NOVEMBER 1916

 

               

NOVEMBER 1916

Verdun

The French attack of the 25th October 1916 had failed to capture Fort Vaux, but after a week-long heavy artillery bombardment the Germans evacuated the fort on the 2nd November 1916. The evacuation took place after a 220mm shell caused a huge explosion. The French had overheard a German wireless message announcing the departure and a French infantry company entered the fort without a shot being fired. The town of Verdun was finally safe. The battle continued until mid-December 1916 when the Germans finally accepted their campaign was over.

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The Somme

The Reserve Army of Commander Sir Hubert Gough began a surprise attack, in the fog, on Beaumont Hamel on the 13th November 1916. Following the blowing of a new mine at the old Hawthorn Ridge with 30,000 lbs of explosive which doubled the size of the hole, Major-General Sir George Montague Harper’s 51st (Highland) Division captured Beaumont Hamel. In the meantime, New Zealander Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Freyberg, commanding the Hood Battalion of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division took Beaucourt. Freyberg led his men, although wounded three times, into the German lines. For this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The Battles of the Somme and Ancre Heights ended on the 19th November 1916 when the first snow began to fall. The British and French decided to cease the offensive owing to the adverse conditions. The Germans had been pushed back a few miles along the 15 mile front, but the breakthrough the Allies had hoped for on the 1st July 1916 never occurred. The casualty figures were horrendous. The Germans had between 500,000 and 600,000 killed, wounded, missing and prisoners. The French suffered over 200,000 casualties, while the British suffered over 400,000 of whom 128,000 died. What was hoped to achieve in early July 1916 took five months and the small gains achieved were at the cost of over 1,000,000 casualties.

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Eastern Front

On the 5th November 1916, the Kingdom of Poland was created by the Germans in order to attempt to legitimise its military occupation. In 1915 German soldiers had arrived as liberators to free Poland from subjugation from Russia. An Act of November 5 was issued which promised that a Polish state would be created, but did not specify any future ruler. They would, however, be governed by the German Parliament. In reality Poland was seen as a “buffer state” by Germany against Russia.

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The Balkans

Along the Romanian/Austro-Hungarian border, Romanian Ecaterina Teodoroiu “The Heroine of Jiu”, sought to join her brother’s 18th Infantry Regiment on the 1st November 1916. Her brother Nicolae, a sergeant, was killed by a shell on the same day.  She was accepted and eager for revenge, she soon proved her worth with her military skills. On the night of the 3rd/4th November 1916 she was captured whilst fighting in the mountains. With a concealed revolver she killed the German soldier who was guarding her, allowing her to escape whilst sustaining light wounds. On the 6th November 1916 she was involved in skirmishes where she was again wounded in both legs from an enemy shell. She was in hospital until the end of January 1917. ,

On the 1st November 1916, the Germans who were assisting the Austro-Hungarian forces launched a more powerful attack against Targu Jiu, and the Romanians could not repel the attack. By Mid-November 1916 Targu Jiu was captured by the Germans, and by continuing their advance they occupied the regional capital Craiova on the 21st November 1916. By the 27th November 1916 the German army had pushed the Romanian forces back onto the plains and began their advance toward Bucharest, the Romanian capital.

On the 21st November 1916, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef died in Vienna. He died a few days before the 68th Anniversary of his coming to the throne. He was succeeded by his great-nephew Karl. Archduke Franz Ferdinand would have inherited the throne had he not gone to Sarajevo on the 28th July 1914 and been assassinated.

During the Salonika Campaign, on the 19th November 1916, the Allies took the Serbian town of Monastir. The offensive began on the 12th September 1916. The terrain was extremely rough and difficult but Allied forces made steady gains despite heavily defended Bulgarian positions. The Bulgarians assisted by the German troops were forced to abandon Monastir to the Allies, where they lost 60,000 troops either killed or captured. The Allied forces had advanced the front 25 miles (40km). Winter conditions brought the offensive to a halt, although it was not officially called off until 11th December 1916.

