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Battle of the Dunes, July 1917


Hugh Pattenden
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Guys;

I have just finished reading Das Marinekorps in Flandern 1914 - 1918, von Korvettenkapitan a. D. Erich Edgar Schulze. It is only 33 pages long. Just wanted to describe it briefly; it is about the costal defenses, the gun batteries, flak, the Marinekorps flyers, the harbors, shipyards, drydocks, etc., the naval units and ships based in Flanders, and the pullout at the end of the war.

However, the booklet contains almost nothing about the land war and the infantry formations of the German Marines. But if the above interests you there are a lot of tables and generally a lot of info in a small publication.

It is clear that the troops occupying the bridgehead were in a bad place indeed. The Germans picked up the impending British effort months before, from stuff like mine-sweeping, etc., plus, I think, the construction of one or two enormous floating docks or something of the sort. So we can see while the British wanted to keep the bridgehead until the planned assault up the coast, and equally obvious why the Germans wanted to wipe out the bridgehead once the planned attack became obvious.

Bob Lembke

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Hi Bob

I have a copy of Mark D. Karau’s book ‘Wielding the dagger: The MarineKorps Flandern and the German war effort, 1914-1918’ a quite detailed English language book with excellent German references and sources.

He has an appendix with an Order of battle:

1st MarineDivision (strength at end of 1914):

1st Marine-Brigade- 1st Matrosen-Regiment

- 1st Matrosen-Artillerie-Regiment

2nd Marine-Brigade- 1st Landwehr-Eskadron

1st landwehr-Feld-Artillerie-Abteilung

2nd Marine-Pionier-Kompagnie

2nd Matrosen-Artillerie-Regiment

2nd MarineDivision (Strength at the end of 1914):

3rd Marine-Brigade- 3rd Marine-Infanterie-Regiment

- 3rd Matrosen-Regiment

4th Marine-Brigade- 4th Matrosen-Regiment

- 5th Matrosen-Regiment

3rd Landwehr-Eskadron

1st Marine-Feldartilleriebatterie

2nd Marine-Feldartilleriebatterie

3rd Marine-Pionier-Kompagnie

3rd MarineDivision (strength on July 1st 1917)

Marine-Infanterie-Brigade 1st Marine-Infanterie-Regiment

2nd Marine-Infanterie-Regiment

3rd Marine-Infanterie-Regiment

3rd Eskadron

7th Husaren-Regiment

9th Feldartillerie-Regiment

115th Pioniere-Batallion- 1st Reserve-Kompagnie, 24th Marinebattalion

160th Minenwerfer-Kompagnie

Hope this is of use.

Cheers

Dominic :D

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Dominic,

Which was originally published in my book on the Marinekorps Flandern, and which was largely used as a source for the book he wrote...

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Dominic,

Thanks for the information.

Johan,

I do hope that Mr. Karau gave you proper citations!

I have looked for your book on ZVAB, usw., and they are scarce and very expensive. This should be a tribute to your book, since it seems that those people who have them are eagerly keeping them close at hand.

I hope that you are able to come out with another edition, either in German or in English. I will be happy to share with you any of my specialized information I am digging out that you are interested in, although I certainly know that you know more about Flanders 1914 - 1918 than I ever will.

Bob Lembke

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I've been following this thread with great interest and have learned so much about the German aspect, of which I knew very little, especially the use of flame throwers, thank you all.

My interest lies in the movement of the W. Yorks. of 49th Div. during this period. They had been moved to camps in the dunes just outside Dunkerque by 14th July so missed the German offensive on the 11th. On 18th they took over the right (St. George's) sector of the Nieuport trenches from the 96th Bde., 32nd Div.

One of the earlier posts remarks about the ease in which the trenches were taken on the 11th, this comment made in the 146 Bde. diary perhaps gives a clue 'little work had been done in the sector, trenches (breastworks) were not even bullet-proof'.

