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Terry_Reeves

German flame thrower attacks

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AOK4

The large scale counterattack on 25 September 1917 was performed by 50 Reserve Division. I have to check my notes and regimental histories as I didn't write about flamthrowers in my book about Gheluvelt.

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bob lembke
7 hours ago, The Prussian said:

Hello!

"Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918" in vol. 13 only mentiones for Sept. 25, that the 50.Res.Div. attacked north of the road Menin-Ypres to take back the trenches between the southwest corner. -----------------  

I couldn´t find a FW-attack for that date in Reddemann´s book. The closest entry was 24.8.17 (12th comp.) at Herenthage. (page 35)

 

I transferred all of Reddemann's material to my time-line over ten years ago, and in my timeline the entry for the Flanders attack was stated as being from his death roll, not his history. That was so far back that I am not clear, but I think it was a roll of all of the dead of the flame regiment, possibly composed for a meeting of the survivors, possibly the one where there is a photo of Reddemann entering in the company of the (ex) Crown Prince, the patron of the regiment, whose Death's Head they all wore. (My mother was mentally ill, and came across my father's Death's Head, and was frightened by it and threw it away.) 

 

So Reddemann's materials (his death roll) mention the Flanders attack of the 25th, but it probably was not in his history, as Andy notes. 

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Terry_Reeves
17 hours ago, 7Y&LP said:

Hello, not sure if I am helping or hindering the thread with this but the below is taken from official records (1st Queens Royal West Surrey Regt) and refered to the Battle of The Menin Road, September 1917. There is mention (eventually) of flame thrower attacks, I believe Bob told me about the unit delivered them and that unusualy they received some casualties. On another note, when reading about Third Ypres I get the impression that this battle didn't happen or if it did it happened in a differing order to the one described below (and in my grandads diary). 

 

 

'The divisional history states that “by 12 midnight, September 24th-25th, both the 98th and 100th Brigades were concentrated for the attack …. In the 100th Brigade the 9th Highland Light Infantry and the 1st The Queen’s were the leading battalions, concentrated on a line running from the south across the Tower Hamlets Ridge, thence across the Reutelbeeke, and to the east of Cameron Copse. These battalions were strongly supported by the machine-gun groups of their Brigade companies. …The attack of the Second Army, including the 33rd Division, was ordered for dawn on September 26th. At 3:30 on the morning of the 25th the enemy opened a bombardment of hitherto unparalleled intensity. So vicious was this bombardment , and in such great depth upon our rear communications, that it was impossible to move transport or troops along the roads. Following up their bombardment, the enemy counter-attacked in massed formation upon our lines, no less than six divisions being used in this attack upon our divisional front. On the right, the posts of 1st The Queens were overwhelmed, the enemy debouching from the village of Gheluvelt armed with flame-throwers; the stream of burning oil thrown from these devilish weapons reached a length and height of 100 yards and set fire to the trees, which being as dry as tinder, immediately took fire. In Inverness Copse was concentrated the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment: two companies of this regiment had already been destroyed by the bombardment. The Glasgow Highlanders moved forward, and with great dash covered up the exposed flank of 1st The Queens’ whilst the 2ns Worcesters consilodated their position…

Except for a lull of about twenty minutes, the intensity of the bombardment continue during the whole of the 25th and the night of the 25th-26th. At 9 p.m. orders were received from the Higher Command that the original attack would be carried out according to plan on the morning of the 26th. The Division by this time had suffered 5,000 casualties…At dawn on the 26th the attack, which has been reinforced by the 19th Brigade, swept forward along the whole 33rd Divisional front with extreme bitterness. Very few prisoners were taken.'

 

7Y&LP

 

Many thanks for your contribution.

 

TR

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MBrockway
Posted (edited)

I could not see any mention of flammenwerfer in the 1/Queens battalion war diary for this period.  They attribute most of their difficulties to the very effective German artillery bombardment and a barrage by heavy Minenwerfer.

