Battle of Delville Wood

The Battle of Delville Wood 14 July—3 September, was an engagement in the 1916 Battle of the Somme in the First World War. It took place between the armies of the German Empire and allied British and empire forces. Delville Wood is to the north east of the town of Longueval in the département of the Somme in northern France. After the two weeks of carnage from the commencement of the Somme Offensive, it became evident that a breakthrough of either the Allied or German line was most unlikely and the offensive had evolved to the capture of small prominent towns, woods or features which offered either side tactical advantages from which to direct artillery fire or to launch further attacks.

Delville Wood was one such feature, making it important to German and Allied forces. As part of a large offensive starting on 14 July, General Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force intended to secure the British right flank, while the centre advanced to capture the higher lying areas of High Wood in the centre of his line. Delville Wood was a battle to secure this right flank. The battle achieved this objective and is considered a tactical Allied victory. However, it was one of the bloodiest confrontations of the Somme, with both sides incurring large casualties. This tactical victory needs to be measured against the losses sustained as well as the fact that the British advance to the north had made only marginal gains by the end of the battle.

The battle is of particular importance to South Africa, as it was the first major engagement entered into by the South African 1st Infantry Brigade on the Western Front. The casualties sustained by this Brigade were of catastrophic proportions, comparable to those encountered by Allied battalions on the first day of the Somme. On the Western Front, units were normally considered to be incapable of combat if their casualties had reached 30% and they were withdrawn once this level had been attained. The South African Brigade suffered losses of 80%, yet they managed to hold the Wood as ordered. This feat has been described as "...the bloodiest battle of hell of 1916."

Delville Wood is known for the well preserved wood with the visible remains of the original trenches, a museum and monument to the fallen South Africans.

Read more about Battle Of Delville Wood:  Background, Awards For Gallantry

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