Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

thomatkinson

German Trench Raids

Recommended Posts

thomatkinson

Hi everyone,

 

I’m researching my great uncle:

 

Joseph William Henley

Private 12697

10th Battalion (Service), Duke of Wellington Regiment (West Riding)

Killed in Action 18/10/17 near Zillebeke Bund

No known grave - commemorated on the wall at Tyne Cot

 

Based on the battalion war diary, it seems likely that Joe was killed in a German trench raid in the night 17/18th. 

 

I wondered if anybody could point me to any accounts of night time German trench raids - I’d like to get a sense of what he may have experienced and how he may have died. Any descriptions or summaries of these kind of events would be greatly appreciated.

 

I also wondered whether anyone could suggest reasons why he has no grave? Are there typical reasons for this and what are they likely to be bearing in mind the probable circumstances in which he died?

 

Finally, I appreciate this is all conjecture rather than fact. Is there any way at all to find out more information about his death or the specific raid? 

 

Thanks so much!

Thom

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Loader

Hello Thom.

 I would suggest the action was a chaotic event with confusion all over & in the darkness explosions & shooting & shouting. A raid usually from what I have read would suddenly burst into life as the raiders entered the trench if not spotted before they made it there.

Some casualties never knew what hit them, others died fighting to repel the attackers or trying to retake the lost position. I doubt you will never know the truth of his death. Such raids did not last long either, maybe 15 min or so depending on the objectives.

 As to why no grave, he may have been sent back for burial & his grave later destroyed by shell fire. Or maybe the raiders took his body back to search for intelligence info such as unit ID. A check of the Red Cross forms to see if he was captured & died in enemy hands might turn up info.

Since yo have looked a the Bn WD maybe a scan of the BDE WD will add more info on the action.

Hopefully one or more of the experts on the German Army will see this & jump in with info on the German unit that raided his Bn that night & see how the other side reported the action. Will make interesting reading. Good luck with you research on this fight.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
robertb

Hi Tomatkinson,

You may be interested in "A Moonlight Massacre.  The Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, 2 December 1917.  The Forgotten Last Act of the Third Battle of Ypres" by Michael Locicero.  Published By Helion. ISBN 978 1 909982 92 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
thomatkinson
Posted (edited)

Hi there, 

 

Thanks so much for this. I've just checked the 69th Brigade war diary as you suggested. It doesn't give any information about the actual raid but it does mention lots of interesting information about the route his battalion took to get to the front in the lead up, and various other details. I hadn't realised there were brigade diaries, so thank you for this - it adds a little more colour to the story. 

 

Thanks also for the descriptions. Wow. It's such a mystery and I think I'm becoming obsessed...

 

If anybody else has ideas, it would be great to hear from you. And if there is anybody who could help me find information about the German unit involved in the raid, this would be incredible. I know it occurred between British map ref: J11d70.50 - J12a5.5 on the night of 17/18th October 17th and, according to the war diary, was repulsed by B company of 10th Duke of Wellington (West Riding). 

 

I'll try to find the Red Cross Forms you mention next...

 

One other question has occurred to me - I don't know if anybody can help... I'm hoping to find some living relatives of Joseph's wife, Lilian. They had no children together but she had family. I wonder if anything - letters, personal effects etc - might have been passed down the family somewhere. Aside form personal things like this, are there any official documents I might be looking for? Official telegrams. notice of death, etc? Is it possible/likely that Joe's personal possessions would have found their way home?

 

Thank you,

Thom

 

P.S. Hi Robert. Thanks for the book suggestion - I'll look for a copy. Much appreciated.

 

 

Edited by thomatkinson

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
PJS

Hi Thom,

 

Here is an example of a night raid as provided by the Battalion and Divisional War Diaries. The link is here. Not much of a description about what happened but the order itself is quite interesting.

 

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
robertb

Here then:

 

[Passchendaele, Moorslede _ 3rd Battle of Ypres].jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
thomatkinson

Hi Robert,

 

Yes, that's the area - thanks!

 

Can I ask where you found that map? I have the same map corrected to 30/06/17 but I haven't seen this one anywhere. Is this one later or earlier do you know? 

