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Battle of the Dunes, July 1917


Hugh Pattenden
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Hi,

One of the men I am researching died on the Belgium Coast during the 'Battle of the Dunes' in July 1917. I was just wondering if anyone can give me some info. on this battle.

Cheers,

Hugh.

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I know that the 1st dorsets were there. From memory the Germans attacked a network of trenches called nasal, nose and so on on the western side of the Yser just north of Nieuport. Ill try and dig something out later.

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My grandfather was in 2KRRC and fought at Nieuport Bains in july 1917. I have a copy of the KRRC War Diary which covers this battle, known to the Germans as Operation Strandfest.

Which Regiment was your subject serving in? I could send you what info I have.

If you put in Operation Strandfest you will pick up previous discusion threads which include photos etc.

Mike

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The Battle of the Dunes took place at Nieuport. The Belgian Army manned this sector throughout the war except for a brief period in spring/summer 1917. Following their flooding of the area by the courageous opening of the Nieuport sea locks and sluices under fire the Belgians had maintained a bridgehead on the northern riverbank of about a mile in depth. the British took over the area as described in the links preparatory to a push up the coast to capture or stop the main Uboat base of Brugges and its seaward end of its canal at Zeebruggeplanned to be in conjunction with the Paschendaele offensive further inland.. It appears that there were difficulties in the British takeover particularly with poor quality bridges over the river which meant that artillery support was particularly inadequate. Once the Germans realised what was happening they launched a

pre-emptive strike on 12th July. Their artillery quickly smashed up what bridging there was leaving the British troops isolated in the sand dunes which covered all this part of the coast. Those in the bridgehead were overrun, killed captured or escaped by swimming the river if they could.As a result the brigehead was lost and never recovered, that part of the British plan was abandoned and 3rd Ypres or Passchendaele became a bloody slog to capture the rdge and high ground with a view to further operations northwards to the uboat bases the following year. History certainly interevened on that one.By September the British had returned that part of the line to the Belgians.

Edmund Blunden in Undertones of War even mentioned how horrifed hid fellow officers were at the ease with which the Germans had "smashed in our trenches at Nieuport". SG

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Guys;

This has been discussed before, as was stated. The attack was by the 3rd Marine Division, was led by 30 flame throwers, and heavily supported by close support aircraft, bombing and strafing the troops and the bridges. It supposedly was over in half an hour, about 1200 POWs and a regimental CO being taken. The Flammenwerfer troops lost five men.

I think that the British were planning to use a couple of very large barge-like landing ships/artificial harbors, sort of the WW II Normandy devices, in their intended end run landing. Their intentions became obvious to the Germans, partially due to extensive mine-sweeping.

Bob Lembke

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Mike;

At present not much more than the above, but when I get my hands on a German official history or two I will be further up the power curve.

At present, thru the help of Pals, I know more about the English side!

Bob Lembke

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  • 6 months later...

Hi Hugh,

my great grand uncle was killed in action July 28th 1916 at the dunes of Ysermonding.

He was aged 21 and member of the Marineinfanterie Flandern.

After the Great War lots of books were published: Erinnerungsblätter Deutscher Regimenter - recollection of german regiments- Marine-Infanterie-Regiment 2

They are made like a diary. I am the lucky owner of one of these books witch contains maps.

Sorry, but I am a non military person, so I do not know the right miltary terms, please forgive me!

Lots of links and reports in the www are wrong. I think you know the planned operation "Hush" .

During the war both sides shelled each other nearly every day! There were lots of patrol fights and and patrol raids against the first lines all the time.

A german patrol captured 11 british soldiers 32nd brit. Division(from first line) on June 21st 1917. So the germans realised the change between french and british troops, wich took place on June 20th 1917.

The operation Strandfest should take place on July 9th.

General Kommando Garde Corps

It was planned a general action contains sea-air-land forces.

July 9th bad weather- no action

July 10th not perfect weather conditions, windy, blowing from NNE,light sandstorm

so the ships could not take part and the planes had visibility

The real operation shelling started at 5 in the morning untill 11. The Yser bridges are destroyed- the britsh troops isolated.

