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Why didn't the Germans fully exploit the first gas attack near Ypres

Why didn't the Germans fully exploit the first gas attack near Ypres


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I'm reading up about the second battle of Ypres (April-May 1915) which started with a chlorine gas attack north of the Ypres-salient.

The attack caused a gap of several miles (3 to 4) wide to be opened. Their only obstacle to capturing Ypres (& overrunning the entire salient) was the G.H.Q line. The G.H.Q - line although ideally situated on top of the Pilckem Ridge wasn't adequately staffed at the time and could thus be taken if attacked by a large enough force.

But I read that the Germans didn't have enough reserves to deploy & to capture Ypres, let alone exploit the breakthrough to its fullest. Nor were they apparently fully aware of the potential effects/success of the gas attack. They wasted precious time observing the effects of the gas before attacking with infantry. In the end the opportunity to move in and capture Ypres was lost.

The gas itself was already used in a combat situation at Bolimow (though it partially failed) and was probably (couldn't find records on this) tested in labs. So they must have known the potential of the weapon.

So this leaves me with the following question: Why didn't the German High Command foresee the possible effects of the gas? And why play out your trump card (the gas) in the first place, if you don't have the manpower to fully exploit a possible breakthrough?


My favorite source for all WW1 information is the YouTube channel The Great War, which follows the events of the war week by week exactly 100 years later.

They have an episode for the week gas was first used in a large scale, the week from the second battle of Ypres, and a special on just poison gas. These will be my sources for my answer.

The first large scale gas attack took place in January of 1915 by the Germans against the Russians, but because it was deployed in the frozen eastern front, it wasn't very successful due to the gas failing to vaporize. This was tear gas, not chlorine, mind you. Chlorine was first used in the second battle of Ypres, as you've been reading. The French saw the advancing yellow cloud, and figuring it was a smoke screen meant to obscure advancing troops, sent their troops to the area to defend. Because it was poison, this is what opened the giant hole in the lines that you mention in your question. The second episode linked goes into this at about 2:30. It was combination of reasons:

  • The gas attacks on the Eastern front weren't successful, so they weren't expecting it to have a huge impact.
  • It is the first time thatClgas had been used, so they weren't sure what to expect.
  • They didn't expect the French to clump together in front of the cloud, maximizing its effectiveness.
  • Since it was just an experiment, they didn't expect such a large hole to be opened in the lines, and didn't know what to do.
  • The Germans were lacking in reserves, which had just been transferred to the Eastern front to assist in fighting Russia.
  • The Canadian troops nearby fought bravely to defend the exploit, then quickly developed counter measures. They covered their faces with cloths soaked with urine, and had goggles. Although there was still a high casualty rate in the battles that followed, it was enough to allow them to function.

The Five Most Important Arms-Control Agreements

TNI takes a look at the five most important arms-control agreements of the 20th and 21st centuries, with a focus on how they changed the behavior of governments and the conduct of war.

We’ve been taught to expect that nations will seek to defend themselves through every measure available to them. International law has rarely offered significant protection to the weak, and multilateral efforts at controlling how states develop, spread and amass weapons have regularly been met with scorn and derision.

But sometimes states come together, and for one reason or another agree to give up their rights to unilaterally build up arms. Many arms-control arrangements have failed some have succeeded, and in many cases the story is mixed. This article takes a look at the five most important arms-control agreements of the 20th and 21st centuries, with a focus on how they changed the behavior of governments and the conduct of war.

Washington Naval Treaty

Just after World War I, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom embarked on ambitious programs of naval construction designed to provide supremacy over any would-be foe. There was no doubt, however, that the expense of a new arms race would prove beyond the means of several of the competitors. In the wake of the war, the United Kingdom simply lacked the resources to match U.S. construction. Japan was willing to make a game of it, but the ambitious construction program of the IJN would have overwhelmed the Japanese economy. New battleships proved a tough sell to the U.S. Congress.

The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, negotiated between the five major naval powers (the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Italy and France) set specific quotas for battleship ownership (18:18:10:6:6). It also limited battleship size to 35,000 tons, and battleship guns to 16”. The treaty determined that any ship larger than 10,000 tons, or carrying guns heavier than 8”, would be deemed a battleship. Navies around the world, although mostly the USN and the Royal Navy, scrapped acres of aging battleships.

The follow-up London Naval Treaty of 1930 set limits on the size of the auxiliary fleet and mandated the scrapping of additional battleships (15:15:9). A Second London Naval Treaty, taking force in 1936, essentially gave up on the project of arms limitation because of the defection of Japan.

The treaty didn’t prevent World War II, and the decision of the Japanese and Italians to defect in the 1930s certainly gave them a leg up on the next war. However, the Washington Naval Treaty surely slowed battleship construction and the increase of battleship size, and prevented several governments from impoverishing themselves in the 1920s to no good effect.

Geneva Protocol

The first major lethal gas attack of World War I took place in April 1915, when German forces unleashed a barrage of chemical shells on French colonial positions at the Second Battle of Ypres. The gas attack opened a major hole in the French lines, but the Germans failed to exploit it.

Further uses of chemical weapons on the Western Front made a horrible war even more horrific. Soldiers could defend themselves from chemical attacks through the use of protective clothing and gas masks. In practice, these measures made life in the trenches even more uncomfortable for the soldiers.

The use of poison gas deeply colored memory of the war, such that the great powers undertook multilateral efforts to limit the use of such munitions in the future. In the 1920s, optimism ran high about the prospect of banning various kinds of warfare, including chemical weapons, strategic bombing and unrestricted submarine campaigns. Efforts on the latter two succumbed to international bickering, institutional interest and military necessity. The Geneva Protocol on chemical weapons, signed in 1925, stuck.

The Protocol didn’t entirely prevent chemical-weapons usage during the ensuing sixty-five years (until the conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention). The Italians used gas in Ethiopia, the Japanese in China, and the Iraqis and Iranians against one another in the Persian Gulf War. Still, the apparent break from practice in World War I is remarkable World War II saw almost no chemical-weapon use between major combatants.

The Protocol doesn’t deserve all the credit. Chemical weapons are tough (although not impossible) to manage in combat. The major combatants worried about reprisal attacks (although this didn’t prevent the resort to strategic bombing or unrestricted submarine warfare). Poison gas had acquired a horrific reputation even before the Protocol (as had other forms of warfare). Finally, the treaty left a variety of loopholes that states could have exploited if they saw fit.

Still, it’s hard to plausibly conclude that the treaty had no effect on military decision making. Many expected that World War II and the various brushfire conflicts of the Cold War would descend into chemical conflagration, but it never happened. In large part this was because of the fear, disgust and revulsion caused by the use of gas, the memory of which depended, to great extent, on the successful use of international means to make such attacks illegal.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy declared in reference to efforts to come to a nuclear agreement with the Soviets “the reason why we keep moving and working on this question, taking up a good deal of energy and effort, is because personally I am haunted by the feeling that by 1970, unless we are successful, there may be 10 nuclear powers instead of 4, and by 1975, 15 or 20.” These comments were not out of line with broader concerns about proliferation the basic requirements for development of nuclear weapons would soon become within the means of dozens of Asian, European and Latin American countries.

Today, those demands are easily within the reach of almost every major nation in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Only the reluctance to pursue the development of nuclear weapons prevents the kind of proliferation that Kennedy and others expected. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty isn’t the only thing making the prospect of nuclear proliferation look hazardous and generally icky, but it’s part of the picture.

Negotiated in the 1960s and entering into force in 1970, the NPT allowed the five existing nuclear powers (France, United States, USSR, United Kingdom and China) to retain their weapons for a time, as long as they worked for long-term disarmament. It prohibited non-nuclear signatories from pursuing nuclear weapons, but assured such states of access to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The NPT has not been a complete success. None of the five original powers have eliminated their stockpiles, although four of the five (with the exception of China) have reduced the numbers of warheads since the end of the Cold War. Four new states have developed nukes, including Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea. Nevertheless, nine is a much smaller number than twenty-five, and no one thought that Kennedy’s concerns in 1963 were absurd or implausible.

Today, even as the international community remains frustrated by the nuclear efforts of countries like Iran and North Korea, the NPT provides tools for evaluating, monitoring and criticizing nuclear progress.

The ABM Treaty

In the 1950s and 1960s, it appeared that both the United States and the Soviet Union had the interest and capability to deploy ballistic-missile defense. Although expensive and of uncertain reliability, such systems could promise a measure of protection for critical areas such as national capitals, ballistic-missile bases and submarine pens.

Policy makers on both sides, however, foresaw that the deployment of such systems could rapidly accelerate the arms race. The superpowers would undoubtedly attempt to nullify the defenses by saturating them with additional missiles, bombers and cruise missiles, increasing instability and making everyone worse off.

In the United States, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara led the charge against an anti-ballistic-missile system. McNamara fully appreciated the serious costs and trivial benefits of the systems the United States was considering, and also understood that the United States could defeat projected Soviet systems simply by increasing the number and sophistication of its launch vehicles.

As part of a broader effort at strategic-arms limitation, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty entered effect in 1972. As negotiated, the treaty allowed each country to build two ABM sites. This facilitated investment in research and technology without necessarily creating an unstable situation. It also reassured the Soviets, who worried not only about NATO missiles, but also about the threat from China. The United States soon gave up on its projected ABM site, although it continued research on theater defense systems throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

The ABM held until 2002, when the administration of George W. Bush abrogated the agreement in pursuit of national missile defense. Fortunately, the time had passed when either Russia or the United States could attempt to radically outbuild the other in offensive systems. Nevertheless, the abrogation of the treaty created significant tensions between Moscow and Washington, and led both China and Russia to accelerate plans for modernization of their strategic arsenals.

The START I treaty originated in the early 1980s, at one of the tensest moments in the Cold War. President Ronald Reagan proposed a massive reduction of strategic delivery systems, particularly the ballistic-missile arsenals that heavily favored the Soviets. The effort was designed to mollify domestic arms-race critics while putting pressure on the Soviets. Eventually, the treaty would serve an entirely different purpose facilitation of the post–Cold War reduction of nuclear arsenals in the United States and the former Soviet Union.


Development of Advanced Weaponry

Both sides tried to break the trench stalemate using scientific and technological advances. On April 22, 1915, at the Second Battle of Ypres, the Germans (violating the Hague Convention) used chlorine gas for the first time on the Western Front. After a two-day bombardment, the Germans released a cloud of 171 tons of chlorine gas onto the battlefield. Though primarily a powerful irritant, it can asphyxiate in high concentrations or prolonged exposure. The gas crept across no man’s land and drifted into the French trenches. The green-yellow cloud killed some defenders and those in the rear fled in panic, creating an undefended 3.7 mile gap in the Allied line. The Germans were unprepared for the level of their success and lacked sufficient reserves to exploit the opening. Canadian troops on the right drew back their left flank and repelled the German advance.

The success of this attack would not be repeated, as the Allies countered by introducing gas masks and other countermeasures. The British retaliated, developing their own chlorine gas and using it at the Battle of Loos in September 1915. Fickle winds and inexperience led to more British casualties from the gas than German. Several types of gas soon became widely used by both sides, and though it never proved a decisive, battle-winning weapon, poison gas became one of the most-feared and best-remembered horrors of the war. French, British, and German forces all escalated the use of gas attacks through the rest of the war, developing the more deadly phosgene gas in 1915, then the infamous mustard gas in 1917, which could linger for days and kill slowly and painfully. Countermeasures also improved and the stalemate continued.

Tanks were developed by Britain and France, and were first used in combat by the British during the Battle of Flers–Courcelette (part of the Battle of the Somme) on September 15, 1916, with only partial success. However, their effectiveness would grow as the war progressed the Allies built tanks in large numbers, whilst the Germans employed only a few of their own design supplemented by captured Allied tanks.


Why the world banned chemical weapons

Yes, it’s because they’re morally hideous. But it’s also because they don’t work.

On the late afternoon of April 22, 1915 — in the midst of World War I — Algerian and French soldiers in trenches along the Western Front, near the Belgian town of Ypres, noticed a yellowish-green fog drifting toward them. Believing the cloud masked advancing German infantrymen, the soldiers prepared for an attack. In fact, the cloud was chlorine gas, released by the Germans from 6,000 pressurized cylinders. The gas crept forward, then lapped into the Allied trenches in a ghostly tide. The effect was immediate: Thousands of soldiers choked and clutched at their throats, unable to breathe, before falling dead thousands more fled in panic, opening a four-mile gap in the Allied lines.

The Ypres attack was not the first time gas was used in the conflict (both the French and Germans had used tear gas earlier in the war), but it was the first time in the conflict that a poisonous gas was used in mass quantities. The effects of the attack were horrific, causing “a burning sensation in the head, red-hot needles in the lungs, the throat seized as by a strangler,” as one soldier later described it. More than 5,000 soldiers were killed in this first gas attack, while thousands more, stumbling to the rear and frothing at the mouth, suffered the debilitating after-effects for decades.

What took place earlier this month, in Syria’s Idlib province, had the same effect as the gas used at Ypres, as Syrian-flown SU-22 jets released bombs filled with sarin gas near the town of Khan Shaykhun. The attack killed dozens of Syrian civilians, including 11 children. The effects of the sarin, a deadly nerve agent, were similar to those of 1915: The victims choked and vomited as their lungs constricted, then suffered through tormenting muscle spasms and eventual death.

Why do we ban chemical weapons, but not equally deadly weapons like machine guns that rip through bodies and barrel bombs that tear them apart?

In both cases, the use of gas was nearly universally condemned. After the Ypres attack became public knowledge, London’s Daily Mirror issued a banner headline describing the horror — “Devilry, Thy Name Is Germany” — then repeated the theme in bold type more than 100 years later, after Khan Shaykhun: “Assad Gassing Kids Again.” The “again” was a not-so-veiled editorial comment, for Khan Shaykhun marked the second time Assad had used sarin to kill civilians the first incident took place in August 2013, when the Syrian regime used the nerve agent in an attack on Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, killing an estimated 281 to 1,700 civilians (the numbers remain uncertain) while injuring thousands. The pictures of the victims, caught in the throes of their final moments, shocked the world.

