general douglas haig

aviatorlad  asked:

Hi there. I am a huge fan of history, I have a passion for learning and just exploring it, and being South African I was wondering if you had any photographs on the battle of delvellie wood? Amazing blog, keep up the awesome stuff

The Battle of Delville Wood (15 July – 3 September 1916) was a series of engagements in the 1916 Battle of the Somme in the First World War, between the armies of the German Empire and the British Empire. Delville Wood (Bois d'Elville), was a thick tangle of trees, chiefly beech and hornbeam (the wood has been replanted with oak and birch by the South African government), with dense hazel thickets, intersected by grassy rides, to the east of Longueval. As part of a general offensive starting on 14 July, which became known as the Battle of Bazentin Ridge (14–17 July), General Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, intended to capture the German second position between Delville Wood and Bazentin le Petit.

The 1st South African Infantry brigade was affected to the 9th (Scottish) Division in May 1916, replacing the disbanded 28th Brigade.


General Officer commanding : Brigadier General Henry Timson LUKIN

1st South African Infantry Regiment (Cape of Good Hope)

Lieutenant-Colonel F.S. DAWSON

2nd  South African Infantry Regiment (Natal and Orange Free State)

Lieutenant-Colonel W.E.C. TANNER

3rd South African Infantry Regiment (Transvaal and Rhodesia)

Lieutenant-Colonel E.F. THACKERAY

4th  South African Infantry Regiment (South African Scottish)

Lieutenant-Colonel F.A. JONES

Before the battle : men of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment take a rest along a road (Delville Wood Museum)

14th JULY

The ridge was attacked at 03. 35 am by the 26th and 27th Brigades of the 9th (Scottish) Division. The South African Infantry Brigade was in reserve and was initially planned to take part to the “cleaning” of the village and the wood. The Scots seized the southern part of the village and patrols of the 8th Black Watch got into the wood. But Germans held in the northern part of the village, strongly fortified, and strengthened in the wood. The fierce fighting in the village and around Waterlot Farm had caused heavy losses among the assailants. The 1st SAI was sent in the village to assist in clearing the South of Longueval and the three others South African regiments were to be ordered to penetrate the wood, but the advance was postponed for the following morning.

The Short  Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) Mark III was the standard rifle of the British Army during the First World War. It appeared in 1907 and was producted in India from 1909 and in Australia from 1913. It remained in British service until 1957. Many variants were producted during this long career. Accurate and reliable, the SMLE established itself as one of the best rifles of the war in spite of its relative complexity. An experienced soldier was able to fire as many as 15 rounds a minute in target.

15th JULY

At 05. 00 am, the first South African soldiers penetrated the wood under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Tanner. The progress was slow because of the tangles of trees destroyed by the first shellings. At noon, the whole wood, except its northwestern part, too strongly defended, was under control. The entrenchment began, but this was difficult by the nature of the ground strewn with roots and by a  constant bombardment including gas shells, all under a stifling heat. Moreover, Germans launched three counter attacks, all repulsed. The brilliant marksmanship of the South Africans was given its opportunity. The rate of German shelling often reached 400 shells per minute, with all calibres. The casualties were heavy and the only reserve of the Brigade consisted of three companies, despite the fact that the 1st SAI had returned to Lukin’s command.

Before the attack, two companies of the 4th SAI were detached to the 5th Cameron Highlanders.  They took part to the attack of Waterlot Farm, which was not taken till the following day. They joined the South African Brigade in Delville Wood.

16th JULY

All through the furious night of the 15th, South Africans were digging trenches to save their lives. At 2.35am, Lukin received orders from the Division  that the portion held by enemy must be taken. Without artillery preparation, the attack, by the Royal Scots from the village and the 1st SAI from Prince Street, was a failure and the attacking troops fell back.  It was then that Private W.F. FAULDS won his Victoria Cross. It was during this hot and dusty day that appeared the first difficulties to bring up food and water. Also, the evacuation of the wounded became perilous. Lieutenant Colonel Dawson, C.O. of the 1st Regiment, asked for a relief. But fresh troops could not yet be spared for the work. The Division ordered that the wood must be held at all cost. Moreover, another attack against the north-west corner was ordered for the next morning.

