Monthly Archives: Jun 2016

“Y2” DAY – Somme Bombardment Day 7

“Y2” Day, Friday 30th June 1916 – The final day.

Weather: Cool, very windy, wind west, about 40 mph. Over cast in the morning, clearing in the evening.

Day breaks on the seventh day of the bombardment, the next 24 hrs is the last chance to cut wire and neutralise and destroy the enemy positions at Fricourt.  Frederick’s howitzer battery concentrates on the targets of the previous days.  It is “Y2” Day, Friday 30th June 1916.

The last day of the bombardment has finally come.  One last day of effort before the infantry go over the top when the battery’s work will take on new meaning and shift to closer infantry support.  The old fire table schedules are consulted, ammunition stocks and rations are checked, everything is readied for this final day’s long bombardment.  Five hundred more high explosive are sent hurtling toward Fricourt, you could almost feel sorry for the poor devils at the other end.

DAILY REPORT

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The daily report (REPORT 23 – MB261) warns of some observed repairs to wire and areas where it remains uncut. It is hoped last minute action can deal with this. German retaliatory fire has increased, they have shelled both the front line and support trenches on the 21st Division front.  Another medium mortar position has been destroyed, with one man wounded.  Our own guns have been very active, more than one machine gun position has been identified and shelled, several dugouts have been exposed and blown in. The prolonged heavy use of the 18 pounders has exposed a design weakness in their “running-out” springs which help return the barrel to its pre-firing position. Several guns are out of action.  There have been just two men wounded, one with the Trench Mortars.

Frederick’s howitzer battery faces another night’s work, but notification of zero hour has been received.  It is set for 7.30am July 1st 1916, in full daylight.

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Thoughts will inevitably turn to tomorrow’s tasks when Frederick’s howitzer battery will follow fire table “H” (TABLE 6).  Time synchronisation will be of paramount importance as the bombardment schedule calls for a number of pre-defined “lifts” – a curtain of fire on the German trenches moving ahead of the advancing infantry.

FIRE TABLES

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MAPS

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The mass of khaki assembles along the entire 10 mile front from Gommecourt in the north to Maricourt in the South.  Many stumble and grope their way in the night through the communication trenches into the crowded narrow front line positions, there is hardly room to move.  All the while the enemy’s shells scream towards them, our own shells flew overhead. The restless nervous night is punctuated by the flash and crash of bursting shells and cries for stretcher-bearers. Despite the noise and danger, some would sleep, at least for a while, for others the tension was too great. Slowly day light comes, a gentle wind blows east as a few clouds float in the blue sky overhead.  Could they cross no man’s land and reach the first German line of trenches?  Would the day turn into a deadly race between attackers and defenders, or would General Rawlinson’s words prove to be true?

“nothing could exist at the conclusion of the bombardment in the area covered by it.”

 

“Y1” DAY – Somme Bombardment Day 6

“Y1” Day, Thursday 29th June 1916 – bombardment extended 48hrs.

Weather: Cool, windy, light showers, low clouds on the morning, over cast all day.

The 48hr postponement of the Infantry assault meant another consecutive night of firing for Frederick Buckland’s howitzer battery.  As day break comes, the bombardment of German positions at Fricourt stretches into its sixth day. It is now “Y1” Day, Thursday 29th June 1916.

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After the hurried conferences and re-planning of yesterday, “D” battery’s howitzers revert to shelling the same targets as laid out on “U”, “V” and “Y” day.  For Frederick Buckland it has been nothing but eat, sleep and shoot, eat, sleep and shoot, as the gun crews prepare for another long day.  They work as a well oiled machine, sighting, loading and firing the guns, with every man in his place.  The pattern hardly varies, as shell after shell takes it’s deadly course toward the target.  Frederick’s battery will have fired another 500 rounds of high explosive by nightfall.

FIRE TABLES & TARGET AREAS

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MAPS

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DAILY REPORT

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The daily report (REPORT 22 – MB205) reveals the nagging doubts over sections of wire that have not been cut. The weather conditions have made observation difficult and only 24hrs remain to cut wire.  The Germans have been shelling the 21st Division front line trenches and while their trenches appear badly knocked about, there are ominous signs that their machine guns are still active.  Bad luck continues to dog the medium trench mortars as more equipment fails, there are no more casualties but two men are suffering from shell shock.  A premature at a 4.5 howitzer wounds 4 men, but the gun is only slightly damaged.  Elsewhere, two officers and 4 other ranks are wounded.

Frederick Buckland’s “D” battery prepare for another night’s work, there can be no letup, no opportunity for the enemy to recover, the bombardment will continue to the following day break.  Another 200 plus rounds of H.E. will be fired.

