The London Scottish on the march to Gommecourt, 28th June 1916

The Combatants

Contents:  
'Bull' Allenby 46th (North Midland) Division
'Slush' Snow 56th (1st London) Division
'Eddie' Stuart-Wortley German Forces
Charles Amyatt Hull  

'Bull' Allenby

he task of the diversion at Gommecourt was given to the Third Army commanded by Gen Edmund Allenby, otherwise known as 'Bull'. Allenby was a cavalryman by training and experience and had commanded the Cavalry Corps for the opening eight months of the war before being given command of the V Corps in May 1915. His performance had been variable with the cavalry doing well in the retreat from Mons and Le Cateau and at the 1st Battle of Ypres where, dismounted, they had helped hold the line at Messines at a time of dire crisis. But his performance pursuing the German retreat to the Aisne after their defeat on the Marne had drawn criticism from, amongst others, Sir Douglas Haig and later he had further blotted his copybook with Haig by declaring that cavalry had no part to play on a modern battlefield dominated by machine guns and artillery.

This insight did not stretch to any original ideas as to how to break the stranglehold of trench warfare, however, and he soon attracted a poor reputation amongst his troops for the relentless manner in which he threw them into counter-attacks. His decision to attack one of the strongest parts of the German line at Hooge as a diversion to the offensive at Loos on the 25th September 1915 further undermined any positive feelings his men might have had for him. He was appointed to command the Third Army as one of the last actions of Sir John French, who had been his superior in South Africa as well as France. French was very much thumbing his nose at Haig with this action and there was no great love lost between the Commander-in-Chief and the GOC Third Army over the next two years.

Allenby might argue in conference about the best course of action but, once orders had been issued, he followed them to the letter. His misgivings about the Gommecourt action were set aside, therefore, and he set Sir Thomas D'Oyly Snow, GOC VII Corps the task of planning the attack. [Back]

'Slush' Snow

Lt Gen Sir Thomas D'Oyly Snow was a soldier of some experience who had done well in the first few months of the war but was, as a result of a fall from his horse, often in need of medical treatment which meant trips back to England to see his doctors. Whether this affected his judgement or performance is not certain but, during the planning of the attack, Snow came in for severe criticism from amongst the staff at Third Army. Maj Gen S E Hollond, then a GSO2 on Third Army's Staff, tried to get him sacked and described the planning of Gommecourt as:

"monstrously bad."

Archibald Home, a cavalryman who had been appointed GOS1 to the 46th Division, described Snow as a 'fusser' and went on to say:

"The Corps wants ginger badly - it ought to take the thing in hand and issue quite definite orders as to what it wants. They will not take the responsibility."

Then, to add to these problems, Snow left for England for medical treatment and was away for a crucial ten days a few days before the attack was due to go in. [Back]

'Eddie' Stuart-Wortley

Maj Gen Edward Montagu Stuart Wortley of 46th Division, as senior officer off the two divisional commanders took over pro tem. This is unlikely to have meant much improvement as he too was a marked man. Brig Gen Frank Lyon of VII Corps staff described him as:

"a worn out man"

and the noted military historian Col J F C Fuller, then attached to the 37th Division, described the 46th Division's command and staff work as:

"absolutely shocking"

Stuart Wortley, however, was a marked man - and the man who had 'marked his cards' was none other than Sir Douglas Haig. On October 13th 1915 Haig had flung the 46th Division at the German strongpoint of the Hohenzollern Redoubt during the Battle of Loos. Given no time to prepare, without adequate artillery support and with a gas attack that did more damage to the British than Germans the men of the 46th Division were slaughtered in their hundreds. It was the Division's worst day of the entire war. Stuart Wortley never forgave Haig for the destruction of his Division and Haig, typically, blamed the General and his dead troops for his own failings.

News that Stuart Wortley had been writing every week to King George V, at the King's request, then set the panic bells ringing at Haig's HQ and Stuart Wortley was unsubtly warned off. From then on Eddie Stuart Wortley was on Haig's hit list and Gommecourt would give him the excuse he craved to send him packing back to England.

