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The Battle of the Somme
By M. Ardouin-Dumazet
[Translated for CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE.
See map on page 4S]
'N the period beginning July 20 the
struggle was, above all, an artillery duel; under the protection of their
cannon, the British troops, with unwearying tenacity, gained ground little by little, dislodging the enemy by grenade attacks and hand-to-hand fighting. These encounters took place along the whole front, from the Leipzig redoubt, close to Thiopval, to the Delville Wood, which touches Longueval. Between this village and Bazentin, the enemy, during July 20, was pressed back to a depth of a kilometer, but he resisted fiercely throughout the night. Our allies had reached the Foureaux Wood, (“ High Wood ”;) they were there subjected to a bombardment with the aid of asphyxiating shells and were compelled to abandon the northern part of the wood.
On July 23 the battle suddenly assumed a new vigor, from Pozières, on the road from Albert to Bapaume, as far as Guillemont, between Montauban and Combles. It attained its greatest height of fury on the two wings. Pozières, which stretches along an exceedingly gentle slope, with a windmill at 160Meter Hill, is the culminating point of the whole region in which the boundaries of Picardy and Artois meet. The vistas are immense. For this reason the Germans had made of Pozières a redoubtable fortress, which it was necessary to smash to pieces with shells, though even then its defenders were not driven out. English and Australian troops launched in an assault succeeded, only after midnight, in carrying the advanced trenches, and were then able to enter the village, which is built chiefly along the two sides of the highway. The village had to be taken house by house; on Monday morn
ing, July 24, the Germans were still in possession of a considerable part of the village; two guns and 150 prisoners were gathered in by the Australians. On Tuesday, July 25, the Germans retook several houses on the north side of the village, from which they were finally driven on Wednesday morning, July 26. Having made themselves masters of this position, to which the enemy attached great importance, the British troops turned toward the west, that is, toward Thiepval.
In the centre, Longueval, which the enemy had retaken, was carried on July 23; the enemy in his turn captured that portion which marches with the Delville Wood. This wood and, in the direction of Guillemont, the ground occupied by the Waterlot Farm, were also twice taken and retaken. The battle was carried on furiously by hand-to-hand fights and grenades. At the close of Tuesday, July 25, our allies had made a certain amount of progress, in spite of continuous bombardment. All the enemy's attempts to advance were repulsed.
On Thursday, July 20, while the British troops were developing their movement between the Leipzig redoubt and the approaches of Guillemont, the French troops were attacking on both sides of the Somme. To the north the movement started from Hardecourt-in-the-Woods, and was directed toward the point where the great winding dry ravine, which begins near Combles, comes out on the Somme. Our progress halted at the lip of this ravine near the narrow-gauge railroad which runs up it. Thereafter our soldiers in this sector limited themselves to consolidating their positions; only the artillery intervened, to support
the English in their attacks between Delville Wood and Guillemont. We took 400 prisoners.
A more extensive movement was developed on the same day, Thursday, July 20, to the south of the Somme and the highway from Peronne to Amiens, at first from Barleux to Soyécourt, then toward Vermandovillers, one and one-quarter miles to the north of Chaulnes. The whole of the first line of the enemy trenches was carried. Few details of this fighting have been given; yet they were very important, as they raised to 2,900 the number of prisoners taken on this day on both banks of the Somme. Thirty officers surrendered, three guns and thirty machine guns were taken. The enemy attempted to counterattack at one point only, to the south of Soyécourt. A battalion launched against our lines was crushed by our barrier fire, and retreated in disorder. On July 23 a new attack took place during the night; it was not more successful. On the morning of the following day our troops, in a local action, carried an enemy battery of mine-throwers to the south of Estrées and several machine guns.
During the evening we resumed our attacks in the neighborhood of Estrées, to dislodge the enemy from a group of houses which they had fortified on the south side of the village; the movement was successful. At the same moment another attack gave us possession of trenches between Soyécourt and Vermandovillers. In these engagements 117 prisoners and 3 more guns were taken.
