The Accrington Pals

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Master Sergeant
Nov 9, 2004
Bristol, UK
The following came from

The Accrington Pals is probably the best remembered of the battalions raised in the early months of the First World War in response to Kitchener's call for a volunteer army. Groups of friends from all walks of life in Accrington and its neighbouring towns enlisted together to form a battalion with a distinctively local identity.

A month after the outbreak of war, the Accrington Observer Times of 8th September 1914 reported that the War Office had accepted an offer made by the mayor of Accrington, Captain John Harwood, to raise a complete battalion. When recruitment began on 14th September, 104 men were accepted in the first three hours. Brothers, cousins, friends and workmates enlisted together, and by 24th September the Accrington battalion had reached a full strength of 36 officers and 1,076 other ranks.

Around half the battalion had been recruited from Accrington and District; the majority of the remainder had been raised in the neighbouring towns of Burnley, Chorley and Blackburn. Some months later, the battalion was to be strengthened by a quarter through the recruitment of a reserve company.

Throughout the early months of the battalion's existence the men trained and drilled in and around their home towns. In February 1915 the battalion was given a magnificent send-off as it left Accrington for training at Caernarvon, where Lt-Col. A. W. Rickman of the Northumberland Fusiliers took command.

In May 1915, the battalion moved from Caernarvon to Penkridge Bank Camp near Rugeley where it joined the 12th, 13th and 14th Battalions of the York Lancaster Regiment to form the 94th Brigade, 31st Division. The battalion made further moves in July and September 1915, first to Ripon and then to Hurdcott Camp near Salisbury, before the 31st Division embarked in December for Egypt to counter a Turkish threat against the Suez Canal. In the event, the danger soon receded and, in the last week of February 1916, the 31st Division was ordered to France, to take part in the joint British-French attack on the Somme.

The objective of the Pals battalions of 94th Brigade was to capture the hilltop fortress of Serre and form a defensive flank facing north-east and north. The attack was to be led by the 11th East Lancashires on the right and the 12th York Lancasters (Sheffield City Battalion) on the left. The 13th and 14th York Lancasters (1st and 2nd Barnsley Pals) were to support the two leading battalions. Against them, Serre was held by the 169th (8th Baden) Infantry Regiment.

On 24th June, the British artillery opened a bombardment that was to continue until the morning of the attack. The bombardment was intended to destroy the German defenses completely, but failed to penetrate through to many of the underground shelters and left much of the barbed wire intact.

In the early evening of 30th June, the 11th East Lancashires left their camp at Warnimont Wood for an arduous 7 mile trek to the trenches in front of Serre. At 2.40am on Saturday 1st July, the leading companies of the battalion reached the front line trenches to find them already heavily shell-damaged. The build-up had not gone unnoticed and, as daylight broke, the forward lines were again pounded by enemy shellfire.

At 6.30am, the British artillery commenced its final furious bombardment of the German front line. At 7.20am, Captain Tough led the first of the battalion's four waves 100 yds into the nightmare of No Man's Land under the cover of artillery and mortar fire. A few minutes later, the second wave followed led by Captain Livesey. As shells continued to burst on the German front trench, the men of the 3rd and 4th Companies IR169 scrambled from their underground shelters bringing machine guns, rifles and grenades to bear on the attacking troops. At 7.30am, the bombardment was lifted from the German front line and the leading waves rose and walked in line towards the German positions. Machine gun- and rifle fire immediately tore into the advancing lines of infantry. One British observer likened the lines of dead to "swathes of cut corn at harvest time". Incredible as it now seems, groups of Pals defied the machine gun fire, threaded their way through the barbed wire and dropped into the German front line. On their left, some of the 12th York Lancasters also fought their way through. All was in vain. Behind, the third and fourth waves suffered dreadful losses before even reaching No Man's Land. The leading companies of the 13th York Lancasters were cut down in turn. Some of the Pals - their officers killed or wounded - pressed on towards Serre, never to be seen again. The remaining survivors in the German front line - bereft of reinforcements - were forced to withdraw. By 8am, the battle for Serre was effectively over.

