Battle of the Somme

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Battle of the Somme
Part of: First World War
Map of the battlefield
Map of the battlefield
date July 1 to November 18, 1916
location On the Somme , France
exit Setting the offensive or a tie
Parties to the conflict

United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom of France
Third French RepublicThird French Republic 

German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire


United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Douglas Haig Henry Rawlinson Hubert Gough Launcelot Kiggell Ferdinand Foch Émile Fayolle
United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Third French RepublicThird French Republic
Third French RepublicThird French Republic

German EmpireThe German Imperium Erich von Falkenhayn Erich Ludendorff Max von Gallwitz Rupprecht of Bavaria Fritz von Below
German EmpireThe German Imperium
German EmpireThe German Imperium
German EmpireThe German Imperium
German EmpireThe German Imperium

Troop strength
approx. 104 divisions with 2.5 million soldiers approx. 50 divisions

419,654 British 204,533 French

officially 335,688, probably around 465,000, of which 125,000 fell or died of their wounds

The Battle of the Somme was one of the greatest battles of the Western Front of the First World War . It began on July 1, 1916 as part of a major British - French offensive against the German positions. It was canceled on November 18 of the same year without having brought about a military decision. With over a million soldiers killed, wounded and missing, it was the battle with the greatest losses on the Western Front during World War I, with losses close to those of the Brusilov Offensive on the Eastern Front .


General Douglas Haig
Somme valley

At the conference in Chantilly in December 1915, the military commanders of the Triple Entente and their allies decided on another major offensive against the German positions in France and at the same time decided to open large, targeted offensives on three fronts - on the western, the eastern and on the Italian. This decision was a satisfaction for General Joseph Joffre , Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Quartier Général (GQG), since he had described the failed landing of the Allies on Gallipoli ( Battle of Gallipoli ) from the beginning as an unimportant sideline, the forces from the withdrew from his point of view the decisive western front.

In a meeting with General Douglas Haig , the new Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces in France, at the end of December 1915, the offensive on the Western Front was discussed. Haig actually advocated another major attack in Flanders to flank the German army, but he agreed to Joffre's proposal. It is likely that he did this on the instructions of the British General Staff to consolidate military cooperation between the British and the French through the greatest possible willingness to cooperate. It was decided to start the planned offensive at the point of contact between the two army groups: on the Somme River .

In the spring of 1916 the Allies had the numerical superiority on the Western Front with 139 divisions (38 British, 95 French and 6 Belgian) versus 117 German divisions. After the end of the Dardanelles campaign, several British divisions had been transferred from the Mediterranean region to France as reinforcements since the spring of 1916. From January 1916 the 34th and 35th divisions came via Egypt, followed by the 31st and 46th divisions in February, then the 29th and 39th divisions and the 1st and 2nd Australian divisions reached the western front in March. In April 1916 the New Zealand Division, in May the 41st, 61st and 63rd Divisions, in June the 40th, 60th Divisions and the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions arrived in France. Finally, on July 3, the 11th Division reached the Western Front. The Battle of Verdun , started by the German army in February 1916, had weakened the French army so that the British armed forces were supposed to relieve their allies with the offensive on the Somme. Haig not only wanted to break deeply into the German positions, but also to exhaust the German army materially and personally and to force it to surrender. In doing so, in a very similar way to the other way around, the German army command pursued the concept of the attrition battle .

Contrary to the original plan, the British troops could only count on little French support, as the fighting for Verdun was a priority for France. There were also many inexperienced volunteers among their soldiers. Nevertheless, Haig ordered a massive frontal attack by the infantry over a large area.

