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Thread: The Great War (mod 1914)

  1. #501
    Not a Sahib Milites's Avatar
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    Well, I promise. The following chapter will bring us to the battlefield. So, those who love blood, mud and shrapnell can begin to ready themselves for the incoming onslaught, I promise.
    Sounds delightfully medieval

    Also @ the Irish question.

  2. #502
    Field Marshal Nathan Madien's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by FlyingDutchie View Post
    There goes the most impressive 'stace of the Empire...
    He probably stared death in the face like he stares at everything else.
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  3. #503
    Quote Originally Posted by Nathan Madien View Post
    He probably stared death in the face like he stares at everything else.
    "All hands aboard were saved except for Lord Kitchener, who, recalling the example of King Canute, attempted to hold back the tide through force of will."
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  4. #504
    Quote Originally Posted by Syriana View Post
    Slightly delayed, but anyhow:

    If you want a fair and balanced look at the First World War, I suggest you read Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front by Richard Holmes. As the name suggests, it is primarily concerned with the life of a British soldier during the war, but there is also an extensive section on popular myths associated with the war that Holmes attempts to rectify. You'd be surprised at just how much fiction has become so ingrained in the popular imagination that we assume it to be fact.

    I'd definitely recommend giving it a read.
    Thank you. I will definitely give it a read!
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  5. #505
    Lord of Slower-than-real-time El Pip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by c0d5579 View Post
    "All hands aboard were saved except for Lord Kitchener, who, recalling the example of King Canute, attempted to hold back the tide through force of will."
    That was his mistake, had he attempted to hold back the tide by staring and pointing at it he could of split the sea and walked home.
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  6. #506
    Field Marshal Nathan Madien's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by El Pip View Post
    That was his mistake, had he attempted to hold back the tide by staring and pointing at it he could of split the sea and walked home.
    Who needs Moses when you have Kitchener, a man who can quiet barking dogs by staring at them.
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  7. #507
    Quote Originally Posted by El Pip View Post
    That was his mistake, had he attempted to hold back the tide by staring and pointing at it he could of split the sea and walked home.
    Charleton Heston was considered for a biopic of Field Marshal Kitchener, but turned down the role because he felt he was insufficiently manly.
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  8. #508
    Field Marshal Nathan Madien's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by c0d5579 View Post
    Charleton Heston was considered for a biopic of Field Marshal Kitchener, but turned down the role because he felt he was insufficiently manly.
    I can't resist this any longer:

    Even Chuck Norris turned down the biopic role for the very same reason.
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  9. #509
    Pantomacatalasecesionanis ta

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    Chapter thirty-five: Grasping at the Shadow.


    General Haig was not a happy man, as he found himself working under the same circumstances as his predecessor, Field Marshal French. London instructed him to act as an independent commander accountable only to the British government whilst, at the same time, being as cooperative with the French as possible. Thus, he began acting as the independent-dependent commander of the BEF by discussing with Joffre the chances of an offensive in early 1916. As a personal preference, Haig favoured a British offensive in Flanders, as it was close to BEF supply routes via the Channel ports and had a strategic goal of driving the Germans from the North Sea coast of Belgium, from which their U-boats were menacing Britain. However, the realities of coalition warfare and the "cooperative" part of Haig’s instructions aborted this approach.


    General Sir Douglas Haig, GCB, GCVO, KCIE, ADC (1)


    In January 1916, Joffre had agreed to the BEF making their main effort in Flanders, but after further discussions in February, the decision was reached to mount a combined offensive where the French and British armies were to launch their assault astride the Somme River in Picardy. Haig stressed the importance of an attack at Ypres, while Joffre insisted on the Somme offensive, the former as a as an opportunity to make the breakthrough that had failed to materialise in 1915 to allow mobile warfare to resume, the latter saw the scheme on the merits of its potential to inflict attrition on the German Army. However, the German attack against Verdun made the debate superfluous. Attacking at Ypres was too far away from the actual fighting, and it would not drag away any sizeable force from the Verdun area. Furhermore, as the French committed themselves to defend Verdun, their capacity to carry out their role on the Somme was significantly reduced and the burden shifted to the British.

    The quiet area of the Somme had been extensively fortified by the German army since 1914. The defensive system had been reinforced by a number of defended villages -like Beaumont Hamel, Thiepval, Ovilliers, La Boisselle and Fricourt-, which consisted of solid stone houses with cellars which could also shelter small garrisons and machine guns. To enhance their natural strenght, the German command provided their trenches and positions with barbed wire entaglements and set themselves to build a second line some 2,000 to 4,000 yards behind the first one. Between the lines had placed a series of strongpoints (of which Nordwerk and the Schwaben Redoubts were the best known by the British planners), consisting in a maze of trenches with the capacity of all-round defence, incorporating dug-outs and concreted machine posts. Even if the second line was not as strong in construction as the first, and its dugouts not as extensive and only the occasioanl village (such as Longeval) had been incorportad into it, it was beyond the British front line. Thus, it could not be directly observed and, worse still, it was out of the range of the British artillery. And to make it worse, a part of it had been placed on the highest ground, on the ridge around Mouquet Farm and Pozières.


    The Château de Beaurepaire near British GHQ at Montreuil was the home of Sir Douglas Haig from March 1916 to April 1919. During the major battle, Haig left this comfortable château and was housed with his inmediate staff in a train or buidling closer to the action.