Mark

 

[NB ignore first half page and jump direct to the Report on Operation 24th to 27th September 1917]

1Bn_Queens_1917_09_09.jpg

1Bn_Queens_1917_09_10.jpg

 

1Bn_Queens_1917_09_11.jpg

 

 

[Source: http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/war_diaries/local/1Bn_Queens/1Bn_Queens_1917/1Bn_Queens_1917_09.shtml]

 

 

Edited by MBrockway
Link to source webpage added

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7Y&LP

Hello MBrockway, yes an error on my part the extract I quoted was from the 33rd Division history that was photo copied for me at the Imperial War Museum a couple of decades ago. My grandad, who was there in a listening post of 1st Queens, makes no mention of them either in his account but he was busy being 'put in the bag': 

 

'It was a Saturday night and we were going over on Monday at daybreak. During the night I was sent out to a listening post with three others. The Lance Corporal in charge was a City policeman first time up. One old boy, fetched up for service when age limit was put up to 41. The other a lad who had been in the line before but never in a stunt. Our job was to stay two hours and give alarm to our front line of raiding or bombing parties. We were left there for the night. At daybreak the guns started a barrage between where we were and the Jerry front line. I took charge, thought it was ours and told the others to watch for our chaps coming and join in with them, thinking our stunt had been put forward a day. I was wrong. It was not long before the shells were bursting around our ears. Once again I say it. I did not get the wind up. I lit up to have a smoke, saying to the others, may as well go as comfortable as possible bound to get one in a minute, but it was not to be, we sat in that hole with no cover at all, every gun within range sweeping the ground. A few seconds after the barrage had passed I pulled my legs out of the muck, brushed the dust off my rifle bolt and had a look out. Less than twenty yards away was a German officer leading his platoon. Saying that I was going to have as many of them as I could before they got me I started to have a go. The old boy with us said don’t shoot for God’s sake we shall all be killed. That finished it. The Jerries heard him and had me covered, might have got one before they had me. It wasn’t worth it. I threw off my equipment and I and the others were wiped up. I will give the City Policeman L.C.  his due. He wanted to start chucking Mills bombs at them. What was the good with thirty rifles covering four of us ?'

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MBrockway

No error on your part, 7Y&LP,  I have the 33rd Division history and it says exactly what you quoted above - it's p.67.

 

Any error is more likely to have come from the author, Seton Hutchinson, who is not always accurate.

 

I'll check the brigade and divisional war diaries when I get a chance.

 

Cheers,

Mark

PS Got your PM ... don't hold out much hope, but will look into it ;)

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Chris Boonzaier
On 14.3.2017 at 19:55, bob lembke said:

 

 

And the the stuff about the FW blowing up is mostly bull. I have only found data for that happening on 2-3 occasions. (Allied FW, mostly horrible designs, did blow up or catch on fire.) Foulkes and Fries, the US gas and flame commanders, spent 15 years writing lies about the flame weapon. 

 

I would like to point out the incident on 304 at Verdun where both French and German accounts decribe a German Flamethrower blowing up. I sent you the details a few years ago.

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Chris Boonzaier
On 17.3.2017 at 03:02, bob lembke said:

 

An attack by 63 FW (two companies) of GRPR on a brigade of the French 29 th Infantry Division. The brigade just collapsed. The brigade HQ got out a one sentence warning phone call to their commanders, something like "the Germans are here." Two regimental HQ and the brigade HQ and the commanders and staff were captured. The total haul was 2883 prisoners, including 58 officers. 25 MGs, 12 cannon, and 18 mortars were captured. The brigadier general was an ethnic German, and the French command, puzzled by the inhaled brigade, suspected treachery. 

 

GRPR losses; four flame troopers. 

 

 

And the huge bombardement to preceeded it played no role.

And the 11th Bavarian Division carrying out the attack played no part

And the fact the French troops were mostly trapped in their dugouts to avoid artillery did not make it a cake walk?

