The fortified German villages of Fricourt and Mametz had both fallen by day two of the Somme offensive, but the subsequent capture of Mametz Wood and, a little to the west, the village of Contalmaison, were essential to the next planned phase of the British offensive; the Battle of Bazentin Ridge.
The following few days, though, would be ones of lost opportunity; advancing cautiously out of Mametz village, the wood nearly a mile away to the north east, the British failed to realise how lightly much of the land in between, and indeed the wood itself, were held, and by the time they did, it was too late.
The 38th Welsh Division entered the fray on the morning of 7th July, their objective to capture the section of the wood known as the Hammerhead (above), and this is the view the Welsh would have had as they descended the slope on which the dragon now stands (below) to attack the wood.
Despite their best efforts on that day, by nightfall when they were relieved they had suffered over 400 casualties and had failed to enter the wood, many of the surviving troops having spent the day pinned down by German machine guns, in these pretty yellow fields you see in front of you.
The memorial was unveiled on 1st July 1987, the dragon tearing its way through barbed wire. British barbed wire, in fact. And assuming sculptor David Petersen is making a point here, good on him.
This plaque tells briefly the tale of the Welsh at Mametz Wood,…
…and this 1916 trench map shows exactly why this section was called the Hammerhead; the Welsh memorial is marked with the green dot.
Three sides of the granite plinth are inscribed with the emblems of the three Welsh regiments who fought here; the South Wales Borderers, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the Welsh Regiment.
The CWGC give him a nice new coat of red paint every five years.
The next attack, on 10th July, would be an altogether bigger affair and this time would ultimately be far more successful.
The Welsh attacked across these fields towards and to the south of the Hammerhead, the edge of which you can see on the far right of this panorama, and this time they reached the fringes of the wood. Bloody hand-to-hand fighting eventually forced the Germans from their trenches and, with the silencing of the machine guns that had caused such mayhem three days earlier, the Welshmen began to enter the trees, or what remained of them.
Unlike other woods we have seen on the Somme, Mametz Wood had been left to its own devices in the pre-war years, and the rides, unlike those we have seen elsewhere, were overgrown, the floor of the wood nothing but thick, tangled undergrowth.
It took two days of ferocious fighting to clear the Germans out of the Mametz Wood, but by 12th July it was in British hands. The second phase of the Battle of the Somme would begin two days later, as we have seen in previous posts, with the Battle of Bazentin Ridge.
By the time they were relieved on 12th July, the 38th Welsh Division had suffered something in the region of 4000 casualties during the fighting at Mametz, Nearly 1000 of these were killed, and many others were still missing in the depths of the shatttered wood.
Poetry in motion. Or maybe still life. Not sure which.
Up the slope behind the memorial…
…you get a better idea of how exposed the men attacking the Hammerhead would have been once they left their trenches. German machine guns from the wood would have had no problem hitting men descending this slope.
If you were to wander straight up the middle of the picture above, when you reached the top you would see the village of Montauban about half a mile ahead of you across the fields, as the trench map confirms.
He is impressive, isn’t he?
We like the dragon. Anyway, time, now, to move on. There’s a cemetery a little way north of here that I’d like to show you next.