    To complete their defensive system, the German had begun the construction of a third line, approximately 3,000 yards behind the second (2). But this was till in a rudimentary state when the battle commenced.

    Despite their formidable nature -Churchill called the German defences at the Somme as "undoubtedly the strongerst and most perfectly defended position in the world"- (3), there were some weakeness in the German line: the front line had been constructured, in its most part, in 1914 and 1915, when the overriding concern was for a long uninterrupted field of fire with good observation for the forward artillery observers. That meant that it was also directly observable from the British front line and that the British artillery could direct artillery fire on to the enemy front with some ease.

    General Sir Henry Rawlinson, commanding the British Fourth Army, was at the begining very optimistic about the attack, but this feeling did not last, specially when he met his corps commanders. Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston, the commander of VIII Corps (4), emphasized the pros and cons -specially the latter- of an offensive aimed at too distant targets while facing such impressive defenses. With a quite remarkable insight, he added: "to loose the substance by grasping at the shadow is a mistake that has been made too often in this war" (5).


    A platoon of D Company, 7th Batallion, Bedforshire Regiment (18th Division) on the march to the Somme.


    Rawlinson sent the draft of the plan that his chief of staff, Major-General Sir Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd (6), had prepared. It envisaged a two-step "bite and hold" operation by ten divisions with seven in reserve. Rawlinson stated that the aim was not to gain ground, but "to kill as many German as possible with the least loss to ourselves" (7). The front of the attack was to be 20,000 yards long, ranging from Serre in the North to a point just east of Mametz in the south. This secured the attack on two defensible flanks and gave a reasonable front to attack, which could be dealt with by the 200 heavy howitzers (defined by him as 6 inches and above) he had been asigned.

    General Haig fumed. He deprecated Rawlinson's insistence on a long bombardment, which would obviously remove any chance of launching an unexpected attack (8). He was in favour of a short, heavy bombardment to ensure surprise whilst maintaining the performance potential of the guns themselves, which would become worn through protracted firing, diminishing their ability to provide fire support later in the battle. In addition to this, Haig added that the Fourth Army "could do better" and suggested that it could even aim to capture the entire German second line. The new tanks, when available, would be of great assistance in the advance (9). Furthermore, while Rawlinson stated that the troops could become disorganized, Haig replied that this could be overcome. Nowhere he explained how nor how the artillery was to engage targets that the observers could not see, or how to rush reinforcements to the exactly point on a moving and chaotic battlefield. Thus, while Haig intervention threated to doom the the Montgomery (10) plan and the collision of strategies went on (Haig wanted an attack at dawn whilst Rawlinson favoured a daytime assault; Haig believed that several attacks should be made along the enemy front whereas Rawlinson preferred a broad attack all along the front; Haig thought that the infantry should attack as far as possible, Rawlinson felt that the infantry should go no further than the cover of artillery fire; Haig adhered to fire and movement tactics employed by small, fast moving infantry whilst Rawlinson put faith in an advance with the infantry in extended line, with artillery covering their path in front....) and while Haig was beginning to regret having Rawlinson at Fourth Army Headquarters, and would have preferred to have a man who shared his opinions on tactics, such as Gough or Haking, fate stroke: Haig contracted the flu and betook himself to Nice for two weeks rest (11). When he returned he found that, in his absence, Rawlinson had consulted with his corps commanders and made, in his own turn, some slight modifications to his original plan (12). The attack was going to take place in the front Haig had selected, but with the "bit-and-hold" approach suggested by Rawlinson.


    A British soldier stands in the crater created by a high explossive shell to demonstrate what well-aimed artillery with good fuses could do to a barbed-wire entaglement. However, the crater now forms an obstacle and the gap created would funnel attackers in to the "killing zone" of the defending machine guns.


    Haig was appalled by this approach, but it was too late to began the planification process again. Furthermore, as the French became heavily involved at Verdun and his commitment to the Somme decreased, Haig felt, somehow, of his obligation to assist the French, who had reduced his role in the battle as to simply support the British offensive. Haig would kept reminding Rawlinson to be ready to use the cavalry if the chance for a breakthrough arose, of course, and Rawlinson proposed to use them en masse south of Grandcourt to assist in the protection of the northern flank "if we succeed in inflicting on the enemy a serious state of demoralisation". Haig's change of mind was, of course, a strike of luck for the British army, as the intensity of the bombardment which could be brought to bear on the defences under attack would not thus concentrated and not diminished in a broad front of attack. Thus, the danger of diluting the bombardment everywhere was somehow averted. However, the amount of heavy guns was still a problem


    A French railway gun about to go into action on the Somme front during the preeliminary bombardment. The French army had a high proprotion of heavy-calibre weapons and used a great number of guns than the British in the bombardment.