Throwing out "only 4 flame troopers killed" means nothing, because all the above was not accomplished by 2 companies of FW "all on their own"

 

As much as I respect the time and effort you put into your research I really feel it is for nowt as long as you automatically discount anything that contradicts your opinions and doggedly refuse to take into account that "flame attacks" were usually part of a combined arms operation where the infantry and arty may just have played a tiny part.

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Chris Boonzaier
Posted (edited)
On 31.3.2017 at 14:00, bob lembke said:

 

 In the attack at Verdun in which two companies of FW inhaled a French

brigade, with the loss of two FW troopers, with the brigade HQ only managing to get out a one sentence call out before being taken into custody,

the whole attack only taking minutes,

 

 

Earlier in the thread you said 4 troopers....

Both French and German reports speak of a huge bombardment and point out that the 11th bavarian Division also played a "slight" role in the attack.

 

I think many of these points have been presented to you quite a number of times over the years on various forums but get swept under the carpet because it does not fit your theories. :-)

 

Sorry to be going off track here but this seems to be deja vu, or deja deja deja deja vu.

Edited by Chris Boonzaier

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Chris Boonzaier
Posted (edited)
On 3.4.2017 at 15:20, bob lembke said:

Oh, sorry of me. I think I had mentioned the date in the earlier post, but should have mentioned it again. 

 

The attack was on April 25, 1918. It was by no means solely a FW attack, it utilized 250 batteries and 96 straffing aircraft. But about 132 light FW was quite an effort, probably one of the three largest FW attacks in the war. 

Seriously? Not solely a FW Attack, 250 batteries and 96 Aircraft were there to  help them?

 

Maybe it is worth pointing out that the Germans brought in one of their top tier assault divisions, the "Alpenkorps", spearheading the attack?

 

I honestly think that if your ambition is to publish a study about the achievements of the FW troops, it is a huge deficit to blindly ignore the role of all other units involved?

 

Bob, love you dude, you are one of the nicest guys on the forums, but this all borders on fake news. You cannot ignore the bigger picture and come up with an objective study.

 

Edited by Chris Boonzaier

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bob lembke
Posted (edited)

Chris;

 

Those figures are by no means a finished study, I do not plan to publish it, I never thought of considering, in the larger attacks, that all or even most of the credit should be given to the FW weapon. I sat on the work for about five or more years before I shared it with anyone. If I asserted that the credit be assigned to one weapon I would like to see a citation, I will correlate that with my schedule of heavy drinking. 

 

I I have wrestled with the problem of assigning a "% of credit" to the larger battles, and never came up with an objective scheme. I will say that a sizable number of the attacks in my sample were entirely by FW troops, with no infantry at all, the written record and my father's accounts both state that that situation was the preferred one, as the regular infantry did not understand the special often counter-intuitive tactics that allowed the FW troops to get close enough to get their streams of burning oil into the front trench. As you know the attacking FW company had light MGs and special light backpack mortars built in their own workshop in France.

 

My my father told me of a situation; the FW troops he was with attacked a position, drove out the defenders, and turned it over to the infantry. They promptly lost it to counter-attacking French. Once again the FW troops attacked, and when turned over the same infantry lost it again. At that point the FW troops decided that that infantry unit was hopeless and they burned off their remaining oil so that they could not be asked to attack again; they feared that eventually someone among them was going to get killed. 

 

In in some attacks the troops might all be FW troops but they relied on a two minute barrage to get the heads of the sentries in the front trench to get their heads down, allowing the sprint to get within the all-important range of the front trench. What % of credit should the German artillery get for a two minute barrage, if the attacking troops themselves were all FW troops?  20%, 30%? Sometimes the barrage was not on the sector  to be attacked, but say 300 meters to the side, tricking the enemy artillery to re-aim to that point, and then the FW troops are in the first line before they can re-re-aim. 

 

I I am an economist and an engineer, I have directed the design and building of two world-class computer economic and demographic for casting models. I am quite capable in experimental design. I could design some sort of scoring algorithm to assign a percentage of credit for each attack. It would have to be highly subjective and/or questionable. 

