News from the WW1HA seminar: The presentations

Presentation Abstracts

World War One Historical Association and League of WWI Aviation Historians

2015 Collaboration Symposium

Jack Tunstall – Eastern Front 1915 (With an Eye on Aerial Ops)

Kelley Szany – In the Shadow of War: Armenian Genocide 1915-1918

The genocide of the Armenians by the Turkish government during World War I represented one of the first genocides of the 20th century; almost an entire nation was destroyed.  The Armenian people were effectively eliminated from the homeland they had occupied for nearly 3000 years.  This annihilation was premeditated and planned and to be carried out under the cover of war.  Over one million Armenians died (estimated at 1.5 million) and their traditional homeland was depopulated.  A homogenous Turkish state- one people, one language, one religion, was created by the extermination of the original Armenian inhabitants.

Jon Guttman – Through, Above, and Around: Arming the First Allied Fighters in 1915

Before the end of 1914, all combatants in World War I were taking the airplane seriously enough to seek control of the sky. After numerous encounters and experiments, 1915 saw the establishment of what became the definitive formula for an aerial weapon: a single-seater with a machine gun that could be aimed wherever the pilot pointed his plane. The problem of the year was how to do that without shooting off propeller off, which the Germans ultimately solved with mechanical interrupter gear and the Allies by several additional means, from wedge-shaped deflectors, raised gun mountings and repositioning the propeller behind the pilot.

Dick Church – The Kaiser’s U-Boats: Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, the Lusitania, and Will They Bring America into the War?

This presentation will cover U-Boat types and their missions in the War.  The topics will include: the major attacks by U-boats; the Lusitania sinking and ramifications in 1915; prominent commanders of the Great War; anti-submarine efforts by the Allies; unrestricted submarine warfare; and the final defeat of the U-boats and their return in WWII.

Steve Suddaby – Aerial Bombing 1914-1915: Crossing the Rubicon with Baby Steps

Pre-WWI attitudes against the bombing of civilians had been completely discarded by the time of WW2, which featured the near-eradication of enemies’ cities from the air. This presentation shows, through the events of 1914-1915, how the European powers “crossed the Rubicon” from one set of attitudes to the other. Other themes that will be explored include:

  • Immaturity of aviation technology;
  • Experimental nature of bombing aviation in WWI;
  • Evolution of air forces from general purpose to specialized units;
  • Role of naval aviation in advancing aerial bombing.

John Mosier – Western Front 1915

Lance Bronnenkant – Early German Aces & the Interrupter Mechanism

“Early German Aces and the Interruptor Mechanism” presents the story of how the development of a practical method of allowing machine-gun bullets to be fired through the arc of a spinning propeller changed the face of aerial warfare forever. A certain group of German airmen helped this nascent technology evolve into such a lethal and effective weapon that the period that followed its debut became known as ‘The Fokker Scourge,’ which in turn caused a chain reaction that led to the birth of fighter aviation as we know it today. The stories of those pioneer aviators, supplemented by numerous period photographs, are told as well.

Paul Grasmehr – The Naval and Aviation Aspects of the Gallipoli Campaign: Expeditionary Warfare in a Time of Emerging Doctrine

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Remembering Neuve-Chapelle

By Steve Miller
Britain’s first offensive of 1915 began a century ago today at Neuve-Chapelle. Although it might be deemed a minor success, major lessons of trench warfare were written here and reinforced by further battles in 1915. These included:
1. Loss of communications due to enemy shelling which destroyed the telephone lines.
2. Insufficient artillery preparation.
3. Immediate German counterattacks which might nullify any gains.
4. High casualties, on the order of 28 percent in this battle. I cite it as an early example of the futility of khaki uniforms and bayonets against barbed wire and machine guns.
Neuve-Chapelle is southwest of Lille. The Memorial to the Army of India and its missing from 1914-18 is located at the roundabout intersection of the routes D171 & D947.
Neuve Chapelle 1
On the panels inside the monument itself are the names of 4742 Indians who have no known grave.
Neuve Chapelle

Book Review: “The Hidden Threat”

German fleet surrendering to the English. First German U-boat near the Towerbridge. London, England, 1918.

