Welcome to this blog which is intended to accompany a website on how Suffolk was defended during the Second War. The blog will describe my trips out and about looking for the remains of the Second War defences while the Website will concentrate on putting these into context.

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Friday, 30 March 2012

Somme Trip 2012 - Boom Ravine

We seemed to have spent quite a bit of time in this area so it seemed a good subject for the next blog post on this Somme Trip thread. The close of the Somme Battle in Nov 1916 had given the British command of both sides of the Ancre with the Germans in a salient projecting westwards . The Battle of Boom Ravine was planned as a 'bite and hold' operation to pinch out this salient from the south in order to obtain better positions for the resumption of the offensive proper in the spring of 1917 (the Germans spoilt the plans for the resumption of the offensive proper to some extent by retiring to the Hindenburg Line).

Above: Regina Trench Cemetery which overlooks Boom Ravine (Boom Ravine can be seen in the background of the colour image). This trench was captured by the Canadians between Oct 1st and Nov 11th 1916. By this time it was not a trench as such but rather a collection of shell holes organised into a series of defensive posts.  

The battle, which took place on Feb 17th,  was notorious on two accounts: the weather and the supposedly treachery of two deserters who revealed to the Germans the time of the attack.  

There was a biting five weeks of frost in Jan and Feb 1917: "Intense cold was experienced at this time. The ground, like iron, was covered with snow. The frost was intense, one man being frozen stiff at his post on sentry, and drinking water carried to the front line arrived as lumps of ice, from which bits were chipped for eating" - 23rd RF Battalion History.

Above: Two images of German trenches showing how they turned into liquid mud after a thaw.

The attack was timed for 05:45am on the 17th Feb.  18th Div was attack through Boom Ravine, 2nd Division on the right flank and 63rd on the left flank.A very rapid thaw had set in the day before resulting in the ground becoming "deep and heavy with slush and mud". The day of the attack was misty. As stated above the Germans knew the British were coming and opened a barrage as the British troops began to assemble at 5.00am . The 11th RF were particularly hit hard while assembling in The Gully / Oxford Circus. The fighting during the day was described as desperate and confusing with parties of troops often losing their way in the mist, often never to be heard of again (this was the fate of Capt Simons with  one platoon of C Company, 22nd RF). At the end of the day, Boom Ravine was in British hands but not the final objective of Miraumount. However it was further proof to the Germans that their position on the Somme was no longer tenable and they began the withdrawal to the Hindenburg line soon after.

Above: Image 1: Map of 18th Div attack Feb 17th
Image 2: The top end of Boom Ravine today showing the approx positions of 'Oxford Circus', 'The Gully' and Grandcourt Trench.
Image 3: Foreground shows the position known as 'The Mound'. In the background can be seen the ridge on which the attack was brought to a halt on 18th Div's front. Many Germans counter-attacked from numerous dug-outs in 'The Bluff' temporarily driving the British back although in the end a line was  established just short of the crest of the ridge.
Image 4: West Miraumont Road - the approx position in which the 22 RF attacked - in the mist and confusion Capt Simons with one platoon of C Coy headed off into Boom Ravine (to the left of the image) by mistake and were never heard of again.

Now with over 90 years plus gone by, with a temperature of what must have been 65F plus on the second time we were in the area it was almost impossible to imagine the above took place.

Above: Image 1: A casualty of the Battle of Boom Ravine. Major Walsh (22nd RF) was mortally wounded while tackling uncut barbed wire which was protected by an unexpected machine gun. He was buried in Ovillers Cemetery on Ash Wednesday, Feb 21 1917.
Image 2: A 'dud' 9" shell - the size can be gauged by the metal object on the right on which the hazard tape is tied to - this is a pickaxe head.
Image 3: A roll of barbed wire
Image 4: ADANAC cemetery on the East Miraumont Road. (ADANAC is Canada in reverse - it is a concentration cemetery  of the fallen largely from the late 1916 fighting with 1,973 British, 1,071 Canadian, 70 New Zealand, 53 Australian, 5 Unknown and 1 German burials)

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