- SImon Biggs
63rd (Royal Naval) Division - Battle of Welsh Ridge
Battle of Welsh Ridge
Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines Location: Villers Plouich Period/ Conflict: World War I Year: 1917 Date/s: 30 December 1917
The action at Welsh Ridge was fought when the enemy counterattacked in the last days of the Battle of Cambrai.
Welsh Ridge was a short stretch of higher ground forming a salient bulging out towards Marcoing. It had been captured during the Battle of Cambrai, the Germans determined to re take the ground. The salient was centred to the front of Villers Plouich; the trenches held by the British were in the Hindenberg Line along the crest of the Ridge.
The enemy had early success and managed to infiltrate and overrun sections of the British lines but by evening, after hard fighting all day, the lost ground was re-captured. The Royal Naval Division (made up of Royal Marines & Royal Naval Reserve) were holding the allied line at Welsh Ridge.
At dawn the usual German “hurricane” bombardment took place killing several officers & men. The rest of the day was to be far from usual. Suddenly, as the bombardment stopped, the Royal Naval Division was attacked. Heavily armed German Stormtroopers wearing snow suits for camouflage had advanced using the bombardment as cover.
The Royal Naval Division was now in a desperate fight for survival. The Royal Marines & sailors in the Hood & Drake battalions held & in hand to hand fighting drove the attackers back. The supporting British Army units suffered heavy casualties & the line was breached. A counter-attack was now essential before the Germans could re-enforce their stormtroops & fortify the captured positions.
The strongest units in the Royal Naval Division, the Nelson Btn & the Artisits Rifles attacked, the scene captured in John Nash's picture.
'Over The Top'. 1st Artists' Rifles at Marcoing, 30th December 1917
The counter-attacks stalled. At this point T/Lt Cdr Buckle RNVR (a school teacher pre-war & a Royal Naval Reserve promoted from AB) won the DSO for planning & leading new attacks with his Anson Btn.
By the end of WWI, he had been awarded the DSO 4 times & 5 MiDs. In two days of hard fighting, the Royal Naval Division had suffered 1,420 casualties. They had held Welsh Ridge & fought off an enemy force of 15 battalions.
Text from a tweet by @HMSKingAlfred RNR Whale Island