In the second week of July, lists of the dead and wounded began to appear in the papers. The 11th East Lancashire battalion was known as the Accrington Pals. Of the men who went into action on 1 July, became casualties. Although they were still behind the war effort, people at home wore black arm bands to commemorate those who had lost their lives.
As the sun rose, 22, British troops attacked. The Germans were taken by surprise. The British achieved an early victory advancing 6, yards into enemy territory and occupying Longueval village. Two regiments of the 2nd Indian Cavalry Division were sent into action. However they failed to take High Wood, which remained in German hands. Situated at the southern end of the British line, the dense woodland was a key Allied military objective.
On 15 July, 3, soldiers of the 1st South African brigade occupied the wood. The Germans unleashed fierce machine gun and artillery fire and launched a brutal series of counter-attacks. Terrible weather turned the wood into a muddy grave. Undaunted, the South Africans held on. When they were relieved five days later, men were left standing. British soldier, Frank Brent, describes the Battle of Pozieres. In July, the British were reinforced by the First Anzac Corps, with three Australian divisions composed largely of inexperienced volunteers.
The Germans unleashed an intense barrage and counter-attacked on the ground. Over six weeks the British and Australian forces tried and failed to take the nearby Mouquet Farm. The battle claimed over 12, Australian casualties — more than at Gallipoli. It has gone down in popular history as further testament to the indomitable Anzac spirit. Shells were screaming around us and machine guns kept flicking, but I had to halt the whole column several times on account of the fatigue of the men.
Francine Stock examines the attraction of the Battle of the Somme film to British audiences in Made by the War Office as a public information film for the home front, "The Battle of the Somme" featured real footage from the war. The film broke box office records and in autumn nearly half the population of the UK watched it at the cinema.
The most powerful scene, depicting British soldiers going over the top to face the Germans, was reconstructed behind the lines. The film had a huge impact on British audiences. Seeing the horror of industrial warfare for the first time imbued the British public with a determination to see the conflict through to the end.
By August, the Germans had suffered nearly , casualties. Morale was low and many German leaders believed the battle was lost. The Germans were losing ground at the Somme and at Verdun the French were attacking in earnest. Bread, meat, sugar, eggs and milk were rationed. Germany's general, Falkenhayn, resigned and was replaced by General Hindenburg and his chief of staff Ludendorff. They employed new tactics - German soldiers were to concede ground in order to inflict the maximum number of casualties on the Allies.
Later in the war the Germans developed several light tanks, but they were no match for the British heavy tanks. German casualty numbers are controversial, but may be about , How did this happen? In early , the French proposed a joint Franco-British offensive astride the river Somme. Because of Verdun , the British army assumed the major role of the Somme offensive. Hence, on July 1, , the British army attacked north of the Somme with fourteen infantry divisions, while the French attacked astride and south of the Somme with five divisions. In defense, the German army deployed seven divisions.
The Somme from the air
The two differed about the depth of the offensive and the length of the bombardment, so the adopted plan was an awkward mixture. The artillery was the key to the offensive, but it did not have the ability to cut all the wire, destroy deep German trenches , knock out all enemy guns, or provide a useful barrage for the infantry attack.
And at zero hour on July 1, the artillery shifted away from the German front trenches too quickly and left the infantry exposed. But the French, with Verdun experience, had much more heavy artillery and attacked in rushes, capturing more ground and suffering less. After July 1, a long stalemate settled in, with the German army digging defenses faster than Allied attacks could take place.
Despite small advances, the Somme became a bloody battle of attrition, and Haig has been criticized for prolonging the campaign into winter, especially for the last six weeks. The Somme was an expensive lesson in how not to mount effective attacks, but the German army was also weakened and in February retreated to new, and shorter, defensive lines. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. The centre brigade reached the second line, before being forced back to the British front line and the left-hand brigade managed to reach the third trench, while German counter-bombardments cut off the leading troops from reinforcements.
The co-ordination of British artillery and infantry failed, the field artillery lifting to the final objective and the heavy artillery lifting an hour before the attack, leaving the German defenders unmolested as they repulsed the infantry. Many of the German fortifications were smashed, except on the right at The Nab.
