Ch 10: The Somme Offensive

Silently and thoroughly, Greater Britain had been preparing for her part. The Regulars had played the game in the earlier battles; the shattered battalions had been rebuilt with Reservists and Territorials to stem the tide in North France and Belgium. This original army establishment had been obliterated in the glorious shambles of the thin line that was never broken, and a wider Army of the Empire had taken over the immortal trenches marked lightly across the front of blood-soaked mud. An army of 250,000 men was the pledge of the Power whose navy was holding the Seven Seas. Yet at the end of 1915 the casualty lists alone showed 16,471 officers and 528,000 men two-thirds of whom had fallen on the defensive barrier of dogged pluck and 4,000,000 volunteers were training in reserve, at a time when service seemed a synonym for extermination, with inadequate forces on the line.
   General French being now retired with fame for endurance (Joffre's emotion at the parting is a gauge of his service), Sir Douglas Haig assumed command of the new British Grand Army, and its executive head was General Robertson, who had started as a cavalry trooper. The ground work was still tedious. For one item, 3,000 miles of railroad had to be constructed along the front, chiefly on shell-swept ground. In England, the same number of factories had to be established to turn out adequate artillery, machine guns, shells by the million, cartridges by the billion, and the numerous adjuncts to new trench warfare.
   Behind the lines, every month, training camps and "bull pens" were turning out men by the hundred thousand. On the Flanders front, the British line had crept south. Then a complete army took over the French trenches between Hebuterne to the Somme Valley, a section directly supplied from Havre. Next the French Army of Artois was released for Verdun, and the British took over the Arras sections, linking their forces solidly on an exposed line of one hundred entrenched miles.
   But the lessons of Lens and Champagne in September had not been lost on the Germans. During the winter and spring of 1916, every yard of defences was enormously strengthened and backed by strong reserve lines. On the west front, from the sea to the Somme, adequate forces for defence faced the British threat with complacency. His headquarters at Roulers, the Duke of Wurttemberg commanded the line in Belgium, with the Naval Corps on the coast, four Landwehr and Ersatz divisions facing the Belgian army, and the Twenty-sixth Reserve and Thirteenth Army Corps curved around Ypres to the frontier. Continuing the line, Ruprecht of Bavaria at Lille commanded the Twenty-third Reserve, Nineteenth, Seventh, Second Bavarian, Fourth and Ninth Reserve, First Bavarian, Fourteenth Reserve, and Sixth Army Corps on the front from Belgium to the Somme, with two Guard divisions held for special work.
   Rumours of a big British drive had strangled themselves in the long months of nonfulfillment. But it came at last on July 1st, 1916, heralded by four weeks of persistent bombardment, and launched on De Castelnau's old front before Amiens, with tortured Albert as the centre of the British effort and brilliant French co-operation across the Somme marshes.
   Recall the battles of the first autumn, when the Germans attempted to recapture Amiens. The drive from Peronne was halted by the line across the Somme Valley. But as the attack developed, the German Second Army flowed well forward over the high ground above it, sweeping across the serried Thiepval plateau, to be checked and forced to entrench on the southern and western edge. North of the Somme, therefore, the German front described a huge crescent of trenches facing almost south before it curved north again and faced due west on the hills along the Ancre, to which De Castelnau had finally pinned von Buelow's army below Arras.
   The early war maps made it difficult to follow the British offensive, because they were marked by a straight line from Bray north to Arras for little has been written about the great flood which the French stopped in Picardy. But it formed a big bulge between the Somme and the Scarpe, over the high ground before Bapaume where successive ridges were ready for each calibre of German artillery, to back a sweeping deployment over the plains below the drive which would have cut off all the western half of Northern France to the sea had the Germans blundered less, had De Castelnau’s forces faltered, or had Joffre been a day late in creating the flanking army at Arras. The German offensive had then become defensive. But for twenty months the serried ridges had gained in strength.

Joffre; Haig and Foch: Making Plans for the Somme

   Above the Somme loop, at Frise and Curlu, curve a line on the map toward Hardecourt and due west below Mametz and Fricourt toward Albert. Then curve north around the outskirts of La Boisselle, two and a half miles northwest from Albert, twisting snake-like on the ridges east of and overlooking the Ancre, below Thiepval. Still north, cross the river and trace the line through Serre and Hebuterne through Monchy. Two miles above this, turn the line directly northeast to Glangy due east of Arras, and you have outlined the great bulge of occupied territory between Peronne and Arras, pushed roughly ten miles due west from Bapaume and twenty-five miles across, from the Somme to the Scarpe.
