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East Chinnock and World War 1
Part 7
by Jeremy Churchill
Spring/Summer 1915

The spring/early summer of 1915 on the Western Front saw the resumption of major attacks by both sides to try and break what everyone still thought of as a temporary deadlock imposed by trench warfare.

April 22 – May 25 saw the Second Battle of Ypres, which ended in a stalemate and is remembered for Germany’s first use of poison gas on the Western Front. Of the East Chinnock men, Arthur Russ (413 New Buildings), of the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, Alfred Baker, 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment and Walter Pike (of 441, Weston Street) serving in the 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (all three part of the 11th Brigade) were deployed as reinforcements for the Canadians who had suffered badly in trying to hold the gap in the line created by the German gas. Reaching their positions on the 25th April, the brigade took part in the fighting around Gravenstafel and remained in action until the 25th May until the line was stabilised along a much-reduced salient around Ypres.

Further south, the first of the major offensives co-ordinated between the French and British armies took place from May 9 to June 18 – the Second Battle of Artois. The British First Army (including Walter Russ, in the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards) was to make a supporting attack on the left (northern) flank of the French Tenth Army’s offensive, at the villages of Aubers, Fromelles and Le Maisnil, with a view to gaining the Aubers Ridge. The plan was based on a “hurricane bombardment”, using experience gained in the earlier (ultimately disastrous) attack by the British on Neuve Chapelle in March. The attack on May 9th was another absolute disaster, with some 11,619 casualties for the British, as against approximately 900 German casualties. Unfortunately, the Germans had also learned lessons from the Neuve Chapelle attack and had built much more sophisticated defences which the British artillery bombardment failed to damage before the attacking troops reached them.

The French commander ignored the lessons of the first attacks (the French had been initially successful, but were then thrown back by German counter-attacks) and insisted on the British making a second attempt. May 15th to 25th saw the Battle of Festubert – in which William Taylor (of The Rookery), serving with the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards (2nd Division) took part. Although the attack opened with a much longer artillery bombardment, this was almost completely ineffective due to lack of high-explosive shells, inexperienced gunners and strong German defences and resulted in yet another disaster for the infantry, resulting in the loss of some 16,648 casualties between the 15/16th and 25th May. The lack of shells provoked the “Shell Scandal” which caused the first of many changes in the way the War was managed by the British Government; the immediate result being the appointment of Lloyd George on the 25th May to the new post of Minister of Munitions, to take charge of munitions production.

In the meanwhile, to make better use of Britain’s naval power in aiding the Russians, the Gallipoli Campaign began on February 19th, with a British and French naval attack being carried out on the Turkish forts defending the Dardanelles straits. On April 25th, Allied forces land on Gallipoli, at Anzac Cove and Cape Helles. Private Talbot Axe (son of Hannah, brother of Henry W & Sydney A, of 390, Old Hollows (now presumably incorporated into Nos. 389 & 391, The Hollow), was serving in the Plymouth Division of the Royal Marine Light Infantry aboard HMS Goliath, Goliath being a Canopus-class pre-Dreadnought battleship (launched 1898). Commanded by Captain Thomas Lawrie Shelford, Goliath was part of the Allied fleet during naval operations in the Dardanelles campaign, supporting the landing at “X” Beach during the landing at Cape Helles on April 25, 1915, and had been damaged by Turkish gunfire on 28th April and 2nd May.

HMS Goliath

On the night of May 12-13, 1915, she was stationed in Morto Bay off Cape Helles, with HMS Cornwallis and a screen of five destroyers. Around 1 am on May 13, the Turkish torpedo boat Muavenet-i-Milet, which was manned by a combined German and Turkish crew, eluded the destroyers HMS Beagle and HMS Bulldog and closed on the battleships. Muavenet-i-Milet fired three torpedoes which struck Goliath causing a massive explosion – the ship capsized almost immediately taking 570 of the 700-strong crew to the bottom. Luckily for him, Private Axe was one of the survivors.


Part 8
Summer 1915