The Battle of Dogger Bank 1915.

The Battle 24 January 1915.

Positions in the battle
Sighting the smoke from a large approaching force, Hipper headed south-east by 07:35 to escape but Beatty’s ships were faster than the German squadron, which was held back by the slower armoured cruiser Blücher and the coal-fuelled torpedo boats. By 08:00, the German battlecruisers had been sighted from Beatty’s flagship Lion but the older battlecruisers of the British 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron were lagging behind the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron. Chasing the Germans from a position astern and to starboard, the British ships gradually caught up—some reaching a speed of 27 kn (50 km/h; 31 mph)—and closed to gun range.[1] Beatty chose to approach from this direction so that the prevailing wind blew the British ships’ smoke clear, allowing them a good view of the German ships, while German gunners were partially blinded by their funnel and gun smoke blowing towards the British ships. Lion opened fire at 08:52, at a range of 20,000 yd (18,000 m) and the other British ships commenced firing as they came within range, while the Germans were unable to reply until 09:11, because of the shorter range of their guns.[16] No warships had engaged at such long ranges or at such high speeds before and accurate gunnery for both sides was an unprecedented challenge but after a few salvos, British shells straddled Blücher.[17]

The British fire was concentrated on Hipper’s flagship, the battlecruiser Seydlitz, at the head of the line and Blücher at the rear. With five British ships against four German, Beatty intended that his two rear ships, New Zealand and Indomitable, should engage Blücher, while his leading three engaged their opposite numbers. Captain H. B. Pelly of the newly commissioned battlecruiser Tiger assumed that two ships should concentrate on the leading German ship and engaged Seydlitz, leaving Moltke free to fire at Lion. Tiger’s fire was ineffective, as she mistook the shell splashes from Lion for her own, when the fall of shot was 3,000 yd (2,700 m) beyond Seydlitz.[18] At 09:43, Seydlitz was hit by a 13.5 in (340 mm) shell from Lion, which penetrated her after turret barbette and caused an ammunition fire in the working chamber. This fire spread rapidly through other compartments, igniting ready propellant charges all the way to the magazines and knocked out both rear turrets with the loss of 165 men.[19][20] Only the prompt action of the executive officer in flooding the magazines saved Seydlitz from a magazine explosion that would have destroyed the ship.[21][c]


German battlecruisers (L–R) Derfflinger, Moltke and Seydlitz en route to Dogger Bank.
The British ships were relatively unscathed until 10:18, when Derfflinger hit Lion with several 30.5 cm (12.0 in) shells, damaging her engines and causing flooding, so that Lion lost speed and began to fall behind. At 10:41, Lion narrowly escaped a disaster similar to that on Seydlitz, when a German shell hit the forward turret and ignited a small ammunition fire, but it was extinguished before causing a magazine explosion.[23] A few minutes later, taking on water and listing to port, Lion had to stop her port engine and reduce speed to 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) and was soon out of action, having been hit 14 times.[24] At 10:30, Blücher was hit by a shell from Princess Royal, which caused an ammunition fire and boiler room damage. Blücher had to reduce speed to 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph) and fell further and further behind the rest of the German force.[16] Beatty ordered Indomitable—his slowest ship—to intercept Blücher.[25]


Painting of SMS V5 engaging HMS Lion
Hipper, with his ships running short on ammunition, chose to steam for home, leaving the disabled Blücher behind, to save his remaining ships.[26] The annihilation of the German squadron appeared likely to the British until 10:54, when Beatty—believing he saw a submarine’s periscope on Lion′s starboard bow—ordered a sharp, 90° turn to port, to avoid a submarine ambush (It is possible that the “periscope” was actually a surfacing, run-out torpedo which had been launched 15 minutes earlier by the German destroyer V5). At 11:02, realising that so sharp a turn would open the range too much, Beatty ordered “Course NE” to limit the turn to 45° and then added “Engage the enemy′s rear”, to clarify his intent that the other ships, which had now left Lion far behind, should pursue Hipper′s main force. With Lion′s electric generators out of action, Beatty could only signal using flag hoists and both signals were flown at the same time.

The combination of the signal “Course NE”—which happened to be the direction of Blücher—and the signal to engage the rear was misunderstood by Beatty’s second-in-command, Rear-Admiral Gordon Moore on New Zealand, as an order for all the battlecruisers to finish off Blücher. The British battlecruisers broke off the pursuit of the German squadron and attacked Blücher, with most of the British light cruisers and destroyers joining in. Beatty tried to correct this obvious misunderstanding by using the order from Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar “Engage the enemy more closely” but this order was not in the signal book and Beatty chose “Keep nearer to the enemy” as the closest equivalent. By the time this signal was hoisted, Moore′s ships were too far away to read Beatty′s flags and the correction was not received.