[Back]

Charles Amyatt Hull

Only the newly promoted Maj Gen Hull, GOC 56th Division, was given any credit for his abilities, with Lyon of VII Corps describing him as having:

"dash and determination"

Hull certainly planned one of the main successes of the Gommecourt effort when 167th Brigade dug their forward trenches with little loss of life although in full view of the enemy and, it has to be said, the 56th Division achieved nearly all of its objectives on 1st July. The problems that would cause their downfall were not as a result of divisional planning. Hull, though, as with almost every senior officer in the BEF on the Somme, seemed convinced that the attack would be more of an occupation than a fight and the plans were laid accordingly. [Back]

46th (North Midland) Division

The 46th Division was a Territorial Division based on the counties of Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire and had been the first complete Territorial division to land in France. The division had first seen combat near Ypres when it was engaged at Hooge at the end on July 1915. Later, at the Battle of Loos it was committed to an attack on the heavily fortified Hohenzollern Redoubt and the whole Division had suffered badly. This attack was the source of continuing friction between Stuart Wortley and the First Army commander at the time, Douglas Haig.

On the 27th December the Division was ordered to Egypt and its units were despatched south to Marseilles, however, the move was cancelled and, by the 9th March, the division was back in the trenches on Vimy Ridge. On April 20th the division was withdrawn from the line and was ordered south to make ready for the attack on Gommecourt.

The Division by this time was in a weakened state. Drafts to replace the casualties at the Hohenzollern Redoubt had been slow in arriving and many new officers had no experience of the Western Front. Their time at Vimy had been exhausting and casualties high. The Division was also swept by serious illness: typhoid, paratyphoid, trench fever and diphtheria. Sick, exhausted and low in numbers it is something of mystery as to why they were chosen for the attack on Gommecourt. [Back]

56th (1st London) Division

The 56th (1st London) Division was formed in February 1916 from battalions that had already served for some time on the Western Front, indeed, the 1/14th London Regt (London Scottish) had been the first Territorial battalion to see action at Messines in November 1914.

Although the battalions were experienced not many of their men were. They had suffered such casualties during 1915 that, for example, only 50 of the 1,000 men who had left England with the London Scottish on 15th September 1914 were still with the battalion. Such were their losses that the Kensingtons and Rangers had been required to form a composite battalion in mid-1915 whilst they waited for new drafts of trained men from those who had volunteered in the autumn of 1914.

After the formation of the division, time was spent behind the lines west of Arras training, getting used to some of the new hardware such as Lewis Guns and Stokes Mortars, and getting to know one another. At the beginning of May, orders were received to move south to take over the trenches in front of the village of Hebuterne.

An example of the work load of a typical battalion during May and June can be found here, with the entries from the War Diary of the 1/1st London Regt (167th Brigade). [Back]

German Forces

The 52nd Infantry Division were the original defenders of Gommecourt. Formed in March 1915 from regiments recruited around Baden and Magdeburg, it was sent to the line south of Arras and around Monchy aux Bois and Hebuterne where it remained until September 1916.

In June 1915 the division resisted a series of heavy French attacks in the direction of Serre. The ground gained by the French moved the front lines into the positions from which the 31st Division would attack Serre on 1st July 1916.

In May, they were reinforced by the 2nd Guard Reserve Division, a highly experienced unit that had been in action since the early days of the war. Recruited from Westphalia and Hannover, the division started the war as part of von Bülow's Second Army, fighting in the initial German advance in the late summer and the retreat of autumn of 1914. They then fought at Cuinchy and Givenchy in June and July 1915.

At the beginning of August 1915 the division was sent to rest but by September were involved in the Third Battle of the Artois and the Battle of Loos. The division remained in the La Bassee area until the end of March 1916 when it was sent to Gommecourt area after resting for a month near Tournai.

This division occupied the lines north and south of the village with the 52nd Division side-stepping south so that only the 170th Regiment now faced the British troops involved in the planned attack. Where two regiments had opposed the British there were now four with more in reserve. The new regiments also brought more artillery with the 19th and 20th Reserve Field Artillery Regiments plus some heavy howitzer batteries being deployed in the 50+ battery positions already prepared. All of these guns could reach the VII Corps's troops but also VIII Corps opposite Serre and Beaumont Hamel.

The impact of the obvious preparations for the attack on Gommecourt asked for by Haig was, therefore, that not only was Gommecourt reinforced, so was Serre and the new artillery would play a key role in defeating the attacks on both villages.


Home

Alan MacDonald's books about Gommecourt

'PRO PATRIA MORI'

'Pro Patria Mori', the account of the 56th Division's involvement at Gommecourt, was first published in 2006.  A revised edition was published in August 2008

For more about the book please go HERE.