   On this outlined front, the German army groups maintained a front-line system of a maze of trenches from four to ten rows deep, zigzagged across the ridges, the lower ground in front tangled with barbed wire. Behind this, deep concrete fortifications linked the outer villages and held thousands of machine guns which could sweep every approach in assault, but which could rest securely underground during bombardments. Over a hundred Picardy villages were linked in a series of field fortifications which formed three definite systems or lines. In every sector, woods, heavily wired, screened clever artillery positions and were cut up by alleys for machine guns to operate at various angles. The Germans had entrenched to make the front an unassailable part of a permanent frontier.
   The Allies had small choice for battery positions. But the British artillery had grown to stupendous power, and the guns were massed closely along every yard of the front, relying for concealment on a flimsy camouflage of branches, on air superiority, and on weight of metal when their power was unmasked. For weeks, tons of British shell shook the German lines in France and Belgium. But the chief weight fell on the sectors below the Ancre. With the French operating on both sides of the Somme River, aiming at Peronne, the British planned to crush in round the curve of the bulge on a wide front whence they could drive a wedge toward Bapaume, which would act as a lever at the base and wrench the mass away. With such a gap, further pressure might force a road toward Valenciennes, to modify the entire front in France, and perhaps end static warfare. By June 30th, the German side of the artillery duel had materially weakened; their front trench lines were a mass of debris and torn wire.
   All night the attacking guns roared without a break. All night, too, columns of British infantry closed in to reinforce the entrenched forces of the Fourth Army under Rawlinson, who commanded the operations; the Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, Third, Fifteenth, and Thirteenth Corps, running from left to right, were massed along the line. Selected divisions were deployed in the advance trenches on a front of twenty miles from Gommecourt north of the Ancre along the western front to La Boisselle and curving along the southern defences to Maricourt, where the French were consolidating, and where the front faced west again across the Somme Valley southward to Fay.
   To visualise the scene of this great battle, take the general aspect of Westchester County its series of hills, woods and valleys. It was an ironically peaceful setting of farms, of hamlets showing through the trees that hid their partial ruin, and of pasture run to seed, gorgeous in patches of colour. But at the foot and sides of the plateau and ridges which stand above the Ancre and curve round to the Somme, pulverised belts of torn earth, stumps and broken masonry marked the work of British guns on the hardly visible lines of defence hidden underground. Once these arrondissements were the home of disorder, boycott, and agrarian outrage which Ireland never equalled. But content had been regained in the peaceful valleys until von Buelow's army swept across.
   Many villages were only looted, and stood intact in the enemy's lines, masking deep the concrete works in their cellars fortresses linked in the chains of defences rising tier on tier on successive ridges to Bapaume. To the south the lazy Somme curled through difficult marshes in the valley across which the French had gathered. Along the Ancre flowers and grass had softened the mine craters prodigal in the district, but British howitzers were now tearing up new excavations.
   At night the scene was strange, with miles of gun flash, signal rockets in the German lines, the roar of artillery, and the steady tramp of legions of marching feet as the columns closed in for the attack, singing to their stride, and showing no trace of the ordeal to which they were closing, with its death to many thousands. Miles of transports held the roads, and ambulance trains moving up for the morrow's work. The near background showed line on line of guns belching destruction on those silent trenches on the foothills and artillery replying far behind them. So the night passed a mass of seeming confusion from which the British faculty for order evolved system until all was ready for the signal.
   It came at 7:30 am. on July 1st, with a barely perceptible pause in the guns as the range leaped from the smoking first lines to a fire curtain behind them. A huge mine exploded under the bastion of La Boisselle; clouds of black smoke were released on "no man's land" for a screen. And a curving wave of troops twenty-five miles long were over the parapets and charging the German lines.
   Yet the churned earth of the enemy front came to life in places but there was little loss generally as the British tore across the first lap and then machine guns and rifles burst from reserve trenches, the German guns came into action, and the real battle had started.
   The enemy expected attack on the west on a narrower front, and had massed his reserves and guns before Hebuterne, along the rising ground at Serre, Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval. The left wing therefore faced a hurricane of fire, and the lines were torn to pieces as they charged. Supports followed steadily up the slopes and finally took the first line. By magnificent bravery men of the Seventh Corps went on, swept up to Serre, and some troops swarmed round Thiepval. But the efforts could not be maintained. The Germans everywhere were massed on high ground with a clear field of fire, and wave on wave of British troops was swept away as they strove to reach the dominating positions. Machine guns cut through the ranks like scythes.