The sinking SMS Blücher rolls over onto her side
Despite the overwhelming odds, Blücher put the British destroyer HMS Meteor out of action and scored two hits on the British battlecruisers with its 21 cm (8.3 in) guns. Blücher was hit by about 70 shells and wrecked. When struck by two torpedoes from the light cruiser Arethusa, Blücher capsized at 54 25′ N. Lat., 5 25′ E. Long and sank at 13:13, with the loss of 792 crew.[29][2] British ships began to rescue survivors but were interrupted by the arrival of the Zeppelin L-5 (LZ-28) and by a German seaplane, which attacked with small bombs. No damage was done but the British ships put on speed and withdrew to avoid further aerial attack, leaving some of the survivors behind.[30] By this time, the rest of the German ships were too far away for the British to catch up.

Lion made 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph), at the beginning of the 300 nmi (560 km; 350 mi) return voyage, escorted by Indomitable. Beatty contemplated leaving a flotilla of destroyers to guard Lion and sending the rest to the German Bight, to make a night attack on the German ships, but the damage to Lion caused more problems. As it crept home, the ship suffered further engine-trouble from salt water contamination in the boiler-feed-water system and its speed dropped to 8 kn (15 km/h; 9.2 mph). Lion was taken in tow by Indomitable, an operation which took two hours, in which the battlecruisers were exceedingly vulnerable to submarine attacks. At 17:00, the voyage resumed, the ships eventually managing 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph) and when the Grand Fleet arrived, Jellicoe increased the screen to thirteen light cruisers and 67 destroyers. A message from the Admiralty arrived that the Germans were planning a night destroyer attack but that the destroyers with the two scouting groups were low on fuel and those with the HSF were too far away.

25 January 1915
Lion and Indomitable slowed to 7 knots (13 km/h; 8.1 mph) overnight when Lion had more engine-trouble and at dawn were still 100 nautical miles (190 km; 120 mi) short of the Firth of Forth. The destroyers reformed into an anti-submarine screen and the ships reached the firth at midnight; the destroyer Meteor was towed into the Humber Estuary.[33] Lion was out of action for four months, Fisher having decreed that the damage be repaired at Armstrong’s on the Tyne, without her going into dry dock, making for an extremely difficult and time-consuming job.[34] The surviving German ships reached port; Derfflinger was repaired by 17 February but Seydlitz needed a drydock and was not ready for sea until 1 April.



1916 advertisement for a viewing of panoramic footage of the Blücher sinking. Proceeds from the event went to orphans of artists and writers lost to the war.
At first the Germans thought that Tiger had been sunk, because of a large fire that had been seen on her decks, but it was soon clear that the battle was a serious German reverse. Kaiser Wilhelm II issued an order that all risks to surface vessels were to be avoided. Ingenohl was sacked and replaced by Admiral Hugo von Pohl. The damage to Seydlitz revealed flaws in the protection of its magazines and dangerous ammunition-handling procedures and some of these failings were remedied in the HSF before the Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916).[37] The Germans thought that the appearance of the British squadron at dawn was too remarkable to be coincidence and concluded that a spy near their base in Jade Bay was responsible, not that the British were reading their encrypted wireless communications.[38] (In 1920, Scheer wrote that the number of British ships present suggested that they had known about the operation in advance, but that this was put down to circumstances, although “other reasons” could not be excluded.

Beatty had lost control of the battle and he judged that the opportunity of an overwhelming victory had been lost and the Admiralty—erroneously believing that Derfflinger had been badly damaged—later reached the same conclusion.[40] Jutland later showed that the British battlecruisers were still vulnerable to ammunition fires and magazine explosions, if hit by plunging fire. Had Moore’s three fast battlecruisers pursued Hipper′s remaining three (leaving the slower Indomitable behind as Beatty intended), the British might have been at a disadvantage and been defeated. Blücher demonstrated the ability of the German ships to absorb great punishment; all of Hipper′s remaining ships were larger, faster, newer, more heavily armed, and far better armoured than Blücher; only Seydlitz had suffered serious damage. Apart from the sinking of Blücher, the Germans out-hit the British by over three to one, with 22 heavy-calibre hits—16 on Lion and six on Tiger—against seven British hits.

The battle, although inconclusive, boosted British morale. The Germans learned lessons and the British did not. Rear-Admiral Moore was quietly replaced and sent to the Canary Islands and Captain Henry Pelly of the Tiger was blamed for not taking over when Lion was damaged. Beatty’s flag lieutenant Ralph Seymour—responsible for hoisting Beatty’s two commands on one flag hoist, allowing them to be read as one—remained. The use of wireless allowed centralised control of ships from the Admiralty, which cramped the initiative of the men on the spot. Signals between ships continued to be by flag but there was no revision of the signal book or the assumptions of its authors.[41] Signalling on board Lion was again poor in the first hours of Jutland, with serious consequences for the British. The battlecruisers failed to improve fire distribution and similar targeting errors were made at Jutland.


