109 Brigade Objective, Schwaben Redoubt.

Story

The task for 109 Brigade in 36 (Ulster) Divisions 'right section' was to attack first the ‘A’ and ‘B’ lines and then advance to a line drawn from C 8 through B 16 to the Grandcourt-Thiepval Road at C 9; there it was to halt and consolidate.

Brigadier General R G Shuter planned to attack with two battalions forward, the 10th (Derry) Inniskillings on the left and the 9th (Tyrone) Inniskillings on the right. The two battalions to follow in the rear were the 14th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles (14 RIR) on the left and the 11th (Donegal and Fermanagh) Inniskillings on the right. When the lead Battalions were consolidating on the final objective, the rear battalions were to move forward and hold the ‘A’ and ‘B’ lines, and then send liaison patrols forward to the lead battalions. The most important task for the 11th Inniskillings was to be the reinforcement of the Schwaben Redoubt's ‘Crucifix’ position on the Thiepval-Grandcourt Road.

At Zero Hour* the lead companies of the 9th and the 10th Inniskillings rose and advanced. Successful French artillery and mortar preparatory fire had cut the wire and they were into the forward enemy locations before the Germans could emerge from their deep dugouts and properly occupy fire positions. Indeed, so many Germans were taken prisoner by the 10th Inniskillings on the left that when they were moved rearwards they were at first mistaken for a German attack. As the 10th Inniskillings advanced from the second to the third line they lost all officers killed or wounded to effective enemy fire from Thiepval but the remnant of the Battalion reached the third line by 0900 hours and consolidated its position. On the right, the 9th Inniskillings met the same fire from Thiepval but secured the second line where the Crucifix feature was located. By the time its remnant reached the third line it had lost every company commander and was led by 2nd Lieutenent McKinley. As the 11th Inniskillings and 14 RIR began to move forward to hold the captured lines, they too were advancing through effective German artillery and machine-gun fire.

What had happened was that on the Brigade’s right, the battalions on the left flank of the 32nd Division (which included the 2nd Inniskillings) had faltered under withering German machine-gun fire from Thiepval. Once their attack had ground to a halt the enemy switched their fire onto 109 Brigade. This was why, as the forward Inniskilling Battalions advanced towards the fortifications and firepower of the Schwaben Redoubt their casualties increased from both frontal and flanking fire. Therefore, 107 Brigade was moved forward early to reinforce the fight for the Redoubt. As the two Brigades continued to fight for the fortification, command and control forward and information flow rearwards became major issues as the field telephone landlines were cut and enemy fire killed the repair teams. Despite the confused fighting the 10th Inniskillings continued moving forward, sometimes erring into friendly artillery fire that was pre-planned and fired at a specific hour.

During the fierce fighting Captain Eric Bell, commanding 109 Trench Mortar Battery, had advanced as far as the Crucifix feature on the Schwaben Redoubt, the fortification of which had been planned as an important task for the 11th Inniskillings. His gallantry there was recognized by the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross. There were many other acts of gallantry around the Crucifix as the enemy were engaged, often in individual hand-to-hand combat, with Lewis Machine Gun, bayonet, grenade and when all else failed - the butt of an empty rifle. By midday the Brigades' tenuous hold on the Crucifix position on the second line was ebbing in favour of the Germans as ammunition and supplies, especially water, dwindled. Despite several men of the 10th (Derry) Inniskillings penetrating as far as the German fifth line, the situation deterioriated as German attacks increased and overall the remnants of the Brigade suffered from increasingly accurate German artillery and machine-gun fire. By 1700 hours the position in the second line was untenable and later in the evening the remnants were withdrawn to the first line and then back to their own forward trench line.

The advance had ended but there was no withdrawal of bravery as parties ventured out into no mans land to rescue the wounded. Notably Captain W M Moore, Lieutenant H Gallagher and 20 others volunteers recovered 28 wounded while under fire.

What happened to 107 Brigade?

What happened to 108 Brigade?

Return to Battle Honour 'SOMME 1916, 18'.

*
Early that morning, before Zero Hour, an act of self-sacrifice in 109 Brigade was later recognized when the Victoria Cross was awarded posthumously to Private William McFadzean of 14 RIR.