Battle of Le Transloy
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At the Battle of Morval (25–28 September), the Anglo-French armies had crossed the Péronne–Bapaume road around Bouchavesnes, taken Morval, Lesboeufs and Geuedecourt in the centre and then captured most of Thiepval Ridge on the northern flank. On 29 September, General Sir Douglas Haig instructed the Fourth Army to plan operations to advance towards Bapaume, reaching Le Transloy on the right and Loupart Wood north of the Albert–Bapaume road on the left. The Reserve Army was to extend the attacks of the Fourth Army by making converging attacks on the Ancre valley, attacking northwards after the Battle of Thiepval Ridge (26–28 September), towards Loupart Wood, Irles and Miraumont on the south bank and eastwards on the north bank of the Ancre, by attacking towards Puisieux on a front from Beaumont Hamel to Hébuterne, with the right flank meeting the attacks from the south at Miraumont, to envelop German troops in the upper Ancre valley. The Third Army was to provide a flank guard north of the Reserve Army, by occupying a spur south of Gommecourt. The Reserve Army operations were to begin by 12 October, after the Fourth Army had attacked towards Le Transloy and Beaulencourt and the French Sixth Army had attacked Sailly-Saillisel around 7 October. The French Tenth Army south of the Somme, was to attack on 10 October, north of Chaulnes. Normal autumn weather in the Somme region would be an obstacle but an exceptional amount of rain and mist grounded aircraft and created vast mud fields, which caused many attacks to be postponed.
German defensive preparations
On 28 August, Chief of the General Staff General Erich von Falkenhayn simplified the German command structure on the Western Front by establishing two army groups. Gruppe Kronprinz Rupprecht controlled the Sixth, First and Second armies, from the Belgian coast to the boundary of Gruppe Deutscher Kronprinz, south of the Somme battlefield. Heeresgruppe Gallwitz–Somme was dissolved and General Max von Gallwitz reverted to the command of the Second Army. A cessation of German attacks at Verdun, was ordered by the new Chief of the General Staff (Oberste Heeresleitung), Field Marshal von Hindenburg and Generalquartiermeister General Erich Ludendorff when they superseded Falkenhayn. Reinforcements for the Somme front, began to reduce the German inferiority in guns and aircraft during September. Field artillery reduced its barrage frontage from 400–200 yards (370–180 m) per battery and increased its accuracy by using one air artillery flight per division. Colonel Fritz von Lossberg, Chief of Staff of the Second Army was also able to establish Ablösungsdivisionen (relief divisions) 10–15 miles (16–24 km) behind the battlefield, ready to replace front divisions. German counter-attacks became bigger and more frequent, making the Anglo-French advance slower and more costly. After the Anglo-French attacks in mid-September a "wholesale relief" of the front-line divisions had been possible.
As the Germans were pushed out of their original defences, Lossberg established new positions based on depth, dispersal and camouflage, rather than continuous lines of trenches. Rigid defence of the front-line continued but with as few soldiers as possible, relying on the fire power of machine-guns, firing from behind the front-line and from the flanks. Artillery reduced its counter-battery fire and area bombardments before Anglo-French attacks and used the reinforcements from Verdun for destructive fire, observed from balloons and aircraft. The area behind the front-line was defended by support and reserve units, dispersed on reverse slopes, in undulations and in any cover that could be found, so that they could open machine-gun fire by surprise, from unseen positions and then counter-attack swiftly, before Allied infantry could consolidate captured ground. Rather than pack troops into the front-line, local, corps and army reserves were held back, in lines about 2,000 yards (1,800 m) apart, able to make progressively stronger counter-attacks. The largest German counter-attacks of the Somme battle took place from 20–23 September, from the Somme north to St. Pierre Vaast Wood and were destroyed by French artillery fire.
Trenches were still dug but were no longer intended to be fought from, being used for shelter during quiet periods, for the movement of reinforcements and supplies and as rallying points and decoys. Before an attack the garrison tried to move forwards into shell-holes, to avoid Allied artillery-fire and surprise attacking infantry with machine-gun fire. Opposite the French, the Germans dug new defences on a reverse slope from the Tortille stream at Allaines to the west end of St. Pierre Vaast Wood and from there to Morval, connected to a new fourth position from Sailly Saillissel to Morval and Bapaume along the Péronne–Bapaume road. French agents also reported new construction 35 miles (56 km) to the east. Ludendorff created fifteen "new" divisions by combing-out troops at depots and by removing regiments from existing divisions and the new 212th, 213th and 214th divisions replaced worn out divisions, opposite the French Tenth and Sixth armies.
The battle, which opened on 1 October, began well with the capture of Eaucourt L'Abbaye by the 47th (1/2nd London) Division as well as an advance along the Albert–Bapaume road towards Le Sars. The advance was resumed on 7 October and Le Sars was taken by the British 23rd Division but progress along the Canadian lines stalled. In XIV Corps, the 56th Division attacked Hazy, Dewdrop and Spectrum Trenches in the afternoon but were forced back by nightfall and the Germans reoccupied Rainy Trench, which had been left empty. In III Corps, the 47th Division failed to take Stag Trench but was able to get posts onto the Eaucourt l'Abbaye–Warlencourt road, connecting with the 23rd Division, which had attacked Flers Trench (Below Riegel) at dawn and established a post 750 yards (690 m) north-west of Le Sars.
The weather was rapidly deteriorating and the battlefield, which had been pummelled to dust by relentless artillery bombardment over the preceding three months, turned into a quagmire. Rawlinson mounted further attacks on 12 October, including the Newfoundlanders at Gueudecourt, 18 October and 23 October but there was little chance of a significant gain.
The French Tenth Army attacked again 10–21 October and captured woods near Chaulnes.[Note 1] The line was advanced towards Pressoir, Ablaincourt and Fresnes on a front from Chaulnes 3.5 miles (5.6 km) to the north-east. In the Sixth Army, XXXIII Corps astride the Somme, attacked on the south bank on 18 October, to counter German mining and improve the line from La Maisonnette–Biaches, although a German counter-attack on 21 October regained some ground. On 29 October, XXXIII Corps was pushed out of La Maisonnette, at the end of the salient south-east of Biaches. An attempt to retake La Maisonnette was delayed and eventually cancelled.
The 1917 battles of Passchendaele have become synonymous with mud and misery but according to the Australian official historian, Charles Bean, the conditions on the Somme in November were "the worst ever known by the First A.I.F."
Gueudecourt Newfoundland Memorial
The participation of the Newfoundland Regiment in the Battle of Le Transloy is commemorated with the Gueudecourt Newfoundland Memorial. The memorial marks the place where the Newfoundlanders returned to the Somme in early October, after many losses incurred four months earlier on 1 July, during an attack at Beaumont Hamel, on the First day of the Somme. The rebuilt Newfoundland Battalion played a decisive role in the capture of a German strong-point named Hilt Trench, north-east of Gueudecourt village. The memorial also marks the furthest point of advance that any British unit made from the original front lines during the Somme offensive.
- All military units after the first one mentioned are French unless specified.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Le Transloy.|
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission. "Le Transloy". Retrieved 5 January 2013.