German gun in Mametz Wood
38TH (WELSH) DIVISION AT MAMETZ WOOD
Following the capture of Fricourt and Mametz Lieutenant General Sir Henry Horne's XV Corps was tasked with clearing the enemy from the woods to the northeast. The fist of these was Mametz Wood, the largest of the Somme woods, and the great struggle for control of Mametz Wood was to be the 38th (Welsh) Division's first experience of battle.

38th (Welsh) Division at Mametz Wood

6th to 12th July 1916

The story of the 38th (Welsh) Division really begins on 19th September 1914 when David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, made his famous speech at the Queen's Hall at Langham Palace, London in which he said that he would like to see a Welsh army in the field. On 2nd October 1914 the first meeting of the National Executive Committee was held at the Law Courts in Cardiff and by the 10th of that month the War Office issued a letter to the General Officer Commanding Western Command notifying him that the Committee was authorised to raise a 'Welsh Army Corps' of two divisions. By the end of February 1915, the Welsh Army Corps had 20,000 men — enough to raise the first division. A further four battalions were raised early in 1915, but by the Spring of 1915 the idea of a 'Welsh Army Corps' in the strict sense was abandoned and the division that had been formed was granted the title "Welsh" and from that time on was styled as the 38th (Welsh) Division. This division consisted of three infantry brigade, the 113th (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) Brigade, the 114th (Welsh) Brigade and the 115th (South Wales Borderers) Brigade.

The battalions that formed the 38th (Welsh) Division were concentrated at Winchester during August 1915 and departed for France during the first week of December 1915. Following the limited success of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, General Sir Douglas Haig had released the 38th (Welsh) and 23rd Divisions from GHQ Reserve and assigned them to General Rawlinson's Fourth Army so that he could put the Divisions that he had been holding in reserve into the line for the assaults on the 2nd July 1916.

As the battle raged in the first days of the Battle of the Somme, the 38th (Welsh) Division marched south from St Pol. During the night of the 3rd/4th July 1916 the 21st Division was taken out of the line for some rest and the 38th (Welsh) became the Corps reserve for Lieutenant-General Horne's XV Corps.

On the 3rd July 1916 General Rawlinson's Fourth Army had begun its preparations for attacking the German Second Line along the Bazentin Ridge to the north of Mametz Wood. XIII Corps on the right were to occupy Bernafay Wood and Caterpillar Wood and push forward patrols towards Trones Wood. XV Corps and III Corps on their left were ordered to prepare for attacks on Mametz Wood and Contalmaison respectively. Final orders were issued to all three Corps on the 5th and the attacks were to begin on the 7th July.

Defending the wood were the II/Lehr of the Prussian Guard from the German 3rd Division and the II/163rd Regiment that was attached to the German 28th Reserve Division. The wood was flanked on both sides by trenches that were still held by the enemy and these were occupied by another Battalion of the Prussian Guard to the east in and around Flatiron Copse and the remainder of the 28th Reserve Division to the west defending Contalmaison and the open ground in between.

XV Corps assault at Mametz Wood 7th July 1916

XV Corps assault at Mametz Wood 7th July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

Lieutenant General Horne's XV Corps planned a two-pronged simultaneous assault against the German defenders of Mametz Wood on the morning of 7th July 1916. Major General Thomas David Pilcher's 17th (Northern) Division would attack from the south west towards Acid Drop Copse and the Strip Wood and Major General Ivor Philipps' 38th (Welsh) Division would assault from the south east towards the Hammerhead. Once they had entered the wood both Divisions were to advance towards the centre ride and then swing to the north clearing the enemy as they advanced. The 38th (Welsh) Division had the added task of sweeping across the southern end of the wood to clear any enemy from that locality. A preliminary assault by the 17th (Northern) Division was to take place at 02:00 hrs following an initial barrage to capture Quadrangle Support and those parts of Pearle Alley and Quadrangle Alley that led up to it.