 

I am trying to insert a modicum of objectivity into work which is usually entirely subjective. Hardly satisfactory, certainly nothing that I would "publish". 

 

I am now actively writing my first book under my own name, and hence will not be posting here so much anymore. (Have had in several, in two cases quite unwittingly, a large role in getting someone else's book out.) I have 1300 pages of highly condensed time-lines and thousands of 4" x 6" note cards based on 16 years of study, time to get a book or two out on all that research before I drop dead. 

Edited by bob lembke
This and that

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bob lembke

Chris;

 

Those figures are by no means a finished study, I do not plan to publish it, I never thought of considering, in the larger attacks, that all or even most of the credit should be given to the FW weapon. I sat on the work for about five or more years before I shared it with anyone. If I asserted that the credit be assigned to one weapon I would like to see a citation, I will correlate that with my schedule of heavy drinking. 

 

I I have wrestled with the problem of assigning a "% of credit" to the larger battles, and never came up with an objective scheme. I will say that a sizable number of the attacks in my sample were entirely by FW troops, with no infantry at all, the written record and my father's accounts both state that that situation was the preferred one, as the regular infantry did not understand the special often counter-intuitive tactics that allowed the FW troops to get close enough to get their streams of burning oil into the front trench. As you know the attacking FW company had light MGs and special light backpack mortars built in their own workshop in France. 

 

My my father told me of a situation; the FW troops he was with attacked a position, drove out the defenders, and turned it over to the infantry. They promptly lost it to counter-attacking French. Once again the FW troops attacked, and when turned over the same infantry lost it again. At that point the FW troops decided that that infantry unit was hopeless and they burned off their remaining oil so that they could not be asked to attack again; they feared that eventually someone among them was going to get killed. 

 

In in some attacks the troops might all be FW troops but they relied on a two minute barrage to get the heads of the sentries in the front trench to get their heads down, allowing the sprint to get within the all-important range of the front trench. What % of credit should the German artfully get, if the attacking troops themselves were all FW troops. 20%, 30%? Sometimes the barrage was not on the decor to be attacked, but say 300 meters to the side, tricking the enemy artillery to re-aim to that point, and the FW troops are in the first line before they could re-re-aim their guns. 

 

I I am an economist and an engineer, I have directed the design and building of two world-class computer economic and demographic forecasting models. I am quite capable in experimental design. I could design some sort of scoring algorithm to assign a percentage of credit for each attack. It would have to be very subjective itself. 

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Terry_Reeves
Posted (edited)

Bob

 

Very interesting, but that is not what this thread is about. All you are doing is diverting attention away the original question which I would suggest is disrespectful. Why not start your own thread?

 

TR

Edited by Terry_Reeves

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brummell

I came across this today in the 1/13 London Regiment (Kensington) war diary, which I thought may be of interest:

 

"55 representatives of the battalion witnessed a demonstration made by the Chemical Advisor III [Third] Army with a captured German flammenwerfer.  It was an instrument captured at HOOGE and had been used against the English on July 13 '15.  It was shown that men crouching in trenches have nothing to fear from the sheet of flame squirted over the top of the trench.  The flame cannot be made to curl downwards into a trench."

 

Dated 18 March 1916, at Magnicourt.  The date given for the Hooge attack is obviously wrong, but '13' and '30' are easily confused, particularly if someone was verbally relating the details of the demonstration to the Adjutant?

 

 

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Terry_Reeves

Thanks Brummell.

 

TR

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MBrockway

Hear hear - excellent snippet - I'll link your post to the Hooge Liquid Fire topic.

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stiletto_33853

German Regimental account states that the flame thrower flame was flat and they were intended to cause panic and keep troops head down. One of the 8th RB stated that all the undergrowth and sandbag covers were alight.

 

Andy

Edited by stiletto_33853

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bob lembke
On March 7, 2017 at 14:06, Terry_Reeves said:

". I am trying to get a handle on the amount and effectiveness, or otherwise, of German flame thrower attacks against BEF units.  If any one has come across references to them in war diaries -------   "

 

These are the first two lines in this thread of almost 200 posts. I have been told repeatedly to cease posting on this thread, but I am still attempting to contribute to this purpose, as set in the opening post of the thread. 

