Schwaben Redoubt

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Schwabenfeste (Schwaben Redoubt)
Part of the Battle of the Somme of World War I
Schwaben Redoubt aerial photograph 10-05-1916 IWM HU 91107.jpg
British aerial photograph of German trenches north of Thiepval. The Schwaben redoubt is the network of trenches in the upper right of the photograph.
Date 1915–1916
Location Picardy, France
50°03′19″N 02°41′23″E / 50.05528°N 2.68972°E / 50.05528; 2.68972Coordinates: 50°03′19″N 02°41′23″E / 50.05528°N 2.68972°E / 50.05528; 2.68972
Result British victory
Territorial
changes
near Thiepval
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
 France
 German Empire
Commanders and leaders
France Joseph Joffre
United Kingdom Douglas Haig
France Ferdinand Foch
United Kingdom Hubert Gough
German Empire Erich Ludendorff
German Empire Kronprinz Rupprecht
German Empire Max von Gallwitz
German Empire Fritz von Below
Units involved
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Reserve Army/Fifth Army German Empire First Army
Strength
divisions

The Schwaben Redoubt (Schwabenfeste) was a German strongpoint built near the village of Thiepval, overlooking the River Ancre. It formed part of the German defensive system in the Somme sector of the Western Front during the First World War. Consisting of a mass of machine-gun emplacements, trenches and dug-outs, this warren of earthworks and its garrison resisted several British assaults during the course of the Battle of the Somme, before being captured in October 1916. It was defended by the 26th Reserve Division from Swabia, a south-western region of Germany. The site of the Redoubt lies between the Thiepval Memorial and the Ulster Tower

Background[edit]

Tactical developments[edit]

Construction of Schwaben Redoubt began in early 1915, as a small network of trenches known as the Schwabenschanze (earthworks) on high ground, roughly 700 metres (770 yd) north of the village of Thiepval. It was connected by trenches to other locations including Mouquet Farm, front line trenches near Thiepval wood and to Thiepval village. During 1915 the German front trench system was strengthened by an intermediate zone of strongpoints. Schwaben Redoubt dominated the high ground in the vicinity of Thiepval to the south and St. Pierre Divion to the north-west.[1] The redoubts (which included Stuff and Pommiers redoubts) had observation in all directions and a garrison to reinforce the front line or deliver a counter-attack.[2] The redoubt had deep dug-outs for accommodation (with multiple entrances), a battalion command post, first aid post, signalling station and strong points, with three heavy machine-guns and four light machine-guns.[Note 1] The redoubt was triangular, with an extension to the east across the Thiepval–Grandcourt road and had a frontage of around 500 metres (550 yd).[4] The area was garrisoned by troops of Reserve Infantry Regiment 99, 26th Reserve Division commanded by Major General Franz Ludwig Freiherr von Soden.[5]

Battle[edit]

The British attack of 1 July 1916. Schwaben Redoubt is at centre right.

1 July: Schwaben Redoubt was the objective of 109 Brigade, which attacked on the right with 9th and 10th Battalions, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers making the assault. Advancing at 7:30 a.m., the troops crossed no man's land, captured the redoubt and advanced to a reserve trench 500 yards (460 m) beyond it. By 8:30 a.m. the troops had reached the Mouquet Switch line and the eastern face of the redoubt.[6] The success of 109 Brigade advance created a salient 1,000 yards (910 m) deep and 200 yards (180 m) wide. The failure of the other 36th Division brigade and the 29th Division to the north and 32nd Division to the south, made it impossible for the troops occupying the redoubt to be reinforced.[7] The brigade was eventually forced to withdraw, having exhausted its ammunition repulsing German counter-attacks. Small parties remained in the German front line at 10:30 p.m.[8] The 36th Division lost 5,104 casualties;[9] the severity of these losses left an enduring psychological scar on Northern Ireland.[10]

3 September The redoubt was assaulted again, by troops of 49th (West Riding) Division. The assault failed due to German machine gun fire, for a loss of 1,800 casualties.[11][12]

Schwaben Redoubt by William Orpen (IWM Art.IWM ART 3000)

