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draperju

Zenith Trench

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draperju

The 2nd Berkshire attacked a trench system called Zenith Trench on the 23rd November 1916. Could anyone tell me the position and details of Zenith Trench.

Best wishes

Draperju

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PhilB

Location:-

PS Sure it wasn`t Oct 23?

post-2329-1114083536.jpg

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Bob Coulson

Ray Westlakes Battalions on the Somme gives this attack as October23rd.

Bob.

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egbert

This is the German "Zenith Trench", I believe it was called "Eiserner Riegel", at 20 Okt 1916

Aerial photo deliberately withdrawn due to potential misuse

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mac

Extract from our forthcoming book on the 2nd Bn Might help on the action of the 23rd

READS.........

Nevertheless, the attack was to go in, and the Berkshires made their way up to the assembly trenches east of Gueudecourt, trudging through knee-deep mud. The rain was unceasing.

The Divisional attack would use all three brigades, 25th in the centre, 23rd on the right, and 24th on the left. The objective was a complex of German trenches to the west of Le Transloy centred on Zenith trench, possession of which would bring the Division close enough to Le Transloy to enable a future joint attack from both the west and south of the position.

In 25th Brigade, Brigadier General Pollard chose the 2nd Lincolnshires and 2nd Rifle Brigade to be the two assaulting battalions, with the 2nd Royal Berkshires in support. He kept the 1st Royal Irish Rifles in reserve. “Zero” hour was to be 11.30am on 23 October. The conditions under foot were so bad that the creeping barrage was set to advance at 50 yards a minute. The men crouched in their mud holes, wet through from the continual rain.

When daylight came on the 23 October, there was a thick fog, and the attack was postponed until 2.30pm. By 1.30pm, the fog had cleared, and the weather showed considerable improvement, and the attack went in as planned. On the right, 23rd Brigade were successful, for their assaulting battalions, 2nd Scottish Rifles and 2nd Middlesex followed the creeping barrage, took their allotted sections of Zenith trench, and started to consolidate some 150 yards beyond it.

In the centre, 25th Brigade had not been so lucky. About three quarters of an hour before “zero”, parties of the enemy were observed moving north along Zenith trench in the sector which was due to be attacked by the Lincolns. It was supposed that they were withdrawing to positions further back in anticipation of the attack on Zenith, but our bombardment had blocked Eclipse Trench which would have been their line of retreat. Consequently, the Lincolns’ objective was heavily manned when their assault went in. To add to their troubles, they discovered that the ground was so muddy that it was impossible to keep up with the creeping barrage even at only 50 yards per minute.

In the words of the Divisional history “The troops had made but little progress across the open when a German officer, with consummate bravery and supreme disregard for death, jumped up and ran along his own parapet ordering up his men. They responded quickly, and standing shoulder high above the parapet, met the advancing Lincolnshires with rapid rifle fire”. The first wave was cut down, similarly the second, and only one platoon on the extreme right managed to enter Zenith trench.

The other assaulting battalion in the centre brigade, 2nd Rifle Brigade, had more success, making better progress behind the creeping barrage and reaching Misty trench, their objective, where they consolidated in shell holes. The attack by the left flank 24th Brigade had also been successful.

While this was going on, the Berkshires had moved up to occupy the Lincolns’ trenches as they moved out, C and B Companies after the first wave, followed by A and D when the second wave left. Heavy casualties were sustained from enemy shellfire while this move was taking place. Soon after 3 pm, Lieut-Colonel Haig ordered B Company to reinforce the Lincolns, and an hour later ordered C Company to join the 2nd Rifle Brigade on the left and if possible attack Zenith trench from the northwest.

As night fell, the situation for the Division was that the flank objectives had been gained, but a large portion of Zenith trench in the centre was strongly held by the enemy, and was being reinforced. This sector was now in front of the 2nd Royal Berkshires, and Lt Colonel Haig informed Brigadier Pollard that it would be impractical to attack it without the aid of an artillery bombardment. Pollard ordered the remnants of the 2nd Lincolns to withdraw, and two companies of 1st Sherwood Foresters were sent up from Divisional reserve to be put at Pollard’s disposal.

The new attack, to be made by 2nd Royal Berks and 1st Royal Irish Rifles was fixed for 3.50am the next day, with an artillery barrage starting at 1am. During the evening, the weather changed again for the worse, and the rain started to fall in torrents. Hanbury-Sparrow tried to inspire his shivering men with a pep-talk about the importance of the attack. A draft had recently arrived under the Derby Scheme called Group 40, married men of 41 years or older. He recorded that their spirit was superb but they just couldn’t stand the hardship. One man, shaking with ague, was in tears because he just couldn’t go on. “It comes a bit hard after only fourteen weeks training”, he confided to Hanbury-Sparrow. “Hard! It was a soaking hell of misery such as you had never imagined”, the latter wrote in his memoirs.

The attack went in as scheduled, A Company on the right, with A Company of the Royal Irish Rifles on the left. The second wave, following 25 yards behind, consisted of B Company of the respective battalions, with a platoon of the 22nd Durham Light Infantry helping to make up the Berkshires depleted numbers. The first wave of attackers crawled out of the trenches before the start of the creeping barrage, for the ground was so bad that they preferred to risk being hit by their own artillery than falling behind, but even this tactic failed as the men floundered helplessly in the mud. The enemy opened up with rifle and machine gun, and the survivors clawed their way back to the relative safety of the trench.

The battalion remained in the close support trenches for two more days, while orders for new assaults were received, prepared for, and then cancelled due to the incessant rain. The ordeal came to an end when the 2nd Royal Berks were relieved by the 2nd Devonshires and withdrew to brigade support.

Cheers

MAC

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