RMLI at Miraumont
Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines
Period/ Conflict: World War I
Date/s: 17th to 21st February 1917
The 1st Royal Marine Light Infantry (1RMLI) had suffered grievous casualties at the Battle of Ancre in November 1916 and had to be withdrawn from the front line to be completely rebuilt as a fighting unit. Only Lt Col Cartwright and Maj Ozanne had survived unscathed.
In February 1917 having been brought back up to strength with new officers and men, 1RMLI moved back into the trenches at Pusieux, just north of the Ancre river.
The winter of 1916 had been the worst in living memory and the weather was still very bad. The ground was the frozen but in the areas where it had begun to thaw, it had become very muddy. The whole area was covered in shell holes and all the trenches had been blown away. This meant there were no landmarks and navigation was very difficult.
A few weeks early other units of the 63rd Royal Naval Division (RND) had attacked and captured the ground surrounding Baillescourt Farm. This had pushed the British front line a little further up the Ancre Valley, but at huge cost in killed and wounded.
About 100m of the sunken lane running north from Baillescourt Farm was now held by Anson Battalion, but the higher ground further up the lane was still held by the Germans.
On the evening of 16th February 1RMLI lined up for the attack with the objective of taking the sunken road and establishing strong points 50m on the other side.
But at 0500am on 17th February the Germans opened up with an artillery barrage directly on the 1RMLI assembly area. As a result the battalion suffered more than 50% casualties before the attack had even begun.
At 0545am the surviving Marines began their advance, under the cover of a British artillery barrage.
In the confusion of battle and with the difficultly in navigating, the two left hand companies veered towards the right. By pure chance this meant they avoided the intact barbed wire, and the sector of the sunken lane they actually attacked had no wire at all.
A situation report was received at 0640am stating that both 1RMLI and Howe had secured their part of the sunken lane, and had advanced 20m beyond the lane to establish strong points.
Because they had veered off course 1RMLI then had to move north and eliminate one final German strong point. This strong point was assaulted and captured and this ended the Battle of Miraumont.
The starting strength of 1RMLI was quoted as being around 500. At the end of the day’s fighting only 100 were fit for duty. Most of these casualties were as a result of the initial German artillery bombardment. Very few men were killed in the assault itself.
Maj Harold Ozanne was wounded in this attack and sent back to the Brigade Field Ambulance station on 19th February returning to the battalion from 45th Casualty Clearing Station on 22nd February.
On 26th and 27th February 1RMLI organised burial parties at the sunken road for those in the attack. Those buried included 2Lt Robinson, O’Kell, and Fielding and 32 men.
On 11th March it was announced that Maj Harold Ozanne had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his action at the Battle of Miraumont.
The Citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He directed the consolidation of the position with marked ability, and was largely responsible for holding the position against subsequent enemy counter-attacks. He displayed great courage and determination throughout the operations.” London Gazette 17th April 1917.
The 63rd Division lost 549 casualties and the three attacking divisions took 599 prisoners.
Enemy retiring hastily sir, helped by our fire Maj H Ozanne DSO
Read more here:
63rd (Royal Naval) Division - Battle of Welsh Ridge
The Royal Marines in World War One