Opening battles until the beginning of August

Seven days of barrage from June 24th

British gas bombardment near Montauban, late June 1916

The British plan was to concentrate as many guns as possible on a certain section of the front in order to destroy the German trenches with the heaviest artillery fire and to inflict maximum losses on the German front-line troops. The shelling was then to be followed by a massive infantry attack on a broad front. The soldiers should be able to cross the no man's land between the trenches armed “only with a walking stick”. The British armed forces pulled together 1,437 pieces of artillery in the intended combat area , which opened fire on the German positions on June 24, 1916. Within seven days and nights, around one and a half million artillery shells were fired and the area was transformed into an almost impassable lunar landscape - which later turned out to be a difficult obstacle to overcome for one's own supplies . In addition, chemical weapons (poison gas) were used and sections of the German front were undermined .

The British infantry was originally supposed to attack on June 29th. Due to the bad weather, however, the start of the attack was postponed by 48 hours; additional grenades for the barrage, which was extended from 5 to 7 days, were not available. In addition, many of the British grenades were poorly produced and either exploded too early or not at all.

British engineering units had worked underground for months to place a series of 19 mines under the German lines on the Somme and exploded them almost simultaneously at the start of the attack on July 1, 1916 at 7:28 a.m. The bang is said to have been heard even in London, earth and debris are said to have been thrown up to 1200 meters into the air. The largest of these charges were the Hawthorn Ridge mine near Beaumont-Hamel and the Y Sap and Lochnagar mines near the village of La Boisselle , where the huge Lochnagar crater can still be seen today. With a diameter of 91 meters and a depth of 21 meters, the crater is the largest crater of the First World War.

The attackers march

General Émile Fayolle

Douglas Haig had moved his command post to Château Val Vion , 20 kilometers behind the front, on July 1st and deployed six corps with 20 divisions between the river Ancre and the Somme for the first major attack , including several newly formed Kitchener divisions with inexperienced recruits . They faced eleven German divisions experienced in combat.

The main attack was carried out by the British 4th Army with five corps:

  • On the left wing, the VIII. Corps under General Hunter-Weston attacked with the 31st, 4th and 29th Divisions against the Serre - Beaumont-Hamel line and behind it led the 48th Division as a reserve.
  • Then on the right followed the X. Corps under General Thomas Morland with the 36th and 32nd Divisions (49th Division as reserve ) against the front between Grancourt - St. Pierre Divion - Thiepval up to height 141 south of it.
  • At the center of the Rawlinson Army, the III. Corps under General William Pulteney with the 8th and 34th Divisions (19th Division in reserve) launched the attack against the line Ovillers - La Boisselle.
  • Subsequently, the XV. Corps of General Henry Horne with the 21st, 17th and 7th Divisions at La Boisselle, against Fricourt and Mametz .
  • On the right wing, the XIII. Corps under General Walter Congreve with the 18th and 30th Divisions (9th Division in reserve) between Mametz and Montauban and maintained contact with the French attacking south at Maricourt.

On both sides of the Somme, General Émile Fayolle's French 6th Army operated with three other corps:

  • the 20th Corps under General Maurice Balfourier with the 11th, 39th and 153rd Divisions against the line from Hardecourt to Curlu
  • South of the Somme three divisions of the 1st Colonial Corps attacked Berdoulat in the direction of Péronne and to the right of it the 35th Corps under General Charles Jacquot with the 51st and 61st Divisions in the Lihons area .
  • The French 10th Army with the 30th and 33rd Corps of Generals Paul Chrétien and Alphonse Nudant , as well as the 2nd Colonial Corps on the front between Chaulnes and Lassigny , finally joined the south wing of the attack area .
General of the infantry Fritz von Below

On July 1st, the German 2nd Army under General der Infanterie Fritz von Below was subordinate to three general commands separated by the Somme River:

The first day of slaughter on July 1st

Preparations for the attack
General Henry Rawlinson, Commander in Chief of the British 4th Army

The main attack in the area east of Albert was carried out by the British 4th Army under Sir Henry Rawlinson , it went over to the attack with 14 divisions after blasting the " Lochnagar crater " with a focus on Thiepval and La Boisselle . The place Maricourt formed the dividing line to the French Army Group North under General Foch , the French 20th Corps under General Balfourier led its main thrust against Curlu . South of the Somme another seven divisions of the French 6th Army took part as far as Chaulnes , and the left wing of the French 10th Army under General Joseph Micheler also took part in the attack. The French stood here for the German XVII. Army Corps, as well as the Guard Corps on the southern section as far as Lassigny.

