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1916 in the Salient, was there anything?


bkristof
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Yes...Hill 62 ?

 

In regard to the gas cases, there was a huge peak in the fatality rates around this time : not the absolute numbers - these were quite small compared with the following two years - but the proportion of deaths among the admissions to medical facilities.  This was, I believe, directly associated with the phosgene gas.  The Germans also unleashed it against  the French at Verdun about the same time ( June 1916)  causing a crisis in the battle and a spike in the French casualties as the gunners were blinded and the artillery performance diminished.

 

Phil

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2 hours ago, phil andrade said:

Yes...Hill 62 ?

The Mount Sorrel battle is also commemorated by a fairly recent memorial to the 15th Btn, CEF, on Observatory Ridge, not far from Hill 62.

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Phil.

     Yes a huge peak ,in deaths, if my adding up is correct  during the whole month of July the 3rd Canadian C.C.S admitted 725 men and of those 36 men  died (an amount small enough that they could list the names and numbers of the dead).

 

On the 8/9 August they admitted 203 men ,146 of which were gas cases and of those 54 died!

They used 27 bottles of oxygen in the first day trying to help the men breathe.

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sassenach.

                Yes the Battle of Mont (Mount) Sorrel some 3 weeks before the Somme ,and the Canadians first major engagement,June 2-14 ,which cost them nearly 8,500 casualties.

 

Always wondered about the name Mount Sorrel,as there is a village in Leicestershire called Mountsorrel, thought it may have been given an "Army name" perhaps the "Tigers" had been there and thought it  reminded them of the one back home ? 

The one in Leicestershire is supposedly named after Mountsoreau in France as it  reminded the Normans of home......

 

 

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Canadians and gas ...crikey, all you need is Ypres thrown in ! 

 

April 1915 and they gained the immortal legend.

 

Go forward one year, they take more casualties, and undergo an even worse ordeal by gas, and who talks about Mt Sorrel ?

 

Pleased that I mentioned this  !

 

Phil

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2 hours ago, paul.pengelly said:

sassenach.

                Yes the Battle of Mont (Mount) Sorrel some 3 weeks before the Somme ,and the Canadians first major engagement,June 2-14 ,which cost them nearly 8,500 casualties.

 

Always wondered about the name Mount Sorrel,as there is a village in Leicestershire called Mountsorrel, thought it may have been given an "Army name" perhaps the "Tigers" had been there and thought it  reminded them of the one back home ? 

The one in Leicestershire is supposedly named after Mountsoreau in France as it  reminded the Normans of home......

 

 

Yes the "Tigers" were there in 1915.  4th and 5th Battalions. "Known as Mountsorrel on account of Colonel Martins Headquarters which were on it" Colonel Martin being the commander of the 4th Leicesters. From the 5th Leicestershire by Captain Hills.  MC. Croix De Guerre.  Also the Sherwood Foresters. There is a Maple copse in the vicinity, I suppose named by the Canadians? Regards, Bob. an interesting blog is found here; http://leicestershirelalala.com/on-the-trail-of-leicester-and-leicestershire-soldiers-a-century-ago/

Edited by Bob Davies
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There is much to think about regarding this Mont Sorrel battle.

 

Why has it been overlooked ?  As the OP suggests, people just don’t think about Ypres 1916...it’s all about the Somme and Verdun.

 

The ferocity of this  German attack was remarkable.  It inflicted great damage, and suggests that the Germans had been going though their own “ learning curve” as they had been getting more and more trapped in their “ Mill on the Meuse”.  I wonder how far the June 1916 attack at Ypres was a function of Falkenhayn’s strategy, which entailed Verdun spawning widespread attacks and counter attacks along the entire Western Front. It came a couple of weeks after another local offensive against the newly installed British line around Vimy Ridge in the Arras sector : Operation Schleswig Holstein. 

 

It has been depicted as a preemptive  operation to throw out Entente preparations for the Somme offensive.

 

My opinion - which is hardly based on much knowledge, I admit - is that it seems more feasible as an extension of the Verdun method rather than something designed to undermine the Allied effort in Picardy.

 

Falkenhayn wrote that the Allied attack on the Somme had been “ long hoped for” ; he might have been in self justification mode here.

 

If he was hoping for it, why would he have tried to disrupt it by mounting such a significant attack up there in Flanders ?

 

Phil

 

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Bob Davies.

