What happened during the First World War? – September Part 2

Due to there being a large number of significant events in September, this post had to be split in two parts. This is Part 2, make sure not to miss Part 1!

1916                               

1st – Bulgaria declares war on Romania.

3rd – The Battle of Guillemont – a phase of the Battle of the Somme – begins on this day and lasts until 6th September. In readiness for the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, the French and British conducted numerous attacks to capture the outstanding elements of the German second line, including the village of Guillemont.

9th – The Battle of Ginchy took place on this day during the Battle of the Somme, when the village was captured from the Germans. After the conclusion of the Battle of Guillemont on 6th, it was necessary to advance to positions that would allow the Allies to observe the German third line, further readying for the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. 

12th – The Monastir Offensive begins on this day on the Salonika front and continues until 11th December. The Allied Offensive was intended to break the deadlock against the Central Powers and to relieve pressure on the struggling Romanians.  

14th –The Seventh Battle of the Isonzo was fought from 14th-17th September between the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies. It followed the Italian successes during the Trentino Offensive and the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo. This battle saw the Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna shift his focus from broad-based diversionary attacks to tightly focused initiatives directed at single targets.

15th – The Battle of Flers-Courcelette began on this day during the Battle of the Somme. The Anglo-French attack began the third period of the Battle of the Somme but by its conclusion on 22nd September, the strategic objective of a decisive victory had not been achieved. The high level of casualties inflicted on the Germans and the capture of the villages of Courcelette, Martinpuich and Flers was a considerable victory but the German defensive success on the British right flank made exploitation impossible. It was also during this battle that tanks were used for the first time and also the first battle for the Canadians and New Zealanders during the Battle of the Somme. 

20th – The Brusilov Offensive ends on this day with a significant Russian victory. The offensive achieved its goal of pulling German troops away from the Western Front where the Allies were fighting the Battle of the Somme and at Verdun. It also inflicted serious damage to the Austro-Hungarian Army, which suffered the majority of the casualties. After the offensive, the Austro-Hungarian army increasingly had to rely on the support of the German army. Russian casualties were considerable, numbering between 500,000 and 1,000,000. Austria-Hungary and Germany lost from 616,000 to 975,000 and from 148,000 to 350,000, respectively, making a total of 764,000 to 1,337,000 casualties.

25th –The Battle of Morval began on this day and was an attack during the Battle of the Somme by the British on the villages of Morval, Gueudecourt and Lesbœufs which had been objectives of the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. The main British attack was postponed to combine with attacks by the French on the village of Combles.

Combles, Morval, Lesbœufs and Gueudecourt were captured and many casualties inflicted on the Germans. A small number of tanks joined in the battle later in the afternoon, after having been held back because of the later start and reduced a number of German strong points which had withstood earlier attacks. The French made slower progress near the inter-army boundary, due to obstructions around wooded areas near Sailly and Sailly-Saillisel. The British advance was its deepest since 14th July and left the Germans in a precarious position, particularly in a salient which developed to the north-east of Combles.

26th – The Battle of Thiepval Ridge takes place on the Somme. The attack was intended to benefit the attack in the Battle of Morval, by starting 24 hours afterwards. The battle was fought on a front from Courcelette in the east to Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt in the west, which overlooked the German defences further north in the Ancre valley, the rising ground towards Beaumont-Hamel and Serre beyond. Thiepval Ridge was well fortified, and the German defenders fought with great determination, while the British co-ordination of infantry and artillery declined after the first day, due to the confused nature of the fighting in the mazes of trenches, dugouts and shell-craters. The final British objectives were not reached until the Battle of the Ancre Heights.

1917

14th – Russia is declared a Republic

20th – The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge takes place during the Third Battle of Ypres on this day. The battle took place from 20th to 25th September in the Ypres Salient. During the pause in British and French general attacks from late August to 20 September, the British changed some infantry tactics, adopting the leap-frog method of advance, a tactic where once an objective had been reached and consolidated, supporting waves of troops passed through to attack the next objective. This worked particularly well when used in conjunction with effective artillery and air support.