 

Thanks,

Thom

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
thomatkinson

Thanks for the link also Peter - really interesting to read

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
robertb

Many apologies, I was going to give the details, but …. (I'll blame the heat!)

Here they are -  the map is from McMaster's University Digital Archive.  28 NE, Edition 5a.  The trenches are corrected to 1 October 1917, and the dashed blue line is the British Front on 4 October 1917.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
thomatkinson

Thanks Robert - I’ll get hold of a full copy. Appreciated!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bierast
Posted (edited)

Having looked at the map and the date, I'm confident that the Germans opposite belonged to the Prussian 15. Infanterie-Division. This was initially inferred from a reference in Jack Sheldon's The German Army at Passchendaele and my knowledge of the Saxon 24. Infanterie-Division which was holding the (southern) neighbouring sector at the time. The infantry component of 15.ID comprised the 80. Infanterie-Brigade of three regiments - IR 69, 160 and 389. The death list of IR 69 is the only one available online, and suggests that this regiment was on the (German) left flank from Becelaere to Gheluvelt (in contact with IR 179 in the ruins of the latter village). I believe that the German unit you are looking for must either be IR 69 or their (German) right-hand neighbour. Unfortunately the only one of the three regiments with a published history is IR 160, and I don't have a copy thereof.

 

While checking my system I found that I have a photo from IR 389 - Fritz Schmidt and friends from 8. Komp. / IR 389 having a drink on the quiet Lorraine front in Summer 1917.

 

IR389_Umtrunk1917.jpg.e54b83dea8b330a09edd979d7a8c7309.jpg

 

IR389_Umtrunk1917_bk.jpg.11de1c6b92acf9e7bc4c79e67f831509.jpg

Edited by bierast

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
thomatkinson

Thank you - really amazing to see this and to have this information. Much appreciated. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
chaz
On ‎03‎/‎07‎/‎2018 at 21:41, thomatkinson said:

I also wondered whether anyone could suggest reasons why he has no grave? Are there typical reasons for this and what are they likely to be bearing in mind the probable circumstances in which he died?

 

Thom, regarding the 'no grave' problem, there are many reasons to speculate over. some already covered others could be .... died in a trench and it collapsed after later bombardment.

drowned in a mud hole, he may not even have had his name on his body when found, one soldier was recently identified by his name inside the remains of a boot.

this leads on to one of the many 'unknown's' that are in cemeteries, if badges and other ID were missing , even de-capitation, he could not be named.

he might even still be on the battlefield, whilst widening the road from Thiepval to Connaught Cemetery more bodies were found.

don't give up he may one day appear, meantime remember him and his colleagues  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
thomatkinson

Thank you Chaz. So, several possibilities and no way to know for sure. He is listed as killed in action, and the only event in the battalion war diary on that date is the German raid on the night of 17th/18th. Interesting that he has no grave but is not reported as missing. Perhaps his body was unrecoverable at the time due to the conditions or perhaps he was recovered and buried, but the grave was lost later in the war as you suggest. Those seem the most likely possibilities with what is known. 

 

My next plan is to research the family history of his wife, Lilian. They had no children but perhaps there are letters or other artefacts which might shed light. Perhaps something survives with living relatives...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
chaz
German IR 169

 

Hi Thom,   Thanks for initiating this interesting post and I wish you the best in researching the fate of your Great Uncle.  My grandfather, Albert Rieth, served in the German Army during the war, so I understand your level of interest.    My grandfather's Great War experiences inspired me to publish a book on his regiment's history.  (Imperial Germany's Iron Regiment of the First World War; Infantry Regiment 169, 1914-1918;   see www.ironregiment169.com for further information.)   While I do not have any information on the action where your Great Uncle was killed, my book does describe a German trench raid against a French position near Ripont in December 1917.   This account from Chapter 12 of the book should give you an idea of the level of planning and rehearsal, and extreme violence of action, that the German's employed in trench raids during the later periods of the war.   I hope you find this useful.  

