Kaiserschlacht

The Omignon Valley

The situation to the north of St Quentin was similar to that of the right flank. The XIX Corps had two divisions in the front line: the 24th covering the Omignon Valley and the 66th to their north.

Opposite the Germans had amassed nine divisions.

At Gricourt the 1st Bn North Staffs (24th Division) found themselves defending 1800 metres of front line which was in a poor state of repair. To their rear they were also responsible for defending the Essling Redoubt just south of the village of Pontru.

Behind them in the Battle Zone were the 9th Bn East Surrey and on their left on the northern side of the Omignon Valley were the 8th Bn Royal West Kent covering Pontruet.

One advantage to the valley was the fact that it was a marshy area which opened out into large lakes in the Battle Zone, thus forming a natural barrier running horizontally across the battlefield. There was only one bridge within the immediate area and that was (and still is) between the villages of Vadencourt on the northern side and Maissemy.

The northern sector of the Corps area was covered by the 66th Division whose defences rested on a number of villages in the area. Villeret was held by the 2/6th Bn Manchesters, Hargicourt by the 4th Bn East Lancashire and Templeux le Guérard and its adjacent quarries by the 5th Bn Border Regiment (the Divisional Pioneers) and the 2/7th Lancashire Fusiliers.

Two notable positions on the boundary between the two Divisions were The Tumulus - a high mound which provided excellent fields of view towards the enemy lines - and a position known as Cookers Quarry slightly behind it and defended by the 3rd Bn Rifle Brigade.

On this section of the front the fog started to lift just after 1000 hours when hordes of German troops were seen pouring across no-man's land. The front line succumbed fairly quickly and within an hour the rear trenches were already being engaged by the enemy.

On the southern side of the Omignon the 1st North Staffs were pushed back by weight of numbers towards their battalion headquarters near Maissemy. With their flank threatened with exposure the West Kents on the far side of the river blew the solitary bridge before it was too late.

The German advance along the northern bank of the river was brought to an abrupt halt by the 3rd Bn Rifle Brigade at Cookers Quarry who refused to give way.

Further north Villeret fell and Hargicourt was entered within the hour. To the north of the latter 2nd Bn Lancashire Fusiliers were overwhelmed before they had even realised that the infantry attack had begun.

It was not all bad news though. At Le Verguier the 8th Bn Queens held steady and the 9th East Surreys together with the remnants of the 1st North Staffs managed to hold the line in front of Villecholles. Having pushed past Villeret the Germans were confronted by the 2/7th Bn Manchesters in Brosse Wood who put up a strong defence.

The Fervague Farm was only taken from the 2/6th Manchesters by the means of flame throwers, but by now the Germans were reaching the extremity of their artillery coverage and were finding it harder and harder to push on in the face of concentrated rifle and machine gun fire.

The Germans, though were aided by successes against the 16th Division (VII Corps). Penetrations there were compromising the positions around Templeux which had been heavily gassed and raked with fire before being subjected to a full assault in the early afternoon.

By then it was clear to Lt General Watts in command of XIX Corps that his left flank was being turned and that his right, south of the Omignon, was seriously threatened.

The fighting across the Corps front remained bitter throughout the day but at 2000 hours (despite having being told to retire hours earlier) the riflemen at Cookers Quarry were forced back. It had been a heroic struggle but the loss of the quarry meant that the 300 men of the 8th West Kent could no longer hold out at Vadencourt and that was evacuated in due course.

Brosse Wood and Templeux had held on until 1800 hours when they too had to be surrendered.

On the highest point of the local battlefield the garrison at Le Verguier continued to fight it out and their position now formed an apex jutting out into the German lines.

In summary, though most of the Battle Zone was still in British hands reports from the Royal Flying Corps continued to mention a seemingly endless number of German regiments approaching the front in support of the storm troopers.

That evening General Gough ordered the XIX Corps to swing back its northern flank so as to remain in touch with the retreating VII Corps.

Just in front of Vadencourt near the bridge that crosses over from Maissemy is the German Military Cemetery which bears witness to the scale of their losses in this area.

Maissemy Soldatenfriedhof Maissemy Soldatenfriedhof
 

The 16th (Irish) Division The 16th (Irish) Division