Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What Happened at Gommecourt on 1 July 1916


British Trench at Gommecourt

Gommecourt is just one of the many insignificant hamlets which dot the rolling farmland between Arras and the River Somme. Apart from the two military cemeteries which bear its name there is little apparent about it to detain a passer-by. It is not even in the Department of the Somme, being just across the border in the Pas de Calais. And yet it was here that Sir Douglas Haig, C-in-C of the BEF, determined that two divisions should create a diversion to the main Somme offensive starting just to the south at the equally insignificant village of Serre.

The Attack on the Gommecourt Salient was a British operation against the northern flank of the German 2nd Army that took place on 1 July 1916, on the Western Front in France, during the First World War. The attack was conducted by the British Third Army (Lieutenant-General Edmund Allenby) as a diversion, to protect the northern flank of the main attack by the British Fourth Army on the first day on the Somme, from Serre southward to the boundary with the French Sixth Army at Maricourt. To extend the attack front of the Fourth Army, the VII Corps (Lieutenant-General Thomas Snow) of the Third Army was to capture the Gommecourt Salient, the most westerly point of the Western Front. 

Note 46th and 56th Division Positions at Top of Map

In the first week of May, the 56th (1/1st London) Division (Major-General Charles Hull) and the 46th (North Midland) Division (Major-General Edward Montagu-Stuart-Wortley) moved into the area for the attack. By 10 May, both divisions had taken over the front on the right flank of the 37th Division (Major-General A. Edward W. Count Gleichen) and begun training for the operation, making no attempt to conceal the preparations.

At 7:30 a.m. on 1 July, the attack on Gommecourt began and the 56th (1st London) Division to the south, overran the first two German trenches. Troops also reached the third trench, but a strongpoint at Nameless Farm held out despite several attacks. The German artillery fired a standing barrage along no man's land and trapped the British on the far side all day as German infantry gradually recaptured the lost trenches, all attempts to send reinforcements from the British lines being costly failures. 

46th Division's Opening Position Today
Gommecourt Wood (L), Gommecourt Village, Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery (R)

The 46th Division attack on the north side of the salient had even less success, a smoke screen leading the attackers to lose direction as their advance was slowed by deep mud. Some parties of the 137th Brigade got into the German front line and parties of the 139th Brigade reached the second line but German small arms and barrage-fire on no man's land, trapped the attackers and isolated them from their supports. 

The parties who got across no man's land were surrounded and destroyed, a few men being taken prisoner. The 46th (North Midland) Division had the fewest casualties of the 13 British divisions which attacked on 1 July, which got Montagu-Stuart-Wortley sacked  on 5 July. After several local truces, the British wounded were got in during 1 and 2 July, after which the area became a backwater

Sources:  Gommecourt website & Wikipedia "Battle of Gommecourt" page

1 comment:

  1. Great entry--I really needed more details on this and you gave them to me here.

    ReplyDelete