Apart from Artillery duels not a lot happened until the night of 22nd July, it was warm with a light wind of about 3 m.p.h. when German Artillery opened up with a barrage of H.E. and gas. It was described as a 'new kind of gas', the 77 mm. shells had a shoulder painted drab yellow, a body of blue with a small blue cross and a single driving band, it made a different noise in flight and 'pinged' when it exploded. At first, as they were mixed with H.E., it was thought they were duds but soon the symptoms began to appear:-intense eye pain and conjunctivitis, vomiting akin to sea-sickness, occasional diarrhoea and stomach pains, skin erythema. Later some of these symptoms evolved into bronchitis and brocho-pneumonia.

Nieuport and the surrounding areas were plastered. B Coy. 1/5th W. Yorks. was in reserve in cellars in Nieuport, as the gas sank below street level they suffered, 4 officers and 141 o.r's being gassed. In total the Bde. casualties for that night were 18 officers and 662 o.r's.

Which eventually leads me to a question. How new was this gas delivered by shells, when was it first used in shells against the allies. I have a feeling that two other locations on the Western Front were targeted in the same way on the same day, I'm sure there are some experts out there that will put me right.

Keith

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Keith,

Operation Britentod , near Voormezele, shelling with yellow cross.

Operation Totentanz : Armentieres, shelling with yellow cross;

Regards,

Cnock

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German gas shells were identified by a colored cross. Not an expert here, but I know that there were "Green Cross" shells, "Blue Cross" shells, and "Yellow Cross" shells, if not others. So it seems like the shell that the troops examined was a "Blue Cross" shell. This is not to contradict Cnock's information; I am sure that he has forgotten more about Flanders than I will ever learn. It was common to fire a mix of different gas shells in an attack, often to achieve different results at different sectors of the battlefield.

If needed I could dig out details on this gas mix; I have a German book on the Gas=Krieg.

Bob Lembke

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Hello Bob,

I understand Your point.

At Armentieres and Voormezele the Germans fired the persistent yellow cross gas, because they had not the intention to attack and occupy the shelled locations.

In an attack the Germans would use non-persistent blue croos within the objective, and yellow cross beyond the objecyive.

Regards,

Cnock

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Bob,

From 'The Border Regiment in the Great War'

...while the enemy guns seemed to be employing a new kind of gas shell causing violent sneezing among all who came in contact with its fumes, also affecting the eyes...

at the 'C' subsector in front of Lombardsijde, South of the Geleide Kreek

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Thanks for these nice words Bob ! I'm working on an english version of the book in probably 3 parts, but I still need to get hands on the war diary of a few units. This should be happening still this year.

Concerning Strandfest I also received some British information from forum members here and at the Lost Generation which were so kind to mail me these.

First I'll be finishing my book on the cemetaries. This should be done by the end of the year.

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Detail German map with British positions on East bank Ijzer

post-7723-1151081061.jpg

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Shortly, about Mark Karau, we had contact on my WW I Forum and he has actually offered to come over to Flanders in April 2008 for the possible conference on Zeebrugge and Oostende 1918-2008 that I'm trying to organise together with the city of Brugge. So yes, he did credit me in his book and we have regularly contact.

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Hello Bob,

I understand Your point.

At Armentieres and Voormezele the Germans fired the persistent yellow cross gas, because they had not the intention to attack and occupy the shelled locations.

In an attack the Germans would use non-persistent blue croos within the objective, and yellow cross beyond the objecyive.

Regards,

Cnock, I suspect the same logic would apply to Nieuport. I don't think a German attack was planned there either.

Keith

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Just read over the most easily accessible Allied source on the "Battle of the Dunes", the on-line "edition" of the Australian official histories, edited and to some extent written by C. E. W. Bean. The exact citation is The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 - 1918, Volume IV, pp. 701, 960-64. The web-site is awm.gov.au .

The only mention there of flame throwers was a passage about an Australian sapper from the 2nd AIF Tunnelling Company. Sapper J. O'Connell, D. C. M. (No. 2432; 2nd Tunnelling Coy.) born Lismore, N.S.W., seemingly residing at Hunter's Hill, N.S.W. He fought the attacking German marines with grenades and was burned with a flame thrower. Later, he was laid out on the north bank of the Yser, bandaged, but when the Germans approached he swam across the river, and even saved a struggling British soldier.