17th JULY

In spite of an artillery preparation, this attack, made shortly before dawn by the 1st and 2nd SAI, did not succeed. Germans were stubborn defenders. In the morning, General Lukin visited the wood and was worried about the fatigue of his men. He had now no troops which had not been in action for at least forty-eight hours. A fight in a wood was the most wearing king of battle and the most of the South Africans had to wait under a continuous machine-gun and artillery fire. On his return at his headquarters, Lukin discussed the situation on the telephone with General Furse, C.O. of the 9th (Scottish) Division, but could get no hope of relief or reinforcements. Moreover, the instructions from the XIII Corps stood that the wood must be held at any cost. Delville wood became a death-trap.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tanner was wounded in the evening and Lieutenant-Colonel Thackeray succeeded him in charge of the troops in the wood.

18th JULY

This fourth day was the crisis of the battle for the defenders. In the night, a strong enemy attack was launched and Germans advanced as far as Buchanan Street and Princes Street. A costly counter-attack expelled them. At 3.45am, The 3rd Division succeeded to take the orchard in the North of Longueval and the 1st SAI joined hands with the 1st Gordon Highlanders. But this sudden success was due to the fact that German infantry had evacuated the orchard for a barrage of its artillery. At 8.00am, a bombardment of an unprecedented severity was open on the wood and Longueval. Every part of the area was searched and smothered by shells until 3.30pm. The 3rd Division was expelled from the northern part of Longueval and fresh German troops began to enter the wood from all sides. To the great surprise of the attackers, the handful of South African survivors gave a stubborn resistance and took place a fierce fighting with high losses on both sides. In many parts of the wood, were “duels” between attackers parties and resistance pockets, sometimes at reversed front. It is not easy to reproduce the circumstances of events of this painful day, because many of the protagonists were killed. The South African soldiers, driven back to the southwestern part of the wood delimited by Princes Street and Buchanan Street, installed there a pocket of resistance, assisted by Highlanders of the division. A new German division was committed to expel them : it never succeeded.

19th JULY

          All through the 19th the gallant handful suffered incessant shelling and sniping and repulsed the attackers with heavy loss. On the eastern edge of the wood, the remains of the 3rd SAI, which had successfully resisted the thrust of the German infantry on their front, were now effectively cut off. 190 men were captured. The first relief  by the 26th Brigade begun in difficult conditions.

Bronze plaque depicting trench scene at the Battle of Delville Wood, Cenotaph, Heerengracht Street, Cape Town, South Africa. “The trench scene represents the burnt-out Delville Wood in July 1916 when held by SA forces.”

20th JULY

           Germans launched several attacks against Thackeray’s band but could not overrun them. The colonel himself fought with rifle and grenade on the parados of the trench. Finally, in the evening the promised relief arrived with the men of the 3rd Division. Thackeray marched out with two officers, both of whom were wounded, and 140 other ranks, made up of details from all the units of the Brigade. He spent the night at Talus Boisé, and the next day joined the rest of the Brigade at Happy Valley.

Out of the 121 officers and 3 032 other ranks who formed the Brigade on 14th July in morning, only 29 officers and 751 other ranks were present at roll call when the unit was gathered some days after the battle. The heroic resistance of the South African Brigade, against the flower of the German Army, had saved the southern part of the British line.

The wood remained the scene of bitter fighting for more than one month and units of seven British divisions was committed there. Finally, Delville Wood was entirely in the hands of Allies at the end of August when the 14th (Light) Division captured it for good. It remained in the first line till 15th September 1916 when the great attack with tanks « took away » the front eastwards and northwards.

A hug

June 30, 1916 - Battle of the Somme Postponed til July 1

Pictured - A British heavy howitzer is manhandled into position on the Somme.

General Douglas Haig, the commander of the BEF, had promised French president Aristide Briand that the Allied forces would step off their summer offensive on the Somme on June 29.  D-Day was postponed, however, until July 1, to allow one more day for the preparatory bombardment, which had battered German positions along a 20-mile front for five days already.

