The Somme

Death of a Generation


“These Sad Shires

1st July 1916: after a week long bombardment of the German frontline, nearly 100,000 British soldiers rose from their trenches and marched into No Man’s Land.

baileyBAILEY, GEORGE, West Riding Regiment, son of Mrs T. Bailey Addingham, Died of wounds  August 1916.
belllBELL, FREDERICK, WEST RIDING REGIMENT, son of Mr. & Mrs. Be11,  Chapel  St, Killed in Action  3rd September 1916
blackburnBLACKBURN, WILFRED, Sgt. Duke of Wellingtons Regiment, 23 yrs, nephew Mr Thomas B1ackburn of West Hall Farm, Addingham, Killed in Action  France 3rd July 1916.
richardsonRICHARDSON, HEDLEY, WEST RIDING REGIMENT, 24 yrs, son of Mrs. Richardson, formerly of Addingham, Killed in Action. France 3rd July 1916.
somme.1TOWNSEND, JAMES. WEST RIDING REGIMENT, 22 yrs, son Mrs Townsend, Southfield Terr, Killed in Action. 3rd July1916.
waggittWAGGITT, W.  Son of Mr. J.J. Waggitt, Farmer, Addingham Moorside, Killed in Action. France, October 1916.

The story of The Battle of The Somme

British Pathe footage of the Battle of the Somme HERE

sommemapDecember 1915, Sir Douglas Haig agreed to General Joseph Joffre’s demand for an Allied attack on a 95-km(60-mile) front along the Somme River. But on 2nd February 1916, General Erich Von Falkenhayn struck with unimagined ferocity at Verdun and began a battle into which France fed the best of her armies. The casualties were so appalling that it became known as the ‘Meat Grinder’. The French army was being bled white by the holocaust of Verdun, and pleaded with Britain to open the offensive sooner rather than later, to take some of the pressure off the French.The Somme had become a predominantly British battle.

The army assembled for the Somme battle was unique, the product of the ‘New Armies’ concept and was a 100% volunteer force, entirely different from the regular British army which had vanished in the battles of 1915. The men were the finest recruits an army could desire, but the British army simply did not have the officer and NCO cadres available to provide anything more than basic training. However, the British army had at last assembled a massive gunline and planned a week-long preliminary bombardment: a tactical luxury undreamed of in 1915 and one which engendered an infectious spirit of confidence.

The bombardment begins

The bombardment began on 24th June, and observers watched the German front disappear under fountains of earth and dust. Some 1.7 million rounds were fired at General Otto Von Below’s six front line divisions, who waited out the storm in their under ground galleries. The Germans had burrowed deep in the chalky soil, and for all its fury the British barrage had but one large-calibre gun per 55m (60 yards) of front.The shelling ended after a furious crescendo at 07:30 am on 1st July 1916. Wave after wave of British infantry rose from their trenches and walked forward. but they advanced to their deaths: the German machine-gun nests had survived and so had much of the wire, blasted into even more impenetrable tangle. 25pdrThe British army suffered the highest Losses it had ever taken in a single day, 57,000 casualties. A figure which still dominates the UK’s insular attitude to the ‘Great War’. It was a catastrophe never repeated in World War 1, and only exceeded by the surrender of Singapore in 1942 as the worst day in the history of the British armed forces. The first real success on the Somme was achieved on 14th July, when at 03:30 General Sir Henry Rawlinson mounted a brilliant attack with seven divisions. The Germans were caught by the surprise and their front was ruptured for a few tantalising othetophours: there was even a small mounted cavalry action in the evening. The British came agonisingly close to capturing High Wood, but the German reserves plugged the gap and the Somme offensive became a remorseless battle of attrition. British attack was succeeded by German counter-attack! but neither side was able to establish mastery. The South African Brigade took Delville Wood on 15th July. They then suffered 75 per cent casualties in the next three days as the full weight of German artillery blasted their positions in support of desperate enemy counter attacks. Gough and Birdwood mounted an assault on Pozieres Ridge on 23-27 July. albertThe ANZAC Corps captured its part of the ridge but suffered 23,000 casualties in the process. On 28th July the last survivors of the Brandenburg Grenadiers were driven out of the rubble of Longueval. Fighting raged throughout August, and on 3rd of September the ANZACs took Moucquet farm which overlooked the German lines, providing a view several miles beyond Bapaume. The French 1st Corps advanced 3.2km (2 miles) on 3rd of September, and on the next day the whole French 10th Army attacked on a 16km (10-mile) front between Barleux and Chilly, capturing the latter along with 5,000 prisoners and nearly 100 machine-guns. By mid-September almost all the forward crest of the main ridge between Delville Wood and Mouquet farm was in British hands. Bapaume beckoned. A three-day bombardment preceded another major British attack on 15th September, which included for the first time, tanks, totalling 32. Flers fell early in the morning to New Zealand troops supported by armour, an airman reporting that ‘A tank is walking up the High Street of Flers with the British Army cheering behind.’High Wood, once again, provided the toughest resistance. The 47th Division was beaten off in the morning, but in the afternoon mounted a second attack which finally ejected the Bavarian defenders. The attack on 15th of September was in marked contrast to the shambles of 1st July: Three heavily fortified villages had been taken along with 4,000 prisoners, and an advance of about 1.6-km (1-mile) made along a 9.5-km (6-mile) front.

