October 1916

October 1916

Verdun

On the 19th October, the French began a 4 day artillery barrage on Fort Douamont without causing too much destruction to the fabric of building. The French  discussed pre-planned preparations and extensive traini, followed by an attack on the Fort.  Ceasing the bombardment on the 22nd October 1916 the French troops began cheering from their trench lines. The Germans thought an attack by the French was imminent and prepared their defensive measures to repulse the coming onslaught, thus giving away their positions. The French immediately opened up another ranged artillery bombardment. Their infantry remained in their trenches for a further two days. However, on the 23rd October 1916 a massive French shell penetrated the roof of Fort Douamont. This was followed up by a second shell causing more damage. Holes were torn into the 8 feet thick concrete walls of Fort Douamont where they were penetrated by 400mm shells, killing most of the German defenders. Under cover of early morning mist on the morning of the 24th October 1916   the French attacked and re-captured Fort Douamont. The Germans had taken four and a half months to take Fort Douamont, whereas the French had taken one day to recover the ground lost.

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The Somme

The Battle of the Ancre Heights began on the 1st October 1916. The British army were positioned from Courcelette to Thiepval. The German army defended the Ancre Heights, by holding the Staufen-Riegel (Regina Trench), Schwaben-Feste (Schwaben Redoubt) and Staufen-Feste (Stuff Redoubt). Capturing the Heights required to be the over-running of individual trenches, rather than whole villages as before during the Somme campaign. The weather deteriorated as autumn turned to winter. Rain and constant artillery shelling had turned the ground to mud. Guns sank into the mire which required up to twelve horses to pull the guns clear. The troops were exhausted, soaked and shivering before struggling through the mud under heavy fire toward their barely seen objectives. The Germans fiercely fought constant attacks and counter-attacks which delayed the British from taking the Heights for more than a month. On the 9th October 1916, Stuff Redoubt was captured, and the Schwarben Redoubt was finally taken on the 14th October 1916. With the advantage of the higher terrain, British ground observation was now possible owing to the exposed flank position of the German forces. By the 21st October 1916, the German counter-attacks had been a series of costly failures while the British had managed to advance 500 yards (460 M) and take the eastern portion of Regina Trench. The exception being the last German foot-hold on Regina Trench. On the 22nd October 1916, the British began numerous attacks and counter-attacks, raids and trench patrolling until the 29th October 1916 when bad weather stopped all operations.

Following the Battle of Flers-Courcellette (15th to 22nd September 1916) the new British front line was under constant view from the heights of the Butte de Warlencourt. The Butte was a mound 50-60 feet (15-18 M) high and protected by many layers of barbed wire. The But is located with Bapaume to the north-east, Pozzieres to the south-west and the village of Le Sars to the south. An attack on the 7th October 1916 by the 1/8th London Regiment (London), the 1/15th London and the 1/7th London against the Butte was halted by machine gun fire. Several patrols were sent out to try to locate the 23rd Division which had in the meantime advanced along the main Albert-Bapaume road and captured the village of Le Sars.

German national hero Oswald Boelcke was killed during a dogfight over the Somme on the 28th October 1916. He crashed whilst flying his Albatros when he collided with another aircraft. Boelcke and the other pilot Erwin Boehme were pursuing the Same Royal Flying Corp aircraft. Boehlke was the first fighter pilot to be awarded The Pour le Merite (The Blue Max). By the end of 1915 he had scored 6 kills and by the end of June 1916 he was up to 19. Whilst commanding Jagdstaffel Justa 2 from the 2nd September to the 26th October 1916 he had shot down a further 11 bringing his total to 40 allied aircraft destroyed. He was buried with full military honours in Cambrai Cemetery of Honour in Dessau. The following day the British Royal Flying Corp dropped a wreath over Justa 2 for a chivalrous and honourable foe. His legacy was his example and teaching, with his star pupil being Manfred von Richthoffen the future “Red Baron”.

The weather during the month of October 1916 was appalling with it raining for no fewer than twenty days. Battlefield conditions had turned the ground into a quagmire of mud and shell holes, due to the heavy rains and continued artillery shelling. As autumn turned to winter the weather on the Somme deteriorated more.  By mid-October existence for the troops, both British and German, in the open, wet, muddy trenches became a test of endurance. The troops were exhausted, cold, wet and hungry as insufficient stores were able to reach the front line owing to the terrible conditions.

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The Eastern Front

 

At the end of the Brusilov Offensive against the Austro-Hungarian forces in September 1916, the Russia army had suffered nearly half a million casualties including 60,000 deserters by October 1916. Their army was exhausted and disillusioned by the losses. The civilian population also suffered massive deprivation, the main problem being food shortages and rising prices. Crime and strikes by the workers increased steadily, but the majority of the population endured the suffering. Government officials responsible for public order was concerned the patience of the lower class population would result in riots. The political unrest was blamed on Tsar Nicholas for the breakdown of the economy. Whatever support the Tsar still retained became disillusioned with the way the war was heading, which eventually led to the Russian Revolution of 1917.

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The Balkans

For much of the Great War, Greece had remained neutral despite the Greek King having pro-German sympathies. His wife was the sister of the German Kaiser. At the request of the Greek government the Allies had landed in Salonika to support the hard pressed Serbians in 1915, but the Greeks remained neutral. During September 1916 the Allies had organised a major show of naval strength to the Greek King and on the 10th Oct 1916 the allies seized the Greek fleet. The larger ships were demilitarised and one cruiser and many smaller ships were incorporated into the French navy.