British penetrations were contained by German troops in communication trenches on the flanks. The two battalions of the regiment in the area lost casualties and the 8th Division losses were 5, men. The salient and Thiepval village were attacked by the New Army 32nd Division. The Glasgow Commercials advanced into no man's land at 7: At zero hour, the British rushed the trench before the garrison could react and captured the Leipzig Redoubt.
Attempts to exploit the success were met by machine-gun fire from the Wundtwerk Wonderwork and the British were not able to advance further. The th Brigade attacked Thiepval through the 32nd Division area and then the 49th Division was ordered to send any uncommitted battalions direct to the 36th Division. The garrison of Thiepval emerged from the shelters and cellars of the village before the British arrived and cut down the attackers with small-arms fire, leaving a "wall of dead" in front of the position. The 32nd Division lost 3, casualties and the 49th Division casualties.
The 36th Division attacked between Thiepval and the Ancre River against Schwaben Redoubt and gained a "spectacular victory". The infantry crept into no man's land before the attack, rushed the German front trench and then pressed on. The defeat of the neighbouring divisions left the 36th Division flanks unsupported and the German defenders on either side were free to rake the division with flanking fire, as well as fire from ahead.
German artillery began a barrage along no man's land Sperrfeuer which isolated the most advanced Irish troops. The advance briefly reached the German second line and captured Schwaben Redoubt and closed on Stuff redoubt. The German units suffered severe casualties due to the British bombardment, which destroyed much of the front position, particularly west of Schwaben Redoubt.
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The positions were so quickly overrun by the British, that little return fire could be opened. In the confusion, few of the German troops were able to assemble; the counter-attack began piecemeal and was repulsed several times, until a bombardment and another attack by two fresh battalions at about Three divisions were to attack on the first day, with the 48th South Midland Division in reserve, except for two battalions that held a 1.
The 29th Division attacked towards Beaumont-Hamel. Many troops of both brigades were shot down in no man's land, which was dominated by Redan Ridge and then caught by German artillery barrages. German white signal rockets were seen and taken for British success flares, which led the divisional commander Major-General de Lisle to order the 88th Brigade from reserve, to exploit the success.
The Newfoundland advance avoided the congestion of dead and wounded in communication trenches but many of the troops became casualties to German small-arms fire while still behind their front line. Some Newfoundland troops got across no man's land near Y Ravine but were held up by uncut wire. Reserve Infantry Regiment , who had been sheltering under the village in Stollen survived and with other units at Leiling Schlucht Y Ravine and the Leiling and Bismarck dugouts, engaged the British troops from the wreckage of the trenches.
The Newfoundland Regiment suffered casualties, a 91 percent loss, second only to that of the 10th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, which lost casualties at Fricourt, south of the Albert—Bapaume road.
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The 4th Division attacked between Serre and Beaumont-Hamel and captured the Quadrilateral Heidenkopf but could not exploit the success, because of the repulse by the Germans of the attacks by the flanking divisions. Crossfire from Beaumont Hamel and Serre and determined counter-attacks held up the 4th Division. Parties of Lancashire Fusiliers, Seaforth Highlanders and troops from the 11th Brigade held the Quadrilateral and were reinforced by a company of the Royal Irish Fusiliers during the night.
Except at the Quadrilateral, the 4th Division ended the day back at its start line. The Irish eventually withdrew at Kingston recorded 5, casualties in the division during July. The 31st Division, a New Army division made up of Pals battalions, was to capture Serre and then turn north to form the northern defensive flank of the Fourth Army.
The 31st Division attacked uphill from several copses and the two attacking brigades were engaged by the Germans with small-arms fire, firing 74, bullets when repelling the attack. Small groups of the Accrington Pals and the Sheffield City Battalion , managed to cross no man's land and reach Serre and a party advanced 1. Reserve Infantry Regiment was confronted by the British attack before all the troops had emerged from their dugouts.