The enemy took the offensive only to the south of Chaulnes, near Maucourt, where, on the morning of July 21, he tried to reach our lines; he was driven back by a bayonet charge.
From this time until Sunday, July 30, quiet reigned on both banks of the Somme. To the south reconnoissances or scouting movements of the enemy were repulsed at Soyécourt, Vermandovillers, and Lihons-en-Santerre, then once more, on July 29 and 31, at Lihons.
On July 30 we resumed the offensive to the north, in conjunction with the English. It will be remembered that we had there occupied a line formed by the
railroad which follows the hollow of the dry ravine at Combles, beginning at 139Meter Hill, a kilometer (1,086 yards) from Hardecourt, and reaching to the Somme. At the level of Hem our front left the ravine to go direct to this village, before which we held the Monacu Farm. This represents a distance of four and one-third miles. The whole sector was covered in a single advance movement. During the forenoon the enemy's trenches fell into our hands, to a depth varying from 217 to 869 yards. The Combles ravine was crossed; our soldiers reached the first houses of Maurepas, a large village which covers the hillside on the left bank, and half surrounded that fortified position. Toward Hem, between the Albert road and the railway station, we carried a small intrenched wood and a quarry. Finally the Monacu Farm was completely in our hands.
This success gave us assured possession of the highway crossing the Somme and the canal to Feuillères; it gave us a direct communication between the two groups of Hardecourt and the loop of the Somme. The only fixed bridge downstream is at Eclusier; to make use of it, to go from Feuillères to Monacu, represents a detour of more than nine miles, while from Feuillères to Monacu is not 540 yards. This makes clear the importance of our gain and the immediate attempts of the enemy to drive us from Monacu Farm and the Hem Wood.
Repulsed in the afternoon, after extremely violent attacks, the Germans returned to the charge during the evening and a part of the night. At one time, they gained a footing in the farm, but a superb assault by our soldiers drove them out. During the whole of Monday, July 31, they redoubled their efforts, without penetrating our lines. In the evening, exhausted by their terrible losses, they gave it up. Our defense was supported by the batteries in the loop of the Somme; from the steep hills which dominate the valley they enfiladed the assaulting massed troops and mowed down whole lines.
This support enabled us to carry a powerful fortified work which the enemy still held between Hem Wood and Monacu.
The British troops had less respite Somme and took them by storm. One than the French. From July 27 to July hundred and twenty prisoners and a 30 the struggle was continuous, the en dczen machine guns were taken. emy preparing his assaults by an intense
During the forenoon of Tuesday, Aug. bombardment with asphyxiating shells. 8, the Germans tried to regain the ground On the morning of July 27 the Germans, lost; two attacks were repulsed, and 100 who, during the night, had lost a trench
more prisoners fell into our hands. We to the north of Pozières and Bazentin
did not stop at this success: joining our the-Less, threw themselves on this work
efforts with those of our allies, who were and retook it; our allies forthwith took
advancing against Guillemont, we made it back again. At the same time they
progress toward the east from 139-Meter attacked the parts of Longueval and the
Hill to the north of Hardecourt and Delville Wood which had remained in the
along the whole front as far as the possession of the enemy, and there began
Somme, winning a depth of 300 to 500 a fierce fight which lasted until the fol
yards of trenches along a winding line lowing day, but they required the whole
of three and three-quarter miles. . Night day of July 28 to make themselves mas
counterattacks to the north of Hem ters of these positions. Toward Pozières a
Wood were repulsed, though one trench terrible hand-to-hand fight was begun
was occupied by the enemy; it was reand lasted from July 27 to July 28, when
taken on Wednesday morning, Aug. 9. it was still undecided.