 

After studying German flame thrower (FW) attacks for 17 years, and having discussed it frequently with my father in my youth; he not only had been a FW operator in the Prussian Guard flame regiment for almost 2 1/2 years, and then in a Freikorps in Berlin fighting in January 1919, but also was a staff trainer at the FW school at Berlin for half a year, I do think I know something about the topic. My seven years training as a mechanical engineer also assists my understanding of these weapons and their use. 

 

Can I contribute? The description of the demonstration to British troops indicates that it was either intentionally or not intentionally rather deceiving. A German Kleif FW captured by the British but operated by the British 10 months later almost certainly operated quite differently than that device did when operated by the Germans, for sound technical reasons. 

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brummell

I think it gets to the heart of the debate.  Clearly the weapons had an effect, particularly when first used against the unsuspecting - but what was the nature of that effect?  Did they have their effect by causing large numbers of casualties, or through the suppressive and psychological effects which Andy mentions above?  History affords many examples of weapons which were terrifying but not particularly deadly, and there are few things more terrifying to humans than fire.  I don't think it would somehow torpedo the record or reputation of the flame units if it turns out that the evidence suggests they weren't actually particularly lethal, and that the effect was primarily psychological. 

 

'The moral is to the physical as three is to one...' ;)

 

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bob lembke
5 hours ago, brummell said:

I think it gets to the heart of the debate.  Clearly the weapons had an effect, particularly when first used against the unsuspecting - but what was the nature of that effect?  Did they have their effect by causing large numbers of casualties, or through the suppressive and psychological effects which Andy mentions above?  History affords many examples of weapons which were terrifying but not particularly deadly, and there are few things more terrifying to humans than fire.  I don't think it would somehow torpedo the record or reputation of the flame units if it turns out that the evidence suggests they weren't actually particularly lethal, and that the effect was primarily psychological. 

 

'The moral is to the physical as three is to one...' ;)

 

 

Brummell;

 

Exactly. In order to understand this question one has to understand how German FW worked, which was quite different

than almost all Allied FW. Engineer Fiedler began his FW work in 1902, while working on the problem of spraying heavy

liquids, such as paint. He began patenting his ideas about 1905-6, and his work continued into the Great War. The Germans

adopted a light FW in 1912, and they were added to the equipment of siege trains.  Major Dr. Reddemann (his doctorate was

in law, not engineering) began his work in 1907, at maneuvers, bringing up fire pumpers to simulate FW, he being the fire

chief of a major city. having staff familiar to pumping liquids, and equipment for that purpose. (In Reddemann's first actual

flame attack, most of his FW used were actually wooden hand pumps, fire fighting equipment, and they actually worked,

but their use was quickly dropped and the steel pressurized devices adopted by the Pioniere in 1912 were used instead.)

 

The Germans used a variety of specially mixed oils (I think Reddemann in the war used five varieties, for different 

tactical situations). The oils tended to burn slowly. Secondly, the Germans universally propelled their burning flame 

oil with inert compressed nitrogen. The British and other Allied armies usually used compressed air, and even sometimes

idiotically used compressed oxygen. The results of that poor engineering were a greatly increased hazard risk, but

more importantly the compressed air (18% oxygen, I think) or especially compressed oxygen quickly burned up the 

fuel stream, which in the Allied case was often gasoline, which also burned faster.

 

The end result was that, generally, the Allied FW produced an impressive large display of flame, but that was it. You could

"duck and cover", and the flame might just pass over you. The German FW, light or heavy, threw out a stream of 

slowly burning oil that splattered anything within reach and set them on fire. Hence the frequent experience of advancing

German flame troops of finding a trail of burning or smoldering items of clothing torn off by fleeing troops. 