 

Best Regards,   John Rieth

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

 

Chapter 12

Transition to the 1918 Spring Offensives

IR 169 had only a week to recover from the Aisne Campaign when its battalions were rotated to the front to relieve IR 148 at the village of Ripont, eight miles south. [Ripont is another of the small French villages that were destroyed in the Great War and never repopulated – it exists today in name only.] From November 4 – December 15, the regiment manned the trenches three miles further south by the Mesnil Forest (Butte du Mesnil).

While in line, the regiment improved the defenses and conducted aggressive patrolling against the French. On 20 November, His Royal Highness the Archduke Friedrich II of Baden visited with the 2nd Battalion in the reserve area, with representatives of the other battalions attending.

The most notable event occurring during IR 169’s service at Ripont was a large scale trench raid that 1st Battalion conducted on December 14. The raid was commanded by Leutnant d.R. Fritz Rombach, commanding officer of 1st Company. Rombach, who led the March 1917 raid from the Juvincourt trenches, was considered an expert in storm troop tactics. His organizational and leadership abilities were put to test in this far more complex operation.

Rombach’s mission was to attack a 500 meter length of three enemy trench lines, designated on German maps (from west to east) as Points 74, 205, and 207. The assault group was tasked to destroy enemy positions and bring back prisoners. The targeted objective was embedded deep in the enemy’s third trench-line. The attack required the storm troopers to first navigate the 200 meters of no-man’s-land territory and breach the thick barbed wire obstacle field. The Germans then would assault into the first trench and continue 100 meters clear the second trench. The third, trench-line target objective was yet another 100 meters deeper in enemy territory.

Rombach’s storm troop force included Leutnants Schwarz and Trefz, two Feldwebels, six Unteroffizieres and 51 volunteers from 1st Battalion. The force was augmented by an Unteroffizier and nine sappers (engineers) of the 52nd Division's Pioneer Company 104. Rombach prepared a thorough attack order that accounted for the smallest details. The plan’s highlights included these components:

 

1. Assault Force Composition: The mission will be executed with five groups (storm troops) each consisting of: a leader, a second in command, nine men of the infantry and two sappers. Each of the five groups will also include two light machine gun sections consisting of one commander and four men.

2. Mission of the Storm Troops: Clearing of the French trenches [with Point 205 being the center-point of the third trench-line]:

-- Storm Troop 1: Points 74 to 205 [A 200 meter section of the western portion of the third trench-line target area.]

-- Storm Troop 2: Points 207 to 205 [A 150 meter section of the eastern portion of the third trench-line target area.]

-- Storm Troop 3: The 200 meter, western section of the second trench-line.

-- Storm Troop 4 : The 150 meter, eastern section of the second trench-line.

-- Storm Troop 5: Moves to the center position of the second trench-line. Using grenades, disrupt counterattacking enemy forces. The storm troop will destroy the large obstacle observed there and then advance to Point 205 in order to first reinforce Storm Troops 1 and 2 and cover the return of all the Storm Troops.

3. Withdrawal Phase Cover: Storm Troops 1-4 will designate three men at specific points to cover the withdrawal. Light MG Section (1) will cover the west flank and Light MG Section (2) will cover the east flank.

4. Assault Fire-cover:

-- Grenade Launchers: Two grenade launcher teams, each with two Granatenwerfers, will be positioned at forward saps and take specified enemy points under fire.

-- Indirect Machine gun Targets: [These four MG nests were located on elevated terrain, between 300-800 meters behind the third German trench line.]

Gun position Lahr with distance 1700m on point Z (southeast).

Gun position Freiburg with distance 1800m on point 203 (south).

Gun position Konstanz with distance 1600m on point 190 (southwest).

Gun position Mannheim with distance 2000m on point 91 (eastern flank of front enemy trench).

-- Direct Machine Gun fire: Two sections, each with two guns, in the German front line trench will suppress enemy to the left and right portions of the assault sector.

5. Reserve: The reserve force consists of one officer and 32 men in four groups (Infanteriegruppen). The reserve will stand ready near the tunnel exits of the first trench to assist where required.

6. Storm Group Starting Points: Each storm troop and two light MG teams are designated specific starting points in the sap trench to use as the launch point.