The Germans then began a bombardThroughout the whole night a fierce
ment of our positions with large-calibre fight continued in the approaches of Del
shells. ville Wood, where the enemy had already
To the south of the Somme we limited sacrificed two or three regiments, (8,000
ourselves to checking the attempts of the 12,000 men,) which were nearly annihilated, then the hand-to-hand fights slack
enemy from Aug. 1 to Aug. 3 against ened; the artillery duels were resumed
our positions on the approaches of the
Deniecourt hamlet near Estrées. On until July 30. On that day, Sunday, the English took part in our movement
Aug. 5 we attempted minor attacks, across the Combles ravine, carrying on
which made gains for us in the same re
gion. A few kilometers to the south, tothe struggle between Longueval and Guillemont. The battle was bloody, but
ward Lihons and Chaulnes, an artillery won for our allies valuable gains to the
action was begun which seems to have east of the Trônes Wood and the Water
been of extraordinary violence. Close to
the railroad the Germans had penetrated lot Farm.
our advanced lines between Lihons and Then the British troops set themselves to consolidate the ground they had
the railroad; a bayonet charge drove
The English meanwhile continued an
and munitions depots, notably in the goal of fierce assaults during the night
valley of the Ancre, at Grandcourt, at of Aug. 2-3; the attack extended across
Miraumont and, to the north of Pothe railway as far as Hem Wood on a
zières, at Courcelette. This fire reached front of 1,086 yards. The Germans were a high degree of intensity between Porepulsed; they had suffered such heavy
zières and Thiepval, where the enemy is losses on this side since July 30 that it powerfully organized. The German ar
necessary to relieve their units. tillery, on its side, violently bombarded Our organization at the mouth of the the region behind the English lines, Combles ravine was also reinforced. On notably Mametz Wood. Aug. 7 we advanced against a line of On both sides, there were attacks, trenches between Hem Wood and the often of great violence, especially near
Pozières, whose loss the Germans keenly felt. They extended as far as Delville Wood and Trones Wood, (not Trônes Wood, as reported.) During the night of Aug. 3-4, the Germans four times attacked Delville Wood and were continually repulsed. In the morning, between Pozières and Thiepval, enemy contingents, bent back by our bombardment, were cut down by machine guns.
On the following night, the British marked certain gains between Pozières and Bazentin. This success tinued during the night of Aug. 4-5, and even extended; the second German line to the north of Pozières was carried on a front of 2,000 yards, in spite of vigorous counterattacks. The struggle continued in the morning and definitely secured for the British troops the possession of a total front of 3,000 yards to a depth of from 400 to 600 yards. In spite of extremely vigorous artillery fire the Australians and their comrades of Old England succeeded in organizing the ground gained. On Aug. 6, the enemy returned furiously to the assault, making use of flaming liquids. A local success, due to this use of flaming
liquids, was immediately wiped out, and a further attempt was also repulsed.
The Germans once more took the offensive on Monday, Aug. 7, after bombarding the positions to the north and northeast of Pozières. At
time reaching the British trenches, they were driven out again. At sunrise, at 9 o'clock, at 4 in the afternoon, these attacks succeeded each other, somewhat feeble toward evening, without taking an inch of ground from our allies. On Aug. 9, to the northwest of Pozières, the Australian troops advanced on a front of 600 yards.
We have already recorded that our left wing took part in a movement against Guillemont in conjunction with the British. The village of Guillemont, situated at the junction of the roads coming from Longueval and Montauban and going to Combles, was reached by British troops on the northwest and southwest.
[Since the foregoing was written the Allies have slowly but steadily pushed forward, taking Maurepas, Guillemont, Ginchy, Flers, Martinpuich, Courcelette, Vermandoyillers, Berny, practically surrounding Combles, cutting across the Peronne-Bapaume road, and taking a firmer grip on the whole Picardy front from Chaulnes in the south to Thiepval on the north.)