From 11 effectiv fire with interval to send out german patrols to have a look at the enemy, to change the artillerie fire from 1.50- 2.10, 4.20-4.40, 7.00-7.20. losses and irritation by friendly fire before leaving trench (they still standing behind the first german lines!!!)

Infantery started at 8.00. in 5 waves:

1st wave: stormtroops (marine infantery), taget: reach the 3. line,"cleaning" it, no mercy , after 10 min. target: the Yser river, cleaning the enemies shlters etc.

2nd wave: stormtroops, target: 2nd line, cleaning it, folowing to the 3nd line, standing

3rd wave: Soldiers and light MG , target: same 1st wave, carrying material (wire?) to hold the 3rd line, rifel shooting against the other side of Yserriver. standing

4th wave: soldiers, carrying pioneers material, target: 1st line ,cleaning it. following to the 3rd line

5th wave: soldiers,target: 2nd line, standing

The operation started. The soldiers follow directly behind the artillery fire, witch moves ahead slowly (a new tactic). losses by friendly fire, the british troops are surprised in shelters, few enemies fire, cleaning with handgranades and flamethrowers

8.20 1st wave reaches target 3rd line

8.45 1st wave reaches target Yser river, later pioneers blew up the bridges (what was left of them)

and shelters at the Yser river

German planes support the attac of the infanterie, MG fire

Following the 5th wave pioneers digging trenches to connect them.

Very low ememies artillerie fire. The british batteries are hit by gas shells

Geman losses:

Killed in action 5 Officers, 29 lower ranks

injured: 4 Officers, 130 lower ranks

missings: - officers, 8 lower ranks

----------------------------------------------------

total 9 officers, 167 lower ranks

killed by friendly fire 0, 14 lower ranks

injured by friendly fire 0, 60 lower ranks

Captured: 19 officers, 662 lower ranks (1st division, wich stood close to 32nd)

July 11th building up the new position

lots of enemies planes over new position, enemies artillery fire on former german 1st line in the

afternoon. captured 32 british soldiers.

July 12th quite,building up the new position, lots of enemies planes.

July 13th 8.00 friendly fire by german plane, identfication flaggs are rolled out. Enemy:Heavy artillery fire.

german mines depot hit and exploded.

Hope I could give you new information.

The dunes of the Ysermonding must be filled with duds and bodies.

with regards

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Hi, Yser;

Your information is very interesting. German sources on this fighting seem to be both very brief, or do not mention it, and generally are very rare and expensive. I will happily paste your information into my time-line. I have obtained a history of Marinekorps Flandern but it is something like only 32 pages long!

As I said before, I know more about the British side, although that material is also necessarily skimpy, as they were overrun and due to the river at their backs only a few escaped.

My father fought in Turkey and then France, but I think he was sent to Flanders once, but I know little about it.

Gruss aus Philadelphia,

Bob Lembke

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Hi,

Have a look at my website : http://germanairservice.blogeiland.nl/

Under the photo you will see the article Operation Strandfest, that's from a German point of view partially.

Best from Johan

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Guys (including the gals, of course);

Yser posted interesting info from the history of Marine=Infanterie=Regiment Nr. 2 (I just spotted it in the catalog of the Deutsche Buecherei Leipzig). He stated that it mentioned the capture of about 700 British. As multiple German sources suggest that about 1300 POWs were taken, this implies that the 700 might have been the Beute (booty) of the M=I=R Nr. 2 and other major units also took part in the assault. Does anyone have an idea about which other units? I assume other Marine formations.

DBL has in it's catalog histories of M=I=R Nrs. 1 and 3 also.

Bob Lembke

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Hello Bob,

It was the 3rd Marine Division ( M.I.R. 1, 2 and 3) that took part in the attack.

For thise purpose, its trenches were taken over by the 199 th Infantry Division.

Additional fire support was given by Machinen Scharfschützen Abteilung nr.38.