"The History of the East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War" records that out of some 720 Accrington Pals who took part in the attack, 584 were killed, wounded or missing. The losses were hard to bear in a community where nearly everyone had a relative or friend who had been killed or wounded. Although the battalion was to fight again, its Pals character had been irretrievably lost. McCormack - Roses Of Picardy.mp3
That's right, WW1 was slaughter. The British generals behind the strategies imployed during that war were never charged with the murder that they should have. I have always wondered what WW1 would be like if I was the Supreme Commander, certainly I would have made more use of the primative bombers and fighters to destroy and haress the enemy day and night. I would think that with more accurate fire and spotting from aircraft, with the ability to call targets immediately, there would have been more trouble for the Germans. It was in WW2 the whole idea of airpower that made the concept of the fixed trench one that along with tanks, inconceivable and madness.
Wouldn't have worked mate - the idea was to send a massive artillery barrage to do just that. Nobody was meant to live through it, thus allowing the British to simply walk over no-mans-land and occupy the opposing trenches.

The Germans had very deep and complex systems of permanent dugouts however. They weren't planning on going anywhere soon, whilst the British trenches were very rough and ready to say the least, since the emphasis was to drive the Germans out, rather than settle in for the long-haul.

A few minutes before the attack the barrage would be lifted. As Captain Blackadder said, even British Generals aren't mad enough to shell their own men.

This allowed enough time for the Germans to climb out of their nice deep funk-holes and man the machine gun positions again.

Incidentally, they did use aircraft to call in strikes on specific positions - a 'Zone Call'. Certain British aircraft, usually an RE8, were fitted with primitive radio sets, and they would call in the "G.G." fire signal followed by the pin-point co-ordinates of target. When the Military Map Grid References were identified, every weapon of every calibre within range, directed rapid fire on the spot.

It was estimated that it cost £10,000, per minute, no inconsiderable sum in 1916, so it was not something to be used lightly.
The war could have been ended much quicker if the French and British had held back on using the tank until they were fully ready, instead of throwing the few they had in at the Somme. This gave the Germans chance to see the new machine, so they could prepare (although they didn't do it very well).
If they had waited until about 400 had been finished, they could have overrun all German positions with ease because surprise is very useful.
Among the best books on the Somme battle and the Accrington Pals' part in it is "The First Day on the Somme" by Martin Middlebrook.
One of the early Biggles books, "Biggles, Pioneer Air Fighter", includes a story "The Zone Call" which explains how the air to ground wireless system worked
It's where I remember the story from - I have a big collection of first edition Biggles. W.E Johns was very meticulous in detailing these sorts of events.

And on that, welcome to our forums dhasdell! :)
To quote Terry Pratchett:

"...[Pal's Battalions] were a horribly innocent device for wiping out a whole generation of young men from one particular area with one cannon shell..."

The problem with the English General staff (as my nation found out so quickly at Gallipoli) was that it's strategic and tactical thinking was firmly mired in the past and was completely unwilling to consider other options.

Like the tank, which was the real war winner. After the Battle of Cambrai 1917, the Germans knew the end was near because of the tank!
Somehow, I only just stumbled across this, but I'd like to add a comment. I understand the anger that people feel regarding the General Staff, but we forget that we make those comments with the incalcuble benefit of hindsight.
The officers of the General Staffs of all the combatants were hampered by the fact that they were fighting an essentially new kind of war. The 'stupidity' was not confined to the British Army: the same conceptual problems led to the Russian defeat in 1914, Plan XIV and Verdun.
The problem lay in the lack of prior campaigns to compare to the fighting on the Western Front. Although the American Civil War and Russo-Japanese War are ofthe described as 'dress rehearsals' for the Great War, they were not on the scale of the Western Front, nor were they as technologically advanced. An imperfect understanding of assault tactics, an overestimation of the power of heavy artillery and an underestimation of the importance of air power were problems that were not recognised before the war because they had not been issues in previous wars. These problems then had to be solved 'on the job'. We see the Great War as an epoch-making event, a turning point in history; but we sometimes forget that the transition occured as much on the battlefield as it did in politics and social institutions. The men in command were not 'stupid'. Nor were they 'butchers'. They were men suddenly confronted with the task of reinventing warfare. I doubt there is a man alive who could do a better job, and certainly there are many who would have done worse.

