The Capture of Mametz Wood: A Study of Lloyd George's "Welsh Army" at the Battle of the Somme 1916

Hughes, Albert Colin (1975). The Capture of Mametz Wood: A Study of Lloyd George's "Welsh Army" at the Battle of the Somme 1916. MPhil thesis The Open University.



The Battle of the Somme, 1916, provided a severe and bloody test for the inexperienced units of Kitchener's 'new' volunteer armies, among them the 38th (Welsh) Division which had been raised by Lloyd George in 1914 in an ambitious, but unsuccessful, attempt to create a Welsh Army Corps of two divisions.

The Welsh Division went to France in December 1915 under the command of Major General Ivor Philipps, Liberal MP and political acquaintance of Lloyd George. The division's early training had given it the appearance of a smart, well disciplined force and both the divisional commander and Lloyd George were confident that it would distinguish itself in battle.

After six months in the trenches near Neuve Chappelle, the division marched to the Somme where, for its first major attack it was given the formidable task of capturing Mametz Wood, on rising ground between the German first and second lines. This wood, the largest on the Somme, was defended by regular troops and reservists of the 3rd Guards Division, the cream of Germany's highly professional army. The Welsh Division, by contrast, consisted of wartime volunteers, unskilled in offensive tactics, untrained in woodland fighting.

A half-hearted first attack failed, as much the result of poor handling from above as of German opposition, Philipps was relieved of his command. At the second attempt, the division captured the wood after two days bitter fighting. But its performance did not satisfy the Corps commander and the division emerged from the battle with an indifferent reputation - which was not shaken off until the division had proved its worth at Pilckem Ridge in 1917.

This study examines the difficulties which it faced at Mametz Mood, and shows that the Welsh Division did remarkably well, without getting the credit it deserved.

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