Fog on the Somme (James Halstead): An Offside Report
This is Deborah Southwell’s offside report of ‘Fog on the Somme’ run by James Halstead at the CLWG Conference.
Fog on the Somme – Offside (Deborah Southwell)
Five phases were planned for the German Spring Offensive of 1918:
- Operation Michael (21 March – 6 April)
- Operation Georgette (9-29 April)
- Operation Blücher-Yorck (27 – 30 May)
- Operation Gneisenau (9-12 June)
- Operation Hagen (abandoned)
In Fog on the Somme, James Halstead, has designed a board game simulation of the first ten days of the German Spring Offensive – Operation Michael. The game was of immediate personal interest to me: My great grandfather, Caleb Clarke, a Private in the 3rd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, had been killed in action on 27 May 1918, the first day of the phase Operation Blücher-Yorck, also known as the Third Battle of the Aisne.
James set up two games of four players: two German players and two British to each game. I was one of the British players.
I was interested in the game map (see Fig 1) and would have liked a map of France available so I could place the game map in a bigger context. However, having played the game, I could understand and appreciate the actual map of the German Spring Offensive and the movement of the lines of advancement.
I took a while to get my head around the game rules ‘on the fly’. There was a lot to read and understand. However, James managed to keep both games moving forward.
As the game progressed, I couldn’t help thinking ‘this is what it was like for my great grandfather’. Seeing the need to keep retreating in the face of the German advance and British retreat gave me a better perspective.
James has the rules, reference sheets and maps available on his website at https://youstupidboy.wordpress.com/free-games/. I appreciated his comments in the analysis and reflection essay that he had a greater appreciation of the way the environment significantly affected the battles outcome. I also noted he has another game in prototype: Ships Just Sink: The Battle of Jutland, 1916, which had another family connection!
Having played the simulation Fog on the Somme, I decided to head back to my family history and see what had occurred to my great grandfather’s battalion during Operation Michael. I thought it might make an interesting read for those who played the game, and hopefully for others interested in the real-life experience of the soldiers on the ground of the game we play.
On the Ground: The Real Experience of the 3rd Battalion
In 1918, the 3rd Worcesters were in the Actions on the Somme Crossings.
18th March: the battalion were moved to No 11 Camp Favreuil, in readiness for the expected German offensive.
21st March: Just on dawn at 5am, the battalion came under heavy bombardment. Of the 108 lives lost in the regiment that day, 16 were from the 3rd Battalion (16/108 regiment lives lost).
22 March: The Battalion Headquarters was moved to a deeper dug-out. B and C Companies were ordered to extend the left flank along the northern side of Maricourt Wood towards Vaux Wood, where fresh attacks on the Corps Line were taking place. A Battalion was withdrawn from the left so B and C Companies were ordered to withdraw to the Sunken Road. As attacks were heavy, only C Companies could be extricated. A and B Companies inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. During this day, Captain JM Lett, Lt DG Herries, Lt FG Elliot, 2LT A Houghton were killed and 2Lt C Latham was wounded. (30/104 regiment lives lost).
23 March: The Battalion was withdrawn to Fremicourt and marched back to Bihoucourt Church where the 74th Infantry was concentrated. The Battalion remained in Savoy Camp, Bihoucourt that night. (1/35 regiment lives lost).
24 March: The Battalion was ordered to dig in. (4/35 regiment lives lost).
25 March: Owing to the troops on the left flank withdrawing, the Battalion withdrew and took up position on the Ridge with the 9th Loyal North Lancasters on the right and 11th Lancasters Fusiliers on the left. Troops were streaming back on the right, so the Battalion crossed to west side of the railway.
By 3.30pm the enemy had failed to push on so the Battalion re-crossed the railway and held a Line along the old communication trenches. From this line the Brigade was withdrawn through the 62nd Division, who were dug-in east of Achiet le Petit. The Battalion spent the night at Ballemoy. (0/49 regiment lives lost).
26 March: The Battalion took up position near La Brayelle Farm in the old German trenches but had to side-step to allow in the 7th Brigade who were joining them. At 11.30 pm, the Battalion was ordered to withdraw to Brigade Assembly Point west of Fonqueville on the Souastre Road. (1/11 regiment lives lost).
27 March: The Battalion marched to Couin where the Brigade was concentrated. At 2.30pm, the Battalion marched to Puchvillers where it spent the night in the open. (1/18 regiment lives lost).
28 March (Easter – Good Friday): After a very cold night the Battalion marched to billets in St Ouen. The men had marched 36 miles in 36 hours very well. (0/28 regiment lives lost).
29 March: The Battalion rested. (0/7 regiment lives lost).
30 March: The Battalion rested. (0/8 regiment lives lost).
27 May: At 1am the bombardment began. At 8.30am the Battalion was placed at the disposal of the 50th Division. At 9.15am, the Battalion moved up to Concevreux and took up positions with A and B Companies covering the bridgehead. C Company formed a defensive flank and crossed the canal at Pontavert, moving in a south westerly direction. At 2.30pm the enemy broke through the Battalion on our left and worked behind 3 Front Line Companies and got into Concevreux. After heavy casualties the Battalion managed to withdraw and get to higher ground south of Cioncevreux, but in the fighting some men went too far left and lost the Battalion. At 10pm the Battalion had to withdraw to southwest of Ventelay. Capt. EA Humphries, 2nd Lt EV Matthews, 2Lt RO Goolden and Lt WBJ Wall were all missing and Capt. T Grant was wounded. (54/87 regiment lives lost: one of them was my great grandfather).
18 June: The German Offensive finished.
22 June: The Battalion transferred to the 57th Brigade in the 19th Western Division and absorbed the 10th Battalion.
The 3rd Worcesters were in action in the Final Advance in Picardy and at the Armistice were in billets near Bavay.
As of 31st December 1918, there were 11,585 Worcestershire casualties during World War I.
Forces War Records (2022). WWI Troop Movements and ORBATS for First Battles of the Somme – Actions at the Somme Crossings. Available at: https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/maps/battles/108/first-battles-of-the-somme-actions-at-the-somme-crossings Accessed on: 5 October, 2022.
Halstead, J. (n.d.) Historical Analysis, Design Notes, and Reflective Essay. Available at: https://youstupidboy.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/historical-analysis-design-notes-and-reflective-essay.pdf Accessed on: 5 October, 2022.
The Wartime Memories Project (2022). 3rd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment During the Great War. Available at: https://www.wartimememoriesproject.com/greatwar/allied/battalion.php?pid=5012 Accessed on: 5 October, 2022.
Worcestershire WW1 (2022). Key Dates. Worcestershire World War 100. Available at: http://www.ww1worcestershire.co.uk/ Accessed on: 5 October, 2022.
You Stupid Boy (2022). Fog on the Somme. Free Games. Available at: https://youstupidboy.wordpress.com/free-games/ Accessed on: 5 October, 2022.