Thursday, 30 June 2016

Battle of the Somme 4 - July 1st 1916

Poppies and woods - enduring symbols of
the Battle of the Somme 
Rawlinson's supreme confidence in the success of his seven day bombardment, and his refusal to take account of any adverse news reaching him from the reconnaissance parties or intelligence amounted to hubris. What followed, almost inevitably, was nemesis - not for him but for thousands of infantrymen of Kitchener's army. Quite simply, July 1st was the blackest day in the entire history of the British army, despite the detail with which they had prepared, and the optimism with which they had set out. By most estimates nearly 20,000 men died in the first twelve hours of the battle, and twice as many were lost or injured. Only in one sector of the line were Day 1 objectives met, notwithstanding this horrific tally.
Right up to the deadline the bombardment continued, allowing the men to gather in their trenches and in the multiple saps built out into No Man's Land. The intention was that at 7.28 the ten mines (three of them enormous) constructed beneath the German front, would be blown, allowing two minutes for the debris to settle and give the infantrymen a head start in their march to the first line objectives. There was one exception to this, the Hawthorn Ridge mine just west of Beaucourt-Hamel. One of the three biggest mines, this was detonated at 7.20am at the request of the on site Corps Commander, Aylmer Hunter-Weston (of Gallipoli fame / infamy, see 24/4/15), who wanted his men to take control of the crater before the 7.30 whistle. The enormous explosion was captured on film and makes one of the best known and enduring images of the war, but did little more than give added warning to the Germans of the coming attack. At 7.28 the other mines went off on schedule, including the other two giant explosions on either side of the main Albert-Bapaume road.
Then at 7.30 precisely the whistles blew all along the line, and 60,000 troops began to go over the top, led by their platoon and company commanders.
The Somme has been described as a battle of 141 days in two parts - the 1st July and the remaining 140 days. What follows is a very brief summary of that first day.

In broad terms, there were four sectors to the front. The northernmost was the Gommecourt salient, where Allenby's VII Corps were to make their diversionary assault; then the northern sector on either side of the Ancre valley including Serre, Beaucourt-Hamel and Thiepval; the central assault either side of the Albert-Bapaume road where German positions centred on the fortified villages of Ovillers and La Boiselle; and the southernmost sector where the line of the front turned east at Fricourt, through Mametz and Montauban to the junction with the French forces at Maricourt.

At Gommecourt the somewhat reluctant commander of VII corps of Allenby's 3rd Army, Snow, launched his two Divisions in a pincer attack around Gommecourt village and its associated Chateau woods. The 46th Division of East Midlanders ran into fierce opposition on the northern front and barely made progress to the wood on the edge of the village. To the south, the 56th Division of Londoners made significant early gains but, unable to link with their northern flank, were gradually pushed back with large numbers killed or captured. Overall the attack, although it engaged the local German defenders and prevented them moving elsewhere, was a costly failure.
Serre Road Cemetery. 

At the Northern end of Rawlinson's 4th Army, Hunter-Weston's VIII corps  had three divisions, including the now renowned 29th Division. (This had initially been the Royal Naval Division, whose war started with the desperate defence of Antwerp in 1914 and was followed by Gallipoli throughout 1915). As at Gallipoli they, and fellow Divisions 31st and 4th of VIII Corps were thrown at withering machine gun fire placed in advantageous positions. Artillery preparation had had limited effects here, and there was much uncut barbed wire, funnelling troops into the few gaps. The 31st Division contained many Pals battalions from Yorkshire and Lancashire. The Sheffield Memorial park pictured below is a sombre memorial to the bravery and sacrifice of those men, many of whom had marched through soggy ground until just 4 hours before deadline, and whose involvement lasted seconds or minutes. Desperate stuff. To their south the more experienced 4th Division did little better south of Serre. At Beaumont Hamel the doughty 29th Division flung themselves unavailingly at the German defences. The Newfoundlanders Brigade was almost obliterated, suffering 91% casualties.
The attack of the 36th Division across the Ancre valley on the higher ground of Thiepval had an initial success with the capture of the Schwaben redoubt. Strangely, this isolated good news found its way back to HQ, and was taken as indicative of more general success. Further progress was not possible against fierce counter-attacks and by the nightfall the Germans had recaptured the redoubt, despite the heroic efforts of the Ulster Brigades of the 36th Division, which have passed into legend

