Into battle: the 7th Royal Irish Rifles attack at Frezenberg, 16 August 1917

This article describes an attack made by the 7th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles on 16 August 1917, during a phase of the Third Ypres offensive known as the Battle of Langemarck. The battalion was under command of the 48th Infantry Brigade of the 16th (Irish) Division.

ImageMen going up to the line near Frezenberg during the Third Battle of Ypres, 1917. [IWM image Q2978.] In this photo the men are of the 8th East Yorkshires.

A taste of things to come

On 5 August 1917 the battalion moved to a reserve position east of Ypres, ready to return to the front line. It had only managed a short spell of a few days of rest since it had taken part in the opening of the Third Ypres offensive on 31 July. In overall terms the battle had begun well for the British but heavy and persistent rain brought the attack to a standstill: it was the forerunner of what turned out to be the worst summer weather in Flanders for many decades. On moving forward the battalion remained at the “Ecole de Bienfaisance”, a large building (by now very much damaged) east of Ypres itself. There was much shellfire but no losses were incurred. On 8 August the battalion moved forward to Frezenberg.

ImageFrezenberg lies north east of Ypres, on the road going out via Potijze towards Zonnebeke. The Ypres-Roulers railway line passed south of the village. The Ecole de Bienfaisance can be seen just outsife Ypres. [Ypres League map]

The war diary reports that the battalion took up the following positions, which were in ground recently captured from the enemy: Headquarters and “A” Company in a strong point known as the Frezenberg Redoubt; “B” Company in a support position with its right on the Ypres-Roulers railway line; “C” Company ahead of it; “D” Company in the front line on the left of “C”. Coming under heavy shellfire, the battalion lost no fewer than 12 men killed, 75 wounded and 4 missing, without ever leaving the position. A direct hit on battalion headquarters killed or wounded all of the battalion’s runners (men who would take messages by hand) and observers. The depleted battalion was relieved on 10 August and moved rearward to a camp west of Ypres and just south of the village of Vlamertinghe.

Into battle

On 15 August the battalion moved forward again, ready to take part in a renewal of the offensive. This now has the official name of the Battle of Langemarck. The 7th Rifles reached its place of assembly in the early hours of 16 August.

"Arrived at assembly position at 2.25am. No tapes had been put out by RE [white tapes laid to guide men to a position at night]. Owing to the excellent arrangements made by Captain Black and the officers of “A” Company [of the] 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers [the] battalion had no difficulty in getting into position. Some casualties had occurred on the way up from shell fire. One direct hit on Menin Gate wounded several men of [the] Stokes mortar party.

At about 4am enemy shelled position pretty heavily. At zero hour immediately the barrage started the enemy opened with Machine Guns and shelled the Black Line. During the advance to Green Line enemy MGs were active from several places on the Ypres-Roulers railway and the direction of Borry Farm, and from concrete dugouts at D.26.a.2.0 and D.26.c.3.7. At the latter point the guns kept in action while the [British artillery] barrage passed over them. This MG fire caused a great many casualties. All of the officers were hit before the Green Line was reached. The centre and left companies suffered very severely and were not able to go on."

ImageThis map shows the planned creeping forward of the British artillery barrage, with lines showing where shells should be falling five, ten, fifteen minutes etc after the attack began. The first objective “Green Line” is marked in green pencil across the map. To reach it the battalion would have to capture enemy strong points at Beck House, Borry Farm and Vampir. The direction of the attack in this map is bottom towards top. [Map from battalion war diary]

ImageA clearer view of the area. Note the location of Potsdam strong point. [Ypres League map]

ImageThis map shows that the battalion had its right on the railway; it was attacking the 19th Bavarian Infantry Regiment which was holding the various strongpoints and was to advance towards Potsdam (at the top of the map). Again the direction of attack in this map is bottom to top. [Map from brigade war diary]

ImageThis map show the two troublesome machine gun posts. We have marked them with red flags. They were directly in the path of the battalion’s advance. [Extract from trench map]

The right company cleared huts and dugouts at D.26.c.4.5, sending back about 30 prisoners. This company then moved along the railway and crossed the Hanebeek [stream]. Some of them were seen to follow the barrage to the red dotted line. A few of the centre and support companies seem to have followed them through; with the exception of these few the whole line came to a standstill.

