Sunday 25 September 2016

Day Eighty Seven on the Somme

Monday 25th September 1916: From our Correspondent in the Field

Today has seen another large attack across a broad front extending in an arc from Martinpuich through Eaucourt-l’Abbaye, Gueudecourt, Lesboeufs and Morval to Combles in the south. Our own 1st and 8th Battalions have been caught up in these attacks.

Moving from left to right: 50th (Northumbrian) Division and 1st Division have advanced a small way north towards the hamlet of Eaucourt-l’Abbaye. The New Zealanders formed the defensive left flank for this whole operation. They moved forward against unexpectedly weak opposition and now face north-west towards Eaucourt-l’Abbaye. 55th (West Lancashire) Division took a short stretch of a main German defensive line called Gird Trench just to the north of its original position

21st Division attacked towards the village of Gueudecourt. We had heard rumours that Gueudecourt had fallen, but it has become clear this evening that it has not. The attack could get no further than Gird Trench, part of which was taken but most of which remains in German hands.

The Guards Division attacked an area south of Gueudecourt as far as a road through the middle of Lesboeufs. The Guards met with little in the way of opposition, stormed through the ruins and have now occupied ground just to the east.

6th Division attacked towards Lesboeufs. The adjutant of 8th Bedfords tells me that they were in reserve for the 16th Infantry Brigade attack on the German lines between Lesboeufs and Morval to the south: “The attack commenced at 12.35 pm and the Battalion moved up to the original front line when the second objective had been taken about 2.35. Casualties from the enemy barrage were very slight. The attack proved successful and many prisoners were taken. Tonight the Battalion will furnish carrying parties to the front line battalions with ammunition and water”.

The division attacked an area north of Morval as far as the road through the centre of Lesboeufs. The division succeeded splendidly in taking all its objectives and is now dug-in east of Lesboeufs with the Guards on its right and 5th Division on its left.

The aforementioned 5th Division includes, of course, 1st Bedfords. They were in their assembly trenches by 9.30 last night. The adjutant takes up the story: "At 1.35 pm the Battalion advanced in four waves at 150 yards distance one from another, passing over the trench taken by the 1st Norfolks. The first line reached their objective, the sunken road, by 1.40. Lewis guns were immediately placed in position on the top of the bank and several drums fired at the retiring enemy. The Battalion dug-in along the line of the road and also on the top of the bank. Touch was gained with the 16th Brigade at 1.50 and with the 95th Brigade about 2 pm”.

So far so good, but there have, it seems, been familiar problems: “Considerable casualties were sustained from our own field guns, both during the advance and while holding the sunken road”. This issue, it will be remembered, hampered the 8th Battalion attack on 15th. However, Morval, along with Lesboeufs, has fallen today. 1st Cheshires succeeded in occupying it by 3 pm. The farthest point reached has been the old windmill east of the village.

The right flank of the British armies in France is currently held by 56th (London) Division. This formation attacked Combles in co-operation wih French 2nd Division around midnight. They advanced round the north end of Bouleaux Wood, which still contains German defenders, and the two nations’ troops succeeded in taking Combles and are now dug-in well to the east of it, the British facing east and the French facing north.

So today, whilst not uniformly successful, has seen another series of hammer blows to the German lines. The capture of three villages is a huge success and in places the German defenses have been much weaker than normal. One wonders if there is some sort of crisis in the German army on the Somme which our forces may be able to exploit in the days ahead(1)

Sources: X550/2/5; X550/9/1

(1) The Germans, worried about a breakthrough on the Somme, had just begun a fortified line some miles behind their own front line. This was the Siegfriedstellung, known the British as the Hindenburg Line. During the Spring of 1917 the Germans withdrew

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