7. Storm Troop Battle Grouping: Storm troops will be led by two sappers with explosive loads. Immediately behind are the storm troop leader with four men, two designated as hand grenade throwers and two as hand grenade carriers. Half of this team will move outside the enemy trench while rest of maneuvers from the inside.

8. Weapons and Gear:

-- Every man on the assault teams carries eight stick-hand grenades and six egg-hand grenades and a sidearm, either Pistol 08 or Mauser C96 (9mm).

-- Gear: Three wire cutters for each storm troop. The leaders carry a stopwatch, luminous compass, signal whistle and signal lamp.

-- The cover troops will have one riflemen and two men with side arms. They will carry the same amount of hand grenades and have one wire cutter with them.

-- The MG groups will have 750 rounds in their drums. Every rifle man carries a signal-pistol with 20 rounds (will light up the raid from the flanks).

9. Equipment Issue: Gear and munitions will be handed out on December 14, at 0300 hours at the tunnel exit West.

10. Artillery and Mortar Preparations: Heavy artillery and mortars will fire a two minute barrage on the objective, then shift to flank and provide cover fire for remainder of the mission. Special mission for the heavy artillery is to target the French strongpoint, OUVRAGE, [one kilometer east of the central target zone.]

11. Start time for Storm Troop assault: 0 plus 120 Sec.

12. Return Time for Storm Troops: At 0 plus 30 min, storm troops will assemble in the first French trench-line. [Troop leaders had discretion on how to exfiltrate their units back to their own trenches based on the extent of enemy artillery fires.]

13. Reception Groups: The leaders of the reserve groups have a list of the names of the raid members. They will cross out the names as they return to the line.

14. Parole Codeword: L A H R.

15. Storm Troop Identification:

-- Storm Troops 1 and 2: White ribbon on left upper arm.

-- Storm Troops 3 and 4: White ribbon on right upper arm.

-- Storm Troop 5: White ribbon on left lower arm.

-- Light MG Troops: White ribbon on right lower arm.

16. Reassembly and Prisoner Collection: After return report to the West Tunnel exit. Take prisoners there!

17. Security: Nobody talks about this mission.

Rombach also added a postscript to the order that acknowledged the lack of flamethrowers: “This time the raid will be executed without flamethrowers (Flammwerfers) since we lost the entire Flammwerfertrupps in the last three missions. Requested replacements to flush out the enemy shelters did not arrive in time for the raid.”

 

OmdZVUtPFaxruEJ6gRixu429DVw4-zNgpeykRjKleKYkTPG0t9cDj0mp2SKA6CAf9uY18DeXWpFRZFzpAxsuQE92z4bYdf_seXkWgjAjItdicPfLd4wP0Q1Ynng0UCWDEu62J7kyF11479eQYg

The Germans invested a great deal of effort in mission training. A full scale mock-up of the objective was constructed from aerial reconnaissance photographs. The entire assault group spent ten nights rehearsing the attack. Experiences of previous raids were extensively studied. In earlier missions, the assault troops launched into no-man’s-land from their front-line trenches, causing an excessive delay in closing in on the objective. In this attack, the men would silently crawl as close to the enemy trenches as possible and await the assault order from the cover of shell craters. Sappers would blow up the obstacle fields during the preparatory barrage. As soon as the fires lifted, the assault squads would rush into the lead trench and roll up its defenders. While this advanced placement of the storm troops added speed for the assault, it risked exposing the attackers perilously close to friendly artillery fire.

Special attention was applied to trench clearing tactics. Storm troop maneuvering was choreographed so that half the teams attacked from inside the trench while the remaining members advanced from behind the rear edge of the parapets. Much emphasis was placed on hand grenade precision. Regimental doctrine stressed the quick, purposeful and accurate tossing of the grenades. Teams were trained to throw hand grenades in a sequenced, ‘drum-fire’ manner to increase the shock effect. Troopers practiced how to quickly and accurately fire their pistols in bursts that expended no more than half a magazine at a time. A core aspect of the storm trooper tactics focused on the smallest tactical element, the two-man buddy teams. It was essential that every combat action was a coordinated team effort, and the pairs would never intentionally be separated. The assault MG squads were issued captured French light machine guns, as the rate of fire was superior to German guns.

