|Some Prominent British Generals and their Fortunes in The Great War|
BYNG, (Bungo) Julian Hedworth George, (I862-1935)
Almost an exact contemporary of Allenby, Byng too went to the Western Front with BEF in 1914 as commander of a Cavalry Division (3rd), giving sterling service to I Corps at the First Battle of Ypres. In March 1915, he was promoted to GOC, Cavalry Corps. However, unlike Allenby, he was adept at personal relationships, and this facility was to prove a boon in his later dealings with the occasionally ‘difficult’ Dominion troops.
In August 1915, after the failure of General Frederick William Stopford to follow-up on the successful landings at Suvla Bay, Byng was transferred to the Dardanelles to command IX Corps. But was too late to do much except serve as the architect of the highly successful plan of evacuation for the 105,000 Allied troops and considerable amounts of the materiel of the MEF, if by no means all of it. The withdrawal was successfully completed in January 1916, without the loss of a single man.
En route back to Europe from the Dardanelles, Byng was seconded to Egypt where he briefly assisted in the organisation of the Suez Canal Zone defences.
Returning to the Western Front in February 1915, he took command of XVII Corps but in May 1915 was given command of Canadian Corps, a uniquely self-contained unit formed of only Canadian troops, with which he served until early 1918.
During the First Battle of the Somme, the rapport and trust which he had created with his troops was reflected by the success of XVII Corps at Flers-Courcelette and Thiepval Ridge, in September 1916.
However, his most successful campaign was the extraordinary five-day assault on the fiercely contested 12km long Vimy Ridge, on the Douai Plain, in April 1917, with four Canadian divisions and British support. Tactically, this much fought-over redoubt was probably the most important site on the Western Front, and it certainly proved to be so in the perilous days of the German advance in the Spring Offensive in March/April 1918.
In June 1917, Byng was promoted to GOC, Third Army, in which capacity he planned the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917; it included new tactics employing large numbers of tanks, highly coordinated ‘predicted’ artillery (ie able to fire without prior registration on selected targets) and many support/attack aeroplanes. Although the final outcome of the Battle of Cambrai proved to be a disappointment (not least because of the usual error of continuing the offensive for far too long with insufficient reserves), the tactics used set the mould for the successful more open battles of the Summer and Autumn of 1918.
Byng’s troops also performed exceptionally well in resisting the onslaught of the German 1918 Spring Offensive, ceding only limited territory. His Third Army troops also amassed an unbroken record of military success (18 battles) during the Final 100 Days in 1918; Albert, Epéhy, Havrincourt and Valenciennes being outstanding victories, but all were eclipsed by the breakthrough of the much vaunted Hindenberg Defence Line on 27 August 1918.
General comment: Byng would be the first to admit that he was fortunate to have the command of the highly effective Canadian Corps from February 1915 to June 1917. However, it was his exceptional managerial skill that enabled him to forge these often considered ‘difficult’ troops into such an effective and cohesive force. His planning was usually excellent, and thoroughly thought out. Popular with all his troops, he is considered to be one of the most successful British senior generals on the Western Front.