


In accordance with our BM 868 dated 15th Nov 1916, I have the honour to submit the following history of the action, as regards my Unit from zero hour on.

Before Zero. From the time the battalion entered their assembly places and up to zero, only three minor casualties occurred, one broken ankle, one shell shock and one other wound from shell fire.

Zero. At zero the battalion advanced and occupied our own front line and support trenches (Gordon and Roberts) as laid down. Very few casualties were sustained in doing so, the same being the case whilst in these trenches and up to zero + 46 minutes when we moved forward in four waves. During this time the enemy was bringing his barrage to bear on the ground we had left, Sunken Road, Carnlea and Buckingham Palace Rd. My Battalion HQ being in the latter place.

Zero + 46 min. The battalion advanced in four waves and met little opposition until within 20 yards of the German wires. The mist at this time was very thick and one could only see some 25 yards to the front and flank. At this point the Bosche machine Guns opened a heavy fire more especially in front of my 3 left companies. Also several machine guns were enfilading the line from our left Beaumont Hamel direction. Snipers were busy and were endeavouring to pick off the officers.

My left company commander reports that he was never in touch with the division on his left, nor saw any of them during the preliminary stages of the advance. The majority of the losses sustained were caused immediately in front of the enemy front wire, and especially in front of the strong post which was subsequently found to be a medical dugout, which extended underground from their front their front trench to their reserve trench and which had 4 entrances in each line. This dugout was capable of taking 1500 men, had electric plant installed, an ammunition store and was evidently used to reinforce the different lines as well as an Aid Station. The Bosches had machine guns covering each entrance and various snipers scattered around in between. Two of the entrances in the first line were subsequently bombed by two bombing parties led by 2nd Lts McMahon and Cox, and occupants surrendered. Both officers were wounded in the enterprise and a special report is being rendered about them.

This eased the pressure in the Front on my left, which had been partly held up, and batches of men, led by the few remaining officers and NCOs who collected men around them, went through. Time about 9am. My right company had pushed through with the first advance and carried on to the enemies second line. finding them more or less exposed. Small parties under NCOs were detached to advance and guard the left, and it was two of these parties which Father Thornton afterwards led, and which captured seven Bosches who informed them of the whereabouts of a German Battalion and its HQ, who apparently were taking shelter from our heavies and barrage. These two parties then advanced under Father Thornton and the remainder of the battalion + staff surrendered after some parleying and a little firing ( I append report of Sgt McCormack)

Battalion HQ. I moved forward with by battalion HQ at zero + 1.5 having previously sent an officer over with the first waves to select a suitable HQ in Bosche second line. I also informed by runner the signal section and OC 4th Bedfordshire Regt of the time and place that I was crossing our front parapet. We met no opposition until some 30 yards from the wire when we came into a heavy machine gun fire and fire from snipers. I here lost 2 officers of my HQ and several other ranks. I also came upon Lt Phillips with his section of 190 Brigade Machine Guns and odd Dubliners who were sheltering from the fire in shell holes. As far as I could see there was only one gap in the wire to our right front, and with the aid of Lt Phillips who brought a machine gun to bear in the direction we were being fired on from and also some men who I posted to keep the enemies snipers down, the whole party along with the machine gun section got through the gap ) I here lost Lt Bailey, my adjutant).

On getting into the Bosche front trench, I ordered 2nd Lt McMahon to organise a bombing party and to proceed to the left up the trench and bomb and snipe the Bosches who were holding up my left companies. This he did with ability, and afterwards I found out that 2nd Lt Cox had also on his own initiative gone forward against the strong point with a bombing party and some snipers. The actions of this latter officer I particularly wish to bring to notice, as besides shooting 3 snipers himself, he saved the lives of many of his comrades and permitted the advance on the left front, which was held up, by seizing 2 of the entrances to the Strong Post dugout, capturing the MGs there and the enemy party with them. Going forward again he was dangerously wounded in the head by a bomb flung by a Bosche who had previously surrendered.2nd Lt McMahon then sent a party down and occupied the Medical dugout, finding the German doctors and some wounded and unwounded German officers and men.

After sending off the bombing party under 2nd Lt McMahon. and trying to clear up the situation on my left hand, I proceeded with my HQ to the second enemy trench, and shortly afterwards got in touch with Major Wills of the 4th Beds Regt, and also Lt Col Cartwright and Lt Col Hutchinson commanding 1st and 2nd Royal Marines Light Infantry. I sent parties to my left and front to clear up the situation. There was a considerable MG enfilading fire coming in to us from my left and left rear. Also snipers all over the place.