Sheffield Memorial Park. A poignant symbol of
the decimated communities created by the 'Pals'
battalion structure. 
In the centre, the criticality of the Pozieres ridge to Rawlinson's plans drove his willingness to send men into the most adverse positions of the whole front line. 'Nab', 'Mash' and 'Sausage' valleys, were covered on three sides by German guns, as men advanced akin to a turkey shoot. Standing on the crest at Ovillers, (today the site of Military Cemetery Number 1) it is both literally and metaphorically chilling to look down into the low ground and up to the main road where the German line ran. Men wiped out in their thousands. Brave assaults by Scottish and Irish Tyneside brigades resulted in casualties that matched Newfoundlanders. Down to Fricourt at the angle of the front, the huge losses continued as men discovered that the week long barrage had not impacted severely on the German defences. Fricourt itself was taken late in the day, a somewhat Pyrrhic attainment.
It was to the east of Fricourt that the Mametz and Montauban village objectives were taken with speed and relative ease by the 7th, 18th and 30th Divisions. Some important boost to the pre-bombardment was given by French artillery, which had a greater weight of shot. With hindsight we know that the Germans were weaker here, and there might even have been the opportunity for a Cavalry break through the deeper lines. However, by mid afternoon Rawlinson had decided the Cavalry was going nowhere and he stood them down.
The French forces straddled the river Somme itself, very marshy ground. They had limited objectives for Day 1, which they attained with ease, and like the British in this sector did not push further.

That evening in a meeting with Haig and the French Sector commander Foch, Rawlinson had to concede that matters had not run well, but he was unaware of the scale of the disaster. He estimated casualties at less than one third of their true figure (15,000 vs 57,000). Across No Man's Land thousands of dead, dying and wounded were strewn, and their mates ventured out in small parties to try and recover them at the end of a truly terrible day.

The terrain looking north from Ovillers. Nab Valley ahead and above the trees left centre the Thiepval memorial may just be seen. The gentle but definite undulations made very advantageous conditions for defenders.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Battle of the Somme 3 - "U day" - the bombardment begins

Stockpiling 18lb shells near Albert
The scale of battle preparation was unprecedented. The logistical requirements of transporting, feeding, commanding, retrieving and burying victims of an army of half a million men (and scores of thousands of horses) had never before been tackled - and nearly all of it done with mechanical engineering, steam power and pencil and paper. Just imagining the effort required is dizzying -  they had to do it 70 years before the spreadsheet and lacking any electronics or information and communications technology.   At the line itself a limited amount could be done in  extending the trenches where possible and building 'assembly trenches' to accommodate the great numbers expected. However in front and behind the line prodigious efforts were made. On 24th June the most significant part of the preparation began - a one-week bombardments of such intensity that it was plainly heard along the English south coast and far inland.

