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Somme centenary: the Battle of Le Transloy

18 October 2016 by Karen O'Rourke

portrait photo of a soldier in uniform

Victoria Cross Winner David Jones was killed on 7 October 1916, before he could receive his award.

The Battle for Guillemont stalled the left flank of the British Army for six weeks in the summer of 1916. September saw a renewed push forward and by the end of the month, the Allies controlled the ground as far as Les Boefs and Gueudecourt.

The War led to tactical and technological advances on both sides and German commanders employed a new tactic, deploying machine guns using existing terrain as cover rather than fixed within their trench system. This strategy enabled them to hold ground with their already depleted forces. As the Allies advanced towards the ridge at Le Transloy, they would soon find out how effective this tactic would be. 

On 7 October at 1.45pm the 61st Brigade, including the 12th Battalion, of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, assembled east of Gueudecourt, to join the Battle of Le Transloy. Their objectives were ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Cloudy’ trenches. The enemy trenches had endured several hours of artillery bombardment and the British then followed a creeping barrage towards enemy lines. Within minutes, dozens of demoralised German troops either surrendered or retreated and soon both trenches had fallen. Now the new German tactics came into play and the British faced a rain of fire from the German machine gunners. Concealed in hedges and shell holes away from their front line, the earlier artillery bombardment had left them barely affected. The 61st Brigade held their line, but the cost was heavy. The 12th Battalion alone lost 221 casualties (killed, wounded or missing).

portrait photo of a soldier in uniform

Captain Guy Ravenscroft from the 18th Battalion was killed in no-mans-land whilst marking out the start positions for the 18 October attack.

After Guillemont, the severely depleted Liverpool Pals had withdrawn from the Line. Now, reinforced with new troops, they returned to the Somme. On 12 October, at 2.05pm, the 17th Battalion assembled north of Flers. Their objective was to capture the German-held Gird trenches. They made it to the enemy line, but were stopped by un-damaged barbed-wire. Coming under heavy machine gun fire from all directions, they retreated. By the time the 19th and 20th Liverpool Pals relieved them the following morning, they had gained just 150 yards, with a loss of 273 casualties.

The 20th Battalion remained in the line just one day and didn’t participate in an attack, but German shell and machine gun bombardments were so heavy, that they suffered over 100 casualties.

The 19th Battalion arrived to support the 17th, on the evening of 12 October, and moved between Front line and support trenches. They took part in the attack on 18 October, but were required to hold the line, rather than push forward. After seven days, their 42 casualties were a relatively low number.

The 18th Battalion took an active part in the 18 October attack. Although orders were altered and movement through the congested assembly trenches, in heavy rain, was difficult, they arrived at their position just before the 3.40am ‘Zero hour’. The objective remained Gird trench. They too met with largely intact barbed wire, and also came under heavy Machine Gun fire. In addition to this, they were hampered by conditions, as this quote from the War Diary illustrates:

“The ground was covered with shell holes. These combined with the sodden and greasy state of the ground and numerous dead made the going exceedingly difficult… the mud and slime clogged the rifles and Lewis Guns and would have absolutely prevented them from being fired.”

trench map showing the battle lines

The ‘non-success’ of the operation was blamed on a loss of morale. In the War Diary, the Battalion’s Commanding Officer lists the unreasonable demands made on the men in the days prior to the attack. These included; appalling weather, persistent enemy shelling, gas attacks, continuously changing orders and duties that finished as late as 2am. He ‘suggests’ that it was unreasonable for these men to then be immediately sent into battle.

Weather continued to hamper operations and after the attack on 18 October, having lost over 5,000 casualties to the Battle, British Commanders scaled back the operation and the main battle was effectively ended.

However, the King’s Regiment story continued. On 25 October the 4th Battalion arrived at trenches north of Lesboefs. At 6am on 28 October they attacked and captured ‘Dewdrop’ trench. Their short time in Lesboefs cost them 131 casualties and they left the area on 4 November, ending the Liverpool Regiment’s involvement in the Battle for Le Transloy.

  1. Alan Banks says:

    The 1/8 Liverpool Irish lost over 500 men at guillemont on the 8th August 1916. My great grandfather was captured I’ve been researching for a few years and led school visits there .

  2. Karen says:

    Hi Alan,
    thank you for your comment. The King’s Regiment suffered huge losses at Guillemont, generally, but yes, the story of the 1st and 8th Battalions being trapped in the village is particularly poignant. If you click on the ‘Guillemont’ link at the beginning of the article, it should take you through to the earlier blogs where we tell that story.
    The individuals of the Liverpool Irish are not as well documented in our archives as some of the other battalions. If you are agreeable, i would be interested to see your research.

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