A spell of dry weather and extensive road repairs made it easier for the British to move vast amounts of supplies forward from the original front line. Visibility increased except for frequent ground fog around dawn, which helped conceal British infantry during the attack, before clearing to expose German preparations for counter-attacks The British infantry succeeded in capturing most of their objectives and then holding them against German counter-attacks, inflicting many casualties on the German defenders. German defences on the Gheluvelt Plateau, which had been retained or quickly recaptured in July and August were lost and the British began a run of success which lasted into early October.

21st – Costa Rica severs relations with Germany

26th –The Battle of Polygon Wood took place from 26th September to 3rd October. The battle was fought in the Ypres Salient in the area from the Menin road to Polygon Wood and beyond to St Julien. Much of the woodland had been destroyed by the huge quantity of shellfire from both and the area had changed hands several times. The tactics used during the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge were utilised again.  The attacks were led by lines of skirmishers, followed by small infantry columns organised in with increased artillery support in the form of a creeping barrage.

The advance was planned to cover 1,000–1,500 yd (910–1,370 m) and stop on reverse slopes, which were easier to defend, enclosing ground which would allow for observation of German reinforcement routes and counter-attack assembly areas. Preparations were then made swiftly to defeat German counter-attacks, by mopping-up and consolidating the captured ground with defences in depth. The attack inflicted a severe blow on the Germans, causing many losses and capturing a significant portion of the fourth German defensive position, which threatened the German hold on Broodseinde ridge. The better weather continued to benefit the British attackers by drying the ground, raising mist which obscured British infantry attacks made around dawn, then clearing to reveal German counterattacks.

1918

September – For the course of September, The Hundred Days Offensive continues up and down the Western Front with phases including Battle of Savy-Dallon, Battle of Havrincourt, Battle of Saint-Mihiel, Battle of Epehy, Battle of the Hindenburg Line, Battle of the Canal Du Nord and the Advance in Flanders. The continued offensive is forcing the Germans further and further into retreat.

2nd – The Battle of Drocourt-Queant Line, part of the final phase of the Second Battle of the Somme began on this day. At 0500, Canadian and British forces attacked the Drocourt–Quéant Line supported by tanks and aircraft. During the evening, the Canadian 1st Division attacked the line south-eastwards, on the extreme right, south of the Arras–Cambrai road and the Canadian 4th Division attacked in the centre between Dury and the main road and the British 4th Division attacked south of the River Sensee. Seven Canadians were awarded VCs for acts of bravery during this day. The next day the Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line with the Allies taking many prisoners.

26th – The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, was a major part of the final Allied offensive called the Hundred Days Offensive that stretched along the entire Western Front. It was fought from 26th September until the Armistice on 11th November. The Meuse–Argonne offensive was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers. It is the second deadliest battle in American history, resulting in over 350,000 casualties including 28,000 German deaths, 26,277 American deaths an unknown number of French deaths. U.S. losses were worsened by the inexperience of many of the troops, the tactics used during the early phases of the operation and the widespread onset of the global influenza outbreak called the “Spanish flu”.

26th – The British enter Damascus

29th – The Battle of St. Quentin Canal was a pivotal battle that began on 29 September 1918 and involved British, Australian and American forces operating as part of the British Fourth Army. Further north, part of the British Third Army also supported the attack. South of the Fourth Army’s 19 km (12 mi) front, the French First Army launched an attack on a 9.5 km (6 mi) front. The objective was to break through one of the most heavily defended stretches of the Hindenburg Line, which in this sector utilised the St Quentin Canal as part of its defences. Around the Riqueval Bridge, one of the only crossings over the canal, the attack was spearheaded by the 137th (Staffordshire) Brigade of the 46th (North Midland) Division. Some men of the 1/6th Battalion, the North Staffordshire Regiment, led by Captain A. H. Charlton, managed to seize the still-intact Riqueval Bridge over the canal before the Germans had a chance to fire their explosive charges. The assault achieved its objectives (though not according to the planned timetable), resulting in the first full breach of the Hindenburg Line, in the face of heavy German resistance.

30th – Bulgaria signs an armistice with the Allies.

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