Hodgson R.

RALPH HODGSON (1899 1918)

50053 Private Ralph Hodgson, 2nd Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers was killed in action 28 March 1918 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. [1]  He was 19 years old and is also commemorated on the Butterknowle War Memorial and the memorial plaque in St. John the Evangelist Church, Lynesack.

Family Details

Ralph Hodgson was bc.1899 [2] the son of James and Elizabeth Hodgson.  There were at least 4 children:

  • Henry bc.1898 at Evenwood
  • Ralph bc.1899 in the Parish of Lynesack and Softley
  • Edwin bc.1902 in the Parish of Lynesack and Softley
  • Margaret Hannah bc.1910 in the Parish of Lynesack and Softley [3]

In 1901, James worked as a “butcher: own account” and his family lived somewhere between the Gaunless Mill and Wham. [4] In 1911, the family lived at Lands Lane, Butterknowle.  James was employed as a “farmer: own account” [5] thus it is presumed that this was Low Butterknowle Farm.

Service Details

Ralph Hodgson enlisted at Bishop Auckland and joined the 2nd Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers being allocated the regimental number 50053.  The 2/Lancashire Fusiliers, a Regular Army battalion was part of the 12th Brigade 4th Division which landed in France 20 August 1914.  In November 1915, 12th Brigade was transferred to the 36th (Ulster) Division then in February 1916 returned the 4th Division.[6]  By 1918, the 12th Brigade consisted of the following units: [7]

  • 1st, the King’s Own (Lancaster)
  • 2nd, the Lancashire Fusiliers
  • 2nd, the Essex Regiment
  • 12th Machine Gun Company formed January 1916 then into the 4th MG Battalion February 1918
  • 12th Trench Mortar Battery formed June 1916

The Division fought on the Western Front throughout the war.

The service record of Private R. Hodgson has not been researched but it is likely that he was conscripted into the army as the need for replacements for casualties increased.  He did not enter France before 31 December 1915.[8]

In March 1918, 2/Lancashire Fusiliers as part of the 4th Division, XVII Corps, Third Army under Byng fought in the German spring offensive 21 March-4 July and the First Battle of Arras 1918 which commenced 28 March. [9]

The German Offensive, spring 1918 – an overview

 3 March 1918: Soviet Russia made peace with Germany and her allies by virtue of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  As a result, Germany could now transfer troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.  More importantly, these Divisions included the original elite of the German Army – the Guards, Jaegers, Prussians, Swabians and the best of the Bavarians. In all, 192 Divisions could be deployed in the West.  The Allies could field 178 Divisions. [10]  A single division numbered about 19,000 men [11] so Ludendorff could call upon about 3,650,000 men as opposed to the Allies 3,380,000.  Thus, the Germans now held superiority in numbers.

The German High Command needed victory to be gained before the American Forces arrived in Europe in huge numbers.  America had entered the war 6 April 1917 and in the July, the U.S. Commander-in -Chief Pershing asked for an army of 3 million men.  The first of her troops arrived in France 26 June 1917. [12]  The training and build-up of troops obviously took time but eventually by June 1918, the Americans were receiving about 250,000 men a month in France.  This amounted to 25 divisions in or behind the battle zone and another 55 in the United States ready to join the action.[13]  Elsewhere in the Alliance, the French were able to draw on a new annual class of conscripts after a year of inactivity but the British were worn down by continuous fighting during the summer of 1917 with major offensives at Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.[14]   The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918 producing a manpower crisis.[15]  The German Spring Offensive was launched 21 March 1918 and took 5 phases:

  • 21 March – 5 April: Operation Michael, the Battle of Picardy (otherwise known as the First Battle of the Somme 1918) against the British
  • 9 – 11 April: Operation Georgette, the Battle of Lys against the British sector near Armentieres
  • 27 April: Operation Blucher-Yorck, the Third Battle of Aisne against the French sector along Chemin des Dames
  • 9 June: Operation Gneisenau, the Battle of the Matz against the French sector between Noyan and Montdider
  • 15 – 17 July: Operation Marne-Rheims, the final phase known as the Second Battle of the Marne. [16]

The Germans enjoyed spectacular territorial gains particularly during the initial phases of the offensive which, 23 March, led the Kaiser to declare a “victory holiday” for German schoolchildren.  But, the cost in manpower was enormous:

  • Between 21 March and 10 April, the 3 main assaulting armies had lost 303,450 men – 1/5th of their original strength.
  • The April offensive against the British in Flanders was eventually computed to have cost 120,000 men out of a total of 800,000 [17]

The German High Command calculated that it required 200,000 replacements each month but only 300,000 recruits stood available taking into account the next annual class of 18-year olds.  There were 70,000 convalescents available from hospitals each month but even counting them, the strength of the German Army had fallen from 5.1 million to 4.2 million men in the 6 months of the offensive.  It could not be increased on the estimated scale required. [18]  To add to this dilemma, in June 1918, the first outbreak of “Spanish Flu” laid low nearly 500,000 German soldiers.  This epidemic was to reoccur in the autumn and wreak havoc throughout Europe and the wider world. [19]

