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

Posted in History | Leave a comment

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.



Posted in History | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in History | Leave a comment

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.
Posted in History | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in History | Leave a comment

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”.


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike


Posted in History | Leave a comment

The Battle of Sari Bair also known as the August Offensive 1915.

The Battle of Sari Bair also known as the August Offensive was the final attempt made by the British in August 1915 to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsula from the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

The Gallipoli Campaign had raged on two fronts, Anzac and Helles, for three months since the invasion of 25 April 1915. With the Anzac landing a tense stalemate, the Allies had attempted to carry the offensive on the Helles battlefield at enormous cost for little gain. In August, the British command proposed a new operation to reinvigorate the campaign by capturing the Sari Bair ridge, the high ground that dominated the middle of the peninsula above the Anzac landing.

The main operation started on 6 August with a fresh landing 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Anzac at Suvla Bay in conjunction with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps mounting an attack north into the rugged country alongside the Sari Bair range with the aim of capturing the high ground and linking with the Suvla landing. At Helles, the British and French were now to remain largely on the defensive.
The attack from the Anzac perimeter was directed against two peaks of the Sari Bair range; Chunuk Bair and Hill 971. Under the overall command of Major-General Alexander Godley, the attacking force included the New Zealand and Australian Division, the British 13th Division plus a couple of extra infantry brigades.

The plan was for two assaulting columns to march out of Anzac on the night of 6 August. The right-hand column, comprising the New Zealand Infantry Brigade under Brigadier-General Francis Johnston, would head for Chunuk Bair. The left-hand column, commanded by Major-General Herbert Cox, heading for Hill 971 and neighbouring Hill Q, contained the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade of Brigadier-General John Monash and Cox’s 29th Indian Brigade. Both objectives were expected to be captured by dawn.

To distract the Ottomans from the impending offensive, on 6 August, at 5.30 p.m., an attack was made at Lone Pine by the infantry brigades of the Australian 1st Division. While the attack was ultimately successful in capturing the Ottoman trenches, it was counterproductive as a diversion as it attracted reinforcements to the north. Another costly diversion was carried out at Helles which resulted in a pointless struggle over a patch of ground known as Krithia Vineyard. As was the case at Lone Pine, the British action at Helles did not restrain the Ottomans from sending reinforcements north to the Sari Bair range.

The right column heading for Chunuk Bair had a simpler navigation task as their route was to some degree visible from the old Anzac perimeter. In what became known as the Battle of Chunuk Bair, the New Zealanders failed to capture the peak by the morning of 7 August but managed the feat on the next morning.
On the morning following the breakout, a number of other attacks were planned within the old Anzac perimeter. The most notorious was the attack of the Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade at The Nek whose slim chance of success had depended on the New Zealanders having captured Chunuk Bair on schedule.

The left column’s journey through the tangled ravines was doomed to failure and, having become lost and confused, it never got close to the objective of Hill 971. By the morning of 8 August Cox’s forces were sufficiently organised to attempt an attack on their original objectives of Hill 971 and Hill Q. However Monash’s brigade was still mistaken about its position relative to Hill 971. In fact, by the end of the day’s advance Monash’s troops had actually reached the position they had believed they had been starting from. Meanwhile, Hill 971 was more unreachable than ever. The three Australian battalions that had made the assault suffered 765 casualties — the 15th Battalion was reduced to about 30 per cent of its normal strength.

Of the force aiming for Hill Q, one battalion of the 6th Gurkhas commanded by Major Cecil Allanson and joined by disparate New Army men, moved to within 200 feet of Hill Q by 6 p.m. on 8 August where they sought shelter from the heavy Ottoman fire. After a naval artillery bombardment, the battalion attacked the summit shortly after 5 a.m. on 9 August. The plan of the attack, as concocted by General Godley, had involved numerous other battalions but all were lost or pinned down so the Gurkhas went on alone. They succeeded in driving the Ottomans off the hill but were then caught in further naval gunfire from friendly monitors or from an artillery battery at Anzac. Having suffered heavy casualties and with no reinforcements, Allanson’s force was pushed back off the hill shortly afterwards.

By the end of 9 August the Allies retained only a foothold on Chunuk Bair. On 10 August the Ottomans, led from the front by Colonel Mustafa Kemal, counter-attacked and regained control of the entire Sari Bair ridge.


Posted in History | Leave a comment