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Charles Fair

German 31st Reserve Infantry Regiment - 18th Reserve Division

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Charles Fair

Hello all,

I am researching a trench raid carried out by the 19th London Regiment, 47th Division on the night of 27/28 June 1916. This was in the Angres section, immediately north of the northern end of Vimy Ridge. Whilst I have a large amount of info about this raid from the British perspective, I would like to try and find more about the Germans on the receiving end.

The reports of the raid state that one POW was captured and that the troops opposing the raid were from the German 31st Reserve Infantry Regiment. That's all I have.

I dont know where to begin with the German Army, and would be grateful for any help or pointers in the right direction. Which Division and from which part of Germany was the 31st Reserve Infantry Regiment from? Was it a good Division? Would either the Regiment or Division have any histories which refer to the raid?

Many thanks, Charles

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bob lembke

Charles;

The 31. RIR was the reserve unit based on the Infanterie=Regiment (1. thuer.) Nr. 31 (Graf von Bose) of Altona (outside of Hamburg), which traditionally was part of the 36th Infantry Brigade, itself part of the 18th Infantry Division, based in Rendsburg.

When the German Army mobilized in 1914 the above unit (31. IR) marched out and then almost certainly the same area and facilities fitted out and mobilized the 31. RIR a few days later. Most likely the 18. ID produced a reserve shadow of itself, the 18. RID. (However, there may have been some local deviation. But the above is the typical model.)

The German Army was continually modified and expanded as the war went on, but the most complete change (if not upheaval) occurred about 1916. The most important changes was going from "square" divisions to "triangular" divisions. In 1914 the 18. ID of IX Armeekorps had the 35. IB of the 84. IR and the 86. IR, the 36. IB of the 31. IR and the 85. IR, plus the 18th Cavalry Brigade, composed of the 15th and 16th Hussar Regiments. When the division reorganized the division probably retained three of its original infantry regiments (the fourth probably being sent off to help form another infantry division), the infantery brigades per se were disolved (while the division probably retained one of the brigade HQs as a sort of spare divisional HQ), and the cavalry brigade being certainly eliminated, this probably having been performed previous to the square to triangular conversion.

We may also assume that similar transformations occurred to the 18. RID. So, at some time the 31. RIR may have left the 18. RID., or perhaps not.

However, it is possible that the above speculations about the 31. RIR are "all wet", being based on the typical situation, which may not have applied in this case.

I do have the regimental history of 31. IR. I do not have that of 31. RIR, nor do I know if it was ever written, although it very likely was.

My father told me that he was awarded the Hansatic Cross for providing flame thrower support to the 31. IR. I have not worked this out yet; have not read the history yet.

Bob Lembke

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Jack Sheldon

Charles

As Bob states, RIR 31 was part of 18th Reserve Division. It was raised in August 1914 in Schleswig and its manpower was drawn from reservists and Landwehr Tranche 1 men from all over Schleswig Holstein and Bremen.

It has a history, not a very detailed one, written by Sigismund von Foerstner, who was its adjutant until December 1916.

Your raid gets a mention. All timings are one hour ahead of British time.

'At 1210 am extremely heavy shell fire came down on the regimental sector. This was accompanied by a release of gas. At 2.00 am a weak enemy thrust against the right flank (Sub-Sector W) was easily beaten off by the 5th Coy. At 2.50 am there was a further infantry assault against Sub Sectors W and X. During this about twenty enemy soldiers forced their way into Sappe b, but after a short battle they were ejected once again. Not until about 3.00 am did the enemy fire slacken. The companies who were surprised whilst working on the wire obstacle and the second trench reacted excellently, despite the drum fire. According to a British soldier, who was captured by 18th Bn, 5 Landwehr Infantry Brigade, eight officers and 130 men took part in the raid. Three British soldiers were killed in close quarter bttle in our trench. During the defensive action, the following performed particularly well: Reserve Leutnant Hengstenberg (killed), Unteroffiziers Conrig and Runge, Gefreiters Koerner and Lorenzen, Wehrmann Bode (all of 5th Coy); Vizefeldwebel Hoffmann, Unteroffizier Burmeister and Wehrmaenner Hoffmann and Bretag, Kriegsfreiwilliger Scheldt, Feldwebelleutnant Steffensen, Feldwebel Hansen, Musketier Thuermer of 6th Coy; Reserve Leutnant Glantz, UNteroffizier Jansen and Reservist Sass of the mortar detachment.'

