The Great War, I was there - Part 32

door. The 6-pounder boomed away, and in a few minutes had blown a nasty hole in the door. Stolidly the 6-pounder kept on with its good work, and fired forty rounds into the ever-widening g»P- The garrison was bewildered. Well protected by their thick walls, they had confidently awaited an attack from the front, and nowhere was a savage gun actually dropping shells in their very midst from the rear !They could stand it no longer and bolted like rabbits. Some escaped, but the remainder were shot down or surrendered to the infan­try, who followed closely behind. The third pill-box, Triangle Farm, was manned by gunners of a stouter breed, for they fiercely replied to the fire of the tanks but the two machines eventually got the upper hand, and the infantry, forcing their way in, shot or bayoneted the whole garrison. Owing to the ditching of a male tank, one female had the difficult task of attacking single-handed the biggest strong point, the Cockcroft. Undaunted, she outset over the mud, her machine- guns spitting away valiantly. When within fifty yards of the thick walls she became firmly stuck, but her appearance on the scene was quite enough for the large garrison. They decided not to await the same fate as their comrades, and swiftly departed. The tank commander immediately signalled to the infantry following behind by waving a shovel through the manhole in the roof. This was the pre­arranged signal that the pill-box had been evacuated, but no notice was taken. He then sent his sergeant back with a message to the infantry to come forward and occupy the deserted strong point. Once more nothing happened. Apparently the infantry could not con­ceive that one female tank had forced a hundred men to quit a strongly forti­fied and practically impregnable pill­box. Their own experience was one of hopeless attacks against those concrete walls, in which the unfortunate at­tackers were mown down like ripe corn. Ci ally, the tank commander himself went back, found the colonel of the regiment, and induced him to send men forward to takeover the aban­doned Cockcroft. The tanks, having completed their round-up, retired down the road again and reached their rallying-point justin time to escape the German barrage, which, now that the smoke had cleared away, descended furiously on the road. 1259 l i 1 This brilliant little action was remarkable for the lact that, although on a front of a mile we had advanced 600 yards and captured powerful strong points, yet instead of the anticipated casualties of one thousand men. the only losses sustained by the infantry had been fifteen men wounded. The Germans must have lost almost fifty machine-guns, in addition to many killed, wounded, and prisoners. The tank casualties, which were heavier than those of the infantry, included two killed and twelve wounded. inComing an hour of deep pessimism, this tank exploit was sufficient to tip the scales in favour of a further lease of life for the tanks. While not at all convinced of their general usefulness, the Higher Command decided not to abolish them entirely, but to keep some on the off-chance that they might occa­sionally assist the infantry to clear up troublesome machine-guns or flatten out awkward patches of wire. Although the general offensive had been a failure, attacks were still carried on. Weary infantry were flung again and again against the unyielding enemy. Tanks, too, were thrust forward through the mud. If one in ten ever succeeded in getting into action the crews thought they had done remarkably well. C till ,whenever a tank got ahead of the infantry, the creW fought with great determination. They had heard the rumours that were going round they knew that tanks were considered useless by many infantrymen, and, clenching their teeth, they patiently scraped the mud off their guns and machines, drove desperately in the dark along the battered roads, and when they arrived inaction fought as though the honour of the whole Tank Corps depended on the result. If their tanks broke down or became ditched, they had orders to get out and form strong posts with their Lewis guns. As the stranded tank was often ahead of the infantry, this was a decidedly dangerous task, but no tank crew ever flinched from doing its duty. GREY WALLS AND GRIM MEMORIES Twenty-one years after, the remains of the fortress known as the Matson du Hibou, a two- storied building of solid concrete, manned bv about sixtv men, which was taken in the rear by a tank firing on the door, as described in this chapter, still stands, a strange memory of war on what are now fruitful farmlands. Even the tank with its 6-pounder gun had no chance of breaking down the concrete walls, and here, as well as in many other places on the battle­fields, these monuments of German “thoroughness stand,”still too solid to be worth the work needed for their destruction. Wide w ortll /M.a¦¦¦W fu tilfirfo .fiii.i 5 ' rj - 5 '~Wm
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