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Action Front Boyd Cable

Smashing The Counter-Attack

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The German artillery strove to pick up the plan of the attack, to beat down the torrent of our batteries' fire, to smash in the forward trenches, shake the defense, open the way for the massed attack. But the contest was too unequal, the devastation amongst the crowded mass of German infantry too awful to be allowed to continue. Plainly the attack, ready or not ready, had to be launched at speed, or perish where it stood.

And so it was that our New Armies had a glimpse of what the old "Contemptible Little Army" has seen and faced so often, the huge gray bulk looming through the drifting smoke, the packed mass of the old German infantry attack. There were some of these "Old Contemptibles," as they proudly style themselves now, who said when it was all over, and they had time to think of anything but loading and firing a red-hot rifle, that this attack did not compare favorably with the German attacks of the Mons-Marne days, that it lacked something of the steadiness, the rolling majesty of power, the swinging stride of the old attacks; that it did not come so far or so fast, that beaten back it took longer to rally and come again, that coming again it was easier than ever to bring to a stand. But against that these "Old Contemptibles" admit that they never in the old days fought under such favorable conditions, that here in this fight they were in better constructed and deeper trenches, that they were far better provided with machine-guns, and, above all, that they had never, never, never had such a magnificent backing from our guns, such a tremendous stream of shells helping to smash the attack.

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And smashed, hopelessly and horribly smashed, the attack assuredly was. The woods in and behind which the German hordes were massed lay from three to four hundred yards from the muzzles of our rifles. Imagine it, you men who were not there, you men of the New Armies still training at home, you riflemen practicing and striving to work up the number of aimed rounds fired in "the mad minute," you machine-gunners riddling holes in a target or a row of posts. Imagine it, oh you Artillery, imagine the target lavishly displayed in solid blocks in the open, with a good four hundred yards of ground to go under your streaming gun-muzzles. The gunners who were there that day will tell you how they used that target, will tell you how they stretched themselves to the call for "gun-fire" (which is an order for each gun to act independently, to fire and keep on firing as fast as it can be served), how the guns grew hotter and hotter, till the paint bubbled and blistered and flaked off them in patches, till the breech burned the incautious hand laid on it, till spurts of oil had to be sluiced into the breech from a can between rounds and sizzled and boiled like fat in a frying-pan as it fell on the hot steel, how the whole gun smoked and reeked with heated oil, and how the gun-detachments were half-deaf for days after.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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