28 September – 14 October: The redoubt was attacked by the 54th Brigade of the 18th (Eastern) Division during the Battle of Thiepval Ridge which gained a foothold in the Schwaben Redoubt (Feste Schwaben). By the evening of 28 September the redoubt had been captured except for the German hold on to the north face until 14 October, when it was captured by the 118th Brigade of the 39th Division.[13][14] Two battalions of 118 Brigade: the Territorial Fen Tigers of the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Riddell and the 4/5th Black Watch under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Sceales (A&SH) . The Cambridgeshires advanced under a creeping barrage and reached the redoubt without loss. The German garrison was routed in hand-to-hand fighting and the Cambridgeshires defended the redoubt for 24 hours before being relieved, having defeated several counter-attacks. The right-hand side of the Schwaben Redoubt was captured by the 4/5th Battalion The Black Watch, a Territorial Force battalion from Dundee and Angus. The attack of the Black Watch did not go as smoothly. British Artillery, with gun barrels worn from heavy use on the Somme, dropped some shells short onto the advancing Highlanders. German infantry and machine-guns, too, made for a more difficult fight. Wauchope summarizes the battle: ‘The attack on the 14th was a soldier’s battle. At the beginning of the fight nearly all of the officers of the attacking companies were either killed or wounded, and it says much for the grit and endurance of the men that the 4/5th never wavered; it carried its attack forward with great gallantry and determination, hung on for hours under heavy German shell fire, repelled all enemy counter-attacks and, finally, having consolidated the captured position, handed it over intact to the relieving platoons of A company." At about 7 p.m., two companies of the 17th Bn K.R.R.C., under Maj Methven, arrived to reinforce and helped to consolidate the captured positions. British casualties were 32 killed and 186 wounded.[15] General Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, described the attack as “one of the finest feats of arms in the history of the British Army”.[15]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Many of the dug-outs were sited around the perimeter, where trenches met the redoubt (clockwise from north, using the English names), Irwin Trench (strong points 49 and 69), Lucky Way (strong point 27), Stuff Trench, Hessian Trench (strong point 45), Martin's Lane, the Strassburg line (strong point 19) and Clay Trench (strong point 99). Inside the redoubt, along an inner trench on the south-west face were strong points 65, 37 and 39. Beyond the south-west face, in the maze of trenches towards Thiepval to the south and St. Pierre Divion to the north-west, were nine strong points.[3]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Sheldon 2005, p. 110.
  2. ^ Philpott 2009, p. 164.
  3. ^ Nichols 1922, p. 127, map.
  4. ^ Sheldon 2005, p. 111.
  5. ^ Duffy 2006, p. 149.
  6. ^ McCarthy 1995, p. 27.
  7. ^ Prior & Wilson 2005, pp. 86–87.
  8. ^ McCarthy 1995, p. 28.
  9. ^ Sheffield 2003, p. 51.
  10. ^ Brown 2002, p. 70.
  11. ^ Barton 2006, p. 251.
  12. ^ Prior & Wilson 2005, p. 249.
  13. ^ Nichols 1922, pp. 111–129.
  14. ^ McCarthy 1995, p. 137.
  15. ^ a b MOD 2006.

References[edit]

Books
  • Barton, P. (2006). The Somme: A New Panoramic Perspective. London: Constable (in association with the Imperial War Museum). ISBN 1-84901-719-0. 
  • Brown, M. (2002). The Imperial War Museum Book of the Somme. Pan Books. ISBN 0-33049-206-3. 
  • Duffy, C. (2006). Through German Eyes: The British and the Somme 1916. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-29784-689-2. 
  • McCarthy, C. (1993). The Somme: The Day-by-Day Account (Arms & Armour Press 1995 ed.). London: Weidenfeld Military. ISBN 1-85409-330-4. 
  • Nichols, G. H. F. (1922). The 18th Division in the Great War (N&M Press 2004 ed.). London: Blackwood. ISBN 1-84342-866-0. 
  • Philpott, W. (2009). Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century. London: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1-4087-0108-9. 
  • Prior, R.; Wilson, T. (2005). The Somme. London: Yale. ISBN 0-300-10694-7. 
  • Sheffield, G. (2003). The Somme. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-35704-9. 
  • Sheldon, J. (2005). The German Army on the Somme. Barnsley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1844152693. 
  • Wauchope, A. G. (1925). A History of The Black Watch in the Great War. London: The Medici Society Limited. ISBN 978-1843423713. 
Websites

External links[edit]