Royal Scots Territorials firing a salute over the grave of Captain Erdmann, Commander of SMS Blücher
In 1929, the naval official historian, Julian Corbett, recorded 792 men killed and 45 wounded out of the 1,026 crew on Blücher, 189 of the men being rescued by the British. Seydlitz lost 159 men killed and 33 wounded and Kolberg lost three men killed and two wounded.[36] In 1965, Marder wrote that over 1,000 German sailors had been killed or captured for British casualties of fewer than 50 men killed or wounded.[43] In 2003, Massie wrote that German casualties were an estimated 951 men killed and 78 wounded, most in Blücher; 153 men were killed and 33 were wounded in the fire in the two after turrets of Seydlitz. The British rescued 189 unwounded prisoners and 45 wounded from Blücher. British casualties were 15 killed and 80 men wounded. On Lion, two men had been killed and eleven wounded, most by a shell hit in the A turret lobby. Ten men were killed on Tiger with nine men wounded and on Meteor, four men were killed and two were wounded.

Gunnery records

Gunnery records[40]
Ship Shells Fired Target Hits Hits Received Casualties
Lion 243 × 13.5-in Blücher 1
Derfflinger 1
Seydlitz 2 16 × 11- and 12-in
1 × 8.3-in 1 killed
20 wounded
Tiger 355 × 13.5-in Blücher —
Derfflinger 1
Seydlitz 2 6 × 11- and 12-in
1 × 8.3-in 10 killed
11 wounded
Princess Royal 271 × 13.5-in Blücher —
Derfflinger 1 0 0
New Zealand 147 × 12-in Blücher — 0 0
Indomitable 134 × 12-in Blücher 8 1 × 8.3-in 0
Seydlitz 390 × 11-in Lion and Tiger 8, 3 × 13.5-in
(1 Tiger, 2 Lion) 159 killed
33 wounded
Moltke 276 × 11-in Lion and Tiger 8 0 0
Derfflinger 310 × 12-in Lion, Tiger, and
Princess Royal 5 or 6 3 × 13.5-in
(1 each Lion
Tiger and Princess Royal) 0
Blücher 12 × 8.2-inch Lion 1
Tiger 1
Indomitable 1 about 70
7 torpedoes[45] 792 killed
234 prisoners
45 wounded
Jump up ^ All data from Campbell (1998) unless specified.[1]
Jump up ^ All data from Campbell (1998) unless specified.[1]
Jump up ^ Supposedly, a sailor Wilhelm Heidkamp saved the ship, when he flooded the magazine by opening the red hot valves, burning his hands and lungs, injuries from which he never recovered, leading to his early death in 1931. The Kriegsmarine named the destroyer Z21 in his honour.

More info

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Ashton under Lyne munitions explosion.

On the day of the accident, Wednesday 13 June 1917, it was business as usual at the works in Ashton-under-Lyne. Ironically, Lucien Gaisman was on his way back from a meeting in London to discuss the future of the company as an explosives manufacturer. A government report had recommended dispensing with smaller, less economic producers of explosives such as the Hooley Hill Rubber and Chemical Company.

Later that afternoon, Sylvain Dreyfus and a young chemist called Nathan Daniels were in the nitrating section of the works when the contents of number nine nitrator became unstable. Despite a frantic effort led by Dreyfus to bring the reaction under control, the contents of the vessel boiled over and set fire to the wooden staging around it. The fire quickly took hold, spreading to the roof of the building. The workers at the plant fought valiantly to bring the blaze under control, but it was all to no avail. Eventually the flames spread to a storage area where five tons of TNT packed into kegs was stored. A desperate call was made to the local police station for assistance at around 16.20pm and a few minutes later the works was torn apart by a colossal explosion. Most of the workers on site were killed instantly, including Dreyfus whose dismembered body was found in the factory yard. The factory building had been obliterated and two large craters scarred the site. The larger crater where the kegs of TNT had been stored, was approximately 90 ft by 36 ft across and 5 ft deep. The smaller, shallow crater was just below where the dryer and setting trays used for the final preparation of the TNT had been. Two gasometers in a nearby street were ripped open by the blast, sending a massive fireball hundreds of feet into the air. Hundreds of buildings in the surrounding area were damaged, leaving many of the nearby houses uninhabitable.

The casualties included forty-three people dead, over a hundred and twenty hospitalised and several hundred with minor injuries. Amongst the dead were twenty-three employees of the Hooley Hill Rubber and Chemical Works, along with eleven adults and nine children from the surrounding area.


Ashton Munitions Explosion by John Billings and David Copland. ISBN 0-904506-17-7

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Violent explosion at the 18 Ponts munitions depot Lille.

Violent explosion at the 18 Ponts munitions depot Lille.