I really don't know the UK official data sources. Is there any way to learn more of this guy? What is D. C. M.? Distinguished Conduct Medal? Did the Tunnelling Company have their own history? It seems that, although the company was at a temporary strength of over 1200 men to do their digging at the bridgehead, there only were about 50 of them on the "wrong" side of the river that day.

Bob Lembke

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Apologies for taking so long to put this up, but my scanner is on and off at the moment and I've been transcribing:

1st Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment History

NB: The Regimental History often refers to the Battalion as the 48th, and the 2nd KRRC as the 60th.

On June 11th the battalion went marched north to the neighbourhood of Cassel and went into billets among the scattered farm buildings that lie immediately south of the hill upon which the little town stands. On June 20th the march to the coast, which was the ultimate destination of the 48th, was continued. On one day the battalion travelled a few miles by train, but generally speaking the move was made by road. On the evening of the 23rd June the 48th marched into camp quite close to the seashore, and some three miles behind the trenches near Nieuport, the extreme left of the Allied line on the Western Front. The sector in which the 48th now found itself, and where it was to experience one of the greatest attacks in its long and eventful history, was quite different from any other in France. It was nothing but sand – flat as a rule, but with dunes rising some sixty feet above sea level, and thick clusters of rushes to break the monotony. Further inland the country was exceptionally flat and low lying. Along the dunes there had sprung up at Nieuport and Lombartzyde little seaside resorts with red-tiled bungalows and bizarre houses with little gardens, snatched, as it were, from the surrounding sea of loose, powdery sand. The frontage of the sector now held by the 1st Division was about one mile in length. About half a mile in rear of the front line, and parallel with it, was the Yser Canal. The front line system in front of the canal was usually held by two battalions. The left flank rested on the sea, while the right was bound by a dyke known as the Geleide Creek {Kreek}, which joined the canal at right angles. The position itself faced roughly east, so that in case of attack the defenders would have to fight, throughout the morning at least, with the disadvantage of having the sun in their eyes. It was thought that the sand would tend to prevent the explosion of many of the enemy shells, but that proved to be a complete fallacy. The nature of the soil rendered the ordinary trenches out of the question, and breastworks – which showed up with terrible distinctness – took their place. Apart from this, it will be seen that the two battalions were in a dangerously isolated position. The Yser Canal was indeed crossed by three bridges, but these were of a temporary nature and their exact position was, of course, known to the inch by the German artillery. At the mouth of the canal and on the near side of it lay Nieuport Bains, a small bathing resort. Nieuport itself was about two miles inland on the banks of the canal. In the distance Ostend could be faintly discerned. On the whole the position was one of very obvious danger and drawbacks, but so quiet had the sector been that it was considered distinctly “healthy” and was regarded as a suitable place to “try out” young officers and section commanders.

On July 4th the 48th and the 2nd Battalion of the 60th went into the front line, the 60th holding the left so that the outer man of that battalion was the left-hand man of the whole great Western Front, the other flank of which rested on the Swiss Frontier. It so chanced – and a fortunate chance it proved to be – that a much larger percentage of officers and men were left out of the line than was usually the case. These details of the 48th numbered around 400, and remained on the near side of the canal under Major Robinson. Captain McNaught had gone to England on leave, his place being taken by the assistant-adjutant, Second-Lieutenant D C Chisholm, who had commanded “B” Company in the Battle of the Somme. Of the four company commanders two were not in the line, and the only other officers there, above the rank of sub-altern, were Lieutenant-Colonel Tollemanche, Captain E R C Aylett of “C” Company, and Captain Hayes, the medical officer. A fair proportion of the officers had never been under fire, but, taken as a whole, not only was the battalion up to strength, but after a long period of rest and training it was fully efficient and fully recovered from the fighting on the Somme and the hardships of winter.