More than three infantry sections were blown up in the mine explosion at Hawthorn Redoubt, the rest of the garrison being trapped until the end of the attack. A counter-attack towards the redoubt by two platoons gradually bombed the British back; after an hour only the troops in the Heidenkopf remained and it was re-captured during the night. Reserve Infantry Regiment lost casualties, Reserve Infantry Regiment lost men, Infantry Regiment had casualties and the 31st Division suffered 3, casualties.
Preparations for a pincer movement to capture the garrison in a pocket , were made as obvious as possible to attract German attention. The first three German trenches were captured and a party pushed on towards the rendezvous with the 46th Division. A heavy German barrage descended on no man's land, which made it impossible for reinforcements to move forward or for a trench to be dug, to form a defensive flank to the south and the survivors were forced to withdraw after dark. The 46th Division attack found that the German wire was uncut and the ground littered with unexploded mortar bombs.
A smoke screen intended to mask the infantry obscured their view and left the Germans with observation over the attack. The ground was particularly wet and muddy and few troops reached the German trenches; the remaining British troops overran the front line, where German troops were able to emerge from shelters not mopped-up by supporting battalions, having been pinned down in no man's land by a German counter-barrage and engage the British troops from behind.
The British bombardment cut much of the wire at Gommecourt and demolished many trenches, particularly in the area of Infantry Regiment opposite the 56th Division.
The smoke screen obstructed the beginning of the attack and the damage caused by the bombardment blocked many dug-out entrances; a counter-attack was swiftly mounted from Kern Redoubt the Maze , which was not under attack. The counter-attack failed to stop the 56th Division reaching the third line of trenches, before a converging attack by Infantry Regiment and Reserve Infantry regiments 15 and 55 began. The British had consolidated and the counter-attack made little progress, until co-ordinated bombing attacks in the afternoon gradually recovered the position.
Opposite the 46th Division, Reserve Infantry regiments 55 and 91 took post in time, engaged the attackers while they were crossing no man's land and failed to stop the loss of the front trench, until a counter-attack from the third trench "annihilated" the leading British troops; the German regiments had 1, casualties. The 46th Division had 2, losses, which was the lowest divisional loss on 1 July and the commander, Major-General Montagu-Stuart-Wortley , was dismissed for the failure.
The 56th Division had 4, casualties. The British moved into the area of the Somme in mid and relieved the French Tenth Army at the end of February Photographic reconnaissance began in October and in March intensive British preparations commenced. The IV Brigade corps aircraft were to be protected with line patrols, by pairs of aircraft from the army squadrons and offensive sweeps by formations of DH 2s.
The concentration of aircraft for the offensive was completed by the arrival on 19 June of the Ninth headquarters Wing with three squadrons and one flight, which brought the number of aircraft on the Fourth Army front to , plus eighteen at Gommecourt. Trains were to be attacked in cuttings, railway bridges were to be bombed and the stations at Cambrai, Busigny, St Quentin and Tergnier were to be raided and the German ammunition depots at Mons, Namur and the station at Lille were also to be attacked.
Low cloud and rain obstructed air observation of the bombardment, which soon fell behind schedule and on 25 June, aircraft of the four British armies on the Western Front attacked the German kite balloons opposite; fifteen were attacked, four were shot down by rockets and one bombed, three of the balloons being in the Fourth Army area. Next day three more balloons were shot down opposite the Fourth Army and during German artillery retaliation to the Anglo-French bombardment, German artillery positions were plotted and a Fokker was shot down near Courcelette.
Accurate observation was not possible at dawn on 1 July due to patches of mist but by 6: Observers in contact aircraft could see lines of British infantry crawling into no man's land, ready to attack the German front trench at 7: Each corps and division had a wireless receiving-station for wireless messages from airborne artillery-observers and observers on the ground were stationed at various points, to receive messages and maps dropped from aircraft. Balloon observers used their telephones, to report changes in the German counter-barrage and to direct British artillery on fleeting targets, continuing to report during the night, by observing German gun-flashes.
