Battle of Polygon Wood
26 September 1917

L-R Aerial view of Polygon wood July 1917, and the same in Sept 1917 (Shell Hole)

The Battle of Polygon Wood, fought on 26 September 1917, was the second ‘bite and hold’ operation of the Third Battle of Ypres in which Australians participated. [See Battle of Menin Road’ for a description of the ‘bite and hold’ tactics.]

The area captured on 20 September 1917 at the Battle of Menin Road had been churned up by the shells of both sides and, before massed artillery and other supplies could be moved forward, roads had to be built. Plank roads for heavy traffic, light railways, mule-tracks, and even a short experimental length of monorail, were quickly constructed. Building supply routes was essential work for the success of the ‘bite and hold’ operations.

Australian forces involved in the Polygon Wood battle were the Fourth and Fifth Divisions, which as well as the infantry included artillery, engineers, medical personnel and the hundreds of men involved in supply and transport. All essential war material had to be brought forward by wagons along roads and tracks exposed to heavy shelling. Horses and drivers suffered greatly. While a cratered road was repaired, drivers had to sit and wait, controlling their horses as the shells fell around them. Charles Bean, Australia’s official historian, wrote of these men:

They belonged to the finest class their nation produced, unassuming, country-bred men. They waited steadily until the break was repaired or some shattered wagon or horses dragged from the road, and then continued their vital work. No shell-fire could drive them from their horses. The unostentatious efficiency and self-discipline of these steadfast men was as fine as any achievement of Australians in the war.

Charles Bean, The AIF in France:1917, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume 4, Sydney, 1941, pp.794–795

The name Polygon Wood derived from a plantation forest that lay along the axis of the Australian advance on 26 September 1917. Shelling had reduced the wood to little more than stumps and broken timber. The planned attack was almost derailed by a German attack 24 hours earlier on British troops holding the line to the south of the Fifth Division. Australians, scheduled to attack the next morning, helped to fend off the Germans, but there was some concern about the possible weakness of this flank during the upcoming operation.

The British artillery barrage, which commenced at 5.50 on 26 September, just as the Polygon plateau became visible, was described by Charles Bean as:

… the most perfect that ever protected Australian troops. It seemed to break out … with a single crash. The ground was dry, and the shell-bursts raised a wall of dust and smoke which appeared almost to be solid. So dense was the cloud that individual bursts … could not be distinguished. Roaring, deafening, it rolled ahead of the troops ‘like a Gippsland bushfire’.

Charles Bean, The AIF in France:1917, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 4, Sydney, 1941, p.813

Seven divisions, five British and two Australian, advanced behind the screen of shells – the ‘creeping barrage’ as it was known – and seized most of their objectives. In the south, despite the previous day’s problems, the Australians reached not only their own objectives but those allocated to neighboring British units. The Germans launched several counter-attacks but these were thwarted by the heavy defensive artillery barrages used to protect the infantry consolidating their objectives. The Battle of Polygon Wood cost 5,770 Australian casualties.

A feature of the Polygon Wood fighting were the fierce mopping-up actions to clear the German defenders from ‘pillboxes’ untouched by the shelling. Prominent in these attacks was Private Patrick Bugden, 31st Battalion (Queensland and Victoria). A born athlete, Bugden also rescued a comrade from some Germans in the course of which action he killed most of those who had taken the man prisoner. Bugden, who was later killed, received the Victoria Cross posthumously.

 

L-R Private Patrick Bugden and his grave at Hooge Crater Cemetery

Citation

Private (Pte) Patrick Joseph Bugden VC, 31st Battalion

Pte Bugden was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for "most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when on two occasions our advance was temporarily held up by strongly defended `pillboxes'" on 26 - 28 September 1917 at Polygon Wood, near Ypres, Belgium.  Pte Bugden, under heavy machine gun fire, led small parties to attack the machine guns and captured the garrison. On another occasion he single handedly rescued a fellow soldier who had been taken prisoner. 

On five other occasions he rescued wounded men under heavy shell and machine gun fire. It was on the fifth occasion that Pte Bugden was killed in September 1917.


Private (Sgt) Reginald Roy Inwood VC

 

Sgt Inwood was awarded the Victoria Cross as a Private (Pte) for "most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the advance to the second objective" on 19 - 22 September 1917 at Polygon Wood, Belgium. 

Pte Inwood moved forward under heavy enemy fire and captured an enemy strong point, taking nine prisoners. Later that evening he volunteered for a special all night patrol, obtaining valuable information about enemy movements. 

In the early morning of 21 September, he again located an enemy machine gun, which he single handedly bombed, killing all but one of the crew, whom he captured. 

Sgt Inwood returned to Australia where he was discharged on 12 December 1918. 