The Romanian Second Army, which was the main central force, attacked the Austro-Hungarian force, from the 7th to 9th October 1916.  The attack was repulsed and the Romanians were forced to retreat. The Romanian 4th Army, attacking the northern part of the border, retreated without too much pressure from the Austro-Hungarian troops. After the successful assault into Transylvania and the inevitable counter-attack at the end of September 1916 the Romanian army began the retreat to the Vulcan and Turnu Rosu Passes. These passes are located on the southern section of Carpathian Mountains along the border. The Central Powers (Germany & Austro-Hungary) had massed large forces for the defence of the Carpathians, consisting mainly of Bavarian mountain troops who were ideally suited to this type of warfare. By the 14th October 1916, and faced with the threat of an attack the Romanian 1st Army offered strong resistance. Near the southern section of the border, in the region of Torgu Jiu, the town was supported by the civilian population, men, women and children. One of these citizens was Ecaterina Teodoroiu , who was to become the “Heroine of the Jiu”. By the 25th October 1916 the Romanian army was back to its original position prior to the Romanian assault into Transylvania. By the 29th October 1916, the German High Command had regrouped their forces in readiness for a renewed attack on the 1st November 1916, after the Romanian troops had halted the German advance on the Jiu valley.

Prior to Romania entering the Great War on the Allies side in 1916, Ecaterina Teodoroiu was to become a teacher. At 22 years old she initially worked as a nurse with the Scouting organisation, and as such was instrumental in moving and tending the wounded.  About that time she decided she wanted to become a front-line soldier. On the 14th October 1916 she joined the civilian and reserve soldiers fighting to repulse the German attack at Jiu River Bridge, as she was deeply impressed by the patriotism of the wounded who she was nursing. On the 30th October 1916 she travelled in her capacity as a nurse to the front-line to see her brother Nicolae who was a Sergeant in the Romanian 18th Infantry Regiment.

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The Caucasus and Middle East Campaign

On the 29th October 1916 Hussein ibn Al-Hashmi declared himself King of the Arab Countries. Hussein was a Hashemite Arab leader who was the Sharif and Emir of Mecca. He announced the Arab Revolt would begin against the Ottoman Empire. Despite the promise of support by the British for Arab independence, his aspirations were not accepted by the Allies who recognised him as King only of Hejaz (Modern day Saudi Arabia).

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Other Fronts

On the 1st October 1916, eleven airships left their air bases for the largest raid on London. Due to bad weather only seven actually crossed the English coast at Lowestoft. Conditions slowed six of the airships down but Zeppelin L31 commanded by Capitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy set out on a solitary course for London. At approximately 8.00 pm the ground searchlights caught L31 in their beams and to lighten the load Mathy dropped thirty high explosive and twenty six incendiary bombs over Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. The only casualty was one woman who was injured but not fatally. Three hundred houses were damaged and many glass-houses had their glass shattered. Still pinpointed by the searchlight beams and being fired upon by anti-aircraft batteries, L31 headed off toward the west. At approximately 11.45 pm Second Lieutenant Wulstan Tempest spotted L31 and closed with the airship firing his machine-gun along its length. A second attack under the tail and firing the gun along the length when he saw a glow from within the airship and flames shot out the front and the Zeppelin began to fall. Rather than burn to death Mathy, without a parachute, decided to jump. All members of the air-crew were killed. The bodies of the crew were buried in the local churchyard alongside the earlier crew of SL11 the first airship to be shot down and crash the previous September 1916.

German submarines were given permission to hunt for Allied merchant vessels on the 6th October 1916. The German authorities stressed the resumption of the attacks were on the condition the merchant vessels were warned before the attacks commenced.

Founded in 1910, the Imperial German Army Air Service entered service when the first military aircraft were acquired. On the 8th October 1916 the name was changed to Luftstreikrafte (Imperial German Flying Corp). Initially the aircraft were used for reconnaissance and artillery observation duties, but gradually air combat was established. The Western Front was the main focus of air combat and was to produce fighter pilots who were to become aces, with many serving in the Second World War Luftwaffe. Some of the well-known aces produced were Oswald Boelcke, Ernst Udet, Werner Voss, Max Immelmann, Manfred von Richthoffen and Herman Goering. After the defeat of Germany in 1918 under the Treaty of Versailles the Luftstreikrafte was dissolved and all military aircraft destroyed.

The Eighth Battle of Isonzo was fought from the 10th to 12th October 1916 and was essentially a continuation of the Seventh Battle of Isonzo. The Italians attacked the Austro-Hungarian forces in an attempt to extend the bridgehead in Gorizia. As with earlier attacks heavy Italian casualties necessitated a short, sharp concentrated initiative be employed to enable the army to recover their losses. The seemingly continuing onslaught at Isonzo was renewed on the 31st October 1916 with the Ninth Battle of Isonzo.

In late October 1916, the occupying German administration began the deportation of Belgian workers to Germany. At the beginning of the war in 1914, the conscription of German men created a man-power shortage in German factories. From mid-1915 Belgian civilians were encouraged to voluntarily enlist to work in Germany, but the 30,000 recruits were insufficient to meet demands. The military required more German troops and consequently factory labour declined leaving Germany with an even greater man-power shortage. German administration began to consider forcibly deporting Belgian workers to help solve the situation. The deportation began in October 1916 and continued until March 1917, but the 120,000 workers who had been deported proved to be insufficient to meet German needs. Economically the deportations had little effect, but politically, International widespread condemnation of the deportations helped to cause the rise of the Belgian resistance. By late 1917 most of the deported workers had returned to Belgium, influenced by pressure from other neutral powers.

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