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THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS, 1914-1918
near the actual front line and provided it was realized that the
artillery of both sides had occasionally to justify their existence.
Two main rivers flow through the plain of Artois, the Somme and
the Ancre. The country between them formed the main battle–
ground of the British forces in the Battle of the Somme.
It
is
mainly open, hedgeless and undulating, somewhat reminiscent of
the Yorkshire Wolds, and has a chalk subsoil.
It
is cut into by a
number of small streams which find their way into one or other of
the two rivers. These streams, flowing some south, some north,
rise in a long ridge running east-south-east from the River Ancre
at Thiepval to the northern slopes of the valley of the River Somme
near peronne. Between these streams lie smaller ridges, jutting
out into the valleys from the main ridge, like the branches of a fir tree.
In some places the main ridge rises to a height of
300
feet above the
River Somme. The country was then freely dotted with picturesque
little villages and contained a few large woods. To the north of the
Ancre, the country is very similar; but, with the exception of the
Grandcourt-Serre ridge, its undulations are less easy to group into
defined features.
The Germans had made the most of their eighteen months in
this area. Beginning with the advantage that they had succeeded
in 1914 in securing the observation over most of the area, so that
the British were below them in most places, they had built concrete
shelters and machine-gun emplacements and had constructed a
number of highly organized " strong points" capable of all-round
defence and designed to be, as it were, the piers on which resistance
would rest.
It
was evident, from every indication, that the German
defence would be a very tough nut to crack.
It
was decided, therefore, to treat them to a week's bombard–
ment by artillery of every calibre, from field guns to cut the wire
to siege pieces to destroy the concrete dug-outs. All chance of
surprise was thereby sacrificed, but it was hoped that nothing could
survive the heaviest bombardment yet known and that the attacking
troops would merely have to walk over and take possession,
" mopping-up" such parties of the enemy as might somehow have
survived. The first objective for 1st July was the near edge of the
ridge running from the Somme to the Ancre, and the whole of the
Grandcourt-Serre ridge; the final objectives for the infantry were
behind the German second line and ran for the most part along the
crest of the Somme-Ancre ridge, involving an advance of about five
miles at the deepest; and the cavalry were intended to go through
as far as Bapaume, which lay ten miles from the original line.
How THE STORY WILL BE TOLD
Though there is no lack of incidents from which to compile a
narrative of the doings of the Regiment in the Battle of the Sornme,
1916, their presentation has raised a considerable problem. Twelve
battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers took part in the battle which,