I’ve chosen to publish my view of battalion level movements in the form of maps. The main body of each map contains a written commentary on the key events that are taking place at battalion level.
Throughout the course of events on the 12th and 13th April, there are a number of “governing principles” that the British units appear to be working to:
- Support lines. Always make sure that the front line has a support line constructed to the rear; that there is always a pre-prepared position to fall back to. Without one an organised withdrawl becomes extremely dangerous.
- High ground. Always make defence of the high ground a priority, otherwise your “low lying” positions become extremely vulnerable. This is why the high ground north of Merris (the highest ground on the battlefield) was so important.
- Communications. Always try and maintain physical contact with adjoining units. In an age of primitive battlefield communications, contact once lost is difficult to re-establish.
In summary, what the British forces succeed in doing throughout events on the 12th and 13th April is to complete one of the most difficult types of manoeuvre that an army can be called upon to attempt; an orderly fighting withdrawl whilst still in contact with the enemy.
I have drawn five maps which plot battalion level movements between dawn on 12th April and nightfall on the 13th. The maps were created from two 10,000:1 scale trench maps; 36ANE2 (Vieux-Berquin) and 36ANE4 (Merville). The main source of battalion level data was unit war diaries held at the National Archives (Kew – formerly the Public Records Office). A list of war diaries used is given in the sources section.
One constant issue in interpreting the war diaries is that they are all to one extent or another subjective. As a consequence events, descriptions, timings, locations don’t always tie up. The general theme is that as the battle progresses the diaries become harder to interpret. Descriptions tend to become “general” rather than specific; locations (map references) are sometimes missing; interpretations start to differ. For example, interpretations as to timings of unit movements.
The maps are therefore my best attempt to take all the available information “in the round” and reach a conclusion. Hopefully the overall picture presented is sound, even if some of the detail contains error (which will be the case).
Key To Maps – Unit Abbreviations Used On The Maps.
29 = 29th Division.
- 86 = 86thBrigade.
- RF = 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers.
- LF = 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers.
- RGLI = 1st Battalion Royal Guernsey Light Infantry.
- 87 = 87thBrigade.
- SWB = 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers.
- KOSB = 1st Battalion Kings Own Southern Borderers.
- BR = 1st Battalion Border Regiment.
31 = 31st Division.
- 92 = 92ndBrigade.
- EL = 1/11th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment (Accrington Pals).
- 10EY = 10th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment.
- 11EY = 11th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment.
- 93 = 93rd Brigade (no individual battalions shown).
- 4 = 4thGuards Brigade.
- 3CG = 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards.
- 4GG = 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards.
- 2IG = 2nd Battalion Irish Guards.
- KOYLI = 1/12th Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
(Photograph: Towards Outtersteene from Bleu. October 2008.)