THE BATTLE OF BOESINGHE 6th -10th JULY 1915
Following on from post, I have this great oblique photo of Boesinghe trenches, clearly showing International Trench…Together with a few panos of the area, dated 23rd July 1915..I have circled where the photos have been taken from…At Boesinghe Station. Map ref: 12c 9.9.
The British troops who initially served in the trenches at Boesinghe were regular soldiers from the 4th Division. This Division had been in France since August 1914, and had fought in all the previous battles, suffering grievous losses during the fighting at Ypres in April and May 1915 . When they took over the canal area from the French in June, it was known as a relatively quiet sector, despite the daily bombardments, sniper, rifle grenade and machine-guns. However, chaos reigned on the battlefield itself and the men spent much of their time repairing and working on trenches. Slowly dugouts were added, along with machine-gun and mortar positions. Opposite the Germans were doing the same, building a strong front line across to a redoubt which was named Fortin 17 on the British trench maps.
In July 1915 the British decided on an attack on International Trench to improve the tactical situation at the very north of the Ypres Salient, and distract the Germans from a planned British attack at Hooge. The British 11th Brigade (1st East Lancashire, 1st Hampshire, 1st Somerset Light Infantry, and 1st Rifle Brigade were to participate. The attack began with an hour-long bombardment by French & British artillery, including a single eighteen pounder gun rafted across the canal by Royal Engineers, who then dragged it up and over the canal bank and across three trenches to a pre-prepared gun pit just seventy five yards from the Germans, firing over an open sight and demolishing the German line and much of the wire in front of it. The Germans responded, a counter barrage causing the first British casualties of the operation. The Rifle Brigade left their trenches and, the eighteen pounder having smashed most of the German barbed wire in front of them to pieces, rushed the Germans in International Trench. Supported by the 1st Bn. Somerset Light Infantry, they captured some 500 yards of the German line, British bombers fighting German bombers, beginning a fight that would continue unabated for the next few days. Within half an hour retaliatory German gunfire had destroyed both of the nearest canal bridges, Royal Engineers working under fire to repair them. New trenches were already being dug to attempt to link up International Trench with the British front line, the Somerset men and Royal Engineers engaged in this managing to create trenches three feet deep by 7.30am, although they suffered 40% casualties as a result. By early afternoon reinforcements were beginning to reach the survivors of the morning’s fighting, at the same time as the Germans opened a concentrated artillery barrage on the British trenches on both sides of the canal, the presage of the inevitable counterattack, which duly came, a concerted two hour bombing attack on both flanks of the captured trench failing to eject the British defenders. Later in the afternoon artillery broke up another German counter attack before it could get started, reinforcements from the Hampshire Regiment reaching the trench to help the defenders. At 3.30 in the afternoon another bombardment preceded a German advance on the left using a communication trench for cover, but it failed as British artillery found their targets; sadly, the closeness of the opposing forces saw casualties among the Somersets as well. The bombardment continued until late in the evening. Overnight, the men of the Rifle Brigade and the Somerset Light Infantry were relieved by the Lancashire Fusiliers & the Royal Warwickshires, who would spend the next four days defending the captured territory, small pieces of land, more Dead Men’s Land than No Man’s Land, constantly changing hands as the bombers fought their horrible war. On 10th July the Germans actually succeeded in recapturing their old positions from the 5th York and Lancaster Regiment, who promptly counterattacked and regained the lost ground. Eventually the Germans, deciding the shattered remains of the trench were no longer worth fighting for, linked their lines up again a little further back in front of Farm 14 (Ferme 14 on the map). By the end of the week the British had made a gain of maybe a hundred yards along a three hundred yard front, reported as ‘a small but successful operation.