Battle of Delville Wood

The Battle of Delville Wood was one of the early engagements in the 1916 Battle of the Somme in the First World War. It took place between 14 July and 3 September, between the Armies of the German Empire and allied British and South African forces. Delville Wood is located to the north east of the town of Longueval in the departement 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 even the slightest tactical advantage from which to direct artillery fire or to launch further attacks.

Delville Wood was one such feature, making it a critical objective to both German and Allied forces. As part of a large offensive starting on 14 July, General Douglas Haig, Commander of the Allied Armies 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, equal to—or worse than 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Front, units were normally considered to be incapable of combat if their casualty levels had reached 30% and they were withdrawn once this level had been attained.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."


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