1914: Glory’s End Part Two
Heinrich Mauthner, having marched through Belgium and northern France with the 9th Corps without seeing action, is at last placed in the front line advance with the 76th Regiment. The British Expeditionary Force has counter-attacked the Germans after they crossed the Somme river and have set up a defence line north of the Somme, part of which is attacked on the morning of the 5th of September by Mauthner’s division. The attack is part of a general attack by 9th Corps on the British lines (see map in Part One). Below is a detailed map of my ‘window’ wargame’, using Frank Chadwick’s First World War version of GDW’s ‘Command Decision’ miniature rules: Mauthner’s 2nd Battalion is held in reserve, advancing behind the 1st Battalion (the position of battalions in the attack is worked out randomly with dice throws, Mauthner’s battalion luckily avoiding the British infantry’s ‘mad minute’ this time). Here is a present time narrative of his experiences: Advance off main road into shallow valley around 6.oo am. Mist, but clearing as sun rises. Shortly after, artillery fire landing 1 000 metres to the left. We advance down a road towards a cemetery. Artillery fire falls behind us as we near the town, a few shells falling near, but no casualties. Our artillery unlimbers to our right behind the town. Tremendous din of shells exploding and our own artillery firing. Mist completely clears to a fine day. Small arms fire up ahead. More artillery fire on our right. We enter the town through gardens and yards and halt in a street. Rifle fire ahead very close. Then deafening artillery landing in front and our own artillery opening up behind. Windows smashing, masonry falling, earth roaring – a terrifying wave of sound as the shells land nearer. We wait, huddled in doorways and rooms, and then the enemy fire stops after about ten minutes, only our own artillery still firing behind. The firing becomes less regular and stops. We move forward along the road. A railway and road bridge ahead strewn with our dead and several horses (of the reconnaissance squadrons) – quite a slaughter. The village ahead (Treux) is heavily damaged with large shell craters. We go into the fields and inspect the enemy’s slit trenches. Some dead and wounded – Scottish soldiers. We move up the gentle slope beyond the village. Heavy sound of gunfire to the south-west, puffs of smoke about 2 kilometres away. A short halt, and then we are ordered forward, the enemy in full retreat, fire lessening. Some sporadic artillery fire. We reach another village and stop. We bivouac in the village. 2nd Battalion has had no casualties, but 1st Battalion has had almost 200, mostly from intense British rifle fire as they crossed the railway before Treux. 3rd Battalion suffers almost 50% casualties in its attack across open fields on the right flank. 75th Regiment has had a similar loss, but spread more evenly amongst its three battalions. The brigade has had over 1 800 casualties in total, but they have forced a hasty British retreat towards the Somme. This action has been part of a large battle fought over ten days, resulting in a stalling of the German advance and subsequent stalemate: Part Three will follow Mauthner on the ‘race to the sea’, as the Germans try to outflank the British and destroy the remaining Belgian army.