"We Have Captured the Ridge”
By David Lloyd George
British Secretary for War
[From an address in the House of Commons, Aug. 22, 1916)
DO not want to give a military esti captures of men and guns in the field. mate of the situation, but I would. The Russians at that time appeared to invite the House to look at the be held with ease by inferior forces. The
state of things a few months ago Germans were worrying our line along and contrast that with the state of things the whole front with incessant attacks, at the present moment. Two months ago some of them successful, and the new the fate of Verdun was in the balance. Russian levies and, to a very large exThe fall of Verdun might not have had tent, our own new armies, were untried. very important strategic results, but No one knew when put to the test how from the moral point of view it would well they would do. What is the posihave been a very serious blow to the tion now? Along the whole of the battle cause of the Allies. Two months ago front, east and west, the initiative has the Austrians appeared to be pressing been wrested from the enemy almost for into the plains of Italy. They were ad the first time. There is only one possivancing, and they were making great ble exception, and that is Mesopotamia,
where very largely, owing to climatic reasons, our army for the moment is quiescent. Take the west, along our front and the French front, take the eastern front, where the Russians have won such conspicuous victories—take the notable victories won by the Italians-take the great victories in the Caucasus. The whole situation has completely changed.
The Recent Offensive I have heard a good deal of criticism of our offensive, and some of the critics imagine that its only justification would be if we were to break through. Not in the least. The enemy had two alternatives. He might have said: “ All right, march on, capture trench after trench, we will give you one after the other of these trenched villages, we might throw in a few French towns. We will give you not merely kilometer after kilometer, we might even give you departments, but we will not let go Verdun, and we will throw our forces on to the eastern front to prevent the break-up of Austria." He might, on the other hand, have said: “Oh, no; rather than let you break through here and drive us back, we will take guns and divisions from Verdun, and we will concentrate our troops in front of you rather than let you have this territory.” He chose the latter. That suited us. It relieved the pressure on Verdun and prevented the enemy from withdrawing his forces to support the Austrians. I want those who are thinking of this offensive in terms of yards or kilometers to realize the full effect of this achievement.
One of two things would be a success. Breaking through would be a success, but forcing the enemy to bring his armies there to prevent our breaking through would be an equally great success.
The latter we have accomplished. In addition, we have rescued a very considerable portion of French territory from the enemy's grip. But that is not the end of it. The enemy is still powerful, and no one pretends that he is yet at the end of his resources. At the present moment his armies are just as numerous as they ever were, his equipment is as formidable as it ever was. That is true
of the Germans alone, but it is not true of their allies, not in the least.
The British Contribution And if it is not true of their allies, it is because we have been able to concetrate such great forces that we have held the Germanic power while the Russians were dealing with some of her allies. That has been our contribution, a great contribution and a costly contribution. Not as costly as the enemy makes it out to be. His accounts of our losses have been grossly, ludicrously exaggerated. A* the present moment we are pressing hir. over territory the value of which must be reckoned not by the number of yards, but rather by the importance of the positions we are capturing. Any man who looks at the contour of the map of this particular battlefield will see what it means, and our losses, although deplorable, as all losses must be, are relatively very low, while the enemy, forced to counterattack over ground which is exposed to our artillery, suffers heavily.
We are fighting a very great military power, with gigantic resources and with
enormous population to draw upon. But no one realizes better than the foe what a change has come over the spirit of the scene. He knows for the first time that his forces are being held, that he is now on the defensive, and that makes a great difference in the whole character of the campaign henceforth. But there are many valleys to cross, there are many ridges to storm, before we see the final victory. We shall need more men, more munitions, more guns, and more equipment, and we shall need all the courage and the endurance of our race in every 'part of the world in order to convert the work which has been begun, more especially during the last two years, into a victory which will be really a final and complete victory.
Pressing the Enemy Back We are presssing the enemy back. Sir Douglais Haig's report tonight shows how we are gradualy pressing him back here and there over ground every me ter of which is important at the present moment because of its dominating position in that particular country. It does