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After the Boer War, the British war minister, Richard Haldane, created the British Expeditionary Army (BEF), in case it was necessary to take part in a foreign war. By August 1914, there were about 120,000 soldiers in the BEF.
On the outbreak of the First World War, it was decided to send Sir John French and four infantry division to Belgium. By October 1914 the BEF had seven infantry and three cavalry divisions in France and Belgium.
In December the British Expeditionary Army was divided into the First and Second Army. A Third Army was created in July 1915 and a Fourth Army in March 1916.
Sir John French remained in charge of the until December 1915, when he was replaced by Sir Douglas Haig.
Along the roads of France and in the port of Boulogne, the B.E.F. was greeted with ecstasy by the French civilians who went mad at the sight of them. In every village girls threw flowers at them, ran alongside with gifts of frit, and flung kisses at them in wayside stations when they leaned out of the railway trucks. they had come to help save France. Nothing in those first weeks was too good for them.
The official announcement of the completion of the landing of the Expeditionary Force in France makes it possible to publish in this country accounts of the despatch of the troops and their hearty welcome in France. These were appearing in the Paris papers nine or ten days ago.
Over the sides of a big transport towed and steered into Boulogne habour by four tugs this afternoon appeared the high mast and wireless aerial of a British warship. Along the piers which flank the waterway there were ringing French cheers for the soldiers crowding the transport's sides and rigging, but the crowds dispersed before the ship of war steamed into port.
The warship, which had made what was probably a record passage from Dover, carried Field Marshal Sir John French and the Headquarters Staff of the British Expeditionary Force. The swift and by all accounts smooth and efficient despatch of the Expeditionary Force overseas is a remarkable military achievement.
The army mobilisation proclamation was signed on the same day as the declaration of war against Germany - Tuesday, August 4. In less than a fortnight the landing of a fully equipped army on the Continent has been completed. And this has been done under the protection of the navy, with a powerful hostile fleet only 300 miles away.
Before war was declared, the Regular Amy at home was organised in one cavalry division, six divisions, and army and line of communication troops, with a total strength of about 165,000 men. This was to be the Expeditionary Force. What part of it has now been sent abroad the official statement does not say.
The British Army Between 1815-1945 – Online Course – FutureLearn
Explore the British Armys part in the making of the modern world With a legacy stretching back centuries the British Army is proud of its hard-won reputation as one of the most formidable fighting forces in the world On this course youll see for yourself how the British Army evolved as an institution between 1815 and 1945 Youll reflect on its social composition place in society and military proficiency analysing a range of primary sources and incorporating your findings into historical debate Ultimately youll develop a deeper understanding of the British Army – its successes failures and role in shaping the modern worldWeek 1 The British Army at Waterloo The composition and organization of the army at the turn of the 19th century The image of the Army in British society Battlefield performance in a limited war as part of an international coalition The influence of the Duke of Wellingtons generalship Week 2 The British Army and Empire Campaigning in Africa and India The Indian Mutiny 1857 The Anglo-Zulu War 1879 The Second Boer War 1899-1902 Week 3 The British Army and the First World War The expansion of the Army Gallipoli the Somme and the 100 days The experience of the British soldier throughout the war Commemorating the war Week 4 The British Army and the Second World War The defeats of 1940 in France and 1942 in the Far East Crucial engagements at El Alamein 1942 D-Day 1944 and Operation Market Garden 1944 The impact of total war and how this influenced the conduct of British military operations The extent to which the British Army changed socially culturally and militarily between 1815 and 1945
Blitzkrieg and the Allied collapse
The immediate context of the Dunkirk evacuation was Germany’s invasion of the Low Countries and northern France in May 1940. On May 10 the German blitzkrieg attack on the Netherlands began with the capture by parachutists of key bridges deep within the country, with the aim of opening the way for mobile ground forces. The Dutch defenders fell back westward, and by noon on May 12 German tanks were on the outskirts of Rotterdam. Queen Wilhelmina and her government left the country for England on May 13, and the next day the Dutch army surrendered to the Germans.
The invasion of Belgium also began on May 10, when German airborne troops landed on the fortress of Eben Emael, immediately opposite Maastricht, and on bridges over the Albert Canal. On May 11 the Belgian front was broken, and German tanks ran on westward while Belgian, French, and British divisions fell back to a line between Antwerp and Namur.
The German invasion of France hinged on Gen. Paul Ludwig von Kleist’s surprise advance through the hilly and dense Ardennes Forest. On May 10 German tanks crossed Luxembourg to the southeastern border of Belgium, and by the evening of May 12 the Germans were across the Franco-Belgian frontier and overlooking the Meuse River. The next day they crossed the Meuse, and on May 15 they broke through the French defenses into open country, turning westward in the direction of the English Channel. That same day, Gen. Henri Giraud assumed command of the French Ninth Army and drew up a plan for a counteroffensive on a line 25 miles (40 km) west of the Meuse. On May 16 Giraud found that the forces for such an undertaking were not available, while the Germans had advanced in strength far beyond that line. He now decided to withdraw to the line of the Oise, 30 miles (48 km) farther back, and to block the Germans there. Once again he was too late, for the German panzer divisions outran his retreating troops and were across that barrier on May 17.
Even if the French had been able to mount a counteroffensive, they would not have found it easy to crush the invader. Kleist’s southern flank was progressively lined by his motorized divisions, which in turn were relieved by the infantry corps that were marching on as fast as possible. This lining of the Aisne had an important indirect effect of playing on the most instinctive fear of the French. When, on May 15, French commander-in-chief Maurice Gamelin received an alarming report that the Germans were crossing the Aisne between Rethel and Laon, he told the government that he had no reserves between that sector and Paris and could not guarantee the security of the capital for more than a day. After Gamelin’s startling message, French Premier Paul Reynaud hastily decided to move the seat of government from Paris to Tours. By evening more reassuring reports had come from the Aisne, and Reynaud broadcast a denial of “the most absurd rumours that the government is preparing to leave Paris.” At the same time, he seized the opportunity to replace Gamelin and for that purpose summoned Gen. Maxime Weygand from Syria. Weygand did not arrive until May 19, and thus for three critical days the Supreme Command was without direction.