Three days before the raid, the teams rehearsed moving into their start positions by navigating with fluorescent compasses. After careful assessment of weather and lighting conditions, zero hour of the attack was set for 6:35 am on December 14.

Assault group personnel were awoken at 2:00 am on the morning of the raid. An unteroffizier walked from bunk to bunk and whispered to each raider “Aufstehen, es ist Zeit” (Get up, it is time). No word was spoken, and the men quietly moved into the tunnel leading to the front trench. Ammunition was issued and all hands were given a sip of schnapps to warm up. From the tunnel, the seventy-one men crawled out into their start positions. The sappers placed long rods with attached explosive loads into the enemy wire obstacles. Moments before the scheduled barrage, they lit the fuses and took cover in the bottom of shell craters.

The two-minute long artillery barrage opened right at zero hour. Disaster, however, struck at the onset when a short-ranged salvo exploded into the center of Storm Troop 2. When the fire shifted off the objective, it was realized that two men, one feldwebel and one unteroffizier, were killed and the most of the survivors left severely wounded. Lt. Schwarz, the Storm Troop 2 commander, received splinter wounds but was able to return under his own power to German lines. Storm Troop 4 diverted from its mission in order to help recover the dead and wounded. Other problems arose when some of the demolition explosions failed to clear obstacles, causing delays as the sappers scrambled to set off new charges. Despite these setbacks, enough men from the assault teams slipped through gaps in the wire and quickly cleared the first trench.

French defenders responded with a brisk automatic fire. At the western portion of the objective, enemy troops, pulled ‘Spanish Rider’ wire obstacles before the third trench. A wild hand grenade battle ensued. German sappers took advantage of the smoke from the exploding hand grenades and were able to blast open this new obstacle. French resistance started to break. Some of the defenders fled the trenches and ran towards the southwest, where they were cut down by plunging fire from covering machine guns. Other enemy troops took shelter in a large dugout and fired wildly from the bunker entrance. Leutnant Trefz, leader of Storm Troop 1 yelled for them to surrender. Whether or not they heard Trefz’ command or understood their predicament, the trapped French soldiers continued to fire. The Germans regretted their lack of flamethrowers, as it would have been an ideal weapon for the circumstances. They instead rolled grenades down the bunker stairs. Screams could be heard from below, but no one escaped as bunker entrance collapsed from the detonations. With this strongpoint eliminated, Storm Troop 1 continued towards the primary object; Point 205, the center of the third trench.

The raiders battling in the French trenches had yet to learn of the shell strike on Storm Troop 2. The first indication of trouble was when Storm Troop 1 reached Point 205. There was no sign of Troop 2, which was supposed to link up and form the left flank. Soon after, two members of Storm Troop 4 arrived at the front to report on Troop 2’s friendly fire calamity. Leutnant Rombach ordered Lt. Trefz to hold his position to ensure the right flank remained secure.

Back at the second French line, Storm Troop 3, led by Unteroffizier Kloh, united with Storm Troop 5 and finished clearing the trench. Five bunkers were found and destroyed with explosives, burying all enemy occupants. Kloh then led his party into a communications trench that connected the second and third trenches. At the middle of this section, the Germans encountered a large bunker the French used as a storage depot for construction materiel. A heavy fire came from the firing slots that blocked their advance. The bunker was especially well protected and topped with a one meter thick earthen roof. Unteroffizer Kloh, armed with a satchel charge, proceeded to crawl from outside the trench line and onto the bunker roof. Kloh pulled the fuse, counted two seconds and threw the charge down into the entrance port. The explosion blew three bodies out of the bunker, a severely wounded French officer and two mortally wounded enlisted men.

The raiding party had met its objectives. It cleared and controlled three enemy trenches inside a 400 meter wide and 300 meter deep intrusion point. There were no enemy troops left alive who were not already prisoners or were too severely wounded to transport back. Storm troop units exploited the area for anything of intelligence value as well as grabbing weapons and materiel for their own use. The spoils included steel shields, crates of hand grenades, grenade launchers and light machine guns. The raiding party still had three explosive charges remaining, which were used to blow up the communication trench between the second and third lines.