 

Polygon Wood, near Ieper, Belgium

20-21 September 1917

10th Battalion

Citation

 

During an action Inwood went out alone to an enemy strong point and captured it after taking nine prisoners and killing several of the enemy, allowing the advance to continue until the third objective was gained. The battalion then consolidated its posts and wired its front before beating off enemy counter-attacks. It was expected that the enemy would group for a counter-attack that evening so Inwood volunteered to go out in the dark, 600 metres in front of his line, to report on enemy movements. The attack did not eventuate. Next morning Inwood and a member of the 7th Battalion located a machine gun which was causing casualties. They crept up behind it and bombed it so effectively that only one gunner survived; he was taken prisoner and forced to carry his gun back to the Australian lines

 


Tpr William Edward (Billy) Sing
DCM , Croix de Guerre 1886 - 1943
"The Assassin of Gallipoli"

Read more - select Billy Sing photo

 

Johan next to the grave of Billy Sing Brisbane Australia

In September 1917, Sing led a unit in the Battle of Polygon Wood in counter-sniper operations, for which he was awarded the Oorlogskruis (the Belgian Croix de Guerre).

On the Western Front, Sing was repeatedly wounded in action, as well as being hospitalised for sickness and illness caused by old wounds. During one of these periods of convalescence, Sing met Elizabeth Stewart, a waitress, in Scotland, whom he married on June 29, 1917.

 

 

Select photo above for a larger view

Billy is buried in Lutwyche War Cemetery Brisbane Australia

 

Inscription reads

AT REST

William Edward (Billy) Sing (DCM)

Born Claremont Queensland 2-3-1886 Died 19-5-1943

Reg. No 355 Australian Fifth Light Horse Regiment and later the 31st Infantry Battalion

Son of John Sing (born Shanghai)and Mary Ann ( nee Pugh Bn. England)

and married for a time to Elizabeth (Stewart) in Edinburgh 28-6-1917

A man of all trades, Pte. Sing was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for

conspicuous gallantry. the Belgian Croux De Guerre and mentioned often in

dispatches. Serving Gallipoli and France from 1915-1918, he became known as Australia's

most effective marksman /sniper accounting for more than 150 of the opposing forces.

His incredible accuracy contributed greatly to the preservation of lives of those with whom he

served during a war always remembered for countless acts of valor and tragic carnage.


YPRES, 1917
 

The 3rd Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele after its climactic Battle) was the major British offensive in Flanders in 1917. It consisted of eleven separate deliberate attacks, in corps to army group strength. Anzac troops participated in seven of these attacks. The Battle started with the same old attrition method used on the Somme (including Pozieres) in 1916, developed into the "step my step" approach, which in fine conditions resulted in the three brilliantly successful Battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood, and Broodseinde, followed by reversion to heavy losses for minimal gains in the mud at Passchendaele.
 

The "step by step" approach was a tactical innovation. Its key elements were a heavy preliminary bombardment, followed by a swift infantry advance to escape the German counter bombardment. The infantry attacked under the protection of its own creeping barrage. There was a very dense concentration of force on narrow frontages (about 1,000 m per division) against limited objectives, followed by long pauses (about 1 hr) to enable reorganisation and the continuation of the attack. The Battle was planned as a succession of limited offensives, to follow one another at a few days interval, pausing to push forward the artillery, and to relieve the tired infantry with fresh troops.
 

The Battle of Menin Road opened on 20 Sep, and met with almost complete success. 1st Div (including 1st Bn) and 2nd Div (including 19th Bn) formed the centre of the attacking force. Never before had two Australian divisions attacked side by side, and the Diggers were consequently elated with a confidence and enthusiasm which British leaders did not, at that time, understand.
 

The Battle of Polygon Wood opened on 26 Sep, under the most perfect barrage that had ever protected Australian troops. All objectives were quickly captured by the fresh 4th and 5th Divs.
 

The Battle of Broodseinde was fought on 4 Oct, and again the 1st and 19th Bns participated as part of the 1st and 2nd Divs. The Broodseinde Ridge was won, and for the first time since May 1915, troops on the British side looked out on the green, tree-fringed Flemish lowlands beyond.
 

The 3rd Battle of Ypres ended in the mud at Passchendaele on 10 Nov. The Australians suffered 38,000 casualties in eight weeks. Those killed in the 1st Bn included MAJ Philip Howell-Price DSO MC, SGT Bellchambers MM, PTE Connell from Bathurst, and PTEs Lamprell and Sinclair from Wagga. Those killed in the 19th Bn included LTCOL Pye DSO (CO), 2 LT Tickner DCM, SGT Hill MM and Bar, SGT Pascoe and PTE Curley from Wagga, and PTE Wright from Orange.
 

Seven VCs were awarded to Australian soldiers. The 1st and 19th Bns were awarded the Battle Honours YPRES 1917, MENIN ROAD, POLYGON WOOD, BROODSEINDE, POELCAPPELLE and PASSCHENDAELE for these battles. YPRES and PASSCHENDAELE are emblazoned on the Regimental Colours.

 


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