On 11 January 1916, at 3.30 a.m., Lille was rocked by a violent explosion that could be heard as far away as Holland. A bright yellow flash lit up the sky: the 18 Ponts munitions depot had just exploded. The German Army had been using an old fortified outwork, comprising 18 arches (the source of its French name), to store large quantities of explosives

and munitions. Undoubtedly accidental, the explosion left a crater 150 metres wide and 30 metres deep on one side of boulevard de Belfort. Twenty-one factories and 738 houses were brought down in the Moulins district of the city. One hundred and four civilians died, thirty Germans and nearly 400 people were wounded, including 116 severely.

This catastrophe, commemorated by a monument on rue de Maubeuge, was one of the saddest episodes of the ‘terrible years’ of the German occupation which ran from October 1914 to October 1918. Throughout those 210 long weeks martial law ruled the city of Lille, cutting it off from the rest of the country. Families could obtain no news of their fathers and sons who were engaged in the fighting or held as prisoners of war. Life was very hard; the occupiers pillaged the factories and confiscated anything of use that they could find in people’s houses, such as bicycles, horses, metal and even mattresses and pillows.


The great explosion of Lille in the ‘terrible years’

In addition to the material privations, 10,000 citizens of Lille, mostly young women, were ‘deported’ from the city in April 1916 and sent to work in the farms of Aisne and Ardennes. In a city where only 35,000 inhabitants out of 150,000 could provide for themselves, food soon became an acute problem. Towards the end of the occupation civilian rations were down to 300 grams of coarse wholemeal bread and 60 grams of bacon a fortnight. During the terrible years 22,911 deaths were registered for only 8,594 births. But the people of Lille did not give in to the hostage-taking, imprisonments and deportations: many heroes gave their lives to further the cause of the resistance.



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Winter 1916-17

IWM Podcast 25

The winter was so cold that I felt like crying. In fact the only time… I didn’t actually cry but I’d never felt like it before, not even under shell fire…

After the close of the Battle of the Somme in November 1916, the men on the Western Front dug in for the coming winter. That year, it proved to be exceptionally cold. All those who lived through the winter of 1916-17 had memories of the bitterly freezing conditions. Basil Rackham served with the Royal Naval Division during the Battle of the Ancre.

Well of course, after that battle we had to go back behind the reserves and we got reinforcements and so on. Then we came back into the line again at the same place, at just above Beaucourt and this was in February, early February 1917. And the conditions there were the coldest winter we’d ever had – terrible. The conditions in the… well, there wasn’t really a front line, there wasn’t a continuous trench but these little holes that we had. You just couldn’t dig any more it was all hard as bricks.

The severe cold tested the troops’ morale, as Victor Fagence, a private in the Royal West Surrey Regiment, discovered.

The winter of 1916-17 was notoriously a very, very cold winter. And for my part, I think I almost in my own mind then tasted the depths of misery really, what with the cold and all that sort of thing, you see. We were forbidden to take our footwear off in the front line. Although, I myself disobeyed that on one occasion. I was so cold when I came off sentry go, and we had a bit of a dugout to shelter in, when I went in there – this was before leather jerkins were issued – there was an issue of sheepskin coats. And I took my gumboots off and wrapped my feet in the sheepskin coat to get a bit of extra, you know, to warm them up a bit.

The icy weather made life during the day miserable – but the drop in temperature at night was even worse. Near 40th Division’s forward Headquarters, British artillery officer Murray Rymer-Jones found an unusual way to cope with it.

Now, for our own comfort, to be in a tent with snow on the ground and the appalling cold was nobody’s business. You couldn’t have heating in the tents, you see. So the only thing I could do then was, we had a double loo heavily sandbagged all round in the entrance, you see, it was like little rooms. And although there was no connection between the two, you could talk to the chap next door! So Hammond, from another battery who came and joined us for a bit then, he and I used to sit in the loo most of the night – because it was so heavily sandbagged it kept it reasonably warm – and talked!

For the men who faced the winter in kilts, exposure to the bitter weather was unbearable. NCO J Reid served with the Gordon Highlanders.

We went up with these casuals and joined the battalion; the 6th battalion again, joined the battalion at a place called… I can’t remember the name of the place now. The battalion was made up to strength, anyway. And a couple of days after, we was on the march. It was the month of January, dead cold. Oh, God it was cold. We were going up to Arras which was about 30 km – 30, 40 km – from this place. We marched and I always remember that. Our knees were even frozen up, you know, with the usual field bandages to wrap up our knees and all up our legs to keep the frost from biting into our legs, our bare legs.

It wasn’t just the cold that made winter on the Western Front so difficult to endure. Flooded trenches were also a feature of life there, something which Harold Moore of the Essex Regiment found out to his cost.

