Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Two Years Difference

Earlier in the year I bumped into and got chatting to Richard Smith, the director at the Bovington Tank Museum. During the conversation he started talking about World War One, and jokingly mentioned that the popular image of WWI, as taught by the schools, and reinforced by popular media, seemed to be the British Army sitting in a muddy trench, writing epic poetry and getting executed for cowardice. Then 1918 rolls around a miracle happens and the Germans surrendered.

Part of it is the losses sustained during the Somme offensive, which we're currently in the middle of the 100th anniversary of. The British infamously launched a 14 mile offensive, following on from five days of preparation bombardment. On that first day over 60000 Allied troops were killed, to give you an idea of what that means. The modern British Army would have been annihilated, almost to a man in one day's fighting. Even with large underground mines being detonated to clear the way, the battles still lasted for months, until the 18th of November.

A mine at Beaumont Hamel, detonated at 0720 on the 1st of July.
At another place, also named Hamel two years later, the allies demonstrated how much they'd learned from the earlier part of the war. Hamel itself was south of the Somme River. Hamel was located on a ridge line between two patches of high ground. It allowed the Germans a commanding view for directing their artillery. Capturing it, as well as removing the German advantage would also allow the front lines to be straightened. For this job the Australians were tasked with the assault.

The date for the assault was to be 4th of July, 1918. A particularly auspicious date as the Australian forces had been bolstered by US troops. Although the US manpower had arrived it was attached to Australian units to learn the ropes. Suddenly, on the day before the battle, General Pershing learnt of the plan to commit US forces and he immediately ordered their withdrawal. This pulled just over half of the manpower planned for the attack just hours before it was due to be launched. By 1600 on the 3rd only about 1000 US soldiers remained in place. When the Australian leader received further instructions to withdraw all US personnel the Australian Corps Commander planning the action launched a spirited defence saying the troops were essential, the Australian Army Commander backed him at the risk of his own job. Eventually the decision reached Field Marshal Haig who simply pointed out the importance of the attack and that it had to go through, and so the US forces would remain. Thus on the 4th of July US troops first entered combat in World War One.
US and Australian soldiers.
Starting at 2230 the night before a covering barrage of shells was laid on German positions. Under the noise of this the sixty tanks amassed for the attack moved up. At 0310 on the 4th the Infantry launched their attack under the cover of a creeping barrage. The mass of tanks and infantry quickly overwhelmed the German positions, taking just 93 minutes to achieve their objectives which was three minutes longer than scheduled.
A tank in Hamel
Re-supply over torn up terrain had always been a problem, however four tanks were kept aside to bring supplies up, one Colonel upon reaching the area to be covered by his supply dump was surprised to find all the stores he could want.
Aircraft also tried to parachute in further ammunition supplies to the Australians, although with less success, as one plane crashed during this operation. This stunning success was achieved with just 1400 killed and wounded, and some of that had been caused by short shells from the artillery. Compare that to the Battle of the Somme where even with the mass casualties some objectives were not reached.

Oh and Richard Smith also pointed out that most of the war poetry written by the British was dire. He pointed out it was the WWI equivalent of social media and YouTube, where you can see most of its bad but a few gems shine through.


  1. Good comparison, thank you for that.

    1. Thanks. Its just one of those things I noticed as well talking to people about WWI FPS games. The general perception seemed to be the entire war was the Somme offensive/Gallipoli style slaughter.

      Where as both 1914 and 1918 in Europe or anywhere else in the world would make great games.