September 1916

September 1916

Verdun

The French advanced on the German positions with an attack on both flanks at Fleury on the 3rd September 1916. They advanced several hundred metres and German counter-attacks were unsuccessful. These counter-attacks effectively ended the German offensive at Verdun. Paul von Hindenburg had been promoted to Chief of the General Staff in August 1916, and together with his deputy Erich Ludendorff, ordered the German army to go on the defensive.

 

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The Somme

The battle for the village of Guillemont began on the 3rd September 1916. Guillemont is located with Longueval & Delville Wood to the north-west, Ginchy to the north- east, Combles to the east and Montaubon to the south-west. Guillemont was close to the boundary of the Anglo-French attack on the north side of the River Somme. For the French and British armies to co-ordinate properly the capture of Guillemont was essential. The southern part of the attack suffered very heavy casualties. The French artillery had been stuck in the Combles Ravine and were not able to give support with their expected bombardment. The British captured Guillemont on the 6th September 1916, which gave them access to the German second line.

On the 9th September 1916, the British began an early morning bombardment against the German held village of Ginchy. Waiting until late afternoon to attack, the British denied the Germans time to counter-attack before dark. The attack to the south reached Bureaux Wood but the attack to the centre was repulsed. Ginchy was captured by the British on the northern flank and consolidated after many counter-attacks were repulsed. The loss of Guillemont and Ginchy deprived the Germans of their observation posts from which they could observe the battlefield. By taking Guillemot and Ginchy the British straightened the Allied line and eliminated the salient around Delville wood. It also enabled the Allies to gain observation of the German third line.

 

Launched on the 15th September 1916 the Battle of Flers-Courcelette lasted for a week until the 22nd September 1916. The objective was to cut a hole in the German line with massed artillery and infantry attacks. The Allied infantry consisting of British, Canadian and New Zealand forces made significant gains on the first day, accompanied by tanks, and behind a creeping artillery barrage. This was the first use of tanks in warfare. Of the 49 tanks ordered to start the attack in an effort to assist the infantry, only 25 made the start. Although the use of tanks proved to be a psychological boost they proved to have little advantage as they were prone to mechanical failures. Only 9 actually reached the German lines and they were hard pressed to travel as fast as a soldiers walking pace owing to the undulating cratered battlefield. The tanks were a complete surprise to the Germans but the Allied forces were not able to force a breakthrough of the enemy’s lines. However, the villages of Courcelette, Martinpuch and Flers were captured and in some places the Allie’s had advanced their front by over 2,500 yds. (2,300 mts) by the 22nd September 1916. In the event of a breakthrough it was expected that the underused cavalry would charge through and take the lines from the rear. Instead of a mobile war, the Somme reverted back to trench warfare and with the onset of the autumn wet weather, the conditions for the troops in the trenches deteriorated dramatically.

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette marked the debut of the Canadian and New Zealand divisions on the Somme battlefield. However, one region of Canada had been in action. The 1st Battalion the Newfoundland Regiment was in the attack on the 1st July 1916 and suffered something like 60% casualties.

 

Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron”, recorded his first air combat victory on the 17th September 1916. He went on to become the greatest German fighter ace of the Great War with a total of 80 victories. Richthofen first entered the war as a cavalryman in the Uhlan Regiment Number 1. After serving on the Russian front, he was transferred to the Western Front. He requested to join a flying unit and was accepted. At first he was a back-seat observer in a reconnaissance plane, before beginning pilot training. After qualifying as a pilot he was allocated an Albatros BII reconnaissance. In August 1916, Richthofen met the 40 victory ace Oswalde Boelcke, who was recruiting fliers for a new Jagdstaffel (Justa 2) squadron. Boelcke took Richthofen back with him to the Somme. During the first mission of Justa 2 on the 17th September 1916 Richthofen shot down an English Fe-2 two-seater biplane. Both of the English crew were wounded, but the observer died after the aircraft grounded, and the pilot was transported to the nearest dressing station.

