To mark the 90th Anniversary of the
of the Battle Somme, I am going to attempt a day by day account of the campaign. (God help us). I reproduced the map from johnclare.net, hope he doesn't mind.
Although it became a 141 day long slogging match lasting until the 18th of November, the original plan anticipated a general advance along an 18 mile front on day one. This plan failed and as we know, the first day of the battle was the bloodiest in British history with almost 60,000 casualties of which 20,000 were fatalities.
Saturday 1st July 1916. Day 1.
VII Corps, consisting of the 46 (
North Midlands) and 56 ( ) Divisions was to attack the London . This was the northernmost area on the villageof Gommecourt Sommefront and the attack was in fact just a diversion to draw the Germans away from the main assault to the south. Furthermore VII Corps was in Third Army while Rawlinson’s Fourth Army was to conduct the Somme Offensive.
The 56th Division attacked south of Gommecourt and the 46th north of the village. The 56th quickly captured the German frontline trench. However the assault on the second line failed and was driven back to the German frontline trench by . The 46th division failed to take it’s initial objective and the Divisonal Commander was later sacked.
The plan here was for the 31st Division to break through the German lines, take Serre and cover the northern flank of the attack on Beaumont Hamel. The attack was hampered by poor artillery support which lifted from the German frontline at ten minutes before Zero. The creeping barrage moved far more quickly than the infantry advance and the smoke screen that was planned to cover the advance never appeared. The infantry began to advance at 7.30 but was quickly halted by German machine gun and artillery fire. In this division the
Accrington, Barnsleyand Leeds Pals battalions fought. One group of the Accrington Pals made it into Serre but was cut off and annihilated. 580 out of 720 men of this battalion were killed or wounded.
This area was attacked by the 29th Division, their first operation in
having moved from Gallipoli early in the year. The France and Munster Fusiliers were in the Division. Here also the Newfoundland Regiment began it’s fruitless advance from the reserve trenches across open ground. The communications trenches which they should have used were clogged with dead and wounded men. In this area the Hawthorn Ridge mine was detonated, the explosion being filmed by a cameraman and the film shown on every WW1 documentary ever since. The Hawthorn Ridge mine was detonated ten minutes before Zero hour giving the surviving Germans ample warning of the pending attack. From near the cameraman’s position the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers attacked Beaumont Hamel from the Dublin treet>Sunken Roadtreet>
The 32nd and 36th (
)Divisions attacked here attempting to capture the high ground around the Ulster . Fortunes were mixed for various units. South of Thiepval the 17th Highland Light Infantry crawled to within 40 yards of the German line before zero hour and dashed forward to capture the Leipzig Redoubt and establish a new line 400 yards beyond it. At Thiepval itself the Newcastle Commercials were decimated as they advanced through the gaps in their own wire, while the Salford Pals advanced through the village only to be cut off and destroyed by the Germans who were supposed to have been killed in their dugouts by the artillery. By afternoon, the HLI had retreated back to the German line, support having failed to reach them. villageof Thiepval
North of Thiepval the Inniskilling Fusiliers advanced 400 yards and captured the Schwaben Redoubt. Here they were joined at 8.30 by the Royal Irish Rifles who advanced on Stuff Redoubt, the division’s second objective. However they advanced into their own barrage and were decimated. The survivors retreated to the old German line.