Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Newfoundlanders on 1st July 1916: Fateful 'overground' error?


dah
 Share

Recommended Posts

History records that the Newfies, finding the communication trenches blocked by wounded from the 1st and 2nd waves, chose to climb above ground to cover the c200 metres to get to and beyond the British frontline.

Some (possibly silly) questions:

1. Was that decision (to advance across the pre-frontline surface) all that significant to their 85% casualties that day?

My belief, given today's lie of the land is that this manoeuvre, starting at St.John's Road,  would not have been visible to the enemy until the NF's breasted the skyline just before the British frontline. Yes, the Germans were hitting the reserve and support trench area with artillery and indirect MG fire anyway, but would've been otherwise unaware of this additional NF vulnerability.

I haven't come across any specifics of numbers of NF casualties sustained BEFORE reaching the frontline so am unable to gauge how fateful the 'overground' decision actually was. My unevidenced/happy-to-be-corrected guess is 'not that significant in relation to the overall 85% casualties that day'.

The evidence seems instead to point to the fact that when they DID become visible to the Germans (at the point of reaching the frontline), the NF's were the ONLY visible soldiers on the local battlefield (the Essex boys were still trying to get through congested communication trenches) and consequently got targeted by every available German weapon......resulting in the disastrous casualty rate

Does anyone have clearer information on which to argue for or against?

It troubles me that the way the NF story of 1st July is often told....implies that the battalion commander's 'overground' decision was a fateful (and fatal) error of judgement....whereas, on its own merits, it was probably a bold and worthwhile attempt to meet their timed objective to reach the British frontline......with relatively inconsequential and justifiable loss to NF lives.

2. How did the NF's get over any British intermediary trenches before reaching No Man's Land?

Did they have to climb down and out of any intervening trenches; did they jump over them....or were there bridging points they could use?

Grateful for all/any reasoned views.

David

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The diaries and narratives only refer to the casualties at the choke point gaps in the front wire where they were mown down in heaps. Nothing about choke points behind the front line.

Given that the plan was to advance to the front line trench through the (blocked) communication trenches did they actually have the equipment to bridge the two intervening trenches?

I see an order mentioning Trench Bridges with 32 alloted to 88 Brigade which were dumped in convenient places in the trenches.

Not seeing anything regarding men taking these forward to bridge enemy trenches, perhaps they were intended for use after the initial wave?

Assuming they were near the dump of bridge would it be quicker to just get out, move forward and either jump or drop down then scramble up each trench.

Don't know the lie of the land but even if it's not visible to the enemy would there have been bridges in place across these rear & support trenches?

How could enemy MG zero in on the behind the front line area if it's not visible as you say?

They mention the MG fire that hit them as they left the front line gaps as coming from point 60 and behind that. That equates to Q.11.c.7 1.

Without being at that location difficult to say what ground they could have zeroed in on and whether the NFs advanced rapidly across open ground to the front line or had to mess about setting up bridges or there were bridges already in place.

TEW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, TEW said:

Don't know the lie of the land but even if it's not visible to the enemy would there have been bridges in place across these rear & support trenches?

I am finding this slightly confusing. Have any of those questioning what occurred here 1/7/1916 actually seen the lie of the ground over the line of the Newfoundland advance in the general direction of Y Ravine ? Surely the topography from the support trenches forwards answers many of the questions being raised ?

PT

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wasn't questioning it but I've not seen the topography first hand either. I'm aware of other sectors where the British who took the higher ground from the enemy were gob-smacked looking back down over their former ground. Even a few metres higher and the coverage is significant. From Y ravine I suspect you could see miles?

Unless St John's Rd or the rear trenches were in some sort of dip which could hide any movement?

The only other aspect is the NF dash overland to the front line was a hastily thought out plan and possibly executed so quickly it caught enemy gunners off guard. After all, they had by then zeroed on the front line gaps and knew those troops would get bottled up there.

TEW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The main question was regarding if the NF dash across open ground contributed heavily or slightly to their casualties that morning. The answer from their diary and from their narrative is no and I don't need to see the topography to say that.

It was the OP who said they were hidden until leaving the front line.

I accept now that the German MGs could see them dashing across open ground but it doesn't change the answer to the main question.

TEW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Insufficiently informed as I am about too  many aspects of the battle, the question regarding the fate of the Newfoundlanders makes me reflect on how much of the damage suffered by the BEF that day was caused by long range  fire, which entailed enormous loss of life for the attackers before the British front line positions were even reached, let alone crossed.  The Tyneside Irish sustained tremendous casualties in this manner, didn’t they ?    Were there any other battalions that reported this predicament ?  

 

More significant, perhaps, is the question of how much of the German fire was deployed by direct observation - even at long range - and how much was of an indirect nature.  The proportion of wounds inflicted by artillery, as opposed to machine guns, might be pertinent here. 