   On the centre La Boisselle, and Fricourt checked any sweeping advance. The ridge, most of the village of La Boisselle, and part of Fricourt were taken during the day; otherwise little progress was made beyond the capture of the first trench lines, thousands of troops being swept away as they strove to reach the main strongholds. But at several points in the centre the British had taken deep bites in the German front.
   On the right, an advance of nearly one mile was made on a front of seven, the British sweeping over several important defences, including the fortified villages of Mametz and Montauban, and strongholds in the Bernafay wood.
   Little ground was lost at night during fierce counter attacks, however, and at daylight the guns recommenced on the stubborn fortresses before which the British dead were piled. Fricourt, on the curve, was completely conquered at heavy cost before the second afternoon, and some troops gained a footing in the fortified woods above it. But in the environs of La Boisselle and Thiepval, desperate assaults were repulsed and a later counter attack gave the enemy Serre again.
   From the 2nd to the 7th, minor progress was made by the British, who sustained frightful losses in straightening out their new lines and consolidating positions where they were hanging on doggedly at the edge of formidable field fortifications, bombing their way forward a yard here and there, and everywhere exposed to machine-gun fire. It was the real baptism of fire for most of the battalions, and the men were often too keen to smash forward and win at all costs.
   The lessons of the first week on the Somme should be studied in the United States, for the eagerness of American regiments to get to close grips with the enemy will cause many casualties and a waste of precious men unless impetuosity is checked. However, troops will see red at first, and nothing but practical experience can teach the ratio of caution.
   On July 1st, below Gommecourt, a command of famous London volunteers the Queen's Westminsters (friendly rivals of the New York Seventh), the London Scottish, the Rifle Brigade, Rangers, and Kensingtons broke through the first line. They went on through a hail of machine-gun fire and broke through the second line. With magnificent enthusiasm they now followed the fleeing Germans toward the third line of defences, and were checked in the outworks, far beyond their objective. By lucky signals they stopped the scheduled bombardment of the British guns which would have cleared the front they were holding. But the troops on each side had not been able to advance so far. Their flanks were exposed and they were too close to the next defences for artillery to help safely. Ammunition ran low, and the Germans placed a terrific barrage behind them a veritable portcullis of shells so they could neither be reinforced nor supplied. A sad few trickled back. Some companies dug in, and for nearly a week made a hopeless defence, suffering terrific losses before the survivors would withdraw. Yet no general could withhold praise. Like good sportsmen, they had attempted the impossible and nearly succeeded. They sacrificed seven-eighths of their strength and never surrendered, giving the answer to the German delusion that citizen soldiers cannot fight.
   At times, entire British battalions were shot to pieces as they charged cheering across the open, when they should have fallen flat for two minutes to allow fresh artillery work, and gone on after a burst of firing had sent machine gunners to cover. The casualty lists were heavy before the new troops learned to combine caution with dash. Patient tactics soon won wide success. Points were seized in short rushes, battery work co-operating. Positions were often gained by reaching communication trenches and bombing the way until the impregnable frontal positions were cut out and enveloped.
   The British army had marched to the Somme full of confidence. Each branch of the service had been trained patiently and thoroughly. At the first signal, every unit went in to win. Men showed bulldog courage; they put forth every ounce of weight they had, to break the German front. A huge machine had been assembled, but time and bitter losses were required before the various parts ran smoothly. Frontal attacks were inevitable; but generally there are weaker lines that can be penetrated by pluck, and utilised for victory with skill and patience. Until the practical Somme course, the general tendency of the British was to advance too far on sections where an initial success was won. Sometimes big results were gained, but keen judgment was necessary. The lesson cost thousands of lives.
   Under a barrage the first line goes over with the bayonet as quickly as possible. It is supported with a line of bombers who can sense machine-gun lairs or stubborn nests passed over in the first rush but which may prove fatal for supports. These are bombed out and cleared as the second wave goes across and passes on to rebuild the first line, with its own bombers in support. Special clearing parties now sweep over the captured ground for the carefully concealed traps and tunnel exits which may soon pour ugly forces in rear. More supports build up the attacking line, and to them falls the important duty of walling in defences and blocking up flank approaches. But bitter experience alone can restrain the ardour of men bred with the tradition: "Up, Guards, and at them!"
