JULY 1916

 

JULY 1916

 

The Somme

 

The morning of the 1st July 1916 was cloudless with a blue sky and a touch of mist. The British High Command believed the German wire had been cut and the German front line trenches completely destroyed, by the 5 day bombardment, along the 14 mile line scheduled for the attack. The British infantry was to walk across no-man’s land with full kit weighing approximately 66 lbs (30 kg). This flawed assumption was to write the death warrant for many British soldiers. The Artillery bombardment had failed because the wire was mostly intact and the German front line trenches had not been destroyed.

The British army suffered casualties of over 57.000 men, roughly equal to the population of Great Yarmouth. Of these 21,000 were either killed or missing. On no one day before or since have the British taken such losses, which number more than their total casualties in the Korean, Boer and Crimean wars combined.

At precisely 7.30 in the morning 60,000 British infantry, in four initial waves, left their lines and walked toward the German front line trenches. They were followed by succeeding waves of infantry which pressed on behind an artillery barrage. The Germans were alerted to the attack after a mine was exploded beneath Hawthorn Ridge, at 7.20am. The defenders were able to leave their dug-outs and set up their defensive machine gun positions for the British attack. By 8.30am they had inflicted more than 30,000 casualties.

One of the casualties was Second-Lieutenant Edward Brittain of the 10th Sherwood Foresters.

Upon going over the top, Brittain was wounded in his left arm, but continued to lead his men until a second wound to his right thigh disabled him. For this action he was awarded the Military Cross. He was eventually returned to England and spent nearly a year recuperating before returning to the Western Front. Edward was the brother of Vera Brittain, and great friend of Vera’s fiancée Roland Leighton who had been killed in action in December 1915.

Meanwhile, the Royal Flying Corps had temporary air supremacy and so were able to largely prevent German observations on the British lines and also carry out extensive aerial reconnaissance over the German trenches.

By the end of the day very little ground had been gained by the British. The French army, however, attacking south of the river Somme had more success. They took all of their objectives, as well as 4000 German prisoners. In places they advanced approximately 2km (one and a quarter miles). Their success could not be exploited because of the slow progress, by the British, north of the River Somme,

The medical services, not expecting such large losses, were incapable of caring for all the wounded, also there were insufficient ambulance trains to evacuate the thousands of serious cases to base hospitals.

On the 2nd July 1916, there was evidence that Sir Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, did not have a clear picture of how badly the previous day’s attack had been. This was due to reports arriving at Haig’s headquarters, either too late or contradicting one another. Any good news was emphasised by more experienced officers. Bad news was more likely to arrive from inexperienced officers. A meeting between senior commanders resulted in the order “to devote all energies” to capture the key position of Fricourt, which was based very close to the French lines. The attack on Fricourt was successful, but very heavy casualties dampened the rare good news of the British success in the Fricourt Salient.

 

From the 2nd July 1916, the most successful attacks were nearest to the French sector and General Sir Hubert Gough’s Reserve Army began to assume responsibility for the battles for the woods in an attempt to capture part of the German second line of defence.

Bernafay Wood was captured with few difficulties on the 3rd July.

 

After the British captured La Boiselle on the 4th July 1916 and Ovillers on the 17th July1916 an advance was made to threaten the rear of the German held village of Thiepval.

 

The first professional footballer to enlist at the beginning of the war was Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell, of the 9th Yorkshire (Green Howards). He attacked and destroyed a German machine-gun post on the 5th July 1916. He was supported by Corporal Colwill and Private Batey. For this action Bell was awarded the Victoria Cross. Unfortunately Bell was killed in action on 10th July 1916.

 

Mametz Wood proved to be more problematical than Bernafay Wood, when attacked on the 7th July 1916. Fallen trees felled by the artillery barrage together with the dense undergrowth caused the attack to stall. The wood was finally cleared of Germans on the 12th July 1916 after another successful Allied attack on the 10th July 1916.

 

Meanwhile, an evening attack by the 8th & 9th Green Howards of the 23rd Division, resulted in the capture of Contalmaison on the 10th July 1916.

After the village was captured the German dug-outs in the Chateau cellars were used as an Advanced Dressing Station.

 

A night attack on Bazentin Ridge was launched by the British on the 14th July 1916. Advancing nearly 1,000 yards, the Allies failed to take advantage when   disorganization and lack of communication meant they waited too long to deploy cavalry. The Germans regrouped their defences and halted the Allied advance. Two days later the British once again penetrated the German line and advanced toward High Wood but were forced to retreat.

 

The Battle for Delville Wood [Devil’s Wood] was launched on the 15th July 1916 by South African Forces, and was one of the most gruelling and gruesome battles of the entire Somme fighting. The British finally assisted the South Africans in the capture of Delville Wood on the 28th July 1916, but German persistence to recapture the wood continued until early September 1916.

 

British attacks began at High Wood on the 20th July 1916 which continued until the final capture on the 15th September 1916.

 

Battle for the woods took place south of the Albert-Bapaume Road and similar gains were made north of the road. On the 23rd July 1916 the Australian Expeditionary Force launched an offensive for Pozieres village and the mill at the top of the ridge. Allied communications hindered the attack, which, instead of being a co-ordinated effort, degenerated into a series of separate engagements. The ridge was finally captured on the 5th August 1916 at the expense of heavy Australian casualties.

 

By the 31st July 1916, the British and French forces had sustained 200,000 casualties. The German forces had sustained 160,000 casualties mainly because of German insistence of counter-attacking to retake the lost ground.

