Orchard Dump
Webmatters : 38th (Welsh) Division: Mametz Wood 1916
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Mametz Wood

The 38th (Welsh) Division

10th July 1916 and the 38th try again

The new Divisional Commander, Major General Watts prepared a plan utilising two brigades and a refined method of artillery bombardment.

The idea of a lifting barrage had been employed for some time. At predetermined intervals the artillery would lift their sights and thus bombard the area further back. The infantry supposedly following on in the wake.

This had not always worked so well, and on the 1st July 1916 many of the advancing troops had found themselves cut down as soon as the shelling moved off the German front lines and the machine gunners came out of their deep shelters.

This time Watts was going to use a plan that the French had been employing. The front line positions would be shelled, the bombardment would lift for a few minutes, and then drop back onto the front line again in the hope of catching the emerging machine gunners.

Once this had been done they would use a creeping barrage to accompany the attack. Surely this would gain them access to the wood.

After all the Germans were outnumbered three to one. Unfortunately they were also those dug in, holding the position and with a considerable number of machine guns.

Lt Colonel Ronald Carden
Lt Colonel Ronald Carden

At 0330 hours on 10th July 1916 the artillery opened up and twenty minutes later the smoke screen was put down. At 0400 hours the Welshmen began their attack.

Leading the attack on the left the 16th Bn Royal Welch Fusiliers suffered heavy casualties including their commanding officer, Lt Col Carden who was initially wounded and then, having continued to lead his men forward, was later killed at the edge of the wood.

He is buried today in Carnoy Cemetery — the Skull & Crossbones of his own unit, the 17th Lancers displayed on his headstone.

To their right the 13th Bn Welsh Regiment were under heavy machine gun from the Hammerhead and were beaten back on their first two attempts. A third attack was made and they gained a hold on the edge of the Wood.

Behind the 16th RWF the 14th RWF were suffering as badly and the attacks began to lose momentum. Pushing on with the reserves all of 113th and 114th Brigades were soon involved in the fighting — eight battalions.

By lunchtime parts of the wood were in Welsh hands and by 1830 hours the 17th RWF had reached to within 25 metres of the northern edge of the Wood. The 10th SWB had taken the Hammerhead and the Germans forced to withdraw.

The 38th (Welsh) Division Memorial
The 38th Welsh Division Memorial

11th July 1916

One of the great problems for the front line infantryman (and probably on both sides) was the drop short. Artillery firing at the limits of its range and sometimes with inferior shells (A British problem at this stage of the war) could not always manage to hit the target and the rounds would fall onto their own men.

At 1445 hours on 11th July and despite the fact that they hadn’t asked for one, an artillery barrage began in anticipation of a further attempt to finally gain control of the entire wood.

Unfortunately the Welshmen ended up taking casualties from many of the rounds before launching their attack on the remaining German positions at 1530 hours.

Despite some successes the Germans hung on and by nightfall the Welshmen were back where they had started, but something had been set in motion.

The Germans had come to realise that trying to hang on to the last corners of the wood was a bit pointless and costing them too many men.

By the following morning the wood had been evacuated and left to the 38th Division. Mametz Wood had been won.

As already mentioned the performance by the Division had come in for criticism at the highest level. It is hard to say this far removed from it all, but the Division suffered 4,000 casualties in these few days which strikes me as adequate testament to the courage and tenacity of the men involved.