German fleet surrendering to the English. First German U-boat near the Towerbridge. London, England, 1918.

The Hidden Threat: The Story of Mines and Minesweeping by the Royal Navy in World War I, by Jim Crossley, Pen & Sword, 2011, 168 pages, charts, diagrams, photos, index, ISBN 978 1 8488 4272 4, $39.95 cloth.

Review by Len Shurtleff

Mines were first (unsuccessfully) employed in naval warfare during the American Revolution. They were far more effective during the American Civil War when mines (or torpedoes as they were then called) sank some 22 vessels. Mines were also used to protect German harbors during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Traditionally thought of as a defensive weapon employed by the weaker adversary, mines came into their own as an offensive weapon in Japanese hands against Russia in 1904-05. Their use was expanded significantly during World War I, first by Germany and Turkey, then by Great Britain

Employing speedy converted destroyers and armed passenger liners, Germany mined the approaches to British fleet anchorages and ports beginning in August 1914. Russia used mines to defend her main Baltic bases. The Germans developed several classes of mine-laying submarines some of which had enough range to reach American shores. Turkish-laid fields of mines in the narrows off the Dardanelles sank or badly damaged several British and French battleships in 1915.

Faced with the proven effectiveness of this silent weapon, the Royal Navy responded by creating a fleet of small minesweeping trawlers, drifters and paddle steamers manned by fishermen and other reservist crews. By 1916, they had also mounted a major mining campaign of their own along the German coast, in the Dover Straits and English Channel expanding these in 1917 and 1918 to the North Sea between Norway and the northern most Scottish islands. Most of the 70,000 mines in this Northern Barrage aimed at containing German U-boats were laid by the US Navy from converted civilian coastal liners.

Their effectiveness was disappointing. At the most the Northern Barrage sank six U-boats.

Mines laid in the eastern North Sea were far more effective in supporting the British Grand Fleet in pinning the German High Seas Fleet in its bases while the maritime trade blockade gradually eroded Germany’s ability to sustain a war of attrition on the Western Front.

 

Poppies at the Tower

Here are the photos I took at the Tower of London of the art installation “Blood Swept Lands and Sea of Red.” I photographed the workers installing poppies, people watching and the spill of poppies from the Tower onto the moat.

It was very moving to walk around and overhear conversations: My granddad was in the King’s Rifles, my great-uncle was in the Navy, my grandmother always said, and more.

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Over hill, over dale 2014

Lost sonsI’m on my way to London, and then to France. I’ll see the poppies at the Tower, an amazing photo exhibition and, of course, the Great War exhibit at the Imperial War Museum.

And then I’m going back to the Front.

I’ll be blogging from my adventures on the road, so keep an eye out for my updates.

No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps

Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 Single-seat fighter developed in 1916, which with the Sopwith Camel helped regain Allied control of the skies of WWI after the disastrous "Bloody April". It was very highly effective, but had engine problems which limited production during the war. London Science Museum, South Kensington, London, UK. Wayne Hseih

Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
Single-seat fighter developed in 1916, which with the Sopwith Camel helped regain Allied control of the skies of WWI after the disastrous “Bloody April”. It was very highly effective, but had engine problems which limited production during the war.
London Science Museum, South Kensington, London, UK. Wayne Hseih

From Derek Bird:
 
On Sunday we marked the centenary of No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, leaving Montrose for Farnborough upon mobilisation on 3 August 1914. The Western Front Association wreath commemorating 2 Sqn was dedicated, carried out to the original 1914 airfield by the current squadron commander, and handed over to the pilot of a replica SE5 who then flew it to RAF Leuchars.
 
From there it will be flown south to join more than 80 others that will be crossing the Channel for our events at Amiens and Arras on 13 August. For more info on the commemorations in France, see The Western Front Association webpages. I’ll be there to honour the ground crew of the RFC / RAF in the Great War.
 

