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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Ten Practical Lessons Learned in Delville Wood

The Sixth Day: Commemorative Panel at the Delville Wood Memorial
Depicting the Brigade's Survivors

The Battle of Delville Wood (14–20 July 1916) was described by Sir Basil Liddell-Hart as "the bloodiest battle-hell of 1916." Fought by the South African Brigade of the highly regarded 9th Scottish Division, it resulted in the capture of the majority of the nearly mile-square wood, which at the end had but a single tree remaining. Only some 750 of the 3153 officers and men that entered the wood mustered when the brigade was finally relieved on 20 July. 

Afterward the division commander ordered a review. Naturally most of the responses pertained to fighting in forested areas. Here are some of the key points from that review. 

1. Occupying woods by infantry exposes them to decimation by artillery fire. The carnage [at Delville Wood] could only have been avoided had the enemy lines been captured across a broad front. 

2. Consensus of opinion is that it is useless to attack in face of machine guns, even if there is no wire obstacle. 

3. In a wood the only reliable method of communication is by runner. Visual signaling was not reliable and telephone lines did not last long in the wood. 

4. Digging trenches of any depth in woods is almost impossible due to tree roots. Nevertheless, even the shallowest trench could provide some protection. However, there was shortage of spades and picks at Delville Wood. 

5. Bright identifying patches need to be done away with. [The South Africans had yellow squares on their haversacks.] "They form a splendid mark for hostile snipers." 

Inside Delville Wood
6. Heavy machine guns are cumbersome to move through forested areas and once spotted are targeted quickly for enemy artillery fire. The Lewis gun was preferable for the woods.

7. The presence of officers invariably established confidence, especially after heavy bombardment.

8. A lack of flares for night fighting allowed the Germans to advance on the trenches under cover of darkness.

9. Considered that snipers should be given a free hand. The qualities of resource and daring are essential to make a good sniper; more so than being a crack shot.

10. It is not considered advisable, after taking a wood, to retain it, but to push out in front and consolidate in the open. Considered impossible to consolidate in the wood.

Source: South African Military History Society 

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