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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