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Remembered Today:

Info on the Bombing of Bapaume City Hall


bob lembke

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My father was a German Pionier in WW I, and gave me a great deal of oral history, and some documents, etc. I have posted a number of incidents, stories, etc. on the Forum. At first I was sceptical of some of the stories, but as I research things the stories have proven to be extremely accurate, to my surprise.

One thing I was told was that he was a member of the party that buried the very large bomb in the basement of the Bapaume City Hall in 1917, with interesting details. A few days ago a friend of mine, a US Army Engineer officer and a published historian, sent me some material, and it included a diagram of a German fuze for time bombs exactly like the fuzes that my father described. (Two, installed in parallel so that if one failed the other would bypass it.) I am now writing a book about my father and his father in the Great War, and this material has triggered (pardon the pun) my interest in this incident.

Does anyone, especially our many Australian Pals, have information on this, or can they aim me at relevant material or sources? I gather that the Australian forces in the area were wary of the structure (Pop said that he helped put in many booby-traps in the area evacuated), and instead of putting in a HQ, which had been in the building before, they put the Red Cross and/or other relief agencies into the building, not significant military resources.

Does anyone have photos of the building, before and/or after, or leads to same? I saw one photo of the wrecked building many years ago in a book in a rail station bookstore, but never saw it again.

If there is interest I can recount more of my father's recollections.

Bob Lembke

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Hi Bo,

here You have a pic of an Australian soldier carving his name on a statue in front of the city hall of Bapaume, in which the bomb has not exploded yet.

Cnock

post-7723-1222624129.jpg

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Hi Bob,

there is a short article and a few 'after' pics here

If there is interest I can recount more of my father's recollections

yes please Bob, I would very much like to hear more

Jon

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Bob,

here's a little more taken from the 'digger history' site

On the night of 1917-03-25 Tpr Finster, along with about thirty other men, made their billets in the Bapaume town hall when a mine, left by the retreating Germans eight days before, detonated shattering the whole building and killing two French deputies and a number of men employed at an Australian Comforts Fund coffee stall.

Fatigue parties dug through the night and the next day rescuing six men trapped in the rubble and a group of officers and men from the 13th Field Company and the 1st Anzac Mounted Regiment who were trapped in different cellars. Tpr Finster was seriously injured by the explosion and was repatriated to England and then to Australia on 1917-07-22 and discharged from the AIF for the third time on 1917-10-30.

Jon

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Jon;

Thanks! I will post some details later today. Anyone know the precise time of the detonation? I would imagine the war diaries, etc. of the mentioned units would have some information. Immediately after planting the bomb my father and the other men were taken 20 miles behind the lines so as not to be able to be captured or desert and give up the secret.

Bob

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Thanks, everyone. The material coming out jibes with what my father told me. I will have to put off a more complete presentation of what he said for later, hopefully today. He did say that they wanted the booby-traps force the Allies to stay out of shelter and be exposed to the weather. And they did hope that a HQ would be put in the City Hall, where he thought one had been placed earlier by the Allies. (People are creatures of habit.) Anyone have the time of the explosion? I have my father's estimate, which I will keep to myself so as not to influence anyone else. (There was a hour difference across the front line.)

Keep the info flowing!

Bob

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Hi Bob,

looks like the time of the explosion was around 2:00am-2:30am, I've found a couple of diary entries which I will endevour to post later when I'm back home,

Jon

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I assume that you remember the reference made in Alan Sevestre s diary I posted last year. You did comment upon it. A first hand reference.

Regards

TT

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Bob, here's 3 of the diary entries I've come across, there are a couple more which I will post soon,

1st ANZAC Mounted Rifles

post-15439-1222910470.jpg

18th Battalion AIF

post-15439-1222910485.jpg

22nd Battalion AIF

post-15439-1222910508.jpg

Jon

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Bob,

The bomb that killed members of the 1st Anzac LHR (13 LHR) are listed in this inquiry I gave this time on the ALH assoc webb site under this heading" 13 LHR outside Bapaume France Cavalry vs Cavalry"

Basicly the 1st Anzac Corp Cav were used to cover the advance during the German retreat back to the Hindenberg line.

I posted these on that action:

"Mates,

I was checking the file of Leslie William Ward 501 L/Cpl 13 LHR when I noticed a marking of how this man died, he died of sabre wounds.

Les Ward was a Sgt in B Sqn 1st Anzac LHR when in March 1917 during the advance from Bapaume France there occured a number of clashs with German Cavalry in which we held or own.

Les was shown WIA on the 18th March 1917 but so far there are shown no contacts on that date?

There are shown contacts on the 17th March and 19th March (see pages 46-47 "My Corps Cavarly" by Doug Hunter) and mention engagements with Sturm detachments of 230 soldiers and 25 Cavalry (in this case Uhlans).

Sad to say there are no details of who or which Sqn from the 13 LHR/1 Anzac LHR carried out these contects, a note on page 42 refers to B Sqn capturing Mory and C Sqn Thilloy on the 16th March.