While Allied leaders were still hoping for an attack that would cut off the expanding “bulge,” German armoured forces raced to the Channel and cut off the Allied forces in Belgium. The remaining obstacles that could have blocked the advance were not manned in time. After crossing the Oise on May 17, German Gen. Heinz Guderian’s advance troops reached Amiens two days later. On May 20 they swept on and reached Abbeville, thus blocking all communications between north and south. By the next day motorized divisions had taken over the line of the Somme from Péronne to Abbeville, forming a strong defensive flank. Guderian’s corps then turned north up the coast in a drive for Calais and Dunkirk on May 22. Gen. Georg-Hans Reinhardt swung south of the British rear position at Arras, headed for the same objective—the last escape port that remained open for the British.
Borrowed Soldiers: The American 27th and 30th Divisions and the British Army on the Ypres Front, August-September 1918
Ypres, or “Wipers,” as the British Tommies called the ancient Belgian city, is synonymous with World War I. An extraordinary number of lives were lost there and in the nearby salient during seemingly endless fighting over the course of four years. Numerous monuments and cemeteries dot the landscape and remind one of the horrors of war. One such monument pays tribute to the American 27th and 30th Divisions. These two divisions, comprised largely of National Guard troops, received their baptism of fire on 30 August-1 September 1918, when they engaged veteran German forces on one of the area’s highest points, Kemmel Hill, and the surrounding villages of Vierstraat, Vormezeele, and Wytschaete. The Germans had gained the positions in April of that year but were in retreat when the Americans arrived. Nonetheless, they refused to retire quietly and, in the process, taught the eager doughboys a lesson in combat along the Western Front.
Ruins of St. Martin’s Church in Ypres, Belgium, ca. 1918. (War Dept.)
When this operation commenced, the Americans were into the second phase of instruction by the best soldiers the Allies had to offer. Soon after arriving on the Western Front in the spring of 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) commander General John J. Pershing reluctantly sent the 27th and 30th Divisions to train with the British Army. It was his way of appeasing Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, who insisted that American doughboys amalgamate into the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to fill the ranks of his depleted army. Pershing, however, had other plans. He sought to form an independent army and resisted the constant pressure from Haig. It was only when the U.S. War Department accepted an offer from the British to transport American troops to Europe that Pershing allowed Americans to train with Haig’s Tommies. Additionally, Pershing agreed that the British would equip, feed, and arm his men, and that they could also be utilized at the front should an emergency arise. Under this program of training, ten American divisions spent time in the British sector as the American II Corps. The agreement also benefited the Americans since the War Department lacked the shipping to send troops overseas, nor did it have enough arms on hand to issue them to every soldier.
Peace between the two commanders, however, was diminished when Pershing reassigned eight of the divisions to his newly organized American First Army. Pershing wanted all ten divisions back, but Haig vehemently protested and was allowed to keep two—the 27th and 30th. They remained behind as the AEF’s smallest corps.
Haig now had about 50,000 fresh American soldiers to utilize as he saw fit. An AEF division comprised roughly 27,000 officers and men, but the 27th and 30th never reached this strength. Their artillery brigades arrived in France separately and were immediately assigned to First Army. Pershing also did not allot replacements to the 27th and 30th until after the Armistice, a sign that he considered them of lesser importance than his other divisions.
Prior to arriving in France, the 27th Division trained at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina, near Asheville, North Carolina, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Most Army divisions were sent to the milder southern and southeastern United States for training. “Nights were bitterly cold, but the sun would be scorching hot during the day,” Private William F. Clarke, a member of the 104th Machine Gun Battalion, vividly recalled. It was not uncommon to come back from either “a day on the drill field or from a ten mile hike, perspiring profusely, and then almost freeze to death at night.”
Major General John F. O’Ryan was the 27th Division’s commander and the highest-ranking National Guard officer to command such a large contingent of troops during the war. He was a disciplinarian and his troops were recognized for their professional demeanor that ranked alongside units of the Regular Army. The division was comprised of troops from all over New York, including men from some of New York City’s most prominent families, as well as farmers and laborers from all over the Empire State. Prior to service overseas, the New Yorkers were sent to the Mexican border in 1916 during the Punitive Expedition as the 6th Division, the only Guard unit organized in this fashion. The 27th Division adopted an insignia that consisted of a red-bordered black circle with the letters “NYD” in monogram with the stars of the constellation Orion, in honor of their commanding officer.
The 30th Division was more typical of the National Guard. A composite of regiments from North and South Carolina, and Tennessee, the division came together at Camp Sevier, near Greenville, South Carolina. During the course of the war, nine different general officers commanded the division until the Army settled on a West Point classmate of Pershing, Major General Edward M. Lewis, who had previously led 3d Infantry Brigade, 2d Division. The 30th Division, nicknamed “Old Hickory” after President Andrew Jackson, included units whose lineage dated back to the War of 1812. Like those of the 27th, the regiments of the 30th Division regiments had served on the Mexican border during the Punitive Expedition.
A soldier boy of the 71st Regiment Infantry, New York National Guard, saying good bye to his sweetheart as his regiment leaves for Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, S.C., where the New York Division trained for service. 1917. IFS.
For more than eight months, both divisions underwent intense physical fitness training, conducted maneuvers in open warfare, and attended lectures from British and French officers sent to the United States as advisors. Units of the 27th and 30th Divisions began arriving in France during the last week of May 1918. Entering the ports of Calais and Brest, the Americans were welcomed to the war zone with the distant thunder of artillery pieces and nightly German air raids. After days of hard marching, both divisions were assigned to a sector behind the British front lines to begin training. To ensure compatibility with the British soldiers, the Americans were required to trade their beloved .30 caliber Model 1917 rifles for the Lee-Enfield Mark III.
The training program designed specifically for these divisions consisted of ten weeks of instruction for infantry and machine gun troops to be carried out in three periods. First, they trained out of line for a minimum of four weeks, encompassing drill, musketry, and physical exercise. This included tutoring in the Lewis machine gun and other infantry weapons. Next, the Americans were to attach with British troops in the line for three weeks. Officers and noncommissioned officers would enter for a forty-eight-hour period, while the men joined up with British companies and platoons for shorter periods. Finally, each regiment was to train in a rear area for three to four weeks to provide more advanced instruction. There, the Americans would practice maneuvering battalions and companies. For the most part the doughboys and Tommies got along well. Not surprisingly though, the Americans complained about the British rations. Accustomed to American food served in large portions, they were instead issued a small meat ration, tea (instead of coffee), and cheese.
During the second period of training, the 27th and 30th Divisions were assigned to the British Second Army for training and moved to their sector, southwest of Ypres, to organize and defend a portion of the East Poperinghe Line. The position took its name from the town of Poperhinghe, situated several kilometers north and consisting of an irregular system of unconnected trenches, strongholds, and pillboxes.