The expectation of a quiet and peaceful tour was not belied by the first couple of days in the line: in fact July 6th was logged as “very quiet” and it seemed, what with the fine weather and welcome whiff of the sea, as if the stay amongst the sand hills might prove to be an enjoyable chance from the conditions of the interior of France. Te spell was to a certain extent broken on the 7th, when there was a fair amount of shelling by the Germans – possibly with a view to ranging. The next night a successful enterprise on the part of the 48th put everyone in high spirits. The battalion scout officer, Second-Lieutenant McAnally, led a patrol towards the German lines. He and Sergeant Rivett, of “D” Company, cut a gap in the enemy’s wire and a reconnoitring party went through. On the return of the party it was decided to wait and see if any Huns would emerge, and, surely enough, an officer appeared, followed by about twenty men. Second-Lieutenant McAnally shot the officer and bombs were thrown at the remainder, from whom “groans were heard”. The raiders all returned safely, in spite of the inevitable rifle and machine-gun fire which followed. A further enterprise on the following night was, however, not so successful, for although a party under Lieutenant G B Thompson, did indeed gallantly penetrate into German trenches and bombed several dug-outs, unfortunately no prisoners were taken – and these were always wanted for identification purposes – and the raiders had to retire with the loss of one killed and one wounded.

Then came the tragedy; the dies irae dies illa; and July 10th was to take its place with May 9th as one of the blackest days in the calendar of the 48th Regiment.

The day broke calm and sunny, and shortly after dawn the German heavy artillery opened fire. At first their attention was principally devoted to the reserve line and the bridges over the canal. The various accounts consulted differ as to the hour when the tremendous German bombardment began, but it seems that at 6.45am the Germans opened a very heavy shelling with their 5.9’s. This lasted for exactly an hour, when the barrage was put down on the support line, and again at 8.45am, the fire was turned on to what was – for the German artillery – the far side of the canal. Throughout the morning the bombardment increased in intensity. The din was appalling. Heavy artillery, field guns and trench mortars united to swell the tornado of fire. Those who watched the terrible spectacle from points of comparative safety included many who had been through the horrors of the Somme. And all muttered that never before had they witnessed a bombardment of such duration and intensity.

In the clear morning light the breastworks of the 48th showed up clear and well defined. Under the torrent of shells they soon collapsed. Before long they were virtually obliterated. Such of the defenders as had escaped death or serious wounds were compelled to crouch in shell holes to shield themselves from the inferno that raged against them. As has been mentioned, many of the officers had never before been under serious fire. The same was the case with the men. But there is no record of any betrayal of the traditions on the Regiment.

At a quarter to nine there was a pause of five minutes in the bombardment, and then it was methodically resumed, one hour being devoted to the support line, the south-west side of the Yser and the front line; after another pause of five minutes, the firing was again systematically renewed, although this time in a different sequence. This went on until five minutes to two, when a slightly longer lull – of from ten to fifteen minutes – took place. During the forenoon German aeroplanes flew over, quite undisturbed by our machines, dropping bombs on the reserve lines, but, luckily, casualties were few, as the details, under Major Robinson, and the transport, had been scattered among the sandhills. The front line was now completely isolated, for all the telephone lines had been severed by shell fire and the bridges over the Yser were in matchwood – two of them at any rate, and the third was approaching its end. The artillery of the 1st Division made heroic efforts to reply to the bombardment, but was quite outmatched, and during the day most of it was knocked out of action. Apparently no heavy artillery was available on our side, with disastrous results for the troops over the canal. In the lulls which occurred the men in the trenches were set to work digging out those who had been buried by masses of sand, and the runners were sent to maintain touch between the companies, but these intervals were short, and soon “the whole thing commenced again and it seemed as if a shell were falling on every foot of ground. The earth was rocking; the smoke and sand were so dense that that one could hardly see a yard in front. Hell was let loose with a vengeance. We were like a lot of stupid beings, as we were helpless to do anything but wait till the end.”

From ten minutes past two until seven o’clock the bombardment went on without intermission, front line, supports and reserves being drenched under this torrent of fire. It is difficult to obtain any coherent account as to how the men endured the ordeal during the twelve hours it lasted. Survivors told how Lieutenant P A Heather, who commanded “D” Company, continued to go from post to post encouraging his men to stand fast, though he himself was badly wounded. No doubt there were many similar cases of heroism, but only too often those who could have borne witness to them perished. During the afternoon, a physical exhaustion set in. “Our heads were splitting and we were choked with fumes and sand. It was a tragedy. We knew our machine-guns and Lewis guns must be the same. The only question being asked was, how much could our artillery help us and was any help coming across the river? Just as we were beginning to think that Fritz was not going to attack the bombardment recommenced. About 6pm it eased up a little and the enemy were among us, appearing to come from the rear.”