“Y” DAY- Somme Bombardment Day 5

“Y” Day, Wednesday 28th June 1916 –  “Z”  day postponed

Weather: Cool, several storms, very wet, clouds very low all day, with frequent showers.

After the effort of maintaining four consecutive days of non-stop bombardment, the men of “D” battery may have been weary in body, but they were still keen in spirit, they stood by the guns ready for another day’s hard work.  They knew what was at stake, they knew the Infantry was depending on them to smash the German defences to give them a fighting chance when they went over the top. This was meant to be the final 24hrs of the preparatory bombardment, “Y” Day, Wednesday 28th June 1916.

The howitzer of “D” battery would fire 440 H.E. shells at various Fricourt targets over the next 14 hours, between 4.30am until 6.30pm.

FIRE TABLES & TARGET AREAS

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MAPS

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DAILY REPORT

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The weather had deteriorated and light was very bad all day for observing fire, reports from Infantry patrols confirmed the wire had been badly damaged along the whole of the 21st Division front and “laned” in several places. The daily report up for the 24 hours up to 28th June 1916 shows again the vital importance given to wire cutting.  German artillery has begun to shell the front line and support trenches of the 21st Division’s front.  The 96th Brigade’s medium mortar positions have suffered one destroyed and four other mortars buried.  Lt. Stower was killed along with three men and two others wounded. Two of the men had been killed by a mortar premature, some of the heavy mortar ammunition has proved defective.

The Infantry were meant to attack tomorrow when special fire plans would come into effect, but the weather was so bad the decision is made to postpone the attack for 48hrs. The urgent order (MB157) to this effect was transmitted to all batteries and their commanders.

URGENT ORDER

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Batteries were to maintain their full capacity of fire and the importance of night firing to prevent repairs being made by the enemy was stressed, cut wire must not be allowed to be repaired.  The Brigade officers had the task of rapidly re-calculating all plans, selecting targets for the next 48hrs and ensuring sufficient supplies of ammunition for the guns, and food and water for the men who must have been dog tired.  Sergeant Frederick Buckland would have had the task of passing on the news: “Two more days lads, two more days …

 

“X” DAY – Somme Bombardment Day 4

“X” Day, Tuesday, 27th June 1916

Weather: Cool and wet, clouds were very low in the early morning, but lifted slightly later. There were occasional showers of rain during the day.

Frederick’s “D” Battery have again fired through the night, and day break brings a cool and wet day.  The men may have preferred to work in cooler conditions, but no one liked the rain.  It is the fourth day of the bombardment, “X” Day, Tuesday, 27th June 1916.  The conditions do not seem to have hampered the shooting and observations of its effects. The howitzers continued to shell many of the same targets from the previous days. The only break in the schedule is for 40 minutes at 5.20am.  The men of “D” Battery toil for another 13 hours, shooting 540 rounds by 9pm at night.

FIRE TABLES & TARGET AREAS

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MAPS

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DAILY REPORT

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The daily report (REPORT 20 – MB129) leads on the all important matter of wire-cutting, giving details of the state of the wire opposite the 2st Division front as found by reconnaissance. There is concern that wire still exists at some crucial points and a warning that long range observation makes for uncertain results. One mortar position has been destroyed but no casualties have been reported today.

For the fourth consecutive night, the 4.5 howitzers of Frederick Buckland’s “D” Battery fire through the night on what are now familiar targets, expending 200 H.E shells between 9.30 pm and the following day break.

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916

A dump of 18 pounder shell cases used in the bomdardment of Fricourt. Extraordinary quantities of ammunition were used in successive bombardments. © IWM (Q 113)

“W” DAY – Somme Bombardment Day 3

“W” Day, Monday, 26th June 1916

Weather: Fine morning, heavy rain afternoon, low clouds.

Frederick’s “D” Battery have again fired through the night and the relentless pace does not slacken on the third day of the bombardment, “W” Day, Monday, 26th June 1916.  A fine morning allows good shooting at BOTTOM WOOD, from 4.30pm until 7pm, it is hit with 120 rounds of H.E. The CRUCIFIX is also targeted, before the Howitzers return to shelling yesterday’s targets once more. Fire is concentrated on CRUCIFIX TRENCH at the end of the day between 4pm and 8pm, hit with 90 rounds of H.E. Fredrick’s “D” battery have fired 635 rounds between 4.30am and 8pm.

FIRE TABLES & TARGET AREAS

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MAPS

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DAILY REPORT

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The daily report (REPORT 19 – MB 102) concludes that wire cutting has been satisfactory, but there is more to be done. Breaks in the wire have been confirmed by overnight Infantry patrols.