During the first part of August, the 30th Division moved near Poperhinghe and Watou, where it came under the tactical control of the British II Corps, while the 27th assumed the second, or reserve, position in the British defenses near Kemmel Hill, under the command of British XIX Corps. This included Dickebusch Lake and the Scherpenberg areas.
Eventually, the 30th advanced to the same reserve sector as the 27th, leaving both on the north face of the Lys salient, a front that covered 4,000 yards. The salient was formed in the Allied line south of Ypres in the spring of 1918 when the Germans attacked along the Lys River during Operation Georgette and took Kemmel Hill from the French. A British officer wrote that the “loss of Kemmel by the French is good we held it anyhow it should make them less uncivil.”
The salient extended from Zillebeke Lake, at one time the chief water supply for Ypres, to the southeast of Voormezeele. It had been shaped by the fighting of First Ypres in 1914, and the subsequent fighting had created deep craters. The ground was very low, and shell holes became small pools. Surrounding the salient was the high ground—Observatory Ridge, Passchendaele Ridge, Messines-Wytschaete Ridge, and Kemmel Hill, all held by the Germans. These positions allowed the enemy a clear field of fire in all directions. An American observed that often the “men in the forward systems believed they were being shelled by their own artillery, when, as a matter of fact, the shells were from the enemy guns on the right and in the rear.”
Battalions of the 30th Division’s 119th and 120th Infantry Regiments began occupying portions of the front in the Canal sector, ten miles southwest of Ypres. One regiment had its camp at “Dirty Bucket,” about four miles from Ypres. Soldiers were housed in huts built by the British in a grove of oak trees big enough to house an entire company (256 officers and men). Quarters were far from luxurious—a lack of cots or bunks meant soldiers slept on the floor. For the commanding and staff officers of the 27th and 30th, however, it was much different. The 27th maintained headquarters at Oudezeele, while the 30th Division set up its command in Watou, where O’Ryan and Lewis slept in relative comfort. Many of the divisions’ staff and senior regimental officers were housed in what were called “Armstrong Hut.” Collapsible and easily moved, the sides of the huts were banked with sand bags to protect the occupants from shrapnel and shell fragments should an artillery round burst nearby. The banks of sand bags were three feet high, “just enough to cover you when lying on the cot.”
Wall scaling at Camp Wadsworth, S.C. Ca. 1918. Paul Thompson. (War Dept.)
Both divisions were now only four miles from the front and well within range of enemy artillery. On 13 July, Private Robert P. Friedman, a member of the 102d Engineers, died as a result of wounds from German shellfire and became the first combat casualty suffered by the 27th Division. Friedman was one of many Jewish soldiers, both officers and enlisted men, in the 27th, and his loss was mourned by all in the division. The 30th Division had its first combat-related death a month earlier, when First Lieutenant Wily O. Bissett of the 119th Infantry, was killed in a similar manner on 17 June.
In Belgium, the Americans witnessed the hardships suffered by the civilian population. Although shelling had all but destroyed the villages around Ypres, it failed to break the spirit of the Flemish people. As farmers continued to cultivate their fields, engineers from the American divisions on the East Poperinghe Defense Line were specifically instructed not to damage the crops. This was a difficult order to follow since the laying of wire entanglements near the front meant clearing some of the crops despite protests from the farmers.
Over the course of several nights, 16-24 August, the 27th and 30th Divisions prepared for combat. The 30th Division ordered its 60th Infantry Brigade to take over the Canal sector from the British 33d Division, located on the north face of the Lys salient southwest of Ypres. The 119th Infantry was on the right side of the line, the 120th Infantry on its left. In reserve was the 59th Infantry Brigade (117th and 118th Infantry Regiments). A week later, the 53d Infantry Brigade (105th and 106th Infantry Regiments), 27th Division, relieved the British 6th Division in the Dickebusch sector. It took over the front and support positions with regiments side by side and the 54th Infantry Brigade (107th and 108th Infantry Regiments) in reserve. The British divisions left their artillery units to support the Americans.
Troop movements, as well as the transport of supplies, were carried out by light railway and conducted during the night to avoid attracting fire from German artillery on Kemmel Hill. In advance of infantry and machine gun units were the 102d (27th Division) and 105th (30th Division) Engineers. They had the difficult and dangerous task of repairing pockmarked roads, made nearly impassable after three years of shellfire. Once the troops reached the front, they were quartered in wooden huts built by British engineers. Two squads of eight men, with a corporal in charge, slept in a hut, which one occupant described as spacious. To coordinate liaison between the infantry and the artillery, work details had to lay cable. This meant digging a six foot trench through the hard Flanders clay that was not unlike the soil of South Carolina.
Each day involved surveillance from observation posts and airplanes. The first few days were reported as calm. A “quiet, inoffensive attitude,” is how a 30th Division officer summarized this period. Such calm, however, did not last. Suddenly, as the division’s historians noted, “the scene had now shifted to the battleground of the World War—a stern and terrible reality to the men of all ranks.” They were referring to night patrols sent out as far as 1,000 yards to probe enemy defenses. Troops patrolling too close to the German outpost lines were greeted with machine gun fire.
At first, the Germans were unaware that Americans had entered the sector opposite them, but according to a prisoner interrogated at 27th Division headquarters, this changed when the rifle fire became “more brisk and haphazard.” When asked to elaborate, the soldier from the German 93d Infantry Regiment explained that soldiers “who have been in the war for some time only fire individually when they are sure they have a target, whereas new troops are apt to fire more or less constantly at night, whether or not they have a target.” The considerable shooting and muzzle flashes allowed the Germans to better pinpoint the American line of advance. Once they recognized that untested American troops were opposing them, it became a daily ritual to try their mettle by harassing them with artillery fire, lobbing shells into back areas to hit crossroads and villages.
On 30 August, the enemy conducted a surprise move that further tested the doughboys. In the early morning, heavy clouds of smoke crept toward the American lines. An initial report said it was a gas attack, but further observation revealed the Germans were burning dumps of some kind to mask a withdrawal. A prisoner captured near Kemmel Hill confirmed the updated report when he told interrogators that troops were retiring to the Wytschaete-Messines Ridge. He claimed a new line was established in front of Armentieres, and that eight men per company in machine gun posts remained behind on Kemmel, where they were to give the impression of strength.