To support the attack a comprehensive fire plan was devised. The main assault would be preceded by a heavy bombardment that would commence at 07:20 hrs. This would be directed against the German Second line defences to the north of Mametz Wood as well as strong points in and around the wood. It was to continue until the attack was launched when all the guns would lift by a strict timetable ahead of the advancing infantry until 09:30 hrs when the fire would be concentrated outside of the wood. During the preliminary bombardment special attention would be given to Acid Drop Copse on the left and Flatiron Copse and Sabot Copse on the right, all of which were known to contain German machine gun positions capable of enfilading the assaulting British troops.

The 38th (Welsh) Division's part in the planned assault was given to Brigadier-General Horatio J Evans' 115th Brigade which was made up of 17 RWF commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J A Ballard; 10 SWB commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Sidney J Wilkinson; 11 SWB commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James R Gaussen and 16 WELCH commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Frank W Smith.

On the morning of the 6TH July Brigadier-General Evans and Lieutenant Colonel ap Rhys Pryce (GSO1 38th (Welsh) Division) carried out a reconnaissance of the ground over which the 115th Brigade would have to advance in the vicinity of Caterpillar Wood. They received intelligence during this reconnaissance that the Mametz Wood was occupied right up to its edges, though it was believed that the enemy were not present in any great strength. On reaching the area Brigadier-General Evans reconnoitred the ground immediately to the north of Caterpillar Wood, whilst Lieutenant Colonel ap Rhys Pryce concentrated on the area in the vicinity of Marlboro Wood.

Brigadier-General Evans noticed that there was a dip in the ground to the north of Caterpillar Wood and provided his troops did not push out too far they could assemble and form up in the relative safety of this dead-ground. He also observed that once his men came over the crest from this dead-ground into view of the enemy they would be exposed to machine gun fire from the German positions located in the vicinity of Flatiron and Sabot Copses. Thus his men had to keep as close as possible to the valley running along the northern edge of Caterpillar Wood. He decided therefore that he could only assault with one Battalion up on such a narrow frontage and to support his plan he intended to deploy his machine guns and trench mortars in Caterpillar and Marlboro Woods.

The two officers met up following their respective reconnaissance and Brigadier-General Evans explained his plan to Lieutenant Colonel ap Rhys Pryce. He asked Rhys Pryce to make arrangements to cover his assault from the German machine gun positions to the north and pointed out to him where he proposed to assemble and form up his Battalions. With that the two officers parted to go about their respective tasks, Brigadier-General Evans returning to his Brigade headquarters and Lieutenant Colonel ap Rhys Pryce to XV Corps.

On his return to his headquarters Brigadier-General Evans immediately set about warning his Battalion commanders of their role in his plan and ordered the machine gun and trench mortar commanders to make their own reconnaissance of the area and report back to him. He intended that the 16 WELCH would lead the assault with 11 SWB and 10 SWB echeloned behind, and 17 RWF held further back as a reserve. Later that afternoon Major General Philipps arrived at the 115th Brigade headquarters and hinted to Brigadier-General Evans that his objective may be more ambitious that just the Hammerhead. When the Brigadier pressed for more details he was told that Divisional orders would be issued shortly.

Soon after Major General Philipps left, a message was received at 115th Brigade headquarters to move the two leading Battalions to their preliminary positions near Loop Trench by 21:00 hrs and then on to Caterpillar Wood by 02:00 hrs. Brigadier-General Evans subsequently left his HQ to supervise the assembly of his Battalions ready for this move leaving his draft orders with his Brigade Major with instructions to amend them as necessary as soon as the Division's orders arrived. However, Lieutenant General Horne's XV Corps headquarters on hearing of the proposed dispositions of the 38th (Welsh) Division for assault had commented that:

"The Corps Commander considers that it is dangerous to collect more than two battalions in the western end of Caterpillar Wood and valleys in the vicinity owing to the danger of hostile shell fire if the troops are overcrowded. Two battalions are sufficient for the attack on the eastern projection of the wood with a third in support in Montauban Alley and a fourth further back. Any further reinforcements required in the wood should enter by the southern tongue which the division should be able to capture without difficulty when the troops have entered the wood from the east, and assisted by those from the west, are clearing up the southern portion of the wood."

