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Remembered Today:

Careys force

Aaron Nelson

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Hi Pals.

Does anyone have any information on Major General George Careys force and its movements/actions druing the dates mentioned above.I understand this force was formed with a great mixture of personnel, including railwaymen/ semi invalids Canadians/Americans etc. and hurriedely put together during Operation Michael in Somme of 1918. As this unit was not an "official"unit I presume no war diary survives, what info is around on the history of "Careys force" Also if a map exsits showing the location of Careys force during hte above dates that would be great to.

thanks in advance to any replies.

best regards Aaron.

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Carey's Force came into existence to plug the gap in the British defences east of Amiens. The following are extracts from the British Official History:

'The [XIX] corps had no reserve except Carey's Force, organized on the previous day, about three thousand strong - nearly all engineers of units other than field companies [Army Troops companies, Tunnellers, Field Survey, Signals], and including five hundred American railway troops who had no military training - with 16 Vickers and 76 Lewis guns.'

'[Remnants of 66th Division filtered back into Lamotte on 27th March] and were eventually put into trenches among Carey's Force to the west of the village. Had Carey's Force been capable of counter-attacking, an advance near the Somme might have had a good effect, but it was judged impossible to use this improvised force in the dark in such a way.'

'At 3.45 pm [on March 27th] Carey's Force was placed by General Gough at the disposal of the XIX Corps.'

'[On 28th March] the British Fifth Army, which was attacked be seven German divisions with four in support, now contained only the six battered divisions of the XIX Corps to which 1st Cavalry Division and Carey's Force were attached...'

'About 4 pm [on March 28th] Carey's improvised force, with the help of the [depleted] 1st Cavalry Bde and the artillery, engineers and infantry of the [depleted] 16th Divn, had repelled a very strong attack on Hamel, on the left of its line. Two hours later, after the unsuccessful counter-attack on Lamotte, when the two brigades of the 61st Divn had retired to the railway cutting north of Marcelcave, covered by its third brigade, the Germans began a heavy bombardment of Marcelcave and followed this up with an infantry attack. Carey's Force, unable to face another fight, had already abandoned the village. So dangerous did the situation appear that Lt-Gen Watts fell in his last reserve, the corps signal company, less one operator left in the telephone exchange.'

'[by the evening of the 28th] there now remained in the front line of the XIX Corps only the 66th, 39th, and 61st Divns, with the 20th in close support and the 16th Divn and 1st Cavalry Division on the left of Carey's Force.'

On the 29th March there is only a brief mention of 'some of Carey's men mixed amongst...' 66th and 61st Divns who took over 'the old right sector of Carey's Force.'

'[On 30th March] Carey's Force, as such, now disappeared; but with infantrymen of the 16th Divn and cavalry units interspersed and commanded by Lieut-Colonel Whitmore, 10th Hussars, it now became known as "Whitmore's Cosmopolitan Force". It continued to hold the sector from the Roman road to the Somme until the 5th April, when its troops were sent back to their own formations.'


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I am researching this specific event and unit as well. Here is a short summary from one of my sources.:

On the night of 25-26 March [1918], when the threat to Amiens was becoming increasingly

serious, General Gough ordered the disused Amiens Defence Line,* east of

Villers-Bretonneux, to be put in order and manned by all available troops. To that end a

forcc of some 3000 was raised. Composed mainly of British engineers, it inclutied also

500 American railway troops, 400 officers and men of the 2nd Battalion Canadian Railway

Troops, and a ten-gun battery organized from newly arrived reinforcements for the 1st

Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade. "Carey's Force", so called from the name of the

divisional commander who took over command on the 24th, made a valuable contribution

in establishing and holding its line of resistance until the night of 30-31 March, when

Australian troops relieved it. By that time the number of machine-guns manned by the

Canadians had risen to 32 - their commander having "scraped up another sixteen from

among stragglers and the infantry". Although the Amiens Defence Line was never

attacked in strength, the Railway Troops saw some minor action and were subjected to

considerable shellfire.

The whole of the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade was eventually involved in

the operations south of the Somme. On 26 March "A" and "B" Batteries moved up to

Villers-Bretonneux, where their armoured cars, each mounting two Vickers guns, did

valuable work patrolling the highways and side roads. Their role was specific - "to get in

touch with the enemy, kill as many as possible and delay his advance". On the 29th "C"

Battery and the Eaton and Yukon batteries ("D" and "E"), had replaced the original

Canadian machine-gun detachment in Carey's Force. On 6 April the newcomers

supported Australian forces in a successful attack south-east of Villers-Bretonneux which

resulted in regaining some ground and the capture of 200 Germans. This ended the

Canadian commitment with the Fifth Army. The assistance given by the Motor Machine

Gun Brigade to General Gough's exhausted and disorganized divisions had been far out of

proportion to the size of such a comparatively small unit. Its officers and men had been

trained to fight on their own initiative - training which bore good results when orders could

not reach them and headquarters of divisions and infantry brigades, continually on the

move, could not be found.