 

 

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Verdun

 

 

The German preparatory bombardment on Fort Souville, using poison gas, began on the 9th July 1916 in attempt to incapacitate the French artillery. An attack by the Germans began on the 11th July 1916 in which the infantry was bunched onto the path leading to Fort Souville. French artillery and machine gun fire reduced the attack to a handful of German soldiers who reached the top of the fort.

 

Following an unsuccessful attempt to absorb Fort Souville, Chief of the German general staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, ordered his field commanders to hold their ground on the 11th July 1916. He had been forced to switch some artillery to the Somme region. After six months of attacking the French, the Germans were forced on the defensive.

 

On the 12th July 1916, a small French counter-attack forced the German survivors to retreat to their starting lines or to be captured.

 

The Germans were able to gain some additional ground over the next two days, but these were re-taken when the French counter-attacked on Bastille Day, the 14th July 1916.

Although a German victory appeared to be a possibility, but not a certainty owing to the enormous casualties sustained by both sides, the battle was to continue until December 1916

 

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The Eastern Front and the Balkans

 

 

In Armenia, the Turkish army launched a counter-offensive against the Russians on the 15th July 1916.

 

After being transported from Corfu to Salonica the Serbian Army was in a position to go into action alongside the allies on the 15th July 1916.

 

On the 25th July 1916, the Serbian army returns to action on the Salonica front.

 

The Brusilov Offensive was the direct result of the French request to take pressure off Verdun. The Battle for Kowel commenced on the 28th July 1916, and the southern front of the Russian army was to take Kowel, which was an important Austrian railway centre. Owing to General Alexei Ewart delaying his manoeuvre to attack the retreating Austrian/Hungarian forces, General Erich Ludendorff had organised  re-enforcements to assist the Austrian/Hungarian army. The strategy was for Ewart to take Kowel, but the initiative was lost as the Russian GHQ had transferred troops to Brusilov’s southwestern forces. The assumption was that the additional troops would assist in fully exploiting the success of the initial attack. The Germans became aware of the Russian troop movement, and prepared a counter attack to the south. The Battle continued and finally ground to a halt on the 10th August 1916 owing to the Austrian, German and Russian armies becoming exhausted. Russian casualties numbered more than half a million, whilst the Austrians had 375,000 men taken prisoner of war, excluding their dead and wounded.

Strategically the Central Powers were weakened on the Italian front and at Verdun. The Austrians withdrew troops from the Italian front to fight the Russian Brusilov Offensive. The Germans were forced to transfer forces from Verdun, allowing the French to maintain their successful defence. The offensive ruined Austria/Hungary were diminished as a major military force.

Although the offensive assisted the Allies on the Western Front, morale of the Russian nation was low, both military and civilian. This eventually led to the Russian revolution and Russia seeking an armistice in 1917.

 

On the 29th July 1916, the axis powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria agree to military action against Romania.

 

 

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The Caucasus and Middle East Campaign

 

 

The second Turkish advance on the Suez Canal began on the 19th July 1916 and culminated in the battle of Romani. The Battle of Romani was the last ground attack of the Central Powers on the Suez Canal.

 

The city of Erzincan was taken during the Caucasus Campaign by the Russian Army on the 25th July 1916. Erzincan was the headquarters of Turkish 3rd Army commanded by Kerim Pasha. The Russian General Nikolai Yudenich led the Russian Caucasus Army capturing Mama Hatun on the 12th July 1916. Advancing through the heights of Naglika and the Duram Durasi River they approached Erzincan on the 25th July 1916. The city was taken in two days and was relatively undamaged with Yudenich seizing large quantities of supplies. Yudenich made no more significant advances, other than the strategic advantages gained from this victory. Due to Russian reverses further north, Yudenich had his forces gradually reduced to replace losses sustained elsewhere.

 

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Other Fronts

 

On the 7th July 1916, David Lloyd George inherited the late Lord Kitchener’s position as British Secretary of state for War. Kitchener was drowned at sea in June 1916 whilst on a diplomatic mission to Russia.

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The German submarine U-35, commanded by Captain Lothar Arnauld de la Periere, embarked on her fourteenth patrol in the Western Mediterranean on 26th July 1916.

Whilst on her twenty day mission, U-35 stands as the most successful submarine patrol of all time. During that period, 54 merchant ships totalling 90,000 tons were sunk.

Captain de la Periere undertook a total of fifteen missions, sinking 189 ships totalling 440,000 tons.

Famous for his scrupulous adherence to naval warfare, de la Periere sank the merchant ships after allowing their crews board their lifeboats and giving directions to the nearest port.

 

On the 30th July 1916, German agents, in America, sabotaged the Johnson Barge No 17 which was tied up to the pier at “Black Tom” Island. The barge was loaded with munitions destined for the Allies in Europe. “Black Tom” Island is situated in New York harbour next to Liberty Island, which houses the Statue of Liberty.

“Black Tom” Island was a major munition depot, which until 1915 could sell to any buyer, only Allied powers were able to purchase munitions from 1915, and since the Royal Navy had blockaded Germany, agents were sent across to America to obstruct production and delivery of war munitions to the Allies.

After midnight a series of small fires were discovered on the jetty and the explosion took place just after 2.0am The explosion was the equivalent of an earthquake measuring between 5.0 and 5.5 on the Richter Scale, causing extensive damage to property with fragments being scattered over a mile away. To this day the death toll is unknown

 

British forces continue their advance through German East Africa with the capture of Kilimatinde on 31st July 1916.

 

Zeppelin raids against England’s East Coast targets had been part of German strategy since the beginning of the war. On two successive nights in July 1916, two Zeppelins dropped bombs on London, which resulted in the loss of 40 civilian lives including women and children

 

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