Regards,

Cnock

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Hi, Cnock;

Many thanks for the info on the German troops involved.

Hi, Yser;

Does your family have any personal material from your great grand-uncle? Feldpost, or possibly the small documents called Militaer=Pass oder Soldbuch? My father kept his Pass and other documents from his unit, including one I puzzled over until I realized it was a de-lousing certificate. (Other material showed he was leaving his unit for Germany on leave at that time.) He not only kept the letters he received during the war, but also after the war seemingly went about to family and friends and took back letters that he sent from the front. This seems odd or even awkward, but preserved material that otherwise would have been lost.

Bob Lembke

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Hugh,

This operation is covered in issues 11, 12, 13 of 'Gun Fire', the Northern Branch occasional journal of the Western Front Association. It may still be possible to purchase those back numbers.

Issue 11 covers an article by General Dobbie about the 1st Divisions proposed landing at Middelkerke, Issue 12 covers the Naval aspect by Admiral Bacon and Issue 13 archive material fron the Tank museum at Bovington. It a good all-round account of the operation with diagrams and maps.

Keith

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Hi, Keith;

Thanks for the lead. I have e-mailed them already.

Guys;

A proposal. I have a copy of Das Marinekorps in Flandern 1914 - 1918 (See= und Kuesten Krieg); Korvettenkapitan a. D. Erich Edgar Schultze . It is only 33 pages, but must contain interesting information for someone interested in the situation in Flanders.

I would be happy to provide a copy of this source as a swap or trade for, for example, a copy of the relevant section of any of the three histories of the three Marine=Regimenten, Nr. 1, 2, u. 3, that fought at Strandfest or the Battle of the Dunes. I would think that these books would cover this engagement in say 10 pages, more or less. A copy of the title page and the index would be super.

I could send this by e-mail or "snail-mail".

If other swap materials would be desired, I have lots of other goodies, including over 100 volumes (including duplicates) of the German Reicharchiv official histories of WW I. Regrettably, I do not have Volumes 13 and 14 of Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918, which are asonishingly rare, and cover this action. (They were published in 1942 and 1944, presumably under difficult conditions.)

Bob Lembke

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I am currently reading the short history of the German marine corps in Flanders during the war that I previously mentioned. When I get to the Battle of the Dunes (Strandfest) I will report on what it said. So far this history is short on the "old shoot 'em up" and long on strategy, strategic decisions, etc.

One interesting footnote already on page 1. Referring to Admiral Bacon, the commander of the Dover Patrol, the author states, if I may paraphrase: "We knew him as an honorable enemy, but from what he has written in this book (Bacon's two-volume Dover Patrol) we find him a man without honor". That was rough, and probably not even literally accurate, but the author, Korvettencapitan Schulze, was really p**sed at whatever Bacon wrote about the Germans. Anyone have an idea what set this off?

Bob Lembke

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There is a reasonable account of the action in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle of 1917. If you need it transcribed let me know.

Andy

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Guys;

I just looked over my material on this battle, and it certainly was a major flame attack, and from the flame units and equipment utilized it certainly was an attack led by flame throwers. (The Germans typically used FW for assaults, while the French used the weapon to mop up bypassed dugouts, etc., so their equipment and even personnel were different.)

One account states that the British first position at The Dunes was taken in two minutes. This is characteristic of many large scale flame attacks, where the shock of dozens of FW often simply collapsed the local defense, not very surprisingly. The largest attack involved 154 flame throwers; one can imagine the shock effect. The use of a large number of FW also usually effectively shielded the attacking troops from observation and accurate defensive small-arms fire.

Bob Lembke

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Hello Bob,

I don't think it were the FW that did it, but the continous bombardment.

The British defences had already been destroyed when the FW attacked.

The Annals of the KRRC, page 222:

When the German infantry arrived they found what was left of them half choked and blinded by sand......

The Germans took 404 prisoners, of whom 100 were wounded, and of the remainder most were blinded by the sand, shell-shocked, contused, or dug out of the sand....