Source: Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War - Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, Colonel G. W. L. Nicholson

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Hi guys,

Thats awesume, thanks very much for the info. My Great Grandfathers RFA unit was supporting Careys force during this time, so thats given me an execllent account of the actions he took part in.

Thanks again guys.

Best regards Aaron.

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I notice that once again, the on-line Canadian War Diaries are very useful about this incident. For example, the diary of the 2nd Canadian Railway Troops, which we can read here , makes splendid reading, and includes a couple of maps. I have only sampled the diaries of the Machine Gun units, but that of the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade , here , also has a lot of interesting stuff.

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Thanks for the links, very interesting reading. The Canadian authorities obviously take the preserving of the first world history seriously. What a wonderful resource for the Canadian people. If only other countries like my own (New Zealand) would follow the Canadians example here.

Best regards Aaron.

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Here is an excerpt from a 1926 Canadian General Staff narrative on part of this battle in which the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Battery was despatched from the Vimy sector to provide both mobile defensive firepower on an open front of 35 miles.

As the Canadian Corps was not engaged during Operation Michael, few are aware of the actions of the 1CMMGB as part of "Carey's Force". The 1CMMGB later became the main element in both Brutinel's Brigade and the Canadian Independent Force.



The FIRST BATTLES of the SOMME, 1918.

When the German Offensive began on the Western front on 21st March, 1918, four batteries of the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade were occupied in the construction of machine gun defences on VIMY RIDGE, the remaining battery being in camp at VERDREL.

On the afternoon of the 22nd instructions were received for the brigade to join the Fifth Army which was engaged on the AMIENS-ST. QUENTIN front. Batteries in the forward area were immediately withdrawn and the whole assembled at VERDREL. (Note: The brigade had to be clear of the Canadian Corps area by 6.00 a.m., next morning.) At 5.30 a.m., 23rd the brigade moved off in column as under:-


"A" Battery.

"B" do.

"C" do.

"D" do.

"E" do.

The complement of each battery was 8 Vickers guns (total of 40); "A" and "B" Batteries were each mounted on four armoured cars - light box cars carried the guns of the remaining batteries.

On reaching AMIENS at 12.45 p.m., orders were issued for the brigade to proceed to VILLERS-BRETTONNEUX where it arrived at 4.00 p.m., same day. The arrival was most timely as the batteries of the brigade were the only available reinforcements the Army Commander (Genl. GOUGH) had at his disposal, and at a conference at Fifth Army Headquarters it was decided to utilize them in filling the most dangerous gaps along the Army front. The same afternoon and evening batteries were despatched to the forward area, viz. "D" and "E" to NESLE; "B" and "C" to CORBIE - "A" was held in reserve at VILLERS-BRETONNEUX.

(It might here be stated that the brigade during the day had travelled over 100 miles; by midnight batteries were in position on a front of 35 miles.)

1. Actions at Somme Crossings and First Battle of Bapaume - 24th - 25th March, 1918.

At 2.00 a.m., (24th) "B" and "C" Batteries received orders to proceed to MARICOURT, but congestion of traffic prevented arrival until 6.00 a.m. Two hours later they were at the junction of the MARICOURT-CLÉRY and CLÉRY-HEM Roads.

Guns were immediately dismounted but there was only time for two guns to be got into action in CLÉRY sur SOMME before the enemy broke through, forcing the infantry to retire. One gun was blown up: the crew of the other had become casualties but the gun was kept in action and got out of the village as the enemy entered it from the North. The guns now took up positions in a shallow trench on both sides of the CLÉRY-MARICOURT Road on high ground in front of Wood East of BOIS de HEM and from there succeeded in stemming the advance. The armoured cars which had been halted on the MARICOURT-CLÉRY Road below the crest of slightly rising ground between BOIS de HEM and CLÉRY were taken back a short distance to a bend in the road to escape heavy hostile shelling. Reinforcements began to arrive at 11.30 a.m., but a subsequent withdrawal of the batteries to a trench some fifty yards in the rear caused several casualties. By 5.00 p.m., only two guns were left in action and these were manned by one Officer, one N.C.O., and two other ranks. Two powerful attacks North and South of CLÉRY again forced a retirement; the two machine guns, however, remained in action until practically surrounded and heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy.

Four guns of "E" Battery were in action at HOMBLEUX at 11.30 a.m., and all day engaged the enemy causing him severe casualties. The other guns were held in reserve at NESLE.