The Divisional orders did not arrive until 20:30 hrs and when they did they had been amended to account for Lieutenant General Horne's comments. The Assembly positions were roughly as discussed by Brigadier-General Evans and Lieutenant Colonel ap Rhys Pryce, but the changes in direction regarding the assault conflicted with the draft orders that the Brigadier had left behind. At 23:00 hrs Brigadier-General Evans arrived back at his headquarters to find his Brigade Major struggling to make the complex orders he had received from Division fit with the draft orders of his Brigadier. When the Brigadier read the Divisional orders he was completely taken back by them. Captain Llewelyn Wyn Griffith, who was a young officer on the staff of 115th Brigade, later recalled the Brigadiers reaction:

"The general was cursing … at his orders. He said that only a madman could have issued them. He called the divisional staff a lot of plumbers, herring-gutted at that. He argued at the time, and asked for some control over the artillery that is going to cover us, but he got nothing out of it."

It was not only the rigid artillery fire plan that worried Brigadier-General Evans. To him the orders he received dictated that he was to attack with two Battalions up not, as he had explained to Lieutenant Colonel ap Rhys Pryce, with the 16 WELCH forward and the other Battalions echeloned behind. He was later to write:

"It appears to me now that the dispositions were all cut and dried by divisional headquarters and that the reconnaissance was simply made to satisfy them and that I was a mere figurehead. This is borne out by the fact that in divisional orders the dispositions of each infantry unit in the brigade were laid down. I was given no discretion in the matter. These dispositions were the first intimation that the attack was to be made on a two battalion frontage."

The Brigadier's interpretation of the divisional orders is open to debate as they did not in fact stipulate the position of the Battalions on attack, but their dispositions immediately beforehand in and around Caterpillar Wood. Whatever the case, however, these orders did leave Brigadier-General Evans with a formidable task as they were far more ambitious with much greater detail than he had previously led to expect and in his opinion left him with no option other than to completely revise his plan.

"The general plan of attack will be: 115th Infantry Brigade will have two Battalions in position in Caterpillar Wood by 2 am. A third battalion will be in Montauban Alley, and the fourth battalion near the Loop. The last two should be in position by 6 am."

At 02:00 hrs on the 7th July 1916, Brigadier-General Evans issued his revised orders. The 115th Brigade was to assault the Hammerhead of Mametz Wood from the south east. The 11 SWB were to assault on the left, with the left flank as close as possible to Caterpillar Wood, and the 16 WELCH were to assault on the right, each covering a frontage of about 250 yards. With the 16 WELCH perilously close to the German machine gun positions in Flatiron Copse he decided that a smoke screen was to be laid down at 07:45 hrs to cover them as they formed up.

The assault was to be carried out in three stages beginning at 08:00 hrs and reaching three defined positions within the wood under the protection of the artillery fire plan. Smoke was to be provided here and there as the assaulting Battalions advanced. As Captain Wyn Griffith later said, "It all sounded so simple." As soon as his orders were issued, Brigadier-General Evans left his headquarters to personally rearrange the positions of his troops.

In the early morning of the 7th July 1916 the 17th (Northern) Division launched their preliminary attack on Quadrangle Support. Two Battalions from the 52nd Brigade carried out the attack whilst the 50th Brigade was held in readiness for the main assault at 08:00 hrs. The heavy rain of the previous afternoon and night made the going difficult and as the two Battalions emerged from their trenches the night sky was lit up by flares. The Quadrangle Support trench was heavily manned by the Germans who were preparing to launch their own counterattack at about the same time and the advancing British were almost immediately subjected to heavy machine gun and rifle fire. They were also hampered by their own artillery shells which were falling short and when the advancing soldiers of the 52nd Brigade reached the German defensive wire they found it still intact. Unable to make headway, they fell back and eventually withdrew to their own lines. At 04:00 hrs the Germans launched their counterattack against the British left flank, but this was repulsed and the heavy fighting that ensued hampered the preparations of the 50th Brigade for the main attack scheduled for 08:00 hrs.