I shall now try to scan you a sketch of the position.

Jack

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Charles Fair

Bob, Jack, Many many thanks for your posts. This is way beyond my wildest expectations, particularly to have the exact paragraph from the history of 31 RIR. Thanks for translating it too as I don't read German too well, esp not fraktur. This forum is amazing.

Jack, I will comment on some specific points in the account in another post.

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Jack Sheldon

post-6447-1176153747.jpg

...and here's the map.

Jack

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bob lembke

Charles;

Can you briefly compare the British accounts of the raid with the German account, which seems to indicate that it was no big deal? I would think that your interest probably indicates that it was described as a successful raid.

It is a good reality check to look at the reports of both sides. Or possibly the cause for some conflict of opinion.

Bob Lembke

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Charles Fair

Bob - your post crossed with mine. I was preparing some comparative comments from British sources. It was indeed considered to have been successful, particularly since it was the first raid carried out by 47 Division, and it achieved more than two more raids carried out by the Division in July 1916. As you say, a good reality check.

Jack, could I please trouble you for the title and date of this publication?

'At 1210 am extremely heavy shell fire came down on the regimental sector. This was accompanied by a release of gas. At 2.00 am a weak enemy thrust against the right flank (Sub-Sector W) was easily beaten off by the 5th Coy. At 2.50 am there was a further infantry assault against Sub Sectors W and X. During this about twenty enemy soldiers forced their way into Sappe b, but after a short battle they were ejected once again. Not until about 3.00 am did the enemy fire slacken. The companies who were surprised whilst working on the wire obstacle and the second trench reacted excellently, despite the drum fire.
This is reasonably consistent with the British accounts. The attack against the German right flank (North) - in the area of the Bully crater - got into the German front line, but could not proceed because of heavy artillery fire which the Germans were directing onto their own trenches. The attack against the German left flank (South) was more succesful with the wire being effectively cut just South of South Sap (presumably this is the same as Sappe b ). A small counter attack made by a party of about 15 Germans from their front line trenches was beaten off, most of the party being killed with the bayonet.

The British accounts considered that the raid had been a success in that objectives had largely been met - namely:

* to cause loss to the Germans - estimated at about 60, though not stated whether these were killed or total casualties

* to capture prisoners and/or material allowing the German unit to be indentified - achieved

* to procure information regarding possible gas installations - none were found

* to locate (and destroy) mine shafts - The Royal Engineers accompanying the raiding parties found some deep dugouts leading to shafts, and a traversing gallery which ran parallel to the trench with many entrances. Some damage was done using explosives, but they had insufficient time

* to capture or destroy trench mortars, machine guns etc. their emplacements and ammunition - some damage done here. MGs had been destroyed by artillery fire and did not trouble the raiding party.

(Source: 47 Division report, 30 June 1916 - WO 158/270)

According to a British soldier, who was captured by 18th Bn, 5 Landwehr Infantry Brigade, eight officers and 130 men took part in the raid. Three British soldiers were killed in close quarter battle in our trench.
The prisoner seems to given information which was about right. The Operational Orders for the 19th Londons give (as best as I can make out) the total strength of the raiding parties as 5 officers and 144 other ranks.

British casualties are consistent with those given in WO 158/270 which are: Officers - 1 wounded, 1 gassed; Other Ranks - 2 killed, 4 missing believed killed, 11 wounded, 4 gassed. The 19th London War Diary (WO 95/2738) gives similar figures: Officers - 1 wounded, 1 gassed; Other Ranks - 3 killed, 5 missing believed killed, 13 wounded, 11 gassed

During the defensive action, the following performed particularly well: Reserve Leutnant Hengstenberg (killed)...
I tried searching for him on the Volksbund website but none of the Great War dead shown appeared to be him.