 

Phil

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As usual, the more diaries and narratives you read contradictions in the accounts start to appear.

By the time the NF & Essex were ordered forward from the St. John's Rd. area the enemy MGs had had nearly two hours of firing time. Irrespective how far back they could see it must have been blatantly obvious that advancing troops have to do so via the gaps in the front line wire which is where the MGs can cause the most casualties.

The Essex diary says the NF were ordered to advance from St. John's Rd. while the Essex were ordered to advance via communication trenches due to the ground inbetween being under heavy fire (no indication if this was MG or artillery).

Essex continue by saying the NF were seen to advance from St. John's Rd. and immediately came under very heavy artillery & MG fire which practically wiped them out before they had gone many yards beyond our front line.

I don't find that statement particularly clear as to where the NF were when they came under heavy fire.

I've still not seen anything that says they sustained significant casualties before trying to get through the front line gaps.

 

Trench Bridges.

I noted yesterday that 32 bridges were dumped for use by 88 Bde.

I've now seen that each leading battalion had 16 bridges, 2 per platoon. Which means the NF should have had 16 trench bridges with them at St. John's Rd. which might have been used in the open ground dash but presumably must have been taken forward for their intended use.

Can't imagine being the man carrying a trench bridge and trying to get through that gap!

TEW

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 30/11/2021 at 21:09, PaulTudge1916 said:

I am finding this slightly confusing. Have any of those questioning what occurred here 1/7/1916 actually seen the lie of the ground over the line of the Newfoundland advance in the general direction of Y Ravine ? Surely the topography from the support trenches forwards answers many of the questions being raised ?

PT

Yes, I'm familiar with the topography of the land (having visited the location many times).

Please see the attached photo taken at the location of St John's Road (the wire fence) where the NF's support trench was situated.....and from which they started their advance as part of the 3rd wave attack at 8.45am on 1-7-16

527004297_ViewfromStJohnsRoad.jpg.a5f872a03a674abda8016e92ef242387.jpg

Although nowadays obscured by the trees in front, you can nevertheless see the skyline through them. The British frontline is beyond and (importantly) below that skyline .......and from there the ground slopes further downwards towards the infamous 'Danger Tree' and a further several hundred metres to the German frontline. In other words, the Germans in the frontline were looking upwards towards the British frontline.

If you look beyond the skyline in the photo, in the distance you can see the tops of trees (though not the base of those distant trees). The German frontline was close to the unseen base of those far distance trees. i.e. the NF's could not be seen by the Germans while advancing above ground, across the 200 metres from the photo's foreground fence as far as the photo's skyline. It was only once they breasted the skyline that the Germans could see them.....and from which point I'm assuming the vast majority of casualties resulted. 

 

David

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello all.

All that fencing has changed the place for when I went quaintly trench visiting.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Newfoundlanders were formed up waiting in St John’s Road at the junction of Uxbridge Road on their right and the junction of Clonmel Avenue (with the extension of Pompadour from 1st Avenue) on their left. The British front line was some 270 yards distant on the right and 490 yards on the left, the ground to be covered included two support trenches.

Looking south-west  from Beaucourt Ridge a section of British front line to the right rolled over the crest of the high ground and exposed the ground between the front line and support trenches giving a perfect arc for suppressing MG fire. A similar view can be seen looking south-west from Point 60. This right flank was further exposed to enfilade fire from German support trenches north-west of Point 89. The left flank of the Newfoundlanders was open to suppressing fire from Beaucourt Ridge but was completely out of view from Point 89 until they were well into No Man’s Land, the same can be said for Point 60.

The original plan for the Newfoundlanders was to walk over the top to the front line carrying ladders and trench bridges, clearly for use on the other side of No Man’s Land but it’s unclear how the Newfoundlanders were to navigate the ground they needed to cover to reach the front line – I may be surprised if they were not already bridged. From the British wire some 15/20 yards beyond the front trench the advance was downhill in a slight north-east direction, here the Germans held a convex trench system as they snaked around Y Ravine. The ground in front of the British wire offered several mere lips of cover in the 500 yards of No Man’s Land the Newfoundlanders needed to cross. Some dead ground 150 yards into No Man’s Land and just beyond the Danger Tree offered some sanctuary although this would be short lived, the German artillery had ranged this target and expended plenty of shrapnel around the immediate area.

The British artillery stuck to its strict barrage plan, they were shelling positions further east on Station Road by 8.45 am. White flares were seen on the 29th Division’s right front around this time, the signal for the capture of the first objective. It would appear that these were German flares signalling to their own artillery that they were falling short.

The original plan was to attack from Point 60 to Point 89 following the direction of 1st Border and 2nd SWB. By 9 am with circumstances changed and the Germans heavily shelling the front and rear trenches, the Newfoundlanders were to proceed through the communication trenches to assist in the attack with 1st Essex. The direction of Point 60 and the support trenches beyond had been identified as likely causing most trouble with MG fire.

