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The Battle of the Somme: Battle of Delville Wood, 15 July - 3 September 1916

Following the successful dawn attack of 14 July the newly won British line formed a 'salient' the right side of which was threatened by Delville Wood and the northern edge by the uncaptured portions of Longueval village. Before any eastward attacks on the German second position could be made it was vital that the whole of Longueval and Delville Wood were captured.

On Saturday 15 July, as the fighting for Longueval continued, the South African Brigade were tasked with securing Delville Wood. Attacking with great determination at 6.15am they rapidly cleared the southern sector, despite the difficulties posed by tangled undergrowth, fallen trees and shell craters; a second advance took them almost to the wood's north-west edge, where they dug in. The Germans retaliated with ceaseless shelling, machine gun fire, and a succession of aggressive counter-attacks. Fighting continued by night and day as renewed South African assaults wore themselves out against German defences. On 18 July heavy rain and German counter-attacks forced critical withdrawals but it was not until the evening of 20 July, after six days of continuous fighting, that the South Africans were relieved.

Vicious fighting for the wood continued for another six weeks, the advantage continuously changing from one side to the other: 27 July saw the 2nd Division renew the assault, followed on 4 August by the 17th Division; bloody encounters in mid-August pushed the line forward and an attack by the 14th (Light) Division on 29 August forced out all but a remnant of defiant German defenders. The wood was only completely cleared of Germans following the fall of Ginchy on 9 September 1916.

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