Feature Articles - The Capture of Hill 60 in 1915

Map of Hill 60 in 1915.  Click to enlarge... Hill 60 in 1914 was merely a low ridge some 150 feet high and 250 yard from end to end, formed artificially when the railway cutting  was dug, receiving this name from British troops to signify its height in metres on the contour map.

The hill itself has been preserved so that today's visitor can have access to one of the most infamous sites on the Salient.

The hill was captured on 10th December 1914 by the Germans.  The British, almost immediately after they arrived, began digging tunnels under the hill and thus the German positions.  This was was one of the first tasks of the newly created 171st Tunnelling Company (under the command of Norton Griffiths - a good book on the subject is Alexander Barrie's War Underground, 1961 (Ballantine Books) - a newer edition is now available).

By Saturday 10th April, digging at Hill 60 was just about finished and six mines were ready for charging.  M1 and M2 ran singly and roughly straight out under no man's land for over 100 yards.  Then, just before reaching the German trench, each become two by forking right and left.  These arms, just a few yards long, were then enlarged to receive the gunpowder.

The two other tunnels, M3 and M3A, which had been in peril from German countermining, were charged as they were, no enlargement taking place.  A charge of 2,700 pounds was placed in each M1 chamber; M2 would receive two charges of 2000 pounds with M3 receiving  only 500 pounds each - because of the risk of German discovery.

Zero hour was set for 19:00 hour on the 17th April 1915.  At 19:05, three officers of the 171st Tunnelling Company hit the plunger; the resulting explosions ripped the heart out of the hill over a period of some 10 seconds.  It flung debris almost 300 feet into the air and scattered it for a further 300 yards in all directions.

One British soldier who peered over the parapet was violently hit in the face by a piece of debris and was killed.  As mud-lumps, sandbags, trench timbers and shattered German bodies were still spinning in the air, a huge Allied bombardment commenced saturating the German lines with fire and shrapnel.

An attacking formation of Royal West Kent's, 2nd Kings Own Scottish Borders (with 2nd Duke of Wellingtons in support) and 1/9th (Queen Victoria Rifles), London's (with 2nd Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in support - their monument stands proudly on the summit of the hill to this day and the cafe/museum opposite also bears their name) with bayonets fixed, scrambled up the hill.

As the assaulting party closed on what was left of the German 172nd Regiment holding the hill, the dazed German's screams could be heard over the din, as the British bayonets pierced them.  Approximately 150 died, with only 20 being taken prisoner.  Total British casualties were just seven.

A counter-attack that night by the Germans inflicted heavy casualties on the defenders, forcing the British off the hill, although on the next day, 18th April, the 2nd Duke of Wellingtons and 2nd Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry re-took the hill in a fresh attack.  These were relieved on the 19th April by men of the 1st Norfolk's, 1st Cheshire's, 1st Bedford's and 1st Dorset's with the 1/6th (Liverpool Rifles) King's in reserve.

A further German attack was repelled with support from the 1st East Surreys, during which Lt George Roland Patrick Roupell won the VC on the 20th April; the  point at which he won his award is now the highest point on the hill. 

Article contributed by Simon Farr, website.

The Western Front Today: Hill 60

A 'Baby's Head' was a meat pudding which comprised part of the British Army field ration.

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