Air reconnaissance during the day found little movement on the roads and railways behind the German front and the railways at Bapaume were bombed from 5: Flights to Cambrai, Busigny and Etreux later in the day saw no unusual movement, although German aircraft attacked the observation aircraft all the way to the targets and back, two Rolands being shot down by the escorts. Bombing began the evening before with a raid on the station at St Saveur by six R. In the early evening an ammunition train was bombed on the line between Aubigny-au-Bac and Cambrai and set on fire, the cargo burning and exploding for several hours.
Raids on St Quentin and Busigny were reported to be failures by the crews and three aircraft were lost. Offensive sweeps were flown by 27 and 60 squadrons from Two sets of line patrols were flown, one by 24 Squadron DH. The second set of patrols by pairs of F. The British troops moved along Train Alley towards Montauban. On return towards the British lines, the crew saw Montauban being occupied and 18th Division troops advancing up the ridge to the west of the village, the pilot flew low along the ridge and gave the troops a wave.
The XV Corps attack either side of Fricourt was observed by parts of 3 and 9 squadrons, which were able to report by evening that the 21st Division and the 34th Division to the north, had advanced deeply into the German defensive positions above Fricourt. A balloon observer from 3 Kite Balloon Section was able to get the artillery to re-bombard Danzig Alley, after British troops were forced out by a German counter-attack and second British attack in the afternoon took the trench easily. Ground observers could see much of the battle and communications were not as badly cut as on other parts of the front.
Some of the deeper British infantry advances could only be seen from the air, particularly those at Schwaben Redoubt and Pendant Copse. With 15 Squadron observing the disaster occurring to VIII Corps around Beaumont Hamel, the defeat of the British attacks and the repulse of the troops from the few areas where breakthroughs had occurred were reported by the aircraft observers.
The VII Corps attack was observed by 8 Squadron, which had taken reconnaissance photographs during a period of clear weather the day before. The attack of the 46th and 56th divisions, had a standing patrol of one aircraft each from 6: No red infantry flares were seen during the day; aircraft flew through the barrage to make visual identifications at low level and by the end of the day German ground fire had made three aircraft unserviceable. One aeroplane flew into a balloon cable near St Amand, damaging the aircraft although the crew were unhurt.
Reports from the observation crews related the fate of the leading troops of the 46th Division, who were cut off after over-running the German first line by German troops emerging from underground shelters. Following waves intended to mop-up the German front line, were seen to be stopped in no man's land by artillery and machine-gun barrages. On the 56th Division front, observers watched the leading British troops capture the first, second and third lines before being cut off by another German barrage in no man's land.
German infantry were seen to mass and then counter-attack, regaining the third line by midday, the second line by afternoon and the first line late in the evening.
The Somme from the air with Visit-Somme
By May , eight German divisions held the front from Roye to Arras with three in reserve. At dawn on 24 June, a shrapnel barrage began on the German front position and villages nearby. At noon, more accurate fire began before increasing in intensity around Thiepval as heavy batteries commenced firing and in the evening, a light rain turned the German positions into mud. On 25 June, heavy artillery-fire predominated, smashing trenches and blocking dugouts.
Variations in the intensity of fire indicated likely areas to be attacked; the greatest weight of fire occurring at Mametz, Fricourt and Ovillers; during the night the German commanders prepared their defences around the villages and ordered the second line to be manned. After an overnight lull, the bombardment increased again on 26 June, gas being discharged at 5: The German garrison took post and fired red rockets to call for artillery support, which placed a barrage in no man's land.
Later in the afternoon huge mortar bombs began to fall, destroying shallower dug-outs, a super-heavy gun began to bombard the main German strong-points, as smaller guns pulverised the villages close to the front line, from which civilians were hurriedly removed. German troops billeted in the villages moved into the open to avoid the shelling and on 27 and 28 June, heavy rain added to the devastation, as the bombardment varied from steady accurate shelling to shell-storms and periods of quiet.
At night British patrols moved into no man's land and prisoners captured by the Germans, said that they were checking on the damage and searching for German survivors. German interrogators gleaned information suggesting that an offensive would come either side of the Somme and Ancre rivers at 5: All of the German infantry stood to with reinforcements but the bombardment resumed in the afternoon, rising to drumfire several times. Artillery-fire concentrated on small parts of the front, then lines of shells moved forward into the depth of the German defences.