That night British XIX Corps headquarters ordered O’Ryan to send patrols from his brigades to reconnoiter the left of the line, opposite the 30th Division. This order was not unexpected. Earlier in the day O’Ryan and Plumer met and the latter remarked casually after tea, “Oh, by the way, O’Ryan, how would you like to have a go at our friends on the ridge?” O’Ryan responded that “his men were there for that purpose,” and was then told by Plumer to have a word with his chief of staff. O’Ryan then discovered that the details of the plan and tentative corps order were already in place.
O’Ryan went into action and instructed the 53d Brigade to move elements of the 105th and 106th Infantry Regiments toward the German trenches to determine the depth of the withdrawal. As they approached the German lines, there was minor resistance from scattered machine gun posts. The patrols were accompanied by members of the British 184th Tunneling Company, which checked the vacant enemy dugouts for mines and booby traps. After reaching the enemy positions, the patrols reported back to brigade headquarters that the prisoner’s statement was correct—the Germans had given up most of Kemmel Hill. Additional patrols were organized and told to be ready to advance in support of those sent out. Soon, the Americans were gearing up for their first battle as entire regiments.
On 31 August, the British II Corps ordered the 30th Division to send out patrols in its sector to determine enemy strength and location. The division commander, Major General Lewis, chose the 60th Infantry Brigade and made it clear that if strong resistance was met, the brigade was to return to its entrenchments. Small parties from the 119th and 120th Infantry Regiments moved out, and like those of the 53d Brigade, found the German defenses at Kemmel Hill mostly abandoned. Additional parties from the 30th Division held nearby positions at the Voormezeele Switch and Lock 8 of the canal. The Germans were still close by in strength, so Lewis ordered his troops to hold tight and await further orders. Relaying messages was difficult because the Germans kept a close eye on the runners and frequently fired on them, so the Americans mostly communicated by wire. To ensure there was little delay in this method, the 105th Signal Battalion laid 15,000 feet of cable along this position to establish a forward communications post.
At 0730 the next morning, Lewis gave the order to advance. After a brief barrage, a platoon of forty men from Company I, 120th Infantry, moved forward towards Lankhof Farm. There, the Germans had constructed a cluster of pillboxes in the ruins of an old farm building and positioned machine gunners and snipers. As the Americans advanced, the Germans withdrew to the canal and abandoned their defenses at the farm, suffering only two casualties. The platoon then pushed beyond the farm and established contact with the 119th Infantry advancing on the right of Lock 8. Artillery from the British 33d Division fired in support, but several rounds fell short, wounding a number of Americans.
Friendly fire incidents were an unfortunate consequence of war, and the 30th Division had recently lost two men this way. In the first instance, First Lieutenant Robert H. Turner of the 115th Machine Gun Battalion was struck on 24 July by a shell from the 186 Battery, Royal Field Artillery, while he and another officer were on patrol near a Belgian chateau. In the second occurrence, Second Lieutenant Lowell T. Wasson of Company M, 120th Infantry, was shot by a private from his unit on 7 August. Wasson apparently became confused after returning from a patrol near Swan Chateau and had entered a listening post unannounced. The private guarding the post was ordered to fire on Wasson by his superiors, who thought the intruder was a German conducting a trench raid.
With the 119th taking fire from both its own artillery support and the Germans, two more platoons from the 120th Infantry were sent forward to help relieve the chaotic situation. After advancing 1,000 yards, they retired, having lost touch with both flanks. The Germans complicated matters with fire from trench mortars and machine guns hidden in Ravine Wood. At 1000, 2d Battalion, 119th Infantry, advanced and held on against heavy resistance. During this action, a patrol that included Corporal Burt T. Forbes of Company I, was acting as a flank guard when a squad of eight Germans approached. As the enemy started setting up their machine guns, Forbes charged the Germans, single-handedly killing three and driving the other five away. For this act of bravery, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. Word of the action was sent to the rear by pigeon. It was the first time this means of communication had been used by the 30th. Remarkably, only one hour and five minutes elapsed between the time the message was sent, received and transmitted by the division staff.
After intense fighting, the 30th Division’s contribution to the operation was over. It gained one square mile of ground, inflicted one hundred German casualties, and captured sixteen prisoners, two machine guns, one grenade launcher, and a small amount of ammunition and stores. Kemmel Hill was now in Allied hands and, as one doughboy remarked, “it sure is a blessed relief to move around without feeling the German eyes watching you.” In the process of taking this coveted piece of land, the 30th lost two officers and thirty-five men killed.
In the 27th Division sector, the British XIX Corps ordered O’Ryan to begin advancing his division at 1000 on 31 August and occupy a line along the Vierstraat Switch, 1,000 yards from their present location. Patrols from the 106th Infantry advanced along the line until held up for three hours by machine guns concealed in numerous nests near Siege Farm. The Americans retaliated with their own machine guns, and artillery fire from the British 66th Division. By 1730, the Germans had been driven back and the objective gained.
August ended as another bloody month on the Western Front, and September started off the same way. On the morning of 1 September, the 105th Infantry went forward on its right to pivot on the 30th Division at Vierstraat Village. As the Americans attempted to advance to the east crest of Vierstraat Ridge, the Germans continued to resist and drove the Americans back to the village. During the fighting, the doughboys used some creative methods to send messages to the rear the 102d Signal Battalion sent messages using pigeons and dogs. Amazingly, the dogs successfully maneuvered over broken ground, under heavy fire to deliver messages.
Despite such valiant efforts, communication was still difficult, as reflected in a frantic field message sent from 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry: “Our new position very heavily shelled, making communications almost impossible…request that artillery open fire on hill opposite our new position.” Information on why the regiment was stalled did not reach brigade headquarters until late in the day on 1 September. Messages were delayed because shellfire had cut the forward communication wire. To help remedy the troubling situation, Corporal Kenneth M. McCann of the 102d Field Signal Battalion worked for seventy-two hours, while subjected to repeated gas bombardments and machine gun fire, to replace the forward line near Kemmel Hill. For his extraordinary efforts, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
More discouraging news reached the rear from an officer observing at the front. On the left of the 106th Infantry, two battalions had become badly mixed up and crowded into the line. When word reached the 53d Infantry Brigade commander, Brigadier General Albert H. Blanding, he ordered the commander of the 106th, Colonel William A. Taylor, to the front to investigate. Taylor reported two hours later that the officer in command at the front, Major Harry S. Hildreth, had “apparently entirely lost control and seemed at a loss as to what to do.” Blanding ordered Taylor to immediately relieve Hildreth and take command. Not until daylight the following morning was the situation in hand. Hildreth was only temporarily reprimanded. He was lucky this was his only punishment since it was commonplace in the AEF, as well as the BEF, to permanently relieve commanders from their units for poor performance. Hildreth returned to battalion command in the 106th a few days later.