Jack - many thanks for the map too. I will try and work out how to post relevant trench maps showing the German MG positions.

Many thanks once again to you both.

Charles

Edited comments shown in blue.

Edited by Charles Fair

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Charles Fair

Bob, Jack - please find attached the 1:5,000 sketch map (which was clearly traced from a trench map) that accompanies the report by the CO 19th London Regiment. This can be found in the 19th London War Diary in the National Archives (WO 95/2738).

The position shown is the small salient which is beside the X on Jack's map.

You can see that it shows 9 suspected MG emplacements which appear to have been effectively suppressed by British artillery as they caused no problems for the raiding party.

post-892-1176160252.jpg

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Jack Sheldon

Charles

Many thanks for the additional information and the excellent map. The fact that the raid was covered in the detail that it was by the RIR 31 historian makes me think that originally there would have been similar coverage somewhere in the files of RIR 31 and that, had the Royal Air Force not bombed the Prussian archives in Potsdam in 1945, we should have been able to make a detailed comparison of the after action reports. Unfortunately what you have is all there is on the German side.

The full reference to the paragraph is: Foerster Sigismund vonDas Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 31 Stalling, Oldenburg 1921 p81

Best of luck with the rest of your research. If you need anything else. let me know.

Jack

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Charles Fair

Jack, many thanks for the extra details. That is a raid that I am cursing alongside that which caused the fire in Arnside St in 1940... Anyway, I am thrilled to have what is available from the 31 RIR history.

I am interested in the apparent contrast between the 31 RIR account which implies that it was no big thing, and the 47 Div/IV Corps account which implies that it was.

One reason for this may be that the raiders withdrew after 20 minutes in the German front line - exactly as per the plan. The defenders may have felt that they had beaten off the British before too much damage was done.

I am looking at the numerous reports written by various parties involved in the raid and there is clear evidence of a 'learning process' at work. One learning point to come out is that 20 minutes in the German trench was insufficient to destroy all that was found, and that the time should be increased to 30 minutes.

The 12 or so Royal Engineers that accompanied the raiding party were divided into 4 teams, each man being equipped with an explosive charge in a pack. 3 of these teams succeeded in getting into the GFL and in locating deep dugouts and the Traversing Gallery which went parallel to the GFL and which linked up many of the deep dugouts. Unfortunately they didn't have time to set their charges and destroy these features properly. At least one of the demolition packs was set by a fuse and bowled down the steps into an occupied dugout rather like an oversized hand grenade. They didn't have time to do more.

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Jack Sheldon

Charles

Another interesting point about the length of time to be spent in the opposing trenches. The great risk was allowing the opposition too long and so increasing the chances of a violent reaction from mortars, artillery or reserves moving up. The German tendency was in the other direction as far as I can glean. By about the same time of the war, they were insisting that time in the enemy trenches did not exceed fifteen minutes and there were always signals and agreed alternates to make sure the withdrawal began promptly. Quite apart from anything else, friendly artillery, whcih fired a box barrage around the incident was usually directed onto the raid site as soon as they began to pull back.

Jack

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bob lembke

Yes, I recently read of a German raid in which they remained in the opponent's trench for only eight minutes, to their great satisfaction, and a second (or possibly that one) where each officer was equipped with "a signal horn", perhaps to sound the retirement.

My father took part in a pre-dawn flame raid on French positions at the top of Hill 304 at Verdun; he said that they blew two batteries of French 75's and got 150 prisoners back, Pop tried to take a French officer prisoner, and spoke to him in his good French, but the sleepy officer shot him instead with a pocket pistol. I have worked with a German expert on Verdun to identify this engagement, but have not succeeded. It seemed that no Flamm=Pioniere died in this engagement, else I would find the engagement in the death roll of the flame regiment.