'A LACK OF OFFENSIVE SPIRIT?'
The 46th (North Midland) Division at Gommecourt,
1st July 1916

For more about this book please follow this link

Both books are available through this web site or through Amazon Books and by order through all good bookshops

 

The Orders of Battle

British

Third Army - Gen Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby

VII Corps - Lt Gen Sir Thomas D'Oyly Snow
  VII Corps Heavy Artillery
  CRA Brig Gen C M Ross Johnson
  GOC Brig Gen C R Buckle
 

46th (North Midland) Division (TF)
Maj Gen the Hon Edward Montagu Stuart Wortley

  137th Brigade (Brig Gen H B Williams CB, DSO)
    1/5th South Staffordshire Regt
        (Lt. Col. R R Raymer)
    1/6th South Staffordshire Regt
        (Lt. Col. J H Thursfield)
    1/5th North Staffordshire Regt
        (Lt Col W Burnett DSO)
    1/6th North Staffordshire Regt
        (Maj. C E Boote)
    137th Brigade Machine Gun Company
        (Capt. C A Caddick Adams)
    137th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery
  138th Brigade (Brig Gen G C Kemp)
    1/4th Lincolnshire Regt (Lt. Col. G J Barrell)
    1/5th Lincolnshire Regt
        (Col. T E Sandall CMG TD)
    1/4th Leicestershire Regt (Lt. Col. B F Clarke)
    1/5th Leicestershire Regt
        (Lt. Col. C H Jones, CMG)
    138th Brigade Machine Gun Company
        (Capt Ellwood)
    138th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery
        (Capt E J R Hett)
  139th Brigade (Brig Gen C T Shipley)
    1/5th Sherwood Foresters (Col D D Wilson MC)
    1/6th Sherwood Foresters
        (Lt Col G D Goodman)
    1/7th Sherwood Foresters (Major L H Hind)
    1/8th Sherwood Foresters
        (Lt. Col. J E Blackwall)
    139th Brigade Machine Gun Company
        (Capt. F B Robinson)
    139th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery
  Divisional Troops
  Royal Field Artillery (Brig. Gen. H M Campbell)
    230th Brigade R.F.A. (1st North Midland)
        (Lt. Col. J Tonge)
    231st Brigade R.F.A. (2nd North Midland)
        (Lt. Col. Sir Hill Child Bt., MVO)
    232nd Brigade R.F.A. (3rd North Midland)
         (Maj. F Meynell)
    233rd Brigade R.F.A. (4th North Midland)
        (Lt. Col. L G Gisborne)
    V46 (Heavy) Trench Mortar Battery
    X46 (Medium) Trench Mortar Battery
    Y46 (Medium) Trench Mortar Battery
    Z46 (Medium) Trench Mortar Battery
  Royal Engineers
    465th (1/1st North Midland) Field Coy
        (Maj. B M Snaith)
    466th (1/2nd North Midland) Field Coy
        (Capt. L J Coussmaker)
    468th (2/1st North Midland) Field Coy
        (Maj. W D Zeller)
    No. 2 Company, 5th Battalion, Special Brigade         (Capt. W Holland)
  Pioneers
    1/1st Monmouthshire Regt
        (Lt. Col. C A Evill DSO)
  RAMC
    1/1st North Midland Field Ambulance
        (Lt. Col. E Wraith)
    1/2nd North Midland Field Ambulance
        (Lt. Col. R M West)
    1/3rd North Midland Field Ambulance
        (Lt. Col. A E Hodder)
     
