Wednesday 27 July 2016

Day Twenty Seven on the Somme

Thursday 27th July 1916 From our Correspondent in the Field

The shelling of Pozières, which was so severe last night has, mysteriously, melted away this morning with no German attack(1). Today the scene of activity has been east of Pozières at Longueval and the now infamous Delville, or Devil’s, Wood.

A massive bombardment, on top of the almost continuous fighting since 14th, has reduced the wood to a shambles of splinters, shell holes, trenches, bodies and smashed equipment. Today 99th Brigade of 2nd Division took almost all that remains of the wood, save for a strip on the northern edge, though a German counter-attack mid-morning succeeded in retaking a portion of the place by attacking from the east. For a time rumours were circulating that the whole wood had been lost again but, fortunately, these proved to be untrue. As I write sounds of battle, though more muted now, are still heard occasionally from the direction of the wood.

On their left flank 15th Brigade assaulted the ruins of Longueval. The 1st Bedfords took part in this attack. The assault was begun by 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment at 7.10 and at 7.40 the commanding officer of the Norfolks despatched a message requesting help due to heavy shell-fire. The first objective had already been taken by the Norfolks and it was the job of A and B Companies of the Bedfords to assist the Norfolks take the second objectives and for C and D Companies to then move through and take the third objectives. The 16th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment was requested to occupy front line trenches when these were vacated by C and D Companies. A Company was responsible for that part of the ruins east of the former road running north-south through the village with B Company to the west of this road.

Lieutenant Fyson

A Company assisted the Norfolks to attack a German strong point and Lieutenant Fyson’s platoon succeeded in taking 32 prisoners. Just after 9 am C Company crossed the trench known as Princes Street, extending from Longueval more or less across the middle of Delville Wood but were held up by machine gun fire from the cross-roads in what remains of the village. The ruins holding the gun were taken by a party of the Norfolks and at the same time A Company reached the junction of the main road running south through Longueval and the road running north-east to Flers which skirts the edge of Delville Wood. Here they met a German counter-attack and brushed it off leaving around fifty of the enemy as casualties. From here A Company could see enemy posts on the ridge to the north.

Half an hour later C Company was able to cross Princes Street and took up a position along the main north-south road in touch with two companies of the Norfolks. Heavy machine-gun fire from Duke Street in the area just north of the name “Longueval” on the map (i.e. west and south-west of C Company) prevented any further advance and so they consolidated the position.

This machine-gun at Duke Street also prevented any advance by an officer and thirty men from B Company sent forward as a patrol to reinforce a company of the Norfolks. A Stokes mortar battery was requested to assist but did not. Later under cover of a British artillery bombardment B and D Companies were able to improve their position but at the cost of 2 officer and 54 other ranks and and 2 officers and 106 other ranks respectively.

1st Field Company, East Anglian Royal Engineers was supporting the attack by 2nd Division in Delville Wood today, ready to consolidate any ground taken. This they did, constructing works to prevent a successful counter-attack. Towards evening such a counter-attack seemed to be in the offing and the sappers manned the parapet and, to quote their commander: "After a considerable amount of rifle fire and bombing the attack was repulsed". Only one sapper was wounded

We have just heard that Royal Fusiliers on the right have been forced to withdraw meaning that A Company has had to move back slightly from the junction of the Flers road. It is expected that B and D Companies may also be ordered to withdraw tonight such is the danger of their position. Much of the fighting today has been hand-to-hand and the brief resumé of activities given above does not do justice to the ferocity of every small action undertaken.

Source: X550/2/5; X550/WD3

(1) Evidence points to the massive British counter-bombardment giving the Germans cause to think another British assault was on the way and so they moved onto the defensive.

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