Regards,

Cnock

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Cnock;

Such a bombardment certainly must have made the outcome a certainty. But there is considerable evidence of extensive FW use from the front. Four large fixed FW were first used, which may or may not have reached the enemy front line, but which provided considerable cover and shock. Then there was an assault by 26 man-carried FW. Five Flamm=Pioniere fell in the attack, a very high casualty rate for the flame troops, which averaged just over one dead for each attack, some of which were very large, 60 or 70 FW or more, and many with no barrage or a two-minute barrage to get the sentries' heads down and get the stormers another few paces closer to the enemy trench. (Of course, there is the possibility that a well-placed defensive shell or two took the men out. That is what often killed the FW operators, not defensive small-arms fire.)

Looking more closely at my material, I see that three men of the 6th flame company were killed on the 10th of July, and two of the 6th, including a lieutenant, were killed on the 11th. (These almost certainly from a shell.) Although the 12th company was there, they did not lose anyone. 30 FW is about the number that a flame company would attack with, so perhaps the 12th company was there for a further assault but were not needed.

Also, I think that one of the few men to get over the river and out of the bridgehead was badly burned. In major flame attacks, for different reasons, the accounts of the period from either side rarely mention the involvement of FWs. For example, at Verdun, an attack with 63 FW led to the quick capture of an entire French brigade, including the three complete staffs, but the FW is rarely mentioned. Horne, in his classic on Verdun, mentioned the dramatic capture, but rather than FW he suggested "treason", and a few paragraphs before had described the FW as an ineffective suicide weapon.

I really do not know more details about the involvement of the FW in this attack. It seems that either the barrage or the use of FW (never mind three regiments of the rather tough German Marines) would have done the trick. Incidentally, the FW troops often preferred not to have infantry support, except for really large attacks, as most infantry were not familiar with their unusual tactics, and sometimes were unreliable.

Bob Lembke

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Bob,

The Allied position beyond the IJser canal was less than a mile deep and always hugely vulnerable. It only existed for so long because the Germans saw no reason to snuff it out. Once they decided to attack it, it was always going to be overwhelmed. The OC Royal Naval Siege Guns (my avatar), who had been in this sector on the Belgian coast since late 1914, had warned many times that the allied artillery could not support/protect them because the range was too short. The German offensive was halted at the IJser canal because it was the natural dividing line between the opposing forces (and remained so for the rest of the war).

Mick

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Mick

Yes, it is clear that there was little hope for the bridgehead in the face of such an attack.

Was there more fighting on the 11th, say a bit inland, where there was other associated fighting, in my feeble appreciation? I was wondering how the two flame pioneers got killed that day. It was in action, not in hospital. If there was no fighting, it probably was a stray shell.

I have posted elsewhere about a little bridgehead that the French made the Americans maintain on the north side of the tiny Vesle River at the town of Fismes for three weeks in August 1918. They held about 200 yards of the one street of a little village called Fismette just over the bridge. In holding the bridgehead for three weeks, the Americans had perhaps 5000 casualties, possibly more. (There is more than the "fog of war" in the records, there is a lot of deception; the losses are obscured.) A regiment occupied the tiny bridgehead for two days, lost 1000 of their 2000 men, and its official history mentioned the occupation in one bland sentence, which did not mention a single casualty. The American corps commander (General Bullard) once tried to sneak his men out of the bridgehead, but his own chief of staff ratted on him to the French army commander, and he was forced to countermand the order to pull out.

Twice the bridgehead was overrun in a night-time flame-thrower attack (Yes, I know, I have FW on the brain.) by the 9th Company of the flame regiment. I became interested because I at first thought that my father was in those attacks. But I later found out that he was 20 miles to the east, along the same line, fighting with the 11th Company. Wounded twice in a month.

But the French general rewarded the 28th Division, AEF with a nice mention in dispatches as a reward for their unnecessary losses, although the citation was not true. No wonder that the Yanks wanted to fight under their own commanders. But they also often proved to be unnecessarily blood-thirsty, IMHO.

Bob Lembke

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