The ruins of Bazentin-Le-Petit

1st Battalion, the Royal Welch Fusiliers at Bazentin-le-Petit

14th to 21st July 1916

On Monday, 10th July 1916 1 RWF marched back towards the front to the Citadel. It was here at 11.30 hrs on Thursday, 13th July 1916 orders were issued for an assault against the German Second Line the following day. This assault we now call the Battle of the Bazentin Ridge. The 7th Division was to take part in the battle and was to attack the German Second Line to the right of Bazentin-le-Petit Wood, to their left would be the 21st Division and on their right the 3rd Division. The attack would be delivered by the 20th Brigade, with 22nd Brigade in support and the 91st Brigade in reserve.

The Battle of the Bazentin Ridge 14th July 1916

The Battle of the Bazentin Ridge 14th July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

The 20th Brigade's objective was to capture up to the line of the cemetery, and the 22nd Brigade was to capture the remainder of Bazentin-le-Petit village and join up with the 21st Division at the northern end.

The 22nd Brigade's task was allotted to 2 R I RIF and the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment [2 R WAR], 1 RWF and 20 MANCH would be in reserve. 2 R WAR was to move first and capture Circus Trench between the two Bazentin villages and form a defensive flank along the eastern edge of Bazentin-le-Petit Wood. 2 R I RIF would then pass through 2 R WAR and clear Bazentin-le-Petit village and cemetery. 2 R WAR was to follow on behind them in support and then to consolidate a line from the cemetery to the right to make juncture with the 3rd Division which was part of XIII Corps. 1 RWF was to move forward from Mametz Wood as soon as 1 R I RIF advanced.

1 RWF was at the Citadel when the orders were received and they moved forward towards the front at 02.00 hrs up to White Trench via Fricourt and Mametz.

The XV Corps assault on 14th July 1916

The XV Corps assault on 14th July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

At 03.45 hrs the general attack commenced and the Battalion was in White Trench at 04.00 hrs. At 05.35 hrs C Company 1 RWF began to move forward to the Hammerhead at Mametz Wood as 1 R I RIF had begun their advance. Next was A Company and then B, D, the reserve bombers and Battalion headquarters.

The situation in XV Corps' area at 06.30 hrs on 14th July 1916

The situation in XV Corps' area at 06.30 hrs on 14th July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

At 07.50 hrs news was received that the whole of the Bazentin Ridge between Longueval and Bazentin-le-Petit had been captured and that the cavalry was being sent forward to capture High Wood. 1 RWF and 20 MANCH moved forward to consolidate the gains and were ordered to be prepared to consolidate High Wood once it had been captured.

At 11.50 hrs the enemy counterattacked against the 21st Division in Bazentin-le-Petit wood and they gave ground.

At 12.40 hrs 1 RWF received orders to move forward and support 2 R I RIF by counterattacking ito the flank of a German counterattack that had developed from the direction of High Wood against the cemetery. The Battalion moved out from the Hammerhead in Artillery formation, crossed the Bazentin-le-Petit to Mametz road in Happy Valley to Bazentin-le-Grand Wood. They advanced up the side of the wood and crossed the Contalmaison to Longueval road to attack the enemy between the cemetery and the windmill. C Company and A Company were the left and right assaulting companies and B and D were in support. The Bombing Company and four Lewis guns were the reserve.

Captain E H Dadd commanding A Company sent a report received at Battalion headquarters at 14.35 hrs that 2 R I RIF had been heavily counterattacked and no longer held the high ground between the cemetery and the windmill. The enemy massed again for another attack against 2 R I RIF at 15.05 hrs as the two leading companies of 1 RWF closed from the south. Four machine guns from the 22nd Machine Gun Company had been put at the disposal of Lieutenant Colonel Stockwell and he ordered them to sweep the ground between High Wood and the windmill to prevent more of the enemy joining the battle.

C and A Companies 1 RWF reached the line of the cemetery and windmill without any serious opposition. 2 R I RIF were in possession of the cemetery and C Company 1 RWF pushed a line forward to the north of the cemetery and came under heavy German machine gun fire. A Company to the right was facing the windmill. The two companies of 1 RWF were ordered to consolidate the line between the cemetery and the windmill throwing their right flank back along the sunken road to guard against a flank attack. A platoon of D Company was sent forward to assist with this and Captain Dadd was placed in command of the Battalion's frontline.