British infantry advancing near Mametz , July 1, 1916

Since the British were convinced that the German positions had been destroyed by the immense gunfire, the attacking troops were allowed to advance in dense lines of rifles at marching speed. The British soldiers also carried heavy entrenchment tools with them in order to be able to expand and thus secure the bombed German trenches . Therefore, they had been ordered to run only the last part of the route in order to have enough strength in the end for the expected close combat with the remaining defenders.

The British VIII and X Corps in particular suffered by far the greatest losses before Beaumont and Thiepval. Despite the heavy barrage, enough barbed wire barriers and shelters remained intact on the German side to allow an effective defense. After the British artillery stopped firing, the German soldiers left their shelters and quickly got their machine guns ready for use. The British troops attacking from the front came under unexpectedly violent machine-gun fire and suffered heavy losses. The German artillery, which unexpectedly quickly began to fire again at the British, raged even more devastatingly. Only in a few places did they succeed in capturing the foremost German trenches, which also had to be abandoned after a short time.

Explosion of Hawthorn Ridge -Mine on July 1st 1916
Combat section of the German XIV Reserve Corps

After the Hawthorn Ridge mine near Beaumont-Hamel was blown up, General Morland's main attack was not directed against St. Pierre Divion, but against the German main base "Schwabenfeste" north of Thiepval and against the village of Ovillers, which was defended by the 180 Infantry Regiment. The attack of the British X. Corps with the 36th (Major General Oliver SW Nugent) and 32nd Divisions (Major General William H. Rycroft) between Beaumont - Thiepval and Height 141 hit the Württemberg 26th Reserve Division , which was replaced in time by the Bavarian Division Burkhardt could be strengthened. The "Schwabenfeste" was lost to the Ulster Division , but was regained in a counterattack by Major General Friedrich von Auwärter's brigade from the north, northeast and southeast after a failed attack in the second attempt. The loss-making British attacks at Thiepval continued until the evening.

Southwest of Thiepval, the British were able to establish themselves in the newly christened "Grenade Hole". Against the 9 km wide position of the 28th Reserve Division alone , the British deployed four divisions and still achieved only minor gains in terrain, at Ovillers the British 8th (Major General Havelock Hudson ) was already replaced by the 12th Division (Major General Arthur B. Scott ) replaced.

Of the approximately 120,000 British soldiers who attacked the German positions on the first day of the Somme Battle, around 20,000 were killed, 8,000 of them alone in the first half hour when the uncovered infantry marching in was surprised by German machine-gun fire, and almost 36,000 wounded. In addition, around 2,100 men were reported missing. Individual regiments lost well over half of their soldiers within hours, and entire divisions were no longer considered to exist. The first day of the Battle of the Somme has been dubbed “the blackest day in British military history” because of the enormous losses.

Causes of the British Failure

General Morland had set up his observation and command post at a relatively safe distance of three miles on an oak tree dominating the terrain, from which he could observe part of the battle. Nevertheless, he still stuck to the tactic he had chosen once it became clear that the frontal attack would fail in the face of the unexpectedly fierce resistance. A deviation from the established plan proposed to him by Major General Edward Perceval, commander of the 12,000-strong Corps Reserve (49th (West Riding) Division), was repeatedly and categorically rejected by him. Perceval advised in vain to use his division to expand the breakthrough of the Ulster Division in the Swabian Fortress and from there to attack the strongly defended Thiepval from the rear with a flank movement.

On the morning of July 1, 1916, at 7:30 a.m., the British infantrymen had received the order to advance on foot to the German positions that were mistakenly believed to have not survived the heavy artillery preparation fire. Units like the Salford Pals, who attacked the “no man's land” in front of the “Thiepval-Ridge” (“Kamm von Thiepval”) in two waves, suffered heavy losses of over 50% in German machine-gun fire from well-developed positions right from the start. and were nearly eliminated during the day.