Ideal for tunnelling, but
Somme chalk was unsuit-
able for road building.
In front of the lines, night time raids and harrying attacks were ordered by Haig along all of the British part of the front, to gain intelligence and to discourage the Germans from focusing their defence on the Somme. These periods also provided some cover for dangerous night time tunnelling and trench building out into no man's land. The existing army instructions gave 200 yards as the maximum distance for infantry to rush in an assault, and in many places no man's land was much wider. Multiple deep trenches, or saps were dug for this purpose. This was addition to the mining activity, which was to produce large explosive caches beneath strategically important parts of the front. The chalky terrain was ideal for this (see picture) and warrens of tunnels were created by both sides.
Behind the lines even greater efforts were required, and soldier not on frontline duty spent many hours of heavy labouring. Large scale and detailed rehearsals for the opening day from mocked up trenches; road building for supply horses and vehicles; building up the ammunition and provision supplies; organising hospital services for the wounded; PoW pens for captured Germans; mass graves for inevitable casualties - these were all required. Ston had to be brought from other parts of France and England to build the road, the local chalk being unable to bear the heavy loads. Water requirements were huge, and miles of piping from newly sunken wells were sunk.
In the air, The British held the upper hand at this stage of the war. This was helpful both during the build up and to some extent during the bombardment.
Perhaps the busiest groups of all were the artillery, preparing themselves for the greatest continuous barrage ever launched, outdoing even the Germans 'drum thunder' at Verdun. In the uproar and crisis of weapon shortages in 1915, Lloyd George had been appointed Minister of Munitions ( see posts 11/5/15 and 19/5/15). He had delivered on his promises to boost output.
More of the heavy Howitzers were needed to inflict
damage on the Germans' deepest defences
The provision of artillery and munitions was sufficient to allow artillery pieces to stand almost wheel to wheel along the whole front. The Germans would not have faced anything comparable in the war to date. More shells would be fired by the British in this episode than in the whole of their first year in the war. There were however, two drawbacks - firstly, relative dearth of the heaviest Howitzers needed to crush the deepest German defences; and secondly a loss of quality in the finished product of shells and fuses, meaning that many (in some estimates nearly one third) were duds.

As the countdown to the bombardment continued, the tensions between the Generals continued. Gough moved into an offside position with Allenby, as he found himself without the promised infantry troops, and lost one of his three cavalry divisions, moved elsewhere. He had been reduced practically to a reserve corps of Rawlinson's army, and was not best pleased. Haig asked Rawlinson again to shorten the barrage from five to three days to improve chances of surprise. Rawlinson had blind faith in the power of his artillery, and would not agree. Haig did not insist, perhaps because he was still new to his role, and 'Rawly' got his way.

And so on 24th the 5 day barrage commenced early in the morning. Each day had a letter designation U to Z - Z-day being the D-day equivalent -  and each day followed the same pattern: firstly a concentrated two hour concentrated assault by all guns, thereafter 50% of guns continuing in rotations. At night there was further reduction, but the addition of heavy machine gun fire to the rear trenches to dissuade Germans from emerging to supply their front line, or to look for raiding parties.
These night time raids were unpopular with the men, and produced mixed messages about the damage to the Germans and the success of the barbed wire cutting. When any of this adverse evidence reached HQ it was brushed aside. Any good news was seized upon as confirmation of the all destructive effects of the bombardment. Forty years before cognitive dissonance theory 'Rawly' dealt with his own by rubbishing or dismissing any countervailing evidence, and insisting the barrage would destroy German defences. This certitude transmitted itself to his senior commanders -any demur was dismissed or threatened with disciplinary action. Absurd reassurances were given to officers by Rawlinson's Corps commanders, and passed down the line. Most of the men were pleased with the reassurance; those with the evidence of their own eyes were very unhappy, and this applied to a proportion of the junior officers who would be leading their men over the top.
Rawlinson's 4th Army comprised 11
Divisions in 5 Army Corps. Allenby's
VII Army Corps, with 2 divisions faced
a hazardous diversionary action at

Heavy storms throughout 'W' and 'X' days caused significant flooding in the trenches and approaches, and on 'Y' day, the 28th (less than 24 hours before the attack) the decision was taken to postpone, and extend bombardment. Imagine the disruption to all the meticulously prepared timings. The extra days gave a final total of more than 1.5 millions shells poured onto German positions in seven days - ironic, considering Haig's plea to reduce from five days to three.
After two agonising day of further waiting, by the night of 30th June, the men were poised for action.
The infantry men in each Division moved towards their opening positions. They lined up as shown in the diagrams, thirteen Divisions of 12-15,000 men - around three quarters of them designated for first day action. Each Division had 2-3 brigades of around 4,000, each brigade with its Battalions 1,000 strong. Four Companies per battalion each had a number of Platoons of 60 men. The men were to move forward in waves per company, at one minute intervals. Each carried at least 70 pounds of equipment, the later waves carrying even more, such as barbed wire and entrenching tools. They were to advance at slow pace, making no noise, and were not permitted to run until less than 40 years from the first line trench.
All was in place for the dramatic opening and catastrophic actions of the first day