It was the intention to launch a counter-attack at about 11.00 a.m., against the village of BÉTHENCOURT in which "D" Battery was to co-operate; the enemy, however, forestalled us by an assault. The battery was therefore hastily deployed and took up position one and half miles W. of BÉTHENCOURT, coming into action at noon. The guns covered the withdrawal of the infantry, who were fighting a rearguard action while daylight lasted, and only when outflanked did the guns retire; at dusk they were in position half a mile N.W. of NESLE. Our troops sadly lacked the help that could have been rendered had machine guns been more plentiful, and it was asserted that Canadian machine guns were the only ones in action on this front during the day.

It having been reported that the enemy was endevouring to cross the SOMME between ST. CHRIST and FALVY, "A" Battery was sent forward from VILLERS-BRETONNEUX (AT 1.00 P.M.,) to MARCHÉLEPOT with a view to filling a gap S. of ST. CHRIST-BRIOST. At 5.30 p.m., the cars proceeded via LICOURT to CIZANCOURT where the detachment turned south along the road by the SOMME Canal towards EPÉNANCOURT, one car coming in contact with the enemy at road junction N. of the village. Fire was opened up and many of enemy killed or wounded - the remainder scattered. Hand grenades were used by the enemy against the car but without effect. Parties of the enemy across the canal were engaged, and EPÉNANCOURT and fields near the village were searched with machine gun fire for three hours. The night was spent by "A" Battery in MARCHÉLEPOT.

The four guns of "E" Battery which went into action at HOMBLEUX slowly retired against heavy odds; in the evening they were withdrawn to ROYE. (The enemy in his advance on this front reached CRESSY.) These guns were later pushed forward to reinforce "D" in the vicinity of NESLE: - seven guns of this battery had become detached and involved with the French, and not until late in the evening were they able to withdraw to HYENCOURT-le-PETIT.

The French relieved "D" and four guns of "E"; these went into reserve at le QUESNEL.

About noon on the 25th when an attack appeared to be developing against VILLERS-CARBONNEL "A" Battery - which was operating around ST. CHRIST-BRIOST - was hastily despatched to that locality with a view of checking the advance. The armoured cars got as near as they could to the enemy and, while backing, poured a heavy fire into his massed formations. One car was captured by the enemy, all the crew having become casualties. Later, the remaining cars were withdrawn to HEBÉCOURT to reorganize.

2. Battle of Rosières - 26th - 27th March, 1918.

On the 26th (about 11.00 a.m.,) it was reported that the enemy had broken through and was advancing without opposition on ROUVROY, and it was known that hostile cavalry was working West along the valley of the AVRE, threatening HANGEST-en-SANTÉRRE. "D" and "E" were therefore ordered to the vicinity of FOUGUESCOURT. In one and a half hours guns of the batteries were in action at HANGEST, ROUVROY and WARVILLERS and the gaps closed, the advancing infantry and cavalry suffering heavily. Fighting continued all day with varying success, - the guns, however, maintained their original positions. ROUVROY was still in our possession at nightfall.

"B" and "C" Batteries were reorganizing in HEBÉCOURT and kept in readiness to operate on roads West of LAMOTTE; although the armoured cars of "B" were badly damaged and riddled with bullets they were still able to go into action.

It have been reported that hostile cavalry was massing near VILLERS-CARBONNEL, "A" Battery in VILLERS-BRETONNEUX was ordered to 'stand by".

Two furious attacks upon ROUVROY on the 27th compelled our infantry to vacate the town about mid-day. "D" and "E" Batteries, still in action East of ROUVROY, became isolated and, when outflanked, withdrew in the direction of WARVILERS keeping up a heavy harassing fire while doing so, and twice during the afternoon the advance of the enemy was brought to a standstill. Casualties had been heavy during the retirement, but the timely arrival of reinforcements obviated the necessity of withdrawing the guns.

A further advance by the enemy along the AMIENS-ROYE Road South of BOUCHOIR, meeting with no opposition, called for immediate action. Four guns (from "D" and "E") were therefore at once despatched from VARVILLERS to positions at the cross roads one mile West of BOUCHOIR with orders "to hold the enemy at all costs". In less than half and hour the guns arrived - by way of le QUESNEL - and succeeded in checking the advance, the gunners having some good shooting as the enemy offered splendid targets for an hour and a half. (The excellent work of this detachment was specially commended.)

In the afternoon "D" Battery was successful in stopping the progress of hostile cavalry advancing on GUERBIGNY and WARSY.

"A" Battery moved from VILLERS-BRETONNEUX to CERISY (six miles East of CORBIE) where it was heavily engaged with the enemy who was attempting to cross the canal; the guns were dismounted from the cars and thousands of rounds were poured into the massed infantry with most satisfactory results. Again, at 1.00 p.m., the enemy was held up at MOURCOURT by two cars of "A". The battery had now been reinforced by "B" and both were used in patrolling the roads CÉRISY-LAMOTTE-on-SANTÉRRE.

