This is the only operation during the war for which there is a detailed Report in the War Diary. I think there are perhaps two reasons for this – when it was over, we immediately moved right back into Corps Reserve, so there was the necessary time to devote to it and, secondly, I think we all felt that something had gone very wrong somewhere.
This is Colonel Norton’s account and is dated 8th May 1918.
“Short Narrative of events during the recent Operations east of the Jordan.
On 28th April, the Battalion – then in bivouac at Junction Camp (Talaat ed Dumm) – moved to the River Jordan and bivouacked about 2330 hours within the Ghoraniyeh Bridgehead.
29th April. Conference at Brigade Headquarters at 1000 hours to discuss final preliminaries for the attack on the Shunet Nimrin position. The Battalion – less one Company (“D” Company, Capt Manning) – was to be in Brigade Reserve, “D” Company, being attached to, and coming under the orders of OC 2/20th Batt London Regiment.
At about 2300 hours, the Battalion (less “D” Coy) left its bivouac area for its position as Brigade Reserve, arriving there about midnight.
About 0300 hours on 30th April, I received orders to move my Battalion forward to a position a mile further east, known as the Barley Patch. I arrived here just after dawn. Desultory enemy shelling at this point.
At about 1300 hours, I received orders to send one Company to support 2/20th Battalion on my left. “B” Company under Capt Tyler was dispatched for this duty.
Later in the day, I received further orders to move my Headquarters and two remaining companies (“A” and “C”) and take over the front line, then occupied by OC 2/20th Batt, whose Headquarters were at Tel Bileibil.
I proceeded to advance and interviewed OC 2/20th Batt, who explained the situation to me.
The position when I arrived at the Headquarters of the 2/20th Batt was, so far as it concerned my “B” and “D” Companies, as follows:
“D” Company (Capt Manning) holding an advanced position at Bileibil with “B” Company (Capt Tyler) in support.
I assumed command of the line from Lt Col Warde-Aldam DSO.
Orders were received from Brigade for a general attack on the Shunet Nimrin positions. I was instructed to attack Bileibil with my Battalion, and two companies of the 2/20th Batt was placed at my disposal. I made the following dispositions:
– To “C” Company (Capt Crosby) was assigned the first objective, namely the south eastern portion of Blackheath Ridge.
– “A” Company (Capt Gray) to go through “C” Company to the final objective: Bileibil.
– “D” Company to be in support, with B Coy holding the forward line.
The night passed quietly and, beyond active patrolling, there was nothing to report. Patrols found enemy occupying Blackheath Ridge.
1st May, I attacked at day break, as ordered. “C” Coy advanced and succeeded in gaining about 100 yards of ground in front of my main line (held by “B” Coy) but were unable to advance further on account of heavy enfilade and frontal machine gun and rifle fire. Seeing the impossibility of advancing further against the first objective (Blackheath Ridge) frontally, I ordered Capt Crosby to maintain his position.
I then proceeded to reconnoitre my left flank as I was under the impression that something might be done in that direction. It was here that I met Lieut Ginger of the 2/14th Batt (London Scottish), who had been sent to me as Liaison Officer from that Battalion. This Officer gave me valuable information on which I was, at once, able to act.
I ordered Capt Manning, with 25 rifles of “D” Coy, to push forward, reconnoitre and report on the situation on my left and, if the information which Lieut Ginger had given me turned out to be correct, to push on and capture Blackheath Ridge (or that part of it in front of “C” Coy in enfilade). Capt Manning, with considerable push and initiative, appreciated the situation, led a bayonet charge, capturing two enemy sangars with one Officer and eight Other Ranks taken as prisoner.
On Capt Manning’s success, at once, I sent “A” Coy (Capt Gray) to support him, with orders to relieve Capt Manning and consolidate the position captured on Blackheath Ridge, with a view to a further advance.
Meanwhile, the attack by the 2/17th Batt, on my right, did not materialise, neither did the attack by the 2/14th Batt, on my left, make any appreciable advance.
Meanwhile, “C” Coy, whilst maintaining its position in the centre, suffered heavy casualties and I withdrew this Company in order to avoid any further waste of life.
Orders were received after dark to prepare for another attack on Bileibil at 0530 hours, 2nd instant, in conjunction with the 179 Brigade on my left. Patrols were also instructed to be very active. I, therefore, sent a strong patrol of two Officers and 50 men of Capt Goldby’s Company of the 2/20th Batt at 0130 hours to reconnoitre and endeavour to seize Grays Hill by surprise.
This patrol was unable to make headway, the Officer in charge reporting to me that he was held up by machine gun and rifle and that he had returned to Company Headquarters in the wadi behind Manning Ridge.
At a conference of Coy Commanders, I explained my plan of attack to all concerned, which briefly was as follows:
– “A” Coy 2/18th (Capt Gray), closely supported by Capt Wilson’s Coy of the 2/20th Batt, to assault and capture the feature known as Grays Hill as a preliminary to a further attack in Bileibil.
– “D” Coy, with a Sub-Section MGC, to hold Manning Ridge, to look after my left flank, and to maintain touch and observe movements of the 2/15th Batt.
– My advanced Headquarters was to be established on Manning Ridge.
– Capt Golby’s Coy 2/20th was to hold Blackheath Ridge and to watch my right flank, holding two Platoons in support.
– “B” Coy 2/18th in support, and C Coy in reserve.
The assault to be preceded by a 50 minute Artillery preparation.
