Assault on Gavrelle Village, April 1917

position of Gavrelle in France

The War Diary of the 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers for April 1917 records the 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers part in the battle. The battalion left its billets in Magnicourt in buses at 10am on the morning of 14 April, arriving at Arras at 3.30pm. And then marched on to St Catherine, moving up to the trenches at 6pm, in the "Balleul Gavrelle Sector".

The village of Gavrelle was held by the German 66th Wurtenburger Fusiliers was attacked on the 15th April. This attack by the 10th Battalion RDF was unsuccessful as they went in without artillery support. They met stiff resistance from German Heavy Gun fire and Machine Gun Fire and had to retreat behind the Blue Line suffering casualties of 5 Officers and 80 other ranks. Strangely these casualties are not detailed in the Wat Diary

4/Bedfords' War Diary entry is even more brief "15th April - LINE - Reconnnaissance of GAVRELLE in conjunction with 10/RDF... " [plus list of casualties - Killed 2 officers (named); wounded 3 officers (named), 55 ORs.]

Jerrold's RND history states: "On the night of 14-15 April the Naval Division came in on the right of the 2nd Division and took over from the 34th Division the sector due west of Gavrelle ... The new front was taken over by 189 and 190 brigades on the right and left respectively ... The outposts on the 189 Bde front were already within striking distance of the German trenches, and the first task of the Division was to bring the outposts of the left brigade sector [190 Bde] into line. The first attempt was made on the morning of the 15th by the 10th Dublin Fusiliers and the 4th Bedfords. The opposition had, however, been under-estimated and rather heavy losses were incurred in an audacious attempt to advance our line in broad daylight across ground commanded by the enemy."

Nelson Battalion was to the immediate right of 190 Bde during this attack and their War Diary reports as follows: "During forenoon Brigade on our left advanced towards OPPY - GAVRELLE Line. Our forward Company 'A' was advanced by platoons from our left. About noon an attacking force of DUBLINS and BEDFORDS advanced from our left and, changing direction right, proceeded to attack GAVRELLE but at this juncture was held up by machine guns and promptly heavily shelled together with all our lines in rear. During the afternoon and evening this shelling was incessant. Killed 2, wounded 15. The attacking force of DUBLINS and BEDFORDS withdrew at intervals during the afternoon."

German trench map prior to attack
British achievements by end April 1917

They were relieved in the front trenches by the 4th Bedfords at 6am on the 16th April, and withdrew to the reserve trenches. They suffered heavy shelling whilst in the Blue, Green and Brown line trenches over the next few days with 2 officers (2nd Lt AS Wilson & 2nd Lt J S Ferguson killed) plus 5 other ranks killed on 21st April and a further 12 other ranks killed or wounded on 22 April. The 10th RDF were in reserve during the main attack on 23 and 24 April and did not feature in this fighting

23rd April 1917 Having breached the German's front line positions during the preceding weeks, the British were now confronted in this sector by a trench system known as the Oppy line - named after the village north of Gavrelle. Despite a preliminary bombardment the German wire north of Gavrelle was hardly touched and 1st Army decided that their part in the renewed offensive would, for the moment, be limited to the taking Gavrelle.

"The Naval Division was to attack with the 190th Brigade on the left and the 189th Brigade on the right. After the capture of the first objective (the trench system in front of Gavrelle), the 189th Brigade only was to proceed to the further objectives, while the 190th Brigade was to form a defensive flank. The battalions allocated to the attack were, from right to left, the Drake, Nelson, 7th Royal Fusiliers and 4th Bedfords, with the Hood Battalion in close support and to follow behind the Nelson to the second objective and capture the third objective in conjunction with the Drake. The 1st HAC were in support to the 190th Brigade, with orders to go forward as the situation might require. The carrying parties were found from the Hawke and 10th Dublin Fusiliers. The Howe Battalion of the 188th Brigade was attached as a reserve battalion to the 189th Brigade, the remaining three battalions of the 188th Brigade being held in divisional reserve. Two sections from each of the 189th and 190th Machine Gun Companies were to go forward with the infantry, and the remainder were to cover the advance with overhead fire. Medium and light trench mortars were to follow up the advance. The attack was to begin along the whole front at 4.45 am."