 

Raymond Asquith, eldest son of the British Prime Minister (H.H.Asquith) was killed on the first day of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (15th September 1916). He was leading an attack when he was shot in the chest, and to encourage his men he lit up a cigarette but died on the way to a dressing station.  Also killed was the Conservative politician Charles Duncombe, 2nd Earl of Feversham, whilst the future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was seriously wounded.

On the 25th September 1916, British and French troops renewed their attacks north of the Somme River. With the British again successfully using tanks, the attacking forces captured several villages including Thiepval. Following these successes, however, heavy rains turned the entire battlefield to mud, preventing further effective advances.

 

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The Balkans

After Romania had reached an agreement to join the Allies, Bulgaria declared war on Romania on the 1st September 1916. Romanian forces had a successful offensive against Austro-Hungary through the Carpathian Mountains advancing 50 miles into Transylvania.

 

The Danube army began the counter-attack on the 1st September 1916, after Romania had successfully driven the Austro-Hungarian forces back toward Hungary during August 1916. The Danube army consisted of a multi-nation force composed of the Bulgarian Third Army, a German Brigade and two divisions of the Ottoman VI Corps under the command of Field Marshall August von Mackensen. The Danube army remained south of the River Danube. The initial success of the Romanian army against the Austro- Hungarian forces was quickly undermined when Germany re-enforced the Astro-Hungarian forces and began advancing toward the River Danube from the north. In the meantime Bulgarian forces advanced northwards heading toward the River Danube. The Romanian garrison of Turtucaia was encircled and surrendered on the 6th September 1916 at the conclusion of the Battle of Turtucaia. The remaining Romanian army had to withdraw under pressure from superior enemy forces. Some of Mackensen’s success was due to the fact the Allies had failed in their obligation to supply sufficient war materials. On the 15th September 1916 the Romanian offensive against the Austro-Hungarian forces was halted, and the Romanian War Council decided to cancel the offensive in Transylvania.  With the assistance of the Russians they concentrated on the Mackensen Danube forces instead. Fighting was furious, with attacks and counter-attacks until the 20th September 1916 when the Romanians halted the Danube army. It was almost, but not quite stalemate.

 

On the 12th September 1916, an Allied offensive was launched against the Bulgarians from Salonika. The Allied forces consisted of French, British and the recently re-equipped Serbian army. Sergeant Flora Sands, an English lady serving in the ranks was part of the Serbian army. The Allies retook some ground lost by the retreat of the Serbian army earlier in the year. They were not able to aid the Romamians who were being hard pressed by the German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces in the north.

For the French and the British the western front was the main theatre of war. They may well have considered the Salonika Front to be a side-show. However, the Serbians represented the nation in exile returning to their homeland. The campaign exposed both sides to the extremes of weather and disease and the battle casualties were out-numbered by the non-battle casualties by a ratio of twenty to one. After this campaign, neither Serbia, Bulgaria nor Austro-Hungary had very little influence in the outcome of the war

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On the 18th September 1916, Erich von Falkenhayn, the recently replaced “Germany’s Chief of Staff”, assumed overall command of the Danube army and started his own counter-offensive. This offensive halted any further Romanian advance and on the 29th September 1916 the outnumbered Romanian army began retreating to the Vulcan and Turnu Rosu passes.

 

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Other Fronts

On the 2/3rd September 1916, a flight of 16 German airships flew on a mass raid over London. William Leefe Robinson was patrolling in a converted B.E.2c night fighter aircraft and spotted a wooden-framed Schutte-Lanz airship. He attacked the airship from below at an altitude of 11,000 ft. (3,000 mts) and at approximately 500 ft. (150 mts) range he raked the airship with machine-gun fire. Whilst preparing for another attack the airship burst into flames and crashed in a field behind the “The Plough” at Cuffley in Hertfordshire. The airship commander Hauptmann Wilhelm Scramm and his 15 man crew were all killed. The action was witnessed by many Londoners, and this showed the German airship threat could be overcome. For this action William Leefe Robinson was awarded the Victoria Cross and it was presented to him by the King at Windsor Castle.

