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The Battle of the Ancre was the final act of the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Launched on 13 November, 1916 by the British Fifth Army (formerly the Reserve Army) of Lieutenant General Hubert Gough, the objective of the battle was as much political as military.

Prelude

The Allied commanders were due to meet at Chantillymarker on 15 November and the Britishmarker commander-in-chief, General Sir Douglas Haig, wanted to be able to report favourable progress to his Frenchmarker counterparts.

Gough planned an attack on either side of the Ancremarker River, a small tributary of the Somme Rivermarker which flowed through the northern sector of the battlefield. South of the Ancre was the village of Thiepvalmarker, which had been recently captured by the British during the Battle of Thiepval Ridgemarker, and St Pierre Divion, which was still in Germanmarker hands. North of the Ancre were the villages of Beaumont-Hamelmarker and Beaucourt-sur-l'Ancremarker; this sector has not seen major operations since the opening of the Somme offensive on 1 July.

The Battle

By November the British had learned many lessons about planning, preparing and executing an attack in trench warfare. Supported by artillery, a machine gun barrage and (rather fitfully) by tanks, the 51st Division stormed across the heavily-defended Y Ravine and captured the village of Beaumont Hamel, while on their left the 2nd Division advanced along Redan Ridge. On the right, attacking across the low ground between Beaumont Hamel and the river, the 63rd Division reached the village of Beaucourt on the first day and secured it on the next. During this engagement, Lieutenant Commander Bernard Freyberg, who would later become Governor-General of New Zealand, won the Victoria Cross despite being wounded three times. To their north, efforts were less successful; here the 3rd Division and the 31st Division were expected to form a defensive flank and take the village of Serre but their attack failed. For the 31st Division it was déjà vu — they tried to advance across the same ground as on the first day on the Somme, with the same negative result. South of the Ancre, however, II Corps took its objectives with relative ease.

At this point, the Battle of the Ancre could be considered a success for the British, and C-in-C Haig was satisfied with the result. However, V Army commander Gough was - as ever - keen to continue further, a characteristic of his command that was loathed by the men who had to serve under him. On 18 November, II Corps was ordered to drive north towards the village of Grandcourt and the river. North of the river, V Corps was meant to secure the remainder of Redan Ridge. Neither attack was successful.

On the right (westernmost) flank of the attack of 18 November, the 4th Canadian Division were tasked with taking Desire Trench and Desire Support Trench which ran roughly parallel to the river, south of Grandcourt. The thrust of the attack on Desire Support was manned by a company of men from the 46th (Saskatchewan) Battalion and two more from the 50th (Calgary)Battalion who were met with heavy machine gun fire and only took a small section of Desire Support before being repulsed. A second thrust from 11th brigade with two companies each from the 38th (Ottawa), 54th (Kootenay), 75th (Mississauga), and 87th (Canadian Grenadier Guards) battalions attacked, captured, held and consolidated sections of Desire and sent patrols forward to Grandcourt Trench. [102686]

Aftermath

When Gough called off the Battle of the Ancre, the Battle of the Somme had effectively ceased. In the southern sector, the British Fourth Army had finished operations on 16 November and on the French sector the final action took place on 14–15 November in St Pierre Vaast Wood. Both sides now settled down to endure winter on the Somme in which the weather was a common enemy.

References

  1. Bewsher p. 100


Further reading



External links

La Bataille de l'Ancre, Film archive of the Imperial War Museummarker, at Dailymotion


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