The capture of Le Quesnoy

 

One of the more little-known actions that occurred during the Hundred Days Offensive of 1918 was the capture by New Zealand troops of the tiny French fortified village of Le Quesnoy.

The battle took place on the 4th of November, 1918 and the combatants had no idea that the ultimate end of the previous four years of bloodletting would finally be drawing near in a week’s time.

Beginning in the early hours, the New Zealand Rifle Brigade advanced from its starting position east of the town, aiming to surround it and link up on the far side. Once this had been achieved and the division proper had moved off, it was left to the Rifle Brigade to capture the village itself.

Le Quesnoy (pronounced Lahr Ken Wah) was surrounded by an ancient medieval rampart which still stands to this day and presented itself as a rather unique challenge for the assaulting party.

Due to the presence of large numbers of civilians in the village and believing a full frontal attack too risky, it was decided that a smoke screen would be employed to mask the assaulting parties which had been gathered together.  After a scouting party had identified a section of the wall which was relatively unguarded the plan of attack was put into motion.

The assaulting parties commenced their approach under cover of smoke from the early morning and made steady progress with many German outposts being neutralised however heavy machine gun fire made further advances impossible.

At midday, several German POW’s were sent into the town to implore a surrender, however, this offer was rejected.

Second Lieutenant Leslie Averill, the intelligence officer for the 4th Rifle Battalion, continued to make investigations of the outer defences and was finally able to identify a section of the wall which seemed relatively unguarded.

With the support of covering mortar fire, Averill and a small platoon managed to effect a breach in the defences employing the use of a 30-foot high ladder and after they had entered the town itself were quickly followed by the rest of the battalion.

Upon seeing their situation become hopeless the surviving 711 Germans quickly laid down their arms and surrendered.

German casualties in the capture were 43 killed and 251 wounded.

Of the 122 New Zealanders killed during the operation, the Rifle Brigade sustained the most casualties.

The Capture of Le Quesnoy was to be remembered as one of the most successful operations carried out by New Zealand troops during the First World War and our troops are still remembered to this day by the inhabitants of this tiny village as heroes who chose the path of greater resistance in order to save the lives and property of their forebears.

 


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