20TH-31ST JULY 1915: HILL 60 UNDERGROUND WARFARE & CRATER FIGHTING.

Bertie in UniformHIBBETT  LETTERS, written in the Trenches on S.W. Slope of Hill 60, between 20th and 31st July, 1915, have not survived.  Pte Bertie Hibbett had been anxious about the safe arrival of his Letters Home for some time and they may have been lost in the heavy shelling & direct hits 1/5th S. Staffs experienced in late July 1915.  

His Whizbang Dugout’ was probably in Trench 37, on the west side of the Ypres-Comines Railway Cutting. 

Railway Cutting looking south, with Hill 60 spoil mound on left & Caterpillar spoil mound on right.
Ypres-Comines Railway Cutting looking south, built in 1860s, with Hill 60 spoil mound on left & Caterpillar spoil mound on right.

On 17th Feb. 1915, the first British mine was blown up under enemy lines on Hill 60 by RE of 28th Division.  Wherever the geology was suitable, a new type of siege-warfare was being developed.  Pte Bertie’s knowledge of mine-surveying was about to be called on by the Army.  

His Listening Post duties in undergound tunnels & chambers would have involved working with 172 Tunnelling Company RE.(1).  He would probably have met them again at Neuville St Vaast in 1916.  In his ‘Memories’ he describes the tactics used in what became known as Crater Fighting. 

The Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett.
The Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett. c 1967.

My Memories of the First World War. The Revd A.H. Hibbett. 1967.

I shall never forget my experience at Neuville St Vaast, . . . when I went with a party underground to listen for the enemy tapping their way in underground passages towards our Front Line.  It (was a) dark night which made it all the more ‘exciting’.  Whose mine would go up first, theirs or ours?  Our feelings were indeed tense. 

Pass the word down for Bomber Ford”, came the command from the officer in front of our column, as we lined up to throw hand grenades over the parapet. “Pass the word back I aint,” retorted Bomber Ford from the rear.  The German mine went up first – and we tried to occupy the crater before the enemy advanced to take possession of it.  It is strange to think that I might have thrown one of my sister’s hand grenades at Neuville St Vaast. 

NB This was one of the very few stories of the War my father told me as a child.  cf. website The Long Long Trail. The Tunnelling Companies RE.

**********************

South Staffordshire BadgeeSOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

S.W. SLOPE OF HILL 60.

20th July,Tue :  Enemy shrapnelled 37 Trench, 2 direct hits on parapetAll explosives, except  one cylinder containing black powder and one wooden box of LIGNOSIT(2) explosive, removed from  mineAmount  now recovered is approx 1250 lbs.  SW wind.                                                         CASUALTIES: WOUNDED: No 9287 Pte J. Beech. 

21st July, Wed:  Exceptionally quiet day.  RE unable to remove cylinder and box of explosives, because of fumes but have cut all wires leading to the charge, and are now continuing work  on own gallery. SW wind.  Eight Officers of New Army attached for instruction Relieved by 6th North Staffs about 11.45 pm.

OUDERDOM  BIVOUACS

22nd July, Thur – 26th July, Mon.

27th July, Tue: Relieved 6th North Staffs in trenches at 10.30pm.  ‘B’ Coy. and Machine Gunners of the 8th  Bn South  Staffs (3) attached for instruction. CASUALTY: WOUNDED: No 9838 Pte D. Westwood.

S.W. SLOPE OF HILL 60 TRENCHES.

28th July, Wed:  Several rifle grenades apparently fired from 38 trench burst between 37 and enemy trench opposite. Enemy retaliated  with trench mortar on 37 trench. At about 7.45 am a distinct tremor of the ground was felt, as if a mine was exploded but no report heard (4).  About 1.35 pm 35 and 35 Support trench also the wood in the rear was shrapnelled.  Enemy aeroplane over our lines about 4.45 pm

Hill 60 with the Dump & the Caterpillar mounds,1915.
Trench Map 28: showing Ypres -Comines Railway Cutting & Spoil Mounds:, Hill 60,, the Dump & the Caterpillar with Larch Wood top left.  Grateful thanks to Joanna Legg & Co: The Great War 1914-1918, website.