Centennial Countdown to the Great War

Battle on the Prussian-Russian border 1914/15 in present-day Lithuania. From the Flickr collection of

Battle on the Prussian-Russian border 1914/15 in present-day Lithuania. Jens-Olaf Walter photo

Are you following this blog by Dennis Cross? This is the clearest explanation of how the dominoes fell in July 1914.

http://centennialcountdown.blogspot.com

He said, then I said, then he said, then I said, etc.

Dennis tells a lot of stories that you might not have connected to the march toward war, including a famous murder trial in France that delayed the country’s attention to the approaching disaster.

Henriette Caillaux, the second wife of former French Premier Joseph Caillaux, was tried this month for the murder of Le Figaro editor Gaston Calmette following the magazine’s publication of private letters between herself and her husband written when both of them were married to others.  She claimed that she had not planned to kill Calmette, only to teach him a lesson, but had been overwhelmed by passion.  She told the court the shooting was an accident: “It is terrible how these revolvers go off when they begin shooting — one can’t stop them!”

 

No kidding, lady.

My thanks to Dennis for this blog post.

Fightin’ Fridays: The 6th Seaforth Highlanders in Champagne

dickie map better

By Derek Bird

Excerpted from “The Spirit of the Troops Is Excellent: The 6th (Morayshire) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, in the Great War 1914-1919” http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/wfasnb/research05.htm

In (July 1918) the Germans had been making significant advances (in France) and now held a large salient that bulged into the French lines, but they had already been brought to a halt by the combined efforts of French, American and Italian divisions. As the situation was still developing at the time of the Highland Division’s assembly a number of changes to plan had to be made before it was decided to concentrate near Epernay, south of Reims, about four miles from the furthest point of the German advance. This put the division on the south-east side of the salient and provided them with the unusual experience of advancing in a north-westerly direction. The 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division would be operating alongside them, and the other British divisions sent to help the French, the 15th (Scottish) and 34th, would be some miles away on the wide side of the salient near Soissons. In yet another change of plan it was decided to move the Highlanders north of the River Marne and so at 6:30 on the morning of the 19th the 152nd Brigade marched to Champillon, where they rested until 10 p.m. before marching on to the assembly points for an attack the following morning.

At dawn on the 20 July the 153rd and 154th Brigades launched the attack, with the 6th Seaforth remaining in the rear as part of the divisional reserve. In front of the 153rd Brigade lay the Bois de Courton, a tangled mass of woods some 3,500 yards deep. Both brigades advanced through the German outpost line without serious resistance, but the fighting in the Bois de Courton became very confused with, at best, the men only able to see about 50 yards through the trees and extremely vulnerable to ambush by the enemy. The 17th Gordons and the 1/6th and 1/7th Black Watch all plunged into the woods but soon became split up into small parties.  By the afternoon it became obvious that these three battalions had become badly intermingled so at 6:30 p.m. the 6th Seaforth were placed under the command of the 153rd Brigade. They were ordered to move forward to the newly won positions that ran north-east from a point just east of the hamlet of Paradis to allow the 153rd Brigade to withdraw and reorganise. The hand-over did go well as it was a very dark and wet night and the guides got lost. Nevertheless the 6th Seaforth did manage to get into position by about 4 a.m. the 21st. Following the withdrawal of the 153rd Brigade the task of continuing the advance was given to the 152nd Brigade. As the first part of this plan the 6th Seaforth were moved slightly to the rear to allow the 1/5 Seaforth and 1/6 Gordons to pass through. Throughout the morning the men of the Morayshire battalion were subjected to heavy shell fire that caused about 60 casualties.