    In fact, the battle plan was a compromise between the opinions of Haig and Rawlinson, although the latter, got the upper hand. In terms of the strategic objective, Rawlinson accepted, albeit with reluctance, the principal of achieving a breakthrough into open country, involving the capture of Thiepval and Montauban, with the eventual aim of breaking through the German line. The first objectives remained in securing the German first line, from where to jump into the second line to the north of Pozières (""if practicable", a statement that was to alienate further Haig from Rawlinson), which would be followed to reaching the line Grandcourt-Martinpuich-Montauban. Apparently, the spirit of the final battle plan followed Haig's broad offensive. However, Rawlinson had kept an ace in his sleeve. As he stated to his corps commanders, the first objective was to break and secure the first line of enemy trenches. To achieve that goal was to be concentrated the artillery. However, this still meant subduing 2,500 yeards of enemy front. And to do that, he only had 133 heavy guns -including the 6-inch howitzers in that category-, far fewer than needed to attack a single trench line. Even when reinforcements arrived and he had at his disposal 1,010 field guns devoted to wire-cutting and light trench bombardement, 233 heavy guns for major trench destruction and 180 for counter-battery purposes, Rawlinson was still short of artillery, as 18 per cent of his guns were practically useless (for instance, the obsolescent and notoriously inaccurate 4.7 inch gun, which made up a third of the guns devoted to counter firing the German artillery; the 18-pounders wire cutters could not reach the most distant wire, which obliged to use the 60-pounders and 4.7 inch guns as both wire-cutter and doing counter-battery fire). Given that the Germans had 476 artillery pieces ranged against the British lines and that, as preparations for the battle became more obvious they reinforced this number with 17 field howitzer batteries and 36 smaller guns, the number of pieces devoted to subduing them was evidently inadequate. In this slight mess, the fact that not a single British corps commander who fought in the first day of the Somme had hitherto commanded heavy artillery in battle was hardly noticed.


    The Montgomery plan (13) for the Somme. The black dots are the first objetive, the green ones the second.




    (1) KoK's mustache is gone, but we still have Haig's!
    (2) Paranoid? Wer? Uns? Nein! Vell... juzt a little vit...
    (3) Thank you very much, Winnie. That's what I call supportive feedback. Grrrr.... Go to Gallipoli, now!
    (4) Not know for being reluctant to attack au fond...
    (5) Those are the words of an expert on the issue, as the Gallipoli campaign of OTL proves with ease...
    (6) Easy, Trekkie, easy! Not THAT Monty! Calm down, boy!
    (7) The simplest way to define what is a true attritional battle. Do you copy that, Dougie?
    (8) Excuse me, Dougie? Are you planning to launch an offensive in the Western Front without the enemy noticing the preparations? Really?
    (9) Pouring salt into the injury. Thank you, Dougie. Thank you very much indeed. Were did I put my axe... oh, here...
    (10) See 6 above
    (11) Oh butterfly, oh buttlerfy...*sing with the music of O Tannenbaum*
    (12) As Ryan O'Neal's character said in A Bridge Too Far, after being visited by general Browning: "Just keeping me informed about the little changes" "What little changes?" "I'll answer with a typical British understatment: gigantic"
    (13) It's my variation of the Montgomery plan, it goes without saying.

    @quaazi: Well, the British morale wasn't too bright after that, despite of some politicians.

    @c0d5579: Hey! Do you know anyone who dared to say to Kitchener what he could do or not?

    @FlyingDutchie: Well, Haig's got a nice one.

    @Syriana: Without a single doubt, one of the best books on WW1. Holmes is simply superb.

    @Enewald: For the winner, of course!

    @Milites: But without trouvadors...

    @Nathan Madien: And death wetted her pants...

    @c0d5579: King Kitchener... damnit, I missed opportunity to end Britain's miseries. Darned Kratus!!!!

    @KiMaSa: You should Denis Witner's Death's Mean is also a good reading, in spite of the title.

    @El Pip: He was slightly seasick, I'm told.

    @Nathan Madien -2-: Even the sun asked him permission to rise...

    @c0d5579: Well, as Nathan adds, Chuck too. Houson, we have a problem.

    @Nathan Madien -3-: Just imagine if Tom Cruise decides to, after Stauffenberg, to go after KoK. I doubt it very much, due to some rumours about K's sexuality -too easy to play jokes, you see-, but it still frightens the hell out of my shorts.
    Last edited by Kurt_Steiner; 25-02-2011 at 21:18.
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  10. #510
    They're both wrong. The way to go in this case is a sunset attack; sure it involves fighting at night, but the Germans would be just as put off under the circumstances, and it means that for a brief period anyway, the sun's at the British backs, unless the sun rises in the west in Flanders. I suspect that subjecting the Germans to a 24-hour battle cycle would be enough even to crack their training. Unfortunately, since Tommy's training consists of bayoneting pig carcasses and crawling through guts, it's a coin flip about who'd actually break first if you tried to modify the battle rhythm that extensively.
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  11. #511
    Human Enewald's Avatar
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  12. #512
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    We all know the work of Rear Brigadier Zapp Brannigan, right? Well perhaps the British commanders seek to emulate his triumph over the rampaging killbots, who were in the end foiled by Zapp's brilliant plan of exploiting their preset kill limit by sending waves and waves of men at them. Surely the British have understood that man also has his own biological preset kill limit! And not just man, but the germans as well, judging from Remarque's stories.
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  13. #513
    Lord of Slower-than-real-time El Pip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quaazi View Post
    We all know the work of Rear Brigadier Zapp Brannigan, right? Well perhaps the British commanders seek to emulate his triumph.
    Alas I think the French and Germans got their first with their 'Verdun' interpretation of Brannigan's work.
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  14. #514
    Field Marshal Nathan Madien's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt_Steiner View Post
    Wonder Work...what an appropriate sounding name. It will be an wonder if this plan works.
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  15. #515
    Pantomacatalasecesionanis ta

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    London, we have a problem.

    Good news first. The next chapter, dealing with the First Day of the Somme Battle is in the making, 2/5th of it already written. Here comes the bad news, as we shall see. Also, even if the battle turned to be slightly similar to the OTL slaug... erm... confrontation, the casualties are lower than feared and gains slightly superior (actually, General Haig moved his cabinet two inchs closer to Berlin that in OTL's 1st June).