At 9.15am the Newfoundlanders eventually moved off, the rear two companies allowed the forward two companies to clear them by forty paces as they went over the top to cover the ground between them and their frontline. The initial route through the communication trenches was clearly blocked and the decision to go over the top was the only order that could have been given under the circumstances. Was it an attempt to keep up with whatever momentum that still existed? The Newfoundlanders were the only movement above ground at this time, by 9.45 am it was all over for them. The 1st Essex to the Newfoundlanders right were jammed in the trenches with the dead and wounded, were unable to proceed far and so suffered their fate mainly within the British lines, almost all by German shellfire.

The 1st Essex suffered a 26% casualty rate, CWGC record 35 fatalities for the day which equates to around 4.5% for the battalion. It was bottlenecks at the wire that would prove disastrous for the Newfoundlanders and in particular B and D Coys (approx. 44% and 33% fatalities) on the right of the advance as they appeared on the skyline in front of Fettard Street. A and C Coys (approx. 23% and 24% fatalities) on the left were afforded a little more cover by the crest of land as they moved over the British lines and through the gaps in the wire before stepping into No Man’s Land where they too became visible. The battalion suffered an overall 94% casualty rate which proved to be a 100% casualty rate for its officers. The Newfoundlanders would suffer an overall 31% fatality rate on 1st July (note these figures do not include those that died from their wounds in the coming days).

Its clear the right (B and D Coys) of the Newfoundland advance suffered most as they broke the skyline before reaching the front line. Exposed to direct MG fire from Point 60 which may also include direct fire from Beaucourt Ridge, upon reaching gaps in the British wire they would also be in the sights of MG’s situated in the support lines just north of the western reach of Y Ravine. By the time A and C Coys on the left made it to No Man’s Land they too would be exposed to the same MGs.

The Newfoundlanders buried at least 24 of their own in the late afternoon/early evening of 1st July, 21 of these at Knightsbridge and 3 at Auchonvillers MC. 75% of these burials are B and D Coys, eye- witness reports state only those within the British lines could be recovered. There is also evidence that suggests a further 54 Newfoundlanders were buried on British held ground on 1st July, these equate to 71% B and D Coys. Evidence also suggests around 165 Newfoundland fatalities occurred in No Man’s Land probably not far beyond the wire. There are also eyewitness reports confirming small numbers did make it to the German Wire in the center of the advance between Point 60 and Point 89.

The 1st Royal Innsikilling Fusiliers advanced in the first wave at 7.30 am that morning over ground to the right of where the Newfoundlanders would later advance, the same ground the 1st Essex were supposed to advance over, it is also ground that is exposed to Beaucourt Ridge and Point 60. Between 6th and 12th July the 19th Northumberland Fusiliers (Pioneers), 35th Division, were attached to 29th Division, their WD notes Work began on a new trench 1000 yards or so in length and situated about 100 yards in front of existing front line’. This is what became known as Wellington Trench, the battalion historian Captain CH Cooke describes the scene in No Man's Land as appalling - the dead lay in three parallel lines . . . 'three waves of Inniskillings and Newfoundlanders lay there as if on manoeuvres, the dressing of the lines was perfect’.

Although the ground today is somewhat obscured by trees that mark the boundary around the Memorial Park especially around the Superintendent’s Lodge on the right and around Y Ravine Cemetery, the inlaid paths that guide visitors around and lack of access to the original trench systems all affect the perception of what the battlefield was like on the day. A comparable view can be obtained by locating known and suspected locations of German MG emplacements. The heights just north-west of Beaumont Hamel also offer opportunities for direct MG fire towards what was the Newfoundlanders right flank.

1227686141_Beaucourtridgetostjohnsroad.jpg.1f107e6e5010d6016a7977a01da922c0.jpg

1983024636_Point60toStJohnsRoadarc.jpg.bfe684b7fd4b38af74cf3365d30f20ad.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jay,

Superb account. Intrigued where the profiles come from, is this a Linesman thing?

It looks like the 88 Brigade area across your two yellow pins for St. John's Rd. was only ~500 yards wide? Narrowing slightly at the front line.

I only ask as the Essex diary suggests that when they received the order to move forward to the front line they were ordered to use the communication trenches as the open ground was under heavy fire.

That leads me to wonder if the original plan had been for them to move up over the open ground. Although the events may not be synchronized it looks like the Essex avoided the heavy fire by using the communication trenches while the NF did not. Given the relatively narrow area of this open ground I can't see how the Essex's area was being hit while the NF's wasn't, at least not until they set off.

I note as well that X Coy. Essex found they had no gaps in the wire in front of them as they left the front line trench, a serious mis-communication somewhere!