Due to the failure of the 52nd Brigade to secure Quadrangle Support the 17th (Northern) Division put into action an amended plan for the main assault in which the Quadrangle Support was to be assaulted at 08:00 hrs by the two remaining Battalions of the 52nd Brigade. Consequently, the main assault to the west of the wood was postponed by half an hour, now going in at 08:30 hrs.

115th Brigade's assault at Mametz Wood 7th July 1916

115th Brigade's assault at Mametz Wood 7th July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

At 07:00 hrs Brigadier-General Evans who had been out all night rearranging his troops arrived at the forward location of his Brigade Headquarters at Pommiers Redoubt. From here he had cracking views of Mametz Wood, though the area from which his Battalions were to assault was hidden. Captain Wyn Griffiths recalled:

"We had reached the high ground at Pommiers Redoubt, and, standing in a trench, scanned the wood with our glasses, it seemed as thick as virgin forest. There was no sign of life in it, no one could see whether it concealed ten thousand men or ten machine guns. Its edges were clean cut, as far as the eye could see, the ground between us and the wood was bare of any cover."

Brigadier-General Evans received the news that the assault had been postponed for half an hour due to the failure of the 52nd Brigade to secure Quadrangle Support. He immediately sent word to his Battalions of this delay. He also tried to contact the officer assigned by XV Corps to coordinate his smoke barrage, but as no one had thought to inform his Brigade of this officer's whereabouts, his staff searched in vain.

At 08:00 hrs on schedule the British artillery bombardment commenced and the German artillery opened up in retaliation. The German shelling cut the communication wires that had been laid between Pommiers Redoubt and the Battalions of the 115th Brigade, but the assault still commenced on time. It was over the killing ground described by Captain Wyn Griffiths that the men of the 115th Infantry Brigade assaulted on the morning of the 7th July 1916.

As soon as the British artillery had lifted to their next targets the men of the 11 SWB and 16 WELCH got up, advanced over the crest in front of them and down the slope towards Mametz Wood.

On the right the 16 WELCH advanced in full view of the enemy their smoke screen failed to materialise. Through the hail of lead that swept across their path from the German machine guns of the Prussian Guard located in their defilade positions in Flatiron Copse, Sabot Copse and trenches to the north east in the vicinity of Bazentin Le Grand the men of the 16 WELCH continued to push forward. Major J R Angus, 16 WELCH, made every effort to keep the assault going forward often exposing himself to the enemy, showing an almost total disregard for his personal safety. Captain Williams, commanding D Company, 16 WELCH, was also prominent in leading his men forward, but was soon badly wounded. Company Sergeant Major R Thomas took cover close to his Company Commander Captain Hardman, and as he rose from the ground when they attempted to go forward once more, Sergeant Major Thomas was shot through the head. The 16 WELCH continued to press forward, but about 200 yards short of the wood their assault ground to a halt in the face of the fierce defensive fire being put down by the defending German machine gunners off to the right flank.

To the left of the 16 WELCH, the 11 SWB also came under fire as they crested the rise coming into view, when the defending German soldiers of the II/2nd Lehr Regiment and the II/163rd Regiment in the Hammerhead opened fire. In the face of this intense frontal machine gun and rifle fire, many of them fell including the Adjutant Lieutenant T Pryce-Hamer. The 11 SWB also continued to try to press forward, but in the face of such withering fire the assault petered out about 400 yards short of the wood and those leading troops still standing began to seek shelter in shell holes or whatever cover they could find.

At 08:45 hrs, desperate for information, Brigadier-General Evans sent one of his Staff Officers, Captain H V Hinton, to find out what was going on. Captain Hinton's first written report was received at Brigade headquarters about three-quarters of an hour later. He confirmed that the 16 WELCH and 11 SWB assault had been held up and that the troops out in the open were digging in about 300 yards from the wood. Captain Hinton also suggested that another artillery bombardment of the wood was necessary and this was relayed to the artillery commander. Brigadier-General Evans instructed his machine gun company to push more guns forward in an effort to stifle the deadly enfilade fire coming from the Prussian Guardsmen in Flatiron Copse and Sabot Copse. By 09:45 hrs the situation had deteriorated even further with the Germans beginning to shell the troops in the open and dead-ground as well increasing their machine gun and small arms fire. With casualties mounting, Brigadier-General Evans ordered the 10 SWB forward to reinforce the two leading Battalions in an effort to get the assault moving once more.