The communications trenches were half full of water and they had to have these duckboards on the side of the trench to walk up to the front line. You had to come up, file up in single line, single file. And as we was going up to the line there was a fellow in front of me, he was a machine-gunner and he’d got two buckets of these circular ammunition what he used for his Lewis gun. He stopped for a moment, you know, cos they were heavy! I said, ‘I want to get by cos I’ve got to get up to the front line.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you must wait; I can’t go any further for the moment.’ Well then I tried to get round the side of him and, as I did so, he just gave a heave of this bucket and it knocked me in the shell holes full of water.

The waterlogged ground meant the men soon found themselves in extremely muddy conditions. Andrew Bain of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders described the dangers of such an environment.

Mud and cold. Oh, for weeks we were up to the thighs in mud. And if we were moving forward to the trenches, many of the shell holes were filled up with muddy clay. And if a man fell into that he couldn’t get out. And they were simply drowned in mud. There was nothing could be done about it.

Because of the abnormally cold conditions that swept the Western Front that winter, the ground froze solid. This turned out to be lucky for officer George Jameson, who was based near Aubers Ridge.

I had gone over to a position on the ridge where I could observe one day and, as I say, the ground was iron hard. I was walking back and a gun started to fire. I suddenly heard this swish and I could tell by the very sound of it I could tell it was coming fairly near to me. Suddenly, there was a burst away to my right and I thought, ‘Well thank goodness for that, plod on chaps.’ I kept going on and suddenly the gun fired again, another one; it had changed its angle a bit and I heard this thing. It sounded as though it was coming extremely close. I hadn’t time to do anything. Just suddenly quite by my side there was this [noise] and, about 150 yards beyond me, the shell burst. What had happened, the ground was so hard that the shell had just glisséed on the surface, you see. It struck within about a yard to the right-hand side of me as I was walking and then went on and in the air, about 150 yards beyond, it burst. Now, if that had been soft I’d have had that. That’s the kind of thing that happened. Not me this time chaps, on, on!

The weather also affected the vehicles used along the Western Front. Antonia Gamwell worked as an ambulance driver with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.

Of course in the winter it was bitter and we couldn’t keep the cars mobile, I mean they just froze of course if they were left to freeze. But we had to keep winding them up. We tried every other way, we tried putting hot bottles in the engines and under the bonnet and heavy bonnet covers and every device we could possibly imagine, but it was no use. We had to simply stay up, there were details. So many of us – six I think it was – used to be on duty and every twenty minutes we went up and wound up the whole lot.

The bitter cold also froze clothing, blankets, food and drink. For men serving in the front line, a warming cup of tea would have been very welcome – but, as NCO Clifford Lane explained, this wasn’t always forthcoming.

The coldest winter was 1916-17. The winter was so cold that I felt like crying. In fact the only time… I didn’t actually cry but I’d never felt like it before, not even under shell fire. We were in the Ypres Salient and, in the front line, I can remember we weren’t allowed to have a brazier because it weren’t far away from the enemy and therefore we couldn’t brew up tea. But we used to have tea sent up to us, up the communication trench. Well a communication trench can be as much as three quarters of a mile long. It used to start off in a huge dixie, two men would carry it with like a stretcher. It would start off boiling hot; by the time it got to us in the front line, there was ice on the top it was so cold.

Serving with the Honourable Artillery Company in the Ancre sector, Bill Haine had similar problems with frozen water.

We were on a show there at a place called Baillescourt Farm. And we took this farm and we had to hold on to it. Nobody could get up to us and if they did get up to us with water it was no good because it was completely frozen stiff; our water bottles were frozen stiff. And all we’d had for about three days was to suck ice, cut your water bottles and suck the ice out of it. The River Ancre was just on our right at that time and we went down to the Ancre every night with pick-axes to try and get through to the water, but we never succeeded.

For British sapper George Clayton, the simple task of shaving was made almost impossible by the sub-zero temperatures.

You could get a handful of snow and put it into one of them empty Capstan tins, you know we used to get tins of Capstan, had 60 cigarettes, it was just about like a milk thing. And you could warm your snow in there to get water underneath a candle then you had some warm water when the snow melted. Have a shave and by the time you were shaved – they issued us with cut throat razors there wasn’t any safeties in them days – but by the time you were shaved the water was frozen again to ice. And you had to melt the water that you’d left your lather brush in before you could get it out! It was a block of ice again! I know me I’ve had to do that more than once! Oh, aye.

As the winter weather took hold, the troops were issued with warmer clothing. Sidney Amatt of the Essex Regiment listed what he wore.

In the winter we had our normal clothes on, we had thick woollen underwear and woollen shirts, and then we had a cardigan or a pullover and then our uniform. Then on top of that we had our overcoat. During the winter of 1917 we had sheepskin coats issued for the troops who were manning the front line only. And that was over the top of your overcoat and that was a leather – sheepskin leather – coat with the fleece still on it and you put it on so that the fleece was still outward. And you had gauntlets, large gloves, that was if you were up at the front line only. Otherwise you had woollen gloves issued to you and you had a woollen scarf which acted as a cover for your head after you’d taken your steel helmet off.

