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Action Front Boyd Cable

Smashing The Counter-Attack

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It was such a target as gunners in their fondest dreams dare hardly hope for; and such a target as war may never see again, for surely the fate of such massed attacks will be a warning to all infantry commanders for all time.

The guns took their toll, and where death from above missed, death from the level came in an unbroken torrent of bullets sleeting across the open from rifles and machine-guns. On our trenches shells were still bursting, maxim and rifle bullets were still pelting from somewhere in half enfilade at long range. But our men had no time to pay heed to these. They hitched themselves well up on the parapet to get the fuller view of their mark; their officers for the most part had no need to bother about directing or controlling the fire--what need, indeed, to direct with such a target bulking big before the sights? What need to control when the only speed limit was a man's capacity to aim and fire? So the officers, for the most part, took rifle themselves and helped pelt lead into the slaughter-pit.

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There are few, if any, who can give details of how or when the attack perished. A thick haze of smoke from the bursting shells blurred the picture. To the eyes of the defenders there was only a picture of that smoke-fog, with a gray wall of men looming through it, moving, walking, running towards them, falling and rolling, and looming up again and coming on, melting away into tangled heaps that disappeared again behind advancing men, who in turn became more falling and fallen piles. It was like watching those chariot races in a theater where the horses gallop on a stage revolving under their feet, and for all their fury of motion always remain in the same place. So it was with the German line--it was pressing furiously forward, but always appeared to remain stationary or to advance so slowly that it gave no impression of advancing, but merely of growing bigger. Once, or perhaps twice, the advancing line disappeared altogether, melted away behind the drifting smoke, leaving only the mass of dark blotches sprawled on the grass. At these times the fire died away along a part of our front, and the men paused to gulp a drink from a water-bottle, to look round and tilt their caps back and wipe the sweat from their brows, to gasp joyful remarks to one another about "gettin' a bit of our own back," and "this pays for the ninth o' May," and then listen to the full, deep roar of rifle-fire that rolled out from further down the line, and try to peer through the shifting smoke to see how "the lot next door" was faring. But these respites were short. A call and a crackle of fire at their elbows brought them back to business, to the grim business of purposeful and methodical killing, of wiping out that moving wall that was coming steadily at them again through the smoke and flame of the bursting shells. The great bulk of the line came no nearer than a hundred yards from our line; part pressed in another twenty or thirty yards, and odd bunches of the dead were found still closer. But none came to grips--none, indeed, were found within forty yards of our rifles' wall of fire. A scattered remnant of the attackers ran back, some whole and some hurt, thousands crawled away wounded, to reach the safe shelter of their support trenches, some to be struck down by the shells that still kept pounding down upon the death-swept field. The counter-attack was smashed--hopelessly and horribly smashed.

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Action Front
Boyd Cable

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