14/7/1916 The Somme: Rawlinson sends in the cavalry

Since the bloodbath of the Somme’s first day, the Allies have staged a series of piecemeal attacks on German positions. Some progress has been made but it has been paid for in prodigious quantities of blood. Between the 2nd and yesterday the British have suffered another 25,000 casualties. German casualties are lower but not inconsiderable, with German losses stemming especially from French and British artillery and from Falkenhayn’s insistence that bloody counter-attacks must be made to attempt the recapture of any lost positions.

Now the British launch a larger assault against the Germans defending Longueval and Bazentin Ridge. Rawlinson’s hope is that the five infantry divisions will punch through the German lines, with the cavalry then being released to exploit the success. Unlike on the 1st of July, the British artillery is concentrated on the frontline German positions.

The British attack by night. Their artillery has done a good job this time, with the German positions pulverised and much of the barbed wire cleared. The German frontline trenches are overrun but as the British press on their advance bogs down and casualties start to mount. Rawlinson had hoped that German morale would collapse once their first line was lost, but the machine-gunners and artillerymen hitting his troops have other ideas.

Nevertheless, Rawlinson decides that the time has come to send in the cavalry. Indian lancers move forward to exploit the morning’s successes, their target High Wood, a strongly defended German position. The Indians spear a handful of Germans they find in a wheat field but are unable to make any real progress. Machine gun fire forces them to dismount and adopt defensive positions. The Somme remains no battle for cavalry.

image sources:

Indian cavalry waiting to attack today (National Army Museum)

Germans surrender to cavalry (WWI Covered Live (@ThisDayInWWI on Twitter))

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