The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment
5th October 1916
After the capture of Thiepval village and Thiepval Ridge attention was put onto a position that had held out since 1st July 1916. The mighty Schwaben Redoubt had been assaulted on that fateful day by the 36th (Ulster) Division. They had managed to take the position but after terrible fighting and the fact that both the 29th and 32nd Divisions on either side had failed in capturing their objectives the Ulstermen had to give up most of the gains and had ended up retiring to the German front-line which they held. And so now after months of fighting, and with the recent fighting close to it, the next plan was to capture it.
Since 28th September the fighting had intensified around the Schwaben Redoubt which occupied high ground and both sides knew it was an important position to hold or capture. The task of capturing it was given to the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment. The position they would assault is described as this on the CWGC website,
‘The Schwaben Redoubt, formed from a roughly triangular shaped set of mutually supporting trench systems, was perhaps the most formidable in the German second line. An extensive arrangement of well-constructed field-works – effectively a battlefield fortress or ‘redoubt’- it possessed all-round defences and was linked by a maze of subterranean passages and interconnecting tunnels. The position included medical facilities and a telephone exchange.’
It is no wonder that it had held out for such a long time. So the C.O. of the 8/Norfolks, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Gaspard de Lavalette Ferguson, decided that the best way to assault this mighty fortress was to use his battalion bombers, his Lewis gunners and his snipers under the command of his battalion bombing officer. It was planned to attack the position from both flanks with support waiting to make up for any losses in the assault. The idea was for the assault parties to work down trenches on either side of the redoubt which correspond to Point 39 and 27 on the map I have supplied from the Norfolk Regiment history of the Great War.
As each trench was captured in the redoubt blocks would be put on and the overall assault would be supported by a barrage to the west, the south and north of the position as well as it falling on communication trenches that the Germans might bring up reinforcements.
Zero Hour was set for 6 a.m. on 5th October 1916. But at this point in time the autumn weather had set in and the trenches were flooding. It took a long time to set up the attack which had to be postponed until 7.30 a.m.
As with the Norfolk Regiment history we will look at the assaults separately.
On the left hand side the attack came in from three parallel trenches and started well until the left hand party of a total of three got held up at Point 19 at Strasbourg Trench. Here they were counter attacked by German bombers and in attacks over open ground. The attacks over open ground were dealt with by the Lewis gun teams but the trench fighting against the enemy bombers caused problems. The main issue here being the fact that the German bombers could readily resupply their grenadiers where the Norfolk bombing parties could not.This forced the left hand party back and another counter attack came in although this was dealt with by Lewis gun teams under the command of Lieutenant Arthur Gundry-White.
On the right the attack met strong opposition and was driven back. The fighting here ended up in hand to hand with bayonet and bomb and Lieutenant Thomas Whitty along with a number of men were killed in this fight. But they reached the northern part of the redoubt and managed to get within 50 yards of a position identified as Point 99 which on a map shows it faced towards the German second lines looking towards places such as Grandcourt. At 2.20 p.m. they consolidated their gains and waited for relief which came in the form of the 39th Division. In the process of attempting to capture this area the 18th (Eastern) Division, who had been fighting in this area since 26th September 1916, had lost 2,000 men killed, wounded or missing. But although they had captured Thiepval and Thiepval Ridge they never fully captured the Schwaben Redoubt and when they handed over their gains Points 19, 39, 49 and 69 were still in German hands.
It would not be until the 14th October 1916 that the entire position was captured. This was noted in the Official History of the Great War,
‘…on the 14th, the 39th Division drove the Germans from their last hold on the Schwaben. The 4th/5th Black Watch and the 1/1st Cambridgeshire (118th Brigade), assisted by the 17/K.R.R.C. (117th Brigade) attacked over the open and, although the fighting continued until 11 p.m., the enemy’s discomfiture was then complete. More than one hundred and fifty prisoners of the II./110th Reserve regiment were collected. Meanwhile, the 1/6th Cheshire (118th Brigade) had advanced the line on the left. Three counter attacks against the Schwaben, two of them with Flammenwerfer, were repulsed in the course of the following day.’
If you visit either Connaught or Mill Road Cemeteries on the Somme you will see that 8th Battalion Norfolk men lie next to 1/1st Cambridgeshire men along with the other regiments who fought so hard to take the Schwaben Redoubt off of the Germans.
In total the 8/Norfolks lost 91 men killed, wounded or missing and can rightly be classed as one of the many battle honours for the battalion which had now been in the thick of the fighting since 1st July 1916. But this was not the last time that the battalion would see action on the Somme.