I have always been fascinated with the First World War, ever since I was a child watching the BBC’s documentary series, ‘The Great War’ back in the 1970’s. Three generations of Hamiltons were sat watching, the eldest member having been there on the Somme sixty years before, receiving a wound to the thigh which thankfully discharged him from his regiment (The Gordon Highlanders), still in one piece and allowing two more generations to succeed him.
In the mid 90’s I set out on a grandiose project to wargame the Great War, depicting it at all levels using my ‘windows’ concept. I got as far as October 1914 (on the Western Front, at least), using the Command magazine game ‘1914: Glory’s End’ designed by Ted Raicer, as the master game. It’s nice to see that this game has been updated and republished lately with GMT games and I have used this version of the map below to show the general movements in my earlier game.
As you can see, ‘the swinging door on a hinge’ strategy of Count Schlieffen is in full swing, but with the Belgian and British armies holding up the right flank. My strategy for the Allies was to let the Germans come on, soaking up the attacks along the line with the French but holding the BEF back on the flank, ready to counterattack at the right moment. The right moment is just about to come, as the German 1st and 2nd Armies cross the Somme in early September.
To give myself the full immersive experience of the campaign I chose to make up a fictional soldier in the German army and follow his unit throught the fighting: Heinrich Mauthner, private in the 2nd Battalion, 76th Regiment, 17th Division, 9th Corps, 1st Army.
I traced his advance in a diary format, heavily influenced by my reading of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ by Erich Maria Remarque.
August involved a lot of waiting around for Mauthner, then a lot of marching through Belgium and northern France, but no combat. Things change at the beginning of September:
We are on patrol to the front of our position. The Leutnant warns us that the enemy could be near. Cavalry patrols pass in front of us. Rumours abound that it could be the Russians up ahead of us! We all cast a glance at Pobowski who seems unconcerned. Hear firing up ahead but only briefly. A steadier rumble of fire comes in from the south.
Renewed heavy gunfire to the south. Patrols are sent out into Albert. Stories of a great deal of fighting just south of there. The British, it’s believed, are attacking the line. (they are)
More heavy gunfire south. Obviously quite a battle going on. We seem to be some kind of rear guard on the advance to Paris. I hope this situation changes. We are ordered south, warned to be especially alert. The enemy must be near! We are all keen to fight and more than alert!
Continuous rumble to the south of gunfire. The battle has most definitely been joined. Many French prisoners being escorted back from the front, dishevelled, dirty, many wounded. At nightfall we are given orders to move out. The Leutnant says we are to move up to attack the enemy line in the river valley. We can hardly believe it after all this waiting. We are all looking forward to the action.
Mauthner’s division goes into action on the 5th September. Below is the plan of the 9th Corps’ attack and actions on that day:
In my next post I will show the detailed map of Mauthner’s brigade attacking the British line at Buire-Sur-L’Ancre, just north of the Somme river.