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Remembered Today:

1916 in the Salient, was there anything?


bkristof
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5 hours ago, phil andrade said:

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 ?

Phil

 

 

I have a big soft spot for the Battle of Mount Sorrel.

 

Jeffery William's from his book 'First In The Field - Gault of the Patricias' states in Chapter 10 Sanctuary Wood "... the Germans had become aware of preparations for a massive British and French offensive.  Their High Command issued orders for all their armies on the Western Front to pin down their opponents and prevent them joining the impending attack.  The Fourth Army opposite Ypres reacted by raiding aggressively and attempting to disrupt the British defences by heavy shelling"

 

So far, so fairly obvious but then he goes on to add..

 

"General Freiherr von Watter, commanding the XIIIth Wuertemberg Corps, saw in the instructions to pin down the Allied troops on his front an opportunity to retrieve a failing reputation.  If he were to capture Observatory Ridge the defences go Ypres would be hopelessly compromised.  Not only would the British be unable to draw troops fro the area, they might be forced to delay their Somme offensive.  For six weeks he made meticulous preparations to capture the Ridge."  This paragraph has a note attached referencing the following book: 'The 27th Infantry Division in the World War 1914-18 p39 by Adolf Deutelmoser.   I don't have a copy of that book but it would be interesting to discover a little more about those plans to see if there was anything beyond a quick smash and grab.

 

Ralph Hodder-Williams in the official history of the Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry 'PPCLI 1914-1918' Chapter 5 'Sanctuary Wood' adds a more detail to the reasons behind the attack.. "The statements of German prisoners captured later, that the whole operation was undertaken simply to gain credit for a divisional or corpus commander, are interesting rather as an example of enemy morale than as military history."  However, he then adds a note: "The German General who organised the attack of June 2 was said to have acted without authority from G.H.Q.  He had recently been censured for failure and was endeavouring to redeem his reputation.  He was congratulated on June 3, but lost his command less than a fortnight later."

 

Hodder-Williams then goes on.. "The German idea was sound enough, and up to a point the attack had been a complete success with very small losses.  But the German Higher Command certainly had no such intentions as in the First or Second Battles of Ypres"

 

Although the accounts of the battle indicate plenty of preparation for the attack including "a trench-bombardment which in weight and duration was seldom exceeded though-out the war"    it is somewhat peculiar that the Germans didn't drive on from their initial gains.  The opportunity was there for a tremendous break-through that could have been quite catastrophic for the Allies but instead the Wurttemberg troops dug in to consolidate.   William's states that the Canadians "watched them in disbelief, incredulous that they should fail to administer the coup de grace".  Hodder-Williams states that "An enterprising enemy might have seriously affected the whole course of the 1916 operations"  I think that although preparations were complete the actual purpose of the attack wasn't clear enough.   The stoic Canadian defence may have caused the German troops to call it a day but if they had known how serious the situation was for the Canadian troops on the afternoon of June 2nd things might have been quite different.

 

My Great Grand Uncle Percy Joiner Cpl 21166 was in PPCLI No 1 Coy stationed in trench known as "The Loop" on the day of the battle.  The Loop was, in effect, the salient point of the whole Ypres salient!  See attached map from Hodder-Williams Vol1.   The trenches were so close at this point that the two sides could taunt, shout and lob grenades at each other.  The account of the battle in Hodder-Williams is over 50 pages and is quite astonishing.  Stephen K Newman's 'With The Patricias in Flanders Then and Now' adds even further detail and both books are absolutely essential for anyone interested in Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry.

 

768500764_Scan3.jpeg.dd7790596eba7dd9623a1f4caffab8cf.jpeg

 

428653667_ScreenShot2020-01-24at14_11_35.png.1f9240f92ff4993b61e5ea6d097488af.png

 

Regards

 

Simon.

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30 minutes ago, SHJ said:

 

I have a big soft spot for the Battle of Mount Sorrel.