              Thanks for that ,so Mount Sorrel was named by the  "Tigers" for Colonel (Sir) Robert Edmund Martin commander 4th Leicesters whose family owned and ran  the Mountsorrel granite quarry ,(although he was not born there as the linked article states)

He was back in England by the time of the 1916 battle having been invalided out after nearly losing his leg .

This was from the Hohenzollen Redoubt attack 13 Oct where the Leicester had 480 casualties from 650 men ,including all the officers ,so after being injured he  resisted hospital treatment of his leg wound for 22 hours .

 

phil andrade

              Yes one of those "forgotten" battles ,unless of course you are Canadian they have some good sites  /articles on it ,Long long Trail is good as well.

It was one of the strategic high points vital to own ,with commanding views of Ypres and surrounding roads.The Canadians were planning an attack to increase their holdings when they lost Major General M.Mercer 3rd Division Commander killed and Brigader General V.Williams 8th Bde's commander injured then captured who were on a scouting mission when the Germans attacked.

Accurate bombardment of the front line ,detonation of mines under the front followed by the infantry attack nearly wiped out the 4th Canadian mounted rifles,suffering 89% casualties,only 76 men out of 702 uninjured..

The Canadians lost a lot of men in the badly organised counter attacks,before finally removing the Germans from their positions,both sides possibly lost about the same amount of men in returning to where they were at the start of the battle,but it certainly helped the Canadians morale to give the Germans a bloody nose back.

 

 

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It may be of interest to see the lie of the land as it is today. This photo is the view south from the Hill 62 Canadian Memorial looking towards Tor(r) Top and Mount Sorrel.

 

Pete.

IMG_1793.JPG.5ed4925f8297e5565588e553a6ef7072.JPG

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...and an indication of why the position was so important. This is the view north west from the same spot towards Ieper with a bit of zoom.

IMG_1795.JPG.c8aea440662caaa57b5e1189a9abe53c.JPG

 

 

Edited by Fattyowls
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6 hours ago, phil andrade said:

 

If he was hoping for it, why would he have tried to disrupt it by mounting such a significant attack up there in Flanders ?

 

Phil

 

 

I've read in some memoirs of a German military railroad officer that it was originally intended to grab Ypres (the attack was to be a lot larger than what was eventually executed in June 1916) by means of a two-pronged attack (one attack to the north from the Houthulst Forest area, where plenty of new railroad connections were constructed, and one attack south of Ypres). I believe the operation was cancelled because of the Verdun offensive using more and more men and materiel.

 

I should dig up the book and check whether I remember everything correctly.

 

Jan

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Thanks for those evocative photos, Pete, and for that surprising revelation, Jan.

 

Who would have thought that the capture of Ypres was even contemplated during that phase of the war ?

 

I know that Falkenhayn had advocated an onslaught against the British in early 1915......but the middle of 1916 ....as if Verdun wasn’t enough !

 

That said, I’m surprised at the weight of the German artillery that was deployed, and the intensity of the attack.  It really does look like something quite big.

 

In terms of casualties, I’m sure that the Germans, by dint of superior firepower and a degree of surprise, got the better of the exchange ; but its significant that one of their divisions - the 26th - suffered three and a half thousand casualties, which is a high figure and attests very stern resistance.

 

Phil

Edited by phil andrade
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Thanks for the photos Pete.

 It Is not much of a “mount “ but then it didn’t have to be with the rest of the ground being so flat even an elevation of 30 metres over the surrounding countryside gave you a big advantage.With Ieper being only 2 miles distant and those trees not being there in 1916 if would have been very uncomfortable situation for the allies who would have faced a difficult choice if the Germans had attacked Iper.There was little in the way of British support troops for the Canadians as most were concentrated further North for the Somme push,they were given extra artillery units ,which they made full use of and successfully retook the positions after 11 days,if they hadn’t managed it things could have been a lot different.

 

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Phil 

      Not seen any mention on a planned attack on Iper,but after their success in the initial attack they certainly missed a chance in not at least pressing on towards the town.

They had put six weeks of preparation into the battle with copies of the Canadian trenches to practise on,and the blowing of four mines under the Canadian front line after the massive artillery bombardment and 1 minute before the attack.(Sounds very reminiscent of the allies attack on the Messines ridge)

There were not many survivors left to offer much in the way of resistance but resist they did as best they could to no avail

 

It could have been even worse for the Canadians as their new  Commander Lt General Byng nearly went on the ill fated reconnaissance mission that cost them two of their most senior officers ,one dead one captured,losing him as well would have had a massive effect on the inexperienced Canadian Corps In their first major action.

