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

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Beaumont Hamel? It Was All About Y-Ravine

View of the Battlefield at Newfoundland Park
The Caribou Memorial Is Roughly at the
Start Line of the Attack
Y-Ravine (Arrow) Is Not Visible Even from Elevation

Today, on the Somme battlefield just to the south of the village of Beaumont Hamel is a magnificent memorial park dedicated to the Newfoundland Regiment which was almost annihilated the morning of 1 July 1916 attacking over this ground.  The Newfoundlaner's story, however, is but one of four similar tales to be told about that awful day.  The attack that morning was the responsibility of the 29th Division, a veteran formation of 1915's Gallipoli campaign.  It's not clear how well the men and their commanders understood the strength of the German defenses  that day.  

Y-Ravine in Blue
Caribou Memorial (Top Photo) Sign #1

Germany’s W├╝rttemberg 26th Division had occupied its position  near Beaumont Hamel for 18 months. The German forces had a good view of the surrounding area and clear lines of fire from their trenches. The defenders had spent many month's turning a  unique feature of the terrain into a veritable fortress. Two thousand feet from the British line, across open country, lay three hundred-yard-long Y Ravine, blocking access to the objective of Beaumont  Hamel. This deep natural feature was fortified  and enhanced with deep bunkers allowing the troops to survive artillery barrages. The cover it offered allowed the Germans to bring their troops forward  easily through a spur of the ravine to the firing trench. The success of the attack of 1 July required taking Y-Ravine. But for the attackers, partly due to the downward slope of the land and the immediate drop off of the ravine,  and partly due to smoke of battle, the ravine was almost invisible to the attackers on 1 July 1916.

German Defenses in Terrain Similar to Y-Ravine

The first to attack Y Ravine that July morning were the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who suffered some 568 casualties in just a few minutes. Concurrently, the 2nd South Wales Borderers attacked to the left of the ravine and were mostly stopped in no man's land; by 7:35 a.m. the battalion had been annihilated. The Newfoundland Regiment were next up, attacking at 9:05 and experiencing 710 killed and wounded. After the Newfoundlander’s, the 1st Essex followed and they too were decimated. Y-Ravine would be left alone until the end of the Battle of the Somme. 

The 51st Division Clearing Y-Ravine

On 13 November, during the third day of the Battle of the Ancre in thick fog, the 51st (Highland) Division outflanked Beaumont-Hamel on both sides and forced the garrison to surrender. Infantry and artillery co-operation was conspicuously superior to 1 July; barrages were better aimed and more destructive, cut off the German front line from the rear and neutralized German guns. Mopping up parties had been given specific objectives in the German defenses. Y-Ravine, attacked and fired upon from multiple directions was finally cleared. The defenders were exhausted even before the battle began and where the British artillery had cut the wire, were unable to repulse the attack.  In any case, Y-Ravine had taken an awful toll on the British Army in 1916.

Y-Ravine Today

Sources:  The Aberfeldy Museum; Veteran Affairs of Canada; 51st Division, War Sketches, Wikipedia;

1 comment:

  1. Have been a number of of the best preserved sites of the Battle of the Somme and the fateful July 1916 attack. there is a great little museum run by the Canadians. Just a minute up the road is another great small museum and lunch area run by Avril Williams, and Englishwoman who has been in France for decades. Ask her about James Crozier who was shot as a deserter but stayed there for a short time before his execution.