   The advancing front soon becomes irregular. Stubborn obstacles check the advance on definite sections; the tide of men flows forward on either side, and soon there is a dangerous gap or entrance down which the enemy reserves can get on the flanks or rear of the advanced forces. At such points the captured sections of trenches must be walled in and guarded, and the salient reduced or cut off in rear by special tactics. Bombers must always watch the flanks of the advance and wall in the ends of any trench section not definitely cleared. A few sandbags in the traverse, with bombers and a machine gun enfilading the position, may soon quiet the determination of enemy reserves which in all assaults seek bypaths to get at the rear of the weakened advance lines.
   The British lost more than an army corps to learn these lessons in the first Somme period. Pedantry had established defined rules for every emergency, but generals soon learned to discard all peace theories of modern warfare, and after early mistakes they exhibited fertility of resource and brilliance of direction. The troops responded, showing the sentiment of respect and habit of subordination which is discipline, coupled with high qualities of individuality and initiative which wrested success from the solidly trained and always courageous soldiers of Germany.
   On the British right, the French also made splendid progress the Colonial Corps and the famous Twentieth Corps, tipped by the Thirty-ninth or Iron Division. These troops, brought specially from Verdun, had profited by its lessons and its glories. On the three-mile front north of the Somme and to Fay on the south, the first line trenches were rapidly captured. These trained veterans gave a splendid object lesson of the way attacks must be delivered. First, irresistible dash, then solid team work with every branch coordinated. They sensed the possibilities and limitations, always ready to hold back when the guns should pave the way, and to strike without restraint at the crucial moment. In two days they had captured 9,000 prisoners and many guns. Curlu and Frise were taken, and below the Somme the Germans were driven from their second line by a dashing advance under Foch's eye. The troops tore over the front trenches and, while supports dealt with intermediate points of defence, reinforced lines of assault swept to the artillery positions, taking seven heavy batteries, the field guns escaping by a margin of seconds.
   The French attack was partly a surprise. On July 1st, a sudden air raid shot down fifteen enemy observation balloons, and though the Germans claimed mastery of the air, not a single plane ventured to approach the French lines that day. The artillery, therefore, had things their own way. Five different columns of enemy reinforcements were then reported, caught in the open by the heavy guns, and broken up. Definite periods of silence broken by terrible bursts from the "75" guns also greatly disconcerted the Germans, whose communications here were exposed. Magnificent air photography was the base of this battery work, and the enemy's food and ammunition had grown scarce before the attack started. When the French troops went over, they swept all front lines, and the second line for three miles, reaching within four miles of Peronne.
   On the difficult British front, for the first few days, forty fortresses were maintained, like the first grip of teeth in jaws that were starting to close. On the north and south, Thiepval height was guarded by huge redoubts. After all frontal attacks had failed, a sudden reckless dash contrary to cautious tactics pushed up from a salient and maintained a wedge across the rear of the Leipzig Redoubt. This enabled troops below to take Orvillers. Along the south front, a score of minor defences were soon reduced. When the big gains here had been consolidated, the artillery closed in, and on July 7th beautifully planned attacks were delivered on three sides of Contalmaison.
   By the afternoon of the 10th, Contalmaison, very strongly defended, was walled in on the east and west. A few companies also, skirting the Albert Bapaume road, had crawled through the woods to the northwest, where they went nearly a mile across the open to reach upper approaches to the village. When this minor force charged down in rear, the already shaken garrison turned and fled to avoid envelopment.
   On the curve, the British centre had now a definite grip on the second main line, but Mametz Wood on the right was still strongly held. On July 14th, France's day, the attack recommenced. The British right stormed Longueval and after 2,500 heavy shells had been dropped into Bazentin le Grand, the gain was extended westward and the line joined to the forces in Contalmaison. By night the ugly stronghold of Bazentin le Petit was also pinched out. The great second line was now breached for three miles and hundreds of troops were cut off and captured in the wooded valley in the south.
   Thousands of prisoners were taken, but many detachments retired to shell holes in wheat fields and wired thickets in the open country behind, and on these wasp nests the Dragoons and Indian Lancers were loosed. In an old-time cavalry charge the troopers cleared the front and swept across the open until the German artillery caught them. They then sent their horses back and dug in on an advance line which the infantry soon reached in support. That night the Germans withdrew masses of artillery, but threw heavy reinforcements to strengthen their front and join the remaining second line strongholds to the third line on the high ground before Courcelette, Martinpuich, Flers, Lesboeufs, and southeast to Morval and Combles.