  56th (1st London) Division (TF)
Maj Gen Sir Charles Patrick Amyatt Hull
  167th Brigade
      (Brig. Gen. Frank Henry Burnell-Nugent)
    1/1st London Regt (Lt Col D V Smith DSO, VD)
    1/3rd London Regt (Lt Col F D Samuel DSO TD)
    1/7th Middlesex Regt (Lt Col E J King CMG)
    1/8th Middlesex Regt (Lt Col P L Ingpen DSO)
    167th Brigade Machine Gun Company
    167th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery
       (Capt G Oliver)
  168th Brigade (Brig. Gen. Granville George Loch)
    1/4th London Regt (Lt Col L L Wheatley)
    1/12th London Regt (The Rangers)
       (Col A D Bayliffe CMG, TD)
    1/13th London Regt (Kensingtons)
       (Lt Col W H Young)
    1/14th London Regt (London Scottish)
       (Lt Col B C Green CMG, TD)
    168th Brigade Machine Gun Company
       (Major M. W. Tait (1/14th Londons)
    168th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery
       (Capt E D Alexander)
  169th Brigade
      (Brig. Gen. Edward Sacheverell D'Ewes Coke)
    1/2nd London Regt
       (Lt Col J Attenborough CMG TD)
    1/5th London Regt (London Rifle Brigade)
       (Lt Col A S Bates DSO)
    1/9th London Regt (Queen Victoria's Rifles)
       (Col V W F Dickins DSO, VD)
    1/16th London Regt (Queen's Westminster Rifles)  (Lt Col R Shoolbred CMG, TD)
    169th Brigade Machine Gun Company
       (Capt Baber MC (1/16th Londons)
    169th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery
       (Capt Coote)
  Divisional Troops
  Royal Field Artillery (T/Brig Gen R J G Elkington)
    280th Brigade RFA (1/1st London Brigade RFA)
       (Lt Col L A C Southam)
    281st Brigade RFA (1/2nd London Brigade RFA)
       (Lt Col C C Macdowell)
    282nd Brigade RFA (1/3rd London Brigade RFA) (Lt Col A F Prechtel)
    283rd Brigade RFA (1/4th London Brigade RFA) (Lt Col Wainwright)
    V56 (Heavy) Trench Mortar Battery
    X56 (Medium) Trench Mortar Battery
       (Capt Fripp)
    Y56 (Medium) Trench Mortar Battery
    Z56 (Medium) Trench Mortar Battery
  Royal Engineers (Lt Col H W Gordon DSO)
    416th (1/1st) City of Edinburgh Field Coy
    512th (2/1st London) Field Coy
    513th (2/2nd London) Field Coy
    No. 2 Company, 5th Battalion, Special Brigade
  Pioneer Battalion
    1/5th Cheshire Regt (Earl of Chester's)
       ( Lt Col J E G Groves CMG, TD)
  RAMC
    2/1st London Field Ambulance
       ( Lt Col C S Brebner DSO)
    2/2nd London Field Ambulance
       ( Lt Col E C Montgomery-Smith CMG, DSO)
    2/3rd London Field Ambulance
       ( Maj A W French)

German

2nd Army - Gen Fritz von Below
     
XIV Corps
  2nd Guard Reserve Division
     General Freiherr von Süsskind
  38th Reserve Infantry Brigade (Lt. Gen. von Etzel)
    55th Reserve Infantry Regiment
    (Oberstleutenant von Laue)
    att. 663rd Machine Gun Company
    15th Infantry Regiment (2nd Westphalian)
     (Oberstleutenant Schwarz)
    att. 662nd Machine Gun Company
        73rd MG Marksman Section
  26th Reserve Infantry Brigade
      (Maj. Gen. von Dresler und Scharfenstein)
    77th Reserve Infantry Regiment
    ( Oberst Rücker)
    att. 331st Machine Gun Company
        106th MG Marksman Section
    91st Reserve Infantry Regiment
    (Oberstleutenant von Heynitz)
    att. 352nd Machine Gun Company
  Artillery
    20th Reserve Field Artillery Regt.
     (Oberstleutenant Hohnhorst)
    II/2nd Guard Foot Artillery Regiment
     (Hptm. Matschke)
    I/19th Bavarian Field Artillery Regt.
    II/52nd Foot Artillery Battalion
  Divisional Troops
    4/10th Pioneer Battalion
    2nd Guard Minenwerfer Company
    2nd Reserve Uhlan Regt (cavalry)
     
  52nd Infantry Division - Lt. Gen. von Borries
  104th Infantry Brigade (Maj. Gen. Lequis)
    170th Infantry Regiment (9th Baden)
    (Major von Ihlenfeld)
    att. 13th Machine Gun Company
        74th MG Marksman Section
    169th Infantry Regiment (8th Baden)
    (Major von Struensee)
    66th Infantry Regiment (3rd Magdeburg)
    (Major von Stoeklern zu Grunholzek)
    15th Reserve Infantry Regiment
     (Oberstleutnant Schwarz)
  Artillery
  52nd Field Artillery Brigade (Maj. Gen Korner)
    103rd Field Artillery Regiment (Major Knorr)
    104th Field Artillery Regiment
     (Major von Laer) 
    1, 2 & 3/7th Foot Artillery Regiment
     (Hptm. Dorn)
    I/52nd Foot Artillery Battalion
     (Hptm. Haccius)
    II/19th Bavarian Field Artillery Regt.
    II/10th Bavarian Foot Artillery Regt.
  Divisional Troops
    1st Bavarian Pioneer Regiment
    103rd Pioneer Coy
    104th Pioneer Coy
    52nd Minenwerfer Company
    4/16th Uhlan Regiment (cavalry)
     
  111th Infantry Division