Weapons & defensive mining

This secret summary of operations of the Second Army, November, 1915 was sent to the Commanding Officer. It gives a really detailed insight into the nature trench warfare, ‘defensive mining’, weapons, and the conditions faced by the men, (Catalogue ref: WO 158/216)

Transcript

SUMMARY OF OPERATIONS – 2nd ARMY

For the period

1st to 7th November, 1915

===

  1. The situation during the past week has been unusually quiet, a state of affairs which is reflected in the casualties, the lowest record since the weekly summary was started. The heavy rain in the early part of the week and the fog and ground mist of the latter have had the effect of curtailing activity. The rain has caused much damage to our trenches, and our troops have been busily engaged in the work of repair. Owing to the amount of work observed on the part of the enemy it is conjectured that he has been equally inconvenienced by the recent inclement weather. Both the enemy and ourselves have experienced difficulty in moving about under cover owing to the collapse of the parapets and the flooded state of the trenches. As a result there has been considerable sniping.
  2. On November 1st a combined shoot of the Trench Mortars and Mountain Guns was carried out in the II Corps area against the enemy’s trenches in I.5.b. and although the Trench Mortar ammunition was unsatisfactory considerable damage was done to the enemy’s trenches. This operation produced retaliation on NOUVELLE HOUPLINES and Farm C.23.a.O.5. On November 4th NIEPPE was shelled by a gun, believed to be a captured French 120mm. Little damage was done.
  3. There has been some retaliation for our shelling in the V Corps area, noticeably on November 5th when SANCTUARY WOOD, KRUISSTRAAT, the dug-outs West of ZILLESEKE POND, and the area between the latter place and YPRES were heavily shelled.
  4. On the night of October 31st/November 1st the enemy made weak bombing attack against the Craters East of ST. ELOI, which had been occupied the night before. The attack was easily repulsed by our grenadiers and has not been repeated.
  5. On November 2nd two men crawled over from the German lines to our trenches in I.30.b. They turned out to be Russian prisoners who had been captured nine or ten months ago and who had been brought over to the Western front to dig trenches for the enemy. Both men were still wearing Russian uniform.
  6. Machine guns have been placed in positions enfilading [gunfire is directed across the longest part of an enemy formation] the enemy’s trenches and sweeping their roads with long range fire.
  7. On the right of the 6th Division our trenches in RAILWAY WOOD and North of ROULERS Railway were heavily shelled by Trench Mortars and Howitzers; our artillery and trench mortars replied to this shelling. An operation to deal with the enemy’s trench mortars in this sector was carried out on the 7th at 2p.m. by the 6th Divisional Artillery, supported by the 60 pounders. Of the 2nd Group, H.A.R. The result of the bombardment has not yet been reported, but the Germans made practically no reply on that Sector.
  8. On the Canadian Corps front the most noticeable feature of the week has been the defensive mining which has resulted in the enemy’s activity being checked. In the early morning of November 1st Germans were heard working from our gallery opposite trench in N.18.a.9.9.

At 5-40a.m. it was judged that the enemy was within three feet of our gallery and a camouflet [enclosed cavity of gas] and was blown, 100 lbs of ammonal being used. The enemy’s gallery was wrecked and a crater was formed 35 feet nearer our parapet than the charge had been exploded. It is believed that a German charge must have been detonated by the explosion.

On November 3rd German miners were heard working from our mine gallery 85 feet from our trench in N.36.a.3.9. At 6-40p.m., when it was judged that the Germans were within 5 feet of our gallery, a charge of 180 lbs. of gun-cotton was fired, which made a crater 40 x 20 x 15 feet. On November 4th the Germans were heard working in a gallery which was practically on the same level as our own opposite our trench in N.30.a.4.9. The enemy’s gallery had been driven between two craters in this area. When it was judged that the enemy were within 3 feet of our gallery a charge was exploded.

A German gallery has been encountered in a working opposite the trench in N.30.a.2.7. The gallery had been followed some 80 feet towards the enemy’s lines, where it was found to be barricaded with sand-bags. The water, of which there was about a foot in the trench is being pumped out to enable our miners to withdraw the sand-bags, and get as far as possible into the workings.

  1. In co-operation with the 3rd Group, H.A.R., a systematic destruction of the enemy’s strong places is taking place, and the superior weight of our artillery is being fully exploited.
  2. The Royal Canadian Regiment arrived on the 3rd The training of the troops when not on duty in the trenches is progressing well. The various Grenade Schools are now in good working order, and a large proportion of the personnel of the Infantry units have already been through a Course.
  3. The weather conditions during the week have been unfavourable for Nos. 2 and 3 Groups, H.A.R., and, on the whole, the German artillery has not been as active as usual. Full advantage has been taken of such opportunities as the weather has afforded, and various places behind the enemy’s lines have been shelled; a number of the enemy’s batteries have also been engaged.
  4. On November 4th five air fights took place between aeroplanes of the 2nd Wing R.F.G., in one of which a B.E. 2c. was attacked by four Germans. It had successfully driven off three when an F.E. of No. 6 Squadron came up to its assistance. The latter succeeded in bringing down a German FOKKER aeroplane in our lines in I.26.central. The wreckage unfortunately caught fire and nothing except the remains of a machine gun was salved. The B.E. 2c. was hit in the petrol tank and observer twice wounded.

There is reason to believe that another Fokker was destroyed on the same day, in a fight between a B.E. 2c. of No. 5 Squadron and a machine of this type. At the conclusion of the fight the Fokker was seen to side-slip and disappear out of sight.

In another of these engagements a Vickers of No. 5 Squadron attacked three Germans one after the other driving them away, and only broke off the fight when all its ammunition was expended.

Four pilots of No.1 Squadron brought up aeroplanes from Paris during the week under very trying weather conditions.

  1. The Kite Balloons [balloons which could fly in high winds and used for military observation] were able to carry out work on the 5th instant only, though ascents were made every day. On the 5th instant a train on the COMINES-WARNETON Railway was reported to, and shelled by, No.3 Group, H.A.R. Several other targets were reported on the same day, and successfully engaged by No.3 Group with the assistance of the Kite Balloon observers.
  2. Casualties for the period are as follows:-
    Officers Other ranks
    K. W. M. K. W. M.
II Corps 6 15 105  
V Corps 3 21 64 216  
VI Corps 3 6 33 150  
Canadian Corps   7 27 158 1
    6 40 139 627 1
Total casualties = Officers 46    
    Other ranks 767    
          813    
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