Cambridgeshires: Brave ... bold ... brilliant
PUBLISHED: 12:22 23 June 2006 | UPDATED: 21:57 28 May 2010
This year is the 90th anniversary of an event that is special to the Cambridgeshire Regiment – the capture of the formidable German stronghold, the Schwaben Redoubt. Many attempts had been made to take this strategic position. All had failed. But on Octob
This year is the 90th anniversary of an event that is special to the Cambridgeshire Regiment - the capture of the formidable German stronghold, the Schwaben Redoubt.
Many attempts had been made to take this strategic position. All had failed. But on October 14, 1916, the Territorial Fen Tigers, under the brilliant command of Lt Col Edward Riddell, took the Redoubt - and held on to it.
General Douglas Haig, commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium, described it as "one of the finest feats of arms in the history of the British Army".
IT WAS the battle that ensured the name of the Cambridgeshire Regiment would be forever remembered by the military historians.
More importantly, it was the battle that guaranteed soldiers from the Fens - the Fen Tigers - would be honoured for their skill and bravery in pulling off a spectacular battlefield success that had eluded so many others.
The battle by the Cambridgeshires to capture the Schwaben Redoubt was part of the British Army's costly Somme offensive.
By First World War standards, the Cambridgeshire Regiment's loss of life in this historic action was slight, with 32 killed and 186 wounded.
The Redoubt, a series of trenches and dug-outs on a high point overlooking the British lines and bristling with machine guns, was of great strategic importance and had been fought over many times with considerable loss of life.
But this time would be different. Lt Col Edward Riddle planned and led the assault on October 14, 1916, when the Fen Tigers advanced under a creeping barrage - heavy artillery fire focused on land in front of the advancing soldiers - and set up positions within the defended area without loss of life.
The attack concentrated on more than one side of the triangular placement and had Royal Flying Corps support
The fierce fighting that followed developed into a hotly-contested struggle, commanded by corporals and junior commanders with bayonets and grenades.
The bewildered German occupants were routed and surrendered, and the Cambridgeshires went on to hold the Redoubt for 24 hours before being relieved, having beaten back several determined counter-attacks.
The Western Front in the First Word War, particularly the Somme battles, have long been thought of as thousands of over-burdened soldiers going "over the top" to be slaughtered by machine guns from the first day, July 1, 1916.
However, there were also grinding muddy attrition battles that ran into November, with neither side gaining much ground at huge cost in casualties.
In the midst of this awful attrition, the occasional glimmer of military achievement shines though. One such example is the Cambridgeshires' storming of the Schwaben Redoubt. The fortress was the centrepiece of the German defence in the Somme sector, taken briefly by the 36th Ulster Division in July, but was almost immediately recaptured in a German counter-attack.