Despite the extra layers, many of the men still fell victim to frostbite and trench foot. Walter Grover was a private in the Royal Sussex Regiment.

All the time you’ve got in the trenches you never knew you’d got trench feet. Your feet were terribly cold with no feeling but when you got out of the line and you took your boots and socks off then your feet swelled up and you could never get your boots on again. And the agony of trench feet, you know, chaps used to groan with it and of course some actually lost their feet with it, you know, frostbite. Trench feet is something to be endured to describe it.

With a bit of care and good luck, Frederick Holmes was able to escape this painful condition.

Quite a number of our troops had to go away with frostbite but, personally, I managed to keep my feet dry by avoiding holes in the duckboards and being generally careful, I suppose. And I didn’t suffer so much in that respect. Strangely enough, although I, as a child, I always had chilblains and I never stood the cold very well, I survived very well indeed – considering.

In extreme cases, men even died from exposure to the biting cold. Charles Wilson came close to such a fate with an attack of pneumonia.

We were behind the line; we were in reserve, we were at Mametz Wood. We were under canvas in the middle of winter, this was December and I’d been down on a course and had come back. And my kit had gone on up, I knew where the battalion was, I was there before I left, I knew the way up to the battalion and had left my kit to be sent on, my valise, to be sent up with the rations. But my kit never arrived and I had no cover and the battalion had only one blanket per man. It was a very hard frost and I arrived at this place very hot and sweaty and got a chill and was carried down from that to hospital.

However, even in the midst of such a bleak winter, Christmas Day offered a bit of cheer for at least some of the men. George Cole of the Royal Artillery warmly remembered the festive extra rations he received.

We went back into the line and we went to Flers and we were there over Christmas. And that Christmas there was a ration of Christmas pudding sent out and so forth. And the officers brought some wine among the troops. The major, him and one of the officers, they came round and they shook hands with us all. And they started laughing and saying, ‘We wish you a happy Christmas’! And we got an extra rum ration.


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Christmas truce of 1914 was broken when German snipers killed two British soldiers

A previously untold account of Christmas Day casualties has now come to light in the Herts at War project, an exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.

German snipers shot and killed two British soldiers while the famous Christmas Day truce of 1914 broke out around them, it can be revealed 100 years on.

The historic cease fire which saw men from both sides emerge from their trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and play games of football is one of the most enduring images of WW1.

But while the remarkable gesture of goodwill spread to many parts along the Western Front, the friendly festivities stopped half-a-mile short of the Rue De Bois near the French village of Festubert.

There, the peace of Christmas morning was shattered by the piercing, solitary shot of a sniper’s rifle fired from a German trench.

Private Percy Huggins, who was on sentry duty at a forward listening post just 20 yards from the enemy, was killed with a single bullet to the head.

News of the 23-year-old soldier’s death enraged his comrades of D company Hertfordshire regiment, especially his platoon Sergeant Tom Gregory.

The experienced soldier demanded he take Pte Huggins’ place so he could avenge his comrade’s death. He immediately set about scanning the frost-covered ground before identifying the sniper, who he took out with a single shot.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the deadly exchange. Sgt Gregory continued scouring the enemy lines and located a second sniper in his sights.

But the German marksman had already spotted him and in a split-second action, he shot and killed Sgt Gregory.

The two British men made up the 149 Commonwealth servicemen who lost their lives on December 25, 1914, although many of those died of previously-inflicted wounds.

And while the incredible stories of a truce and fraternisation filtered back to Britain in the days afterwards, the families of Pte Huggins and Sgt Gregory received the devastating news that they had been killed in action.

The previously untold account of the Christmas Day casualties has now come to light after the family of Pte Huggins offered up his letters home from the trenches to the Herts at War project, an exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.

It prompted researcher Dan Hill to study military records and regimental diaries which revealed the full tragic tale, which started hours earlier with the British responding to the German overtures for a truce by shooting at their lanterns.

Mr Hill said: “There is no doubt that a truce of sorts took place in multiple points along the line of trenches forming in France and Belgium.

“These men did shake hands and exchange gifts and wished each other a Merry Christmas.

“Less than a mile to the north of the Rue De Bois, we know the men of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment took part in a truce and one also seems to have taken place to the south as well.

“Many men used the pause in fighting as a time to collect and bury the dead that lay about in No Man’s land.

“The truce probably bypassed the Hertfordshire Regiment because they were with the Guards Brigade who were incredibly professional and were highly unlikely to have fraternised.

“The story Percy and Tom’s tragic demise on that day serves to highlight that December 25, 1914, was just another day on the Western Front for some.