At 10:30 hrs XV Corps headquarters informed Major General Philipps that the eastern end of Mametz Wood would be shelled by a heavy artillery bombardment between 10:45 and 11:15 hrs. This information was passed down to the 115th Infantry Brigade, but with no communications between the Brigade headquarters and the forward troops the artillery bombardment began to fall before the forward Battalions had been told. By 11:00 hrs communications had been restored and Lieutenant Colonel Smith reported that, whilst some of the British artillery rounds were falling amongst his men, the 16 WELCH was nevertheless advancing slowly. The bombardment once again failed to do much damage to the defending German machine gunners and the two forward advancing Battalions once more began to take heavy casualties.

In the heavy mud and maze of trenches that they had to negotiate, the progress of the 10 SWB in reaching the front was slow and it was not until 14:15 hrs that they arrived in the battle area. They immediately pressed forward to join the battle and their arrival added new impetus to the assault. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson, was in the forefront of his Battalion, but he was fatally wounded leading them forward a second time. Shortly after he became a casualty the assault of the 115th Brigade faltered once more to stall in the face of intense machine gun fire from Flatiron and Sabot Copses on the right flank and the Hammerhead directly to their front.

XV Corps on receiving reports of this further setback ordered the 38th (Welsh) Division to attack a third time at 17:00 hrs and insisted that the assaulting troops got into the wood. These orders did not reach Major General Philipps' headquarters until 16:00 hrs and the supporting bombardment had been set for 16:30 hrs. With the telephone lines cut once more by German retaliatory artillery fire Brigadier-General Evans decided to go in person to Caterpillar Wood in order to reorganise his Battalions for this renewed effort. He had already ordered the 17 RWF to move up to the wood in readiness to support the rest of his Brigade and he was going to push this, his last Battalion, into the fray. Captain Wyn Griffiths accompanied the Brigadier and he recalled:

"The heavy rains of the preceding days had turned the chalky soil into a stiff glue. The hurry in our minds accentuated the slowness of our progress, and I felt as if some physical force was dragging me back. Haste meant a fall into a shell hole, for we had abandoned the attempt to move through the trench. Shrapnel was bursting overhead, and a patter of machine gun bullets spat through the air. We passed Caterpillar Wood … Along the bare ridge rising up to Mametz Wood our men were burrowing into the ground with their entrenching tools, seeking whatever cover they might make. A few shells were falling, surprisingly few. Wounded men were crawling back from the ridge, men were crawling forward with ammunition. No attack could succeed over ground such as this, swept from front and side by machine guns at short range."

By the time that the Brigadier and Captain Wyn Griffiths arrived in the vicinity of the Battalions it was 16:40 hrs and the artillery bombardment had already begun. They found the Battalions completely disorganised with the casualties amongst the officers high. The men seemed to be exhausted and very shaken by their baptism of fire. Brigadier-General Evans called in the commanding officers and ordered them to prepare for another assault on the wood. They were to press home their attacks at all costs and get into the Hammerhead. The two fresher Battalions, the 10 SWB and 17 RWF were to take the lead. By the time the Battalions had reorganised sufficiently to assault again the effect of the artillery bombardment had been lost. Brigadier-General Evans could see that the defences at the forward edge of Mametz Wood were still intact and that the artillery had fired the rounds too deep into the wood. Knowing that his only real chance of success was for a coordinated artillery bombardment and infantry assault, and that it would take time to organise this, Brigadier-General Evans postponed the renewed assault of his Brigade.