 

Jeffery William's from his book 'First In The Field - Gault of the Patricias' states in Chapter 10 Sanctuary Wood "... the Germans had become aware of preparations for a massive British and French offensive.  Their High Command issued orders for all their armies on the Western Front to pin down their opponents and prevent them joining the impending attack.  The Fourth Army opposite Ypres reacted by raiding aggressively and attempting to disrupt the British defences by heavy shelling"

 

So far, so fairly obvious but then he goes on to add..

 

"General Freiherr von Watter, commanding the XIIIth Wuertemberg Corps, saw in the instructions to pin down the Allied troops on his front an opportunity to retrieve a failing reputation.  If he were to capture Observatory Ridge the defences go Ypres would be hopelessly compromised.  Not only would the British be unable to draw troops fro the area, they might be forced to delay their Somme offensive.  For six weeks he made meticulous preparations to capture the Ridge."  This paragraph has a note attached referencing the following book: 'The 27th Infantry Division in the World War 1914-18 p39 by Adolf Deutelmoser.   I don't have a copy of that book but it would be interesting to discover a little more about those plans to see if there was anything beyond a quick smash and grab.

 

Ralph Hodder-Williams in the official history of the Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry 'PPCLI 1914-1918' Chapter 5 'Sanctuary Wood' adds a more detail to the reasons behind the attack.. "The statements of German prisoners captured later, that the whole operation was undertaken simply to gain credit for a divisional or corpus commander, are interesting rather as an example of enemy morale than as military history."  However, he then adds a note: "The German General who organised the attack of June 2 was said to have acted without authority from G.H.Q.  He had recently been censured for failure and was endeavouring to redeem his reputation.  He was congratulated on June 3, but lost his command less than a fortnight later."

 

Hodder-Williams then goes on.. "The German idea was sound enough, and up to a point the attack had been a complete success with very small losses.  But the German Higher Command certainly had no such intentions as in the First or Second Battles of Ypres"

 

Although the accounts of the battle indicate plenty of preparation for the attack including "a trench-bombardment which in weight and duration was seldom exceeded though-out the war"    it is somewhat peculiar that the Germans didn't drive on from their initial gains.  The opportunity was there for a tremendous break-through that could have been quite catastrophic for the Allies but instead the Wurttemberg troops dug in to consolidate.   William's states that the Canadians "watched them in disbelief, incredulous that they should fail to administer the coup de grace".  Hodder-Williams states that "An enterprising enemy might have seriously affected the whole course of the 1916 operations"  I think that although preparations were complete the actual purpose of the attack wasn't clear enough.   The stoic Canadian defence may have caused the German troops to call it a day but if they had known how serious the situation was for the Canadian troops on the afternoon of June 2nd things might have been quite different.

 

My Great Grand Uncle Percy Joiner Cpl 21166 was in PPCLI No 1 Coy stationed in trench known as "The Loop" on the day of the battle.  The Loop was, in effect, the salient point of the whole Ypres salient!  See attached map from Hodder-Williams Vol1.   The trenches were so close at this point that the two sides could taunt, shout and lob grenades at each other.  The account of the battle in Hodder-Williams is over 50 pages and is quite astonishing.  Stephen K Newman's 'With The Patricias in Flanders Then and Now' adds even further detail and both books are absolutely essential for anyone interested in Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry.

 

768500764_Scan3.jpeg.dd7790596eba7dd9623a1f4caffab8cf.jpeg

 

428653667_ScreenShot2020-01-24at14_11_35.png.1f9240f92ff4993b61e5ea6d097488af.png

 

Regards

 

Simon.

 

Simon,

 

Thanks for that tour de force.

 

Your revelations excite further interest.

 

Love the anecdote about the local German commander who was congratulated and then sacked !

 

I’ve put heart and soul into trying to make sense of this battle, and your contribution makes it worthwhile.

 

Phil

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Hello Simon, thank you for that great snippet of information :-) It certainly explains a lot. Regards, Bob.

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1 hour ago, AOK4 said:

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

 

 

This helps, Jan, thank you.