“To think that Mrs Huggins, Mrs Gregory and the mother of one German soldier enjoyed their Christmas at home unaware at that time of what had befallen their sons.”

At the age of 36, Sgt Gregory, from Watford, was a veteran of the Boer War and became a postman before he re-joined the army in 1914.

He was married to wife Jeanette and they had seven children; Charles, Evelyn, Bill, Doris, Herbert, Fred and Lille who was born on December 18, 1914, a week before his death.

Pte Huggins, from Ware, Hertfordshire, worked in his family’s upholstery business before he joined the Hertfordshire Regiment, which was one of the first Territorial Army units to be called up to the regular army in the First World War.

In November 1914 the men joined up with the illustrious Guards Brigade and sailed to France and were soon in action at the first Battle of Ypres.

They then left frontline duties for a month’s rest before returning to the trenches on the evening of Christmas Eve.

Soon afterwards Pte Huggins wrote his last, poignant letter home to his mother, Agnes, a widow bringing up seven children by herself back in England.

He thanked her for sending him a Christmas pudding which he explained he would have to eat cold but was still very much looking forward to it.

Clearly missing his family, he wrote: “I know you all must miss me and no doubt can to some extent realise what my feelings are for I cannot express them.

“I long for the day when this terrible conflict will be ended. You consider war a terrible thing but imagination cannot reach far enough for the horrors of warfare that can be seen on the battlefield are indescribable and I pray this may be the last war that will ever be.”

He explained he was proud to serve his King and country, adding: “I can only hope by the grace of God to acquit myself honourably and be permitted to return to all the dear ones in safety.

“I have already asked, dear mum, that you will spend as happy a Xmas as possible and I will do the same.”

Shortly before dawn on Christmas Day, Corporal Clifford Lane, of H Company Hertfordshire regiment, recalled how the Germans hoisted their lanterns above the trenches and called out to the British as a overture for a temporary truce.

The British responded by shooting at the lights, putting an end to any prospect of a Christmas Day ceasefire – one that could have spared the lives of Pte Huggins and Sgt Gregory.

Speaking in an interview in 1983, Cpl Lane that Mr Hill has now uncovered, he said: “There was a great deal of commotion going on in the German front line 150 yards away. After a few moments there were lighted objects raised above the German parapet, looking like Chinese lanterns to us.

“The Germans were shouting over to our trench. We were ordered to open rapid fire which we did.

“The Germans did not reply to our fire and carried on with their celebrations. They ignored us and were having a very fine time indeed and we continued in our wet trenches trying to make the most of it.

“They did make overtures but the Guards Brigade had the highest discipline in the army and you couldn’t expect them to fraternise at all and that is why we were ordered to open fire.

“Apparently regular troops did respond to their overtures and engaged in this truce.

“I greatly regretted it afterwards because it would have been a good experience.”

The regiment ate a Christmas breakfast of bread and jam, cheese and a piece of cold bacon. By the time the men tucked into their dinner of cold meats and Christmas pudding, Pte Huggins and Sgt Gregory were dead.

In his diaries called ‘Twenty-two Months Under Fire’ published in 1917, Brigadier General Henry Page-Croft, who was second in command of the Hertfordshire Regiment, wrote: “Early in the day I got news that a lad who lived in my native town in Hertfordshire had been killed by a bullet whilst on sentry in the sap (small listening post) and then it was that a sergeant in his company anxiously asked and received leave to go up and take his place.

“The sergeant, who was a good shot, avenged the boy by killing the German sniper; but shortly afterwards a bullet through the brain sent him to join his young comrade.

“After this we began to study the art of sniping and the tactics of the hunter were added to the science of shooting.”

It is thought the families of both soldiers received news of their deaths some time in early January.

The two men were buried side by side at Le Touret Military Cemetery in Bethune, France.

Sgt Gregory’s granddaughter Audrey McLachlan, whose late mother was his eldest daughter Evelyn, said: “My mother once told me how my grandfather came home on leave in 1914 and he gave her a little girl’s tea service.

“She was running inside with it all excited and she fell over and broke it.

“She said she never really got over that because that was the last time she saw her father.”

Mrs McLachlan, 80, from Watford, Herts, added: “A relative researched the army records some years ago and we knew then that Percy Huggins and my grandfather were killed by two German snipers on Christmas morning.

“Percy must have been a close friend of my grandfather. In hindsight, it was a very brave but foolish thing for him to have done but at least he was killed quickly and cleanly and was saved the misery of the next three years in trenches.

“With this year being the 100th anniversary of the truce and the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert being on, people naturally talk about this wonderful event but to me it will always be the day my grandfather was killed.

“It was a big theatre of war and the truce didn’t happen in every single location.”

About 20 years ago Mrs McLachlan took her late auntie Lille – Sgt Gregory’s youngest child – to France to see his grave, a visit which triggered a remarkable coincidence.

