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Delville Wood : South Africa's bloodiest World War I battle

In 1916 the wood known as Bois d'Elville (9 miles from Albert), and christened 'Devil's Wood' by allied troops, was a major German defensive feature.

The South African Brigade (consisting of some 3,150 men) was attached to the 9th Scottish Division and given the task of capturing the wood in July 1916.

On 15 July at dawn the South African regiment went in following a heavy artillery battle: they managed to clear the southern edge of German forces. The remainder of the wood was still in German hands.

Hand to hand fighting ensued until the South Africans were relieved on the night of 19 July, having lost 766 dead among the four battalions alone.

Throughout poor weather (it rained often) and enemy artillery fire which reached a crescendo of 400 shells a minute, the surrounding landscape was transformed into a mess of broken, stumpy tree roots and massive shell holes.

Mud and rainwater covered bodies of South African and German forces alike - many bodies remain in the wood today.

Delville Wood remained the most costly action the South African Brigade fought on the Western Front.

After the War, South Africa purchased the site in 1920, and it serves as a memorial to those of that nation who fell, not just here but elsewhere. Today the wood and nearby memorial is looked after by the South African Government.  The Delville Wood Cemetery contains 5,493 burials. Almost two-third of these are unknown.

pictures of the Delville Wood memorial
Delville Wood by Captain S. J. Worsley

Delville Wood just after the War. Photo: Michelin Guide to the Somme Battlefields

References

Battles: The Battle of Delville Wood, 1916

 

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