On 1 September, Blanding ordered his brigade not to make a general attack, but to advance the front line as far as possible. With the help of artillery harassment, the two regiments moved forward, and by the afternoon of the next day, had captured the southern slope of Wytschaete Ridge. At noon on 2 September, Taylor phoned Blanding and requested permission to dig in on the line of the first objective and wait for relief. His request was denied. Instead, he was ordered to advance further, and after another day of hard fighting, the 106th permanently reoccupied the Chinese Trench, which ran between the Berghe and Byron Farms. By now, the Germans had retired in some strength to Wytschaete Ridge. The two-day operation ended with the 53d Brigade losing two officers and seventy-seven men killed, mostly from artillery fire.
On 3 September, the Americans received withdrawal orders, and moved back from the Canal and Dickebusch sectors during the next two days. The British 41st Division relieved the 27th, and the British 35th Division took the sector vacated by the 30th. Relief of the 27th did not go smoothly. When the order reached the 53d Brigade, it was so far forward that it took a considerable amount of time to reach the light railways for transportation to the rear. After reaching the rear, the brigade found that the 41st Division was in the midst of moving forward, and considerable congestion ensued. Once behind the front lines, the soldiers of the 27th Division, looking forward to warm beds and clean uniforms, discovered that billeting and bathing facilities were hard to find. O’Ryan later wrote that provisions had been made for his men, “but the lack of time and other circumstances prevented it being done to the fullest extent.” For the men of 30th Division, it was also “rather a hard trip, but the men stood it well,” remembered the commander of the 105th Engineers. “The cars were dirty and those for the First Battalion had manure in them when they were backed on the siding. Our men had to clean them out and then buy straw to put on the bottom of the cars. I may be mistaken, but the trains the British use for a trip like this are better and cleaner cars. We seem to be the ‘Goats’.”
In the rear, battalion and company commanders from both American divisions wrote after-action reports that provide a window into the seemingly chaotic American experience of being in the line for the first time. In one report, a lieutenant in the 119th Infantry complained that his platoon’s ammunition supply was defective, and for twenty-four hours, he had no reserve rounds. Another officer remarked how the supply of water that reached the front lines during the nights of 2-3 September was not enough for one platoon, and that “this shortage, which seems to exist in all parts of the line, is the greatest hardship the men have to bear.”
Other mistakes were not so insignificant and showed the weaknesses in the divisions’ officer corps. Upon reaching an objective, a platoon commander could not communicate with his left flank because he did not have a telephone, lamp, pigeons, or even a signalman. “Liaison was poor,” he complained. “I had no ground flares, no panels, and no other means of getting in touch with aeroplanes.”
Such mishaps by the doughboys were also observed by the opposing German troops. The commander of the German 8th Infantry Division, Major General Hamann, remarked in his battle report that “withdrawal of our line confronted the American troops with a task to which they were by no means equal.” When the 27th Division moved out of its quiet sector to pursue the Germans, Hamann wrote, “The inexperienced troops do not yet know how to utilize the terrain in movement, work their way forward during an attack, or choose the correct formation in the event the enemy opens artillery fire.”
After the war, Hamann was more complimentary toward the New Yorkers. O’Ryan had written him to gather information for his book, The Story of the 27th, and the German officer responded, saying “reports reaching me from all sources, particularly from our artillery observation posts, were that your infantry was unusually energetic in their attack.”
Enlisted men had plenty to say about the Ypres-Lys operation, and they wrote such thoughts in letters sent home, personal diaries, and memoirs. The sound of battle created a lasting memory for many soldiers. One soldier from Tennessee described the constant firing of machine guns as though it were “popcorn popping.” Another wrote how it seemed to him that the Germans knew the location of every trench, since they constantly harassed the Americans during the day with artillery fire. At night, their planes bombed the front and rear, and the “artificial camouflage provided what little deception was practiced upon the enemy.”
The historian of Company K, 117th Infantry, recalled that “the night of the big barrage on Kemmel Hill was a night of discomfort and nervousness” among the men in his unit. Nerves were frayed, and one private recalled seeing a sergeant in his company advance cautiously with his rifle toward a noise in the rear that he insisted was caused by German soldiers conducting a raid. Moments later, he learned it was a trench rat retreating to its hole. Once the men of Company K actually participated in combat, they “were happier than we had been for many months, for the first battle experiences had been met with all the credit that was to have been expected, and we had not quailed at the smell of gunpowder.”
Bravery by the American soldiers did not go unnoticed by the British. General Sir Herbert Plumer wrote O’Ryan that “the wonderful spirit that animated all ranks and the gallantry displayed in the minor engagements your division took part in with us foreshadowed the successes you would achieve later.” Plumer was indeed correct. The American II Corps would continue serve with the BEF and during the attack on the Hindenburg Line on 29 September 1918, with the Americans attached to the British Fourth Army. Despite taking significant casualties, the 27th and 30th Divisions spearheaded the attack and with help from the Australian Corps, pierced a vital portion of the German defenses along the St. Quentin Canal. Nevertheless, it was the operation in Ypres that helped define the two divisions. After World War I, the newly established American Battle Monuments Commission recognized this in 1927 by placing a marker on Vierstraat Ridge. It reads in part: “Erected by the United States of America to commemorate the service of American troops who fought in this vicinity.”
A series of "New Army" formations, raised in Britain by Field-Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916), the new Secretary of State for War, also began to reach the BEF from May 1915. By the start of the Somme offensive in July 1916, the BEF – since December 1915 commanded by General (later Field-Marshal) Sir Douglas Haig (1861-1928) – had been transformed into Britain’s first-ever mass citizen army, capable at last of fighting a war on a continental scale.
The majority of the Territorial, New Army and Dominion units (which constituted the bulk of the BEF in mid-1916) had strong links with particular communities at home, giving the force a highly localised character. However, this was subsequently diluted by conscription in Britain, Canada and New Zealand and by heavy losses in the great battles of attrition of 1916-1917.
At its peak, on 1 August 1917, the BEF in France and Belgium – now, in essence, an "Army Group" of five Armies – numbered 2,044,627 officers and soldiers.
The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) 1914
Britain’s real power and security lay in her control of the seas. As relations with Germany deteriorated in the approach to World War 1, it was assumed that any future conflict with Germany would be at sea and that Britain’s part in defeating Germany would be through a naval blockade. The traditional role of the British army before 1914 was to police the Empire and defend the British Isles it was not an army intended to fight in a European war.