 

 

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Paul,

 

The thing that I find intriguing is how this very significant action can be reconciled with the widely held view of the narrative of the Western Front in the first half of 1916.

 

It certainly diminishes the perception of Verdun’s preponderance.

 

Phil

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Paul.pengelly, thanks for that, yes Colonel Martin stayed with his men, reading the Bible to Clive Harvey a dying subaltern. "Footprints of the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment" by Captain John Milne  recommended. A very interesting thread, the pictures that Pete has posted, thank you, certainly show us part of the problem. As I see it, the German army held the high ground and was easily fortified whereas the Allies were in the low ground which was a morass in parts due to the river Yser having been flooded deliberately in 1914 to keep the Germans out and had a high water table in the other parts. Whoever held the heights was out of the water and could direct fire onto whatever it wanted for miles around so why move? Keep on destroying the Allies in the mud below until you have enough reserves to make a huge push forward and keep what you have gained and not have to make your defensive position in the mud. I believe also that the Allies had not got the man power nor the support of say the French army, to put up a successful attack on the heights surrounding Ypress and to hold them. So adopted a strategy of keeping the German army at bay until we (British Commanders) can come up with a good plan for the area, as we are thinking on attacking elsewhere first but we have not forgotten you. Regards, Bob.

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Just to add a photographic footnote, this is the view from close to the other end of the attack frontage at Hooge Crater cemetery looking south to Zouave wood. Much of the fighting was in the wrecked woodland that was such a feature of the Ypres front lines in the area.

 

 

Edge of Sanctuary Wood.JPG

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On the 30th June 1916 Battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment (South Downs) were involved in a battle in the German lines ( near Boars Head) at Richeborg. More than 360 killed 1100 wounded/missing in less than two hours. Would this have been a diversionary tactic before the start of the Somme? 

 

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This is what Cyril Falls wrote :

 

A number of minor attacks took place before the opening of the Battle of the Somme.  Two, both on the British front, may be mentioned as designed in part to interrupt the preparations.

 

He alludes to Vimy Ridge on May 21 and Mount Sorrel.

 

Mount Sorrel gets even less attention in his narrative than the much smaller Vimy  Ridge affair.

 

Another, older and more obscure history of the Great War, written by AF Pollard in the war’s immediate aftermath, gives a different interpretation about these two attacks :

 

....in June the Germans thrust us back behind Hooge. But these attacks and others along the front were merely feints designed to conceal the German preparations against Verdun, and to prevent the Allied forces from concentrating on its defence after the plan had been revealed .

 

A rather odd thing to claim, since this was several months into the Verdun battle !  Pollard did emphasise, though, that the Germans noted the British taking over more of the French front around Arras :

 

Probably the Germans imagined that this extension had weakened our lines at Ypres....,

 

Viewed in this light, the fierce local actions around Hooge, the Bluff and the Ypres-Comines Canal in February, March and April might be interpreted as German exploitation of those “ weakened lines”.

 

The big question here is, was Mont Sorrel a battle fought to disrupt British deployment on the Somme ; or was it designed to render the French more vulnerable at Verdun, by dint of restricting British re-deployment in their support ?

 

 To a degree, these things are conflated.

 

I can’t help thinking that the Germans saw Verdun as the Dragon, and their  local attacks elsewhere along the Western Front as the Dragon’s Teeth.  But this Mont Sorrel attack looks more  like a Dragon’s Tusk than a tooth !

 

Falkenhayn was so enigmatic , and his Verdun strategy likewise.

 

Why did he allow Mont Sorrel to go ahead on that scale, and deny other subordinate commanders the same resources ?

 

Rupprecht of Bavaria was aggrieved by this : his Operation Schleswig Holstein against the British at Vimy was deprived of what he wanted, and he resented the transference of Bavarian units to Verdun.  One senses that he might have achieved a great deal if he had been given his head.

 

Trying to put Mont Sorrel into perspective in the “ Big Picture” is difficult...especially when we remember that, almost simultaneously, the Eastern Front was blown apart by Brusilov, and the Central Powers were in existential crisis.  Falkenhayn had rather a lot on his plate, and maybe he was distracted to the extent that local opportunism in Flanders was indulged. 

