Page 164 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME,
1916
The Attack on Beaumont Hamel, 1st July
I
st
and 2nd Battalions
137
To the north of the River Ancre, and just to the left of the ground
where the Salford battalions fought on 1st July, lay another
important objective, the Grandcourt-Serre ridge. This was the
goal of the VIII Corps, in which the 1st and 2nd Battalions were
serving, in the 29th and 4th Divisions respectively. The distance
from the British front line to the ridge was about two thousand yards ,
and the plan of attack allowed the troops three hours and twenty
minutes to cross it. The Germans had protected the ridge by a
very formidable series of defences, many of which lay in valleys
out of sight of British artillery observers and were consequently
not touched by the long preliminary bombardment . The most
deadly of these was the strongly fortified village of Beaumont
Ramel, lying in a salient of the front system, which could cover with
flanking fire all the ground to be crossed by the 29th and 4th
Divisions.
It
stood right in the path of the former, the 4th being
immediately on the left of the 29th. One of its outposts was
Hawthorn Redoubt, under which a large mine had been prepared.
After much controversy, it was decided to explode this mine at
7.20 a.m. on 1st July, ten minutes before the attack was to
be
delivered. The unfortunate effect of this decision was that the
Germans, who had been warned by the seven days' bombardment
that a big offensive was imminent and were uncertain only as to
the day and hour of its launching, rightly interpreted the explosion
as the signal for the attack and thus had ten minutes' grace in which
to man their trenches and make their final preparations. These
were helped by the fact that all the British heavy artillery had to
stop firing on the front trenches when the mine blew up so as to
avoid the risk of hitting the parties seizing the crater. When the
troops of the 29th Division came to leave their own trenches, their
only covering fire was a thin barrage of 18-pounder guns, Stokes
mortars and machine guns .
The 1st Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel M. Magniac, D.S.O.) had
1ST BN.
been in the Beaumont Ramel district since it came to France from
Egypt in March, 1916. From 15th to 29th June, the majority of it
was at Mailly Wood, practising the attack. "C" Company,
however, and the ten per cent. battle reserve, under Major A. T. Le M.
Utterson, Leicestershire Regiment, took over a portion of the line
on 23rd June and carried out a series of patrols and raids in order
to discover the state of the German wire at various stages of the
preliminary bombardment and whether the enemy was manning his
front line. On 29th June the main body was addressed by the
Divisional Commander, Major-General H . de B. de Lisle, who said:
"To you has been set the most difficult task-that of breaking the
hardest part of the enemy's shell." That evening it went up into
the line.
The battalion's objective was the village of Beaumont Ramel