Enemy shelled the Dump (5) between 7 and 8 pm, one of the shells burst over the retrenchment. CASUALTIES: – Nil.  8th Bn South Staffords: 2 wounded.

29th July, Thur:  Enemy fired 6 trench mortar bombs  into Railway Cutting , between 5.30 and 7 am without damage to our sector.

At 8.30 pm enemy fired one H.E. shell into 35 Support. Except(ionally) Quiet Day. CASUALTY: 9072 Pte W. Compson, slightly wounded/ remain on duty.

30th July, Fri: About 3.15 pm two mines blew up about 2 miles away on our left (6).  Artillery bombardment commencing at the same time in the same locality near Hooge.  At  3.45 amEnemy shelled our fire and support trenches with H.E. from field guns damaging the parapet of 36 trench

Listening Post in 37 Trench (7) reported sounds like knocking near mine crater during the early morning, nothing further heard during the day. 36 and 36 support trenches shelled from 3.20 to 3.40 pm.

CASUALTIES: SLIGHTLY WOUNDED remain at duty: No 9025 Pte A. Teague. 9833 L/Cpl Williams A.G.  8779 Pte S. Pitt. 

31st July, Sat: Enemy shrapnelled our trenches from 2.15 am. to 3.15 am, parapet of 35 and 36 trenches damaged. Immediately before the attack started white star shells (8) and red flares were used. Our Artillery replied very effectively to enemy’s shelling.   Listening Post reports hearing slight tapping noises near mine crater during the night.  Very Quiet day.

CASUALTIES: KILLED: 9615 Pte T. Cox. 8298 L/Cpl W. Sherwin. WOUNDED: 9582 Pte L. Bloomer, 9564 Pte H. Batchelor. 8620 Pte J.P. Somerfield. 8852 Sgt C.H. Hammonds, 6954 L/Cpl E. Brown, 9910 Pte W. Siviter, 60 Pte J. Richards.  SLIGHTLY WOUNDED/ remain at duty: 8664 Pte A. Reynolds, 7791 Dr R. Taylor, 8182 Pte C. Harding.  

172 Tunnelling Coy R.E. WOUNDED: 2 .  8th Bn South Staffordshire  1 wounded.

SUMMARY OF CASUALTIES DURING THE MONTH OF JULY:  OTHER RANKS KILLED7.  WOUNDED: 26 .  SLIGHTLY WOUNDED/ remain at duty: 10.   SELF INFLICTED WOUNDS: OTHER RANKS: 1.  DIED OF WOUNDS: 4. (9).

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

(1) 172 Tunnelling Company: first employed in the Bluff & St Eloi /Ypres Salient in 1915 & Neuville St Vaast /Vimy in April 1916. The Tunnelling Companies were involved in ‘digging subways, cable trenches, saps chambers for offensive and defensive mining’. See website: The Long Long Trail, The Tunnelling Companies RE, for further details of this siege-warfare.

(2Lignosit: a German blasting  explosive containing ammonium nitrate. Black Powder: name for ordinary gunpowder, mixture of potassium nitrate, sulphur & charcoal.  Dictionary of Explosives. Philadelphia.1920. Arthur Marshall. Forgotten Books.

(3) 8th (Service) Bn S. Staffs: originally formed for Home Defence. See website: The Great War 1914-1918.  (4) Mine explosion/camouflet underground/ hence no sound?  (5) The Dump: the smallest of  three spoil mounds, created in 1860s when Ypres- Comines Railway Cutting was built. Hill 60 was the tallest, at 60ft above sea-level.  <www.ww1battlefields.co.uk>  (6Hooge?

(7) Listening Post: report most probably from Ptes Bertie Hibbett, Vernon Evans & their QMS pals.  (8) ‘White star’ shells : could be marker flares for German artillery, but phosgene-chlorine poison gas mixture was also calledwhite star’ by Allies, because of marking on shells. 

(9) Self-inflicted wounds caused death of 4 out of the 5  South Staffs soldiers reported in July 1915; an indication of the terrifying mental and physical pressure they were under.

NEXT POST: 1st August 1915.  Hill 60. Whizbang Dugout.

 

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