July 21 was another day of difficult fighting in the forest and at about 2 p.m. orders were given for the 6th Seaforth to advance. The Morayshire battalion was ordered to support the 1/5 Seaforth and 1/6 Gordons, paying particular attention to ensuring that the flanks were adequately covered. The left front was reinforced when ‘A’ Company was joined up with the 1/5 Seaforth, ‘B’ Company went to the right front, and ‘D’ Company to the right flank, ‘C’ Company was kept in reserve. Once ‘A’ Company had got in touch with the 1/5 Seaforth they pushed patrols forward and discovered that, although the line had advanced about 200 yards, both Paradis and La Neuville-Aux-Larris were still in enemy hands. ‘B’ Company advanced and actually made contact with the enemy before finding the 1/6 Gordons at about 5 p.m. Meanwhile ‘D’ Company advanced through the wood until halted by heavy machine-gun fire. They then took up positions facing north. One platoon of ‘C’ Company was sent forward to help ‘D’ Company at about 5 p.m., but was withdrawn again the following morning. The Germans continued to pound the British lines with shells all through the night, including the use of gas shells in the early hours of the 22nd.

That morning at 2:30 a.m. a conference was held at Brigade HQ where the commanding officers were briefed on the next stage of the attack. The 152nd Brigade was to take over positions currently held by the 154rd Brigade between the Bois de Courton and the River Ardre and prepare to advance at 6 a.m. the next morning. Company commanders were briefed at Battalion HQ at 5 a.m. and details were worked out. The 6th Seaforth started moving out of the forest at 10:30 a.m. and were at the start positions by 1 p.m. on the 23rd. The 1/5 Seaforth were on the right extending the line up to the bank of the Ardre. The 1/6 Gordons who had been heavily engaged deep in the forest only arrived shortly before Zero hour, minus one company that had been relieved too late. They took their place on the left up to the edge of the Bois de Courton.

The joint British and French artillery barrage opened at 6 a.m. but some of the shells fell short with the rear of the barrage falling only 40 yards ahead of ‘B’ Company’s positions. To their left it fell upon both ‘C’ Company and the 1/6 Gordons positions causing many casualties, one company of the latter losing all its officers before the advance began. Five minutes after the garage opened the German artillery retaliated, but most of their shells fell 250 yards behind the Highlanders’ positions.  As soon as it was realized that British shells were falling short and ‘C’ Company was suffering casualties, ‘A’ Company was moved in behind them to provide support. Once the infantry advance got underway, ‘B’ Company on the right made good headway with a minimum of casualties until they reached their objectives north-west of the Bois De L’Aunaie. Here they were subjected to heavy shell and machine-gun fire while they were digging in and suffered many casualties, including Captain John Mackintosh their commander. ‘C’ Company on the left suffered badly from both the artillery barrage falling short and from enemy machine-gun fire coming from their left flank. This company lost all its officers before reaching the spur south of the Bois De L’Aunaie. Some of the battalion continued to fight on through the objective and formed a new line in the sunken road 300 yards south of the wood.

‘D’ Company, in support, moved forward to  the Bois De L’Aunaie and started digging in, but after being subjected to heavy enemy shelling they retired a short distance and dug a series of posts just short of the wood. ‘A’ Company took up positions in the sunken road, and also established posts on the spur covering the southern edge of the wood.  At about 2 p.m. two platoons of the 1/7 Argylls were attached to the 6th Seaforth to help fill in the gap that had developed between the two leading companies, but the heavy enemy artillery barrage forced them to retire again. At dusk the 1/5 Seaforth put out a number of posts that connected the sunken road with the rest of their battalion which had, by then, moved forward to a line just inside the western edge of the wood. The 6th Seaforth had suffered heavily with 21 men killed, but they had inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy and had captured 45 prisoners, along with 3 heavy and 15 light machine-guns. Due to the large numbers of casualties the two Seaforth battalions were reorganised with the 1/5 Seaforth forming two composite companies, and the 6th Seaforth being combined into a single company.

For the next three days the brigade maintained its position but throughout the period, especially on the afternoon of the 26th, they continued to suffer casualties from both high explosive and gas shells. On the 27th the advance was renewed; after intense fighting, the 6th Seaford were withdrawn from the field on the 28th.

The Highland Division’s units left the area (in early July). In 11 days of hard fighting the Highlanders had helped to stem the German attack, and then pushed them back for four and a half miles, engaging at times no less than six different enemy divisions. What makes their achievement even more remarkable is that for many this was their first battle, a large percentage of the division was now being made up by youngsters drafted in to replace the casualties of the March and April fighting. General Henri Berthelot, GOC French Fifth Army, wrote in his order of the day 30 July 1918:

Your French comrades will always remember with emotion your splendid gallantry and perfect fellowship in the fight.