Captain Wyn Griffiths remembered seeing a telephone that was still working near Caterpillar Wood and went off in search of it. Finding it still in operation he rushed back to find his Brigade Commander and guide Brigadier-General Evans to where the telephone was located. From there Brigadier-General Evans telephoned Divisional Headquarters and argued strenuously for a postponement whilst he reorganised his Battalions and coordinated the artillery bombardment. Division consulted Corps and at 18:40 hrs XV Corps headquarters informed the 38th (Welsh) Division that they were to withdraw and reorganise the Battalions that were engaged at the south east corner of Mametz Wood and to make adequate arrangements for holding the line during the night. On receiving these orders Brigadier-General Evans ordered the 17 RWF to hold the original line on Caterpillar Wood and withdrew the three tired Battalions in the early hours of the morning of the 8th.

On the western side of the wood in the 17th (Northern) Division's area things did not go any better and the second preliminary assault by the 52nd Brigade to secure Quadrangle Support failed to secure the western flank. The 50th Brigade assault still went in at 08:30 hrs with the 7th Battalion, the East Yorkshire Regiment [7 E YORK] assaulting the junction of Quadrangle Alley and Quadrangle Support. They almost succeeded in capturing the position before being beaten back by bombs and enfilade fire from Mametz Wood to the east and north. The 7 E YORK managed to hold on to a position about 50 yards short of the junctions so some form of limited success could be claimed. The 8th Battalion, the Dorset Regiment [8 DORSET] were being held ready to assault against Wood Trench, Wood Support and the western edge of Mametz Wood as soon as the situation in Quadrangle Support was resolved.

By mid-day however little progress had been made and the 51st Brigade was brought up from reserve to replace the 52nd. They too were ordered to assault again at 17:00 hrs but, Major General Pilcher unsure of the situation in Quadrangle Support, argued for a delay and he was given until 18:30 hrs. This was further postponed until 20:00 hrs when the 17th (Northern) Division was to attack in conjunction with elements of III Corps who would be assaulting against Contalmaison. This subsequent action failed to bear any fruit with the elements of III Corps failing to get ready in time and the operation was cancelled.

The Cost of the 7th July 1916 Assault at Mametz Wood

The Battalions of the 115th Infantry Brigade had sustained more than 400 casualties during the assault of the 7th July 1916.

The 16 WELCH sustained 290 casualties: 6 officers killed and 6 wounded, and 268 other ranks killed, missing or wounded. Amongst the officers were two brothers, Arthur and Leonard Tregaskis, who had both been farming in Canada before the outbreak of war, but had returned together to enlist. They subsequently joined the 38th (Welsh) Division on the same day, were promoted to Corporal on the same day and were even commissioned on the same day. They were both to die on the same day. Accounts of the battle described that as one brother fell the other was wounded going to his aid, and together they died. They now lay side-by-side in Flatiron Copse CWGC Cemetery in graves VI G 1 and VI G 2, close to the spot where they fell in battle on the 7th July 1916.

The 11 SWB sustained 129 casualties: 9 officers and 120 other ranks. The officers included Lt Hamer, the acting Adjutant, who was killed and Captains Monteith and Browning, and Second Lieutenants Ackerley, Carrington, Lowe, Salatheil, Whittaker and Woodcock wounded. Amongst the 120 other ranks were 20018 Sergeant William Stanley James Cross and 21950 Sergeant Thomas Llewellyn both of whom died on that day. They both have no known grave and amongst those commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Pier 4 Face A.

The 10 SWB sustained 181 casualties: 3 officers and 29 other ranks killed and 9 officers and 14o other ranks wounded. Included in those officers who lost their lives during the actions of the 7th July 1916 was Lieutenant Colonel Sidney John Wilkinson the Battalion's Commanding Officer.

The 17 RWF sustained 13 casualties: 1 officer, 2nd Lt Rowe wounded; 4 other ranks killed and 8 more wounded during their actions on the 7th July 1916.