President Donald Trump, who hadn’t previously shown much concern for Syrian civilians, said the April 4 gas attack had changed his “attitude” toward Assad, and he ordered a missile strike on the airfield where the sarin had been stored. Trump’s turnabout stunned many observers, and it prompted some to wonder why, exactly, chemical weapons triggered a U.S. response when the vast majority of the half-million or so Syrians who have died in the country’s civil war were slaughtered by conventional means. Why, in other words, do we ban chemical weapons, but not equally deadly weapons like machine guns that rip through bodies and barrel bombs that tear them apart?

One answer is that while gas attacks are terrifying, the weapon has proved to be militarily ineffective. After Ypres, the allies provided masks to their front-line troops, who stood in their trenches killing onrushing Germans as clouds of gas enveloped their legs. That was true even as both sides climbed the escalatory ladder, introducing increasingly lethal chemicals (phosgene and mustard gas), that were then matched by increasingly effective countermeasures. The weapon also proved difficult to control. In several well-documented instances, gases deployed by front-line troops blew back onto their own trenches — giving a literalist tinge to the term “blowback,” now used to describe the unintended consequences of an intelligence operation.

The world’s militaries are loath to ban weapons that kill effectively, while acceding to bans of weapons that they don’t need.

At the end of World War I, a precise tabulation of casualties showed that some 91,000 soldiers on all sides were killed in gas attacks — less than 10 percent of the total deaths for the entire war. Machine guns and artillery shells, it turns out, were far more effective systems for delivering death. But those numbers tell only a part of the story. The use of gas had enormous psychological consequences, adding a touch of barbarity to the already barbarous butchery. Poet Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est,” which described a gas attack, became the war’s iconic poem (“if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer …”), while painter John Singer Sargent’s “Gassed” shows a line of soldiers, blinded by gas, stumbling forward in a kind of religious procession. The painting was attacked for its patriotism, but its message might have been too subtle for its critics, with the blind leading the blind through a blighted landscape. Long after the war, French veterans of the war’s mustard gas attacks could be seen, their faces pockmarked by scars from the burning blisters, in seats set aside for them on the Paris Metro — “pour les invalides de la grande guerre.”

Then too, while the Great War’s military commanders conceded that the effectiveness of poison gas was exaggerated, that didn’t keep them from using it. The German attack at Ypres lowered civilization’s bar, but the British and French quickly stooped to clear it. Sir John French, the British commander on the Western Front, harumphed his rage at the Germans, calling the Ypres attack “a cynical and barbarous disregard of the well-known usages of civilized war,” then quickly followed suit. “Owing to the repeated use by the enemy of asphyxiating gases in their attacks on our positions,” he announced, “I have been compelled to resort to similar methods.” Even so, there was little doubt that the use of poison gas was a kind of crime, or perhaps, as one British military officer later noted, “not quite cricket.”

After the war, the great powers agreed that the use of poison gas was wrong, but didn’t banish it outright. In 1925, the Geneva Protocol prohibited the “Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.” The agreement was signed most prominently by those who had used gas in the Great War — Austria, Britain, France, Germany and Russia (the U.S. signed the protocol, but the Senate did not ratify it until 1975). The protocol was widely hailed as recognition by the international community that some weapons were too horrible to use, even in war. But, manifestly, the treaty did not ban the production or stockpiling of gas or chemical weapons (as a kind of unstated “just in case” clause), and most of the major signatories to the agreement continued to develop increasingly lethal poison gas weapons.

Donned in chemical protective overgarments, members of a chemical, biological, radiation investigative team search compartments on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington for possible contamination during a general quarters drill in November 1997 | Sammy Dallal/AFP via Getty Images

Nor, as it turns out, did the stigma attached to the use of gas prohibit its use in the conflicts that followed. There were widespread reports that the British used gas against the Kurds during a 1920 uprising in Iraq. While the reports remain unconfirmed, the war secretary at the time — Winston Churchill — favored it. “I do not understand this squemishness about the use of gas,” he said. “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.” Benito Mussolini agreed. In late 1935, he approved the use of mustard gas by the Italian army during its invasion of Ethiopia. The attacks that followed resulted in more than 100,000 casualties. The unstated “just in case” clause was also quietly prominent during World War II. In 1944, Churchill, by then prime minister, urged his military commanders to “think very seriously over this question of poison gas.” It is “absurd,” Churchill went on to say, “to consider morality on this topic when everybody used it in the last war without a word of complaint from the moralists or the church.” And Churchill went further, saying the only reason the Germans hadn’t used poison gas against Allied troops was because they feared retaliation.

In light of White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s recent gaffe saying that “even Hitler” had not stooped to Assad’s use of chemical weapons (a breathtaking lapse that ignored Hitler’s use of gas to murder millions of Jews during the Holocaust and for which Spicer abjectly apologized), it’s worth revisiting the issue. Over the years, any number of explanations have been put forward for Hitler’s unwillingness to use gas as a battlefield weapon, including the hypothesis that having been gassed himself in World War I, he did not want to visit the same horror on others. That seems unlikely, to say the least. It’s more plausible that Hitler and his commanders understood the weapons’ battlefield limitations.

Whatever was really behind Hitler’s reluctance, it confirms what advocates for the banning of certain classes of weapons have suspected for years — that the world’s militaries are loath to ban weapons that kill effectively, while acceding to bans of weapons that they don’t need. Put another way, military leaders agreed to the banning of poison gas in 1925 not because it was horrifyingly effective, but because it wasn’t.

“It is a fickle weapon that can be turned on the attacker,” says retired Army Col. Paul Hughes, who served as a senior staff officer at the Pentagon’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. “So it was easy to negotiate its ban because it wasn’t as effective as conventional artillery.” But Hughes disagrees with the notion that the military will agree to ban only a weapon that is ineffective, pointing out that the U.S. military “eliminated all of its nuclear artillery rounds and its family of nuclear-capable intermediate range missiles, even though both would have been useful in a fight with the USSR.”

The U.S. has also resisted efforts to ban cluster munitions — bombs that contain vicious bomblets that spread over a wide area.

Even so, the U.S. military dug in its heels on two weapons systems that have been the focus of international efforts to ban them. In the mid-1990s, the military opposed a ban on land mines, despite strong support for outlawing them among a powerful group of retired senior military officers and a coalition of U.S. nongovernmental organizations. The issue then was whether U.S. “smart mines” (which turn themselves off after a prescribed period) could be removed from the U.S. arsenal, and whether the American army needed mines in South Korea, where they are stockpiled for use against an invasion by North Korea. Additionally, key senior military officers believed agreeing to the ban would set a dangerous precedent — that the military could be pressured into banning weapons by what they described as left-leaning humanitarian organizations. The view was reflected in a legendary exchange between then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who’d lost a foot to a land mine in Vietnam, and Sen. Patrick Leahy — who led the ban effort. Their exchange took place during a meeting on Capitol Hill. “We don’t want them and we don’t need them,” Shinseki said, “and we’re not going to get rid of them.”

The U.S. has also resisted efforts to ban cluster munitions — bombs that contain vicious bomblets that spread over a wide area. Cluster munitions were widely used during the Clinton administration’s war in the Balkans, but left the battlefield littered with bomblets that had failed to explode and so continued to kill and maim long after the war was concluded. The ban efforts began with a meeting of international delegates in Switzerland in the late 1990s, during which a coalition of delegates argued for and against a ban. Among the ban supporters was a Norwegian foreign ministry official who issued an impassioned plea for the adoption of a treaty banning the weapon. In the midst of his talk (which I attended), a British colonel leaned across the table at which I was sitting, a wry smile on his face. “You know why the Norwegians favor a ban?” he asked. I shook my head: no. “Because they don’t have any,” he said.

Poison gas, chemical weapons, should be classed not as a weapon of war, but as a weapon of mass terror.

The British colonel had it just right: The world’s militaries don’t want to ban weapons that are efficient killers. So while it is true that the land mine and cluster munitions bans have gained widespread international support (162 countries have signed the land-mine ban, 108 countries have signed onto the Convention on Cluster Munitions), the countries most likely to use both (the U.S., China, Russia and India) remain nonsignatories. In the parlance of those working on these bans, the weapons have not yet been fully “stigmatized.”

But that’s not true for the ban on poison gas, which traces its long history from that April day when French and Algerian soldiers saw a greenish cloud rolling toward them. Over the next decades, the international community determined that such an attack could not be allowed. The result is that poison gas, chemical weapons, should be classed not as a weapon of war, but as a weapon of mass terror. That judgment was confirmed by the 1993 adoption of the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed by the U.S., Russia, China, India — and agreed to by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad under international pressure after the Ghouta attack of 2013.

President Trump was reportedly mystified by Assad’s decision to use sarin gas, and asked his advisers and friends for their best theories. Why would he make such a risky move? Perhaps the best explanation is that violating an international norm, one that was put in place by the world’s horrified reaction to that green cloud in Ypres, was precisely the point.

“Spreading terror is exactly what Assad wanted to do at Khan Shaykhun,” says Hassan Hassan, who tracks the Syrian conflict as a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute of Middle East Policy. “The U.S. said the attack crossed any number of lines, and that’s right—Assad not only targeted civilians, he sent his own people a message: that they’re on their own, that the international community doesn’t care about them. The U.S. response showed that that’s not true.”

Just as crucially, Hassan says, the Trump administration’s response has put Russia on the defensive, uncomfortably defending an act that, because Moscow agreed to the 1993 treaty, is indefensible. “The Russians are really sensitive about this,” he says. “Which is why they’ve gone out of their way to claim that the weapons were actually being stored by the opposition. No one really believes that, and I’ll bet that they don’t, either.”

Mark Perry is the author of “The Most Dangerous Man In America, the Making of Douglas MacArthur.” His new book, “The Pentagon’s Wars,” will be published by Basic Books later this year.


Contents

Strategic developments Edit

In July 1915, the French Commander in Chief Joseph Joffre held the first inter-Allied conference at Chantilly. In December, a second conference agreed a strategy of simultaneous attacks by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies. The British theatre of operations was in France and Flanders but in February 1916, Haig accepted Joffre's plan for a combined attack astride the Somme river, around 1 July in April, the British Cabinet agreed to an offensive in France. [1] The nature of a joint offensive on the Somme began to change almost immediately, when the German army attacked Verdun on 21 February. In March, Foch proposed a Somme offensive on a 28 mi (45 km) front, between Lassigny and the Somme with 42 French divisions and a British attack on a 16 mi (25 km) front from the Somme to Thiepval with 25 divisions. French divisions intended for the joint offensive were soon diverted to Verdun and the offensive was eventually reduced to a main effort by the British and a supporting attack by one French army. [2]

The Somme was to be the first mass offensive mounted by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the first battle to involve a large number of New Army divisions, many composed of Pals battalions that had formed after Kitchener's call for volunteers in August 1914. [3] By the end of the Gallipoli Campaign, twelve British divisions were in Egypt and from 4 February to 20 June, nine were transferred to France. From Britain and Egypt the 34th and 35th divisions arrived in January, the 31st and 46th (North Midland) divisions in February, the 29th, 39th, 1st Australian and 2nd Australian divisions in March, the New Zealand Division in April, the 41st, 61st (2nd South Midland) and 63rd (2nd Northumbrian) divisions in May, the 40th, 60th (2/2nd London), 4th Australian and 5th Australian divisions in June and the 11th (Northern) Division on 3 July. The 55th (West Lancashire) and 56th (1/1st London) divisions were reassembled, a battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment and the South African Brigade joined in April, followed by a contingent of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps in July. [4]

Despite considerable debate among German staff officers, General Erich von Falkenhayn, the head of Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, the supreme command of the German Army) insisted on a tactic of rigid defence of the front line in 1916 and implied after the war that the psychology of German soldiers, shortage of manpower and lack of reserves made the policy inescapable, since the troops necessary to seal off breakthroughs did not exist. High losses incurred in holding ground by a policy of no retreat were preferable to higher losses, voluntary withdrawals and the effect of a belief that soldiers had discretion to avoid battle. When a more flexible policy was substituted later, discretion was still reserved to army commanders. [5] Despite the certainty by mid-June of an Anglo-French attack on the Somme against the 2nd Army, Falkenhayn sent only four divisions, keeping eight in the western strategic reserve. No divisions were moved from the 6th Army, despite it holding a shorter line with 17 + 1 ⁄ 2 divisions and three of the divisions in OHL reserve being in the 6th Army area. The maintenance of the strength of the 6th Army at the expense of the 2nd Army on the Somme, indicated that Falkenhayn intended a counter-offensive against the British to be made closer to Arras north of the Somme front, once the British offensive had been shattered. [6]

Tactical developments Edit

French Edit

The offensives of 1915 showed that attacks would inevitably be slow and costly on 8 January 1916, GQG issued Instruction sur le combat offensif des petits unités (Instruction on Small Unit Offensive Operations) and Instruction sur le combat offensif des grandes unités (26 January (Instruction on large Unit Offensive Operations) In April, General Ferdinand Foch, commander of Groupe d'armées du Nord (GAN, Northern Army Group) issued L'Instruction du Général Commandant du GAN sur le battaille offensif (20 April The GAN Commander's Instruction on Offensive Battle) an 82-page pamphlet on the stages and processes of an attack on enemy positions prepared in depth. [7] The pamphlet was a substantial revision of Note 5779, derived from But et conditions d'une action offensive d'ensemble (Purpose and Conditions of Comprehensive Offensive Action 16 April 1915), a manual compiled from analysis of the fighting in 1914, the basis of French offensive planning in 1915. Battle would now be methodical until the power of resistance of the defender was broken by "moral, material and physical degradation", while the attacker retained the ability to continue the offensive a breakthrough was unlikely but not ruled out. [8] Co-ordination of artillery and infantry was fundamental to the process, in which artillery would destroy defences and then infantry would occupy them, infantry objectives being determined by the capacity of artillery to prepare the way and limit casualties. [9]