The enemy were more active, responding to both the overnight release of smoke (not effective) and gas. Trench mortar equipment continued to fail, some mortar round were seem to be duds, and N.C.T cartridges were proving unreliable. The trench mortar battery casualties were 3 killed and 2 wounded, and among the other units only one man was wounded.

For the third day in a row, Frederick’s “D” Battery fire through the night at the same targets as the first night. Another 240 rounds of H.E. hit the same targets between 9.30pm and the following day break.

“V” DAY – Somme Bombardment Day 2

“V” Day, Sunday, 25th June 1916

Weather: dull and warm, low clouds.

Frederick’s “D” Battery have fired through the night, there is no pause in the bombardment at day break on “V” Day, Sunday, 25th June 1916.  Muscle, sinew and nerve will feel the strain in the next twelve hours as the howitzers of Frederick’s battery follow their task of shelling positions at Fricourt.  The guns search back and forth across enemy lines as they hit the same targets repeatedly at different times of the day.  Both LONELY LANE and LOZENGE WOOD get special attention.  The fire table ends with a concentrated bombardment between 4pm and 5.20pm of LOZENGE WOOD & SUNKEN ROAD and DINGLE & SUNKEN ROAD – 120 rounds of H.E. are fired. Fredrick’s “D” battery have fired 500 rounds between 5am and 5.20pm.

FIRE TABLES & TARGET AREAS

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MAPS

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DAILY REPORT

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The daily report (REPORT 18 – MB74) notes mostly satisfactory results, one set of wire observed to have been repaired overnight was re-cut by additional shelling.  The strength of the wire is such that shelling has been ineffective in some places.  There has been an increase in retaliatory shelling of the 96th Brigades positions, but few casualties with 4 other ranks being wounded on “V” day.

Frederick’s “D” Battery again fire through the night on registered targets from 9.30pm until day break, returning to the last night’s targets and fire another 240 rounds of H.E.

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916

Dump of empty ammunition boxes. A small quantity of the total used by one British Division in the bombardment of Fricourt.© IWM (Q 112)

“U” DAY, The Somme Bombardment begins …

“U” Day, Saturday, 24th June 1916

Weather: Raining in the early morning; clearing about 9.00 a.m.. Showers with low clouds all day.

For Frederick Buckland and the men of “D” battery, the battle of the Somme was meant to began at 4.30am on the 24th June 1916.  But the early light was bad and shooting did not start as planned at day-break. The gunners were working to a strict timetable (TABLE A & B) which emphasised wire cutting at pre-designated trench locations in the Fricourt area, as highlighted in the daily report (REPORT 17 – MB3).

FIRE TABLES & TARGET AREAS

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MAPS

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DAILY REPORT

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The 96th Brigade are hampered by problems with their trench mortar equipment whose positions at BAILIFF WOOD, ABERDEEN AVENUE and BECOURT WOOD are intermittently shelled by the enemy during the day.  One 4.5 howitzer suffers a premature, slightly damaging the gun sight and wounding 4 men. Both the 18 pounder and howitzer mechanisms work with separate fuzed shell and cartridge.

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Diagram of British No. 101 E Fuze, and Gaine No. 2 Mk III, with delay. 101 nose graze fuze with addition of spin-controlled safety shutter, operating at 2000 rpm. For use with high-explosive shells.

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World War I Mk V high-explosive shell. Red band indicates it has been filled. Green band indicates it is filled with amatol or trotyl (TNT)
Contained 4 lb 10oz (2.09 kg) explosive

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Mk I cartridge case showing arrangement of cordite rings around central core. One or more rings were removed for shorter ranges

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Cartridge case for Howitzer Gun, the projectile portion was fed into the Breach of the gun first, followed by the charge rapped in cloth, then on top of that the cartridge casing containing the percussion cap was fitted over the charge and pushed up to the rim. The door of the breach was closed and the gun fired, all that was left was the casing, which was removed ready for the next projectile.

Shells were predominantly either shrapnel or high explosive (H.E.). The N.C.T (Nitrocellulose) cartridges give rather erratic results.

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916

Gunners of the Royal Field Artillery, have a cigarette break at a 4.5 inch howitzer emplacement at Thiepval in September 1916. Note the ready 4.5 inch shells, with No 101 Fuzes.© IWM (Q 1537)

Shooting continues all day, with the bulk of the wire cutting tasks falling to the 96th Brigade’s 18 pounder batteries, “A” , B” and “C”.  As the summer light fades and darkness approaches, the howitzers of Frederick’s “D” Battery fire through the night on registered targets from 9.30pm until day break. The howitzers fire 240 rounds of H.E. in seven hours from 9.30pm until 4.30am the follwing morning.  The 21st Divisional Artillery suffered one man killed and 4 wounded on “U” day.