On the way back to Pommiers Redoubt during the night of the 8th Brigadier-General Evans spoke to Captain Wyn Griffiths of his frustration of the previous day. Captain Wyn Griffiths later recalled that Brigadier-General Evans had told him:

"I spoke my mind about the whole business … you heard me. They wanted us to press on at all costs, talked about determination, and suggested that I didn't realise the importance of the operation. As good as told me I was tired and didn't want to tackle the job. Difficult to judge on the spot, they said! As if the whole trouble hadn't arisen because someone found it easy to judge when he was six miles away and had never seen the country, and couldn't read a map. You mark my words, they'll send me home for this: they want butchers not brigadiers. They'll remember now that I told them, before we began, that the attack could not succeed unless the machine guns were masked. I shall be in England in a month."

He was wrong, in only that it took six weeks before he returned to England. There was no assertion that he had at any time acted without determination or that he was replaced because of his outspokenness, but there was no shortage of replacements waiting in Amiens ready to takeover given the chance. There was also no qualm with replacing a Brigade or for that matter a Divisional Commander at the height of the battle, which was the fate that befell both Major General Philipps and Major General Pilcher within the next few days.

A new General, a new attack

Throughout the 8th July 1916, Maj Gen Philipps' headquarters prepared orders for a fresh attack against Mametz Wood. In the early hours of the 9th, they issued their orders for a renewed assault against the southern end of the wood at 16:00 hrs that afternoon. During the morning of the 9th July 1916, Major General Philipps was summoned to XV Corps Headquarters at Heilly to see Lieutenant General Horne. Soon after the Divisional Commander had left orders were received from XV Corps to postpone the planned assault, but be ready to attack early the next morning. It is not recorded at what time Maj Gen Ivor Philipps departed, but Major General Herbert Edward Watts who had been commanding the 7th Division arrived at the 38th (Welsh) Division's headquarters at 11:10 hrs and that afternoon he assumed command of the Division. He had instructions to review the situation, do what was necessary with the Division and make all necessary arrangements to launch an attack in Mametz Wood as soon as possible.

Amended orders were issued to the Brigade Commanders during the evening of the 9th July 1916. They were essentially the same as those previously issued by Maj Gen Philipps with the exception that the 113th Brigade (Royal Welch Fusiliers) commanded by Brigadier-General Price-Davies and the 114th Brigade (Welch) commanded by Brigadier-General Marden would assault en masse to capture the wood the next day. The Royal Welch Fusiliers Brigade would be on the left and the Welch Brigade would be on the right.

The Fire Plan included shelling the southern half of the wood for three quarters of an hour prior to zero hour, with 114th TMB bombing the Hammerhead at 03:30 am and smoke being laid down on Strip Trench at 03:50 am. The guns would then lift at 04:15 am to the area between the first and second objectives and the infantrymen would have two hours to gain the first objective. The guns would move forward again at 06:15 am to the area north of the second objective and then a final time at 07:15 am onto the German Second Line positions.

Throughout, machine gun fire would be directed towards the long communication trench north of Mametz Wood connecting that wood with Bazentin le Petit Wood in order to prevent enemy reinforcements coming forward.

38th (Welsh) Division's plan at Mametz Wood 10th July 1916

38th (Welsh) Division's plan at Mametz Wood 10th July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

The Fire Plan included shelling the southern half of the wood for three quarters of an hour prior to zero hour, with 114th TMB bombing the Hammerhead at 03:30 am and smoke being laid down on Strip Trench at 03:50 am. The guns would then lift at 04:15 am to the area between the first and second objectives and the infantrymen would have two hours to gain the first objective. The guns would move forward again at 06:15 am to the area north of the second objective and then a final time at 07:15 am onto the German Second Line positions.

Throughout, machine gun fire would be directed towards the long communication trench north of Mametz Wood connecting that wood with Bazentin le Petit Wood in order to prevent enemy reinforcements coming forward.

There was barely time to get the orders down to the men but at 03:00 hrs the troops were in position. The Welsh battalions had left their trenches, moved forward and formed up about 500 yards short of the wood, between White Trench and the brow of the cliff. Here they nervously waited in their parallel lines with bayonets fixed for zero.