    As said, with hardly 40% of the chapter written, I'm already over 9000 words . Thus, be aware that the next chapter may be a bit longer than usual. And I mean it I'll try to cut it down a little bit, don't panic (that is, in the end it will be just 50,000 words )
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  16. #516
    Field Marshal Nathan Madien's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt_Steiner View Post
    As said, with hardly 40% of the chapter written, I'm already over 9000 words . Thus, be aware that the next chapter may be a bit longer than usual. And I mean it I'll try to cut it down a little bit, don't panic (that is, in the end it will be just 50,000 words )
    It's a good thing the forums don't charge per word.
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  17. #517
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    In this case, it's a good thing the forums don't charge per word of awesomeness.

  18. #518
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt_Steiner View Post
    London, we have a problem.

    Good news first. The next chapter, dealing with the First Day of the Somme Battle is in the making, 2/5th of it already written. Here comes the bad news, as we shall see. Also, even if the battle turned to be slightly similar to the OTL slaug... erm... confrontation, the casualties are lower than feared and gains slightly superior (actually, General Haig moved his cabinet two inchs closer to Berlin that in OTL's 1st June).

    As said, with hardly 40% of the chapter written, I'm already over 9000 words . Thus, be aware that the next chapter may be a bit longer than usual. And I mean it I'll try to cut it down a little bit, don't panic (that is, in the end it will be just 50,000 words )
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  19. #519
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    Chapter thirty-six: Over the top.


    Under his helmet, up against his pack,
    After the many days of work and waking,
    Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.
    And in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
    Death took him by the heart.

    Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)

    In order to make a meaningful account of July 1st, 1916, the present chapter is going to describe the Allied attacks as the developed, from North to South.


    July 1st, 1916.


    Gommecourt (VII Corps)
    The British Third Army of General Sir Edmund Allenby occupied the frontline to the north of Rawlinson's Fourth Army and their lines armies met just south of the villages of Foncquevillers and Gommecourt. Allenby had to mount a diversion in order to attract German forces and artillery fire away from the main attack. However, he was unimpressed by the battleplan. He noted with some consternation that there was to be one mile wide gap between the Fourth Army to the south and the Third Army's diversionary attack, that was to leave his men exposed to German fire on three sides. Therefore, he concluded "not only the attack would fail to achieve his objectives, but also it stood little chance of succeeding as a diversion". He communicated his misgivings to Haig, but they were simply dismissed.


    The intended attack of the VIII Corps.


    To carry out the diversion fell to the VII Corps (Lt.Gen. Sir T. d'Oyly Snow). The plan called for a pincer movement, taking the salient and capturing the garrison in a pocket. The northern pincer was the 46th Division and the southern pincer was the 15th (Scottish) Division, both Territorial Force units. However, as soon as the barrage moved from the German position, on 7.30am, a storm of enemy machine gun fire and gunfire fell over No Man's Land and the British trenches, making impossible to the British soldiers to go over the top. In fact, only Major General E.J. Montagu-Stuart-Wortley's 46th Division made a token effort by attacking with two companies. In the end, only one platoon went over with only one man surviving unscathed before the attack was cancelled (1). All in all, 68 men became casualties for nothing in exchange, as the German had answered to Allenby's effort by moving an extra division but not a single gun. A feint attack was probably all that was required at Gommecourt.

    However, that was not Haig's way.



    Serre and Beaumont Hamel. (I Corps)
    The northern flank of the Fourth Army's sector was held by Lt.Gen. Aylmer Hunter-Weston's I Corps. Three divisions would attack on the first day while the fourth was holding the one-mile (1.6 km) gap between the Third and Fourth Armies. This attack was to establish a strong defensive flank to secure the advance of the cavalry further south from counter attack. However, they faced a formidable German position with excellent fields of fire on most sections of No Man's Land.

    At 7.30 am the attack by I Corps began. In the far north, the battalions of 11st (Northern) Division had left the trenches ten minutes earlier and advanced within close proximity of the German wire and lay down ready to rush the enemy frontline. The follow up battalions were to move forwards in similar fashion. In the centre, the 10th (Irish) Division adopted several stratagems for the attack: some battallions moved into No Man’s Land before zero hour and pushed forward at good pace. Others adopted very complicated formations, using groups of specially trained skirmirshers and snipers followed by Lewis gun teams. In turn, they were to be followed by the main body of the batallion in highly complex, irregular formations. On the left, the 12th (Eastern) Division also adopted various attack formations.


    To the varied attack formations the Germans had a single answer: machine guns.

    In the event, the variety of attacks adopted by the units of I Corps availed them nothing.

    The men of the 11st (Northern) moved quickly to No Man's Land just to discover that the bombardment, according to the plan, had moved away and that the German machine gunners and riflemen were lining the parapet. Almost at once heavy fire ripped through the postrate forms in no mans' land. In essence, the attack collapsed before zero hour. A few men of the leftward brigade did reach the German front line and pressed towards Serre. They were never seen again. By 7.35 am the Germans, in addition to the constant heavy marchine gun fire, had dropped a heavy barrage on the British front and the assembly trenches, wiping some units before they reached their own lines as they attempted to deploy. In such conditions, the attack was cancelled, but by then 2,700 men had become casualties.



