Battle of Delville Wood, 15 July-3 September 1916

The battle of Delville Wood, 15 July-3 September 1916, began as part of the battle of Bazentine Ridge, itself part of the first battle of the Somme. Delville Wood was on the extreme right flank of the attack on Bazentine Ridge, and by the end of the 14 July the British had reached the southern edge of the wood, which for the next six weeks would be at the north east corner of the British line.

Delville Wood was a 156 acre forest of oak and birch, with dense hazel thickets. It was broken up by grassy gaps, but the artillery bombardments soon filled these with craters and fragments of trees. The northern end of the wood dipped down towards the main German lines, making it easy for them to reinforce the woods.

Delville Wood was important for two reasons. If the Germans held the southern part of the wood they could use it as a base to fire on any British attack east towards Ginchy. This was an important British target, as it would improve the connection between the British Fourth Army and the French to the south east. Haig was also concerned that the Germans could use the woods as a base for a counterattack south west along Caterpillar Valley, which was being used by the British artillery.

Lt Max Plowman, 10th West Yorkshire Regiment, Somme
Lt Max Plowman,
10th West Yorkshire Regiment,

The first attack on the wood came on 15 July, when the South African Brigade, part of the 9th Division, captured all but the north west corner of the woods, and then fought off German counterattacks from the north and east. An attack on 17 July failed to take that last corner. Overnight on 17/18 July a heavy German bombardment set the woods alight, and a German counterattack on 18 July recaptured all but the very southern edge of the wood.

This remained the pattern at Delville Wood throughout the rest of July. The most important attack came on 27 July. After a heavy artillery bombardment the 15th Brigade of the 5th Division and the 99th Brigade of the 2nd Division advanced into the shattered remains of the wood, and captured most of it. Only the northern and eastern edges remained in German hands.

They were slowly pushed out of those positions during August, and on 30 August the British front line had been pushed north and east of the woods. On 31 August the Germans made yet another counterattack, recapturing a narrow band in the north east corner of the wood. A British counterattack failed to retake this narrow band of the wood on 3 September.

Rather inexplicably the official battle of Delville Wood ends on 3 September. It actually took until 8 September for the last part of Delville Wood to be cleared for the final time, during the preliminary operations before the attack on Ginchy. The wood remained on the front line until the battle of Flers-Courcelette (15-22 September 1916), which saw the Germans pushed back 2,000 yards.

Hold at All Costs! The Epic Battle of Delville Wood 1916, Ian Uys. A very detailed look at the battle of Delville Wood, one of the most intense parts of the battle of the Somme, and an important battle for the South Africans, who held the wood against determined German counter attacks for the first few days of the battle. Does a good job of covering the battle from both sides, using detailed German sources to demonstrate that both sides suffered heavy losses during the fighting (Read Full Review)
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Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 September 2007), Battle of Delville Wood, 15 July-3 September 1916 ,

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