In the offensive during the Salonika Campaign, in the mountains along the Serbia/Greece border the Serbian army was approaching Monastir on the 16th November 1916. Sergeant Flora Sandes, an English lady serving in the Serbian army, was waiting for the attack to begin against the defending Bulgarian army. As the Serbians moved forward they encountered some advanced Bulgarian troops and one threw a hand-grenade. Flora was seriously wounded in her right arm and down the right side of her body. While she lay injured her comrades had retreated. Lieutenant Doditch realised she was missing, along with Sergeant Milosh and five other soldiers they went back to search for her. Doditch found her and dragged her to safety behind some rocks. While the five soldiers gave them covering fire, Doditch and Milosh carried her to safety in an improvised stretcher. Such was the esteem she had with the regiment the rescue party recovered her rather than leave her on the ground to be left in the hands of the Bulgarians who were not merciful to wounded enemy soldiers. Recovering in a field hospital on the 30th November 1916, an aide-de-camp to Crown Prince Aleksander visited. She was awarded the Kara George Star, Serbia’s highest military award, for her gallantry in action and her devotion to Serbia’s cause. The award of this medal provided her with an automatic promotion to Sergeant-Major. She was to learn later that Lieutenant Doditch had also been awarded the Kara George Star for his part in rescuing her. This was the second medal she had been awarded. At the outbreak of war in 1914 Flora had volunteered as a nurse with the Anglo-American Medical Unit to serve in Serbia. She befriended Miss Emily Simmons and together they served until Serbia was forced to retreat into Salonika, and then they went their separate ways. In January 1916, Flora received a telegram from Miss Simmons requesting they meet in Durazzo.  They met and were duly presented to Crown Prince Aleksander, who decorated both women with The Order of St Sava Forth Class as recognition of their services to Serbia.            

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Other Fronts

The mountainous Italian/Austro-Hungarian border is a formidable barrier. The Italians attempted to achieve a breakthrough at the commencement of the Ninth Battle of Isonzo on the 1st December 1916. When the battle ended on the 4th December 1916 both sides prepared for a lengthy break for the winter. At the conclusion of the Sixth Battle of Isonzo in May 1916 where the Italians seized Gorizia, the subsequent battles of attrition were short duration skirmishes (each less than a week). The Austro-Hungarian line was increasingly being stretched whereupon they had to call on their German allies to provide military assistance. The Tenth Battle of Isonzo did not commence until May 1917, giving both armies time to recoup the casualties suffered, 75,000 for the Italians and 63,000 for the Austro-Hungarians.

American President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected on the 7th November 1916 narrowly defeating his Republican rival Charles E Hughes. Wilson campaigned on keeping America out of a European war with the slogan “He kept us out of the war”. However that was about to change, but in the meantime he was seeking to propose peace terms between the opposing European sides.

On the 28th November 1916, a lone German Gotha aircraft dropped six bombs on London. This assault inspired the Germans to create a special bombing squadron dedicated to bombing of England. The squadron’s official title was HQ Kagoul 3 but was appropriately named the “England Squadron”. Both Gotha and Zeppelin Staaken (Giant) bombers were employed in its final form by the squadron, however, most of the later bombing raids were made by Gotha aircraft.

Sir John Jellicoe was appointed First Sea Lord in late November 1916 and Sir David Beatty was given command of the Grand Fleet. Beatty, aged 45 years was promoted to acting Admiral and commanded three Vice-Admirals and six Rear-Admirals. The Grand Fleet consisted of 24 battleships, 3 battlecruisers and a large number of smaller ships.  In his position as First Sea Lord Jellicoe opposed the introduction of conveys for merchant shipping. This procedure was eventually undertaken as a method of protection for merchant shipping with convoys of war ships. As the navy’s primary task was to maintain an economic sea blockade of Germany he worked hard to create an Admiralty Anti-Submarine Division, but effective counter-measures took a long time to materialise.

In late November 1916, Winston Churchill arrived in France as Lieutenant Colonel commanding a battalion of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers. After the Dardanelles Campaign and the retreat from Gallipoli in January 1916, Churchill lost his position of First Lord of the Admiralty and returned to Parliament. He accepted an obscure Cabinet post without any formal duties and was not able to influence any military decisions. He sought permission to retire from the Government and then requested to be posted to France. The reluctance of the battalion to accept a failed politician as a commander was soon overcome by his military experience, knowledge and personality.

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