Bob Lembke

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Charles Fair

My preference would certainly have been to keep the time in the enemy's front line as short as possible. I dont know whether this is a one off recommendation - from lack of experience - or whether the trend in raids by the BEF was for a longer or shorter time in enemy trenches. Personally I am waiting for John Lee to present the fruits of his database of 1,500+ raids by the BEF....

Withdrawal signals given at 20 minutes were:

* Strombos horns from BFL

* searchlight beam

* 2 bouquets of 6 white rockets each to be sent up

All raiding troops were supposed to be back in the BFL after 30 minutes. White tape was laid across no man's land to help with this.

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Charles Fair

Jack,

I was wondering if your history of the 31 RIR notes any subsequent raids in the following 10 days or so? I understand from the Histories of 251 Divisions of the German Army that the 18th Reserve Div was pulled out from this area to go to the Somme in mid July.

47 Div History records that two further raids were carried out by the Division in July 1916. Both were carried out slightly further south of the ground on which the 19th carried out their raid. The DH gives brief summaries:

1) July 3rd/4th -15th Londons of 140 Bde – This was a less successful raid involving about 100 Ors and 5 officers who were again specially trained for the event. The Germans apparently suspected an attack and put down a box barrage, the second of the Division’s acquaintance, on the section of trench attacked which were in the Bois en Hache, just north of Souchez. This failed in its object of catching the raiders, but kept them from getting nearer than bombing distance from the trench. This raid was however notable for the intense fire support provided by 140th Trench Mortar Battery which fired 750 rounds in 30 minutes. The 15th London history recorded the raid as ‘a dismal failure, and it has long been a forbidden topic of conversation in CSR circles. Fortunately the casualties were few.’ (Source: The History of the Prince of Wales' Own Civil Service Rifles, 1921, p. 103)

2) July 8th – 22nd Londons of 142 Bde– a more complex raid in two parts in the Angres sector involving both smoke and gas was partially successful.

(The History of the 47th (London) Division 1914-1919, ed Alan H Maude, London 1922 p. 58)

It is interesting to note that these 3 raids enabled all three Bdes in 47 Div to experience offensive operations. As such this period represents a critical part of the learning curve for 47 Div. The previous offensive operations had been at Loos, since then the Div had been in and out of the line in the Angres/Vimy area, but hadn't actually made any deliberate attacks. (It had however been on the defensive against German mining activity in April 1916 at the N end of Vimy ridge). All three brigadiers, their staffs would have gained valuable experience in working with artillery up to Corps level, attached Special Bde RE etc. The next time the Div went on the offensive was 15 Sept 1916 at High Wood.

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Charles Fair

Here is another slightly different map of the area with a bit more detail taken from WO 158/270 which is a compilation of reports on various gas attacks in 1916.

post-892-1179094749.jpg

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Charles Fair

And a close up of the area against which the main raid was made to show the full detail.

post-892-1179094961.jpg

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mick lowry

Charles

i,m hoping you are still out there even though your last post on this thread was 2 years ago. I am relatively new to this game so it has taken me some time to find the specifics of my research albeit by the back door so to speak. Having gleaned loads of info inc. war diary entries and maps etc. from other knowledgable members on the forum i had virtually met the proverbial brick wall approaching the subject from the british side.

I believe that my half brothers grandfather took part in the raid on the german trenches by the 19th London Regiment.

He was Pioneer George Dawson 4th Bn. spec. bde., Royal Engineers 129977. I think he was one of the men who died from gas poisoning in the 1/4

London field ambulance during the day of 28/06/16. He and a colleague Pioneer Arthur King are buried next to each other in Bully-Grenay military

cemetary.

Are you able to confirm this and what role he might have played.

Why are there no members of the 19th Londons buried at Bully-Grenay, as i understand that there were other fatalities.

How did someone from the spec. bde. get attached to the various regiments and is it likely he would have been with the Londons since arriving in France in March 1916.

What were the 19th Londons up to from March to July.

Hope you get this

Kind regards

Mick

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