I was really nearer seven o’clock when the German Marine Division – first-class troops – attacked the junction between the 60th and 48th. The attack was made in three waves, and when the British line was pierced the attackers turned outwards, splitting into two separate attacks in the rear of the two battalions. If the Germans expected little or no resistance from enemies stunned to impotence by the awful bombardment to which they had been subjected, they were soon undeceived. As they surged forward across the wreck of the defences of the 48th, isolated groups of men who had survived the bombardment shot them down from shell holes. Captain Aylett, assisted by Second-Lieutenants R C Cowley and N V H Coghill, offered a particularly effective resistance to the enemy. By his orders Lewis gunners of “C” Company had buttoned their tunics around two of their guns to shield them from the flying sand. Hence, when the enemy had crossed the point where our front line had been, he was able to direct a deadly enfilade fire against their advancing ranks. Such guns of the divisional artillery as still remained fit for action rained shrapnel upon the attackers and caused considerable execution.

But the odds were too heavy for the ultimate issue to be in doubt. On the left, the enemy had forced their way through the 60th, who still continued to fight on in a manner that was worthy of their regiment. Passing behind the Northamptonshires’ lines, the Germans attacked their battalion headquarters from the rear. Indeed, the first intimation the officers in the headquarters dug out had of the launching of the attack was the appearance of several enemy at the mouth of the ventilation shaft. Bombs were hurled down this shaft and down the main entrance, several of the headquarters signallers being severely wounded. Lieutenant Chisholm at once began to destroy the more important documents in his possession, while Lieutenant-Colonel Tollemache at first declined to surrender, and wished to fight it out to a finish. Fortunately he broke his revolver, and was consequently unable to carry out his intention, for the position was hopeless, and no other course than to surrender was open to the occupants of the dug-out. Describing this incident, an officer of the battalion writes: “In several English newspapers graphic accounts had been given of the manner in which the headquarters officers were killed whilst standing back to back firing their revolvers at the enemy. It may be said at once that these tales were untrue. The officers in question and the battalion to which they belonged have alike made for themselves too good a reputation for there to be any attempt to bolster it up by fiction.”

After the capture of headquarters the enemy bombed the regimental aid post, several of its occupants being hit and the rest surrendering. The same party took Captain Aylett’s men in the rear and turned a machine gun on them. After most of his followers had been killed and his two Lewis guns put out of action, Captain Aylett and the few survivors surrendered. Second-Lieutenant Cowley was badly wounded by a bomb before resistance ceased in this quarter. Elsewhere, too, the Germans gradually overpowered our resistance, but it was not until two hours after the attack was launched that weight of numbers finally prevailed. With the exception of the nine other ranks who succeeded escaping by swimming the canal, every one of the Northamptonshires who were in the line on July 10th were killed or captured. The list of dead included Lieutenant Heather, and Second-Lieutenants G H Smith and J H S Symons, whilst Lieutenant-Colonel Tollemache, Captain Aylett, Captain E Hayes, and Second-Lieutenants Chisholm and McAnally were amongst those taken prisoner.

The Germans have often been censured, and rightly censured, for their callous inhumanity to British wounded and prisoners. It is only just to say that the conduct of the German Marine Division on this occasion shows that there were exceptions to this rule. The testimony of those who returned from captivity was that on July 10th the enemy treated their prisoners, wounded and unwounded, in a humane and generous manner.

It was long before any details of this disaster reached the remainder of the battalion, and for many weeks the relatives of those who were missing lingered in an agony of doubt as to what had happened to them. Most of those that escaped could give no lucid or coherent account of what had taken place. The most detailed information that was received for some time was the narrative of Sergeant Mansfield, the battalion scout sergeant, who escaped across the Geleide Creek and informed the battalion on the right of the Northamptonshires of the situation. The commanding officer of this battalion thereupon formed a defensive flank to check the farther advance of the enemy. Sergeant Mansfield received the D.C.M. for his services, and Sergeant Cope, a survivor who took part in the stand made by “C” Company, was awarded the Military Medal.