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Battle of the Somme 2 - Build up to the bombardment

General Sir Douglas Haig - 'controversial'
figure in WW1 history, faced his first major
challenge as C-in-C at the Somme.
"Battle of the Somme" conjures up the image of a campaign across a river, but the Somme is a departement as well as a river. In fact only the French portion of the battlefront was placed astride the marshy ground close to the river. The British sector passed to the north and extended into the next departement, the Pas de Calais. On account of the pressures of Verdun, more and more French divisions were diverted there and, much to Haig's displeasure, their contribution to the planned front shrunk from the expected 25 miles down to eight. As the British troops made their way south to fill the places, they moved into what had become a quiet part of the Western Front. The forces on both sides of no man's land pursued an implicit ‘live and let live’ policy, and offensive reactions were desultory. As the British took over more sections, their Generals determined to put a stop to this, and ordered constant small attacks and raids to gain information and to prime their men for the main action. While understandable, this certainly let the Germans know that significant changes were afoot. They were also well aware of the tremendous build up of British resources behind the lines. For the first time in the war Britain was now able to match Germany in artillery output.

The shape of the front had been determined in 1914 as the battles of Marne and Aisne were followed by the outflanking actions of the race to the sea. Once this started, with General Castelnau attempting to get around the Germans north of the Aisne, the front straightened out northerly rather than its previous northwesterly direction. The consequence for the Somme battlefield was that the British part of the line was approximately L-shaped, with a five miles east to west stretch at the southern end, and 11-12 miles running north (see map, and map of previous post). The main feature of the battle area in addition to the rolling chalk hills already described were: two rivers; the dead straight Roman road linking the only two towns of any size - Albert and Bapaume; and many woods and copses. The two rivers were the Somme itself to the south, and its small tributary the Ancre, which had created a chalk valley in its course that ran south east though the front line between Beaucourt and Thiepval, then on to Albert, where it ran under the famous Basilica, and joined the Somme to the south of the town.

Since 1914 the Germans had made general and specific improvements to their defensive lines. Being so deep into French territory they were perfectly willing to cede the odd mile of ground here or there, if it gave them the higher ground and advantageous aspects. This was particularly so in the undulating terrain of the Somme, creating numerous mini hills and valleys. The trenches weaved their way through these. No mans land was in some places as narrow as 50 yards and in others nearly half a mile. With these tortuous courses the actual length of the front was extended by two miles to 18 miles.

The Allied Front Line June 1916. The nine fortified villages incorporated
int the German lines are shown in purple, and the key objective of
Pozieresin orange. (Adapted from Mapping the First World War.
Peter Chassaud. IWM Publications)
From the north, the opening line ran as follows (see map): the Gommecourt salient protruded into the British line, comprising the village itself and the associated Chateau. It was the westernmost position of the German army on the front. Running south into the Ancre valley it ran through two key villages, Beaumont Hamel and Serre. The five miles running south from the Ancre were to be the critical points of the first day advance. They incorporated the main Roman road, which ran between two German fortified villages - Ovillers and La Boisselle; and Pozieres ridge, a key first day target for the attackers. Passing south to the village of Fricourt, another fortified German defence point, the front then turned sharply east toward the villages of Mametz and Montauban, and the junction with the French troops was just south of the latter.
Thus, on the whole of this eighteen miles, the German occupied carefully selected positions, strongly fortified and with at least three lines of defences. They had stitched in 9 villages to their fortifications, from north to south: Gommecourt, Serre, Beaumont Hamel, Thiepval, Ovillers, La Boisselle, Fricourt, Mametz and Montauban. All of these were already severely damaged by artillery fire, and made ideal defensive warrens and hidden machine gun posts. In several particularly good vantage points the Germans had also built redoubts - heavily armed strongpoints well supplied by tunnels and ammunition.