She said: “Afterwards, we signed the visitors book and the very next day a great-nephew of Percy Huggins visited his grave which of course is next to my grandfather’s.

“He saw our names in the book and got in contact with us afterwards.

“My grandmother never really spoke about it afterwards, even at Christmas time.She has seven children and had to work all the hours god sent.”


Daily Telegraph UK.
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Aftermath Nov 1918.

The British public was notified of the armistice by a subjoined official communiqué issued from the Press Bureau at 10:20 am, when British Prime Minister David Lloyd George announced: “The armistice was signed at five o’clock this morning, and hostilities are to cease on all fronts at 11 a.m. to-day.” An official communique was published by the United States at 2:30 pm: “In accordance with the terms of the Armistice, hostilities on the fronts of the American armies were suspended at eleven o’clock this morning.”

News of the armistice being signed was officially announced towards 9 am in Paris. One hour later, Foch, accompanied by a British admiral, presented himself at the Ministry of War, where he was immediately received by Georges Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France. At 10:50 am, Foch issued this general order: “Hostilities will cease on the whole front as from November 11 at 11 o’clock French time The Allied troops will not, until further order, go beyond the line reached on that date and at that hour.” Five minutes later, Clemenceau, Foch and the British admiral went to the Élysée Palace. At the first shot fired from the Eiffel Tower, the Ministry of War and the Élysée Palace displayed flags, while bells around Paris rang. Five hundred students gathered in front of the Ministry and called upon Clemenceau, who appeared on the balcony. Clemenceau exclaimed “Vive la France!”—the crowd echoed him. At 11:00 am, the first peace-gunshot was fired from Fort Mont-Valérien, which told the population of Paris that the armistice was concluded, but the population were already aware of it from official circles and newspapers.

Although the information about the imminent ceasefire had spread among the forces at the front in the hours before, fighting in many sections of the front continued right until the appointed hour. At 11 am there was some spontaneous fraternization between the two sides. But in general, reactions were muted. A British corporal reported: “…the Germans came from their trenches, bowed to us and then went away. That was it. There was nothing with which we could celebrate, except cookies.” On the Allied side, euphoria and exultation were rare. There was some cheering and applause, but the dominant feeling was silence and emptiness after 52 exhausting months of war.

The peace between the Allies and Germany was subsequently settled in 1919, by the Paris Peace Conference, and the Treaty of Versailles that same year.

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The Schwaben Redoubt

The Schwaben Redoubt (Feste Schwaben) was a German strongpoint built near the village of Thiepval, overlooking the River Ancre. It formed part of the German defensive system in the Somme sector of the Western Front during the First World War. Consisting of a mass of gun emplacements, trenches and dug-outs, this warren of earthworks and its garrison resisted several British assaults during the course of the Battle of the Somme, before being captured in October 1916. It was defended by the 26th Reserve Division that came from Swabia, a southwestern region of Germany. The site of the Redoubt now lies between the Thiepval Memorial and the Ulster Tower.

1 July: Schwaben Redoubt was the objective of 109 Brigade, which attacked on the right with 9th and 10th Battalions, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers making the assault. Advancing at 7:30 a.m., the troops crossed no man’s land, captured the redoubt and advanced to a reserve trench 500 yards (460 m) beyond it. By 8:30 a.m. the troops had reached the Mouquet Switch line and the eastern face of the redoubt. The success of 109 Brigade advance created a salient 1,000 yards (910 m) deep and 200 yards (180 m) wide. The failure of the other 36th Division brigade and the 29th Division to the north and 32nd Division to the south, made it impossible for the troops occupying the redoubt to be reinforced. The brigade was eventually forced to withdraw, having exhausted its ammunition repulsing German counter-attacks. Small parties remained in the German front line at 10:30 p.m. The 36th Division lost 5,104 casualties, the severity of these losses left an enduring psychological scar on Northern Ireland. The redoubt was assaulted again on 3 September by troops of 49th (West Riding) Division. The assault failed due to German machine gun fire, for a loss of 1,800 casualties.

28 September – 6 October: The redoubt was attacked by the 54th Brigade of the 18th (Eastern) Division during the Battle of Thiepval Ridge which gained a foothold in the Schwaben Redoubt (Feste Schwaben). By the evening of 28 September the redoubt had been captured except for the German hold on to the north face until 14 October, when it was captured by the 118th Brigade of the 39th Division. The Territorial Fen Tigers of the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Riddell, advanced under a creeping barrage and reached the redoubt without loss. The German garrison was routed in hand-to-hand fighting and the Cambridgeshires defended the redoubt for 24 hours before being relieved, having defeated several counter-attacks. British casualties were 32 killed and 186 wounded. General Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, described the attack as “one of the finest feats of arms in the history of the British Army”.


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