1,537 British guns, from light field pieces to monumental siege howitzers, had fired over 1 million shells at the Germans in the preparation for the Battle of the Somme, beginning on June 24.  Obviously, the element of surprise was long gone. But British General Headquarters did not really believe that surprise was needed.  The lessons learned in the costly 1915 offensives had taught the Allies one key point: artillery was the war-winner on the Western Front.  For an attack to succeed, the guns had to pummel the enemy into submission before the infantry went over the top.

The First World War was a war of attrition.  Despite the occasional plan for a master blow here or there, most generals understood that whichever side could throw more material and men at the enemy, and withstand the other side longer, would emerge the victor.   The plan for the Battle of the Somme makes perfect sense in that context, although since the First World War the idea of attrition warfare has become anathema.  British planners underestimated the strength of German forces on the Somme, and the numbers they had in reserve.  But even if a breakthrough did not come, as Haig hoped, the battle would divert German reinforcements from Verdun and eat into German manpower.

The plan was to kill Germans, and so the extra day of bombardment increased confidence in the plan.  On the southern end of the battlefield, where a smaller French army was to go into action alongside the British, poilus were able to climb out of their trenches into No-Man’s Land and sit watching the barrage on the other side, cheering every large explosion.  French gunners had learned the hard way how to fight an artillery battle at Verdun, and the artillery on the French sector of the Somme succeeded in its objectives, cutting wire and smashing in German machine-gun nests. On July 1 it would support its infantry well, making D-Day an easy one for the French infantry.

Not so on the British side of the battlefield.  Although the British Fourth Army fielded more guns, a distressing number of its shots proved to be dud shells, failing to go off.  Even those that did hit were mostly shrapnel, which was good for killing soldiers in the open, but did nothing to barbed wire or concrete dug-outs.  Staff officers refused to believe reports from raiders that the German trenches looked unaffected. In the crowded trenches, filling up with assault troops for the next day. British soldiers tried to catch some sleep or grab a last bite of rations. Most were young volunteers, full of life and confident of victory, poised for success on July 1, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

June 24, 1916 - French General Nivelle at Verdun: “They Shall Not Pass!, British Bombardment Begins on the Somme

Pictured - “Halte la ! On ne passe pas !”

The last German effort to capture Verdun came crashing down on the French army, seriously threatening the small town on the Meuse that the French had fought so desperately to hold these last months.  On June 23, Fort Thiaumont, guarding Verdun only two miles to the north, fell to the German advance, along with the village of Fleury and thousands of French prisoners. 

Only one more obstacle stood between the German army and a great triumph: Fort Souville.  If it fell, French General Nivelle, who had replaced Petain as the ground-level commander at Verdun with the latter’s promotion, feared that Verdun itself would become untenable, and he would be forced to abandon the city to the German Crown Prince.

When German Chief-of-Staff Falkenhayn had planned the Battle of Verdun, he believed that France would be so determined to hold the town that it would bleed itself dry fighting in its defense.  His hypothesis proved correct; what he did not predict was that the German army would suffer just as bad trying to take it, nor the gargantuan logistical and military lengths France would go to save Verdun. 

A winding road, painstakingly built by colonial laborers, poured hundreds of trucks filled with French men and ammunition into Verdun each day.  This road, pounded continually by artillery fire, was known as  la Voie Sacrée, or “the Sacred Way”.  By the end of 1916 almost every infantryman in the French army in the West had cycled through the meatgrinder of Verdun at least once.

Thus, France held on to Verdun, but just barely.  If Souville fell now, the whole battle would be undone.  On June 24 French Prime Minister Astride Briand went to the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, General Douglas Haig, to plead for the planned British summer offensive at the Somme to come sooner.  The dour Scotsman argued that he could not move the date forward, but promised to attack on June 29.  However, he agreed that Britain’s preparatory artillery bombardment would begin as planned that same day, hitting the German lines on the Somme with everything the BEF had for five whole days before the planned D-Day on June 29.  Thus began the longest concentrated artillery bombardment in the history of warfare.

The Battle of Verdun reached its climax on these days, with the Germans giving everything they had to take the city; the French doing the same to hold it.  Fortunately for France, the Germans did not have enough Green Cross phosgene gas for another bombardment.  Nivelle ended his order of the day with words that became synonymous for the Battle of Verdun in French memory: “On ne passe pas!  They shall not pass!”