During the advance from the Bapaume to the Hindenburg line B Sqn was on the left flank of the advance and C Sqn on the right with A Sqn in Reserve. The two recorded contacts happened on the 17th March at Bancourt and 19th march at Beugny.

The 17 March at Bancourt was clearly in C Sqn's area (see map page 44 of advance route) and so must have been that Sqn while the 19th March at Beugny appears on the border of both Sqn areas?

So did B Sqn have a contact on the 18th March as shown by this soldier record where he was cut about the neck by a sabre welding German Uhlan and where he died from his wounds the next day.

I should note that the 13 LHR/1 Anzac LHR was not issued with sabres to defend them selves at this time and had their rifles only."

"According to my copy of the history of 250 German Divisions the Cavalry for the 1st Guards Reserve Division was the 1st Sqn Guards Reserve Dragoon Regt in 1917. The 26th Division cavalry was 2nd Sqn 20th Uhlan Regt.

So these Germans may be the Guards Res Dragoon Regt that did the damged as that Div fought the rear guard actions during March in the area. The 26th Div arrived soon after and relieved the 1st Guards Res Div."

Posted - 10/02/2008 : 1:23:22 PM

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mates,

Of cause doing research you find things that always don't make sence. I place the war diary enteries for the 18th March 1917 for the 13 LHR/1 Anzac LHR which Chris kindly gave me;

"In the 6 Brigade advance guard according to the 13 LH War diary :

‘B Squadron received orders to take up position as advance guard from B29 central to C14 central – relieved at 6.15 pm by 21 Aust Inf Bn. Casualties I OR wounded. SQN bivouacked at BEUGNATRE from 7.15 pm to 11.45 pm when orders received to retire to 6 Aust Inf Bde now situated at BAPAUME, arrived 1.45 am 19/3/17.’

C Sqn on the same day;

‘…Patrols despatched in direction FREMICOURT – heavy fire encountered from village and high ground to south – 1 troop despatched to check resistance at latter place – 3 prisoners taken. I Troop despatched to enter village from left but held up by heavy machine gun and rifle fire. At 12 noon 2 troops despatched totake DELSAUX FARM from right flank but held up by heavy machine gun and rifle fire – casualties 1 OR killed 1 OR wounded and missing 3 OR wounded 4 horses killed.

From that information B Squadron’s advance guard on 18 Mar 17 was 6 to 7 km NE of Bapaume, slightly NW of Vaulx-Varaucourt."

Now we find that one soldier in B Sqn was wounded while C Sqn lost 1 OR killed 1 wounded and MIA and 3 OR's wounded.

A check of the casulty roll on the last page in March 1917 finds 24 names of men KIA/WIA during the month.

Of these B Sqn lost on the 18th March 1917;

Sgt Ward and

Sgt Franklin as WIA

C Sqn lost on the 18th March;

Sgt Kirkwood KIA

Sgt McDonald WIA and PoW

Cpl Mason and

Pte Barr as WIA

So now we have two men in B Sqn and one less OR in C Sqn?

For those who may think that one of the other 24 maybe him I can give the following;

Pte McCready B Sqn WIA 20-3-17 (near Longatte)

Cpl Sexton B Sqn WIA 21-3-17

Cpl MCHateley B Sqn KIA 21-3-17

Pte Williams B Sqn KIA 21-3-17

Pte Sandford B Sqn WIA 21-3-17

Pte Calwell B Sqn WIA 21-3-17 DOW 24-3-17

Pte Fitzsimmons B Sqn WIA 21-3-17 (all near Lagnicourt)

Pte Smith A Sqn WIA 25-3-17 (near Lagnicourt)

Pte Biggs A Sqn WIA 26-3-17 (Town Hall explosion)

Pte Greenhill A Sqn WIA 26-3-17 (Town Hall explosion)

Pte Boakes ASqn WIA 26-3-17 (Town Hall explosion)

Pte Finster A Sqn WIA 26-3-17 (Town Hall explosion)

Pte Colmo A Sqn KIA 26-3-17 (Town Hall explosion)

Pte Adams A Sqn KIA 25/26-3-17 (Town Hall explosion)

Pte Taylor A Sqn KIA 26-3-17 (Town Hall explosion)

Pte Alexander A Sqn KIA 25/26-3-17 (Town Hall explosion)

Pte Walshe A Sqn Pow 29-3-17

Pte Crossley A Sqn WIA 29-3-17 (both at Lonvernal)"

As can be seen all men from the 13 LHR were from A Sqn which was the reserve Sqn on the day of the bang.

Cheers

S.B

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Bob,

For anyone who is interested, I remember that you posted some details of your father's involvement in this action once before:

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...st&p=308728

Robert

Bob;

Thanks for remembering and posting that. As it was over three years ago, I had forgotten that I made such a detailed description. The only thing that I could add was that I just received a detailed diagram of a German time fuze that almost certainly was the type of fuze used, from a US document of 1917. A wire was in an acid bath; when it ate thru a spring-loaded pointed plunger could plunge forward and hit a detonator. A related document described how the British and French checked for time bombs by using a "geoscope", which probably was a sort of stethescope, to hear the ticking of clock-work. Of course such a counter-measure would not find a bomb with such a fuze.