The British army, therefore, was small by European standards. In 1914, Germany could raise an army of 2,100,000 on mobilisation, plus another 1,700,000 older reservists, while France could raise an army on mobilisation of 3,600,000 men. Britain’s regular army, by contrast, comprised of just under 250,000 men, of whom nearly half were scattered across the Empire. About another 200,000 men could be raised from reservists and there were another 270,000 in the Territorial Army, though they were intended for home defence and could not be required to serve abroad. The British army was also fundamentally different to other European armies in another respect. Whereas the armies of other major powers were raised by conscription, with soldiers generally serving for two years, Britain’s army was a professional army made up of volunteers. Men signed on to serve for seven years as a regular soldier and five years in the Reserve. Nearly 60% of the BEF which landed in France was made up of reservists
British soldiers in Mons August 1914
However, from 1911 onwards, Britain’s military strategy began to shift. A naval blockade against Germany would take time to have any real effect and, if France was defeated before this happened Britain would face a Germany totally dominant in Europe. A series of military discussions with France resulted in a plan to land a British Expeditionary Force in Europe in the event of war, whose purpose was to help prevent a swift German victory. In the event of war, Britain planned to land a British Expeditionary Force of six infantry divisions in France, a force of 100,000 men.
The BEF of 1914 has often been described as the best British Army sent to war. Much of the training which these men received was a result of lessons learned during the Boer War and British soldiers were effective in the use of cover, in tactics and the ability to deliver rapid, aimed rifle fire. The BEF was also well disciplined and had a high level of morale. The BEF was trained for open warfare of movement, but from September onwards it began to face a static war and proved to be badly equipped for this new situation, particularly in a shortage of appropriate weapons, such as machine guns, heavy artillery, mortars and hand grenades.
The Outbreak of War
British troops arriving in France August 1914
Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914. On 6 August, the Cabinet agreed to send four infantry divisions and one cavalry division of the BEF to France immediately, with another to follow. One division was retained in Britain for home defence and to deal with any civil unrest, which had been a prominent feature of British life prior to the war. Mobilisation went extremely smoothly. Embarkation for France began on 9 August and the BEF was assembled at its concentration point of Maubeuge by 20 August. The force was commanded by Sir John French and was initially divided into two corps, each of two divisions 1 Corps was commanded by Sir Douglas Haig and ll Corps was commanded by Sir Horace Smith-Dorian, who replaced Sir John Grierson, after his sudden death on reaching France. A fifth division landed in France on 22 August.
Germany’s only plan for war, the Schlieffen Plan, was based on the fact that Germany would be faced with a war on two fronts against France and Russia, but that Russia would be slower to mobilise its army. Germany planned to defeat France within six weeks by an attack of overwhelming force, passing through Belgium, sweeping down through Northern France to outflank French defences, take Paris and attack the French armies in the rear. Following the defeat of France, Germany would be able to meet the expected onslaught from Russian armies in the East. On the outbreak of war two German armies, the 1st, commanded by General Alexander von Kluck, and the 2nd, commanded by General Otto von Below, began their move to wheel in a sweeping arc through Belgium and Northern France. The commander responsible for putting this plan into operation in August 1914 was the German Chief of Staff, Helmuth von Moltke.
France’s war plan, Plan 17, was for a direct attack against the German frontier into Alsace and Lorraine. The French commander Joffre was aware that a German attack through Belgium was possible, but France and her ally Russia believed that immediate, simultaneous attacks would place Germany at an immediate disadvantage and disrupt German war plans. Five French armies were ranged along the border with Germany and the BEF was placed on the left flank of the of these, immediately to the left of the 5th French Army.
The Mons-Condé Canal at Nimy
The Battle of Mons and the Retreat
The BEF prepared to join the French advance to the East, but the weight of two German armies sweeping down from the North forced the French 5th Army to pull back to the West, leaving the BEF ahead of the French armies and dangerously exposed on either flank. However, in a meeting with Lanrezac, commander of the French 5th Army, Sir John French agreed to hold the line of the Mons Condé canal for twenty four hours on 23 August to cover the French withdrawal. Strung out along a twenty mile length of canal, the BEF was very exposed and faced the main German onslaught through Belgium. The main German assaults began at 9am and were mainly against the ll Corps. After some desperate fighting, by the afternoon ll Corps began to fall back from the canal line and at 1am on 24 August Sir John French gave the order for a general retreat. British losses were 1,600, almost all from II Corps, while German losses are not certain, but were probably between 6000 and 10,000.
Disengaging from an enemy to effect a withdrawal is traditionally a very difficult operation, but this was carried out successfully along most of the battlefront. There was, however, a costly battle at Elouges on 24 August to protect the withdrawal of II Corps in which the BEF’s losses were greater than at Mons itself. Between 24 August and 5 September, in the heat of Summer, an army of nearly 100,000 men retreated 200 miles along narrow pavé roads with all of their equipment, transport and horses. Throughout this time they were relentlessly pursued by a massively superior German force. The achievement of the BEF in maintaining its discipline and the feat of organisation and supply is remarkable. On several occasions the BEF was forced to fight rear-guard actions . The largest of these actions was at Le Cateau on 26 August and was made by the II Corps and III Corps against the First German Army . At Étreux on 27 August a small British force held a crossing over the Sambre Canal against the German 2nd Army, allowing I Corps to continue its retreat. During this action the 2nd Battalion of the Munster Fusiliers was completely wiped out. On 1 September, an intense close quarter action took place in the forest at Villers Cotterêts involving the 4th (Guards) Brigade, who were the rear guard of I Corps. On the same day 15 miles away at Néry, the 1st cavalry brigade defeated an attack by a whole German cavalry division in what became one of the most well-known incidents of the retreat.
The Battle of the Marne
As the French 5 th Army and the BEF retreated, the Schlieffen Plan began to unravel. The plan contained several inherent flaws and, as the French and the BEF retreated, the German 1 st and 2nd armies were drawn to the South and the East, instead of wheeling to the West as planned. This resulted in the 1 st Army passing to the East of Paris. The French commander, Joffre, saw a major opportunity to halt the German advance. The German 1 st Army was open to an attack in its flank from the direction of Paris in the West. If the Germans were attacked from the West and, at the same time the French 5 th Army and the BEF halted their retreat and attacked from the South, the German 1 st and 2 nd armies would be forced to withdraw. Joffre began to assemble a new French 6 th Army around Paris in order to put his plan into operation.