   The new advance was cutting seriously in rear of the untaken strongholds on the west front. The ridge to Orvilles above the Amiens-Bapaume road was captured from the Prussian Guards on the 17th, and on two sides the British were free to close in on Pozieres. But German reserves were pouring up to save their threatened front, and for four days they counter attacked in desperation from behind Thiepval, westward along the line to Delville Wood and around the curve to Guillemont. A week of heavy rain also hampered the British advance and made it difficult to consolidate and supply the new front, and many exhausted divisions were replaced. Rawlinson's forces were closed over to the right and the Second Corps and First Anzac Corps pushed up in the centre, tightening the grip around Thiepval and covering the salient behind it across the Albert-Bapaume road and round the lower slopes of the spur dominated by Pozieres.
   A melee of medieval ferocity raged for days in the woods on the right, where thousands fought in the tangle with clubbed rifles, bayonets, and fists. In spite of the mud, the British artillery pushed forward and regrouped in the valley below Pozieres and on the captured ridges farther east. The rains ended on July 22nd, and the artillery opened a terrific bombardment, new supplies enabling them to expend half a million shells a day in the battle area. At midnight, the bombardment lifted, and a London Territorial and Australian division jumped forward in a surprise attack in the centre, which gave them a wide section of the general defence system around Pozieres, captured by clever co-operation of the two forces in a desperate battle.
   During a week of glorious weather, regardless of losses, new German divisions and batteries were flung into the fray. Their impregnable front was in jeopardy. From the sea to Switzerland the Allies exerted a steady pressure; but unfortunately they had no adequate force available for a simultaneous offensive at a distant point in order to divert enemy reserves which were now pouring over from the Russian front to the Somme area. But the Australians twice counter attacked and captured more elements of the Pozieres system. All gains were held stubbornly. No record can be made of the hundred battles that raged along the line and around the right curve to the French toward Hardecourt. In many sections when the German Reserves paused from sheer exhaustion, the British counter attacked and made headway. Delville Wood east of Longueval, packed with dead, proved a debated point and changed hands night and day until July 29th, when it was definitely cleared out and held by the South Africans while the Scotch took the high ground on the right above Guillemont.
   From these woods west to Pozieres, the captured second line of field works was consolidated, completing a gain of thirty square miles. But the British shells had dug a mass of temporary defences which the enemy reserves linked and wired by night in the gap for which thousands of British lives had been sacrificed. Instead of a great sweep forward to the third line, progress was therefore slow and costly.
   On August 4th, in the centre, an Australian and a South England division before Pozieres, by a surprise assault after sunset, when "retreat" had sounded, took the dominating crest held by the Ninth Reserve Corps. In a sweep nearly two miles wide the unconquered section of the second line where it crossed the backbone of the highest ridge and trenches, right to the spur behind Thiepval, was captured. By moonlight the panting troops looked down at last upon the open country behind, across the third line which rested on the farther edge of the plateau. This vital gain was fruitlessly counter attacked, and a brigade feeling for the left of the advance was shelled to pieces by high-angle fire, proving how surely the grip had tightened behind triumphant Thiepval.
   Though rain again turned the churned dust to swamp, the batteries were soon on the ridge for direct fire on the massed German guns before Courcelette and Martinpuich. Generals Fuchs and Marschall hurried to Prince Ruprecht; the Headquarters cars tore down to observe and confer; engineers arrived to plan laborious mines under the position; Berlin’s news agency told the world that the British advance had ended in repulse. But men and guns were on the key position of the great stronghold, and the gunners tried to see German time on Bapaume clock tower.
   On the right also the menace had grown. The new British front facing north turned at a sharp angle above Guillemont to join the French army facing east. Heavy assaults were made on both sides of the apex to break this Allied link. Night attacks against the British entrenched in the woods were led by flame throwers, who scorched the faces off the defenders as the "shock troops" tried to push through. Late in July these attacks culminated in the capture of many scorched and gassed troops who were deliberately left foodless and unattended, suffering horrible agony and exposed to artillery fire for five days before a British counter attack recovered these dying victims and eased their torture with morphine.