TEW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks TEW, the profiles are easily produced using google earth and their path and elevation tools. A little cut and paste is need to reproduce the above.


There’s lots more that can added to this for a fuller picture. I’ve only really looked at the Newfoundlanders here and so need to expand the research. I have several known map coordinates in the svicinity where German MGs were emplaced around Beaumont-Hamel and Beaucourt Ridge almost all of which had a good open view of the ground to the west. Whilst the Newfoundlanders were aware of the raining hell coming from the direction of Point 60 it evident that several MGs had for the most part, all of No Man’s Land covered.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jay,

What a wonderfully detailed and comprehensive response......including the graphics!

I found the Google Earth images showing the MG locations particularly  spellbinding & spinechilling.......never having (naively) thought they would be sited at such distance, yet still deliver such devastating effect.

I'd be very interested to learn how to produce graphics like these.....how to accurately superimpose trench maps on Google earth images etc. Any recommended threads, literature or software (I already have Iinesman)?

Many thanks, 

David 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

David

Have you seem Tmapper?

TEW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jay’s post has made me realise how good this forum can be.

 

What a superb presentation of graphics, statistical analysis and scholarship !

 

I want to be like you when I grow up, Jay !

 

Phil

Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 hours ago, phil andrade said:

What a superb presentation of graphics, statistical analysis and scholarship !

Jay most certainly has some wonderful skills!

On 06/12/2021 at 08:43, dah said:

how to accurately superimpose trench maps on Google earth images etc. Any recommended threads, literature or software

David, for the rest of us, I've done over 100 overlays for trench maps and aerial photos using a web tool.  With this I can run the historic and modern map side-by-side, run a search for a modern location and tag 4 points in common.  Then I can finalise with rubber sheeting or rotation or zoom / drag etc.  Finally I can upload to a server and get a link for sharing.  This has an opacity slider and different base layers such as topographic or satellite.  Here is step 1 where 4 common points were tagged.

image.png.089b5cc3af2d96493519a4ec64f2549b.png

Alternatively, if I know the locations already as trench map coordinates or lat, lons, I can paste these in and optionally add a rotation (for aerial photos etc).  If I know the corner value in lat, lon or trench map coordinates, the whole thing is done in seconds.  Murky aerial photographs of cratered trenches can take an hour. 

Here is a link to some I did earlier this year:

* La Boiselle July 1916 http://mapcrop.tmapper.com/georef.html?id=ksohc6me

* Hooge / Westhoek      http://mapcrop.tmapper.com/georef.html?id=ksoka9eg

* Hill 60 (photo)       http://mapcrop.tmapper.com/georef.html?id=ksook5jj

The image below shows the Newfoundland disposition on 1 Jul 1916 and is matched using an Official History map.  Click to enlarge.

image.png.03c66602b31792943630972b5c69b58c.png

Currently there are only minimal instructions, so if you want to try it let me know and I can send you a link and we can refine them as we go.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

@dah another interesting experimental technique is to make a 3D model with slight vertical exaggeration.  This can be rotated and orientated from any direction and saved to a modelling site like SketchFab for later study. My knowledge of the geography is not like Jay's but I assume this has Y Ravine in the foreground and Hawthorn Crater just visible on the extreme right with Auchonvillers in the centre background. 

image.png.bdbd8f4224509bd5602b081f8b40147a.png

Link to comment
Share on other sites

21 hours ago, phil andrade said:

I want to be like you when I grow up, Jay !

I'm not sure I'd wish that upon anyone Phil... I'm wishing I could do as WSL does with his 3D landscapes...

The graphics are relatively easy to produce if one knows a basic way around google earth pro, the trench map overlays are the hardest element to set as these often need to be skewed - Newfoundland Memorial Park proves easy since we still have the original trench lines on the ground. The area around Beaumont-Hamel and its ghost trenches are a testament to the German labour that dug these deep trenches and underground shelters much of which still scar the landscape when viewed from the air and again aide in setting image overlays. For anyone interested and when a get a moment I will write up an instruction guide for the graphics.

My interest in the area and the Newfoundlanders arose from what I initially took to be random damage marks to a British contemporary aerial photograph dated October 1916. After looking at several other images of the area I realised these were not random damage marks at all. Research followed and these marks turned out to be the openings from Russian saps that were blown on the morning of 1st July for the 29th Division Trench Mortar Batteries. 8 of these trench mortar pits (88th TMB) are just beyond the northern boundary of Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No.2 and bridge the limits of the memorial park and farmland, they offer todays visitor a slight depression in the ground. In 1999 a section of this particular Russian sap collapsed and was at the time documented by the Durrand Group.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

19 hours ago, jay dubaya said:

Research followed and these marks turned out to be the openings from Russian saps that were blown on the morning of 1st July for the 29th Division Trench Mortar Batteries.

Yes, this was a good piece of work.

Link to comment
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
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...