An attempt was made to turn the flank [that is, get around the side of] of the dugouts at D.26.c.3.7 from the direction of the huts. Lieutenant Kingston was killed whilst using his revolver against the machine gunner, and what was left of his platoon was knocked out by a shell. A small party consolidated [that is, dug in at] a point of the railway near the huts.

The mopping-up party of the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers came up and joined the support company, who dug themselves in approximately on the line of the road at D.26.c.2.7.

ImageThe "red dotted line" looks purple here. It was beyond Potsdam and incorporated another strongpoint, the Bremen Redoubt held by 21st Bavarian Infantry Regiment. [Map from brigade war diary]

At this time the situation was not at all clear. No messages had got back. I was only getting scraps of information from the wounded. I had sent an officer with four orderlies specially to report on the situation when the Green Line was reached (2/Lt A. C. D. Hill). He has not been seen since soon after zero hour [he was killed in the attack].

Units on either side fared no better and support units coming forward to assist suffered heavy casualties as they did so.

The tired and terribly depleted 7th (Service) Battalion was relieved soon afterwards: the losses had amounted to seventeen officers and 308 men, for virtually no gain.

In memory

No fewer than 87 officers and men of the battalion lost their lives in the attack. Of these the vast majority have no known grave today. We have included in this list one man whose death is stated to be 15 August 1917: he is listed on the Menin Gate Memorial and those who came after on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Small numbers of men were evidently found in battlefield clearance at a later date and were buried nearby.

Ypres Menin Gate Memorial

Surname Forenames Age Rank Number
WILSON JOHN 37 Rifleman '6072'

 

