Thiepval Ridge

 26 September 1916

The Canadian victory at Courcelette earlier in September pushed the Corps up several hundred metres to new lines just after the village. Several weeks later, as part of Haig’s bite and hold plan, the 1st and 2nd Divisions would be jumping off from the new Canadian lines to take Thiepval Ridge, some 1 000 metres north west of their current position. The divisions would be covering fully half of the 6 000 yards of front planned for the attack, and would be advancing in broad daylight towards the Germans’ elevated position on top of the ridge.

After a three day bombardment, the 1st and 2nd Divisions attacked at 12h35 on 26 September.  Like most of the Somme attacks there was little room to manoeuvre or conceal preparations, so the divisions were caught out almost immediately under the German counter bombardment. The Canadian bombardment was able to keep the frontline trenches from functioning, but could not knock out the guns further back, which rained shells onto the battalions trying to cross the open ground to their objectives. Both divisions successfully moved across No Mans Land, though at high loss of life, and crashed into the trenches opposite, over running most over the course of a 3 hour struggle. As with Courcelette, the problem was less capturing a trench than holding the trench, and the battalions holding parts of Hessian, Kenora and the Zollern Graben struggled to hold them against multiple counter attacks.

By the end of the day, the trench systems at the ridge where still not fully captured and the British commander of the operation, Hubert Gough, called the attack off for the night, planned to begin again in the morning. However, the German regiments pulled out during the night, consolidating in the fortified Regina Trench system at the top of the ridge. Some effort was made to probe Regina trench, and the Canadian Divisions continued to skirmish around Kenora trench, but the large scale battle for Thiepval was over for the time being.  Canadian losses for the day were extremely heavy, total Allied losses for Thiepval were over 12 000.

Technological advancements

After their use at Courcelette, Thiepval was the second site of employment for the new British Mark I tanks. The Canadian divisions were given the use of the Corps two remaining workable tanks for the battle, one of which was a casualty of the mechanical problems that continued to plague them, and the other of which was knocked out by a direct hit from a German shell.  As with Courcelette, the small scale of their usage, problems with co-ordination and mechanical failure prevented the tanks from being effective.

Notable participants

Lt. Charles Edward Reynolds, DSO & MC 29th Battalion –Reynolds received the DSO for an attack against German positions that were firing on the 29th Battalion’s new position, one of the only objectives reached during the first minutes of Thiepval. Along with Sergeant W.A. Tennant, Reynolds led the attack, killing two German officers, and the strong point was taken. Tennant and Reynolds were the only survivors of the party.

 

Burial of Major Edward Lewin Knight, commander of the Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery (Canadian Machine Gun Corps). Knight was killed on 26 September 1916. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada. | Colourized for the first time ever by Canadian Colour.
Burial of Major Edward Lewin Knight, commander of the Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery (Canadian Machine Gun Corps). Knight was killed on 26 September 1916. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada. | Colourized for the first time ever by Canadian Colour. ]

Download our poster about the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Thiepval Ridge.

Read about the Regina Trench.