At 15.30 hrs the 1 RWF dispositions were: C Company covering the line between the cemetery and the windmill and A Company along the sunken road between the windmill and the junction just north of Bazentin-le-Grand. B and D companies were in reserve.

By 16.15 hrs the threat against 1 RWF's front had diminished and Captain Dadd reported that the enemy were withdrawing after an unsuccessful counterattack. An hour later 2 R I RIF reported that the enemy were massing for another counterattack in force against their defences in Bazentin-le-Petit, however, it was at this time that the long awaited cavalry assault against High Wood began.

The mounted cavalrymen of the 7th Dragoon Guards and the turbaned Indian Regiment the 20th Deccan Horse advanced up Happy Valley and into the gap between Bazentin-le-Petit and Bazentin-le-Grand. The advanced across the heavy clinging mud of the battlefield towards High Wood crested the rise then broke into a trot. The trot became a gallop and to the cheers of the infantry they charged towards High Wood.

The cavalry attack against High Woods 14th July 1916

The cavalry attack against High Woods 14th July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

At first they were successful and took a number of the enemy prisoner. Soon, however, the cavalrymen and their horses became the targets for the German soldiers hiding in the cornfield and from snipers in nearby Delville Wood. German machine guns also engaged the cavalrymen taking a heavy toll of the men and horses.

Flying over the battlefield was a British two-seater aircraft. They saw the cavalry's predicament and whilst the pilot flew the aeroplane over an enemy machine gun post, his observer fired the Lewis gun at the German machine gunners. Having located the machine gun posts, the pilot swung his aircraft over a nearby British artillery battery and dropped a message bag to the Battery Commander giving a sketch of the German positions. The Battery Commander turned his guns on the German machine guns and fired to give the cavalrymen cover. In the face of the murderous machine gun and rifle fire the cavalry had no option but to retire to the shelter of a nearby sunken road and were eventually withdrawn from the battle. The 7th Dragoon Guards and the 20th Deccan Horse had sustained 104 casualties: 10 dead, 91 wounded and 3 missing. 43 horses were killed, 103 wounded and 15 went missing.

The 7th Division's 91st Brigade was moving forward whilst the cavalry charge took place. The intent was for them to cross to High Wood and support the cavalry, but the artillery barrage to support them was delayed. It was not until 19.00 hrs that 2 SUFF and 1 S TAFF started across the open fields towards High Wood and then its was without artillery cover. The left flank was covered by two Lewis guns from 1 RWF located at the windmill. They fired almost continuously for ¾ hour on the enemy machine guns that enfiladed the 91st Brigade's attack. They managed to put one of the enemy machine guns out of action and forced others to withdraw. Around 20.00 hrs the artillery that should have been supporting the 91st Brigade finally opened fire, but by then it was too late as the enemy were massing for a counterattack. An opportunity to occupy High Wood had been missed.

The situation in XV Corps' area at 19.00 hrs on 14th July 1916

The situation in XV Corps' area at 19.00 hrs on 14th July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

1 RWF remained in the line at Bazentin-le-Petit until they were relieved by the 33rd Division and withdrew back to the Hammerhead in Mametz Wood, 2 RWF were encamped only a few hundred yards away.

1 RWF remained in the vicinity of Mametz Wood until they were relieved by the 9th Battalion, the Highland Light Infantry [9 HLI] at 00.30 hrs on Friday, 21st July 1916. They moved back via Mametz Halt, Fricourt and Méaulte to Dernancourt arriving at 07.00 hrs. At 10.00 hrs on Saturday, 22nd July 1916 they entrained at Mericourt bound for Hangest where they detrained at 18.00 hrs. From Hangest they marched via Belloy-sur-Somme to La Chaussee-Tirancourt where they remained in the rear area until returning to Dernancourt on 12th August 1916.

During the period of 11th to 21st July 1916 1 RWF had sustained 155 casualties: 2 officers killed and four wounded; 16 other ranks were killed, 122 wounded and 11 were missing. The two officers killed were:

   Lieutenant Richard Henry Beindge Baynes who has no known grave and is remembered with honour on the Thiepval memorial to the Missing, Pier and Face 4 A.

   Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Penney Morgan who has no known grave and is remembered with honour on the Thiepval memorial to the Missing, Pier and Face 4 A.

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Last updated: 17th December 2018