from 'the War Budget', August 9th 1917
'Drum-Fire of 2,000 British Guns'
by Philip Gibbs
the Famous War Correspondent of the "Daily Chronicle"

Graphic Story of the Great Attack

British heavy artillery


During the past few weeks the correspondents in the field have not even hinted at the approach of the battle that opened last week, though other people were not so discreet, and the enemy himself sounded the alarm. But we have seen many of the preparations for this terrific adventure in the North, and have counted the days when all these men we have seen passing along the roads, all these guns and the tidal wave of ammunition which has flawed northwards should be ready for the new conflict, more formidable than any of the fighting which ranged along the lines since April of this year.

I am bound to say that, as the days drew nearer, some of us shuddered at the frightful thing growing ripe for history, as the harvests of France have ripened. Pouring over maps of this Northern front, and looking across the country from the coast-line and newly-taken hills like those of Wytschaete, the difficulty of the ground, which our men had to attack was horribly apparent. Those swamps in the North around Dixmude, the Yser canal, which must be bridged under fire for men to cross, the low flats of our lines around Ypres like the well of an amphitheatre, with the enemy above on the Pilkem Ridge, were so full of peril for attacking troops that optimism itself might be frightened and downcast.

Many tanks went forward with our infantry, sometimes in advance and sometimes behind, according to the plan of action mapped out for them; and they did better than well against several of the enemy's strong points, where, for a time our men were held up by machine-gun fire. Before the culmination of the attack was reached, the enemy was puzzled and nerve-racked, not knowing where our attack would fall upon him; and he made many raids, mostly unsuccessful, to find out our plans, while we raided him day and might to see what strength he was massing to meet us.

Russia lured him, and in spite of our threat he sent off some six divisions, I believe, to the Eastern theatre of operations, but at the same time he relieved many of the divisions who had been broken by our fire in the lines, replacing them by his freshest and strongest troops. They did mot remain fresh even after only a few hours, for our guns caught some of them during their reliefs, so that they stepped straight into an inferno of fire.

Thunder of the Guns

On the day the great battle opened, July 31st, the drum fire of over 2,000 British guns never slackened for hours. At 9 o'clock in the morning it beat over the countryside with the great rafale of terror as it had started before 4 o'clock. Strangely above this hammering and thundering of two thousand: guns or more of ours, answered by the enemy's barrage, railway whistles screamed from trains taking up more shells - and always more shells - to the very edge of the fighting lines.

Over at Warneton and Oostaverne, in the valley below the Messines Ridge, the enemy was pouring fire along our line, shells of the heaviest calibre, which burst monstrously and raised great pillars of white smoke. It was a valley of death there.

Firing Under Cover of White Flag

The wounded were eager to describe their fighting, and on questioning them I saw again the pride of men in the courage of their comrades, forgetting their own, which had been as great. These lads told me how they lay out in the night, and how the German, planes came over bombing them, how they rose and went forward in attack. The enemy was quickly turned out of his front line of shell craters, and there were not many of him there. In the second line he was thickly massed, font some of them threw up their hands at once, crying "Mercy!"

The Scots came up against a strong emplacement fitted with machine-guns, and here the German gunners fired rapidly, so that our men were checked. They rushed the place, and at the last a German hoisted a white rag, but even then others fired, and I met one young Scot who bad a comrade killed after that sign of surrender.

Beyond Ypres, on the way to Menin, there was a big tunnel, where our English lads expected trouble, as it could hold hundreds of Germans. But when they came to the tunnel and ferreted down it they only found forty-one men, who surrendered at once.

The Enemy's Boy Soldiers

Some of the enemy's troops were quite young boys of the 1918 class.

The success of the Allied attack was shared by English troops, including the Guards, with the Welsh who fought abreast of them with equal heroism, and with Scottish and Anzacs. The Welsh wiped out the most famous German regiment of the 3rd Guards Division, known as the Cockchafers.

Fighting with us, the French troops kept pace with their usual gallantry, carrying all their objectives, according to the time-table. In one great and irresistible assault these troops of two nations swept across the enemy lines, and attained their objectives. Against them the Germans could do nothing but accept their fate.


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