    On the southern section was the 12th (Eastern). Essentially, the story is pretty the same as in the northern section, but with a slight twist. The wire had not been cut, the enemy machine guns were not subdued and the Germany artillery was not quite destroyed or neutralised. Even imaginative tactics availed little in these circunstances. Massed German machine-gunners wiped out entire companies in a few minutes. The follow up companies hardly fared any better. Then, as the British soldiers were being slaughtered, fate intervened. A section of the Germans defences that were proving unasailable for the 12th Division was Hawthorn Ridge, which dominated the ground to its north and south and was located to the west of Beaumont Hamel. Hunter-Weston's solution to this problem was to place 40,000 pounds of explosive under the ridge and detonate it before the attack. Two companies would rush across No Man’s Land and seize the tip of the crate when the main attack began.

    Nevertheless, something misfired. Literally. At 7.20 am the mine beneath Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt did not explode, to the anger of Hunter-Weston (2). Nothing happened. Then the attack began, with the fateful result it has been told. On the right flank of the attack, some troops of the 12th Division found a gap in the enemy wire, and took the enemy trench. However, so heavy was the enemy barrage that the follow up troops were unable to leave their own trenches and the few soldiers who went over the top were shot down. However, the advance of this troops was to have almost unfortunate consecuences, as the Divisional HQs thought that the entire righward brigade had taken the entire front line. Thus, at 8.37 am General de Lisle ordered the reserve brigade (the Essex and the Newfoundlanders) to reinforce the supposed success. So blocked with dead and wounded were the trenches that the Essex failed to deploy. The Newfoundlanders managed to get through when the enemy fire came upon them. Then, the Hawthorne mine exploded and confusion spread all around the front, having the positive effect of reducing the Germany fire for some time -and wiping out some enemy companies, too. The Newfoundlanders were able to return to their starting point, having lost 229 casualties without even reaching their own front lines.



    Further attacks were planned, but the British trenches were so full of killed and wounded that the reserve batallions could not get close enough to the front to deploy and the attack was cancelled at 13:50 pm. The 12th Division had suffered nearly 2,100 casualties, gained not a yard and was to need some time to recover.

    In the center, the 10th (Irish) Division attacked between the Serre and Beaumont Hamel. Some units, finding the wire destroyed, managed to capture the German strongpoint known as Quadrilateral Redoubt, despite encountering heavy machine gun and artillery fire. One of such units was the 1/8th Warwicks. The men advanced in skirmishing lines with minimal equipment and occupied the German trenches by 7.50 am. However, the enemy counterattacks eventually driven them out. When they mustered after the battle, only 27 of the 600 men who had advanced responded to the call. Of the 30 officers, 13 were dead and 17 wounded.

    Some units, as the 11st Hampshires, suffered horrible casualties without being able to cross No Man’s Land. Yet others (1st East Lancashire) crossed No Man’s Land but were unable to penetrate the wire. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers were decimated before reaching their own front line while the 2nd Essex managed to push some troops into the enemy lines in support of the original troops, despite suffering heavy losses. By 9 am, most of the Quadrilateral Redoubt was in British hands, and few men had pushed forward towards Pendant Copse in the German second line.


    British batteries seen here during the preeliminary bombarment.


    However, this sector it was subjected to intense German counter-attacks and the position had to be abandoned on the morning of 2 July, by which time the division had suffered 1,800 casualties.

    All in all, the VIII Corps suffered 3,300 casualties, a figure that fails to state the carnage among the battalions that actually attacked, for there were eight battalions from the corps that did not attack at all and two that were only briefly engaged. The average number of casualties in those who did attack was 490 and the casualty rate was 66%. In some unfortunate battalions the rate was even higher.

    Thiepval and Beaucourt (IX Corps)
    This sector provided one of the most difficult targest of the whole battle: the area between thiepval and Mouqet Farm. Again the defences of the area were formidable. Thiepval and the village of St. Pierre Vivion were fortresses with dug outs for machine guns and infantry. These could be only destroyed by the heaviest British guns. Betweem this two villages there was Schawben Redoubt, a complex of tunnels and dug-outs which included a hospital and a telephone exchange. To the north, Beacourt Redoubt house a nest of machine guns ideally placed to enfilade troops advacing towards Grandcourt. To the south of Schwaben, the Moquet Farm Switch Line contained a series of equally strong redoubts. South of Thiepval, in a salient in the German front line, the enemy had constructed the Leipzig Redoubt, a maze of interlocking trenches capable of all-round defences. Behind it there were two additional redoubts: the Wonderwerk and the Nordwerk, out of sight of direct British artillery fire, as they were situated on a reverse slope.



    As ever, the crucial question was whether the British guns would eliminate or neutralise the German defence most deadly to the attacking enemy: the distant enemy guns an the more proximate machine guns. In the event, the results of the preliminary bombarment in this sector proved extremely variable.


    British infantry from The Wiltshire Regiment attacking near Thiepval


    Here, as on other sectors of the front, the troops moved into position in the early hours of the morning. On the left of IX Corps was the 20th (Light) Division. It attacked in two fronts, as its line was broken by the River Ancre. The attack to the north of the river was a fiasco. The troops found the write well cut but the trenches were strongly held by the enemy. However, a few troops managed to penetrate the German frontline just to be cut down by the machine guns of Becourt Redoubt, wihch had entirely escaped the attentions of the British artillery. The experience of the one of his battalions may give us an idea of what happened in this sector. At 7.30 am the 750 men from this unit moved under the cover of a trench mortar smoke barrage. They were inmediately hit by concentrated machine gun fire and pinend down in No Man’s Land. When at 10.00 am a new attack was attempted, only 100 men could be mustered. At 11 am a third attack was ordered for 12.30 pm in conjunction with 10th (Irish) Division to the north. Just 46 men were ready for the advance. Luckily for them, when zero hour came, the 10th was nowehre to be seen and the operation was called off.