Sir John French, however, was not contemplating joining an advance. His resolve had been badly shaken during the retreat and he now wished to completely withdraw the BEF from the line for a period of recuperation. The Secretary State for War, Lord Kitchener, made a visit to French in an attempt to stiffen his resolve and after a personal appeal from Joffre, French, consented to join the general advance.
The French 6th Army began its advance against the Germans on 5 September, beginning The Battle of the Marne. The battle was fought between the 5 and 12 September and is arguably the most important battle of World War 1. By its end, the Germans had begun a general withdrawal along a 250 mile front and The Schlieffen Plan was dead. Germany had failed to gain a quick victory, which was her only guarantee of victory. Germany now faced the prospect of a long drawn out war and the balance of resources against her made it very doubtful that this was a war which Germany could win.
The Battle of the Aisne
The German retreat ended along the line of the River Aisne. The Germans dug in along the heights behind the river and created a system on trenches protected by belts of barbed wire and defended by machine guns and artillery. The trench line soon extended South to the Swiss frontier. The German retreat had resulted in a wave of Allied optimism and some senior commanders had envisaged driving the Germans back to their borders. However, in a series of costly attacks over two weeks, known as The Battle of the Aisne, the French and British failed to penetrate the German defences. Trench warfare had begun and the deadlock in which it resulted was not to be broken until the Spring of 1918.
The First Battle of Ypres
The area North of the River Somme had seen very little fighting and was still, in September 1914, open countryside where no large military units were present. Von Moltke had been replaced by Falkenhayn in September 1914 and the new German commander saw an opportunity to outflank the allied line and to drive behind the allied line in the North. A German victory in 1914 was perhaps still possible. The German 6 th Army was sent north and a new 4 th Army was created, largely from reserve units still in Germany. Joffre also saw the possibility of launching a new offensive in the North and a new group of French armies was created under the Command of General Ferdinand Foch. At the same time the BEF was moved North, which would allow it to be closer to its bases of supply and also allow it to take part in the new allied offensive.
The First Battle of Ypres was essentially a clash of these forces as the French and British allies attempted to push East into Northern France and Belgium and the Germans attempted to push through the same areas to their West. Ypres became the focus of the fighting. German attacks North of Ypres were held by the French and Belgians who were aided by the flooding of the coastal plain around Nieuport. On 19 October Falkenhayn ordered a general advance West and on the same day Sir John French ordered the IV Corps of the BEF, later joined by the I Corps, to advance East towards Menin and Bruges.
Major German attacks developed against the BEF around Langemark on 22 October. Poorly trained and equipped German troops suffered heavy casualties in what became known as The Kindermörder or “Massacre of the Innocents.” As attacks mounted, the French took over the line at Ypres, North of Zonnebeke, and counter-attacks relieved the pressure on the allies. On 29 October a new series of German attacks developed along the Menin Road and along the Messines Ridge. In desperate fighting, the BEF were pushed back a short distance along the Menin Road and the Germans took the Messines Ridge South of St Eloi, but the line held and the Germans never achieved their objective of breaking through to the coast.
The Cloth Hall at Ypres on fire November 1914
German attacks were renewed on 9 November. Twelve German Divisions, including elite Guards regiments crashed against a thinly defended allied line, initially focussing on the French line between Langemark and Dixemude. The next day, following the heaviest bombardment yet faced by the BEF, the Germans attacked between Messines and Polygon Wood. Every man available was sent forward and, although the Germans made a breach in the BEF line along the Menin Road, this was closed after heavy fighting. On 15 November the French took over the line in front of Ypres as the BEF were totally exhausted of reserves and units being down to a fraction of their original size. By 17 November the Germans, who had suffered large losses in the Ypres attacks, gave up their offensive.
The line had been held, but losses were heavy on both sides. Total British casualties at Ypres were 54,000. Total British casualties since the outbreak of war totalled 90,000, which was greater than the size of the original force sent to France in August 1914. The regular army which had sent seven divisions to France in 1914 ceased to exist. French casualties at Ypres were 80,000 and those of Germany were approximately 134,000. The exhausted belligerents dug in and the war of movement ended being replaced by trench warfare and deadlock for the next four years.
United Kingdom 1939 - 1940
At the dawn of 1939, the likelihood of another European war was growing ever greater. Germany had invaded, and then annexed, Austria in March 1938. In October that year, contrary to the Munich agreement, German troops occupied the Sudetenland which was part of Czechoslovakia.
In March 1939, Germany occupied the whole of Czechoslovakia, and war seemed inevitable. H.M. Government began to change its policy of appeasement, and full-scale rearmament of the British Armed Forces commenced (although it can be argued that some form of re-armament commenced in the mid-1930’s, contrary to popular belief). Plans were drawn up for the British Army to send an expeditionary force of two corps (each comprising two infantry divisions) to France at the outbreak of war. This was in anticipation of defending France in a similar manner to the circumstances of the Great War.
On 29 March 1939, the Secretary of State for War announced that the Territorial Army was to be increased in establishment from 130,000 to 170,000, and then doubled in numbers. Each of the existing first line Territorial Army units and formations were required to form duplicate (or second line) units and formations. Although the personnel came forward, equipment for them was scarce.
Conscription was introduced on 27 April 1939 for the first time in British peacetime history. The Military Training Act required all males to serve in the Armed Forces for six months on reaching their twentieth birthday. On completion of six months service, the conscripts were required to serve in the Territorial Army or Special Reserve. This measure had only just been instituted by the outbreak of war, with only one intake of 35,000 men called up on 15 July.
Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and in consequence, in accordance with Polish-British Common Defence Pact, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany with effect from 3 September 1939. The British Army had started mobilizing on 1 September, but was woefully ill-equipped and ill-prepared for war. Much of the strategy, tactics and equipment dated from the Great War. The first elements of the British Expeditionary Force left for France on 3 September 1939, just over twenty-five years since its predecessor had crossed the English Channel bound for war.
France & Norway 1940
As soon as war was declared on 3 September 1939, the British Army sent an expeditionary force to France in order to defend France against German invasion. Initially, the War Office planned for the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) to consist of two corps, each comprising two Regular Army infantry divisions. By May 1940, the B.E.F. had grown to be equivalent to an Army Group in terms of its command structure, as it was intended to reached the size of two Armies, each comprising two Corps, albeit the Germans invaded before that scale was reached.