Periodic gas discharges and infantry probes continued but German sentries watching through periscopes were often able to warn the garrisons in time to react. The bombardment on 30 June repeated the pattern of the earlier days, by when much of the German surface defences had been swept away, look-out shelters and observation posts were in ruins and many communication trenches had disappeared.
On the night of 30 June — 1 July, the bombardment fell on rear defences and communication trenches, then at dawn British aircraft "filled the sky", captive balloons rose into the air at 6: The remaining German trench garrisons began to leave their shelters and set up machine-guns in the remains of trenches and shell-holes, which proved difficult to spot and allowed the occupants to change direction, easily to face threats from all directions. Where the British infantry advanced close behind the barrage the German defenders were often overrun and at Montauban, Mametz and around Fricourt, the Germans were rushed, while most were still underground.
Further north, the Germans had time to emerge and stopped most attacks in no man's land. The Germans emerged to see lines of British infantry in no man's land and opened rapid fire on them, lines and waves falling down, reforming and moving forward. Some German infantry stood on trench parapets to aim better and red rockets were fired to call for artillery barrages on no man's land, which shattered the British infantry formations.
Several counter-attacks were mounted, which forced the British back to the German front trench after dark. Prior and Wilson ascribed the origin of this narrative to John Buchan in The Battle of the Somme in which the bravery of soldiers is extolled, rather than faulty infantry tactics being criticised. Prior and Wilson traced the narrative through the writing of B. Liddell Hart , J. Edmonds the official historian, C. In , Anthony Farrar-Hockley questioned the narrative but reverted to the orthodox view soon after.
To the north, the leading brigade of the 31st Division advanced into no man's land before zero hour, ready to rush the German front trench when the barrage lifted. In the 36th, 32nd and 8th division areas, some battalions assembled in front of the German wire, ready to rush forward at zero hour and many of the battalions of XV Corps and XIII Corps walked slowly forward in lines behind a creeping barrage. Of 80 battalions in the initial attack, 53 crept into no man's land, ten rushed from the British front trench and twelve advanced at a steady pace behind a barrage.
Where the German defences and garrisons had been destroyed, the British infantry succeeded. When significant numbers of German machine-gunners survived, especially when supported by artillery, the British attack failed. On the French front, the artillery preparation was almost wholly effective in destroying German defences and killing German infantry in their underground shelters. The prevalence and effectiveness of killing-machines determined the result and in such an environment, a soldier with a bayonet was obsolete and infantry formations irrelevant. Harris wrote of the inferior German defences on the French front, surprise, superior French artillery and better infantry tactics than those used by the British.
The French attacked in the south as did the two most successful British corps and in this area, only the first line was expected to be captured. Harris wrote that the German army was often ignored in analyses of the First Day and that the main defensive effort was made in the north, the area of greatest German success. Terrain in the south, Anglo-French air superiority and closer objectives, tended to concentrate Allied artillery-fire, which was better-observed and more accurate than on the hillier ground to the north.
A battle of attrition
Barbed wire was cut, the German fortifications "exceptionally" damaged and a crude form of creeping barrage preceded the infantry to their objectives. Harris held Haig responsible for the extension of the objectives in the north to the German second position, which diluted the density of British artillery-fire, although because no study had been made of the details of the preliminary bombardment, caution must accompany a conclusion that bombardment of the closer objectives was unduly dissipated.
Despite being under no diplomatic pressure from the French or political pressure from London to obtain swift success, the British tried to do too much too quickly, unlike the French Sixth Army which made short advances with the support of massive amounts of artillery-fire. Philpott wrote that after the war the French Official History gave five pages to 1 July, with one paragraph on the British attack and that the German Official History Der Weltkrieg covered the day in 62 pages. The British Official History described the day in pages, with one page on the French success. In Joffre's memoirs the French victory was ascribed to "the excellent work of the artillery" and German underestimation of French offensive potential remaining from the battle at Verdun, leading them to make their principal defensive effort in the north.
The British had been attacked from behind after failing to mop up captured German positions.