Source: The Northamptonshire Regiment 1914-1918, Auth.: Northamptonshire Regimental History Committee. Published 1932. 366pp., folding map in end-pocket. Pages 192-200.

Steve.

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Northamptonshire and the Great War

Chapter XI – Dunes Disaster – Battalion again annihilated

The heroic but helpless stand of the 1st Northamptons amid the sands and swamps of the Belgian coast near Nieuport, constitutes one of the most thrilling episodes of the war. No Northamptonshire man, indeed no Britisher, can read without a pang of pity, how valiantly but vainly they held out against overwhelming odds amid a whirlwind of liquid fire, shot and shell such as never before had been experienced. From six o’clock in the morning till nearly nine at night on July 10th 1917, the 1st Northamptons, with half a battalion of the 2dnd King Royal Rifles, were isolated on a narrow strip of sands less than half a mile long and only 700 yards across, where the loose sand provided no protection from the pitiless fire. The only retreat was across two bridges {three?} over the Yser, both of which were shattered by shell early in the fight, leaving the battalion to die or surrender, without any help from land air or sea. And this failure to provide for contingency against calamity came after three year of war. The soothing assurances of our superiority in guns and our ascendancy in the air, as well as the assertion that the Germans’ success in this fight was an empty one, brought little consolation to the darkened homes in Northampton, especially as it came so soon after the calamity at Gaza {1/4th Northamptons in the first battle of Gaza}. Only a few days before the battalion had taken over the Nieuport sector from the French, and rejoiced in the change of scenery from the mud and misery of the Messines area to the blue sea and yellow sands, where in days of peace holiday-makers revelled. Lurking behind all this, however, was disaster and death. The methods adopted by the Germans were similar to ours on the Somme and elsewhere. They brought an overpowering artillery fire to bear in advance on a limited area, and after shattering our trenches brought a barrage of fire behind our lines cutting of all retreat and reserves. They started a terrific bombardment at 6.45am with shells from 168 batteries of different calibres. Our trenches, being of sand, collapsed continuously. The tornado was kept up at short intervals all day, shells falling at a rate of four a minute. All telephone and wireless communications were cut, runners knocked out, and our men with rifles and machine-guns clogged by sand had to wait for an eternity for the coming attack. At seven o’clock in the evening a whole German division advanced in three waves, in outflanking formation, the manifest intention being to cut off our men completely. They were preceded by parties of marines carrying flammer werfer, smoke and petrol bombs and stick handle bombs. A few of our men – eight in all – managed to swim the Yser with bullets hissing all around them, and Sergeant B Cope of the Northamptons, although wounded, swam the river to warn the headquarters of the next division of what was happening. Two riflemen, under continuous fire, also swam the river with ropes which they fastened to a pontoon in mid stream and assisted a party of 22 of their regiment to escape. No other escapes were however possible. The enemy rushed up machine guns, with which they swept the north bank of the Yser. Our trenches were hopelessly blocked. Half blinded by sand and smoke, with weapons out of action, our men held out heroically until nearly eight o’clock, awaiting the enemy with bombs and clubbed rifles. C Company resisted valiantly until nearly all of them were knocked out, and the remainder were surrounded and surrendered. Two platoons of riflemen fought to the last man. At our battalion headquarters Colonel Tollemache and the other officers stood back to back with their revolver fighting until further resistance was futile. Thus again within a day the 1st Northamptons had vanished, the casualties being 20 officers and 570 men killed wounded or captured. A stupid censorship prevented the numbers of the battalions being mentioned, so that for several days a needless agony of anxiety was suffered by relatives of men in other battalions, but eventually the Northampton Independent was able to end the sorrow by announcing that the commanding officer and his staff and most of the men were prisoners of war. Instantly preparations were made to supply them with parcels from Northampton, which were kept up to the end with a never-failing generosity.

Source: Northamptonshire and the Great War, Auth: W H Holloway, Publ: Northampton Independent, c.1920, 231pp. Pages 29-30

Steve.

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Northampton Independent – 28th July 1917

The man who swam the Yser

A wounded man’s warning.