Artillery bombardments were to be co-ordinated with infantry attacks, various types of artillery being given targets suitable for their characteristics, for the cumulative destruction of field defences and the killing of German infantry. Heavy artillery and mortars were to be used for the destruction of field fortifications, howitzers and light mortars for the destruction of trenches, machine-gun and observation posts heavy guns and mortars to destroy fortified villages and concrete strong points. Longer-range guns were to engage German artillery with counter-battery fire, to deprive German infantry of artillery support during the attack, when French infantry were at their most vulnerable. Wire cutting was to be performed by field artillery, firing high explosive (HE) shells and supported by specialist wire-cutting sections of infantry, which would go out the night before an attack. During the attack, the field artillery would fire a linear barrage on trenches and the edges of woods and villages. Infantry tactics were to be based on reconnaissance, clear objectives, liaison with flanking units and the avoidance of disorganisation within attacking units. General attacks would need to be followed by the systematic capture of remaining defences for jumping-off positions in the next general attack. [10]

British Edit

In 1915, British tactical thinking had been based on the experience of its Western Front battles, particularly the Battle of Loos in September and the study of French and German experience in translated manuals and pamphlets. British planners knew the importance of organised artillery firepower and the integration of types of weapons and equipment. Creeping barrages, smoke screens and cloud gas discharges were to be used along with aircraft, Stokes mortars (a light trench mortar), Lewis guns (a light machine-gun) and elaborate signals systems (to counter chronic communication failures) as soon as the infantry attacked. Troops were to advance in a succession of lines grouped into waves, followed by parties to consolidate captured ground or pass through the leading troops and continue the advance. [11]

The 9th (Scottish) Division had attacked at Loos with four battalions on a front 1,600 yd (1,463 m) wide, each battalion in three waves. A second battalion followed each of the leading battalions in the same formation, ready to leapfrog beyond and a second brigade followed the first as a reserve. Six lines of infantry, with the soldiers 2 yd (2 m) apart had confronted the German defence. Lines and waves had been made thinner and shallower after 1915. On 14 July 1916, in the attack on Longueval, the 9th (Scottish) Division advanced with four battalions. Companies were arranged in columns of platoons, creating four platoon waves 70 yd (64 m) apart. One of the attacking brigades advanced with each battalion on a two-company front with two companies behind and a second battalion following on. Each section of the front was attacked by sixteen platoon waves. Six platoons had attacked on a front of about 1,000 yd (914 m), roughly one soldier every 5.5 yd (5 m). [11]

German Edit

On the Somme front, the construction plan ordered by Falkenhayn in January 1915 had been completed. Barbed wire obstacles had been enlarged from one belt 5–10 yd (5–9 m) wide to two belts 30 yd (27 m) wide and about 15 yd (14 m) apart. Double and triple thickness wire was used and laid 3–5 ft (1–2 m) high. The front line had been increased from one trench to three, dug 150–200 yd (137–183 m) apart, to create a front position, the first trench (Kampfgraben) occupied by sentry groups, the second (Wohngraben) for the front-trench garrison and the third trench for local reserves. The trenches were traversed and had sentry-posts in concrete recesses built into the parapet. Dugouts had been deepened from 6–9 ft (2–3 m) to 20–30 ft (6–9 m), 50 yd (46 m) apart and large enough for 25 men. An intermediate line of strongpoints (Stutzpunktlinie) about 1,000 yd (914 m) behind the front position, wired for all-round defence, had also built. Communication trenches ran back to the reserve lines, renamed the second position, which was as well built and wired as the first position. The second position was beyond the range of Allied field artillery to force an attacker to stop for long enough to move artillery forward. [12]

Anglo-French offensive preparations Edit

Aircraft Edit

For long-distance reconnaissance, bombing and attacks on Die Fliegertruppe (Imperial German Flying Corps up to October, then Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte, [German Air Force]), the 9th (Headquarters) Wing of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was moved to the Somme front, with 21, 27, 60 squadrons and part of 70 Squadron. The Fourth Army had the support of RFC IV Brigade, with two squadrons of the 14th (Army) Wing, four squadrons of the 3rd Wing and 1 Kite Balloon Squadron, with a section for each corps. Corps squadrons, 3, 4, 9 and 15 squadrons had 30 aircraft for counter-battery work, 13 aircraft for contact patrol, 16 for trench reconnaissance, destructive bombardment and other duties and there were nine aircraft in reserve. VII Corps (Lieutenant-General Thomas Snow) was given 8 Squadron with 18 aircraft and 5 Kite Balloon Section. On the Somme the RFC had 185 aircraft against the German 2nd Army aircraft establishment, which also had to face the French Aviation Militaire on the south bank of the Somme (The Anglo-French air effort considerably outnumbered the Germans until mid-July). Protection for corps aircraft was to be provided by standing patrols of pairs of aircraft and offensive sweeps by the two army squadrons. [a] Bombing attacks were to be made on the railways behind the German front, with the main effort beginning on 1 July, to ensure that damage could not be repaired in the days after the beginning of the offensive. Troops, transport columns, dumps and headquarters behind the battlefront were to be attacked and the ammunition depots at Mons, Namur and Lille were to be specially attacked. [14] The French Sixth Army (General Émile Fayolle), had 201 aeroplanes. [15]

Artillery Edit

The British had substantially increased the amount of artillery on the Western Front after the Battle of Loos in late 1915 but the length of front to be bombarded on the Somme led to the preparatory bombardment being planned to last for five days. There had been a debate about the merits of a short hurricane bombardment but there were insufficient guns quickly to destroy German field defences and be certain that barbed wire was cut, given the dependence of the artillery on air observation and the uncertain weather. [b] The artillery had to cut barbed wire and neutralise German artillery with counter-battery fire. The British artillery fired more than 1.5 million shells during the preliminary bombardment, more than in the first year of the war. On 1 July, another 250,000 shells were fired the guns could be heard on Hampstead Heath, 165 mi (266 km) away. While this weight of bombardment was new for the British, it was common on the Western Front at the Second Battle of Artois in May 1915, there had been a six-day preparatory bombardment with over 2.1 million shells. British shell production had increased since the shell scandal of 1915 but quality had been sacrificed for quantity and many shells failed to explode. [18] Shrapnel shells were virtually useless against entrenched positions and required accurate fuze settings to cut wire very little high explosive ammunition had been manufactured for field artillery. [19] [c] The French Sixth Army had 552 heavy guns and howitzers, with a much larger supply of high explosive ammunition for field artillery and far more experienced personnel. [20]

Cavalry Edit

In March, the two British cavalry corps were disbanded and the divisions distributed to the armies and the new Reserve Corps (General Hubert Gough). In June, the Reserve Corps was reinforced and became the Reserve Army. The Reserve Army cavalry was to operate combined with infantry and artillery, ready to act as a "conveyor belt", to exploit a success by the Fourth Army, with the 25th Division in the lead followed by two cavalry divisions and then II Corps. [21] In mid-June, II Corps was transferred to the Fourth Army the French Sixth Army contained four cavalry divisions. [22] In late June, favourable intelligence reports and the reduction of the French commitment for the Somme offensive led to a change of plan by the British. Should the German army collapse, the cavalry was to follow up, capture Bapaume and take post on the right flank, to provide a flank guard of all-arms detachments facing east, as the main body of cavalry and the infantry advanced northwards. The 1st, 2nd (Indian) and 3rd Cavalry divisions were to assemble by zero hour 5 mi (8 km) west of Albert around Buire, Bresle, Bonny and La Neuville, ready to move forward or remain and then return to billets behind Amiens depending on events. [23]

Infantry Edit

A BEF manual published on 8 May 1916 (SS 109, Training of Divisions For Offensive Action), described successions of lines to add driving power to the attack, to reach the objective with the capacity to consolidate the captured ground against counter-attack. [d] In the Fourth Army Tactical Notes of May 1916, battalions were allowed to attack on a front of 2–4 platoons in 8–4 waves about 100 yd (91 m) apart. Supporting lines were to pass through the leading ones, to avoid excessive demands on the energy and ability of individual soldiers. Weight of numbers was rejected as a tactic each platoon was to carry half the burden of a brigade attack for a few minutes, before being relieved by a fresh wave. Platoons were divided into functions, fighting, mopping-up, support and carrying the fighting platoons were to press on as the moppers-up secured the ground behind them. Support and carrying platoons could pick their way through artillery barrages with the tools and weapons needed to consolidate and defeat German counter-attacks. [25] Some troops in carrying platoons had about 66 lb (30 kg) of equipment and tools, whereas troops in the advanced platoons carried a rifle, bayonet, 170 rounds of ammunition, iron ration (an emergency ration of preserved food, tea, sugar and salt), two grenades, pick, shovel or entrenching tool, four empty sandbags, two gas helmets, wire cutters, a smoke candle and a water-bottle. [26] [e] In the French army, the experience of 1915 showed that despite the power of French bombardments, infantry would enter a chaotic environment, full of German pockets of resistance and individuals who had been by-passed. By mid-1916 much of the French infantry in the Sixth Army were specialist rifle-and-bayonet men, bombers, rifle grenadiers or light machine-gun crews. Attacking waves were spread wider and companies trained to manoeuvre in small groups, to get behind surviving German defences, as Nettoyeurs de Tranchées (trench cleaners) armed with hand-grenades and revolvers, searched captured ground for stray Germans and hidden machine-gunners, although such methods did not come into general use until later in the year. [28]

Mining Edit

The chalk soil of the Somme was ideal for tunnelling and the British inherited a number of mine workings begun by the French army. [29] The British tunnelling companies placed 19 mines beneath the German front positions and prepared Russian saps from the British front line into no man's land, to be opened at Zero Hour and allow the infantry to attack the German positions from a comparatively short distance. [30] The mines on the Somme were the largest yet in the war. The mines were to destroy the German defences and to provide shelter in no man's land for the advancing infantry. Eight large and eleven small mines were prepared for the first day of the battle three large mines of 20 long tons (20 t) and seven mines around 5,000 lb (2 long tons 2 t). [31] When the mines were blown, infantry was to rush forward to seize the craters the largest mines, each containing 24 long tons (24 t) of ammonal, were on either side of the Albert–Bapaume road near La Boisselle, Y Sap mine north of the road and Lochnagar mine to the south. H3, the other large mine was planted under Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt near Beaumont Hamel, containing 18 long tons (18 t) of explosive. The mines were to be detonated at 7:28 a.m., two minutes before zero hour, except for the Hawthorn Ridge mine, which was to be sprung at 7:20 a.m. (The small mine at Kasino Point was mistimed and blown after the infantry attack had commenced.) [32]

Supply Edit

BEF railway tonnage (1916) [33]
Month LT
Jan 2,484
Feb 2,535
Mar 2,877
Apr 3,121
May 3,391
Jun 4,265
Jul 4,478
Aug 4,804
Sept 4,913
Oct 5,324
Nov 5,107
Dec 5,202

Intelligence Edit

In March and April, eight German divisions were believed to be in reserve opposite the British from the Somme to the North Sea coast. Divisions in reserve behind the 4th Army were then moved south to Artois in the 6th Army area. From 4 to 14 June, the success of the Brusilov Offensive became apparent and agent reports showed increased railway movement from Belgium to Germany. The final BEF military intelligence estimate before 1 July had 32 German battalions opposite the Fourth Army and 65 battalions in reserve or close enough to reach the battlefield in the first week. Five of the seven German divisions in reserve had been engaged at Verdun and some divisions had been transferred from France to the Eastern Front. Men of the 1916 conscription class were appearing among German prisoners of war, suggesting that the German army had been weakened and that the British could break down the German front line and force a battle of manoeuvre on the defenders. In late June, the British part of the Somme plan was amended, rapidly to capture Bapaume and envelop the German defences northwards to Arras, rather than southwards to Péronne. An increase in the number of trains moving from Germany to Belgium was discovered but the quality of German troops opposite the British was thought to have been much reduced. The true number of German divisions in reserve in France was ten, with six opposite the British, double the number the British knew about. Reports of work continuing on the German defences opposite the Fourth Army in March and April, led the planners to adopt a less optimistic view, particularly due to the news about very deep shell-proof shelters being dug under German front trenches, which were far less vulnerable to bombardment. [36]

Plan Edit

British planning for the offensive had begun in April, with a Fourth Army proposal for a methodical advance to the high ground around Thiepval and thence to the Bapaume–Péronne road. Haig had exhaustive negotiations with Joffre and rejected the concept in favour of the capture of the ridge north of Péronne to assist a French crossing of the Somme further south. Diversion of French divisions to Verdun and the assumption by the British of the main role in the offensive, led to revisions of the plan towards an ambitious attempt at strategic attrition, through a breakthrough and a battle of manoeuvre with distant objectives. [37] The French Sixth Army, in GAN, was the last of the three French armies originally intended for the Somme, the Tenth Army and Second Army having been sent to Verdun. Joffre placed XX Corps north of the river, next to the British XIII Corps, the southernmost Fourth Army formation. [38] British plans were made by a process of negotiation between Haig and General Henry Rawlinson, the Fourth Army commander. Haig became more optimistic at what could be achieved early in an offensive, given the examples of Gorlice-Tarnów in 1915 and at Verdun early in 1916. [39] Rawlinson favoured a methodical attack from the beginning of the offensive, in which belts of the German defences about 2,000 yd (1 mi 2 km) deep, would be pulverised by artillery and then occupied by infantry. An attempt to reach deeper objectives towards the German second position, risked infantry being counter-attacked beyond the cover of field artillery but had the advantage of exploiting a period when German artillery was being withdrawn. [40] [f]

On 16 April, Rawlinson announced the objectives to the corps commanders, in which III, X and VIII corps would capture Pozières, Grandcourt and Serre on the first day and XIII and XV corps would have objectives to be agreed later. On 19 April, Rawlinson wrote that an attempt to reach the German second line on the first day was doubtful, an extension of the attack in the south on Montauban required another division and the inclusion of Gommecourt to the north, was beyond the resources of the Fourth Army. Rawlinson also wrote that long bombardment was dependent on the French, the availability of ammunition and the endurance of gun-crews the exploitation of a successful attack would need a substantial number of fresh divisions. [42]