The first formations arrived in France in September 1939, and the strength of the B.E.F. increased steadily throughout the period known as the ‘Phoney War’. The German’s launched their invasion on 10 May 1940, and quickly swept aside the French Army. The coast was reached at Abbeville on 20 May 1940. The British and French garrisons at Boulogne and Calais fell on 25 May and 27 May respectively. The Royal Navy started evacuating the B.E.F. on 27 May 1940, successfully rescuing the majority of the B.E.F. before Dunkirk fell on 4 June 1940.
Dunkirk was not the end of British involvement in the battle for France. The 51 Infantry Division was serving with the French 3 Army on the Maginot Line. It fell back to the coast at St. Valery, where the bulk of the division was captured on 12 June 1940. The 1 Armoured Division, 52 Infantry Division and 1 Canadian Infantry Division served in France until the middle of June.
The campaign in Norway was a spontaneous reaction to the threat to this independent country by Germany in connection with the supply of iron ore to the German war economy. German naval and ground forces began invading both Norway and Denmark on 9 April 1940. Denmark quickly capitulated, but Norway resisted. British forces were sent to Andalsnes (Sickle Force) on 18 April to 1 May 1940, Namsos (Maurice Force) on 16 April to 3 May 1940, and Narvik (Scissors Force and Avon Force) from 15 April to 8 June 1940.
The Untold Story of the British Expeditionary Force
The Evacuation of part of the British Expeditionary Forces between 30 May 1940 to 4 June 1940 at Dunkirk in France has been well known and documented over the years. Also the statement that had been made by the then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. This statement was that, the last of the British Expeditionary Forces had left France and that now France stands alone!
This statement, by the Prime Minister was not true. The truth had been suppressed from the British people by the Prime Minister. In fact, there was approximately 200,000 Officers and other ranks fighting a rear guard action in France. There was also the 1st Armoured Division, which was under the command of General Evans. This Division had landed at Cherbourg, without it's Infantry, which had been sent to take the pressure off the Evacuation at Dunkirk in France between May 1940 and June 1940.
There was also the 52 Canadian Armoured Division, which had also arrived in France in June 1940. Also there were other Battalions of Troops that had landed at Cherbourg, to be used as a second British Expeditionary Force.
The 51st Highland Division and the 1st Armoured Division, with Infantry Battalions were fighting a rear guard action. These were Labour Battalions but now they had become fighting Battalions.
They went into action with out dated weapons, such as rifles from 1914-1918 War. They did the job that they were supposed to do, when fired. They killed the enemy. The Bren gun and the anti tank rifle, which was useless. They had no mortars or hand grenades. There was a shortage of everything, such as spare parts for the anti tank rifles.
It was on 10 June 1940, when what had remained of the 51st Highland Division and other Battalions had arrived at St Valery in France with parts of the French Army. Hoping to be evacuated back to England but once the Germans had gained the Heights over looking the harbour at St Valery in France, the evacuation was impossible.
There was a shortage of food and arms, everything that was needed to hold the Germans. Some of the men had not eaten for two days or so.
It was on 12 June 1940, when the French Army, who were in command of the British Expeditionary Force, hoisted the White flag but the British soon took it down. But then the French Commanding Officer ordered the British to surrender. Had we fought on, it would have ended in a blood bath for all concerned.
General Fortune, the Commander of what had remained of the British Expeditionary Force, who had been trapped at St Valery in France, handed over the surrender of the British Expeditionary Forces in that area to Field Marshall Rommel. The German soldiers quickly took any jewellery, rings and any money that you had.
It was, as the French soldier had said "France finished, Tommy run away at Dunkirk". But we knew that this was not true!
We had now all been taken as Prisoners of War, some men had been killed or wounded.
Those of the British Expeditionary Forces, that had been fighting this rear guard action was not the only story that had not be told by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on 17 June 1940.
There was also the bombing and sinking of the Troop ship, the Lancastria, off the Port of St Nazaire in France. This had been sunk by a German Junker 88, from the German Air Force.
As I have said, all of this had happened 65 years ago, but one can now understand why this was all suppressed in 1940,with all that was going on at that time. It did look as if Germany were winning the War, it is now History but not good propaganda. There is no secret about it, so why have not the British Government bothered to bring this to the attention of the British people if there had been nothing to hide!
Field Marshall Alanbrooke states in his Diaries 1939 /1943, that he knew that those, that had been trapped at St Valery between 10 June 1940 and 12 June 1940 such as the 51st Highland Division and others, were not going to be evacuated from St Valery. He was returning to take command of the second British Expeditionary Force, which was being set up. This was being assembled in France, but in fact, he ordered the Divisions back to England. I will add, that the Heroism, courage and sacrifice, that these men, of the British Expeditionary Force had made for their Country has never been allowed to be told.
They gave General Ironside time to build the defences, which had been needed, should the German Army had invaded Britain.
Had it not been for the Royal Air Force, the story would have been far different.
In my opinion, and also others I know that I had served with, that the British Government had insulted these Officers and other ranks of the British Expeditionary Force. They issued War Medals, we received the 1939/1945 War medal, which any Tom, Dick or Harry was eligible to receive, by just only serving one day in a War zone. The value of these war medals was only 6d(in old money).
The men that had been given these War medals threw them away or just put them in the dustbin. The British Expeditionary Force received nothing for their service to their Country. Some men were so disgusted with the treatment that they had received, that they sold up and moved to other parts of the World such as Canada with their families.
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Faction First Look: British Expeditionary Force
Operation Two: For King and Country arrives this week, and storming into mainland Europe comes the British Expeditionary Force. Mobilised after declaring war on Germany in 1914, the British Army that deployed to France was thought to be the best the Empire had sent to war. These men benefited from hard lessons learned during the Boer War and were effective in the use of cover and the ability to deliver rapid, accurate rifle fire.
While other armies for the time were established through conscription, the BEF was made up of professional soldiers with solid foundations of extensive training and high morale. However, catastrophic losses during the start of the campaign forced the recruitment of more men and a restructuring of the military organisation. With more reinforcement, the army was now capable of fighting a war on a continental scale.
Having mustered forces from across the Commonwealth, the BEF will eventually be supported in-game by sub-factions from the various units seen under their command on the Western Front. Entering the fray with an array of iconic weapons from the SMLE MK III* to the Lewis Gun, players will have a new arsenal to learn and familiarise themselves with. British HMG detachments can look forward to deploying the Vickers Mk I with a sandbag bunker, while Artillery detachments will be launching shells from the QF 13-pounder field cannon.
Arguably one of the most impactful and important factions during The Great War, the British Expeditionary Force will play a major part in Beyond The Wire going forward and we’re excited to bring their story to our game. Stay posted for a video in the next few days on the new weapons arriving with the BEF!