On the 4th September 1916, Dar as Salaam and all the coastal German held East Africa, was taken by General Jan Christian Smuts and his South African forces. Smuts was the South African leader who had led the Boers against the British during the Boer War. At the onset of the Great War, reconciled South Africa fought on the side of the Allies in Africa. Smuts was the Allied Commander in East Africa. He was chasing Lt. Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, Commander of the German forces in East Africa, and his 4500 askaris and 260 white troops south into Portuguese East Africa. By using mobile guerrilla tactics, Lettow-Vorteck’s vastly outnumbered force continuously evaded the South Africans and the British, after he had invaded British East Africa in 1914. Lettow-Vorbeck remained undefeated till the end of the war.

The Seventh Battle of the Isonzo was a short sharp encounter fought from the 14th to the 18th September 1916. The Italian Chief of Staff, Luigi Cadorna shifted his strategy from a broad-based diversionary attack to tightly focused initiatives directed against a single target. The Italians attempted to extend their newly-won bridgehead by attacking the south-east corner of the town of Gorizia.  However, the attack was called off after four days of heavy casualties on the 18th September 1916. The Italians success of the Sixth Battle of Isonzo was not repeated despite the greater concentration of resources upon a single target. However, Cadorna’s continued offensive along the Isonzo gradually wore away the Austro-Hungarian manpower and artillery resources. And as each battle followed the Italian war of attrition seemed ever more likely to wear the Austro-Hungarians into defeat unless their German allies granted them assistance. The Eighth Battle of Isonzo began on the 10th October 1916.

On the Western Front during the 19th September 1916, Belgian forces advanced under a co-ordinated attack into Flanders. This was the first time the Belgians were in a position to achieve this. They were supported by the Canadians and British armies. The Canal du Nord was crossed under a creeping barrage of artillery shelling. This barrage was preceded by a 24 hour barrage which had fired almost a million rounds of ammunition.

On the Eastern front, the Brusilov Offensive ground to a halt on the 20th September 1916. Since its launch in early June 1916, four Russian armies under the command of General Alexei Brusilov had swept eastward up to 60 miles deep along a 300 mile front while capturing 350,000 Austro-Hungarian troops. But by the end of the summer, the Germans brought in reserves from the Western Front and placed the surviving Austro-Hungarian troops under German command. The Russian attack withered after the loss of nearly a million men amid insufficient reserves. The humiliating withdrawal from the hard-won areas wrecked Russian morale, fuelling political and social unrest in Russia, which led to the Russian Revolution and the eventual seeking of an armistice in 1917. Austro-Hungary never again played a significant role in the war, leaving Germany to fight virtually alone for the final two years of the war. Austro-Hungary’s role was reduced to holding trench positions against the weaker Italians.

 

During the month of September 1916, the Germans continued with a bombing campaign on London and the East coast. Hand-held bombs were more of a nuisance with the material damage being relatively light, although the civilian population was becoming more concerned over the casualties incurred. The German airships began to be more vulnerable as the British had developed incendiary bullets. Also the British used ever increasing numbers of anti-aircraft guns as a defensive counter-measures against German air attacks.

 

On the 23rd September 1916, Zeppelins L-32 and L-33 were destroyed during a raid over Britain. L-32 engaged with 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey in his Be2c aircraft who fired three drums of incendiary bullets and succeeded in starting a fire in the hydrogen-filled Zeppelin, which quickly spread to the entire airship. L-32 came down in flames at Great Burstead in Essex with the loss of the whole crew. L-33 dropped a few incendiaries over Upminster in Essex and headed toward London. Anti-aircraft guns open fired and L-33 was hit by a shell. Gradually losing height and heading now toward Chelmsford L-33 eventually was forced to the ground at Little Wigborough in Essex. The airship was set alight and the crew headed south and were arrested by police at Peldon in Essex.

 

On the 24th September 1916, French and British aircraft bombed the Krupp Works in Essen in Germany. The Allied attack was a retaliation raid for the German raids on France and England as Krupp manufactured the majority of German artillery equipment.

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