The process of discussion and negotiation also took place between Rawlinson and the corps commanders and between corps and divisional commanders. For the first time daily objectives were set, rather than an unlimited advance and discretion was granted in the means to achieve them. When the frontage of attack had been decided, corps headquarters settled the details and arranged the building of the infrastructure of attack: dugouts, magazines, observation posts, telephone lines, roads, light railways, tramways and liaison with neighbouring corps and the RFC. For the first time, the army headquarters co-ordinated the artillery arrangements with an Army Artillery Operation Order, in which tasks and timetable were laid down and corps artillery officers left to decide the means to achieve them. [43] [g]

On 16 June, Haig discussed the Anglo-French intentions for the campaign, which were to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, assist Italy and Russia by preventing the transfer of divisions from the Western Front and to inflict losses on the Westheer (German army in the west), through the capture of Pozières Ridge from Montauban to the Ancre, the area from the Ancre to Serre to protect the flank, then exploit the position gained according to circumstances. If German resistance collapsed, an advance east would be pressed far enough to pass through the German defences and the attack would turn north, to envelop the German defences as far as Monchy le Preux near Arras, with cavalry on the outer flank to defend against a counter-attack. Should a continuation of the advance beyond the first objective not be possible, the main effort could be transferred elsewhere, while the Fourth Army continued to mount local attacks. [45]

On 28 June, the Fourth Army headquarters instructed that if the Germans collapsed, the closest infantry would exploit without waiting for cavalry the 19th (Western) and 49th (West Riding) divisions (in local reserve) would be committed along the Albert–Bapaume road and parallel to it to the north. The cavalry, which had assembled 5 mi (8 km) west of Albert, was not to move until roads had been cleared for their advance. [46] Haig had formulated a plan in which a local or a big success could be exploited but Rawlinson had a much more modest intention of small advances onto high ground and pauses to consolidate, to repulse German counter-attacks, which led to an "unhappy compromise". [41]

German defensive preparations Edit

Weather
(23 June – 1 July) [47]
Date Rain
mm
°F/°C
23 2.0 79°–55°
26°–12°
wind
24 1.0 72°–52°
22°–11°
dull
25 1.0 71°–54°
22°–12°
wind
26 6.0 72°–52°
22°–11°
cloud
27 8.0 68°–54°
20°–12°
cloud
28 2.0 68°–50°
20°–10°
dull
29 0.1 66°–52°
19°–11°
cloud
wind
30 0.0 72°–48°
22°–9°
dull
gale
1 Jul 0.0 79°–52°
26°–11°
clear

Many of the German units on the Somme had arrived in 1914 and made great efforts to fortify the defensive line, particularly with barbed-wire entanglements to the front trench with fewer troops. Railways, roads and waterways connected the battlefront to the Ruhr, the source of material for minierte Stollen, dug-outs 20–30 ft (6–9 m) underground, big enough for 25 men each, excavated every 50 yd (46 m). [48] In February 1916, following the Herbstschlacht (Autumn Battle, or Second Battle of Champagne) in 1915, a third defensive position a further 3,000 yd (2 mi 3 km) back from the Stutzpunktlinie was begun and was nearly complete on the Somme front when the battle began. The German artillery was organised in Sperrfeuerstreifen (barrage sectors) each officer was expected to know the batteries covering his section of the front line and the batteries had to be ready to engage fleeting targets. A telephone system with lines 6 ft (2 m) deep 5 mi (8 km) back from the front line, linked the artillery. [49]

The Somme defences had two inherent weaknesses that the rebuilding had not remedied. The front trenches were on a forward slope, lined by white chalk from the subsoil and easily seen by observers on the British side of no man's land. The defences were crowded towards the front trench, with a regiment having two battalions near the front-trench system and the reserve battalion divided between the Stutzpunktlinie and the second position, all within 2,000 yd (1,829 m) most troops being within 1,000 yd (914 m) of the front line, in the new deep dugouts. The concentration of troops forward, guaranteed that they would face the bulk of an artillery bombardment, directed by ground observers on clearly marked lines. [49] Digging and wiring of a new third position had begun in May civilians were moved away and stocks of ammunition and hand-grenades were increased in the front-line. [50]

By mid-June, General Fritz von Below (commander of the 2nd Army) and Crown Prince Rupprecht (commander of the 6th Army) expected an attack on the 2nd Army, which held the front from north of Gommecourt to Noyon in the south. Falkenhayn was more concerned about an offensive in Alsace-Lorraine and an attack on the 6th Army that held the front north of the 2nd Army, from Gommecourt to St Eloi near Ypres. In April, Falkenhayn had suggested a spoiling attack by the 6th Army but the demands of the offensive at Verdun made it impossible. In May, Below proposed a preventive attack (a suggestion latter reduced, in June, to an operation from Ovillers to St Pierre Divion) but was only assigned one additional artillery regiment, some labour battalions and captured Russian heavy artillery. On 6 June, Below reported that air reconnaissance showed that attacks at Fricourt and Gommecourt were possible and that the French troops south of the Somme had been reinforced. The German XVII Corps held the ground opposite the French but it was overstretched, with twelve regiments holding a 22 mi (36 km) stretch of line with no reserves. [51]

In mid-June, Falkenhayn remained sceptical of an offensive on the Somme, as a great success would lead to operations in Belgium an offensive in Alsace-Lorraine would take the war and its devastation into Germany. More railway activity, fresh digging and camp extensions around Albert opposite the 2nd Army was seen by German air observers on 9 and 11 June and spies reported an imminent offensive. On 24 June, a British prisoner spoke of a five-day bombardment to begin on 26 June and local units expected an attack within days. On 27 June, 14 balloons were visible, one for each British division. No German reinforcements were sent to the area until 1 July and only then to the 6th Army, that had been given control of the three divisions in OHL reserve behind it. At Verdun on 24 June, Crown Prince Wilhelm was ordered to conserve troops, ammunition and equipment and further restrictions were imposed on 1 July when two divisions were came under OHL control. [51] By 30 June, the German air strength on the 2nd Army front was six Feldflieger-Abteilungen (reconnaissance flights) with 42 aircraft, four Artillerieflieger-Abteilungen (artillery flights) with 17 aeroplanes, Kampfgeschwader 1 (Bomber-Fighter Squadron 1) with 43 aircraft, Kampfstaffel 32 (Bomber-Fighter Flight 32) with 8 aeroplanes and a Kampfeinsitzer-Kommando (single-seat fighter detachment) with 19 aeroplanes , a total of 129 aircraft . [52]

French Sixth Army Edit

XXXV Corps Edit

South of the river, the XXXV Corps (the 51st, 61st and 121st Divisions, backed by 20 batteries of heavy artillery) attacked two hours after the offensive began on the north bank. The 61st Division was right-flank guard for the I Colonial Corps near the river. [53] A French attack of any great size on the south bank had been considered impossible by the German command and after the 10th Bavarian Division was transferred north of the river to reinforce the XIV Reserve Corps, divisional frontages were made even wider on the south side of the river, the three remaining divisions of XVII Corps using their third regiment to fill the gap at the cost of having no reserve. The French preliminary bombardment caused the Germans many casualties and destroyed many machine-guns and mortars. When the attack began, concealed by mist, the German defenders were surprised and overrun. The French artillery had c. 10 heavy batteries per 1 km (1 mi) of front, 18 observation balloons were opposite the German 11th Division alone and French artillery observation aircraft were flown so low by their pilots over Estrées that German soldiers could see the faces of the crews. The division had only two field artillery regiments and part of one regiment sent as reinforcement, with no heavy guns for counter-battery fire, except for periodic support from a small number of heavy guns covering all of the south side of the river. [53]

The German artillery group around Estrées, Soyécourt and Fay attempted a systematic bombardment of the French front line on 30 June. The French replied with 2,000 heavy shells on one German field regiment alone, which knocked out three guns. By the time of the attack of 1 July, German artillery on the south bank had been hit by 15,000 shells and was almost silent by 11:00 a.m. [53] Only eight heavy batteries were available to the Germans on the south bank and at 9:30 a.m., the French barrage lifted off the German front line and three mines were blown under a redoubt at the village of Fay. A measure of surprise was gained, despite losses to German flanking fire from beyond the southern flank of the attack. [54] Grenadier Regiment 10 had been subjected to a "torrent" of fire overnight, which had forced the German infantry to shelter in mine galleries. A gas bombardment was synchronised with the French infantry attack and the mine explosions at 10:00 a.m. killed many of the sheltering troops. By 2:00 p.m. the German defences had been overwhelmed and the garrisons killed or captured such reinforcements as existed were moved forward to occupy the second position south of Assevillers. [55]

I Colonial Corps Edit

On the south bank, the I Colonial Corps (2nd, 3rd, 16th Colonial and the 99th Territorial divisions along with 65 heavy artillery batteries ) also attacked two hours after the main assault. [54] The 2nd and 3rd Colonial divisions, advanced between XXXV Corps and the river and overran the first line of the German 121st Division, holding the line south from the Somme, in fifteen minutes, taking Dompierre and Bequincourt. On the French left flank, Frise held out until the village was re-bombarded and then taken by a second attack at 12:30 p.m. The 2nd and 3rd Colonial divisions began probing 2,734 yd (2,500 m) of the German second position held by the III Battalion, Infantry Regiment 60 around Assevillers and Herbécourt. Assevillers was captured at 4:00 p.m. Herbécourt was attacked from the north-west at 5:30 p.m. and captured, then lost to a German counter-attack. The colonial divisions took c. 2,000 prisoners, for very few casualties. [56] The attack on the south bank had advanced 1 mi (2 km). [57]

XX Corps Edit

North of the Somme, the French XX Corps consisted of the 11th, 39th, 72nd and 153rd divisions, with 32 batteries of heavy artillery. The 11th and 39th divisions attacked at 7.30 a.m., the commanders of the 1st Liverpool Pals (part of the 30th Division (XIII Corps) and the French 153rd Infantry Regiment advancing together. [54] At Bois Y, north-west of Curlu, which contained many machine-guns and was protected by Menuisiers Trench 219 yd (200 m) further forward, the attack went "like clockwork". The 79th Regiment, whose final objective was 1,640 yd (1,500 m) beyond the start line, found that the French bombardment had destroyed much of the German fortifications and that the creeping barrage kept the Germans under cover. Only at Bois Favière (in the 39th Division area, where part of the wood was held by the Germans for several days) and at Curlu (in the 11th Division area on the north bank) were the Germans able to conduct an organised defence. [58]

The 37th Regiment (11th Division) attacked Curlu and received massed small-arms fire the regiment was repulsed from the western fringe of the village before attacks were suspended for a re-bombardment, by which time the village was outflanked on both sides. Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 6 (BRIR 6) recorded the first attack at 9:00 a.m., after drumfire (so many shells exploding that the reports merged into a rumble) which began at 6:00 a.m., followed by two more until drumfire fell again at 4:00 p.m. and the remaining garrison was ordered to retire. Most of BRIR 6 was thrown in piecemeal from the Somme to Montauban and destroyed, suffering 1,809 casualties. [59] The French did not exploit their success, because the British did not advance to their second objective beyond Montauban. Four counter-attacks from Hardecourt were repulsed and by mid-morning 2,500 prisoners had been taken and an advance of 1 mi (1.5 km) had been achieved. [60]

British Fourth Army Edit

XIII Corps Edit

The southern flank of the British line was held by XIII Corps, which attacked Montauban with the New Army 18th (Eastern) and 30th divisions. The 30th Division took its objectives by 1:00 p.m. and the 18th (Eastern) Division completed its advance by 3:00 p.m. German defences south of the Albert–Bapaume road were far less developed than to the north and were visible from territory held by the British and French. The infantry advanced behind a creeping barrage and had the benefit of the heavy artillery of French XX Corps to the south. Much of the German artillery in the area had been put out of action during the preliminary bombardment and the German second and third lines were incomplete and had no deep dugouts, except in the first trench. On the right of the British attack, most of the German infantry and machine-guns were destroyed before the British advance a river mist hampered the remaining defenders. In the chaos, alarmist reports were received that Bernafay and Trônes woods had been captured and before noon, every available man, including clerks and cooks was ordered forward to the second position. The 12th Reserve Division was ordered to prepare a counter-attack from Montauban to Mametz overnight but by midnight the division had only reached the second position. [61] The 30th Division suffered 3,011 casualties, the 18th (Eastern) Division 3,115, RIR 109 2,147 and BRIR 6 1,810 casualties. [62]

XV Corps Edit

Mametz Edit

The village of Mametz was attacked by the 7th Division, which on the right flank had only 100–200 yd (91–183 m) of no man's land to cross. The infantry advanced behind a creeping field artillery barrage that lifted slowly according to a timetable and moved towards a standing barrage fired by the heavy artillery that lifted to the next objective at set times. The right and central brigades attacked on a 1,800 yd (1,646 m) front, from support trenches behind the British front line. Crossing no man's land led to few casualties but far more were inflicted as the battalions advanced 700 yd (640 m) uphill to the village. The east end was captured but several attempts on the north and west ends were repulsed. After a series of bombardments and when British troops further south began to menace the supply routes of the garrison, resistance collapsed and the village was occupied. [63]

The west side of the village was attacked by the 20th Brigade, which had to fight forward for most of the day. The infantry pushed on to ground facing Mametz Wood and Willow Stream, outflanking Fricourt to the north, though the objectives further beyond Mametz were not reached. [64] Much of the front of the 7th Division was opposite Reserve Infantry Regiment 109 (RIR 109), of the 28th Reserve Division, which should have been relieved on the night of 30 June and which received a warning of the attack from a listening station at La Boisselle. Most of the regiment was caught in their deep shelters under the front trench and cut off from telephone communication. Most of the supporting machine-guns and artillery was put out of action early on. Reinforcements were sent to the second position but not ordered to counter-attack, due to uncertainty about the situation at Montauban and the need to secure Mametz Wood. The 7th Division suffered 3,380 casualties. [65]