   A concerted Anglo-French movement was organised to round out the angle and cut out the strongholds of Combles in the valley to the east and Morval on the ridge to the north, by extending the British line farther east from Longueval through Ginchy, and by pushing the French left forward across the open ground before Maurepas, then extending it north to join the British, thus inclosing the hostile area and its defenders.
   Fayolle’s army had been making good progress on both sides of the Somme. South of the river, Estrees was captured, and the line was closing in on Biaches, two and a half miles west of Peronne, and approaching Belloy farther south, where Alan Seeger, the Harvard poet, was killed, with other Americans of the Legion. North of the Somme, the French had taken Hem and were approaching Clery northwest of Peronne, with their left in touch with the British before Hardecourt.
   On July 30th, the French line pushed eastward on the entire front. Their left obtained a footing on the ridge outside Maurepas. Cooperating, the British stormed Guillemont, but were checked before Ginchy and fell back with heavy loss. On August 7th, Guillemont was again captured and the approaches to Ginchy. The Germans now brought up heavy batteries and fresh divisions. They cut in from the Combles road, and flanked and enveloped two British battalions in the village. Forces also reached for the French flank and fought magnificently when caught in a hopeless bombardment.
   The Germans attached great importance to the Peronne-Bapaume road; they fought desperately to hold this approach. But on September 3rd the British again took Guillemont, buried two thousands of its garrison, and held on while rain, gas shells, and night attacks made life a hell for a week.
   Then the peerless Irish Division - Nationalists and Ulster Orangemen - raced for the latent strength of Ginchy, still defiant after six weeks’ battle. Its defence had cost the British heavily, but the Irish brigades won the final honours after a desperate rough-and-tumble fight in the cellars and trenches on the top of the main ridge. There was no long wait. The French had been fighting steadily eastward. The First Infantry won the Croix de Guerre by storming Maurepas; the Guillemont road was cleared up and they could now extend their front northward up the valley east of Combles, while Rawlinson’s forces fought eastward through Ginchy to the edge of the Morval plateau. Again the French advanced on their entire front, their left approaching Raucourt and capturing Bouchavesne from the Westphalians on the Peronne-Bapaume road.
   On September 26th, the battle for Combles was started unexpectedly when reserves from Morval attempted to prevent the English and French lines from finally closing in a rectangle on the heights above the town. Fighting developed in the valleys on both sides of Combles, and just before dark its defenders weakened. A patrol led by Ernest Waldron of Paterson, New Jersey, found a way in. He guided the column to the centre of the town. Another party approached with bayonets ready. A challenge broke the tension and French and British clasped hands, having unconsciously effected the angle of envelopment long fought for. Farther north, two English regiments, hearing the rush of the retreating garrison, went over without formation and caught most of them.
   But the widening of the angle of the Franco-British liaison which had started this joint movement had become secondary during the march of events. South of the Somme, the French had made such amazing progress that General Micheler had brought the Tenth Army to extend the offensive south from Barleux to Chilly. The front south of the river moved eastward in pace with the line to the north until it pushed across the railroad from Peronne to Roye and got near the main road to Roye and Noyon. When the forces fighting on the north bank reached the Bapaume road, they were within range of Mt. St. Quentin, due north of and protecting Peronne, which now became the French objective. On both banks of the river there was terrific fighting. Haig now lost no time in striking a wide blow to sweep the Germans right off the ridge from behind Thiepval eastward across to Morval on the third line, and capturing the strongholds on lower ground behind it. The guns had not rested since the second line was breached and September 15th brought the triumphant climax to ten weeks of desperate effort.
   The men went over the top at 6:30 am., a phalanx of six miles against the formidable and greatly strengthened defences, and losses were heavy. Then, as an experiment, new types of armoured cars, or moving forts, the famous tanks, were tested. Four lines of trenches had been stormed, but a fortified sugar factory held up the left below Courcelette. The first tank in action christened Creme de Menthe now lumbered forward. The steel tortoise crawled to the factory, crushed out the machine guns, and the infantry dashed up and captured the garrison. Other deadly points were rolled out, and the monster, passing over trenches, led the infantry to Courcelette, turned its guns at the cellar defences, and met and stopped reinforcements hurrying to the village. By 9 pm. the great stronghold was subdued. Other tanks waddled serenely across the deadly open ground on the plateau at Martinpuich, Daphne, and Delysia, crushed out a row of spouting machine guns as the troops charged across, and before sunset this great tangle of defences was taken.