    The Ulstermen fighting in a trench of the Schwaben Redoubt.


    This failure had grave consequences for the main assault south, as the machines guns at Becourt could turn their attention to the troops advancing south of the Ancre. There, the wire had been well cut, and the attackers deployed in No Man’s Land, hidden from German view by an effective smoke-screen. However, story repeated itself again. Machine guns cut down any soldier moving on the left or on the right flanks. Then, in the centre, a most startling event occured: the British soldiers captured the Schwaben Redoubt, where the Alliedartillery had wreaked havoc. The 20th Division seemed to be on the verge of a major success. However, just 1000 soldiers had penetrated the German defences and were being fired from all sides. So umpromising did the situation appear to the divisional command that the reserve brigade was ordered to remain in place and the advanced troops to consolidate their positions and resist (3). By afternoon, heavy German counterattacks developed against Schwaben. The British gunfire stopped them, but the defenders had sufferend heavy casualties and, short of ammunition and supplies as well, reinforcement made impossible by the German barrage, the defenders held until darkness came and then the small remnats of the assaulting force withdraw back to their lines. Thus ended their promising begining.

    On the right of the attack was the 19th (Western) Division. Two battallions had to attack Thiepval frontally. Twenty one German machine guns had survived the bombardment, and they wiped out the attackers in a few minutes. In these circumstances the observation of the British Official History that "only bullet-proof soliders could have taken Thiepval on this day" is hardly an exaggeration. The remainder of the attack to the right of the village fared little better. The first wave troops were instantly fired upon by the enemy machine guns and snipers. Thankfully, the IX Corps artillery re-bombarded the village, allowing the withdrawal of the remnants of the first wave and of the support battalions that had come forward. In the extreme rightward section, some troops had made some progress and entered the Leipzig Redoubt, where they fortified themselves under the fire coming from Wonderwerk and Nordwerk. Again the German barrage made impossible the arrival of reinforcements, that in some cases, nevertheless, kept pressing forwards, as the 1st Dorsets and the 2nd Manchester (about 1,500 men). Barely 100 of them arrived to the German front line. Again, when darkness came, the few survivors at Leipzig Redoubt withdraw back to their lines.

    So, the attack had been a complete failure, stopped dead by the unsubdued machine guns. At the end of the day, IX Corps had suffered 6,800 casualties, and hardly taken an inch of ground.



    Ovillers & La Boisselle (VII Corps)
    The villages of Ovillers and La Boisselle flanked the Albert-Bapaume road and marked the centre of the Fourth Army's front. It was here that the Reserve Army cavalry would advance if a breakthrough was to be achieved by the attack of the VII Corps. Thus, the centre of the British attack was also central to Haig's plan. It was here where the breakthrough to happen, thus allowing the calvary to go forward, followed inmediately by Gough's Reserve army.



    However, there was a problem with this plan. The Montgomery plan had envisaged a "bite and hold" attack that excluded the kind of big breakthrough dreamt by Haig. On top of that, not even when the guidelines comming from GHQ refered to that goal, General Pulteney, commander of the VII Corps, and his staff, did not believe in such an option. However, Pulteney knew that any suggestion against that plan would be overruled by Haig, so heproceed according to one set of assumptions (Haig's) but employing an artillery plan based on a completely different set (Rawlinson) (4). To make it worse, the Germans defences in this area were also of great strenght (5), garrissoned with machine guns and the usual fortified villages -Ovillers and La Boisselle, which where on two small ridges that dominated the surrounding countryside-. On topf of that, there was another problem: the width of the No Man’s Land, which varied from 200 yards in the north to 800 in the area around Mash Valley, too 600 yards at la Boiselle and 700 yards in the Lochnager crater area. In a few words, it was a bitch of land to cross under fire.

    The two British divisions were two regular formations (Guards and the 3rd) plus one from Kitchener's Army (14th "Light" Division), entirely made of volunteers. The Guards Division attacked the Ovilliers sector, and it followed the usual pattern already seen: the troops, who had left their trenches before zero hour to be closer to the German line when the bombarment moved forwards were shot down by the German machine guns. Despite the almost impossible task, the brigades did temporarily penetrate as far as the third trench of the German front-line system, and a small group did manage to capture a section of the German front-line trench for a few hours. Of the 2,720 of the 3rd Guards Brigade that moved to the attack, 400 became casualties before zero hour. Hardly a third of the soldiers of the brigade could be mustered the next day. The story of the remaining two brigades can be quickly told: it was a complete disaster. In every case the leading companies were hit by a hail of enemy fire as they attempted to cross No Man’s Land. Not even forming in small groups availed to anything. As the German began to bomb the trench lines, the attack was cancelled. In all, just over 1,100 men became casualties for precisely no gains.