Just my 0.02 8)
I enjoyed you post and I can see what you are saying Bomb , you make some very interesting points. I agree to a certain extent that tactics had to be learned on the job however I still find it hard to reason why they persisted in repeating the same mistakes after a few actions I would have thought a rethink was in order but the same tactics where employed over and over again, normally consisting of heavy bombardment followed by bayonet attack even when advantage was gained eg Cambrei it was not followed up properly.
With regard to assault tactics the British 95th rifles had been employing tactics that laid the foundation for today's modern army during the Peninsular wars of the 1800's the problem was these where not the method a gentleman should use and they reverted much of the time to more traditional methods of campaigning so I believe the commanders during WW1 failed to use their own hind sight to learn anything from previous wars. perhaps not Heavy artillery,air warfare,etc as you very rightly said Bomb but fluidity,and reluctance for full frontal assaults against heavy fire power ,this knowledge was available.
I think there was a degree of pig-headedness in the decision to repeat frontal attacks time and again, but at least up to the Somme, this was a result of the mistaken British belief that the tactic would work if only they prepared better.
At Loos and Lens, large initial gains were made, then lost, and the blame laid upon a lack of artillery ammunition (there was as little as 20 shells per gun per day for the heavy pieces) and on a lack of follow-up troops. The British firmly believed that wihe the armaments factories got into full swing and Kitcheners Army arrived, the tactic would work...hence the Somme. After the Somme, the Army believed they still had the right tactic, but were somehow doing it wrong. This, I will admit, was pigheaded, but I think the Western Powers were unwilling to learn from Brusilov's stormtroopers - after all, that campaign wound up the same as all the other Russian assaults :rolleyes: The tank had shown promise, but it's unreliability and relative lack of success at Cambrai effectively halted ant progress toward Blitzkreig tactics that GHQ might have made.
The French also started to learn from thier mistakes (after a fashion). The wild counter-attacks that marked Plan XIV and the early stages of Verdun were replaced more more controlled efforts toward the end of that campaign, and had the Nivelle Offensive been properly prepared, it might have been successful. Of course, the French obsession with elan and the sacredness of French soil was deeply rooted and made sensible tactical discussion impossible.
I think the Germans and Russians were willing to adapt and try new tactics because they had the most to lose. Brusilov's offensive was the last throw of the dice; so was the Peace Offensive. The men doing the planning knew this, so were willing to try something new. On the other hand, Britain knew that they had the Germans on the defensive, and were probably more inclined to stick to what they knew; even if it didnt work well, it worked, and that was what mattered on the spot at the time. France...well, they were effectively unable to carry out an offensive after Nivelle, and therefore were never involved in this process of adaptation- maybe a reason why they fared worse than the BEF when Blitzkreig hit them in 1940? :?:

Anyhoo, I digress. There's a lot of if's and but's up there, I know, but that's what this kind of discussion comes down to. Like I said, I think most of us would probably cling to bad tactics if they were the only part of the whole war that made sense! :)
But then with a parachute and plane-bombardment you have the ultimate weapon as you could drop behind the trenches with light equipment and create merry hell while the trenched troops were preparing to face you. All the trenches were designed to defend from a particular direction, therefore if you are shooting from behind it the power of the trench may to an extent be negated for the defending side.
If Ive understood your post correctly Healz, theres a few problems with it. First of all, paratroop assaults were simply not viable in WW1. The British and Commonwealth forces distrusted the parachute to the extent that they banned aircrews from using it, as they believed it encouraged it was unlikely they were going to train the PBI to use it. More to the point, there wasnt an aircraft in existence that was suitable for airborne forces deployment. Even the heaviest bombers of the day were too slow and vulnerable to be used for paradrop duties, and there was also a total lack of capable escorts. Neither side ever achieved true air superiority during WW1 (as the Allies did on the ETO 1944-5), so the risk was simply too great.
As for your comment on the utility of bombers in a support role, there are several points to be made. First, there was simply no reliable means of selecting and attacking a point target during WW1. Even the most rudimentary optical bombsights did not exist - the Norden sight was the first truly accurate optical sight in service. Furthermore, tactical bombers such as the DH9 carried such a small bombload that field artillery was still a more efficient and accurate method of delivering HE to a specific target. On top of these considerations, it was impossible to mount an effective interdiction campaign, never mind a fully strategic campaign, which would have been necessary in order to make close air support operations possible. This is, again, mainly due to a lack of both escorts and adequate intelligence/targeting systems. As a final point, C3I structures in place in WW1 ruled out the possibility of aircraft being used for close air support missions. As it took at least 4 hours for a company to conatacy it's battalion, and a day for battalion to contact brigade in most combat circumstances, there was simply no point in calling in airstrikes as they would never arrive at the right place at the right time.IMHO, any attempt to airland troops behind enemy lines would have inevitably suffered from a lack of support, supplies, and reinforcements.

Just my 0,02 8)
Well, you could try the Imperial War Museum, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (if he was killed in the Great War) or there might be regimental records.

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