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Remembered Today:

When did landscape start to get obliterated in Flanders?


kerry

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I'm trying to form a picture of the landscape around Hill 60, the Zwartleen Salient and Railway Embankment in early May 1915.

Is it accurate to say that at this early stage of the conflict, mass use of artillery had not yet obliterated woods, lanes et seq, as it eventually had done by 1917?

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Aerial photos and trench maps of the period you seek would likely help you. I believe trenchmapper could be of benefit in that you would then have fixed reference points to compare with any aerial pictures of a particular area. I think Trenchmapper is available via The Western Front Association and there is a forum member who is an expert (Howard).

Simon

Edited by mancpal
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7 hours ago, kerry said:

I'm trying to form a picture of the landscape around Hill 60, the Zwartleen Salient and Railway Embankment in early May 1915.

Is it accurate to say that at this early stage of the conflict, mass use of artillery had not yet obliterated woods, lanes et seq, as it eventually had done by 1917?

There are a number of pictures on the IWM website that I believe will give you a reasonable  idea Kerry.

Go to this link and start at the second picture. The first is from 1918. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=Hill 60&page=1

Click on the red writing to view the picture.

There are some areas that are totally mud and shell holes, which were very basic trenches in the northern part of the Salient at this stage from having read various accounts.

The Wieltje front line area being on of them, with the odd tree still standing but devoid of branches and foliage. Edit here to confirm my thoughts/memory, a post here ref 18th Hussars;

Regards, Bob.

Edited by Bob Davies
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My reasoning behind aerial photos is that if they can be assembled in date order it would give you the timeline indicating the progression of the decline. I’m sure that many sectors had periods of intense action followed by periods of calm where the overall landscape would change little, I may be stretching it but I wonder if there are aerial shots that would indicate poor artillery aiming, i.e. an overshot barrage that perhaps would have caused great damage had it not been 100yds too long?

Simon

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The war diaries for this period record heavy artillery barrages, and of course the mines on Hill 60 had blown the top off it, it was just spoil anyway.

On the other hand on the 13th May  the 2nd Leinsters reported difficulty in digging trenches due to tree roots and undergrowth to the West of the Lenin Road.

Their diary is interesting in that they reported on May 3rd they withdrew to a new line and engineers blew up their old trenches. On May 4th they reported Hill 60 was bombarded by artillery for 3 hours with considerable damage to trenches.  Then further artillery fire on the 5th May and heavy bombardments continuing throughout the month.

Lyn Macdonald quotes a 2/Lieut in the Cameron Highlanders who visited the French trenches at Herentharge Chateau (later Inverness Copse),before they moved into position.  He noted that in the morning the French bombarded the German trenches.  He saw a shell pitted golf course behind the wood and "every fourth tree was a splintered stump as the Germans gave the wood a daily ration of shells."

The evidence would seem to be the ground was subject to quite heavy artillery bombardment but was still recognisable even if damaged and was not yet the moonscape of 1917.

This photograph from the series cited above was taken in April 1915 and it is still a recognisable, albeit wartime  landscape

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205272212

I can't find any aerial photographs from this period. The earliest on McMasters for this map square (28) is August 1916

http://digitalarchive.mcmaster.ca/islandora/object/macrepo%3A4965/-/collection&view

not exactly what you are looking for, but you can still see field boundaries etc

 

 

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@Bob Davies @kenf48 and @mancpal thank you all very much for your helpful replies and links - all really useful. 

The reason behind my question is to do with a historical fiction story I'm writing so I need to be able to describe the landscape around the Zwarteleen Salient and Hill 60 with some element of plausible accuracy. The detail in the images you kindly provided of the general area behind the front line itself - ramshackle, cut-and-cover dugouts, tarps used for makeshift shelters, clumps of sandbags lying here and there et seq, is very helpful. And I need this kind of detail to describe the area behind the front line credibly.

 Part of the storyline has two Staff Oficers getting to Trench 42 and 41 from Sapper Town/Ouderdom in a Vauxhall Type D car on midday May 8th 1915, being dropped off about 500 yards N of The Dump -  assuming tracks there would have enabled travel at least to that point by motor car, then moving from that point to Trench 42 and 41 on foot? Would that be plausible?

Edited by kerry
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12 hours ago, kerry said:

@Bob Davies @kenf48 and @mancpal thank you all very much for your helpful replies and links - all really useful. 

The reason behind my question is to do with a historical fiction story I'm writing so I need to be able to describe the landscape around the Zwarteleen Salient and Hill 60 with some element of plausible accuracy. The detail in the images you kindly provided of the general area behind the front line itself - ramshackle, cut-and-cover dugouts, tarps used for makeshift shelters, clumps of sandbags lying here and there et seq, is very helpful. And I need this kind of detail to describe the area behind the front line credibly.