SeaforthHighland troops march past French General Berthelot after the fighting in Champagne. National Library of Scotland digital photo..

 

 

Fightin’ Friday: The Affair at Nery

Nery map edited

 

The Affair at Nery: Sept. 1, 1914, reprinted from Camaraderie

By Paul F. Guthrie

Our U.S. Branch WFA 2007 tour included a tour of British action at the beginning of the war featuring the fighting around Mons and the retreat.  It ended at the Battle of Le Cateau of Sept. 25, 1914.

The next action of any significance was the affair at Nery. It’s a fascinating encounter and one of the best visits on the entire Western Front because the approaches to the village, the village itself and the surrounding fields are unchanged since the battle.

Why is it called the affair at Nery rather than the battle of Nery?  It’s a matter of battlefield nomenclature, because the British Army didn’t feel the action was large enough to be called a battle.  It was the first time in the war that the British were in control of the battlefield after the action.  It was fought almost entirely by cavalry units on both sides, with the Germans having superiority of numbers of about two to one.

The main street of the village runs from north to south.  The north of the village was defended from German attack by the C Squadron of the Fifth Dragoon Guards and their machine guns.  A bit further south was the headquarters of the First Cavalry Brigade, which was the larger unit participating in the battle.  Just a bit south is the village church where the 11th Hussars had its headquarters and established a strong defense along the church with machine guns and rifle fire.  At the south end of the village on the west side of the road were the Queen’s Bays, and on the east side of the road L Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, which achieved fame and two Victoria Crosses.

Further south and beyond the village is a sugar factory.  Just to the east of the village is a deep ravine.

The German Third Cavalry Brigade approached from that direction.  At the north side of the village were the 9th Uhlans, who formed a dismounted firing line, and the 2nd Cuirassiers who did the same.  Firing against L Battery and the Queen’s Bays, were the 18th Dragoons of the 17th Cavalry Brigade.  All of these units were part of the 4th Cavalry Division which had its headquarters about 1,000 yards to the east of the village.  It was a British brigade against a German division.

The Queen’s Bays were one of the oldest cavalry regiments in the British Army, having been raised by James II to deal with the Monmouth Rebellion in June 1685.  Originally the regiment was named the Queen’s Regiment of Horse, and it was a matter of pride that all the horses were bays.  The regiment served for much of its history in India. During the Great Sepoy Mutiny, it won three VCs and took part in a famous cavalry charge during the relief of Lucknow in 1858.

One Royal Horse Artillery battery of six 13-pounder horse-drawn guns was attached to each cavalry brigade.  L Battery was commanded by Maj. Walter Sclater-Booth, who had taken command in 1910, and the battery captain was Edward Bradbury.  This unit of five officers, almost 200 men and 228 horses was organized into three sections. Each had two modern quick-firing 13-pounder guns with buffer recoil systems and bullet-proof shields. They could fire 15 rounds a minute. Each section was accompanied by two ammunition wagons.  The battery had seen considerable action after enduring the Battle of Mons.

On August 31, the First Cavalry Brigade was directed to Nery.  They arrived there about 6 p.m. The horses had been watered earlier, since it was thought there would not be sufficient water at Nery.

German cavalry were to make a night attack against Nery.  They were quite tired and suffered a number of other disadvantages before beginning the attack.  The division had suffered considerable casualties in the advance through Belgium. The Germans had sacrificed support for speed, and the division was lacking much of its logistics, including support transport, ammunition wagons, lead horses, etc.

German cavalry units by doctrine were to be supported by infantry and horse artillery that closely followed the advancing cavalry. The unit that was to attack Nery had no infantry, and six machine guns were also absent.

In German cavalry doctrine, mounted action would take place primarily against other cavalry, not infantry.  It is true that in this attack the German cavalry was fighting British cavalry but, the Germans were armed with carbines, smaller less effective versions of the rifle carried by the infantry. Contrarily, the British carried the standard Lee-Enfield infantry weapon, and the firepower of the individual soldier was much greater.