    On his right, the 3rd Division didn't fare better. The two mines under the German line exploded as planned, causing the desired effects, but the smoke screen on La Boiselle was nowhere to be seen.. Worse still, the Germans knew that an attack was comming. Thus, another hail of bullets rained over the British trenches, making impossible even to try to go over the top. A few units tried, anyway, as the 20th and 23th Northumberland Fusiliers, which were wiped out withing a few minuts (the 20th sufered 661 casualties out of 800 men; as for the 23th, just 120 men form their original 820 were asembled the following day). To the south of La Boiselle, the stunning effect of the Lochanger explosion allowed some troops on the left to advance. The Tyneside Scottish Brigade attacked up Mash Valley and against La Boisselle itself, on a sector known as the Glory Hole. They captured some enemy trenches, until a fierce coutner-attack sent them back to their starting positions. Even the unimaginative Pulteney knew that there was no sense of keeping attacking and the operation was cancelled. The 103rd Brigade (The Tyneside Irish) abandoned its position in the Tara-Usna Hills as their advance was also cancelled. The attack of the VII Corps ended with over 4,700 casualties for a derisory amount of ground gained and lost.a few minutes later.


    A support company of the Tyneside Irish Brigade advancing from the Tara-Usna Line on 1 July, 1916, This photo has usually been considered to depict soldiers marching through No Man's Land against the German trenches. In fact, it was taken well behind the British Lines.

    Fricourt, Mametz & Montauban (II and III Corps)
    To the south of La Boiselle, the frontline turned sharply to the east around Fricourt, thus presenting the British army with a difficult right angle to attack, along with the customary ruined villages well provided of cellars to shelter machinge gunse a plenty. The fortified village of Fricourt lay in a bend in the front-line where it turned eastwards for two miles (3 km) before swinging south again to the Somme River. If the attacks by III Corps on either side of Fricourt reached their objectives, the village would be isolated in a pocket so it was deemed unnecessary to make a frontal assault.

    Fricourt was the largest of all the villages incorporated by the Germans to the defensive line. But it lacked one of the features that had helped the other German strongpoints: it lay quite close to the British lines and the Allied artillery could bombard it at pleasure. Furthermore, direct observation was easier. These factors contributed to reduce the amount of fire directed against the attackers while crossing the shorter No Man’s Land. There was a further factor which contributed to this situation, the employment, if only in embryo, of firing a creeping barrage in front of the advancing troops. In time this procedure became a very sophisticated form of infantry protection. On July 1st, the bombarment only fell on the German frontline at the onset and moved beyond it too fast for the troops to keep pace. Anyway, enemy defences were enough subdued to allow some of the attackers to make progress.

    In another matter concerning artillery III Corps was more lucky than skilfull. No other corps devoted fewer resources to counter-battery than III Corps. This one had one positive aspect: more III Corps' heavy guns were firing against the enemy dug-outs and machine gun posts. However, it also might have a considerable negative aspect: unhindered German batteries could wreak havoc on the attack, as it had happened in the north. Two factores prevented this from happening. The corps adjoining the III, the II Corps, gave a particular high priority to counter-battery. And the French, more lavishly supplied with heavy guns than the British, directed many of their heavy guns into the general Mametz-Montauban area because they feared that the German batteries here might hinder their efforts to advance in the Maricourt Salient (6). Thus, on the day of the attack, the British units faced far less artillery fire than the other corps.


    A German barbed-wire defence as captured near Mametz. This photograph demonstrates the sophistication of barbed wire in which a double row of stake has been linked to form a dense entaglement adn a formidable obstacle to infantry.


    Success, nevertheless, did not came cheaply. The 1st Division advanced to the north of Fricourt. In the extreme north of the III Corps area the bombardment had not been very accurate, so the attack batallions were met with hevy rifle and machine gun fire before they have gone 25 yards. In one unit, 19 of the 24 officers became casualites in No Man’s Land. Then, as the barrage lifted from the German front line, the defenders occupied the parapet and opened fire. Nevertheless, a force managed to take the first German system and was soon reinforced by the two follow-up battallions, which reached the first objective (Crucifix Trench-Round Wood) by marching close behind the artillery barrage. In 45 minutes, the 6th Brigade had advanced well to the north of Fricourt.

    Support on the flanks did not materialise, due to the failure already described. To the south, the other assaulting brigade from 1st Division also failed. The defenders had not been subdued and the machine gun fire cut down the attackers as they attempted to leave their trenches. Despite this, two or three hundred men from the lead battalions reached the German front line. However, fire from Fricourt and Fricoutt Wood was too intense to allow significant process. The survivors dug in just behind the German second trench and waited for the night. While this relative success was taking place, the 10th West Yorkshire Regiment, from 50th Brigade, launched the most disastrous attack of the first day of the Somme battle. The 10th was required to advance close by Fricourt; its two lead companies captured the German front line virtually unscathed. The rearward companies were wiped out by the enemy fire, which left the forward companies on their own and had to fight their own way back to their original lines. At night fall just 21 men of the batallion returned to the British trenches. From the 750 mean who attacked, 710 became casualties, the worst battalion losses of the day.

    East of Fricourt, the village of Mametz was attacked by the 2nd Division. It was a complete success. Greatly assited by the creeping barrage, its assault battalions occupied the German trenches within one minute after the barrage lifted. Other units crossed No Man’s Land close behind the barrage without suffering a single casuality. Some others, though, ran into intense German artillery bombarment and lost all cohesion. Nevertheless, nowhere the enemy resistance was enought to bring the attack to a halt and, by 13.30 pm, the southern outskirst of Mametz and been taken. By 16.00 pm Mametz was finally taken and 600 enemy soldiers surrendered. To its left, 4th Division established a strong defensive flank facing the village. At the cost of 3,100 trops, most of the objectives of the III Corps had been seized.