Against this formidable set of defences, Haig set about making his plans and dispositions. His main advantages were unprecedented artillery resources, and in infantry divisions - his troops outnumbered the Germans by 7 to 1. All the leading British generals, however, were concerned by their men’s inexperience - a problem exacerbated by the diversion of so many experienced French divisions to Verdun.
Sir Henry Rawlinson.
Staunch believer in the power of artillery
to overcome entrenched defence.
However, they were not in accord about the detail of the plans. There was a hierarchy amongst the four senior men. Haig, clearly, was the Commander in Chief, but he was less than six months in post, and of the same rank and not much older than Rawlinson. Of the four, only Rawlinson was an infantryman through and through (Haig, Allenby and Gough were cavalry officers). Allenby was slightly off side, given a minor role in the battle and a diversionary one at that, which he viewed as hazardous in the extreme. Gough was the youngest, and was waiting in the rear, with his reserve 'army' of cavalry, which had not yet been fortified with the promised infantry divisions. So, the crucial decisions were made by Haig and Rawlinson. Haig was a good delegator and he tended to defer to Rawlinson's infantry experience, but he was determined that his cavalry should be prepared and on hand to take advantage of the breakthrough he confidently expected from the artillery barrage and follow up attack. Rawlinson was overly influenced by the power of his artillery and wanted the maximum barrage as a prelude to a more modest 'bite and hold' advance, which could then be built on by further artillery attacks on the deeper German defences. Haig wanted a shorter bombardment to preserve an element of surprise for a breakthrough (really), and Rawlinson wanted longer to ensure there was no resistance for his infantry to overcome at the first day's objectives. Neither of them seemed much influenced by the stream of information coming back (from the very raids they had ordered) about the strength and complexity of German defences. A British compromise ensued. The first day's objectives would be more limited to the first German positions, except in the centre, where Pozieres ridge was seen as a vital target (remember Gallipoli?). The pre-bombardment would be for five full days. Haig was under pressure to begin as soon as possible to relieve the Verdun position, but was not prepared to start earlier than 24th June. Rawlinson set orders for his infantry to march slowly across no man's land, rather than traditional rush and shelter, apparently on account of his men’s inexperience and the considerable weight of equipment each man had to carry. He also had concerns about keeping his men behind the fall of the supporting artillery, but the full 'creeping barrage' was not employed at this stage.

Preparations continued apace for U day - the beginning of the artillery Armageddon. 

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Battle of the Somme 1 - The origins of the Somme Campaign

Military Leaders at the 2nd Chantilly conference 6th Dec 1915
L to R (front row) Porro (It), French, Joffre and Jilinsky (Rus) 
We have seen how during 1915 the co-ordination of initiatives by the British, French and Russian triple entente had begun to take shape. Along with their newer allies Belgium, Italy and Serbia they held a first conference at Chantilly, outside Paris, on 7th July 1915. This did little more than agree principles, but at a second conference at Chantilly in December an outline was agreed for a major Anglo-French offensive in the area of the Somme river, and it was to take place in mid-summer 1916. Only two days before this, at an Anglo-French summit in Calais, Kitchener had prevailed upon the French Prime Minister Briand to pull out of the stalemated occupation of Salonika, in the same way that Britain was preparing to abandon Gallipoli. Crucially the French C-in-C Joffre was missing from the Calais meeting, and two days later he cajoled the partners in Chantilly to keep the Salonika front open, thereby retaining the interest of Russia, Italy and Serbia in that area. (It was also a volte-face re his arguments of late 1914).
Thus the eastern partners left the conference committed to simultaneous operations with the Anglo-French big push in Summer 1916, and a more general agreement to respond if any of the partners came under significant assault from the central powers. It was the latter eventuality that triggered the actions of 1916. We have also seen how Falkenhayn's pre-emptive strike on Verdun in February (Post 5/2/16) resulted in the Russian Lake Narotch offensive (Post 25/1/16). The Austrian offensive in the Trentino encountered stiff Italian resistance (Post 3/5/16) causing them to denude further their positions on the Eastern Front. As a direct consequence, Brusilov's offensive (Post 15/5/16), launched earlier than the Somme but in part to support the beleaguered Italians and French punched right through the Austrian positions and gave Russia its most successful campaign of the war. Only with the arrival of strong German reinforcements from the northern parts of the Western Front was Brusilov stopped.
All these events had a significant bearing on the Battle of the Somme.