The Fourth Cavalry Division rode all through the heat of the day on August 31st and following night without a stop for food or rest apart from one 2-hour stop.  At 5 a.m., the general in charge, von Garnier, ordered an immediate mounted attack designed to surprise and destroy the British forces with overwhelming shell fire and mounted flanking attacks.

Visibility was poor and hampered the German artillery, but the attack did achieve surprise.  At the beginning of the attack, L Battery was quite shot up with tethered horses and men suffering equally.  However, it was able to return fire fairly quickly.

The farm to the right of the Nery church was defended by the 11th Hussars.  Then and now it doesn’t look like what we think of as a farm.  It rather looks like a series of fortified buildings.   It suffered a lot less in the initial attack than the units at the south of the village.

Battery lines had been laid out neatly for the night with each section of two guns and their horses and limbers in line.  This was the first time this had been done on the retreat and an indication that the battery felt secure.  Following reveille at 2:30 a.m., the battery prepared for meeting out at 4:30 a.m., but because of the dense mist prevailing that morning, headquarters ordered a stand still until 5 a.m. which was extended till 5:30. Thus L Battery was still in place when attacked.

The surprise of the attack could hardly have been greater.  The battery’s horses were standing in march order with their poles down. Shrapnel exploding among the horses and men was horrific, causing panic among the horses which drove their lowered poles into the ground, trapping them until they were shot down.  The terrified horses could not be released easily from their harnesses, and were killed.

There was chaos with limbers and wagons overturned.  Despite efforts by their crews, B, C and D guns were knocked out, leaving the F gun in action.  The ammunition supply was in wagons 20 yards from the gun and collecting it meant crossing an open space with machine gun fire and shrapnel, but it was done.

L Battery kept up its effort until almost 8 a.m. when I Battery arrived and began firing.  It was firing only shrapnel, but the shrapnel had a wicked effect on the Germans opposing.  It forced the Germans to concentrate all their guns to the south of Nery.   Resistance of the gunners of L Battery, against all odds, was the key to the survival of the First Cavalry Brigade that morning.

The First Dragoon Guards were also effective in preventing Third Brigade from succeeding its attack further north.

The Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Bays) provided very significant support to the men of L Battery.   On the south side of the village there are memorials to both units.  Seven men were all that were available to man the Queen’s Bays machine guns, but they did so to great effect.

Every unit arrived in support of the British and once I Battery commenced firing, the rest of the German guns fell silent. The Germans attempted to bring up horse teams to get the guns away but came under fire from the guns of I Battery and the machine guns of the Queen’s Bays. Despite valiant effort, they were unable to get their horses close enough to get all the guns away.  Four were extracted, but eight were captured.

By 9 a.m., it was clear to General von Garnier that the situation was very dangerous for his division with the apparent hapless enemy not being overcome, and in fact being reinforced.  Four infantry brigades and another cavalry brigade were gathering to attack, and it was becoming dangerous to remain at Nery.  He thus decided to recall his units from their attack position as quickly as possible and concentrate his division, and the Germans retreated, leaving the British in control of the battlefield.  This is the first time during the war this had happened but, of course, the retreat was resumed shortly.

The Fourth Cavalry Divisions likely suffered about 200 casualties, about twice those of the British.  The affair did have a deleterious effect on the Germans and gave the British reason to believe that under the right conditions they could still win.

The failure of their action at Nery and the futility of cavalry charging sound defensive positions manned by well-trained men with modern rifles and machine guns confirmed to the Germans the value of having supporting infantry integrated with the cavalry.

For the cavalry on both sides, the attack proved the acclamation of the critical importance of ground reconnaissance before charging boldly at the enemy.

Affair at Nery

Memorial to the British officers and men killed at Nery on Sept. 1, 1914. About 55 British troops were killed.

 

The only gun to survive  the German artillery, it  belongs to the Imperial War Museum.