Added to this the poor diet of the German troops, battle fatigue, discontentment with the military leadership, social unrest at home and a general realisation that their great effort was beginning to wane, the Allies counter attack in mid-July began to seize the initiative.  Sweeping victories over demoralised German forces eventually led to the resignation of Ludendorff 27 October, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 9 November and the signing of the Armistice 11 November 1918.[20]

The German Spring Offensive

First Phase 21 March to 5 April 1918

Often called “the Kaiserschlacht” the offensive was Germany’s last big effort to win the war before the arrival of huge numbers of American troops.   The German plan, Operation Michael was to punch through the British and French Armies at St. Quentin, cut through the Somme and then wheel north-west to cut the British lines of communication behind the Artois fronts to bottle up the BEF in the narrow neck of Flanders.  The British Army would be surrounded with no means of escape and would inevitable surrender.  The target of the first phase of the offensive was the British Army who the German High Command believed to be exhausted by the four major efforts of 1917, namely Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.

By mid-February 1918, there were 177 German Divisions in France and Flanders out of their world-wide total of 241.  Of these, 110 were in the front line of which 50 faced the short British front.  A further 67 were in reserve with 31 facing the BEF.  The British had 62 under strength divisions defending a recently extended front line.

At the same time as the German forces were growing, the British Army was depleted having faced a manpower crisis during the second half of 1917.  Lloyd George produced official figures to confirm that there were some 324,000 additional men on the Western Front (i.e. British and Dominion forces) giving a total of 1,850,967 on the 1st January 1918 as opposed to 1,526,182 on the 1st January 1917 but the effective fighting strength had fallen by as much as 7% in the year.

The 50th Division together with the 1st Cavalry, the 8th, the 16th, the 24th, the 39th and the 66th Divisions formed the XIX Corps of the Fifth Army.  The immense German attack 21 March 1918 enjoyed a numerical superiority of 56 Divisions against 16 British. Enemy superiority was overwhelming. The main weight of the attack was between Arras and a few miles south of St. Quentin.  The XIX Corps occupied the line to the east of Peronne and to the north of Vermand facing 9 German Divisions on an 8 mile front.  German superiority was approx. 4.5 to 1.  The German success was spectacular:

  • In 2 days the Fifth Army was driven back over 12 miles
  • 23 March: Peronne fell     
  • 24 March: Bapaume
  • 26 March: Albert, capital of the old Somme battlefield

The Third Army held firm near Arras but had to swing back its right hand forces to maintain contact with the retreating Fifth.

21 March: the casualty figures have been estimated as:

  • British: 38,500
  • German: 40,000

However, “only” 2/3 of the German casualties were wounded so a substantial number would return to the fighting at a later date.  By contrast, 28,000 of the British would not return – 7,000 were dead and 21,000 had been taken prisoner.

27 March: the Germans were able to cross the Somme at Chipilly which compelled Gough’s Fifth Army to retreat to a line running from Bouzencourt to Rosieres.  The British held the line throughout the day but to the south the French were driven out of Lassigny and Montdidier.

The German High Command now turned its attention to the area to the north, the area around Arras.

The First Battle of Arras 1918: 28 March: a summary [21]

The German Army advanced some 40 miles and came within reach of the vital railway junctions at Amiens.  The crisis demonstrated that the “gentleman’s agreement” between British and French commanders-in-chief Haig and Petain, to provide reserves to go to the assistance of the other if attacked, was unworkable.  It finally forced the Allies to consider a joint command and they appointed Foch as Generalissimo.

The British Official History quotes a total of 177,739 men of the British and Commonwealth lost as killed, wounded and missing in this battle.  Of these just under 15,000 had been killed.  90,000 were missing of which a large proportion was taken prisoner as the Germans advanced.  A high proportion of those who died have no known grave.  The greatest losses were to the 36th (Ulster) Division 7,310; the 16th (Irish) Division 7,149 and 66th (2/East Lancashire) Division 7,023.  All formations were effectively destroyed.  Six other divisions each lost more than 5,000 men.  Those men who died in this battle about and have no known grave are commemorated on the Arras Memorial for the men of the Third Army and the Pozieres Memorial for the men of the Fifth Army.

German casualties are for a different period and include the Battle of the Lys, 21 March up to 30 April, are given as 348,300.  A comparable Allied total over this period is French losses 92,004 and British 236,300 making a total of 328,000.

2/Lancashire Fusiliers: in action  [22]

11 March: at billets in Arras

19 March: St. Laurent Blangy, in the brigade reserve

24 March: into support positions north of Fampoux

  • “A” Company under Second Lieutenant B.M. Cassidy: Civil Avenue and Humid Trench
  • “D” Company: Harry trench and Hussar Trench
  • “B” Company part under Second Lieutenant A. Howarth: Hudson Alley
  • “B” Company remainder: Hyderabad Trench
  • “C” Company under Captain T.H. Robinson: Trent Trench

26 March: Civil Avenue led the front line, some 1000 yards away therefore “A” Company’s position jutted out some way.  This area had been won by hard fighting in 1917 and it was with “considerable resentment” that the company was to withdraw to a line closer to Fampoux to avoid the creation of a salient.