Fricourt Edit

The village of Fricourt lay in a bend in the front line, where it turned eastwards for 2 mi (3 km) before swinging south again to the Somme River. XV Corps was to avoid a frontal assault and attack either side of the village, to isolate the defenders. [66] The 20th Brigade of the 7th Division was to capture the west end of Mametz and swing left, creating a defensive flank along Willow Stream, facing Fricourt from the south, as the 22nd Brigade waited in the British front line, ready to exploit a German retirement from the village. The 21st Division advance was to pass north of Fricourt, to reach the north bank of Willow Stream beyond Fricourt and Fricourt Wood. To protect infantry from enfilade fire from the village, the triple Tambour mines were blown beneath the Tambour salient on the western fringe of the village, to raise a lip of earth, to obscure the view from the village. The 21st Division made some progress and penetrated to the rear of Fricourt and the 50th Brigade of the 17th (Northern) Division, held the front line opposite the village. [67]

The 10th West Yorkshire Regiment, was required to advance close by Fricourt and suffered 733 casualties, the worst battalion losses of the day. A company from the 7th Green Howards made an unplanned attack directly against the village and was annihilated. [68] Reserve Infantry Regiment 111, opposite the 21st Division, were severely affected by the bombardment and many dug-outs were blocked by shell explosions. One company was reduced to 80 men before the British attack and a reinforcement party failed to get through the British artillery-fire, taking post in Round Wood, where it was able to repulse the 64th Brigade. The rest of the regimental reserves were used to block the route to Contalmaison. [69] The loss of Mametz and the advance of the 21st Division made Fricourt untenable and the garrison was withdrawn during the night. The 17th Division occupied the village virtually unopposed early on 2 July and took several prisoners. [70] The 21st Division suffered 4,256 casualties and the 50th Brigade of the 17th Division 1,155. [71]

III Corps Edit

La Boisselle Edit

The 34th Division (New Army) was to attack along the Albert–Bapaume road, aided by the blowing of Lochnagar mine and Y Sap mine (the largest mine explosions of the day) either side of La Boisselle. The mine at Y Sap, north of the village, caused no casualties as the Germans had evacuated the area in time but the springing of the Lochnagar mine, south of the village, temporarily trapped German troops in shelters nearby and the position was lost. [72] Parties of the Grimsby Chums got into the Lochnagar mine crater before being pinned down by German small-arms fire. The Tyneside Scottish Brigade was to attack up Mash Valley and against La Boisselle at the Glory Hole (L'îlot to the French and Granathof to the Germans). The Tyneside Irish were in reserve, ready to advance and capture the second objective from Contalmaison to Pozières. [73]

At zero hour, the Tyneside Scottish Brigade started its advance from the Tara–Usna Line (a British reserve position behind the front line) to cross 1 mi (2 km) of open ground before they reached no man's land. Despite machine-gun fire, a party of around 50 men survived to advance up Sausage Valley, south of La Boisselle, almost to the edge of Contalmaison. The survivors were captured after making the furthest British advance of the day, about 4,000 yd (2 mi 4 km). [74] The positions of Reserve Infantry Regiment 110 had been severely damaged in the bombardment but the regiment was forewarned of the British attack by a Moritz device, which eavesdropped on British telephone signals and allowed the Germans to withdraw before the Y Sap mine exploded. [72] The 34th Division suffered the worst casualties of the day, 6,380. [75]

Ovillers Edit

The 8th Division attacked the Ovillers spur, which was north of the Albert–Bapaume road. The division had to cross 750 yd (686 m) of no man's land and advance towards German trenches, sited to exploit spurs running down from the ridge. The only approach to the German lines was up Mash Valley, under the guns in La Boisselle to the south, Ovillers to the front and the Thiepval spur to the north. All three brigades attacked, the 23rd Brigade up Mash Valley, where c. 200 men reached the German second trench and then held about 300 yd (274 m) of the front trench, until 9:15 a.m. The centre brigade reached the second line, before being forced back to the British front line and the left-hand brigade managed to reach the third trench, while German counter-bombardments cut off the leading troops from reinforcements. Co-ordination by the British artillery and infantry failed, the field artillery lifting to the final objective and the heavy artillery lifting an hour before the attack, leaving the German defenders unmolested as they repulsed the infantry. [76] Ovillers was defended by Infantry Regiment 180, which had suffered 192 casualties in the bombardment. Many of the German defences were smashed, except on the right at The Nab. The British advance was met by massed small-arms fire at 100 yd (91 m), which cut down many men, after which a bombing fight began. British penetrations were contained by German troops in communication trenches on the flanks. The two battalions of the regiment in the area suffered 280 casualties and the 8th Division 5,121. [77]

X Corps Edit

Leipzig salient and Thiepval Edit

The salient and Thiepval village were attacked by the New Army 32nd Division. The Glasgow Commercials advanced into no man's land at 7:23 a.m., until they were 30–40 yd (27–37 m) from the German front line. At zero hour, the British rushed the trench before the garrison could react and captured the Leipzig Redoubt. Attempts to exploit the success were met by machine-gun fire from the Wundtwerk (Wonderwork to the British) and the British were not able to advance further. [78] The capture of the redoubt was the only permanent success in the northern sector. [79] The 49th (West Riding) Division, in reserve, went forward mid-morning in support of the 32nd Division, although the commander, Major-General Rycroft, had suggested that it would have more effect by reinforcing the success of the 36th (Ulster) Division. The 146th Brigade attacked Thiepval through the 32nd Division area and then the 49th (West Riding) Division was ordered to send any uncommitted battalions direct to the 36th (Ulster) Division. [80] The area was defended by two battalions of Reserve Infantry Regiment 99, whose machine-gun posts survived the bombardment and which began firing as soon as the British attacked. The 3rd Company, Infantry Regiment 180 was annihilated in hand-to-hand fighting at Leipzig Redoubt. The garrison of Thiepval emerged from the shelters and cellars of the village before the British arrived and cut down the attackers with small-arms fire, leaving a "wall of dead" in front of the position. The 32nd Division suffered 3,949 casualties and the 49th (West Riding) Division 590. [81]

Schwaben and Stuff redoubts Edit

The 36th (Ulster) Division attacked between Thiepval and the Ancre River against Schwaben Redoubt and gained a "spectacular victory". [78] The preliminary artillery bombardment, which included support from French batteries firing gas-shell and a smoke screen from trench mortars, was more successful than on other parts of the front north of the Albert–Bapaume road. The infantry crept into no man's land before the attack, rushed the German front trench and then pressed on. The defeat of the neighbouring divisions left the 36th (Ulster) Division flanks unsupported and the German defenders on either side were free to rake the division from three sides. German artillery began a barrage (Sperrfeuer) along no man's land which isolated the most advanced Irish troops, who briefly reached the German second line, captured Schwaben Redoubt and closed on Stuff redoubt. [82]

Opposite the 36th (Ulster) Division was III Battalion, Reserve Infantry Regiment 99 (RIR 99) and I and III battalions of Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 8 (BRIR 8). The German units suffered severe casualties due to the British bombardment, which destroyed much of the front position, particularly west of Schwaben Redoubt. The positions were so quickly overrun by the Irish that little return fire could be opened. II Battalion, BRIR 8 was ordered to recapture the redoubt but the order was delayed and all available troops were sent to attack from Goat Redoubt and Grandcourt. In the confusion, few of the German troops were able to assemble the counter-attack began piecemeal and was repulsed several times, until a bombardment and another attack by two fresh battalions at about 10:00 p.m., forced the Irish out of the redoubt. [83] The 36th (Ulster) Division suffered 5,104 casualties. [84]

VIII Corps Edit

The northern flank of the Fourth Army was held by VIII Corps (Lieutenant-General Aylmer Hunter-Weston). Three divisions were to attack on the first day, with the 48th (South Midland) Division in reserve, except for two battalions that held a 1.6 mi (3 km) stretch between the Third and Fourth armies and two battalions that were attached to the 4th Division. [85]

Beaumont-Hamel Edit

The 29th Division attacked towards Beaumont-Hamel. Part of the attack was filmed and showed the detonation of a 40,000 lb (18 long tons 18 t) mine beneath Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt at 7:20 a.m., ten minutes before the infantry attack. [86] The detonation of the mine alerted the Germans and British troops failed to occupy all of the mine crater before German troops could take over the far lip. Many troops of both brigades were shot down in no man's land, which was dominated by Redan Ridge and then caught by German artillery barrages. White German signal rockets were seen and taken for British success flares, which led the divisional commander, Major-General de Lisle, to order the 88th Brigade from reserve to exploit the success. The brigade included the Newfoundland Regiment, which advanced on open ground from reserve trenches 200 yd (183 m) back from the British front line. [87]

The Newfoundland advance avoided the congestion of dead and wounded in communication trenches but many of the troops became casualties to German small-arms fire while still behind their front line. Some Newfoundland troops got across no man's land near Y Ravine but were held up by uncut wire. [87] Most of the German shelters and Beaumont-Hamel were derelict and shell-craters overlapped. Reserve Infantry Regiment 119, who had been sheltering under the village in Stollen survived and with other units at Leiling Schlucht (Y Ravine) and the Leiling and Bismarck dugouts, engaged the British troops from the wreckage of the trenches. The Newfoundlanders suffered 710 casualties, a 91 percent loss, second only to that of the 10th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, which suffered 733 casualties at Fricourt, south of the Albert–Bapaume road. [88] The 29th Division suffered 5,240 casualties. [89]

Serre Edit

The 4th Division attacked between Serre and Beaumont-Hamel and captured the Quadrilateral (Heidenkopf) but could not exploit the success, because of the repulse by the Germans of the attacks by the flanking divisions. Crossfire from Beaumont Hamel and Serre and determined counter-attacks held up the 4th Division. Parties of Lancashire Fusiliers, Seaforth Highlanders and troops from the 11th Brigade entered the Quadrilateral, where they were reinforced by a company of the Royal Irish Fusiliers during the night. Except at the Quadrilateral, the 4th Division ended the day back at its start line. [90] No other gains were made and German counter-attacks overnight pushed the parties in the Quadrilateral back until only the Irish Fusiliers remained in the German front line, not having received an order to retreat early on 2 July. The Irish eventually withdrew at 11:30 a.m. with their wounded and three prisoners the 4th Division had 5,752 casualties. [91] In 2006, G. P. Kingston recorded 5,890 casualties in the division during July. [92]

The 31st Division, a New Army division made up of Pals battalions, was to capture Serre and then turn north to form the northern defensive flank of the Fourth Army. The 31st Division attacked uphill from several copses and the two attacking brigades were engaged by the Germans with small-arms fire, expending 74,000 bullets against the attack. Small groups of the Accrington Pals and the Sheffield City Battalion managed to cross no man's land and reach Serre and a party advanced 1.25 mi (2 km) to Pendant Copse, before being cut off and killed or captured. Reserve Infantry Regiment 121 was confronted by the British attack before all the troops had emerged from their dugouts. More than three infantry sections were blown up in the mine explosion at Hawthorn Redoubt, the rest of the garrison being trapped until the end of the attack. A counter-attack towards the redoubt by two platoons gradually bombed the British back after an hour only the troops in the Heidenkopf remained and it was re-captured during the night. Reserve Infantry Regiment 119 suffered 292 casualties, Reserve Infantry Regiment 121 560, Infantry Regiment 169 362 the 31st Division suffered 3,600 casualties. [93]

British Third Army Edit

The Third Army (General Edmund Allenby), was to mount a diversion north of the Fourth Army area, with VII Corps. At the Gommecourt Salient, the German trenches curved around a château and its parkland and a gap of 1 mi (2 km) separated the Gommecourt diversion from the northern edge of the main attack. Preparations for a pincer movement to catch the garrison in a pocket, were made as obvious as possible to attract German attention. [94] The 56th (1/1st London) Division had prepared jumping-off trenches in no man's land and when the attack commenced at 7:30 a.m. swift progress was made. The first three German trenches were captured and a party pushed on towards the rendezvous with the 46th (North Midland) Division. A German barrage descended on no man's land, which made it impossible for reinforcements to move forward or for a trench to be dug as a defensive flank to the south and the survivors were forced to withdraw after dark. The 46th (North Midland) Division attack found that the German wire was uncut and the ground littered with unexploded mortar bombs. A smoke screen intended to mask the infantry obscured their view and left the Germans with observation over the attack. The ground was particularly wet and muddy and few troops reached the German trenches the remaining British troops overran the front line, where German troops were able to emerge from shelters not mopped-up by the supporting battalions pinned down in no man's land by the German barrage and engage the British troops from behind. [95]

The British bombardment cut much of the wire at Gommecourt and demolished many trenches, particularly in the area of Infantry Regiment 170 opposite the 56th (1/1st London) Division. The smoke screen obstructed the beginning of the attack and the damage caused by the bombardment blocked many dugout entrances a counter-attack was swiftly mounted from Kern Redoubt (the Maze), which was not under attack. The counter-attack failed to stop the 56th (1/1st London) Division reaching the third line of trenches, before a converging attack by Infantry Regiment 170 and Reserve Infantry regiments 15 and 55 began. The British had consolidated and the counter-attack made little progress, until co-ordinated bombing attacks in the afternoon gradually recovered the position. Opposite the 46th (North Midland) Division, Reserve Infantry regiments 55 and 91 took post in time, engaged the attackers while they were crossing no man's land but failed to stop the loss of the front trench until a counter-attack from the third trench "annihilated" the leading British troops the German regiments suffered 1,212 casualties. The 46th (North Midland) Division suffered 2,445 casualties, which was the lowest divisional loss on 1 July. The commander, Major-General Montagu-Stuart-Wortley, was dismissed for the failure. The 56th (1/1st London) Division suffered 4,314 casualties. [96]