That man, whose deed will last long after he has answered the last call, was Sergeant Benjamin Cope {9624}, third son of Mr & Mrs Martin Cope, of 77 Eastgate, Peterborough.

The story of his remarkable exploit as told in our last issue, and has been amplified by a description from his own lips was as follows:

“One brave Sergeant of the Northamptons with a valour worthy of the V.C., volunteered to swim over the river to warn the K.R.R. on the Northamptons right that there was a danger of their being cut off since all bridges over the Yser were now destroyed and it was now impossible to bring up reinforcements. Although wounded, the brave fellow swam the river, as being the only practicable means of getting to the Regiment and delivered his warning with the result that a bombing barrier was hurriedly thrown up, machine guns got into position and the attack when it came was prevented from extending beyond this point.

His own story, as told to a representative of the “Peterborough Citizen” is as ???? as his act was gallant.

“They started strafing us at ten o’clock in the morning and continued it until four in the afternoon,” he said. “Then from four till seven there was more intense strafing. At 7.45 I spotted Fritz coming over the top and the order was given to “Stand to!” We were retiring to the support line when the Germans started coming down the communication trenches. An officer told me to get a dozen men and try to stop them

“I had a bit of a go at them as they went from traverse to traverse till all my men got “sploshed” but three. Retiring again I got another dozen men together, and had another go at hand to hand fighting. We stuck it until there were only seven of us left, the Germans outnumbering us by about twenty to one. I then told the men to look out for their own skins, and I stopped until they had all got clear. I then ran back to a shell hole with my rifle and ‘tooth-pick’ and, having twenty rounds left, had another ‘splosh’ at the Bosches who were busily making a machine-gun emplacement, and I put two of them over.

“As there was nobody left I retired to the canal, ten of the Germans trying to ‘scotch’ me, but I only got a tap in the back. I dashed into the canal which was about 40 feet wide, and got safely to the other side though the Germans were still having a “splosh” at me. I thought that was no place for me, so I got off as quickly as possible. I reached the next divisions headquarters made a report of what the enemy had done as far as I could and then had a lot of “how do you do” (whisky). I saw one or two Generals who told me I was lucky to get out of it, and now I’m home on ten days leave.

Sergeant Cope, who will be 21 next month, enlisted in the Northamptons at the age of 16 and on or about his eighteenth birthday he embarked with the Expeditionary Force for France, being then a Private. He was in the famous retreat from Mons and took part in the battles of the Marne and the Aisne, and was first wounded in the right thigh at Ypres on November 11th, 1914. From Ypres he went to Festubert and was again wounded in the left thigh on May 9th, 1915, the memorable day when the gallant Northamptons suffered so heavily at Aubers Ridge. He was next at Richebourg, and the in September 1915 he was wounded for the third time at the battle of Loos, sustaining a broken jaw. He came home for two or three months and then was drafted out again. He went through the whole of the advance on the Somme without receiving a scratch. Next at Albert he was wounded for the fourth occasion, and from there went to the Belgian coast where he received his fifth wound, and incidentally added further lustre to the annals of the British Army.

On Sunday morning the gallant Sergeant led to the altar of St Mary’s Church, Miss Ella Jueitt of East Ham, London, the ceremony being performed by Rev A C Neely and the only witnesses at the ceremony being Mrs Pinder (sister of the bridegroom) who gave the bride away and Miss Nellie Cope, bridesmaid. Mr Cope, the father of Sergeant Cope is an old soldier, having served for 13 years in the Militia, whilst another son, Pte. Fred Cope is in a machine gun section in Egypt.

Source: Northampton Independent, Weekly Newspaper, Issue dated 28-7-1917, Page 19 (Page number not clear from photo image)

The same article to a large extent appeared in the Peterborough Citizen, Weekly newspaper of Peterborough and Huntingdonshire, of 24th July 1917 and the Peterborough Advertiser, weekly newspaper of Peterborough, of 28th July 1917.

{Military Medal, London Gazette 27-9-1917: “9624 Sjt. B. Cope, North'n R. (Peterboro').”}

Sgt Cope seems to have survived the war, though how many more times he forgot to duck is unknown...