    On the right of the attack, General Plumer's II Corps, made up by two New Army divisions attacked due north. It had two obstacles on the way: Montauban and Pommiers Redoubt, lavisly equipped with machine guns, barbed wire and dugouts. The Allied bombardment, thought, with French help, was devastating. The batteries of the two divisions defending the area were obliterated by midday of July 1st. The trenches and their defenders had also suffered heavily and the bared wire had been swept away, and many manchine guns silenced. The German defences in the area were not so strong as in other sectors, and this may have helped the success of the pre-eliminary bombarment, too.

    Thus, following a primitive creeping barrage, the II Corps went forward. Even if the attack was a success, there were some failures. Some German guns had survived the onslaught and caused heavy casualties to the troops of the 53rd Brigade/18th Division as they were in their assembly trenches. In the sector of the 55th Brigade, surviving machine guns caused heavy casualties on the leading waves and brought the attack in this section to a halt. However, the 54th and a large part of the 53rd Brigade, aided by the creeping barrage, had captured the German front line shortly after 7.30 am. and kept moving. Thus, by 8.30 am they had taken Pommiers Trench and were closing on Pommiers Redoubt. By 9.30 am, the formidable Pommiers Redoubt was in British hands, which eased the pressure upon 55th Brigade, which was able to move upon their final objective (Mountauban Alley, to the north-west of the village), that was taken without further problems. All objectives on the front of 18th Division had been taken.

    On the right, 7th Division achieved the greatest advance of July 1st, and at the least cost. This applied especially to 79th Brigade, which attacked alongisde the French and dashed forward to find the wire well cut and, within a minute, the German front line had fallen. By 8.30 am the final objective, Dublin Treench, south of Montauban, was in their hands. At middays the second wave troops leapfroged through them to captured the village itself. All this had been acomplished at a cost of just 24 killed. One Batallion (17 King's) had escaped a single death on July 1st.

    The 21st Brigade also made progress, but with higher losses from machine gun in rear and in enfilade. In the case of one company, just 31 of 200 reached the German line. The troops took the front trench line, though and event keep advancing against an increasingly disorganised enemy-a well placed French shell had wiped out almost all of the regimental officers of a Bavarian regiment- and then began to consolidate their positions.

    Montauban proved a hard nut to cruck, though. Some of the attacking units suffered much slaughter and little progress, but some others, the 30th Brigade, covered by a dense smoke screen, managed to reach the south of the village by 9.30 am. Then, at 10.30 the barrage moved on and the Brigade entered the village ten minutes later with hardly a casualty. From this position, the British could see the Germans flooding back towards the second line. At the cost of 1,600 trops, all the objectives of the II Corps had been seized.



    The French offensive.
    Général Bafourier XX Corps moved off at zero hour against an enemy whose barbed-wire entanglements had been largely destroyed and their trenches obliterated. Just a few defenders were capable of organizsing something resemblant to a resistance as the French infantry attacked. By 12.30 pm the XX Corps had reched their final objectives without having to call their reserves. Apparently, the Germans were in complete disarray. However, any advance was precluded as General Congreve did not wanted to advance, which would proetct the flank of Bafourir, as he had to secure the captured positions and prepare the next stage of the battle.Thus, the French had to stop their hadvance and consolidated their positions.

    South of the Somme, two French corps advanced two hours after the XX Coprs and found that the bombardment had been more efective in this area that in any other part of the Allied front. The experienced French infantry made use of every crater to conceal their movements, supported by a variety of light automatic weapons to provide support. By the end of the day, the German second line was taken and 3,000 prisoners were making their way to the rear.


    .
    (1) Haig later took revenge for this "failure" on Montagu-Stuart-Wortley ("[he] is not of an age, neither has he the constitution, to allow him to be as much among his men in the front lines as is necessary to imbue all ranks with confidence and spirit") and sacked him. D'Oyly Snow was to follow short later. This time, however, due to health troubles and returned to Britain, being appointed general officer commanding Western Command. (I've accelerated this, as "Snowball", as he was also known, didn't requested to be relieved until 1917. I wasn't in the mood to wait for so long.
    (2) And of Ernest Brooks, who missed the chance to take one of the most iconic images of the Great War.
    (3) This time the reserve brigade received the order and was not slaughtered in No Man’s Land.
    (4) Actually, that was really happened to the planification of the III Corps in OTL 1916. They used the artillery for the massive bombing needed by the breakthrough but preapred for a different kind of attack -God knows which one.
    (5) What a surprise, uh?
    (6) A polite way to say: We don't trust our allies, so let's bomb there, just in case, you know...

    @c0d5579: There will be plenty of night battles, in due time. You'll see then why it's not always a good idea...

    @Enewald: Why do you thing that there were so many poppies in the zone after 1918...?

    @quaazi: Even Zapp Brannigan isn't as mad as some WW1 General in both sides...

    @El Pip: That or a modernized version of the siege of Orleans.

    @Nathan Madien: And if not, guess what...

    @Nathan Madien (2). Indeed

    @TheRealKestrel:

    @Enewald: Not really. The Somme is one of my favourite battles.

    @El Pip: I was tempted to achieve the perfect battle of the Somme (British guns making a perfecto work, British Generals doing their bit in the right way and the Tommise marching unnoposed to the Rhine), but, Blighty!, I got Haig on the way!

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