The night passed without further incident.
At 0615 hours on 2nd May, “A” Coy (Capt Gray) advanced and, at 0715 hours, had captured Grays Hill. Two Platoons of Capt Wilson’s Coy of the 2/20th Batt were sent in support of Capt Gray. Grays Hill was now firmly held. I did not consider it advisable to make any further advance at this stage for the following reasons:
- The advance of the 2/15th Batt on my left was held up by machine gun fire, and no further advance was able to be made by this Battalion.
- The attack on Derbasi, which had taken place during the night, had not progressed.
At 0800 hours, the situation was stationary and remained so until nightfall.
A warning order was communicated verbally to me by the BGC that there would probably be a further effort to take Bileibil on the morning of the 3rd.
Therefore, after reconnoitring the ground with Col Warde-Aldam, I drew up a plan of attack in anticipation of definite developments of that nature.
My dispositions on the night of 2nd/3rd May were as follows:
– “A” Coy 2/18th and Capt Wilson’s Coy of 2/20th were occupying Blackheath Ridge.
– “C” Coy 2/18th were in reserve and “D” Coy were holding Manning Ridge, with a Sub-Section of Vickers Guns. The remaining Sub-Section MGC were located on Surprise Hill.
The original plan of attack having been abandoned, I carried out the following move on the morning of the 3rd instant:
I withdrew Capt Wilson’s Coy of 2/20th from Grays Hill. This Coy and Capt Goldby’s Coy (which had been placed at my disposal), I now returned to the OC 2/20th Batt, the two companies coming under his orders.
During the evening of the 3rd, I had also sent “C” Coy to relieve “A” Coy on Grays Hill with “D” Coy from Manning Ridge moving up in close support to “C” Coy.
“B” Coy still held Blackheath Ridge and, in addition, Manning Ridge in place of “D” Coy. “A” Coy coming into Battalion Reserve on Surprise Hill.
This was the position of affairs on the night of 3rd/4th May, which passed without further incident.
4th May. Instructions had been communicated to me that my Battalion was to be relieved by a battalion of the 181 Brigade. Accordingly, Lt-Col Jervois MC, of 2/21st Battalion, arrived at my Headquarters soon after daybreak.
I proceeded to take Lt-Col Jervois round the line and explained the situation fully to him.
It was about this time that four enemy ‘planes flew over my lines and machine gunned “C” and “D” Companies. One ‘plane was struck by machine gun fire and brought down and crashed into “C” Coy lines just in the rear of Grays Hill. The machine, an Albatross, was totally destroyed and the Boche airman killed.
About 45 minutes subsequent to the enemy ’plane falling n my lines, the enemy (who had crept up to a wadi) managed to establish himself at the point marked ‘X’, the nature of the ground at this point made observation extremely difficult, owing to the ridge being swept by machine gun fire at the slightest sign of any movement.
As it was imperative to retake the ridge at all costs, I organised a counter-attack on the spot and re-occupied the ridge. The enemy withdrew, leaving a German Officer dead behind them. It was impossible during daylight to get at this body due to intense machine gun fire concentrated by the enemy on all portions of Grays Hill. My men maintained themselves on the ridge for the remainder of the day under severe shrapnel and machine gun fire. It was here that Capt Crosby especially distinguished himself.
Seeing that affairs were now normal again, I returned to my Headquarters, having further reinforced the forward companies “C” and “D”, with two Platoons of “B” Coy from Manning Ridge. In the meantime, Col Warde-Aldam, as a precautionary measure, had removed my “A” Coy (Capt Gray) from Surprise Hill to a wadi near Manning Ridge.
During the afternoon, at approximately 1600 hours, I received verbal instructions from the BGC that a withdrawal to Ghoraniyeh Bridgehead had been contemplated for the whole Force that night, the 2/18th to withdraw first, covered by the 2/20th Batt as Rearguard.
In consultation with the OC 2/20th Batt, I arranged that one company of the 2/20th was to relieve the details of my own “B”, “C” and “D” Companies after dark near Grays Hill and one company of the 2/20th to relieve the remainder of “B” Coy and “A” Coy in the wadi near Manning Ridge. This was done.
By 2100 hours, I had concentrated my Battalion in the rear of Surprise Hill and commenced the withdrawal at that hour. The withdrawal was accomplished without incident and the Battalion was concentrated within the Ghoraniyeh Bridgehead on the night of 4th/5th May.
All ranks worked well under arduous conditions. Positions had to be maintained throughout the hours of daylight under harassing machine gun, rifle and artillery fire, the latter in some instances almost at point blank range. The majority of the Officers and men had little or no sleep for five consecutive nights.
The following Officers, NCOs and men are recommended for suitable award, their names have been forwarded under separate cover:
Capt E Manning – Military Cross.
Capt JS Crosby – Military Cross.
Sgt WJ Kelly MM – Bar to Military Medal.
L/Cpl GJ Billingham – Military Medal.
Rfn AJ Over – Military Medal.
Rfn G Fullex – Military Medal.
Signed, AE Norton, Lieut Colonel, Commanding 2/18th Battalion London Regiment (London Irish Rifles).”
Casualties during this operation were:
22 Other Ranks killed and 2 missing.
7 Officers and 101 Other Ranks wounded.
Officers wounded, in addition to Colonel Norton and Capt Cosby, who remained at duty, were Capt WH Tyler, Lieut AG Patrick and RH Battersby, 2nd Lieut TE Seymour and RCV Youell.