#The battalion advanced into the front line to assist Careys Force.
I came across this entry in the 2nd Bn Royal Munster Fusiliers diary referring to Careys force. A little research turned up the following:
The collection of men that later became known as ‘Carey’s Force’ came into being on 25th March 1918 at the explicit direction of General Gough. On that day Gough had moved his Headquarters to Dury, south of Amiens. As the Germans continued to advance rapidly and successfully he looked to the Amiens Defence Line as an essential backstop. He scraped together as many men as he could find from his headquarters and from the rear areas to work on and garrison this line.
The force he put together comprised a motley collection of men – ‘anyone who could hold a rifle’ – taken from a variety of regiments and units. It included “...electrical and mechanical engineers, surveyors, 500 men of the US Engineers tunnellers and miners, Army, Corps and Sniping Schools, and signallers.” The Army Signal School provided communications, nine grooms acted as mounted orderlies, there were odd stragglers of infantry, the staff of a machine gun school, clerks, technical engineer units the 144th, 213th, 216th and 217th Army Troop Companies, 243rd Tunnelling Company, 253rd Electrical and Mechanical Company, No 4 Workshops Company, 5th Survey Battalion, two companies (some 500 men) of 6th Regiment US railway engineers, (none of whom had any military experience), 400 officers and men of 2nd Battalion Canadian railway engineers, a 10-gun battery of newly arrived reinforcements for the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, and a detachment of Fifth Army Signals. In total it was equipped with 16 Vickers and 76 Lewis guns, and some wagons and horses to provide transport.
By the time Carey’s Force was relieved the Canadians had acquired further machine guns manned by scratch British crews, bringing their total up to 32 weapons. (Note: the original Canadian machine gun unit in Carey’s Force was replaced on March 29th by the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade’s ‘D’ Eaton and ‘E’ Yukon batteries.)
Officers in the Force came from a variety of sources. Gough ‘scooped up’ all his officers returning from leave. The total strength came to well over 2000 men, some references say up to 3000.
The ‘brigadier’ commanding the force that Hamilton-Fyfe refers to was actually General Grant. General Gough wrote (2):
‘I put General P G Grant, who was my Chief Engineer, in command, and gave him two officers of our Army Staff to assist him. When General Carey came home from leave on Tuesday afternoon [26th March] I directed him to take command to set General Grant free to attend to his proper functions.’
The Force was initially deployed along the line of the old Amiens defences that Gough had earlier rescued from demolition. Its first task was to return the defences to a proper state. Its second task was to fight. The defensive line ran approximately from in front of Hamel village, behind Warfusee and Lamotte and across the Roman Road (now N29) that runs due east from Amiens through Villers-Bretonneux, down to the village of Marcelcave, which is some three miles NNE of Rifle Wood. There is one reference (3) that describes Carey’s Force as being deployed as far as Bangard Wood (sic: a mis-print for Hangard Wood.) No other traced sources mention the Force being used that far south, and this reference is therefore deemed un-substantiated. It is clear that parties of men from Carey’s Force were deployed to wherever help was needed.
On 27th March two engineer companies from the Force were deployed to Hill 66 which overlooked the village of Cerisy from the southwest. They were pushed off the hill by German attacks. Gough has described these men as having received ‘no training as soldiers and could hardly hold a rifle’, but enough time had been gained for 400 stragglers to be collected at Lamotte and organised for a counter-attack. This was launched at 4pm, and by an hour later had reached a small wood at map reference Q.14.b that commanded the exits from Cerisy some 1500 yards to the northeast.
On 28th March Carey’s Force was at Marcelcave, but they caved in when fiercely attacked. At 4pm the Germans tried to seize both Marcelcave and the spur running up to Hill 104. 2/Queen’s Bays and 5/Dragoon Guards of 1st Cavalry Brigade, the remnants of 16th (Irish) Division together with Carey’s Force men repulsed the attack. The history of The Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) describes this action and records that on the Bays’ positions at Bouzencourt (some 8 miles NE of Villers-Brettoneux) were strengthened by the addition of members of Carey’s Force, whom the Bays proceeded to organise while enemy artillery and snipers remained active all day.
Other references from the same source tell us that on 30th March a fierce German attack on the village of Hamel was repulsed with assistance from detachments of Carey’s Force; and again on 31st March the three dismounted regiments of 1st Cavalry Brigade were holding the line ‘reinforced by 300 odds and ends from Carey’s Force’.
On 2nd April the French agreed to extend their line northwards between Moreuil and Hangard, releasing the British 14th Division to relieve the !st Cavalry Brigade and what was left of Carey’s Force who were in the line running from the N29 to the Somme. Relief took place during the night of 3rd/4th April. By this time Carey’s Force had been decimated by casualties, and so few were left that they had virtually disappeared as a unit. They were amalgamated into Whitmore’s ‘Cosmopolitan Force’, which comprised the remaining Carey’s men, the 16th Division and some cavalry.
There is no doubt that all of these composite units fought well, despite their inexperience as battle troops.
The naming of ‘Carey’s Force’.
Carey’s Force probably would have slipped away un-noticed into history as completely as did all the other temporary units that were cobbled together, and there was a number of them, had it not been for Lloyd George. On 9th April in offering an explanation to the House of Commons of the recent adverse events in France, he included - in a devastating attack on General Gough that was full of inaccuracies - a commendation of General Carey for ‘putting together the force’ and ‘throwing them into the line... thus closing the gap against the Germans for six days’.
Gough rightly was very offended by Lloyd-George’s words; he wrote(2):
‘General Carey did nothing of the kind. He was not in the slightest degree responsible for the formation, organization or posting of this force. He was away on leave in England when it was formed and posted, and he did not take command of it until it had been in position for two days. Such formations as these “forces” were envisaged and provided for weeks before the attack, and were part of our defensive scheme. This force, which was only one of several, organized by the Corps as well as by the Army, was entirely formed, organized and posted under my directions and by my Staff.’
Photographs of Major-General George Glas Sandeman Carey CB (1867-1948) and other artticles.
Diary page link: https://talk.operationwardiary.org/#/subjects/AWD0003e2f
by cyngast moderator
Great information! Thank you both for posting this.
It's interesting to know that provisions had been made for putting together a force of this kind weeks ahead of time, in case they were needed. You never get a hint of this fact from the diaries of the individual units.