The statistics are frightful. When British troops hurled themselves against the German line on the first day of the battle it has been estimated that they walked into a wall of lead of 6, bullets per minute. The British 4th Army suffered nearly 60, casualties on the first day alone, of whom 19, were killed.
National Army Museum 10am - 5. Toggle navigation. View this object. An Australian machine gun team on the Somme, The bulk of British troops involved in the Battle of the Somme were inexperienced volunteers of the 'New Armies'. They had been recruited in General Sir Douglas Haig, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Detonation of Hawthorne Ridge mine, 1 July The first day At 7.
Captain George Johnson wore this tunic on the first day of the Somme. He was injured in the arm. The din was deafening, the fumes choking and visibility limited owing to the dust and clouds caused by exploding shells. It was a veritable inferno. I was momentarily expecting to be blown to pieces. I dropped in a shell hole and occasionally attempted to move to my right and left but bullets were forming an impenetrable barrage and exposure of the head meant certain death. None of our men was visible but in all directions came pitiful groans and cries of pain'. Lieutenant Alfred Bundy , 1 July Night bombardment at Beaumont Hamel, 2 July A tank making its way to the front line at Flers, 15 September They advanced about 1.
Tending a grave near Mametz Wood, August Success or failure? The huge losses among the 'Pal's Battalions' on the Somme plunged many British communities into grief. On a battlefield far, far away 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 a.
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 hit 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.
Leading Up To The Battle Of The Somme
Offensive sweeps were flown by 27 and 60 squadrons from a. Two sets of line patrols were flown, one by 24 Squadron DH. The second set of patrols by pairs of F. At a. The British troops moved along Train Alley towards Montauban. On return towards the British lines, the crew saw Montauban being occupied and 18th Eastern Division troops advancing up the ridge to the west of the village and the pilot flew low along the ridge and gave the troops a wave. By a. 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 break-ins 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.
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.
The Canadian Corps and the Battle of the Somme
One aeroplane flew into a balloon cable near St Amand, damaging the aircraft although the crew excaped unhurt. Reports from the observation crews related the fate of the leading troops of the 46th North Midland 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 pinned down in no man's land by artillery and machine-gun barrages. 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.
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 to 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 a.
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 a. 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. 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.
1916: Armentières and the Battle of the Somme
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.
The Battle of the Somme
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. In , J. 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. 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. In , William 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.
Many British infantry had been attacked from behind, after failing to mop up captured German positions. This military explanation was insufficient for many British commentators, who blamed "anachronistic" "sword wavers" for leading volunteers to an unnecessary slaughter. The French success, based on the experience of was overlooked, as was the French expectation of more quick victories being disappointed, as the battle became a counterpart to the long attrition campaign at Verdun.