Trones Wood..........8th July 1916
At 0800 hours on the 8th July 1916 the 30th Division began its advance out of Bernafay Wood and up the slight rise between the two woods. As they did so they were halted by two field guns firing over open sites (they were that close) and machine gun fire from the wood’s defenders.
At 1005 hours the French began its attack on the Maltz Horn Trench (The reason they had started later was because they were already much closer to the German line). They quickly succeeded in taking their objective but were now exposed on their left flank by the failure of the 30th Division.
Lt General Congreve ordered the 30th Division to try again, telling them to use the entire Division if necessary to bring themselves alongside the French and shortly after midday a company from the 2nd Bn. Wiltshire Regiment managed by means of a sunken road to get into the Maltz Horn Trench and, with the French, pincered the Germans out of it.
About 1300 hours the rest of the 2nd Wiltshire once again attacked the southern end of Trones Wood battling their way through a mixture of dense undergrowth (because nobody had been tending the forest) and trees falling from the shelling. They managed to secure the south-eastern tip and dug in facing the northwards and the remaining German defenders.
General Haig had discussed the next phase of the battle with General Sir Henry Rawlinson commanding the Fourth Army, and both were agreed that before the line between Bazentin and Longueval could be attacked Trones Wood had to be taken (together with Mametz Wood and Contalmaison).
At 0300 hours on 9th July, the 2nd Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers of 90th Brigade took the same sunken road out towards Maltz Horn Trench and from there rushed the ruins of Maltz Horn Farm before digging in on the western slope of the hill. They also succeeded in bombing their way up the trench as far as its junction with the Guillemont Road.
In Trones Wood the 17th Bn Manchester Regiment were hampered by a gas shelling which had forced them to wear gas masks in the rain as they battled through the undergrowth, nevertheless by 0800 hours the wood was theirs and they had linked up with the Scots.
The success was not long lived because by early afternoon the Germans were pouring artillery fire into the wood from all their available batteries between Bazentin and Maurepas forcing the Manchesters to retire to Bernafay Wood. When, at 1530 hours, the Germans launched a counterattack they succeeded in getting through the wood but were beaten off elsewhere by the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the company of the 18th Bn Manchester Regiment who were holding the south-east tip of Trônes Wood.
At 1840 hours the 16th Bn Manchester Regiment were ordered forward from the brickworks just south of Bernafay Wood and at the head of the sunken road.
They encountered little in the way of opposition as they linked with the Scots in Maltz Horn Trench and because sniper fire was causing some problems they dug in just outside the boundary of the wood. Patrols sent out during the night found the wood to be empty of enemy but an attempt by the battalion to reoccupy it was met by German units and by morning the only portion held by the British was their original conquest in the south-eastern corner.
After a quiet day on the 10th July the 89th Brigade took over the front line with the 20th Bn King’s Regiment relieving the Royal Scots Fusiliers in the Maltz Horn Trench at 0100 hours on the 11th July.
Most of the day continued in attack and counterattack in the wood. In the morning the 2nd Bn Bedfordshire Regiment managed to take most of the wood but at lunchtime the Germans forced them back out of the northern half. A larger scale German counterattack was badly disrupted by British and French artillery fire after the orders for the attack were found on an officer captured by the French.
On the 12th July engineers were sent into the wood and began the arduous task with the King’s of digging and wiring a new trench across the wood linking them to the Bedfordshire battalion.
By now the decision had been taken at High Command that the next major phase was to take place on the 14th July and it became imperative that Trones Wood was taken and XIII Corps was given until midnight on the 13th/14th to get it done.
With the 30th Division worn out from five days of hard fighting the 18th (Eastern) Division was brought back into the line just before dawn on 13th July.
The 55th Brigade took over the positions in Trones Wood and along Maltz Horn Trench with the intention of attacking at 1900 hours that night following a two hour bombardment. Unfortunately, all did not go well. The 7th Bn Royal West Kent Regiment got lost within the wood whilst the 7th Bn Queen’s Regiment trying to attack across the open ground towards the north of the wood were forced to ground, a 100 metres short of its edge. When a second bombardment of the wood at 2045 hours appeared to have little effect the Queen’s were ordered to pull back.
The Division was now placed in the difficult position of being asked what it intended to do to remedy the situation; the new offensive was due to start within three hours whilst it was still dark.
At 0045 hours Brigadier General Shoubridge was informed that his 54th Brigade was required to have the wood under his control before dawn.
As it was not going to be possible to properly reconnoiter the position and time was of the essence the 54th Brigade decided to go for simplicity. They would advance through the wood from south to north securing the eastern edge as they did so.
As the attack was going to be made in the dark through a wood it would not, in all likelihood, be possible to locate all the German positions so these would have to be mopped up as and when they were discovered.
At 0430 hours (An hour after the main offensive had begun) the 6th Bn. Northamptonshire Regiment advanced out of the sunken road near the brickworks towards the wood 800 metres away. They had to brave a storm of artillery fire as they crossed the open ground and entered the wood but from there, they managed to make good progress despite being as disorientated as their predecessors.
If you look at the wood, there is a small section that juts out on the right-hand side and this was initially mistaken for being the northern edge of the entire wood.
At 0800 hours the 12th Bn Middlesex Regiment were sent forward in support and Lt Colonel Maxwell VC who was also in command of the operation went forward into the wood with his men. There he found that fighting had stopped and that there was a mix of men from different units who had either already been there from previous attacks to men lost in the current assault.
Rounding up every man that he could find Colonel Maxwell formed them up in an east-west line and swept the wood northwards. At first, they were harassed by snipers hidden in the undergrowth, but once the order was given to shoot at will into anything that could conceal the enemy the problem appeared to have been efficiently dealt with.
About halfway up through the wood there was a light railway line running through it and on its western edge the Germans had set up a machine gun post. This held the line up for a moment as Colonel Maxwell and a party stormed the post, killing the Germans and capturing their machine gun.
By 0930 hours the remaining Germans were being pushed out of the wood and were forced to flee towards Guillemont. As they did so they suffered numerous casualties from fire directed at them from the new cordon securing the eastern edge of Trones Wood.
The wood was finally in British hands.