One has but to read an aeroplane report for confirmation of the success of the armoured cars. In part this says: "600 huns debouching from CÉRISY S.W. towards WARFUSÉE-ABANCOURT. Huns are being held up by armoured cars at cross roads W. of CÉRISY."

This day "C" Battery was in reserve at HEBÉCOURT.

The main lines of the enemy's advance now (the 28th) lay between VILLERS-BRETONNEUX and CAIX, and between LAMOTTE-en-SANTÉRRE and HAMEL; the task of checking it was allotted to "A" and "B" Batteries which were operating on the roads in these localities.

"D" and "E" were resting and reorganizing in HEBÉCOURT having been relieved early in the morning by the French.

The situation on the Fifth Army front had by this time - the 29th - became serious and a last line of organized defence was being held by about 3,000 mixed troops known as "CLAREY'S FORCE". This line was later pierced at HANEL, LAMOTTE-en-SANTÉRRE and MARCELCAVE.

At 1.00 p.m., gaps were ordered to be covered between the SOMME and the LUCE at HAMEL, MARCELCAVE AND AUBERCOURT. Batteries ("D" and "E") which had been resting and refitting at HEBÉCOURT were called upon and despatched to the line at 2.00 p.m., arriving at a rendezvous West of VILLERS-BRETONNEUX at 3.00 p.m. They were augmented by the addition of 16 guns manned by scratch British crews. Having received an outline of the situation from General CAREY guns were disposed of as follows:-

4 to HAMEL.

4 to cross roads one mile South of HAMEL.

10 from cross roads one mile South of HAMEL and MARCELCAVE.

10 from MARCELCAVE to heights North of AUBERCOURT.

These groups were in action by 6.00 p.m. A subsequent report stated that the enemy was expected to cross the river at AUBERCOURT that night. The ten guns on the slopes above ABERCOURT were therefore reinforced by four withdrawn from the cross roads South of HAMEL: these were in position by 9.00 p.m.

"C" Battery was still held in reserve at HEBÉCOURT.

The enemy made the attempt to cross the river at 3.00 a.m., on the 30th when he attacked in force opposite AUBERCOURT. The advance was held up for several hours and proved very costly to the Germans. Failing to make any headway here, the enemy worked in a westerly direction along the south side of the river. With the aid of a despatch rider his movements were watched from the northern bank and, anticipating another endeavor to gain a crossing this time at HANGARD, some guns were quickly got into position on the heights North of HANGARD. At this point also was the enemy denied a crossing. The operations here were carried out in conjunction with the French.

Heavy fighting took place at MARCELCAVE and HAMEL, but our guns everywhere held their ground.

An attack on DOMART on the 31st was held up by "A" and "B" Batteries operating on the AMIENS-ROYE Road, the guns of one car, which had been put out of action after severe fighting, being dismounted and used with telling effect from nearby positions.

The roads East of VILLERS-BRETONNEUX were still being patrolled by cars of "A" and "B" Batteries and many hostile patrols were broken up, thus effectively checking the enemy.

Although heavily engaged all day the guns of "D" and "E" Batteries maintained their positions in the vicinity of HANGARD.

That machine guns of the brigade were in the closest touch with the enemy is evidenced by an incident which happened on this date. Under the impression that there were no longer troops nearer than the infantry a thousand yards away, the enemy brought a trench mortar battery into action in the open, but fire from a machine gun placed well forward in a carefully concealed position was opened up at the opportune moment and the personnel of the battery wiped out.

Thirteen guns - three had been destroyed - manned by scratch British crews, and attached to "D" and "E" Batteries since the 29th, were now withdrawn.

"C" Battery, which had been in reserve at HEBÉCOURT, went into the line this evening in relief of "D".

All batteries, with the exception of "D" which was in reserve, were still in action on the 1st April in areas occupied yesterday and, although hostile shelling increased, at no point was the enemy able to advance. In fact this day some ground was gained along the AMIENS-ROYE Road where the 2nd Cavalry Division attacked and RIFLE - or - DODO Wood was cleared by the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

The 2nd April found batteries located as on the 1st.

The situation on the 3rd was quieter, and the Fifth Army was taken over by the Fourth. Commencement of the relief of the Canadian M.M.G. Brigade was begun by British batteries.

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Borden Battery,

Thank you, that also was great info. Its quite amazing how much info is available on Careys force, given it was an adhoc unit patched together for only a few days. Thanks to all who have contributed.

Best regards Aaron.

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  • 10 years later...

Fantastic to find all this information on Carey's Force and the battle going on during March 1918. My great grandfather, Moses Williams, was a sapper in RE 253rd Tunnelling Co, which had been on rest at Weincourt and were called in to form part of Carey's Force at this time. He was killed in action 28th March 1918 outside Marcelcave. Amazing to find out the details of the battle in which he died. Thank you

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