The attack started at night with the troops moving up into German trenches around Bailleul. The artillery barrage opened at 04.45am the morning of 24/4/1917. By the end of the first day almost all the village was captured and as the Brigade dug in the German 2nd Battalion of the Prussian Guard led a significant counter attack. However this was defeated with Artillery, Lewis Gun and Machine Gun fire and the Brigade retained the village which became a significant position for the British forces.

windmill at Gavrelle

On the right of the 63rd Division the Drake Battalion (189th Brigade) advancing through gaps in the wire they made good progress and attained the their objective. Coming up behind the Drake and Nelson battalions the Hood Battalion pushed forward creating a mish mash of troops in the centre of the village. Once the units had been reorganised they continued their way up the street fighting from house to house. Having taken the village they tried to continue on, but soon as the British troops tried to leave the cover of the buildings they were swept with machine gun fire. Unfortunately the windmill on the high ground just to the north of the village was not taken. Germans attempted a number of counter attacks but all of these were beaten off. It was, however, not until late in the evening that the 1st Bn Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) were finally in a position to secure the Division's left flank.

On the left of the divisional front the 4th Bn Bedfordshire regiment and 7th Bn Royal Fusiliers managed to get into their first objective but the Fusiliers who were working with an open left flank were now held up by a swathe of uncut wire in front of them.Whilst the Fusiliers were checked, the other battalions pushed on into the centre of the village where the Bedfords in turn found their own left flank compromised. Instead of being able to advance as far as the railway line were forced to hang back.

trench map

28 April 1917 whilst still at the front line the RDF were in reserve in the attack on the Oppy Gavrelle Line which was a series of German trenches north of the village. It will be remembered that due to uncut wire, the area to the north of Gavrelle had not been attacked on the 23rd April, this meant that the capture of the village had created a salient (a bulge) into the German lines. Two battalions of the 188th Brigade were detailed to carry out the task of advancing the line. Coming out of Gavrelle, the 2nd Bn Royal Marines were to advance northwards along the Gavrelle - Fresnes Road whilst on their left the 1st Bn Royal Marines had to advance up as far as the German trenches in the Oppy Line and then continue eastwards until they met up with their fellow marines. Behind them the 1st Bn HAC were held in reserve and the Anson Battalion were to push slightly forward out of the village to complete the new defensive position.

At 0425 hours on the 28th April the two Marine Battalions launched their very separate attacks. The 1st Battalion were to all intents and purposes never heard of again. They had advanced headlong into a strongpoint (where the German trench system crossed the railway line) and although some of them managed to fight their way through, the flanking units never made contact with them. The only form of news was from the few wounded whom managed to get back to their own lines.

The HAC were ordered to bomb their way up the Oppy line and succeeded in capturing the strong point. The attack was led by C Company HAC under Lieutenant Haine and D Company HAC led by Lieutenant O’Brien. It was a frontal attack along the trenches towards the railway line which ran between Bailleul and Vitry and where the Germans had a significant strong point, a concrete bunker known as the Railway Post housing machine guns and over 100 troops. Lte Haine attacked with Stokes Mortars and was successful in capturing the Railway Post for which he got a Victoria Cross. However the Germans counter attacked from a position in Oppy Wood, North East of the Railway post, and was successful in driving C Company back behind the railway line.

29 April 1917 Lt Haines attacked the Railway Post again this time successfully on the first attempt and wary of the expected counter attack B Company HAC led by Lte Pollard positioned itself in German trenches north of the Railway Post and between the German Hindenburg Line and C Company. The Germans did counter attack but Lte Pollard was able to not only defend their position but advanced along the trench as the Germans backed out of his range. By the end of the attack he had gained a further 300 yards of German trench and was also awarded the Victoria Cross. This allowed both A and B Company to move along the width of the German trenches at this point and after just 2 days of fighting this company had gained some 2000 yards of trenches when they were relieved.

The 2nd Battalion Royal Marine managed to gain some territory including the all important windmill but by the evening the captured ground was back in the hands of the Germans with the exception of a small garrison who were hanging on for grim death at the windmill. Towards the village centre, the communal cemetery on the immediate right. This street was the defensive line held by the pioneers. A strong German counter attack was launched against Gavrelle itself and this was only repulsed by the timely arrival of the 14th Bn Worcestershire Regiment, the divisional pioneers, who had been ordered forward at short notice. The battle raged through the night and an attempt by the Anson to take the German position outside the village failed completely. The German counter attack being held off by the steady firing of the pioneers. By the evening of the 29th April the situation at Gavrelle was pretty much the same. The village was solidly in the hands of the Naval Division and the Windmill defenders were holding out. The following day the 31st Division took over the line.

30th April 1917 The 10th Battalion remained in the reserve trenches until when they were relieved, and withdrew to billets further back.

10th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Campaigns and Battles