 

So, faced with a German flame attack, if you stayed you were very likely to be splattered with fairly thick burning oil, and

actually set on fire. Additionally, boxes of grenades and flares usually kept at the ready in trenches were often set on fire 

and eventually detonated. The German FW tactics usually had many of the fire/smoke/burning oil streams fired at the

diagonal, so that advancing troops could usually not be seen. Half the advancing FW troops were grenadiers, usually

armed with ten grenades and their P 08 automatic pistol, and some men carried light MGs, fired from the waist on the

advance, and special light mortars. So the problems the defenders faced were serious, and generally the troops just ran.

That was my father's experience, he told me that the French troops usually just ran away.

 

I am sure that the demonstration given with the captured Klief device utilized gasoline and  compressed air, and the 

resultant impressive flame was something that one could "duck and cover". The UK forces had no good answer to this

mode of attack, and as I earlier stated, and the British troops were just told to stoop down and let the flame roll over

them. I have come across this official position of the British staff time and time again, and now up in post 189 it is

proven from a British source. The only effective defense, in most cases (aside from a very effective artillery counter-fire,

which the flame troops had tricks of their own to counter) was to have the trench lines far apart enough to cause this sort

of attack to fail. In the first flame attacks in 1915 the lines were sometimes 15 yards apart, later in the war the trenches

were sometimes 200 yards apart. And in balance that development aided the German forces on the Western Front.

 

To understand this question, about the effectiveness of the German FW attacks, you have to understand the details of

the equipment. During the war it seems that the British staff had a policy of giving false information to their troops, about

just bending over and being safe. The description of the  "dog and pony show" being sent about to the battalions giving a

misleading demonstration is evidence of this. Using a Klief but fueling it with gasoline and compressed air would produce

a flame much less effective (and lethal) than a properly fueled German device.

 

 

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gilles

german use this weapon hill 70 august 1917

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bob lembke

I think we discussed the Hill 70 episode earlier in the thread. An interesting incident, as I remember. 

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MBrockway
On 07/03/2017 at 19:06, Terry_Reeves said:

I am trying to get a handle on the amount and effectiveness, or otherwise, of German flame thrower attacks against BEF units.  If any one has come across references to them in war diaries I would be  interested in the following information:

 

1. Unit name

 

2. Date and place of the attack

 

3. Any casualties noted - numbers will do.

 

4. Any general comments made about the incident in the diary.

 

Many thanks

 

TR

Terry,

 

Just found another reference for you ...

 

1. 17/KRRC, 117 Bde, 39th Div  [but temporarily under orders of GOC 116 IB, also in 39th Div]

2. 21 Oct 1916 - German counter-attack on newly captured positions in the SCHWABEN REDOUBT, north of THIEPVAL, SOMME

3.  See war diary extract below

4.  - " -

 

59c799535b4ed_17-KRRCWD1916-10-21A.jpg.a894abe162ba657bfedc95bf19d5284e.jpg

59c7995437704_17-KRRCWD1916-10-21B.jpg.1114bc6d686afa6f8b96342eec82ed66.jpg

 

Trench refs for the points mentioned are ...

 

Point 19 - 57d.R.19.d.07.96

Point 99 -  57d.R.19.d.96.89

 

Note that both enemy penetrations were repulsed and that two Flammenwerfer were captured along with 4 German officers, 80 OR's and a telephone.

 

Useful info on the enemy ORBAT too.

 

Details of 17/KRRC losses for the day ...

59c7a2cac53ff_17-KRRCWD1916-10-21C.jpg.509a4aee604bb12a786f2a168be7f483.jpg

 

However, be aware that on the afternoon of this same day a platoon from the battalion assisted an attack to the right of Point 99 towards STUFF TRENCH by 14/Hampshire Regt.  Also of course, it is impossible to determine casualties directly attributable to FW injuries.

 

 

I do not have the war diaries for division and brigade - these may well contain further detail on this action.

 

HTH

Mark

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by MBrockway

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Terry_Reeves

Mark

 

Many thanks, this is very useful.

 

TR

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