Fall of Thiepval

squalorsqualorThe fine summer deteriorated into a wet autumn. Thiepval fell at long last on 27th September, but operations in October were bedevilled by incessant rain. The mud was as bad as it ever would be at Ypres in 1917, and the Germans could be forgiven for thinking that the battle was at last, over. However, drier and cooler weather in early November was the cue for the last phase of the Somme battle, launched against the salient around Beaumont Hamel. The British attack in the Gommecourt-Thiepval sector on 1st July had been a disastrous failure and the front line had never really moved. Consequently, the assault could be mounted from the original British front line rather than over ground torn up by months of shelling. Seven divisions of General Sir Hubert Gough’s 5th Army attacked on 13th November, aided by a dense fog. The 51st Highland Division stormed the underground labyrinth of Beaumont-Hamel, and when the action finished on 21st November the battle of the Somme was over.

The territorial gains were unspectacular: along a 48-km (30 mile) front the greatest penetration was about 11 km (7 miles) deep and had no strategic significance. The British Empire had sustained 450,000 casualties and the French suffered about 150,000. German losses exceeded 600,000, Hentig describing the Somme as ‘the muddy grave of the German Field Army’. The Somme was not a unique battle. The British army simply suffered the sort of casualties already experienced by the French, Germans, Russians and Austrians. indeed, it has been observed that the first day of the Somme was the 132nd day of the holocaust at Verdun. For the Germans the revelation of the UK’s industrial muscle came as an unpleasant surprise and it began to dawn on some of her leaders that the odds against them were lengthening.


The Duke of Wellington (West Riding Regiment Diaries)

howitzerThe great attack on the Somme had already been planned and the 6th Duke’s were engaged for some months in digging assembly trenches, laying railway tracks, carrying material to the line, and generally assisting in the many preparations that had now become recognised as necessary to a successful offensive. They were quartered at different times in most of the villages from Toutencourt to the river Ancre, and in April and may went farther back to the pleasant village of Naours lying in a beautiful valley north of Amiens. Here vigorous training was carried on for the coming offensive, and replicas of the famous Thiepval defences were constructed and successfully attack

Conditions were now growing better. Expeditionary Force Canteens had come into being; Y.M.CA. huts at times were encountered; organised entertainment’s were given. The general standard of living was much improved and wire beds were occasionally found in billets. The old days of scarceness had passed, and “rest areas” had become more worthy of the name and were visited with greater regularity.

But before the battle opened another change came in the command of the battalion. Lieut.-Col. Adlercron D.S.O., received well-deserved promotion to the command of the 148th Brigade (in the same division), and Major C. M. Baternan, D.S.O., was appointed Lieut-Colonel in his place. No more popular choice could have been made. Colonel Bateman had commanded the headquarters detachment of the Craven territorials for many years before the war and had already won golden opinions in France both as company commander and as second-in-command. Always cool in danger, and naturally endowed with a fine military judgement, he had a special asset in his intimate knowledge of his men, who would have followed him anywhere.

bigbangThe great battle of the Somme, which was to last into November, opened at 7-30 am. on July .1st. 1916. On this day the 49th acted as reserve to two other Divisions in the 10th Corps, ready to exploit any success that might be won. The roar the bombardment had been heard for some days and shells were singing overhead on the evening of June 30th as the 6th Battalion moved up from Warloy into the assembly trenches it had previously dug in Aveluy Wood. At 7-25 a.m the trenches rocked as the mammoth mine went up at Beaumont Hamel. The roar of the heavies ceased for a moment, giving place to the rattle of machine guns as the British went over the top, to be succeeded by a terrific drumfire from the 18-pounders and French 75’s whose shells came swishing over the tree-tops.

