Latest Somme Offensive Wounds Hitler
The October mud on the Somme.
October 7 1916, Le Sars–After the great successes of the Allied attacks along in late September, Allied progress had stalled. Much of this was due to the rain, which started on October 2, turning the battlefield into a muddy mire. Historian William Philpott describes it as follows:
The mud of the Somme was something special. When the chalky subsoil mixed with the thin brown topsoil, a “liquid yellow grey mud…extraordinarily buoyant, like quicksilver,” resulted. It stuck to everything, caked men, clogged wheels and jammed the mechanisms of guns and rifles. Moreover, it was everywhere. On the roads it sucked in the wheels of transport lorries and wagons, congealed round the hoofs of horses and pack-mules and gripped the boots of marching men, often to the knee. Away from the roads the going was almost impossible. Shell-holes were filled to the brim with it, forming a quicksand that sucked in men and animals. It was, one history remarked, the worst mud which the poilus encountered anywhere along the front. Recurring images of the later fighting on the Somme are of men waist-deep in the mud, immovable and raving; of animals sunk in to their bellies, which had to be shot.
The rain frustrated Haig, who was convinced that German morale was on the breaking point. On the afternoon of October 7, after the rain had stopped, seven British and French divisions attacked along a front running from Le Sars to Le Transloy. At Le Sars, the creeping barrage went splendidly, and the British took the town with little problems. Elsewhere, however, the Allies had less luck. Aerial reconnaissance had been impossible with the rain, and the Allies ran into unexpected trenches or were mowed down by machine guns in scattered shell-holes. Corporal William Howell recalled his experiences:
As we drew closer to the German lines, I could see gaps in our lines. I remember seeing poor old Bill Bolton, father of six children go down. Then we were in the thick of it. Terrific machine-gun and rifle fire. No orders were being given. Could not see anybody on their feet. Knew I had to keep going. Could see Bapaume burning in the distance. Suddenly through the long grass, I saw them. They were in a half-dug trench. Thick as fleas. A lot of them were kneeling. They were jostling each other to get the bolts of their rifles open. The trench was hardly touched. In front of me was a German machine gun. It had stopped firing and the infantry were picking off our chaps. Didn’t know what to do. Had just been made full corporal, and was very proud of my stripes. I thought the others were bound to come up shortly, and when they did I would lob a Mills bomb [grenade] right in the middle of that next and we would stand a good chance of getting in. I took out the pin in anticipation, kneeling in the grass waiting for the second wave.
There was no second wave, or reinforcements. They were all casualties and the attack had been called off. There I was, on my stomach, waiting, when two bullets hit me in the abdomen. They spun [me] round and knocked me into a deep shell hole. I thought, “This is it!” A bullet in the stomach–they wouldn’t waste a bandage–and I had got two! I did not seem to worry about dying. The immediate problem was the Mills bomb. I felt myself getting weaker and I knew I should not be able to hold the spring down much longer. The thought occurred to me to try and get the first aid dressing out, having succeeded with some difficulty, using one hand, I forthwith tied the lever to the bomb case, thus making it harmless.
I was never a great churchgoer, but I always had a conviction that there was a supreme being. I was convinced I was dying. Whether it was a fatalistic attitude which comes to a lot of us, after prolonged hardship, I don’t know, but I felt quite calm and peaceful–almost happy. In my confused mind, I could imagine there was an orange glow around the lip of the shell hole, and what appeared to be a misty golden ball immediately overhead in the sky. I derived great comfort from these apparitions. I was getting very drowsy, and had a feeling of floating on a cloud. This was where I thought I died. I regained consciousness, to my amazement, and it was pitch-dark. There was a lot of activity going on, I took a peep out of my hole, and could see several parties of Germans foraging. I suddenly realized they were collecting the wounded. I didn’t fancy ending up as a prisoner–especially as I was a sniper. The wound did not appear to be so bad after all. The bleeding had stopped, so I decided to have a go to get back. I managed to get out of the shell hole, and crawled through the long grass. Seemed to get a reserve supply of strength. Made good progress, crawling and resting, and was eventually spotted by a patrol of South African Scottish who took me in.
Haig wrote simply of the failure of the attack:
[The German] has had time to recover since previous attack. Our advance has been delayed by wet and so enemy has been given time. The reason for this was quite simple. They were not the same troops.
The Germans had brought in fresh artillery from Verdun and rotated in infantry from elsewhere along the line. One such detachment was the List Regiment, moved in from Fromelles on October 2. They would only spend 10 days on the Somme, but in that time would suffer 1177 casualties. One of these was Adolf Hitler, wounded in the groin when an Allied shell hit the dispatch runners’ tent. He spent two months in a hospital in Brandenburg recovering from the injury, and would not return to the front until March 1917.
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Sources include: Peter Hart, The Somme; Robin Prior & Trevor Wilson, The Somme; William Philpott, Three Armies on the Somme.