 Part of the storyline has two Staff Oficers getting to Trench 42 and 41 from Sapper Town/Ouderdom in a Vauxhall Type D car on midday May 8th 1915, being dropped off about 500 yards N of The Dump -  assuming tracks there would have enabled travel at least to that point by motor car, then moving from that point to Trench 42 and 41 on foot? Would that be plausible?

Hi Kerry,

 I am just having a look at a few things to get a full view of the situation.

However, from memory there is an account of the 1/5th Leicesters moving from Ouderdom to Zillebeke Church area, on or about the 14th May 1915.

It is one of their first experiences in the war, they had to dig some trenches or other. It was all done at night as movement in daytime was impossible.

(Even reliefs were done under the cover of darkness, as was the evacuation of casualties, from other references, not this one.)

Their OC met them, he had arrived by car.

So a feasible story but I think in the middle of the day they would have been shot or blown to kingdom come!

I will get back to you when I find more.

Regards, Bob.

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Thanks Bob. I can always amend the storyline. I had the two officers move on foot from the advance dressing station near Battersea Farm once night fell anyway.

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44 minutes ago, kerry said:

Thanks Bob. I can always amend the storyline. I had the two officers move on foot from the advance dressing station near Battersea Farm once night fell anyway.

Happy to help and share knowledge Kerry.

From Captain J D Hills book, courtesy of Project Gutenberg eBook;https://www.gutenberg.org/files/17369/17369-h/17369-h.htm#Page_16

From the 2nd chapter 'Early Experiences'. There is a picture, entitled 'Bomb Corner Ypres 1915', trees still standing but looking a little thin for branches and leaves.

No tin hats yet either!

The next chapter is called the Salient, so you may find more info it that.

 

'Starting at 6-40 p.m., we went by motor bus with four hundred Sherwood Foresters through Reninghelst, Ouderdom, and Vlamertinghe to Kruisstraat, which we reached in three hours. Hence guides of the 4th Gordons led us by Bridge 16 over the Canal and along the track of the Lille Road. It was a dark night, and as we stumbled along in single file, we could see the Towers of Ypres smouldering with a dull red glow to our left, while the salient front line was lit up by bursting shells and trench mortars. Our route lay past Shrapnel Corner and along the railway line to Zillebeke Station, and was rendered particularly unpleasant by the rifle fire from "Hill 60" on our right. The railway embankment was high and we seemed to be unnecessarily exposing ourselves by walking along the top of it, but as the guides were supposed to know the best route we could not interfere. At Zillebeke Church we found Colonel Jones, who came earlier by car, waiting to show us our work which we eventually started at midnight; as we had to leave the Church again at 1 a.m., to be clear of the Salient before daylight, we had not much time for work. However, so numerous were the bullets that all digging records were broken, especially by the Signallers, whose one desire, very wisely, was to get to ground with as little delay as possible, and when we left our work, the trench was in places several feet deep. The coming of daylight and several salvoes of Boche shells dissuaded us from lingering in the Salient, and, after once more stumbling along the Railway Line, we reached our motor buses and returned to the huts, arriving at 5-30 a.m. A May night is so short, that the little digging done seemed hardly worth the casualties, but perhaps we were not in a position to judge.'

It is very interesting to know that one could walk on top of the railway embankment without being shot at, under the cover of darkness.

I believe at this stage of the war every trench, road/route taken by anyone on foot or by transport was known and watched by the German soldiers/artillery.

Therefore very dangerous to be out in the open in daylight as it is all under observation from a long way away or even close by, with effective fire easily called on, or just harassing fire, which was used by the British as well.

Flares being used to make the darkest night like daylight, too add to problems.

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Really useful. Thanks so much @Bob Davies for digging this out. My current storyline chapter might just survive. 

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On 02/04/2024 at 08:01, kerry said:

 Part of the storyline has two Staff Oficers getting to Trench 42 and 41 from Sapper Town/Ouderdom in a Vauxhall Type D car on midday May 8th 1915, being dropped off about 500 yards N of The Dump -  assuming tracks there would have enabled travel at least to that point by motor car, then moving from that point to Trench 42 and 41 on foot? Would that be plausible?

Kerry

I have posted a few sketches and plans of the Salient on various threads. As you can see from this sketch in the WD of 5 Div HQ GS 41 and 42 were set back from the Front Line so it appears to be plausible. See also this sketch from the May WD.

TNA/Ancestry WO 95/1512

Brian

sketch 1512.jpg

WD 5 HQ 1512.jpg

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@brianmorris547 thanks so much for digging up these extremely helpful diagrams. Very useful. Am on a train with patchy WiFi so will reply more fully when back home tonight.

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