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Webmatters : Battle of Festubert May 1915
Rough Map of Area

Festubert

16th May 1915

7th Division

Although the 7th Division had a front of 850 metres to assault Major General Hubert Gough ordered that a buffer zone of a further 350 metres either side of the attack zone should also be bombarded.
The bombardment increased its tempo at 0245 hours and for the next thirty minutes the gunners fired for all they were worth.

The assault at 0315 hours was to be carried out by the 22nd Brigade on the right astride the Rue de Cailloux and the 20th Brigade on the left either side of the road leading south from Chocolate Menier Corner and known to the soldiers as Princes Road.

Opposite them the 57th IR had just one of its three battalions covering almost two kilometres of the front line opposite the 7th Division. It would be reasonable to suggest that the two British brigades were opposed by two German companies.

The British intended to take the German front line which was from 75 to 150 metres away and then, having done so, seize a position a kilometre further on known as the North Breastwork; a makeshift defence line made up of sandbags but without a trench.

Festubert: The morning attack by 7th Division

The morning attack by 7th Division

The 2nd Bn Queen’s and 1st Bn Royal Welch Fusiliers led the way for the 22nd Brigade. They were hit almost the moment they rose with heavy fire, the Fusiliers losing Lt Colonel Gabbett within moments.

The German trench was stormed and bombing parties immediately sent out to the flanks to work their way down the trench system. In support the 1st Bn South Staffordshire Regiment worked their way southwards until they reached the point where the trench crossed the North Breastwork. Here they consolidated at Staffordshire Corner.

The Queens pressed on and reached the North Breastwork at 0600 hours but it would take another fifty minutes for the Fusiliers to come abreast of the orchard (It is now a camping site opposite a large sawmill). By 0700 hours then, the 22nd Brigade has secured its objectives, but at considerable cost to the assaulting battalions who were now too reduced in numbers to advance any further.

To the left, the 20th Brigade had a far harder time. The leading waves were provided by the 2nd Bn Scots Guards and the 2nd Bn Border Regiment. Both units had been told to attack at 0310 hours – in other words five minutes before the bombardment had finished shelling the German parapet.

Aubers, The Ferme Cour d'Avoué

The Ferme Cour d’Avoué. The Borderers were attacking left to right across the foreground

The Borderers in particular got far too close to the final moments of the bombardment and lost men needlessly. The German position was taken nonetheless but the Borderers were then held back by flanking fire coming from a German stronghold called the Quadrilateral (a name often given to such positions – a slight lack of imagination one might suggest).

The Quadrilateral was in the zone between the two divisions and as the 2nd Division’s own dawn attack had come to nought, the Germans in the redoubt were almost unmolested.

The Scots Guards however pressed the attack and with the aid of some lost Welshmen who had drifted over to the left, managed to gain their objective which was the road running alongside the Orchard.

Unfortunately the right hand company was then shelled out of its newly won position by the British artillery which left the remaining Scots dangerously exposed to counter-attack.

Running back from the Quadrilateral was a communication trench called (by the British) Adalbert Alley. It ran as far as the German rear lines and had been well constructed with a sandbag breastwork over a metre high facing both sides.

Caught in the flank by a counter attack emanating from Adalbert Alley the Scots Guards and Welch Fusiliers were forced back to a position where the support companies of the Guards were using an old disused trench.

By 0900 hours the assault across the 7th Division front had been stalled.

The intended linking up of the 2nd and 7th Divisions had failed to materialise, leaving a sector of about half a kilometre of the German front line between the two divisions intact. From there the Germans were able to harass the flanks of the units that had advanced the furthest.