   "Vulcan's Joy Rides" was the slogan. And on the right above Ginchy, the British, after a bitter struggle, swarmed over the ridge to the open, field batteries and cavalry advancing at the gallop toward Guillemont.
   In the centre, on the eastern front, only a mass of woods remained untaken. For ten uneventful days fighting raged. Guards met Guards; the tanks crawled out; defences were straightened, while the rains descended, drowning many wounded in the shell holes. Then the line went forward again, another clear sweep that took Guedecourt, Lesboeufs, and Morval; and many German guns were moved back while machine guns played at rear guard and balked the expectant British cavalry.
   Now Thiepval, the sullen, western sentinel of the plateau, was doomed. Pulverised masonry marked the village, the centre of four crossroads. But the gloomy hog's-back, bristled by charred stumps, had resisted all attacks and stood unconquered under hundreds of tons of shells. The height was a rabbit warren, tunnelled in all directions and dominating an amazing field of fire. When approached, bristling with guns, it resounded like a huge steel structure clamped by a thousand riveting machines. There was no dashing assault at the last. Its resistance was gradually squeezed out after weeks of costly advance, and its garrison, strong in the belief of their impregnability, fought like cornered rats.
   The end came on September 26th. The attackers closed in persistently, subduing dugouts with bombs; while machine guns came up like "Jacks-in-Boxes," took their toll, and disappeared. There seemed no key to the main underground system until a tank lumbered along half a mile of redoubt and suddenly crashed through the roof of its parallel tunnel. Its crew were killed, but men with bombs poured in the hole. Bullets spouted up the dark corridors, and only the saving quality of mercy spared any of the garrison, as gas fumes and smoke seemed the only remedy when the inmates refused to surrender.
   A second way was found to the underground vaults in which men fought, stabbed, and wrestled in hellish darkness until the garrison was overcome. A thousand men were captured, but some escaped by another tunnel to the "Schwaben Redoubt" farther north.
   There were still great redoubts on the northwest of the ridge, and Beaumont Hamel above it overlooking the bend of the Ancre. But the British had smashed in over the lower curve of the bulge to a depth of six miles on a front of eight a definite breach of the solidly fortified German front. The winning of the third line was a stupendous achievement, because in two days of frontal attack with perfect co-operation, a position, on which every available gun and man could be crowded, was cleared in its entirety. It cost thousands of lives, but it swept the ridges clear and gave the British dominating artillery positions as they swept on to the open valleys beyond, and it wrote Defeat across the most formidable barrier of defence constructed by Germany to hold the western front negating twenty months of herculean labour.
   But the vision that many had of the rapid advance of a victorious army through the breach to impose a Sedan on the forces of defence, and re-establish strategic initiative in open country, faded as the Germans demonstrated their ability to link up shell craters over night for delaying actions and to dot their machine guns over miles of improvised defences blasted by hostile artillery. Even naval divisions came down to help Ruprecht's forces. But had there been a longer period of fine weather, no hasty system could long have withstood the pressure that had broken through that front.
   Early storms of snow and sleet converted the ground into a morass and proved a great relief to the German Staff, while the British toiled to get guns to the crest of the defensive backbone which had cost them nearly 300,000 men. In October, the British captured Beaumont Hamel, a naval division requesting the honour of storming its ravine and trench strongholds on the Ancre. This widened the gap. Picked forces also made a huge sweep and carried the front forward to three miles southwest of Bapaume. Fine weather was needed, however, to maintain a steady advance. The snow caught a huge army camped in the open and delayed the fruits of the enterprise while the troops prepared winter quarters. But Bapaume was doomed.
   Winter also deferred the wonderful French advance against the linked defences of von Ermolli and von Gamier. On October 18th, their left wing took the heights of Sailly Saillisel, and made good on the ridges running north from Peronne. South of the Somme, the army had closed within range of its southern approaches, and its right had cut important roads from St. Quentin. By their skilful tactics of penetration and envelopment the French made large hauls in guns and prisoners.
   During 1916, the total prisoners of the French army were 78,592. They had completely destroyed 416 aeroplanes and forced down 195. The British during the year took 40,578 prisoners. On the Somme, the Allies jointly captured 1,449 officers and 71,532 men; 130 heavy howitzers, 173 guns, 215 mortars, and 987 machine guns, and had engaged 38 German divisions.

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