Father Thornton had been with me up to this time, and he here left me and he went forward with a party of my men about 30 strong, who had joined us under Sgt McCormack and Sgt Priest. I had no officers left on my staff at that time, all having been killed or wounded, except 2nd Lt Cox who had gone off with the aforementioned bombing party. The patrols on my left came back to say they could not find any of our own troops towards that flank, but that Bosche snipers and MGs were enfilading the ground in that direction. Time about 9am.

Scattered parties of various Battalions now began to arrive, and I found a Strong Post on my left with 190th MG section and one Lewis gun. I saw Lt Col Cartwright and Major Wills again & orders came through to push forward every available man, so I sent forward all available, including 3 guns of the 190th MG Section + Lewis Gun, and got in touch with trench mortars who had arrived in Bosche front line + 188 MG Section, asking the latter to send me on a proportion of his guns, but he replied that he had orders not to go forward, but protect flanks and look out for counter attacks. The mist was still very thick and I could get no information concerning my left.

About 12 noon I fond my left safe, and men belonging to the left companies going forward. 2nd Lt Cox was carried in wounded and some of my men up the trench to the left reported that there was an entrance to a large dugout some distance up in that direction and that two German officers (medical) and others wished to surrender. I sent Lt Commander Sprang to take their surrender, he had preciously arrived at my HQ from the front with Father Thornton and his party + 400 prisoners and I detained him to act as my adjutant as he had no men of his own with him and could not find his own battalion. He did very excellent work while with me.

In the dugout which I made my battalion HQ, one of my runners brought up 12 prisoners absolutely cowed. Lt Commander Sprang informed me that he had been as far as the Beaucourt Road, and that Bosche MGs and snipers were busy there, but no other opposition and small parties off all units were on green line and Station Road. Much the same information I received from the Brigade. Shortly afterwards I received orders to proceed to Hamel with as many men as I could collect. The majority of my men had gone forward and 15 officers had become casualties . It was then dark. I collected what men I could and with the remnants of my staff reported to 190th Infantry Brigade HQ where where we were sent on to support the advance on Beaucourt. My party was used in carrying bombs and sandbags up to the red line. which had been captured by 1 HAC.

In the forenoon of 14th November I received orders to withdraw my men and reorganise on original assembly position and collect all men of 190 Infantry Brigade and occupy Roberts trench. Stragglers belonging to 188th and 189th brigades were to be sent back to their HQ. I according collected all men and occupied Roberts Trench until relieved on the morning of 16th Nov when I led my men back into shelters on the Englebelmer - Martinsart Road.

Casualties reported in the War Diaries for RDF and other battalions in the 63rd Division were:-

Battalion Total Men Officers Officers dead Men dead Total Missing Total Wounded Total all casualties
1RM 490 22 6 47 88 221 362
2 RM     3 81   212  
10 RDF 469 24 6 35 57 143 241
4 Beds     14 57 16 108 195
7 Royal F              
1 HAC       81   184  

The next day 190 Brigade troops were assembled at Beaucourt Station with a hodgepodge of men from the previous day. They pushed into the village and formed a line around the eastern edge of the village. The earlier attack resumed in conjunction with this advance and occupied Beaucourt Trench. Two tanks were then sent from Auchonvillers to support the attack on the Strongpoint in Beaucourt Trench, still held by the Germans. The two tanks broke down but the second was in range of the strongpoint which it bombarded with it’s 6-pounder gun. The 10th Dublin Fusiliers took 400 German prisoners when the strongpoint surrendered.

It is difficult to find contemporary photographs of the 10th Dubliners in the field, so I use other contemporary photographs of the Battle of the Ancre to show the conditions they served under.

Albert church
Royal Irish Rifles
Soldiers with the Albert Church in the background
A ration party of the Royal Irish Rifles
Ancre conditions in Nov 1916
captured German trench
Ancre Battlefield in Nov 1916
Captured German trench
Beaumont trench
evacuating wounded
Near Beaumont Hamel
Evacuating the wounded at the Ancre
barbed wire and mud
German barbed wire
Barbed wire and mud
German barbed wire
German prisoners
Ancre near Hamel
German prisoners
Ancre near Hamel
at White City Trenches from the air
A group of soldiers at White City The trenches from the air
Cheshire reg trench Coordinated attack
Soldier of Cheshire Regt in trench Attack with air cover.
Dead soldiers on the wire Front line
Dead soldiers on the wire Fixing bayonets in front line.
Attack Tank at Somme
Waiting to attack Tank at the Somme
Trench at Somme Trench training manuel
In the trenches Trench training manuel

10th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers