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Webmatters : The Battle of Cambrai 1917, the Guards and tanks at Gouzeaucourt
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Cambrai

30th November 1917

Gouzeaucourt re-taken by the Guards

With Brigade and Divisional Commanders being forced to vacate their Headquarters in haste it is hardly surprising that the British reply to the German assault was at first somewhat uncoordinated.

The 1st Guards Brigade at Metz en Couture was initially assigned to VII Corps as the situation in front of Gouzeaucourt deteriorated. However just before 1100 hours it became apparent that III Corps were threatened with a complete rolling up of their lines from the south at Gonnelieu. The orders went out that the entire Guards Division was to assist III Corps.

With conflicting orders floating about, 1st Guards Brigade set off for Gouzeaucourt and VII Corps, whilst the other Brigades never got into action at all.

Following the decision to consolidate the British lines the Tank Battalions had all been removed to the rear to be refitted and rested.

At 1000 hours orders went out to raise as many tanks as possible and by 1240 hours twenty-two tanks from B Battalion were on their way to Gouzeaucourt from Fins and fourteen tanks from A Battalion were heading towards Brigadier General Vincent’s party at Revelon Farm.

The Tank units refitting at Havrincourt provided ten tanks from E Battalion and a further seventeen from D Battalion. Getting all of these machines prepared and crewed for battle had been done with all due haste and in a manner the Official History remarks : worthy of all praise.

Whilst the tanks were getting underway Brigadier General Champion de Crespigny of 1st Guards Brigade, had already ridden forward from Metz to discover that Gouzeaucourt was in fact now held by the Germans.

Without artillery or tank support the General deployed his men and attacked the village down the Metz Gouzeaucourt Road. The 1st Irish Guards north of the road and the 2nd and 3rd Coldstreams to the south.

Their deployment had been masked by the crest of the hill just to the west of the village and although as they came into sight of the German troops they were met with machine gun and artillery fire, their own machine gun crews subdued the enemy and the Guardsmen stormed in to retake the village.

By 1330 hours the Guards were on the eastern edge of the village and numerous guns that had been abandoned a few hours ago were now brought back into action against the retreating Germans.

By the time that the tanks had come up they found that the work had been done without them.

 

1st December 1917

The cavalry charge south of Villers Guislain

It was obvious to General Byng that in this sector of the battlefield the Crown Prince was trying to reach Metz en Couture only a few kilometres away from the high ground he had just succeeded in taking.

To pre-empt this the British would counter attack with tanks and the Cavalry Corps against Gauche Wood and Villers Guislain. 3rd Army had no further means to mount any serious resistance.

Many of the cavalrymen would in fact fight on foot throughout the day but their overall commander Lieutenant General Kavanagh still insisted that horses be used in some sectors. Thus at 0935 hours the 2nd Lancers (Gardner’s Horse) of the Mhow Brigade (Indian Cavalry) commenced their charge followed by a squadron from the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons.

Their point of entry was the Catelet Valley just to the north of Little Priel Farm and from here they were intending to sweep northwards into Targelle Valley and on to Villers Hill. Between them and Villers Hill were three positions known as : Kildare Post, Limerick Post and Meath Post.

 

Villers Hill looking towards Targelle Ravine

From Villers Hill looking towards Targelle Ravine and Valley

 

The Lancers soon came under machine gun fire and fleeing Germans even returned to their positions as soon as the charge had passed them by. The Lancers reached the crest of the hill and Kildare Post but could advance no further.

On their left, the remainder of the Inniskillings charged northwards from Peizière towards Villers Guislain. The leading squadron and the 11th Machine Gun Squadron stuck to their charge but were brought to a halt a kilometre short of the village. Few of them were seen again and the rear squadrons were forced to retire to Peizière.

At this stage the 38th Central India Horse were ordered forward on foot along the ridge behind Kildare and Limerick Posts. They were met by fire out of Limerick Post and held.

In an effort to ascertain if Kildare Lane trench was held by the Germans or not, two of the 38th CIH mounted up and charged across the battlefield. They jumped the trench turned about jumped it again and returned with the news that it was full of Germans (No doubt with looks of total disbelied on their faces).

The cavalry had tried but in the face of an enemy who had dug himself in, these mini attacks served no useful purpose.

 

The attack on Gauche Wood and Gonnelieu

Attacking Gauche Wood from the south-west the 18th King George’s Own Lancers fought on foot. The tanks who were supposed to accompany them were late in arriving (0715 hours) and then lost direction in the grey morning light.

The Lancers though, advanced into the wood where they found men from the 2nd Grenadier Guards already fighting their way in from Gouzeaucourt. Machine gun nests were dealt with by the returning tanks who patrolled the perimeter of the wood.

 

Gauche Wood and Villers-Guislain from Gouzeaucourt

Looking towards Gauche Wood and Villers-Guislain from Gouzeaucourt

 

To get into the wood the Grenadiers had chosen the tactic of running as fast as they could ! The German gunners couldn’t get the range right and the casualties had been light. With all of their senior officers gone the Grenadiers put themselves under the direction of the Lancers who organised the consolidation of Gauche Wood. The Lancers may well have been an Indian Army Regiment but needless to say their officers were British !

Attacking the Quentin Mill (From which General de Lisle had made his hasty exit the day before) the 3rd Coldstream Guards and four tanks from H Battalion had little difficulty in gaining their objective though at the cost of three of the tanks.

3rd Guards Brigade had been given the objective of taking Gonnelieu itself and attacked with the 1st Welsh Guards on the right and the 4th Grenadier Guards on the left.

The Welshmen were brought to a halt at the top of the ridge in front of Gonnelieu with two thirds of their men being downed by the constant stream of fire from German Machine Gun positions in the old British trenches.

At this moment the only surviving tank of four with the battalion rolled into action cruising along the trench spraying the Germans with all her Lewis guns. The Germans began to surrender and the Welshmen seized the opportunity to grab the crest of the ridge.

The 4th Grenadiers managed to fight their way into Gonnelieu village but they arrived just as the Germans themselves had been preparing their next assault and were thus feeding the area with reinforcements. Faced by superior numbers the Grenadiers withdrew to a covering position alongside the Welsh Guards.

Captain George Paton received a posthumous Victoria Cross for his part in numerous counter attacks in the face of heavy machine gun fire until he was mortally wounded. He is buried in Metz en Couture Military Cemetery.