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Remembered Today:

Junction Point in Trench System of British and French Armies.


Guest Niall O'Byrne
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Guest Niall O'Byrne

Salut All,

I am trying to do some research on how the point in the trenches, where the two Armies met, was managed. By this I mean, the point where, on the left in the trench there was the last British soldier, on the extreme right of the British line and on the right a French soldier, the last soldier on the extreme left of the French line.

I imagine that this junction point was viewed as a potential weak point in the Allied line and hence an obvious attack point for the German Army.

Therefore, I imagine that it must have been the subject of special arrangements, bilingulal liaison officers ? special binational local HQ?

What I am not looking for is information on liaison between the two Armies at high command level, that is well documented. What I am looking for is how it was done in and just behind the trench lines.

Can anybody help either with information or to direct me to source material?

Very Best Regards,

NiallO'Byrne.

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Hi Niall

You are right about it being a weak point, all junctions can be weak points but one between Armies of different Countries is more so. That why the Germans chose the Somme for their attack in 1918. Every British Battalion/Unit had bilingulal liaison officers and the French like wise.

Annette

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Only French units serving on the British sectors or close to them had liasion officers, and then it wasn't always every Regiment; mainly at divisional level. We had them largely to liase with the civilian population, local authorities, police etc behind the lines. Every British infantry battalion had one by 1915.

The junction of French and British forces on the Somme was Maricourt; as this borders on the Somme valley - pretty impossible to attack up - it was an obvious place to do it. The situation change in 1917/18, when at one point we had junctions with the French at St Quentin and also in Flanders at Boesinghe, at the other end of the front. The liasions seemed to work well; in March and April 1918 French forces were regularly attached to British formations to help stem the tide of the German advance; Locre-Kemmel in April 1918 comes to mind, for example.

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there were also Gendarmes attached to British divisions. I have the diaries of a Gendarme who was with the 47th and 25th divisions was with them at Loos, Vimy 1916, Somme, spring offensives including Somme, Armentières and the chemin des dames.

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Remember that it would frequently be incorrect to imagine one long French sector and then one long British sector with just the one boundary.

Depending on precisely when you are considering, there could be quite a mixture of French and British units and even as late as 1918 you would find French divisions in the British sector and vice versa.

The Somme in 1916 was probably one of the times when this mixing was at its lowest level.

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Niall, Spears gives some insights into the details in his book 'Prelude to Victory' Spears was a Liaison Officer who was attached to Operations, GHQ. He notes:

'In the early days of the war I was responsible for the liaison from the front trench to the Army Commander and on to GHQ, to whom I ultimately reported. At each echelon there was a Frenchman and an Englishman, from the companies at the front where the two armies joined, up to the Army... Truly a heavy job, especially if one remembered that all the higher formations had Supply as well as Operations and Intelligence sections, each demanding service.'

He goes on to describe the effects of the British taking over a section of the Front from the French:

'Hutments, camps, railways and tramways, hospitals, dumps of all kinds, had to be removed or handed over, not to mention the actual trenches, back defence areas and all the enormously valuable material accumulated on scores of square miles of military territory. The innumerable contacts by which one Army keeps in touch with another had to be prepared and attuned to the British diapason... The guns in particular, which have to flank and protect neighbouring units and answer calls for barrages from French or British, in fact support each other generally, required very special attention and tuition by a puzzling bilingual process in systems as different as the two languages themselves.'

In keeping with this, most of the cross-boundary liaison work that I have come across occurs in the diaries of artillery officers. The one who springs to mind is Fraser-Tytler in his book 'Field guns in France'. He writes about the liaison with his French counterparts on the Somme. Street's book 'With the guns' also touches on this, specifically in relation to the Battle of Loos.

Boundaries between any units was a problem. These were recognised as weak points, irrespective of who was either side. Artillery cover was really important as this was the arm par excellence that could reach across boundaries, especially in enfilade, providing invaluable support for or against an attack. The collapse of the British right flank of Cambrai around Banteux was attributed in large part to the failure of a neighbouring division to provide adequate artillery support when German attack formations were forming up.

Robert

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