The British army that fought at the Somme bore little resemblance to the BEF that had been hurriedly thrown into the breach at Mons and had fought so staunchly at Le Cateau and along the Great Retreat. Recall that around 150,000 hardened professional soldiers were all but wiped out in the desperate campaigns of 1914, a fate largely shared by the second line territorials through the attritional actions of 1915. Only in 1916 did the products of Kitchener's vision - the new army comprising well over a million volunteers - begin to arrive in large numbers in France. The Somme was to be their first major test.

The British section of the front
was to the north of the river
In the euphoric early days of the war men had enlisted in their tens of thousands from all parts of the country, giving most of the new battalions a local intimacy that was – at first – seen as an advantage for morale. From the 'pals' battalions all over England (especially the industrial north) to the rifle brigades of the City of London and the Public Schools battalions men flocked to the recruiting call. National institutions such as the Post Office and the Railway companies provided many of their own battalions, often to the detriment of essential occupations. "The four counties of the Industrial North between them produced 134 New Army battalions, just over one-third of the thirty divisions eventually raised by Lord Kitchener in the whole of the United Kingdom" (from Martin Middlebrook: The First Day on the Somme). 
These locally named units e.g. Accrington Pals were created so quickly that the War Office struggled to allocate them within the existing Regimental and Divisional structure, resulting in dual names for many battalions throughout the war. Empire troops were also arriving in greater numbers, but only the Newfoundlanders would feature on the infamous first day actions. 
The rigid, class structured view of the army, meant that finding sufficient officers who were also ‘gentlemen’ provided one of the biggest challenges, and many public school educated members of the new volunteer battalions were removed to be rushed through officer training. 

From the 1914 position, with two army corps commanded by Haig and Smith-Dorrien reporting to the Commander-in-Chief Sir John French, the BEF had now expanded to five armies reporting to the C-in-C, now Douglas Haig. For the Somme battle, three armies were involved: the 4th, commanded by Rawlinson would cover the majority of the front; the 3rd under Allenby covered the northern limit, and, in reserve, the 5th, commanded by Gough which was initially a Corps of cavalry, but would grow in size through the campaign.

General Fritz von Below.
A quintessential Prussian General
The German side of the battlefield was defended by their Second Army. In 1914 this had been the eastern part of the great sweeping German hammer, commanded by the veteran Bulow. Bulow had suffered a heart attack in early 1915, and had been replaced by a near namesake, Fritz von Below.
Initially, Below's Army was responsible for the whole of this front. His men were experienced and battle hardened, but at a significant numerical disadvantage.

As with a very different BEF,  the terrain for the battle was a significant change from the now familiar flat mud and clay stretches of Flanders. The gently rolling countryside of Picardie rests on chalk, much easier ground for making permanent trenches and defensive positions. The Germans had made the best of their opportunities to do so in the months since this portion of the Front had stabilised in late 1914. They had built at least three lines of defence, incorporating villages and hamlets within the lines, and built a number of redoubts at crucial points, which would allow them to concentrate machine gun and light artillery fire on movements from almost any point on the Allied side. The digging of the chalk left jagged white scars along the landscape on both sides of no-man's land, easily visible from aerial surveillance.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Death of Kitchener

Perhaps the most famous and
enduring image of WW1?
The Kitchener poster
For a short time, the Battle of Jutland and its immediate repercussions overtook the nation's pre-occupation with the Western Front and the ongoing tribulations of the British and allied armies. The next event brought the two together. The embodiment of the British Army in the public eye was War Minister and head of the British Armed forces, Horatio Herbert Kitchener. If Jackie Fisher was the greatest British sailor since Nelson, there was no disputing Kitchener's place in the pantheon of great British Generals. There was irony, cruel fate and mystery in the demise of such a famous soldier at sea, and so soon after the Battle of Jutland itself.