28 March: 3.00am intense German bombardment with artillery and trench mortars over a wide front.  7.00am German infantry attacked, wave after wave in close formation and the full force fell upon the 2/Essex in the front line and at 9.00am the commanding officer and about 50 men fell back to Hudson Alley.  They had been overwhelmed.  By about 10.00am, the enemy had bombed their way down a communication trench which led to the junction of Humid Trench and Harry trench.  There followed heroic fighting by “A” and “D” Companies in which Second Lieutenant B.M. Cassidy was awarded the  country’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.  “A” Company had already suffered heavy losses and had almost exhausted its supply of bombs when Cassidy had to organize his last fight.

The “London Gazette,” dated 30th April, 1918, records his citation: [23]

“For most conspicuous bravery, self-sacrifice, and exceptional devotion to duty during an hostile attack. At a time when the flank of the division was in danger, Lt. Cassidy was in command of the left company of his battalion, which was in close support. He was given orders prior to the attack that he must hold on to his position to the last. He most nobly carried this out to the letter. The enemy came on in overwhelming numbers and endeavoured to turn the flank. He, however, continually rallied his men under a terrific bombardment. The enemy were several times cleared out of the trench by his personal leadership. His company was eventually surrounded, but Lt. Cassidy still fought on, encouraging and exhorting his men until he was eventually killed. By his most gallant conduct the whole attack was held up at this point and the left flank was undoubtedly saved from what might have been a disaster.”

No more than 6 unwounded men of “A” Company escaped but their sacrifice, inspired and organized by Cassidy, unquestionably held up the German attack at this point and saved the left flank of the 4th Division from what might have been disaster.

The service record of Private R. Hodgson has not been researched so it is remains unknown in which company he served but there can be no doubt that all took part in heavy fighting.

Midnight: the battalion took up its new position with “B” Company and “C” Company of the King’s Own on the right of Hudson Alley and Stoke Trench; “D” Company in Tripoli Trench and “C” Company with about 50 survivors of the Essex Regiment in Trent Trench.

29 March: at dawn a determined bombing attack materialized in Hudson Alley held by “B” Company followed at 9.00am by bombing attacks of a heavier nature on Hussar trench, Hyderabad Trench and Troy Trench.

30 March: further attacks with great determination and at night-time 30/31 March, the battalion was relieved by the King’s Own.

“During 3 days fighting the battalion lost 2 officers and 16 other ranks killed, 2 officers and 87 other ranks wounded and 1 officer and 120 ranks missing.  Of the latter, many were known to have been wounded or killed and almost all belonged to the gallant “A” Company.” [24] 

50053 Private R. Hodgson was killed in action 28 March 1918 and has no known grave.  He may well have fought with “C” Company.  Private R. Hodgson was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[25]

Later research records that between 28 and 31 March 1918 2/Lancashire Fusiliers lost 23 officers and 45 other ranks, killed in action or died of wounds and of these the 3 officers including Second Lieutenant B.M. Cassidy and 41 other ranks including Private R. Hodgson killed in action 28 March 1918.[26]

Commemoration

Private R. Hodgson is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France.  It commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918 the eve of the Advance to Victory and have no known grave.  [27]

References:

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol 10a Auckland: there are 2 registrations with the name Ralph Hodgson, at p.262 1898.Q3 and p.251 1899.Q1

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911. Note: address given as Butterknowle but those returns before and after this are given as “Lands Lane”.  Low Butterknowle Farm is located off Lands Lane between Low Lands and High Lands.

[6] http://www.1914-1918.net/lancsfus.htm

[7] http://www.1914-1918.net/4div.htm

[8] Medal Roll card index

[9]  http://www.warpath.orbat.com/battles_ff/1918_pt1.htm

[10] “The Somme” P. Hart p.421

[11] http://www.cwgc.org/somme

[12] http://www.firstworldwar.net/timeline

[13] Hart p.437

[14] http://www.1914-1918.net/batt22

[15] Hart p.437

[16] Hart p.426 & http://www.firstworldwar.net/timeline

[17] Hart p.435

[18] Hart p.439

[19] Hart p.438

[20] http://www.firstworldwar.net/timeline

[21] www.1914-1918.net/batt22.htm

[22] “The History of the Lancashire Fusiliers 1914-1918 in two Volumes” Major-General J.C. Latter 1949 p.315-321 found at http://lib.militaryarchive.co.uk/library/infantry-histories/library/The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-1/index.asp#/348/zoomed

[23] http://www.canningtownlife.com/2014/06/we-will-remember-them-bernard-cassidy-street-canning-town-e16-4de/

[24] Latter p.320

[25] Medal Roll card index

[26] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[27] CWGC

Photographs:

HODGSON Ralph
The family believe this to be Ralph Hodgson although his cap badge is not Lancashire Fusiliers.

ARRAS MEMORIAL

ARRAS MEMORIAL

HODGSON R. Iscription Arras Memorial

HODGSON R.
Iscription
Arras Memorial

One thought on “Hodgson R.

  1. Pingback: BUTTERKNOWLE | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

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