Tyne Cot Memorial

Surname Forenames Age Rank Number
AGNEW JAMES Rifleman '5037'
ARMSTRONG JOHN 21 Rifleman '6929'
BAILEY EDWARD Serjeant '4814'
BANKER ALFRED EDWARD Rifleman '41857'
BARRY JAMES 21 Rifleman '7948'
BAXTER FRANCIS JOHN Serjeant '4062'
BERGIN PATRICK Rifleman '2764'
BRADY MICHAEL 23 Rifleman '2776'
BURNS EDWARD 24 Corporal '4654'
CASSIDY WILLIAM 29 Rifleman '3541'
CLIFFORD EDWARD Rifleman '16402'
CONNOR EDWARD 22 Rifleman '45298'
CROMPTON ALFRED 20 Rifleman '45272'
DAWSON EDWARD 35 Rifleman '9206'
DE LA HAYE SNOWDEN Rifleman '4382'
DERRICK PETER Rifleman '9963'
DOLAN PATRICK 32 Rifleman '7715'
DUNKLEY WALTER HENRY Rifleman '41913'
DUNLOP NATHANIEL 20 Rifleman '5700'
DUNNE WILLIAM ROBERT 23 Lance Corporal '4497'
ELMITT GEORGE CARLETON BROOKSBY 19 Second Lieutenant
FITZGERALD THOMAS Rifleman '43445'
FLOOD MICHAEL JOSEPH 18 Corporal '4564'
GARDINER WILLIAM 26 Rifleman '7710'
GARRETT JAMES Rifleman '10554'
GILLIGAN FRANK Rifleman '4582'
GODFREY THOMAS JOHN 19 Rifleman '41819'
GOOCH ARTHUR THOMAS 25 Rifleman '41840'
GULLIFORD HAROLD JOHN 27 Rifleman '4110'
HALL WILLIAM JOHN 26 Rifleman '8261'
HANNAH ROBERT 22 Second Lieutenant
HARDING NELSON JOHN 32 Serjeant '4232'
HATTE EDWARD STOKES 29 Second Lieutenant
HOGAN JOHN 25 Private '8699'
HORNER LEONARD 28 Rifleman '41918'
HUMPHREYS AMYAS NOEL 31 Rifleman '8792'
IRWIN WILLIAM JAMES Second Lieutenant
JORDAN BERNARD 20 Rifleman '8050'
KELLY HUBERT 25 Rifleman '45311'
KELLY JAMES 25 Rifleman '6133'
KINGSTON WILLIAM Lieutenant
LE LEURE GEORGE PHILIP Rifleman '4149'
LEADER HAMILTON 25 Lance Corporal '8975'
LOUGHREY HUGH 35 Rifleman '10599'
LYDON MCDARRA 20 Rifleman '5725'
MARTIN GEORGE 20 Rifleman '45226'
McCARTNEY WILLIAM JAMES Serjeant '1255'
McDONALD SAMUEL Private '45259'
McGAUGHAN SAMUEL Rifleman '6829'
McMASTER CHARLES 35 Captain
McNULTY ROBERT Rifleman '7587'
MONKS JOHN 33 Serjeant '6339'
MOORE CHARLES JOHNSTONE Rifleman '40104'
MORAN JAMES 39 Lance Corporal '9267'
MURPHY MICHAEL JOSEPH 21 Rifleman '5791'
MURTAGH MICHAEL 28 Rifleman '40027'
NAUGHTER AIDEN Serjeant '2598'
NESBITT FRANCIS 24 Serjeant '5124'
OAKSHOTT ALBERT NEVILLE 26 Lieutenant
O'BRIEN RICHARD MICHAEL 24 Serjeant '4895'
OWENS WILLIAM 30 Second Lieutenant
PAINTING JOHN 34 Rifleman '5098'
REGAN JOHN Rifleman '45299'
RISBRIDGER WILLIAM GEORGE 21 Rifleman '4361'
RUTTER JOSEPH LEES 19 Rifleman '41775'
RYAN MARTIN Lance Corporal '40054'
RYAN THOMAS 32 Rifleman '9355'
SCOTT WILLIAM JOHN Rifleman '7510'
SKILBECK THOMAS Rifleman '40055'
THOMPSON DAVID 20 Rifleman '7868'
TYNE JOSEPH Rifleman '41821'
VIBERT JAMES 23 Rifleman '4380'
WADSWORTH STANLEY Rifleman '5349'
WALSH THOMAS 20 Rifleman '5414'
WARNER THOMAS REUBEN Rifleman '41930'
WHITE ALBERT EDWARD 34 Rifleman '47086'
WHITLEY ANDREW 18 Rifleman '9862'
WILSON DAVID 24 Rifleman '5122'
WINDER THOMAS Rifleman '45321'
WOONTON ALBERT 22 Corporal '4216'

 

Bedford House Cemetery

Bedford House Cemetery
Surname Forenames Age Rank Number
YOUNG 29 Rifleman '45282'

 

Perth (China Wall) Cemetery

Surname Forenames Age Rank Number
PIGGIN HERBERT ARTHUR 25 Rifleman '41856'
TYNDAL SAMUEL 28 Rifleman '7992'

 

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Surname Forenames Age Rank Number
HENRY ARTHUR BAGNALL 36 Serjeant '6142'
HILL ADAM CYRIL DARLEY 19 Second Lieutenant
JOHNSTON EDWARD 25 Lance Corporal '9228'

 

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them".

Sources:

  • War diary, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, National Archives WO95/1975 (Crown Copyright)
  • War diary, 48th Infantry Brigade headquarters, National Archives WO95/1973
  • (Crown Copyright)
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission "debt of honour" database
  • 1920 Ypres League map of the Ypres salient

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