 

Phil

 

Edited by phil andrade
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19 hours ago, Fattyowls said:

It may be of interest to see the lie of the land as it is today. This photo is the view south from the Hill 62 Canadian Memorial looking towards Tor(r) Top and Mount Sorrel.

 

Pete.

IMG_1793.JPG.5ed4925f8297e5565588e553a6ef7072.JPG

Bob. I get your point about the natural reluctance of “giving up” your advantage of the high ground that you have just gained and going down to fight on a level playing field.Especially as you would have to give up the existing fortifications and start again in the waterlogged lowlands,with the nagging thought that any retreat would be uphill in full view of the enemy.

 

Pete. Had a look in “Twenty years after” to see how they reported it and it was a decent piece ,although there was no mention of the mines blown which was strange ,but I have noticed that in another account.That I think is part of the problem ,lazy writing ,why bother investigating when you can just rearrange somebody else’s words ,trouble is it’s like Chinese whispers it gets more distorted as it goes on.They did have a couple of pictures a “before and after” the after one looks similar to the first one of yours,but not sure about the orientation.?See what you think

 

AAC36993-A8E8-4EF5-A2A3-29361420FB2F.jpeg

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To the northeast of Ypres, XXVI Reservekorps was ordered to build extra artillery positions in March 1916 (at the same time when XIII Armeekorps was starting preparations for the Mount Sorrel attack). There is some information about this in my book "Defending the Ypres Front 1914-1918". The works were halted in May-June.

 

Unfortunately, most of the archives of German Fourth Army have not survived WW2. It might be interesting to dig through the archives of XIII Armeekorps in Stuttgart to see whether there is anything there that may shed a light on the original planning behind the 1916 attack.

 

Jan

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Jan .

    Exactly right.  Did think that we have plenty of opinions by British experts of what the Germans  intentions were and that’s all they are quesswork.The winners get to (re)write the history

 

A “better” photo?
 

 

 

23894400-F169-4F4D-A591-D842C4E35FFC.jpeg

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Whatever the whys and wherefores of the Mont Sorrel action, I’ve come away feeling more than ever aware that it’s a terrible mistake to think that the Germans were prepared to sit back and await attack.  This, of course, would be axiomatic in the first half of 1916, because Verdun was the principal business on the Western Front, and it necessarily entailed diversionary actions elsewhere .

 

That being so, the Germans mounted many local attacks throughout the static years of warfare, and they demonstrated striking reflexive skills in doing this.

 

Mont Sorrel and Operation Schleswig Holstein both came as very nasty shocks to the British, and I’ve no doubt that the French underwent their counterpart ordeals on sectors other than Verdun.  I note that , between February and June 1916, almost exactly two thirds of all German casualties on the Western Front were suffered at Verdun....which implies that they sustained well over  one hundred thousand elsewhere, inflicted roughly equally by the British and the French.

 

The impression I get  is that these local German attacks were lavishly supported by artillery, were well organised and skilfully mounted, and succeeded in inflicting disproportionate damage. Indeed, they might be seen as modelled on the Verdun method, with a kind of “ bite and hold” approach.  Mont Sorrel certainly shows these traits, as does the Vimy Ridge affair a week or two earlier.

 

The teeth of the dragon were busy in the Ypres salient in 1916.

 

Editing : CWGC reveals that over  16,100 British Empire dead are commemorated in Belgium for the entire year of 1916 : we might assume that nearly all of these were in the Salient.  More significantly, about 11,500 of these - seventy one per cent-  died  in the first half of the year, including about 2,750 Canadians between 2 and 14 June 1916.   Mont Sorrel is an under acknowledged Canadian epic, and a generally under rated battle, I think.

 

Phil

Edited by phil andrade
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So I checked some books today. Apparently, around mid March plans for an attack on Ypres were presented by German Fourth Army on demand of Falkenhayn towards the corps involved (at least XIII Armeekorps and XXVI Reservekorps). A railroad officer was sent in to expand the railroad network and several railway companies, and Armierungs Bataillon and a battalion of Russian POWs were put to work. Several other railway companies were promised to support the effort. Falkenhayn wanted a strong attack to divert some enemy reserves from Verdun. However by late May the idea was dropped as Verdun was demanding ever more German troops and other resources. What remained of the original attack, was the so called Battle of Mount Sorrel by XIII Armeekorps (that also received an additional division, 117 Infanterie Division, for this purpose).

 

Jan

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