Battle of Bazentin Ridge (overlay map) discussion
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Battle of Bazentin Ridge (overlay map)
On 14 July (Bastille Day) the Fourth Army was finally ready to resume the offensive in the southern sector. The attack, known as the battle of Bazentin Ridge, was aimed at capturing the German second defensive position which ran along the crest of the ridge from Pozières, on the Albert–Bapaume road, southeast towards the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy. The objectives were the villages of Bazentin le Petit, Bazentin le Grand and Longueval, which was adjacent to Delville Wood. Beyond this line, on the reverse slope of the ridge, lay High Wood.
There is considerable contrast between the preparation and execution of this attack and that of 1 July. The attack on Bazentin Ridge was made by four divisions on a front of 6,000 yards with the troops going over before dawn at 03:25 after a surprise five minute artillery bombardment. The artillery laid down a creeping barrage, and the attacking waves pushed up close behind it in no man's land, leaving them only a short distance to cross when the barrage lifted from the Germans' front trench.
By mid-morning, the first phase of the attack was a success with nearly all objectives taken, and as on 1 July, a gap was made in the German defences. However, again as on 1 July, the British were unable to successfully exploit it. Their attempt to do so created the most famous cavalry action of the Battle of the Somme when the 7th Dragoon Guards and the 2nd Deccan Horse attempted to capture High Wood. It is likely that the wood could have been captured by the infantry in the morning, but by the time the cavalry were in position to attack, the Germans had begun to recover. Though the cavalry held on in the wood through the night of 14 July, they had to withdraw the following day.
The British had a foothold in High Wood and would continue to fight over it as well as Delville Wood, neighbouring Longueval, for many days. Unfortunately for them, the successful opening of the 14 July attack did not mean they had learnt how to conduct trench battles. On the night of 22–23 July, Rawlinson launched an attack using six divisions along the length of the Fourth Army front which failed completely. The Germans were learning; they had begun to move away from the trench-based defences and towards a flexible defence in depth system of strongpoints that was difficult for the supporting artillery to suppress.