Air operations Edit

British Photographic reconnaissance began in October 1915 and in March 1916 intensive British preparations commenced. The IV Brigade of the RFC was formed on 1 April 1916, with six squadrons of aeroplanes and a Kite Balloon squadron the IV Brigade squadrons were the first to be increased from twelve to eighteen aircraft. On 25 April photographs were taken which revealed the German construction of a third position from Flers to Le Sars, Pys, Irles, Achiet-le-Petit and Ablainzevelle. In mid-May and late June, the German defences opposite the Fourth Army were photographed again. [97] Die Fliegertruppen des Deutschen Kaiserreiches (Imperial German Flying Corps) had six reconnaissance flights (Feldflieger-Abteilungen) with 42 aircraft , four artillery flights (Artillerieflieger-Abteilungen) with 17 aeroplanes , a bomber-fighter squadron (Kampfgeschwader I) with 43 aircraft a bomber-fighter flight (Kampfstaffel 32) with 8 aeroplanes and a single-seater fighter detachment (Kampfeinsitzer-Kommando) with 19 aircraft, a strength of 129 aeroplanes. [52]

The IV Brigade corps aircraft were to be protected with line patrols, by pairs of aircraft from the army squadrons and offensive sweeps by formations of DH 2s. The concentration of aircraft for the offensive was completed by the arrival on 19 June of the Ninth (headquarters) Wing with three squadrons and one flight, which brought the number of aircraft on the Fourth Army front to 167, plus eighteen at Gommecourt. [h] The bombing offensive by the RFC was intended to cut railway links behind the Somme front, south of the Valenciennes–Arras railway and west of the lines around Douai, Busigny and Tergnier. Trains were to be attacked in cuttings, railway bridges were to be bombed and the stations at Cambrai, Busigny, St Quentin and Tergnier were to be raided along with the German ammunition depots at Mons, Namur and the station at Lille were also to be attacked. [99] British aircraft and kite balloons were to be used to observe the intermittent bombardment, which began in mid-June and the preliminary bombardment, which commenced on 24 June. Low cloud and rain obstructed air observation of the bombardment, which soon fell behind schedule and on 25 June, aircraft of the four British Armies on the Western Front attacked the German kite balloons opposite fifteen were attacked, four were shot down by rockets and one bombed, three of the balloons being in the Fourth Army area. Next day three more balloons were shot down opposite the Fourth Army and during German artillery retaliation to the Anglo-French bombardment, 102 German artillery positions were plotted and a Fokker was shot down near Courcelette. [100]

Accurate observation was not possible at dawn on 1 July due to patches of mist but by 6:30 a.m. the general effect of the Anglo-French bombardment could be seen. Observers in contact-patrol aircraft could see lines of British infantry crawling into no man's land, ready to attack the German front trench at 7:30 a.m. Each corps and division had a wireless receiving-station for messages from airborne artillery-observers and observers on the ground were stationed at various points, to receive messages and maps dropped from aircraft. [101] As contact observers reported the progress of the infantry attack, artillery-observers sent many messages to the British artillery and reported the effect of counter-battery fire on German guns. Balloon observers used their telephones to report changes in the German counter-barrage and to direct British artillery on fleeting targets, continuing to report during the night by observing German gun-flashes. Air reconnaissance during the day found little movement on the roads and railways behind the German front and the railways at Bapaume were bombed from 5:00 a.m. Flights to Cambrai, Busigny and Etreux later in the day saw no unusual movement, although German aircraft attacked the observation aircraft all the way to the targets and back, two Rolands being shot down by the escorts. Bombing began the evening before with a raid on the station at St Saveur by six R.E. 7s of 21 Squadron, whose pilots claimed hits on sheds and a second raid around 6:00 a.m. on 1 July hit the station and railway lines both attacks were escorted and two Fokkers were shot down on the second raid. [102]

Railway bombing was conducted by 28 aircraft, each with two 112 lb (51 kg) bombs, at intervals after midday and Cambrai station was hit with seven bombs, for the loss of one aircraft. In the early evening an ammunition train was hit on the line between Aubigny-au-Bac and Cambrai and set on fire, the cargo burning and exploding for several hours. Raids on St Quentin and Busigny were reported to be failures by the crews and three aircraft were lost. [103] [i] All corps aircraft carried 20 lb (9 kg) bombs, to attack billets, transport, trenches and artillery-batteries. Offensive sweeps were flown by 27 and 60 squadrons from 11:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. but found few German aircraft and only an LVG was forced down. Two sets of line patrols were flown, one by 24 Squadron DH.2s from Péronne to Pys and Gommecourt from 6:45 a.m. to nightfall, which met six German aircraft during the day and forced two down. The second set of patrols by pairs of F.E.2bs were made by 22 Squadron between 4:12 a.m. and dusk, from Longueval to Cléry and Douchy to Miraumont. 22 Squadron lost two aircraft and had one damaged but prevented German aircraft attacks on the corps aircraft. [105]

XIII Corps was watched by most of 9 Squadron, which saw the 30th Division troops take the line Dublin Trench–Glatz Redoubt by 8:30 a.m. and the 18th (Eastern) Division take Pommiers Trench and Pommiers Redoubt. At 10:00 a.m. an observer saw a line of flashes on the ground, from mirrors carried by 30th Division soldiers on their packs. The British troops moved along Train Alley towards Montauban. A German artillery battery began to fire from Bernafay Wood and the pilot machine-gunned the crews from 700 ft (213 m) and put the battery out of action. On return towards the British lines, the crew saw Montauban being occupied and 18th (Eastern) Division troops advancing up the ridge to the west of the village and the pilot flew low along the ridge and gave the troops a wave. By 11:15 a.m. mirrors were seen flashing along the north edge of Montauban. [106]

The XV Corps attack either side of Fricourt was observed by parts of 3 and 9 squadrons, which were able to report by evening that the 21st Division and the 34th Division to the north, had advanced deeply into the German defensive positions above Fricourt. The 7th Division had advanced beyond Mametz, forming a defensive flank on the left and linking on the right with XIII Corps. Troops from III Corps and XV Corps lit red flares, which were quickly reported by observers in contact-patrol aircraft. A balloon observer from 3 Kite Balloon Section was able to get the artillery to re-bombard Danzig Alley, after British troops were forced out by a German counter-attack and second British attack in the afternoon took the trench easily. Most of 3 Squadron watched over the disastrous III Corps attack at La Boisselle and Ovillers and saw some 34th Division troops reach Peake Wood north of Fricourt. [107]

The attacks by X Corps and VIII Corps, from Thiepval to Serre were observed by crews from 4 and 15 squadrons. Ground observers could see much of the battle and communications were not as badly cut as on other parts of the front. Some of the deeper British infantry advances could only be seen from the air, particularly those at Schwaben Redoubt and Pendant Copse. 4 Squadron reported the hurried withdrawal of German artillery between Courcelette and Grandcourt during the afternoon and spotted the massing of German troops at 4:30 p.m. A special flight was sent to Thiepval and the pilot flew by at 600 ft (183 m) to examine the ground and report that the British attacks had failed. With 15 Squadron observing the disaster occurring to VIII Corps around Beaumont Hamel, the defeat of the British attacks and the repulse of the troops from the few areas where break-ins had occurred were reported by the aircraft observers. [108]

The VII Corps attack was observed by 8 Squadron, which had taken reconnaissance photographs during a period of clear weather the day before. The attack of the 46th (North Midland) and 56th (1/1st London) divisions, had a standing patrol of one aircraft each from 6:45 a.m. – 3:25 p.m. and then one aircraft for both divisions. No red infantry flares were seen during the day aircraft flew through the barrage to make visual identifications at low level and by the end of the day German ground fire had made three aircraft unserviceable. One aeroplane flew into a balloon cable near St Amand, damaging the aircraft although the crew escaped unhurt. Reports from the observation crews related the fate of the leading troops of the 46th (North Midland) Division, who were cut off after over-running the German first line, by German troops emerging from underground shelters. Following waves intended to mop-up the German front line, were seen to be pinned down in no man's land by artillery and machine-gun barrages. On the 56th (1/1st London) Division front, observers watched the leading British troops capture the first, second and third lines before being cut off by another German barrage in no man's land. German infantry were seen to mass and then counter-attack, regaining the third line by midday, the second line by afternoon and the first line late in the evening. [109]

German 2nd Army Edit

By May 1916, eight German divisions held the front from Roye to Arras with three in reserve. The German defence of the south bank of the Somme was the responsibility of XVII Corps with three divisions. On the north bank the XIV Reserve Corps (Generalleutnant Hermann von Stein) with two divisions held the line from the Somme to the Ancre and the Guard Corps (General Karl von Plettenberg) with three divisions held the ground north of the Ancre opposite Serre and Gommecourt. [48] On 20 June, British heavy artillery bombarded German communications behind the front line as far back as Bapaume and then continued intermittently until the evening of 22 June. At dawn on 24 June, a shrapnel barrage began on the German front position and villages nearby. At noon, more accurate fire began before increasing in intensity around Thiepval as heavy batteries commenced firing and in the evening, a light rain turned the German positions to mud. On 25 June, heavy artillery-fire predominated, smashing trenches and blocking dugouts. Variations in the intensity of fire indicated likely areas to be attacked the greatest weight of fire occurring at Mametz, Fricourt and Ovillers during the night the German commanders prepared their defences around the villages and ordered the second line to be manned. After an overnight lull, the bombardment increased again on 26 June, gas being discharged at 5:00 a.m. towards Beaumont Hamel and Serre, before the bombardment increased in intensity near Thiepval, then suddenly stopped. The German garrison took post and fired red rockets to call for artillery support, which placed a barrage in no man's land. Later in the afternoon huge mortar bombs began to fall, destroying shallower dug-outs, a super-heavy gun began to bombard the main German strong-points, as smaller guns pulverised the villages close to the front line, from which civilians were hurriedly removed. [110]

German troops billeted in the villages moved into the open to avoid the shelling and on 27 and 28 June, heavy rain added to the devastation, as the bombardment varied from steady accurate shelling to shell-storms and periods of quiet. At night British patrols moved into no man's land and prisoners captured by the Germans said that they were checking on the damage and searching for German survivors. German interrogators gleaned information suggesting that an offensive would come either side of the Somme and Ancre rivers at 5:00 a.m. on 29 June. All of the German infantry stood to with reinforcements but the bombardment resumed in the afternoon, rising to drumfire several times. Artillery-fire concentrated on small parts of the front, then lines of shells moved forward into the depth of the German defences. Periodic gas discharges and infantry probes continued but German sentries watching through periscopes were often able to warn the garrisons in time to react. The bombardment on 30 June repeated the pattern of the earlier days, by when much of the German surface defences had been swept away, look-out shelters and observation posts were in ruins and many communication trenches had disappeared. [111]

On the night of 30 June /1 July, the bombardment fell on rear defences and communication trenches, then at dawn British aircraft "filled the sky", captive balloons rose into the air at 6:30 a.m. and an unprecedented barrage began all along the German front, until 7:30 a.m., when the bombardment abruptly stopped. The remaining German trench garrisons began to leave their shelters and set up machine-guns in the remains of trenches and shell-holes, which proved difficult to spot and allowed the occupants to change direction, easily to face threats from all directions. Where the British infantry advanced close behind the barrage the German defenders were often overrun and at Montauban, Mametz and around Fricourt, the Germans were rushed, while most were still underground. Further north, the Germans had time to emerge and stopped most attacks in no man's land. In the 26th Reserve Division area, a front of 9,000 yd (5 mi 8 km) from Ovillers to Serre, four regiments occupied the first line with two battalions each, one in the support line and one in reserve. The Germans emerged to see lines of British infantry in no man's land and opened rapid fire on them, lines and waves falling down, reforming and moving forward. Some German infantry stood on trench parapets to aim better and red rockets were fired to call for artillery barrages on no man's land, which shattered the British infantry formations. The survivors kept going and began a bombing fight close to the German line which, was defeated except at the Leipzig Redoubt, which was quickly sealed off by German flanking parties and between Thiepval and the Ancre, where the Iriish advanced towards Grandcourt 3,000 yd (2 mi 3 km) away. Several counter-attacks were mounted, which forced the British back to the German front trench after dark. [112]

Analysis Edit

Prior and Wilson wrote that the conventional account of the day has soldiers burdened by 66 lb (30 kg) of equipment, obeying "doltish" orders to walk shoulder-to-shoulder towards the German lines and being mown down by German machine-gunners, who had time to climb out of shelters and man the parapet. Prior and Wilson ascribed the origin of this narrative to John Buchan in The Battle of the Somme (1917) in which the bravery of soldiers is extolled, rather than faulty infantry tactics being criticised. Prior and Wilson traced the narrative through the writing of B. H. Liddell Hart, J. E. Edmonds the official historian, C. R. M. F. Cruttwell, Martin Middlebrook, Correlli Barnett and Paul Kennedy. In 1970, Anthony Farrar-Hockley questioned the narrative but reverted to the orthodox view soon after. [113] [j] Prior and Wilson did not dispute the facts of c. 20,000 dead and c. 40,000 wounded but wrote that the Tactical Notes issued by Rawlinson did not dictate the way that advances were to be made but were "ambiguous", referring to "celerity of movement", "a steady pace" and "a rapid advance of some lightly-equipped men" and did not prescribe a formation to be adopted for the advance. [122] [k]

At the northern end of the British front, the leading brigade of the 31st Division advanced into no man's land before zero hour, ready to rush the German front trench when the barrage lifted. [123] Some units of the 4th Division advanced from the British front line in formations led by snipers and skirmishers in the 29th Division some battalions "marched" to the German wire and others rushed forward from assembly-trenches dug in no man's land. In the 36th (Ulster), 32nd and 8th division areas, some battalions assembled in front of the German wire, ready to rush forward at zero hour and many of the battalions of XV Corps and XIII Corps walked slowly forward in lines behind a creeping barrage. Of 80 battalions in the initial attack, 53 crept into no man's land, ten rushed from the British front trench and twelve advanced at a steady pace behind a barrage. [123] Prior and Wilson found that the behaviour of the British infantry had less effect than the behaviour of the German infantry, which in turn was determined by the fire of the British guns. Where the German defences and garrisons had been destroyed, the British infantry succeeded. When significant numbers of German machine-gunners survived, especially when supported by artillery, the British attack failed. On the French front, the artillery preparation was almost wholly effective in destroying German defences and killing German infantry in their underground shelters. The prevalence and effectiveness of killing-machines determined the result and in such an environment, a soldier with a bayonet was obsolete and infantry formations irrelevant. [124]