The only gun to survive the German artillery, it belongs to the Imperial War Museum.

Fightin’ Fridays: Mametz Wood

Mametz-2July

By Graham Corgan.

“Let us respect their endeavours. Let our memories live on”

The Welsh 38th Division was formed from several Regiments including men from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the Royal Welsh Regiment. They were answering the call to arms by David Lloyd George and enlisted eagerly expecting exciting wartime adventures.

They were, however, poorly trained, ill-equipped and badly commanded. When planning the forthcoming attack on Mametz Wood, the generals calculated it would be a battle of a few hours; it would, in fact, last for five days. They failed to take into account the fact that the wood was defended with trench systems, machine gun posts and mortars. Manning these positions were men from the Lehr Regiment of the Prussian Guard, who were well-trained and well-armed and very determined.

On the 7th July 1916, the 38th Welsh Division were given orders to capture Mametz Wood. The Division were tasked to leave their trenches and to advance towards a position called the Hammerhead. The distance to cover was maybe 300-400 yards; this distance was to cost them heavily in casualties and even led to them having their bravery questioned.

At 08.30 on the morning of the 7th July, following a preparatory artillery bombardment, they attacked. Initially it appeared the barrage had worked; however, as the men advanced towards the darkened woods, they soon came under heavy machine gunfire from both exposed flanks and they started to take heavy casualties.

The attack ground to a halt, and a second barrage was ordered later that morning. This, too, failed to silence the German machine guns.

Fortunately for the Infantry, a further attack that had been planned for that afternoon was subsequently cancelled as the machine gun posts still remained in position. When the attack ceased, the Division had suffered 400 casualties.

During the 8th and 9th, men from the 6th Dorset’s Regiment managed to take and hold the Western end of Wood trench; however, seven unsuccessful attempts to take Quadrangle support Trench had by now been made.

On the 10th July, a further attack was planned and, following an artillery barrage, the four Battalions went over the top at 4:15. They attacked the woods between Strip Trench and the Hammerhead following behind a rolling barrage. This time the attack made better progress, and throughout the day vicious hand-to-hand fighting took place in the woods. When night fell, the fighting continued amongst the shattered tree stumps, branches, brambles, barbed wire, trenches and shell holes. German troops were almost pushed out of the woods, but as night fell, they clung to 40 yards of its northern edge. In the confusion of the darkness and destruction, both forces were subjected to heavy shelling from both hostile and friendly fire.

The morning of the 11th, the Welsh tried to clear the woods of German resistance and a further day of fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued, but still the Germans clung to the very tip of the northern edge of the wood. During that evening, though, they were to withdraw, leaving the woods finally in the hands of the Welsh.

Daybreak on the 12th, and the woods were in British hands. With a cost nearly 4,000 casualties, the Division was withdrawn from combat, and it would be a year before they would return to the Western Front.

The 38th Division was withdrawn from the line and replaced by the 21st Division.

The men of the Welsh Division were then to be accused of “failing to advance with enough spirit” — in other words, they were named as cowards. Although the statement was later retracted, the damage had been done.

A memorial was only put in place on July 1st 1987 by the South Wales Branch of the Western Front Association. I believe it is one of the most moving memorials on the Somme. The Memorial is not the easiest to find. Google Earth and a sat nav are a must prior and during the trip. You can drive straight past if not careful.

It took me approximately 45 seconds to cover the distance between the Dragon and the Hammerhead. This brought home to me the scale of the losses incurred covering such a small distance. When I reached the tree line and entered the woods, the trenches could still be seen. The years had tried to repair the woods from the damage from those five days 95 years ago, but signs of battle can easily been found. In such a tranquil wood, the only sounds were my footsteps and the songs of the birds — how different from those few days in 1916.

As I stood in one of the remaining trenches and looked back towards the Dragon, it struck me that with the field of fire the Germans had from the woods and the strip trench, the 38th Division’s frontal assault was near suicidal. As I turned to leave the wood, I found a photograph of a Welsh soldier pinned to a tree, a personal tribute to one of the many men who perished in Mametz Wood in July 1916.