High Wood 

High Wood 

It was hoped that the initial attack on High Wood planned for the 14th July would result in its capture, but plans were modified, instead of the Infantry it was expressed that the Cavalry could be used to exploit the expected break through and the Wood could be secondary infantry objective.

Minor objectives had been achieved at Longueval, however 8th Brigade was held up at Bazentin-le-Grand, which was to cause severe problems concerning the attacks at High Wood.

It was unknown to Headquarters that the Wood was virtually empty, permission was sought for part of the 7th Division to take advantage and push forward to High Wood, this was refused as it was still to be taken by the Cavalry.

Meanwhile German units were strengthening with reinforcements. Fortification activities commenced and the construction of the Switch Line Trench at the Northern corner of the wood was completed.

The Germans had the advantage, with any approach by the British from the East would be a dangerous operation as only the Southern part of Longueval was held by the British. First to occupy the Wood probably lay with the Germans. The capture of High Wood was to be a long and costly affair…

Not knowing if the Germans had occupied the Wood, actions started, 2nd Royal Warwicks and the 2nd Royal Irish of the 22nd Brigade trying to achieve their objectives at the cemetery and quarry 350m East of Bazentin-le-Petit church, came under machine gun fire and the Troops were pinned down a few hundred metres from the Wood with the Irish losing 330 men.

The Cavalry was ordered to up to its assembly position, comprising of the 20th Deccan Horse, 7th Dragoon Guards, 34th Poona Horse and a section of Motorised Machine Gun Corps. They arrived late on in the day due to shell torn terrain and mud. They eventually started to move forward, to protect the infantry on their left and raid the NW edge of Delville Wood. Through the high corn fields they advanced lancing Germans on the way hidden in the fields, most were terrified and surrendered. Cavalry casualties were taken by machine gun fire, they dismounted and took cover in the corn, an RFC pilot fired tracer bullets at the German positions and dropped a map of the enemy positions.

Meanwhile, the infantry (91st Brigade) started their attack from near the windmill, gains were made, but losses also from once again German machine guns, eventually reaching the sombre wood. It was quiet, intact and undamaged. Night drew in and the wood became pitch black. The odd sniper fire ensued, and the battalions got lost and separated. The Staffords working their way North through the Wood, trying to make contact with the Queens were swept by machine gun fire from the Switch Line. Bitter fighting continued. Both the Staffords and Queens had to ‘dig in’. Now it was dark, the Germans were able to reinforce quicker than the British, with new well placed MG posts and trenches. The British managed to get the 22nd Manchesters into the wood to help the weary Staffords. The task of the 91st Brigade would have been easier if orders had reached the 33rd Division to attack the Switch Line to the West of the wood!! Albeit late, the CO of the 100th Brigade used his own initiative ordered the 9th HLI and 1st Queens to move forward and fill the gap between the Northern limits Bazentin-le-Petit and North Western corner of the wood. Again, false info had been received that actually the 91st Brigade had taken the wood! So these plans were changed to advance towards the SW edge of the wood. Flares lit them up and they were hit by machine gun fire. The Germans were Counter attacking from both inside and outside of the wood and ‘A’ Company of the HLI in particular fell thick and fast, digging in frantically. The Queens continued to move Northwards, inside the wood, the Staffords and Queens and newly arrived Manchesters were being pushed back. The wood now was almost entirely in German Hands. Actions continued but eventually British withdrawals were made. Matters quietened and as the dawn mist lifted the Highlanders whom had dug in during the night entered to join the scattered elements of what was left of the Staffords, Queens and Manchesters to establish the situation. There was an air of stillness, giving a false impression that the wood was almost empty! There were however large numbers of Germans North of the central wood line. This would cause problems for the 33rd Division was to make an attack arranged for within a few hours. The Switch Line to the West must be taken. Once again it had been falsely reported that the wood was still in British Hands and a requested barrage prior to the assault denied.

Zero Hour the men moved forward…

High casualties from intense fire from the Germans in the Wood, uncut wire and an unsuccessful British Artillery barrage was a signal for a German counter-attack. British attacks failed on all fronts. Once again, the Germans were in full control of the Woods. Rain postponed immediate British attacks but the Artillery concentrated on bombarding the Wood and the Switch Line East and West.

The 19th Brigade relieved the 100th Brigade and it was their turn to attack and take the ‘whole wood’!

The 6th Scottish Rifles and 1st Cameronians rushed into the blazing wood with the 20th Fusiliers in support. Some shell-shocked Germans were taken prisoner, progress was good up to the and past the central ride. The Cameronians being faced by a Machine Gun crew on the Western edge and the Switch Line, meanwhile to the right, the Scottish Rifles were engaged in hand to hand fighting.

To the east of the wood, the Devons and Gordons were hampered by hidden MG fire in the high corn, from Wood Lane and from the Switch Line. Heavy losses, but the objective at Wood Lane successful, only to be demolished whilst ‘digging in’.

Within the Wood, many casualties. The RWF, whom had many casualties and lost most officers, entered the woods and were joined by some Gordon Highlanders. Moving forward through the disturbed undergrowth, shell craters, the dead and wounded was very slow, but with gritted determination they made their way to the Northern corner to attack the Switch Line. They fell before machine gun fire but the survivors pushed on and eventually the Wood was taken, but the Fusiliers were obliged to dig in as a German counter attack and artillery fire was inevitable.

A communication trench was finally completed from Crucifix Corner to the wood. The remnants of the 19th Brigade within the wood became very desperate, as expected the heavy German barrages took its toll. The ranks were decimated, parts of bodies hanging from the torn trunks and branches. Nothing could survive this and the remaining heroes were forced back, thinning in number as tey went. The enemy re-occupied the Western corner, the North of the wood including the Switch Line and the central ride became the dividing line, or, ‘no mans land’. Men needed to be relieved and reinforcements ordered…This happened, and the fighting continued with a sickening stench of rotting horses and human flesh. TBC…

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