In 2009, J. P. Harris described the success of the French and of XIII Corps and XV Corps, the extent of British casualties for ground gained and Haig's responsibility for the British casualties. Harris wrote of the inferior German defences on the French front, surprise, superior French artillery and better infantry tactics than those used by the British. The French attacked in the south as did the two most successful British corps and in this area, only the first line was expected to be captured. Harris wrote that the German 2nd Army was often ignored in analyses of the First Day and that the main defensive effort was made in the north, the area of greatest German success. Terrain in the south, Anglo-French air superiority and closer objectives, tended to concentrate Allied artillery-fire, which was better-observed and more accurate than on the hillier ground to the north. [125]

In the south, barbed wire was cut, the German fortifications were "exceptionally" damaged and a crude form of creeping barrage preceded the infantry to their objectives. Harris held Haig responsible for the extension of the objectives in the north to the German second position, which diluted the density of British artillery-fire, although no study had been made of the details of the preliminary bombardment and caution must accompany a conclusion that bombardment of the closer objectives was unduly dissipated. Harris concluded that the attack front was too broad and that Rawlinson should be held responsible with Haig for attempting to advance on a 16 mi (26 km) front. Despite being under no diplomatic pressure from the French or political pressure from London to obtain swift success, the British tried to do too much too quickly, unlike the French Sixth Army which made short advances with the support of massive amounts of artillery-fire. [125]

In 2009, William Philpott wrote that after the war the French Official History gave five pages to 1 July, with one paragraph on the British attack and that the German official history Der Weltkrieg covered the day in 62 pages. The British Official History described the day in 177 pages, with one page on the French success. In Joffre's memoirs the French victory was ascribed to "the excellent work of the artillery" and German underestimation of French offensive potential remaining from the battle at Verdun, leading them to make their principal defensive effort in the north. Many British infantry had been attacked from behind, after failing to mop up captured German positions. This military explanation was insufficient for many British commentators, who blamed "anachronistic" "sword wavers" for leading volunteers to an unnecessary slaughter. The French success, based on the experience of 1915 was overlooked, as was the French expectation of more quick victories being disappointed, as the battle became a counterpart to the long attrition campaign at Verdun. Philpott also described the Germans being written out of the British narrative of useless sacrifice. The Anglo-French armies had gained an advantage on 1 July by forcing the German defences for 13 mi (21 km) either side of the Somme to collapse. In the early afternoon a broad breach existed north of the river but the "break in" was in an unexpected place and exploitation had to be improvised. [126]

Casualties Edit

Philpott wrote that the "gory scene" behind the British front showed that something had gone wrong. [127] In the evening of 1 July, Haig wrote in his diary,

North of the Ancre, VIII Division (sic) said they began well but as the day progressed, their troops were forced back into the German front line, except two battalions which occupied Serre village and were, it is said, cut off. I am inclined to believe from further reports that few of VIII Corps left their trenches. [128]

VIII Corps had left their trenches and over 14,000 men became casualties. [127] Edmonds wrote that for the loss of Britain and Ireland's "finest manhood" there was only a small gain of ground, although an advance of 1 mi (2 km) on a 3.5 mi (6 km) front and minor advances elsewhere, was the furthest achieved by the British since trench warfare began. Only 1,983 unwounded prisoners had been taken and none of the captured ground north of the Albert–Bapaume road except at the Leipzig Redoubt had been held. [129] Before the battle, Rawlinson had requested 18 ambulance trains but only three were provided and these departed part-filled, before many of the wounded had been brought to casualty clearing stations, which had capacity for only 9,500 cases. Casualties were left untended in the open and it was not until 4 July that the Fourth Army medical services had treated all the wounded (some casualties reached hospitals in England still wearing field dressings). As night fell, survivors began to make their way back to the British trenches and stretcher-bearers went into no man's land. Major-General Ingouville-Williams, commander of the 34th Division, participated in the search and some medical orderlies continued after dawn broke. [130]

At Beaumont-Hamel, two British medical officers arranged a truce and in other places movement in no man's land was fired on. Victoria Crosses were awarded to Robert Quigg and Geoffrey Cather (posthumous) for rescuing wounded. [131] Some casualties survived for up to a week in no man's land, living on rations from dead soldiers' packs before being rescued. At 7:30 p.m., the Fourth Army headquarters believed that there had been 16,000 casualties, by 3 July the staff thought that there had been 40,000 and by 6 July the count had risen to 60,000 men. The Third Army diversion at Gommecourt cost VII Corps 6,758 casualties against 1,212 German. [132] The final total of 57,470 casualties, 19,240 of whom had been killed, was not calculated for some time the French Sixth Army had 1,590 casualties and the German 2nd Army suffered 10,000–12,000 casualties. [133] In 2013, Ralph Whitehead wrote that 20,790 German casualties were suffered in early July, of whom 6,226 men certainly became casualties on 1 July. Before 1 July, 1,912 casualties were suffered during the Anglo-French preliminary bombardment or in the days afterwards and 12,642 troops were recorded missing. [134]

Subsequent operations Edit

Haig visited the Fourth Army headquarters and discussed the continuation of the attack on 2 July, although in the confused situation the original plan was not changed. Pressure was to be maintained on the Germans to inflict losses and reach ground from which to attack the German second position, with particular emphasis on the capture of Fricourt. Gough with the cavalry and infantry standing by to exploit a gap was not called on and at 7:00 p.m. Rawlinson requested that he take over X Corps and VIII Corps to reorganise the front astride the Ancre. The 12th (Eastern) Division was sent to relieve the 8th Division and the 25th Division was moved closer to X Corps. Haig ordered the 23rd and 38th (Welsh) divisions to move towards the Somme front and at 10:00 p.m. the Fourth Army headquarters ordered all corps to continue the attack. Local conditions south of the Albert–Bapaume road led many officers to urge that the German defeat in the area to be exploited with fresh divisions but XIII Corps was ordered to consolidate and prepare to attack Mametz Wood with XV Corps, which was to capture Fricourt and advance towards Contalmaison, still thought to have been captured. III Corps was ordered to attack La Boisselle and Ovillers again and reach Contalmaison and X Corps and VIII Corps were ordered to capture all of the German first position and reach the intermediate line. [135]

In the afternoon of 1 July, the German survivors of the 28th Reserve Division and 12th Division and part of the 10th Bavarian Division at Montauban Ridge, had been driven back to the Braune Stellung (second position) from Ginchy to Longueval and Bazentin le Grand. The 12th Reserve Division arrived in the evening from Bapaume and was sent towards Combles and Ginchy and at 6:45 p.m., a counter-attack was ordered to regain Montauban Ridge between Favières Wood and Montauban. One regiment was to advance past the north end of Combles to Guillemont and re-capture the north end of Montauban, a regiment in the centre was to retake Favières Wood and the left regiment was to advance along the north bank of the Somme between Curlu and Maurepas, as existing troops joined in from the second position. Dawn broke at 3:00 a.m. on 2 July, well before the advance reached Bernafay Wood and a British barrage quickly forced back the Germans into Caterpillar Valley. At La Briqueterie the German infantry were quickly repulsed, as was their attack along the river by French infantry south of Favières Wood. The 12th Division had many losses and was withdrawn to Grüne Stellung (an intermediate position) around Maltz Horn Farm in front of the second line. [136]

For Newfoundland, the first day of battle changed the course of the island's history, ending any hope of independence. [137] After the war the Newfoundland government bought 40 acres (16 ha) at the site of the battalion's attack and created the Newfoundland Memorial Park to commemorate the dead, which was opened by Haig on 7 June 1925. Although the rest of Canada celebrates Canada Day on 1 July, it remains Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador. [138]


How the Wildcat held the line against the Zero

Posted On September 12, 2019 02:51:46

When Japan introduced the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, it gained a remarkable plane that racked up an impressive combat record through 1941. However, despite its incredible performance for the time, the Zero couldn’t hold up.

The Grumman F6F Hellcat achieved fame as a Zero-killer after it was introduced in 1943. But it was its predecessor, the Grumman F4F Wildcat, that held the line during the first campaigns of World War II.

So, how did the Wildcat match up so well against the fearsome Zero? First, it’s important to understand that a big part of the Zero’s reputation came from racking up kills in China against a lot of second-rate planes with poorly-trained pilots. After all, there was a reason that the Republic of China hired the American Volunteer Group to help out during the Second Sino-Japanese War – Chinese pilots had a hard time cutting it.

The Mitsubishi A6M Zero had racked up a seemingly impressive record against second-rate opposition.

A damaged F4F Wildcat lands on USS Enterprise (CV 6) during the Battle of Santa Cruz. Japanese pilots would put hundreds of 7.7mm machine gun rounds into a Wildcat to little or no effect.

But, believe it or not, the Wildcat almost never made it to the field. The original F4F Wildcat was a biplane that lost out to the Brewster F2A Buffalo in a competition to field the next carrier-born fighter. Grumman, unsatisfied by losing out a contract, pitched two upgraded designs, and the F4F-3 was finally accepted into service. It was a good thing, too. As it turned out, the Brewster Buffalo was a piece of crap — whether at Midway or over Burma, Buffalos got consistently fell to Zeros, costing the lives of Allied pilots.

When the F4F faced off with the Zero, however, it proved to be a very tough customer. A Zero’s armament consisted of two 7.7mm machine guns and two 20mm cannon. The former had a lot of ammo, but offered little hitting power. The latter packed a punch, but the ammo supply was limited. As a result, in combat, many Japanese pilots would empty their 7.7mm machine guns only to see the Wildcat was still flying.

By contrast, the Wildcat’s battery of four to six M2 .50-caliber machine guns brought not only hitting power to bear against the lightly armored Zero, but also came with an ample supply of ammo. Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa was able to score seven kills against Japanese planes in one day with a Wildcat.

But ammo wasn’t the only advantage. Wildcat pilots had an edge in terms of enemy intelligence thanks to the discovery of the Akutan Zero, a recovered, crashed Zero that gave the U.S. insight into its inner-workings (this vessel made a cameo in a training film featuring future President Ronald Reagan).

Learn more about this plane that held the line against the odds in the video below.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

What events does 1917 dramatize?

Set in northern France around spring 1917, the film takes place during what Doran Cart, senior curator at the National WWI Museum and Memorial, describes as a “very fluid” period of the war. Although the Allied and Central Powers were, ironically, stuck in a stalemate on the Western Front, engaging in brutal trench warfare without making substantive gains, the conflict was on the brink of changing course. In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, rumblings of revolution set the stage for Russia’s impending withdrawal from the conflict. Back in Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II resumed unrestricted submarine warfare—a decision that spurred the United States to join the fight in April 1917—and engaged in acts of total war, including bombing raids against civilian targets.

Along the Western Front, between February and April 1917, the Germans consolidated their forces by pulling their forces back to the Hindenburg Line, a “newly built and massively fortified” defensive network, according to Mendes.

In spring 1917, the Germans withdrew to the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line. (Illustration by Meilan Solly)

Germany’s withdrawal was a strategic decision, not an explicit retreat, says Cart. Instead, he adds, “They were consolidating their forces in preparation for potential further offensive operations”—most prominently, Operation Michael, a spring 1918 campaign that found the Germans breaking through British lines and advancing “farther to the west than they had been almost since 1914.” (The Allies, meanwhile, only broke through the Hindenburg Line on September 29, 1918.)

Mendes focuses his film around the ensuing confusion of what seemed to the British to be a German retreat. Operating under the mistaken assumption that the enemy is fleeing and therefore at a disadvantage, the fictional Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) prepares to lead his regiment in pursuit of the scattered German forces.

“There was a period of terrified uncertainty—had [the Germans] surrendered, withdrawn, or were they lying in wait?,” the director said to Vanity Fair.

The movie's main characters are all fictional. (Universal Studios/Amblin)

In truth, according to Cart, the Germans “never said they were retreating.” Rather, “They were simply moving to a better defensive position,” shortening the front by 25 miles and freeing 13 divisions for reassignment. Much of the preparation for the withdrawal took place under cover of darkness, preventing the Allies from fully grasping their enemy’s plan and allowing the Germans to move their troops largely unhindered. British and French forces surprised by the shift found themselves facing a desolate landscape of destruction dotted with booby traps and snipers amid great uncertainty, they moved forward cautiously.

In the movie, aerial reconnaissance provides 1917’s commanding officer, the similarly fictional General Erinmore (Colin Firth), with enough information to send Blake and Schofield to stop MacKenzie’s regiment from walking into immense danger. (Telegraph cables and telephones were used to communicate during World War I, but heavy artillery bombardment meant lines were often down, as is the case in the movie.)

British soldiers attacking the Hindenburg Line (Photo by the Print Collector/Getty Images)

To reach the at-risk battalion, the young soldiers must cross No Man’s Land and navigate the enemy’s ostensibly abandoned trenches. Surrounded by devastation, the two face obstacles left by the retreating German forces, who razed everything in their path during the exodus to the newly constructed line.

Dubbed Operation Alberich, this policy of systematic obliteration found the Germans destroying “anything the Allies might find useful, from electric cables and water pipe[s] to roads, bridges and entire villages,” according to the International Encyclopedia of the First World War. Per the Times, the Germans evacuated as many as 125,000 civilians, sending those able to work to occupied France and Belgium but leaving the elderly, women and children behind to fend for themselves with limited rations. (Schofield encounters one of these abandoned individuals, a young woman caring for an orphaned child, and shares a tender, humanizing moment with her.)

“On the one hand it was desirable not to make a present to the enemy of too much fresh strength in the form of recruits and laborers,” German General Erich Ludendorff later wrote, “and on the other we wanted to foist on him as many mouths to feed as possible.”

