III Corps: The Somme 1916

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1 III Corps: The Somme 1916 A Card Wargame of World War I Neal Reid 2016 Published by Vexillia Limited

2 Contents 1. Introduction 3 2. Historical Background 3 3. Setting Up The Game 6 Acknowledgements To Kevin Tucker for his enthusiasm and help in developing this project. Perhaps you will get some of your own games developed now? Image Credits All images & maps Crown Copyright Obtained from

3 1. Introduction This two player card game covers the experience of the British III Corps on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st The game follows the course of the pre-battle preparation and the first day of the battle itself. One player is the commander of the III Corps, Gen Sir William Putteney. The other player is his opponent Lt. General Hermann von Stein commander of the German XIV Reserve Corps. This game is an extension of X Corps, the second game in the Somme Series, and uses exactly the same rules. The rules are not reproduced here and to play this game you will need a copy of the rules from X Corps. 2. Historical Background On July 1st 1916 III Corps, led by Lt. Gen Sir William Putteney comprised the 8th Division and the 34th Division. It was one of five from Lt. General Sir Henry Rawlinson s Fourth Army that attacked German positions on the Somme in an attack supported by a diversion created by Fifth Army s VII Corps against the village of Gommecourt. III Corps had three separate objectives. They were: to take the German front line consisting of three separate trench lines; to seize the Nordverk redoubt and the fortified villages of Ovillers la Boisselle and La Boisselle in the second line; and finally, by the end of the day, to take the villages of Pozières and Contalmaison that formed the German support line. Unlike VIII Corps, who attacked due East, III Corps attacked North Eastwards along shallow valleys typically named by the Tommies as Sausage and Mash. The German front line, further south of the river Ancre was not as well prepared as the northern sectors. However, the Germans had incorporated two villages into their defences which were formidable defences in their own right and bolstered by interlocking fields of fire. In the north Ovillers la Boisselle had been held by the Germans for nearly two years and their field engineers had converted into a large and very effective collection of machine gun positions. Further south the village of La Boisselle stood on a salient that stuck out to the British lines but was still protected by the German front line. The village had been fortified with dugouts almost 30 feet deep which the British had decided to undermine with two separate mines. The British originally planned five days of bombardment all along Fourth Army s front to weaken the German lines. They hoped to so debilitate the Germans troops that they would simply have to walk over and occupy the trenches without any serious fighting. However, bad weather reduced the intensity of the bombardment, which had to be extended for a further two days. 3

4 The Germans in the area of III Corps suffered very badly from the British bombardment. German numbers were whittled down. Communication became almost non-existent. Supplies like food, water and ammunition were spasmodic. Many trenches were reduced to lines of craters however poor British aerial observation and target planning led to many machine gun emplacements being missed; they were to prove decisive on the day. As if seven days of bombardment was not enough to sign-post a British attack, the Germans intercepted a British radio broadcast, at 03:45 on the morning of 1st July, wishing the troops in front of La Boisselle good luck. The Germans knew the British were coming. Unlike the rest of the front some of the German artillery did reply to the British bombardment, with some British units losing 10% of their strength before the battle had even commenced. The 8th Division left their trenches in front of The Nab at and reached the German front lines with minimal losses, to find the wire largely untouched. It was here that the myth of Germans chained to their machine guns started: dead Germans were found apparently 4

5 chained to their machine guns. It is probable that the chains were to assist moving the guns and the Germans were simply killed deploying their weapon. Sweeping beyond the German front line the British support troops started to become confused and disorganised. Casualties from machine gun fire mounted dramatically. At 08.30, and before the British reached the Nordwerk, the order to withdraw was issued. The British then consolidated their gains in the German front line. Attempts to send in additional support were mown down and the attack was reported as failed at 15.30; the last man withdrew at as the British abandoned all their earlier gains. In Mash Valley the British troops, aided by a Russian Sap, attacked at but were spotted by the Germans and were mown down. Troops crossing No Man s land stopped walking and started running to minimise casualties. They never reached the German front line. At 12:00 orders were issued halting all attacks. By the whole division had been ordered to withdraw to Albert because of the high number of casualties suffered. The 34th Division s attack was to be preceded by the blowing of 2 mines, the Lochnager and the Y Sap mines. As mines elsewhere these were blown before the start time at wiping out at least one company of Germans in the process. Despite this the British waited for the debris to clear before moving forward. The delay proved costly as the Germans had time to prepare their remaining machine gun positions to meet the attack. The British used a smoke in attempt to hide their movement; it was not a success. The 34th s attack was further impeded by machine gun fire on their left flank from Ovillers la Boisselle which should have been taken by the 8th Division. Even so the German front line was taken and consolidated. German counter-attacks were repelled and two trenches were dug connecting the British lines to the captured German trenches. All efforts to support the troops in the captured trenches suffered terrible casualties from the German machine guns on their flank. Despite continuous German counter-attacks the 34th Division managed to hold its small gains until the night of the 3rd July. Most of the village of La Boisselle was eventually captured by the supporting 19th Division on the 4th July. 5

6 3. Setting Up The Game The game uses one six sided die (1d6) and three different sets of cards: 9 Terrain, 39 British, and 34 German cards. The British and German card decks contain a mixture of strategic and tactical cards. Sets of cards are supplied in the accompanying pdf and are sized to fit commercial card covers. To start the game, shuffle the British and German decks. Do not mix the British and German decks. Next lay out the numbered Terrain cards in a three by three grid to represent the three German defensive lines and the axes of the three British divisional attacks. The trenches run top to bottom and the divisional attacks run left to right. British Terrain Cards 8th #19 #20 #21 34th #22 #23 #24 34th #25 #26 #27 German Front Line Second Line Support Line In World War I British attacks were supported by troops fed through from No Man s Land. The Germans learnt that, once it was clear the British were attacking, a bombardment of No Man s Land was very effective in disrupting the British attack. To reflect this, the Germans may bombard No Man s Land later in the game. So leave space for German Barrage cards to the left of the Front Line cards. You are now ready to play the first turn. 6

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