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The four main attacks on the Butte de Warlencourt in October and November 1916.

Attack 1: The attack of 7 October 1916 made by the 47th (London) Division. The picture below shows the fields over which the attacks were made heading in the direction of the camera.

The killing fields in front of the Butte.

The 47th (London) Division who were part of the army's III Corps were to attack on 7 October 1916. This division were hoping to progress and were located in the centre of a three divisional attack with the 41st Division being on their right and the 23rd Division facing the village of Le Sars on their left. The main German defences in front of the 47th (London) Division were the Gird Lines running from the villages of Gueudecourt to Warlencourt which took in the Butte de Warlencourt. Expecting an attack on their defences the Germans dug a new trench north of Eaucourt l’Abbaye running westward into the valley in front on the Butte. This trench, Diagonal Trench was the first objective of the 140th Brigade of the 47th (London) Division with the Gird Line and the Butte planned to be taken thereafter. The attacking troops came from three battalions, these being the 7th, 8th, and 15th.

On 7 October, the attack took place at 1.45pm and instantly the attacking troops came under fire from the newly dug Diagonal Trench. Some progress was made on the right around the road leading to Le Barque from Eaucourt l’Abbaye however on the left apart from the fierce firing from Diagonal Trench, the attacking troops were subjected to horrendous cross fire directed on the slopes leading up to the Butte. The Germans as you would expect were making full use of their positions which gave perfect observation of the ground being attacked. The Londoners pressed on with a few men actually reaching the Butte however poignantly the 47th (London) Division history states that these men were never seen again.

The attack had unforunately failed with very little progress. The division's 142nd Brigade took over part of the line held by 140th Brigade and never to be seen to give in the troops of this replacement brigade attacked again the following day with the objectives being the same as the previous. Some troops entered Diagonal Trench however they could not hold the position. In summary, the only gains being over the two-day attack by the 47th (London) Division being some strong points being established short of Diagonal Trench.

Attack 2: The attack by the South African Brigade made on 12 October 1916.

The 47th (London) Division were replaced in line by the 9th (Scottish) Division after their failed attack. The next attack therefore to include the planned taking of the Butte was to take place on 12 October 1916, the assault being led by the 2nd and 4th Regiments of the South African Brigade.The attack had two objectives which were the two trenches leading up to the Butte called Snag Trench and The Tail respectively and secondly thereafter the German defences which included the Butte.

At 2.05pm in misty weather, the attacked commenced with troops of both South African regiments crossing the parapet. Within seconds a huge German barrage took place with the South Africans also coming under serious fire from long range, perfectly placed, machine guns. Any impetus for the attack had long disappeared before any first objective could be taken. By night time the South Africans had nowhere near reached its objectives and as a result as the attackers had suffered badly the 3rd Regiment relieved those left. Due to the congested state of the communications trenches and not being able to get reliable guides, it was dawn the following day before the remaining men of the 2nd and 4th Brigade reached the relative safety of nearby High Wood. A party of about 60 men had dug themselves in during the doomed attack close to the enemy line, they however were brought back successfully and safely during the evening of the 13 October.

Attack 3: The next attack made by the South African Brigade made six days later on 18 October 1916. The cruel fog of uncertainty.

This attack was led by the 1st Regiment of the Brigade with the objectives being yet again the same as those six days earlier on the 12th. Would it be third time lucky? The landscape however was now more and more featureless and to the eye of the troops from both sides was only a sea of mud. The attack was to start at 3.40am, the weather at the time being horrendous due to more heavy Somme autumn rain.

Three companies of the South Africans (A, B and C) advanced, immediately disappearing into the rain and for hours there was no news whatsoever of progress or otherwise. When the news did arrive yet again however it was one of failure. C Company had to retire to the original line with casualties being 69 out of 100. A and B companies after valiant efforts also suffered badly and with the exception of a few stragglers all the men of the companies were killed. The situation was succinctly summed up as being C company had failed in the attack with heavy losses whilst A and B company had 'simply disappeared'. By the morning of the 20 October all the remaining South Africans were also back in the safety of High Wood

In the ten days of fighting from 9 to 19 October the South African casualties amounted to a staggering 1150 men. The South African history states: “ so ended the tale of the South Africans share in the most dismal of all the chapters of the Somme … the front was never clearly defined and officers led and men followed in a cruel fog of uncertainty”.

Attack 4: The 5 November 1916 attack made by the 50th Division.

The 50th Division took over the sector east and south east of Le Sars on 24 October 1916. The next big attack was actually planned for two days later on 26 October however it was postponed on numerous occasions before it actually took place on 5 November commencing at 9.10am. The Germans defences to be attacked were yet again Gird Trench and the immedediately behind Gird Support these including the Butte de Warlencourt. These trenches ran diagonally across the divisional front with the Butte being described by the divisional history as 'a shapeless pock marked mass of chalk'.

Divisional orders for the attack were issued on 3 November in which three battalions of 151 Brigade who were already in line were to attack. These battalions were the 6th, 8th, and 9th Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry with the 9th Battalion on the left being given the orders to capture the Butte and the nearby Quarry. Various artillery supports as one would imagine were to be in place. The night of 4 November saw yet again horrendous rain and howling wind and in parts of the line the Somme mud was waist high with the enemy guns not ceasing from sunset to sunrise. At zero hour, the troops literally crawled out their trenches and from both flanks and similar to other attacks were immediately subject to machine gun fire. Men started falling instantaneously as it was impossible to advance at little more than walking pace


The attacks of the 6th and 8th Battalion were unfortunately doomed to be quickly unsuccessful. As can be seen in the following more detailed Roland Bradford article below, the attack of the 9th battalion was successful whereby they advanced magnificently and carried all their objectives. Men of the battalion were seen on the Butte advancing to the Gird line where they remained until around 3.30pm before being driven out, the Quarry had been taken and a post established on the nearby Bapaume road just at the point where the modern day track to the Butte turns off the main road. The well organised German enemy was great in strength however and after holding the ground captured for a day, the 9th Battalion was however back in Maxwell Trench by 1.00pm on 6 November, this trench being the same position as the position prior to the assault. Those remaining of the attacking troops of the 50th Division were all back in its front-line Snag, Maxwell, and Tail Trenches on 6 November with total casualties being 967 over a day. Fuller details of the initially successful exploits of the 9th Battalion are as below in the abridged report made at the time by Roland Boys Bradford V.C.

These extracts have been taken from various books including the The History of the 47th (London) Division, The story of the South African Brigade adapted from John Buchan's History of the South African Forces in France and the History of the 50th Division by Everard Wyrell