Aftermath of the Battle of Poelcapelle, a skirmish in the larger Third Battle of Ypres, or Battle of Passchendaele (National WWI Museum and Memorial)

The events of 1917 take place prior to the Battle of Poelcappelle , a smaller skirmish in the larger Battle of Passchendaele , or the Third Battle of Ypres, but were heavily inspired by the campaign, which counted Alfred Mendes among its combatants. This major Allied offensive took place between July and November 1917 and ended with some 500,000 soldiers wounded, killed or missing in action. Although the Allies eventually managed to capture the village that gave the battle its name, the clash failed to produce a substantial breakthrough or change in momentum on the Western Front. Passchendaele, according to Cart, was a typical example of the “give-and-take and not a whole lot gained” mode of combat undertaken during the infamous war of attrition.


Stalemate: The End to Hopes of a Quick War

The result of four months of battle on the Western Front can be described in one word: stalemate. The end result of all the grand war plans, dozens of intense battles, and hundreds of thousands of deaths was a line of opposed armies stretching 475 miles from the Belgian coast on the North Sea southeast to the border of neutral Switzerland. In these months of battle, nearly 306,000 French soldiers died Germany's dead numbered 241,000 Belgium and Great Britain both lost 30,000 men. Worse—if anything could be worse than all these deaths—was the death of any hope that the war would end soon. As the combatants settled down to wait out the winter on the dreary plains of the region known as Flanders, they knew that, come spring, the war would go on.

As the generals and political leaders spent the winter planning how to overcome an enemy holding firm in trenches and armed with powerful machine guns, the soldiers in the trenches did their best to survive. Their perspective on the war was made clear in an event referred to as the Christmas Truce.

The Christmas Truce. Christmas Eve, 1914, brought colder temperatures and occasional snow to the soldiers camped in trenches along the Western Front. But it also brought something rare: a chance to put aside hatred and violence and greet the enemy as a fellowman. Across the length of the front, soldiers heard the enemy launch into a Christmas carol or saw them step out of the trenches to extend a hand of friendship. Jay Winter and Blaine Baggett, authors of The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century, recount one such incident:

Along some portions of the German lines, unusual lights began to appear. The British thought the enemy was preparing to attack, but then quickly realized that the Germans were placing Christmas trees adorned with candles on the parapets. Instead of rifle fire came shouts from the Germans. "English soldiers, English soldiers, Happy Christmas! Where are your Christmas trees?"

British rifleman Graham Williams, quoted in The Great War, recalled:

[The Germans] finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang "The First Noël," and when we finished that they all began clapping and then they struck up another favourite of theirs, " O Tannenbaum. " And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up "O Come All Ye Faithful" the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words "Adeste Fidèles. " And I thought, well, this was really a most extraordinary thing—two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of the war.

When the leaders heard of this fraternization between the enemies, they immediately ordered that such unwarlike

activity must cease. It did, for the combatants soon returned to the activities of war.


The Facts and Nothing but the Facts

Pte Henry Tandey Victoria Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Medal) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Victoria Cross recipient Henry Tandey is a legitimate hero of war and the most highly decorated British Private of the first World War. Born in 1891 and having spent some time growing up in an orphanage, Tandey would enlist in the Green Howards Regiment of the British Army in 1910.

Before the outbreak of World War I, Tandey would serve in Guernsey and South Africa with the Green Howard’s 2 nd Battalion. When war broke out in Europe, he would immediately find himself in the action.

He participated in the Battle of Ypres in 1914 and was subsequently wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. After a recovery in the hospital, we was later assigned to 3 rd Battalion in May of 1917. He was later wounded yet again during the Battle of Passchendaele in November of that year before returning to duty in January of 1918.

And while he undoubtedly fought honorably during the prior four years, it would seem that 1918 was the year he was marked for exceptional bravery and conspicuous gallantry.

As the war entered its final months in August of 1918, he would see action at the 2 nd Battle of Cambrai where he dashed across the dreaded no man’s land of World War 1 with two others to bomb a German trench. He came back with 20 German prisoners and was awarded the Distinguished Combat Medal as a result.

Later in September, he participated in an attack at Havrincourt where he would once again brave heavy fire to bomb German trenches and return with more prisoners. For this action, he was awarded the Military Medal.

On September 28 th , he was involved in another action at a canal near Marcoing, France when his platoon began to receive heavy machine gun fire. Tandey took a Lewis gun team, crawled forward under the fire and took out the German position.

Once he reached the canal, he helped restore a plank bridge under intense enemy fire. Later that night, when he and his men were surrounded by the enemy, he led a bayonet charge that freed his men and sent the enemy running into the direction of the rest of his company.

For his actions that day, he was awarded the Victoria Cross and became Britain’s most decorated Private of World War 1. And were the story to stop there, it would be enough to own its place in the halls of history.


12 Technological Advancements of World War I

Erik Sass has been covering the events leading up to World War I exactly 100 years after they happened. But today he's here to discuss some inventions of The Great War.

1. Tanks

In 1914, the “war of movement” expected by most European generals settled down into an unexpected, and seemingly unwinnable, war of trenches. With machine guns reinforcing massed rifle fire from the defending trenches, attackers were mowed down by the thousands before they could even get to the other side of “no-man’s-land.”

A solution presented itself, however, in the form of the automobile, which took the world by storm after 1900. Powered by a small internal combustion engine burning diesel or gas, a heavily-armored vehicle could advance even in the face of overwhelming small arms fire. Add some serious guns and replace the wheels with armored treads to handle rough terrain, and the tank was born.

The first tank, the British Mark I, was designed in 1915 and first saw combat at the Somme in September 1916. The French soon followed suit with the Renault FT, which established the classic tank look (turret on top). Despite their later prowess in tank combat in WWII, the Germans never got around to large-scale tank production in WWI, although they did produce 21 tanks in the unwieldy A7V model.

2. Flamethrowers

Although the Byzantines and Chinese used weapons that hurled flaming material in the medieval period, the first design for a modern flamethrower was submitted to the German Army by Richard Fiedler in 1901, and the devices were tested by the Germans with an experimental detachment in 1911. Their true potential was only realized during trench warfare, however. After a massed assault on enemy lines, it wasn’t uncommon for enemy soldiers to hole up in bunkers and dugouts hollowed into the side of the trenches. Unlike grenades, flamethrowers could “neutralize” (i.e. burn alive) enemy soldiers in these confined spaces without inflicting structural damage (the bunkers might come in handy for the new residents). The flamethrower was first used by German troops near Verdun in February 1915.

3. Poison Gas

Poison gas was used by both sides with devastating results (well, sometimes) during the Great War. The Germans pioneered the large-scale use of chemical weapons with a gas attack on Russian positions on January 31, 1915, during the Battle of Bolimov, but low temperatures froze the poison (xylyl bromide) in the shells. The first successful use of chemical weapons occurred on April 22, 1915, near Ypres, when the Germans sprayed chlorine gas from large cylinders towards trenches held by French colonial troops. The defenders fled, but typically for the First World War, this didn’t yield a decisive result: the Germans were slow to follow up with infantry attacks, the gas dissipated, and the Allied defenses were restored. Before long, of course, the Allies were using poison gas too, and over the course of the war both sides resorted to increasingly insidious compounds to beat gas masks, another new invention thus the overall result was a huge increase in misery for not much change in the strategic situation (a recurring theme of the war).

4. Tracer Bullets

While the Great War involved a lot of futile activity, fighting at night was especially unproductive because there was no way to see where you were shooting. Night combat was made somewhat easier by the British invention of tracer bullets—rounds which emitted small amounts of flammable material that left a phosphorescent trail. The first attempt, in 1915, wasn’t actually that useful, as the trail was “erratic” and limited to 100 meters, but the second tracer model developed in 1916, the .303 SPG Mark VIIG, emitted a regular bright green-white trail and was a real hit (get it?). Its popularity was due in part to an unexpected side-benefit: the flammable agent could ignite hydrogen, which made it perfect for “balloon-busting” the German zeppelins then terrorizing England.

5. Interrupter Gear

Airplanes had been around for just a decade when WWI started, and while they had obvious potential for combat applications as an aerial platform for bombs and machine guns, it wasn’t quite clear how the latter would work, since the propeller blades got in the way. In the first attempt, the U.S. Army basically tied the gun to the plane (pointing towards the ground) with a leather strap, and it was operated by a gunner who sat beside the pilot. This was not ideal for aerial combat and inconvenient because it required two airmen to operate. Another solution was mounting the gun well above the pilot, so the bullets cleared the propeller blades, but this made it hard to aim. After the Swiss engineer Franz Schneider patented his idea for an interrupter gear in 1913, a finished version was presented by Dutch designer Anthony Fokker, whose “synchronizer,” centered on a cam attached to the propeller shaft, allowed a machine gun to fire between the blades of a spinning propeller. The Germans adopted Fokker’s invention in May 1915, and the Allies soon produced their own versions. Schneider later sued Fokker for patent infringement.

6. Air traffic control

In the first days of flight, once a plane left the ground the pilot was pretty much isolated from the terrestrial world, unable to receive any information aside from obvious signals using flags or lamps. This changed thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Army, which installed the first operational two-way radios in planes during the Great War (but prior to U.S. involvement). Development began in 1915 at San Diego, and by 1916 technicians could send a radio telegraph over a distance of 140 miles radio telegraph messages were also exchanged between planes in flight. Finally, in 1917, for the first time a human voice was transmitted by radio from a plane in flight to an operator on the ground.

7. Depth Charges

The German U-boat campaign against Allied shipping sank millions of tons of cargo and killed tens of thousands of sailors and civilians, forcing the Allies to figure out a way to combat the submarine menace. The solution was the depth charge, basically an underwater bomb that could be lobbed from the deck of a ship using a catapult or chute. Depth charges were set to go off at a certain depth by a hydrostatic pistol that measured water pressure, insuring the depth charge wouldn’t damage surface vessels, including the launch ship. After the idea was sketched out in 1913, the first practical depth charge, the Type D, was produced by the Royal Navy’s Torpedo and Mine School in January 1916. The first German U-boat sunk by depth charge was the U-68, destroyed on March 22, 1916.

8. Hydrophones

Of course it was a big help if you could actually locate the U-boat using sound waves, which required a microphone that could work underwater, or hydrophone. The first hydrophone was invented by 1914 by Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor who actually started working on the idea as a way to locate icebergs following the Titanic disaster however, it was of limited use because it couldn’t tell the direction of an underwater object, only the distance. The hydrophone was further improved by the Frenchman Paul Langevin and Russian Constantin Chilowsky, who invented an ultrasound transducer relying on piezoelectricity, or the electric charge held in certain minerals: a thin layer of quartz held between two metal plates responded to tiny changes in water pressure resulting from sound waves, allowing the user to determine both the distance and direction of an underwater object. The hydrophone claimed its first U-boat victim in April 1916. A later version perfected by the Americans could detect U-boats up to 25 miles away.

9. Aircraft Carriers

The first time an airplane was launched from a moving ship was in May 1912, when commander Charles Rumney Samson piloted a Short S.27 pontoon biplane from a ramp on the deck of the HMS Hibernia in Weymouth Bay. However, the Hibernia wasn’t a true aircraft carrier, since planes couldn’t land on its deck they had to set down on the water and then be retrieved, slowing the whole process considerably. The first real aircraft carrier was the HMS Furious, which began life as a 786-foot-long battle cruiser equipped with two massive 18-inch guns—until British naval designers figured out that these guns were so large they might shake the ship to pieces. Looking for another use for the vessel, they built a long platform capable of both launching and landing airplanes. To make more room for takeoffs and landings, the airplanes were stored in hangars under the runway, as they still are in modern aircraft carriers. Squadron Commander Edward Dunning became the first person to land a plane on a moving ship when he landed a Sopwith Pup on the Furious on August 2, 1917.

10. Pilotless Drones

The first pilotless drone was developed for the U.S. Navy in 1916 and 1917 by two inventors, Elmer Sperry and Peter Hewitt, who originally designed it as an unmanned aerial bomb—essentially a prototype cruise missile. Measuring just 18.5 feet across, with a 12-horsepower motor, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Aircraft weighed 175 pounds and was stabilized and directed (“piloted” is too generous) with gyroscopes and a barometer to determine altitude. The first unmanned flight in history occurred on Long Island on March 6, 1918. In the end, the targeting technique—point and fly—was too imprecise for it to be useful against ships during the war. Further development, by attempting to integrate remote radio control, continued for several years after the war, until the Navy lost interest in 1925.

11. Mobile X-Ray Machines

With millions of soldiers suffering grievous, life-threatening injuries, there was obviously a huge need during the Great War for the new wonder weapon of medical diagnostics, the X-ray—but these required very large machines that were both too bulky and too delicate to move. Enter Marie Curie, who set to work creating mobile X-ray stations for the French military immediately after the outbreak of war by October 1914, she had installed X-ray machines in several cars and small trucks which toured smaller surgical stations at the front. By the end of the war there were 18 of these “radiologic cars” or “Little Curies” in operation. African-American inventor Frederick Jones developed an even smaller portable X-ray machine in 1919 (Jones also invented refrigeration units, air conditioning units, and the self-starting gasoline lawnmower).

12. Sanitary Napkins

Women traditionally improvised all kinds of disposable or washable undergarments to deal with their monthly period, all the way back to softened papyrus in ancient Egypt. But the modern sanitary napkin as we know it was made possible by the introduction of new cellulose bandage material during the First World War it wasn’t long before French nurses figured out that clean, absorbent cellulose bandages were far superior to any predecessors. British and American nurses picked up on the habit, and corporate America wasn’t far behind: In 1920, Kimberly-Clark introduced the first commercial sanitary napkin, Kotex (that’s “cotton” + “texture”). But it was rough going at first, as no publications would carry advertisements for such a product. It wasn’t until 1926 that Montgomery Ward broke the barrier, carrying Kotex napkins in its popular catalogue.


Watch the video: Ρυθμιστής υγραερίου με. (May 2022).