Right of the Line

Delville Wood Artillery

 

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This World War 1 photo from the Herr Woerner Eugen Collection, shows the German side of the offensive at Delville Wood, this German soldier is overseeing the shell case dump on the German side of Delville Wood.

Leading up to the Delville Wood parade this year we remind ourselves of the hell endured by the South Africans fighting in the wood – and nothing says it more than seeing the mountainous piles of artillery shells fired at them.

The Germans launched one of the heaviest artillery bombardments of the war in an effort to dislodge the South Africans in the wood. It has been estimated that at its peak the rate of firing exceeded 400 shells per minute – even at one stage some references say 600 shells per minute were been fired at the South African positions. To think this relentless volley of shelling was into a wood no bigger than a square kilometre in size.

The South Africans began to dig in beating off counter attacks as they did so. The roots and remnants of tree trunks made the preparation of proper trenches impossible and the South Africans had to make do with shallow ones.

Of the 121 officers and 3,032 men of the South African Brigade who launched the initial attack in the wood, only 29 officers and 751 men survived. These men held their objective at a massive cost – the depth of bravery required to do this under this fire power is simply staggering to contemplate. The losses sustained by the South Africans were one of the greatest sacrifices of the war.

This image is fully copyrighted to the Imperial War Museum.

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