Battle of the Boar's Head
The Battle of the Boar's Head was an attack on 30 June 1916 at Richebourg-l'Avoué in France, during the First World War. Troops of the British 39th Division of the XI Corps in the First Army, advanced to capture the Boar's Head, a salient held by the German 6th Army. Two battalions of the 116th Brigade, with one battalion providing carrying parties, attacked the German front position before dawn on 30 June. The British took and held the German front line trench and the second trench for several hours before retiring, having lost 850–1,366 casualties.
The operation was conducted when the British armies on the Western Front north of the Somme, supported the Fourth Army during the Battle of the Somme (1 July to 18 November). The British Third, First and Second armies conducted 310 raids against the Germans up to November 1916, harassing the Germans opposite, to give novice divisions experience of fighting on the Western Front, to inflict casualties and to prevent German troops from being transferred to the Somme. From 19 to 20 July, XI Corps conducted the much bigger Battle of Fromelles, where British and Australian troops suffered an even greater number of casualties.
On 1 June 1916, General Charles Monro, the First Army commander, briefed the corps commanders for when the Fourth Army and the French Sixth Army began the offensive on the Somme. The First Army was about 30 mi (48 km) north of the Somme and was to mislead the Germans, exhaust the forces opposite and reduce their efficiency during the preliminary bombardment on the Somme. On 7 June, the XI Corps commander, Lieutenant-General Richard Haking sent to Monro the corps plan to fulfil the diversion policy, writing that saps had been dug towards the German lines and assembly trenches from 1915 had been refurbished. The divisions of XI Corps had plans for eight raids, to involve gas, smoke and wire-cutting bombardments, to begin daily on 26 June until 10 July. A model of the German defences was built near each divisional headquarters (HQ) to be used in the planning of raids.
During March 1916, the month that the 39th Division arrived in France, Haking ordered divisional commanders to make lists of soldiers, NCOs and officers worthy of promotion, since quick promotion on merit encouraged efficiency. Haking was also ready to remove officers and in April wanted the three brigadier-generals of the 39th Division infantry brigades sacked and replaced with younger men. The German troops opposite XI Corps were not passive and on 26 May, the 39th Division was raided. From 23 June to 14 July, XI Corps conducted 14 raids, with mixed results. On the night of 19/20 June, a party of 32 men of the 2/5th Glosters crossed no man's land to identify units opposite. The British wire was found to be insufficiently cut and caught by German machine-gun fire in the bottlenecks and forced back with many casualties.
On 13 June, troops from the 2/4th Berkshires rehearsed a raid on the Ferme du Bois area in the afternoon and after a bombardment attacked at 11:15 p.m. The raiders found that most of the German wire was uncut and only a small group got into the German front trench. The raiders returned to the British lines with 38 casualties, more than a third of the party. On 29 May, German raiders got into the 39th Division lines, killed two soldiers and induced several soldiers to cast away their rifles. An attack was planned by the 39th Division (Major-General G. J. Cuthbert) for the 12th and 13th (Southdowns) Battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment, part of the 116th Southdowns Brigade to occupy the Boar's Head, a salient in the German front line.
The preliminary bombardment and wire-cutting by the artillery commenced on the afternoon of 29 June and was reported to have been a success. The final bombardment commenced shortly before 3:00 a.m. including smoke shells and the 12th and 13th Battalions attacked shortly afterwards with the 11th Battalion providing carrying parties. The British guns lifted their fire off the German front trench to the support line. As the infantry crossed no man's land, German machine-gunners caused many casualties. The 13th Battalion survivors got into the German front line trench and the support line for about four hours. As the raiders advanced to the second trench they were engaged by more massed machine-gun fire but captured the trench. Several German counter-attacks were repulsed and after about half an hour, the raiders withdrew because of a shortage of ammunition and increasing casualties. The 12th Battalion was obstructed by uncut wire but got into the German front line and held it for a short time before withdrawing. German defensive tactics included shelling their own trenches where the British had gained a foothold.
After the fiasco of 30 June, Haking wrote that the 39th Division had been in France since March and lacked offensive spirit. The attack on the Boar's Head had led to a great improvement in the fighting value of the division. Haking reported that the attack would have persuaded the Germans to keep reserves in the area, fulfilling the diversion policy.
In 1938, the British official Historian Wilfrid Miles wrote that the 116th Brigade casualties were 950 men and in 2012, Michael Senior gave figures of about 850. In fewer than five hours the three Southdowns battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment lost 17 officers and 349 men killed, including 12 sets of brothers, three from one family. A further 1,000 men were wounded or taken prisoner. In the regimental history it is known as "The Day Sussex Died". CSM Nelson Victor Carter was awarded a Victoria Cross (posthumous) for his actions in the battle.
The Le Touret Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery and memorial is sited at Richebourg. It was begun in November 1914 by the Indian Corps (in particular by the 2nd Leicesters), remaining in use until the end of the war (barring a time in German hands from April–August 1918); the Le Touret Memorial is part of the cemetery. The Rue-des-Berceaux CWGC Cemetery is also sited here and includes the burial site of New Zealand tennis player Tony Wilding.
- Edmonds, J. E. (1993) . Military Operations France and Belgium, 1916: Sir Douglas Haig's Command to the 1st July: Battle of the Somme. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. I (Imperial War Museum and Battery Press ed.). London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-89839-185-5.
- "London Gazette, No. 29740, 8 September 1916". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 14 February 2017.
- Miles, W. (1992) . Military Operations in France and Belgium, 1916: 2 July to the End of the Battles of the Somme. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. II (Imperial War Museum and Battery Press ed.). London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-89839-169-5.
- "Online Cenotaph: Anthony Frederick Wilding". www.aucklandmuseum.com. Auckland War Memorial Museum. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
- Senior, M. (2012). Haking: A Dutiful Soldier: Lieutenant General Sir Richard Haking: XI Corps Commander 1915–18: A Study in Corps Command (hbk. ed.). Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84884-643-2.
- Wiebkin, H. W. (1923). A Short History of the 39th (Deptford) Divisional Artillery 1915–1918 (PDF). London: E. G. Berryman. OCLC 697621967. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
- Baines, J. A. (2016) . The Day Sussex Died: A History of Lowther’s Lambs to the Boar’s Head Massacre (rev. FireStep Press, Eastbourne ed.). Worthing: RSLHG. ISBN 978-1-908487-39-1.
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