The 113th Brigade was to assault in echelon with the 16 RWF commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R J Carden leading and the 14 RWF commanded by Major G H Gwyther was close behind. The 15 RWF (1st London Welsh) commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R C Bell and 13 RWF (1st North Wales) commanded by Lieutenant Colonel O S Flower were being held further back in the vicinity of Queen's Nullah to follow on and be pushed forward into the assault as the Brigade advanced.

The 114th Brigade was to assault with two Battalions up with the 14 WELCH commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J H Hayes on their left next to the RWF and 13 WELCH commanded by Major G D A Edwardes on their right towards the Hammerhead. The 10 WELCH commanded by Lieutenant Colonel P E Ricketts was in close support near Pommiers Redoubt and the 15 WELCH commanded by Lieutenant Colonel T Parkinson was in reserve.

At 03:30 hrs an artillery bombardment which lasted half-an-hour began and every 18-pounder gun available fired on the wood. At 04:00 hrs, the heavier artillery lifted in accordance with the Fire Plan and the medium and lighter guns began their creeping barrage that progressed at walking pace through the depth of the wood.

As the heavy artillery lifted and the creeping barrage began, the men of the Welsh battalions rose up to begin their steady advance across the open space in front of them. The enemy machine guns opened fire laying down a hail of lead that inflicted severe casualties on the Welshmen, but this time they were not to be stopped and the outer edge of the wood was rushed. Lieutenant Hawkins, 14 WELCH, and Lieutenant Edwards, 13 WELCH, led their men gallantly forward and both won DSOs for their part in the capture of enemy machine guns.

38th (Welsh) Division's initial assault at Mametz Wood 10th July 1916

38th (Welsh) Division's initial assault at Mametz Wood 10th July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

The grass ride running up the length of the wood in the direction of the attack was the inter-brigade boundary, the dividing line between the 114th and the 113th Brigades. The 'creeping barrage' form of bombardment was one that none of the Welsh soldiers had ever experienced and some of them went forward too fast to be hit by their own guns. Some got through and rushed up the central ride to reach the far end of the wood, capturing a number of prisoners as they went. On reaching the end of the wood, however, they found themselves without any support and were forced to retire back towards their own advancing units.

The first objective, a ride that ran west to east across the wood about 500 yards in, was reached by the 114th Brigade on the right. The 113th Brigade on the left, however, was held up by very heavy machine gun fire. During the morning the fight on the 114th right swayed backwards and forwards as the Germans kept counterattacking with reinforcements brought into the wood by a sunken road out of sight of the artillery.

Despite the German counter-attacks, the 114th and 113th Brigades were solid on their first objective by 15:00 hrs. By this time, however, the effect of the creeping barrage had been lost.

Fighting patrols were pushed forward into the later part of the wood and the two Brigadiers and Lt Col Bonham Carter, the GSO of the Division, went forward to determine the situation. In some places the far edge of the wood was reached, but these could not be held due to the ability of the enemy to direct their artillery to fire upon them.

The day ended with the 114th and 113th Brigades holding a line about 300 yards forward of the first ride within the wood as a jumping-off place ready for the next day.

After a sleepless night, during which the Welsh lost many good men to their own artillery fire as well as the enemy's, the sorely tried 114th and 113th Brigades were relieved by the 115th Brigade, which included the remnants of the 16 WELCH. This Brigade had suffered very heavily on the 7th and some of the battalions had also been engaged on the 10th. It proved too weak to do more than hold its own against the German counter-attacks, although it made several gallant assaults in an effort to carry the wood.

Just before dawn on the 12th July 1916 the Battalions of the 62nd Infantry Brigade from the 21st Division relieved the exhausted and depleted Welsh. These fresher troops had little trouble in clearing the remaining portions of the wood and shortly after midday on the 12th, Mametz Wood was finally in the hands of the British.

The 38th (Welsh) Division had captured 9/10ths of the wood, two field pieces and over 400 prisoners from five different German regiments. The stiffness of the fighting may be gauged by the casualties of the 38th (Welsh) Division:

   Killed - 46 Officers 556 other ranks

   Wounded - 138 Officers 2,668 other ranks

   Missing - 6 Officers 579 other ranks