Kitchener was born in Ireland in 1850, but was educated in Switzerland and then at the Military School in Woolwich. He held the rare (British) distinction of having served in the French army - albeit in the ambulance corps - in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. He distinguished himself throughout his military career in roles as engineer, cavalryman and as administrator. His fame came from campaigns in the Middle East, and in Africa, especially in Sudan and in the Boer War. He was made Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in India from 1902-09, famously falling out with the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, so that he was moved to become the British Consul General in Egypt. 

By the time war was declared in 1914, he had unparalleled military stature and reputation and was given the onerous office of Minister for War - supremo for both military and political conduct of the war. His greatest talent was vision rather than grasp of detail, and he was one of the few to demur from the prevailing view that the war would be a short one, predicting that it would last at least three years. On account of this, he argued against conscription, and set about creating the largest volunteer army the world had ever seen - perhaps his greatest achievement. Taciturn and aloof, he was never comfortable with the political aspect of his role, and the detailed aspects of his brief taxed him greatly. A strong administrator but poor delegator, he was gradually worn down by the pressures of office. By early 1916, he was at the end of his tether. If failure to force the Dardanelles did for Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, the recurrent disasters and changes of plans at Gallipoli undermined Kitchener's authority with the Government. Already under pressure for his support of the costly (and failed) endeavours on the Western Front through 1915, Kitchener's increasingly desperate decisions over Gallipoli led to the decision to appoint Sir William Robertson as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), taking over many of Kitchener's responsibilities (see The Final Weeks of 1915 - 1/12/2015).
A lack of political skills to deal with his governmental (and very political) colleagues meant that Kitchener's fall from grace was precipitate, and by the time of Jutland, he was being virtually ignored in cabinet. However, none of this affected his status and popularity with the general public or, in particular, with 'his' army.
Kitchener boarding the Iron Duke to meet
with Jellicoe on 5th June.
In May, Kitchener had received an invitation from the Tsar to visit Russia and meet both with the Government and with the military high command. This was not a bad time for him to be away from London and so on June 4th, just two days after the last of Jellicoe's fleet had returned to base post-Jutland, he said his farewells to the King and to Asquith, the Prime Minister, and set off by train to the north of Scotland on the first leg of his journey to a three weeks visit to Russia. Incredibly, but for a late intervention by Asquith, he would have been accompanied by David Lloyd-George, the Government's ultimate politician. From Thurso, a destroyer carried him across the Pentland Firth to join Jellicoe aboard his flagship the Iron Duke in Scapa Flow. As the two commanders lunched, the weather underwent one of its typical drastic changes, and by early evening the worst storm of the year was blowing from the north east. Jellicoe urged Kitchener to postpone by 24 hours, but the latter was not a man to tamper with his schedule. To give his cruiser HMS Hampshire and her VIP passenger some protection from the worst of the storm, Jellicoe ordered a westerly course around the Orkneys and Shetlands, and it was in those less familiar waters that the Hampshire struck a mine in very heavy seas around 7pm.
Orkney memorial to Kitchener, lost a few miles off
the coast along with hundreds of others.
The ship went down in 15 minutes. It was too rough to launch the 
lifeboats, and of the 650 men on board only 12 survived. Kitchener was not one of them, and for Jellicoe - even perhaps more than the stunned nation - this was a very severe blow to add to his post-Jutland slump, having personally ordered the course of the ill-fated Hampshire

So, less than three weeks before the supreme test of Kitchener's army in Picardy, its inspiration had met a watery grave. He did not live to see their fate at the Somme.