I have changed my writing priorities and am taking another pass at this event and other matters in which my father participated, attempting to wind up a book about my father and his father. Input from Pals who know about matters not close to my understanding has been very helpful, and I thank all.

Bob

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Mate,

I did read in the 4th Bn AIF history the other day that they had their QM store blown up around this time?

It history "The Fighting Fourth" by Ron Austin page 145 said:

"Further disaster struck the Bn when on the 18 April (1917) the QM store at Velu was blown up by the detonation of a hidden, delayed action German mine. Amoung the nine killed were the QM Lt Symington, CQMS Watt ---. In addition nine men were wounded."

Cheers

S.B

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my name is philippe drouin vice-president of the somme remembrance association but also secretary of the tourist board in bapaume

i can tell you that we have a great interest in knowing how was organized the job of the german pioneers to set the explosion in bapaume town hall

we have an history research association which would be greatfull too to get more information

you can contact me on

philippe.dr@aliceadsl.fr

hope you will share with us this part of history

kind regards

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  • 1 year later...

I have just found this site while researching my granfather's role in WW1. I see no one has been on this subject for a year or so and I hope Bob Lemke sees this post and makes contact with me if he is interested. My grand father was the Trooper Finster mentioned in the posts. He was also of German extraction( like many Australian soldiers at the time).He survived until 1965 but I was too young to ever talk to him about the war. He was also at the landing at Gallipoli with the 2nd field ambulance but was there less than 5 days before being taken off wounded. I am going to the Western front and Gallipoli next to visit some of the history. Ken Morriss

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Bon jour, Ken et Philippe;

Yes, I am ever vigilant, here I am. Philippe, I have been busy recently, but I will be happy to cooporate with you and your associates. Ken; your information is interesting, and I will try to communicate with you also. I want to do a bit more checking from my side, and see if my father's documents, etc. corroborate that he could have been there. He had been wounded at Verdun twice, and the second time he had a wound that continually became reinfected, so he spent 1917 in and out of hospitals, but also for periods he was able to perform some duty. He also had a good technical education in construction. His oral history, over time, has proved very accurate when I have been able to check on it with documents and other information. It is quite amazing, since it not only depends on his memory (which was very good) over 40 years before he told me, but also on my memory over 45 years before I wrote it down.

Ken, my father also was at Gallipoli, with the volunteer German Pionier company there, was not wounded, but contracted malaria there. I am also working a bit with a German expert on further editions of a book he wrote on Gallipoli.

Bob Lembke

PS: My GWF "mailbox" for PMs is often full up, so be patient if you use that method to reach me. When I notice that it is full I make an effort to make a bit of space in it.

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Bon jour, Ken et Philippe;

Yes, I am ever vigilant, here I am. Philippe, I have been busy recently, but I will be happy to cooporate with you and your associates. Ken; your information is interesting, and I will try to communicate with you also. I want to do a bit more checking from my side, and see if my father's documents, etc. corroborate that he could have been there. He had been wounded at Verdun twice, and the second time he had a wound that continually became reinfected, so he spent 1917 in and out of hospitals, but also for periods he was able to perform some duty. He also had a good technical education in construction. His oral history, over time, has proved very accurate when I have been able to check on it with documents and other information. It is quite amazing, since it not only depends on his memory (which was very good) over 40 years before he told me, but also on my memory over 45 years before I wrote it down.

Ken, my father also was at Gallipoli, with the volunteer German Pionier company there, was not wounded, but contracted malaria there. I am also working a bit with a German expert on further editions of a book he wrote on Gallipoli.

Bob Lembke

PS: My GWF "mailbox" for PMs is often full up, so be patient if you use that method to reach me. When I notice that it is full I make an effort to make a bit of space in it.

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Bob, great to see that you found my post. I do not know how to contact you directly but I will if you allow it. What part of Germany was your father from? My GG grandfather came to Australia in about1850 from Gorlitz and my grandfather (Trooper Finster) was 2nd generation Australian. Looking forward to hearing from you , Ken Morriss

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Guys;

Thanks for your responses and help. I have been horribly preoccupied for a bit with various present day ugly realities but am emerging from the woods and will be responding to your posts. I want to pore over my father's documents so as to be sure that he could have been there. I want to check that carefully as my narrative here is based on his extensive oral history, which has amazingly proved extremely accurate when I have had the means to check it against other materials.

My father was in the German flame regiment, who were Pioniere, highly skilled men. (I think that in the British military usage the term "pioneers" meant a construction workforce of perhaps a lower skill level.) My father was very irritated that men from his unit were often employed in a variety of construction projects, in one case a skittles alley for an officer's club, as he felt that as storm troopers they should be exempt from such fatigues. But they usually had lots of time on their hands, and were quite skilled (my father had about a year or more of construction engineering education when he went in, for example), so they were likely candidates for employment in such projects, much to his annoyance.

Bob Lembke

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