As noted in the post above the Regimental History attributes the swimming of the Yser and the warning of the neighbouring battalion to Sgt Mansfield, and his DCM citation reads to that effect:

LG 17-9-1917

27223 Sjt. A. Mansfield (Rogate, Sussex), North'n R. {1st Battalion}

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He helped to form a defensive position at a very critical moment when our line was broken, and thereby held the enemy back for a considerable time. When his battalion was nearly surrounded by the enemy and casualties were very heavy, he made his way through intense hostile barrage to another battalion and explained the situation; by so doing he enabled the enemy's further advance to be checked. He finally returned to our lines with most valuable information, having set a magnificent example of initiative and devotion.

(The Citation is very similar to 9624 Sgt. Benjamin Cope’s actions in swimming the Yser to get help.)

Not sure what to make of that!

Steve.

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For Keith,

The Strandfest was well planned and the Germans well knew their objectives, that is why they used Blue Cross on 10/7/1917.

They first used Yellow Cross shells on 21/22/ july 1917 against the western bank of the Yzer, they didn't have to attack this side of the Yser.

Their purpose was to disturb :

British infantry counter attacks,

Shelling from the increasing British artillery batteries ( most of the German additional batteries had been withdrawn on 11/7/1917) .

Regards,

Cnock

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Steve;

Many, many thanks for your valuable material, especially as it seems to have required you to do a lot of labor re-typing the passages. I am going to extract the passages and store them away carefully in my files.

Can I be as bold to request a further effort on your part? Could you provide a full, fancy-pants scholarly citation for the three sources? For the books, full title, publisher, author, ifany, year of publication, no. of pages in the book, and the page that the passage was found on? (if not all items at hand, some of this would allow us to find a listing in the on-line catalog of a major library, allowing us to pluck the info off.) Possibly also a bit more on the newspaper, or at least the page that it was found on.

Can I suggest some info I have for the Pals, if you guys want it? I have translated, for a Scottish pal, a small chapter of a German official history that describes the British attack on Beaumont on the Somme on July 1, 1916. If anyone is interested, and my friend agrees, would anyone want me to post it? He found it useful in figuring out what happened there.

Bob Lembke

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Bob,

Added source information to the extracts.

I have also updated my third post (the newspaper article on Sgt. Cope from the original Peterborough Citizen article) to correct the bits that didn't come out well on the photographed article.

Hope that's ok,

Steve.

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Steve;

Absolutely beautiful! It is really almost impossible to get hold of such materials on this side of the Big Drink. Often they can only be found in the Library of Congress, our greatest library, and they, in general, do not lend material out, except in the most extraordinary circumstances, I understand. And I have not been to Washington in a very long time.

Thanks again so much for your considerable effort to make this information available to us.

I did contact my Scottish friend, and he does not mind if I make my translation of the Somme chapter available to the Pals of this forum. So I will put it up in a seperate thread in this Western Front sub-forum in the next few days.

I just bought, today, the diary of an Unteroffizier (junior sergeant) of one of the infantry regiments of my grand-father's army corps in Belgium in 1914. (III. Reservekorps, the unit that took Antwerp and chased Churchill out of Belgium, I think, and some of his men into internment in Holland.) Got into a bit of a bidding thing with a Belgian who also wanted to use it for a book, so I ended up paying a fair amount. I want to keep it under my hat until I manage to write the book I want to do on my grand-father and father, but (depending on how good it proves to be) will see what I can do to make it accessible to others. Possibly publish it privately some day, with facing facsimile pages of the original German (in Suetterlin, of course), and my English translation. I also have a secret 70 page French flame-thrower document that I would like to treat in a similar fashion.

Bob Lembke

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Cnock, thanks for that information. The attached map gives an idea of the trench system in front of Nieuport (History of the 1/6th Bn. West Yorkshire Regt.).

Keith

post-1944-1151420475.jpg

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Hello Keith,

Interesting map, thank You for the info!

Regards,

Cnock

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  • 1 month later...

My great grandfather was involved in operation Strandfest as 2nd Lt with the Border Regiment. I have the war diaries and will type them up next month (I'm getting married next week so won't get a chance for a while!)

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