tommiesThough the attack had been a success to the south, it made little headway against the powerful fortresses of Thiepval and Beaumont Hamel. The battalion crossed the river without loss and spent the night in the Crucifix dug-outs near Aveluy village. Next afternoon it received hurried orders to move to Thiepval Wood, prepared to attack at dawn next morning. It was an unpleasant march up the river valley, for this provided the only cover behind the line and the enemy’s artillery were giving it particular attention. At the North Bluff, Capt. Haddow, the popular medical officer, was wounded by a shell with some of D company, and Cpl. E. Briggs was killed while bringing up machine gun ammunition. In Thiepval Wood, reached in the darkness, there was little shelter and the battalion spent the night under heavy shelling and machine gun fire. What had been in the evening luxuriant woodland was found in the morning to resemble a group of clothes props. The attack, however, was postponed, and the battalion returned for a night of thunder storms into Aveluy Wood. Next day it moved forward again and took over the line immediately facing Thiepval with headquarters at Johnson’s Post. Here the Brigade remained for forty eight days, never moving further back than the support positions, some 800 yards from the German line. The trenches had been practically obliterated and had to be re-dug in close proximity to the enemy; there were many bodies to bury during the short hours of darkness, and rations and water were brought up with difficulty. In the first twenty-four hours the battalion, without making any attack, suffered over sixty casualties, and losses continued daily. At times the battalion had to make “Chinese attacks,” feints to hold the reserves opposite in their positions while other divisions were attacking to the south, and also threw out smoke bombs to obscure from the view of the Germans in Thiepval the flanking movement against them. This always drew a heavy bombardment. Meanwhile a good line was dug and saps were pushed forward ever nearer to the doomed fortress.

At last towards the end of August the battalion move out to Leavillers for a week’s rest. Here Captain N. B. Chaffers, M.C., who had been adjutant since December, 1915, when Capt. Marriner had been promoted to a staff appointment. He left the Battalion to become second in command of the 3rd Worcesters. He was succeeded by Capt. F. L Smith, M.C., who had won a great reputation as a company commander. Lieut. Robinson whose notes on Lewis gun tactics, originally written for 6th Battalion, had been adopted for use throughout the British Army, was ordered to G.H.Q., where he spent more than a year working at the organisation of Lewis gun training before returning to the battalion.

In less than a week the battalion was back in the Thiepval area, but it did not take any active part in the attack on Sept. 3rd in which the 49th Division was engaged. The 6th was in support, and suffered losses from shell-fire; Leut. Gill was killed, Leut. Jaques badly wounded, and a dug-out occupied by a company was knocked in. The 147th Brigade managed after heavy losses to capture most of their first objective, but their neighbours on either side made no headway and the attack was abandoned before the 6th was drawn in.

gasmcgunAfter ten days’ rest the battalion again returned near Thiepval, but this time it faced the village from the ridge to the south, instead of looking up at it from the valley to the west. The West Ridings were now in the old German lines in the “Leipzig salient,” which had been penetrated on July 1st, and occupied an extremely strong system of enemy trenches known as “Wunderwerk” for the astonishing character of the defences. Though much damaged by our shells, the deep dug-outs and tunnels still remained to show how the enemy had been able to hang on in Thiepval through all our bombardments. From these lines the Division slowly crept forward, one battalion snatching a length of German trench one night and another the next. The 6th had to pay dearly for their successes. One night Capt. Cedric Horsfall was shot while making a reconnaissance in front of the line, and his death was a sad blow to all the battalion. He was as strong as a horse and a glutton for work, he was always ready to lend a hand with pick and shovel and on a long march might be seen striding along carrying a couple of rifles for two of his weaker brethren. His shrewd leadership and unfailing kindness had endeared him to all ranks. Another gallant officer to fall was Lieut. W. B. Naylor, who was acting as Brigade Bombing officer, and among other losses were Sergt. Marks, an excellent N.C.O., and Private Bottomley whose unfailing humour had lightened many dark days for his comrades. Leut.Clegg, who afterwards greatly distinguished himself with the lndependent Air Force that bombed the German towns was severely wounded.

After an attack in this sector a curious adventure occurred to that cheerful fighter, Sergt Cecil Rhodes Seeing a water-proof sheet stretched out upon the ground he stooped to pick it up, when to his surprise an unwounded German sprang from under it and bolted. The sergeant gave chase and soon had his man a prisoner.

The battalion was beginning to penetrate the inner defences of Thiepval when it was relieved by the 18th Division, who, with the assistance of tanks, finished off the task.

During September the battalion was sorry to lose its very popular Brigadier, Brig.-General E. P. Brereton, C.B., D.S.O., who had commanded them since the days of peace. When he returned home, Brig.-General L. C. Lewes, D.S.O., of the Essex Regt., took his place.

On leaving Thiepval the battalion at once marched northwards and took over the line near Fonquevillers, facing the German stronghold of. Gommecourt and for the remainder of the winter kept moving on from one bad line of trenches to another, working hard to drain and improve them for the benefit of their successors. At Fonquevillers the trench-mortaring was very heavy, and four N.C.O.’s in D Coy- were killed one night by a single shell. Here to 2nd Lieut. Wilson was mortally wounded by a chance bullet.

 

 

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