 

Falkenhayn always keeps us guessing, doesn’t he ?

 

A secretive blighter !

 

In mid March he wants to launch a diversion to support his Verdun offensive.  By late May he’s chosen to diminish the diversion and focus more on Verdun.

 

Verdun itself is swinging from the right bank of the Meuse to the left....Morte Homme on the left bank captured in May : does this make him reconsider his diversion ?  He pitches into the right bank again in June, going for Fort  Vaux and using the deadly phosgene.

 

Mont Sorrel has its own peculiar story, a kind of stop start affair, combining immense violence with a halting advance : a kind of mini Verdun !

 

Phil

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Hi Phil and Bob,  Thanks!  

 

The Battle certainly is a fascinating event - there are so many elements to it;  The colossal bombardment from the Germans...  The Wurttemburgers singing as they strode to the Canadian lines... The Flamethrowers and overwhelming of Appendix and Loop stations... Canadian tunnellers getting buried but digging themselves out... Major Gault (who had actually privately funded the Patricia's) seriously injured lying on a stretcher with two pistols at the ready... All telephone lines cut by the bombardment but a single crucial pigeon message to Colonel Buller who counter-attacked but was killed... The regimental colours in danger, buried and then saved... Canadian (hidden) Forward Artillery overrun in Sanctuary Wood but men fighting to the last...  There's so much going on.

 

Ultimately I think it was Buller's expectation of an attack and the preparation that he put in place that saved the day.  They had discussed and practiced the defence of Warrington Avenue Trench (using blocking, bombers and guns) and how to ensure the re-supply of ammunition and it was proved too be prescient.   After the action the Regiment recovery included the creation of a comedy troupe to provide relief which instantly became an institution and ultimately merged into the famous 'Dumbells'.  I'd love to know more - there's always more to know!

 

Regards

 

Simon.

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Yes thanks for those posts all ,lots of great information there and certainly shows we need an open mind as to why it was started and why it was shut down when it was.

 

Having re-read the Canadian 3rd Divisional HQ war diaries again you certainly get an idea of how disjointed the situation was,they received nearly 300 telegrams in the first hours,but had lost touch with other units all together . An imeadiate counter attack was considered "out of the question until further reinforcements and full artillery support could be organised,in the event of failure,the consequences appeared to be that the Germans could make a further advance,there would be no troops imeadiately available to stop them,and that such an advance might jeopardise the chances of and increase the difficulties of a main counterattack".

 

 

 

 

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It’s a very good “ microcosmic’ story of the Western Front.  I hope that word doesn’t look pretentious ( is there such a word?)....it does fit the bill, I think.

 

The Germans were using a method of attack to conform with a strategy advocated by Falkenhayn, using tactics of limited, local attack with lavish firepower and well husbanded manpower, with the aim of attritional success in the casualty exchange. Verdun was to be the template, and Mont Sorrel and others were to follow.

 

The Germans did, in aggregate,  inflict close to fifty per cent more casualties than they received at Mont Sorrel : but it’s apparent that they gained initial advantage in this respect that diminished rapidly in the subsequent stages of the battle.  I suspect the same pattern was seen at Verdun....the figures for the June 1916 fighting there indicate that this was the case.

 

Phil

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  • 11 months later...

I noticed three maps today in the WD of 10 KRRC (59 Infantry Brigade - Piece 2115) which cover north of Ypres to Lille. They show the supposed German Units and are dated June and July 1916. They are on pages 77, 79 and 94 of 752.

Brian

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  • 3 weeks later...

I often wonder about the condition of the trees in Sanctuary Wood at the beginning of June 1916 and through to the 13th of June. Were most trees still standing, were they mostly or all flattened, were there broken limbs all over the ground and in No Man's Land? Does anyone have any photos during this period? I have seen some from later on in 1917. My Great Uncle was killed in action in Sanctuary Wood on June 13. 58 Battalion, CEF , Pte. Farquhar McLennan.

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