The Battle of Longueval

Today we remember the 185 Black Watch men who died between 13th and 19th July 1916 at the battle of Longueval, part of the battle of the Somme.

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Men of the 8th Battalion following the battle.

The objective of the battle was to take the high ground of Bazentin Ridge, between Bazentin le Grant and Longueval. This also included taking control of the ridge road, and Deville Wood behind Longueval village. By doing so, the British forces would occupy the high ground on the ridge and expose German positions to our artillery. In detail, the objective was:

  1. To advance from the British front lines to Longueval village 2.5 miles away
  2. To continue into and through Deville Wood a further 0.3 miles
  3. And to then extend the line eastwards a further 0.35 miles along the ridge road.

The 8th Black Watch, alongside with Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, was with the 26th Brigade of the 9th Scottish Division, on the east flank. Also with the 9th was the 27th Brigade, including Royal Scots, on the west flank.

The advance was along a 1500 yard long front. All this was across fairly open ground that had been subjected to a lengthy artillery bombardment, and was visible to the German positions on the ridge. These positions, although heavily bombarded, were well constructed and provided the German troops with excellent protection. It allowed them to emerge from their bunkers and man the machine gun posts, protecting the down-slope over which the 9th Scottish Division would have to advance.

The German defences consisted of:

  • Two barbed wire lines, 15 yards apart and 30 yards wide. The wire was double and triple thickness and between 3-5 feet high.
  • The front line consisted of three defensive lines 150 yards apart. These had been reinforced with trenches 20-30 feet deep and concrete firing positions.
  • The first line lay along the front of the village and ridge road; the second was within Deville Wood; and the third behind that and outside the range of British artillery.

At 0300 hours on 14th July 1916, under cover of darkness 26 Brigade move through “no man’s land” to within 400 yards of the German first line in front of Longueval. At 0325 the attack begins and by 1000 Longueval village is taken. The southeast corner holds out until 1700. At 1300 patrols of Deville Woo are met with resistance (the second line) and fall back to the village. German bombardment of the village continues throughout the night.

At 1100 on 15th July 1916, heavy bombardment begins and a counter attack from the northwest (Deville Wood) is beaten off. The village is under constant bombardment and casualties are high.

On 18th July 1916, the 8th Black Watch sees more hard fighting. The Germans retake part of the village, but a counter attack drove them back and took part of Deville Wood. However, they were then outflanked and had to withdraw, with heavy casualties.

On 19th July 1916, the positions were reinforced by the South Africans and 8BW can withdraw.

The opening strength of 8th Black Watch was 739 men. Between 9th to 19th July, 110 were killed or died of wounds and 458 were missing or wounded. Of 739 men, 6 officers and 165 men – only 23% – marched out.

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Pipes and Drums of the 8th Battalion following the battle. The men pictured here would be nearly its full compliment, as only 165 men and 6 officers marched out.

With thanks to Derek Bowes for his research. Images by Farawayman (Own work, Public Domain).

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