It was now time to exfiltrate back to their own trenches. In most cases, the men sprinted back the 150 meter distance to the designated rally point in the southwestern tunnel of the first trench. As they approached this position, the troopers called out the ‘LAHR’ password, jumped into the trench and checked in with the NCO’s responsible for the accountability rosters.

At 7:15, the skies still remained dark, with a morning mist was rolling in. Leutnant Rombach queried the leader of one of reception groups and learned that a pioneer who was detailed to Storm Troop 2 could not be accounted for. Rombach gave the terse order to “suche” (search). Five minutes later the body of the sapper was returned to German lines. He was found in the vicinity of the first enemy trench, killed by a head shot. It was assessed he was hit by a lucky French round in the early stages of the attack. This was the only fatality resulting from enemy fire in the entire raid.

Major Berthold, the 1st Battalion Commander, was on hand to greet and praise the returning raiders. Initial results were promising. Prisoners were already being interrogated by an army group intelligence officer. Another intelligence windfall was a map, taken from the pocket of a dead French officer, which depicted the security outpost locations for the entire sector. Despite his command’s accomplishment, Lt Rombach was displeased. He believed he had achieved more productive intelligence and materiel yields in previous raids and still bristled at the lack of flamethrowers for this mission. Major Berthold sought to reassure Rombach. “There is nothing you could have done better, even if you had the flamethrowers. Such are the fortunes of war.”

On December 16, two days following the raid, IR 169 was relieved in line by Reserve IR 236, of the 151st Reserve Division. IR 169’s losses for the duration of the Ripont deployment included 1 officer and 50 men.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
AOK4

Hello,

 

The area was on the border between IR 389 of 15 Infanterie-Division (in the South) and probably RIR 82 of 22 Reserve-Division (in the North).

 

Jan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bierast
1 hour ago, AOK4 said:

The area was on the border between IR 389 of 15 Infanterie-Division (in the South) and probably RIR 82 of 22 Reserve-Division (in the North).

 

Thanks for the correction Jan - I can add to this that RIR 82 does have a published history: 

Das Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 82 im Weltkrieg by Bussjäger, Erfurt 1930, 399 pp

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
thomatkinson

Hi everyone - thanks so much.

 

Chaz - thank you for those links, which were fascinating. The Long Long Trail description is particularly helpful. Really appreciated!

 

John - congratulations on your book and thanks for the excerpt. Incredible to read about a raid from the German perspective. This is is really enlightening.

 

Jan / Bierast - thank you for this information. I’ve been trying to find a copy of this book but with no success. Do you happen to know if there are any online copies which I could translate digitally? Or even an English translation version?

 

Also, I wanted to ask - do German units have existing war diaries as with the British Army? 

 

One other question which occurs to me - could anyone guess as to the state of the specific trenches my Uncle Joe was occupying on the night of the 17th/18th October 1917 - British map ref: J11d70.50 - J12a5.5? I’ll attach the closest map I now have - I believe the position begins at the solid red line running through Judge Copse, more of less to the cross roads in the top right. I know there was heavy rain in the area on the 17th, so clearly they would have been extremely wet and muddy. I also understand that trenches in this area didn’t generally have dugouts due to the water table being high. Would these trenches be quite rudimentary do you think? Deep? Shored up at all? Had they been used long or were they new? If no dugouts, would my uncle have been sleeping in the open? I wonder if anybody on the forum knows much about the previous history of this area? 

 

Thanks again everyone! So glad I found the forum - it’s been so helpful.

 

 

 

 

19CD2F69-4F49-4CB6-8DD4-249481D68845.jpeg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
AOK4

Hello,

 

Most of the German war diaries (esp. Prussian) are lost as the archive was largely destoryed during WW2 bombings.

Published German regimental histories are often hard to find and only a few have been digitised and made available on the internet.

 

IR 389 doesn't have a published regimental history and I don't have the one of RIR 82.

 

Jan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×