Despite the short-lived rebellion in Dublin earlier this year, large numbers of Irishmen continue to serve in the British army. Among these are the men of the 16th Division, who find themselves taking part in the Somme battle. Here small-scale assaults are continuing. Haig is convinced that the Germans are on the brink of collapse but is frustrated at the inability of Rawlinson, the Somme commander, to achieve a breakthrough. Still, Haig hopes that the imminent arrival of the tanks (as the land battleships are now known) will tip the balance.
For now the focus of British efforts is on making small gains that will clear the way forward for the tanks. Today the 16th Division take part in an attack on the ruined village of Ginchy, target of several previous failed assaults. This time fortune favours the attackers. The Irish troops attack from an unexpected direction and have the benefit of a particularly destructive creeping artillery barrage. The German defenders are in a state of some disorganisation, as their positions have just been occupied by new units that have not had time to coordinate their operations.
So Ginchy falls to the Irishmen. The Germans retreat in some disorder, perhaps lending credence to Haig’s belief that they are at the end of their tether. When the tanks arrive the British army’s next hammer blow may yet achieve the long hoped-for breakthrough.
Soldier advance during the battle (National Army Museum)
map (Royal Dublin Fusiliers)