“It was worse than hell itself. Such a row I have never heard before in my life, and it was terrible to see the men lying in the field of battle. I can tell you anybody who came out of that scrap on that first morning was lucky. "

“It was worse than hell. I have never seen such a spectacle in my life and it was terrible to see the men lying on the battlefield. I can tell you, anyone who got out of this junk that first morning was lucky. "

- Lancaster Fusilier Harold Beard

While British soldiers were largely new recruits on the Somme, many of their opponents were veterans of the front line. The German side was mostly led by younger officers and, thanks to the mission tactics, was able to react flexibly to changed situations and to carry out counter-attacks spontaneously even without explicit orders from higher command posts, such as the corps under Lieutenant General Franz von Soden. The telephone network was also well developed and enabled the Germans to communicate better than the British. For this reason, the defenders were able to adapt their tactics flexibly to the battle.

Morland, however, continued to proceed strictly according to his original plan and finally ordered the frontal attack of the third wave, which had to advance over the corpse field at 4 p.m., with the result that the attack in machine gun and artillery fire completely collapsed again. One of the few survivors was Captain Thomas Tweed from the village of Eccles, company commander of the B Company of the 2nd Salford Pals, whose company suffered the heaviest losses of all and who was later able to report as a witness of the "slaughter in front of Thiepval". Around 10:30 p.m. the Germans were able to recapture the Swabian Festival and thereby relieve Thiepval, which in turn increased the pressure on the 49th Division.

First consequences

The British Army learned a number of lessons from the Thiepval disaster. One of them was the relatively new use of movable artillery barrage, which was supposed to cover the advance of the own infantry by means of a moving "band of fire" in order to eliminate the German machine-gun positions. The seven-day artillery preparation, on the other hand, had not had the expected success that the German positions were ultimately ready for storms, but rather it prepared the defenders, who had largely survived the heavy bombardment in the depths of their bunker systems, for an imminent British offensive. A blind trust in the weapons effect of the artillery, the extensive renouncement of combat reconnaissance and the inflexible behavior of the commanding generals to changing military situations were the main reasons for the British failure. In the period that followed, the British tried not to repeat these mistakes.

From the impression of the first day of the fight and based on a later conversation between General Erich Ludendorff and Colonel Max Hoffmann , the winged word Lions led by donkeys ("lions led by donkeys ") was coined , indicating the courage of the British infantrymen on the battlefield and their incompetence their commanders should be expressed.

Course of the battle until mid-July

Despite the enormous losses on the first day, Haig allowed the offensive to continue, with the British side changing the strategy . Surprise attacks on limited sections of the front should now ensure the military success that the massive use of guns and soldiers on a large area had not brought. Now the losses increased on the German side as well, since Falkenhayn forbade the abandonment of sections of the front, regardless of their strategic importance. In addition, the foremost German trenches were always fully occupied, which resulted in numerous deaths in the event of gunfire: After defending against an attack or after losing a section of the trench, the German troops should immediately counterattack if possible, whereby the losses on both sides equalized.

The loss-making battles slowly led the German army to the brink of exhaustion, especially since their own attacks on the western front between Douaumont and Fleury during the Battle of Verdun stalled completely and at the same time the Brusilov offensive started by the Russians on the eastern front demanded high losses . Shortly after the start of the British attack on the Somme, the German side went on the defensive at Verdun at the end of June in order to free troops from there. The VI. Reserve Corps (General Konrad Ernst von Goßler ) with the 11th and 12th Reserve Divisions , as well as the 22nd Reserve Division , could be called upon immediately from Bapaume .

Wrestling in the Mametzer Forest, painting by Christopher Williams

On July 3, the 28th Reserve Division, which was most under pressure on the German side, had to give up Mametz in front of the British 7th Division, ahead of the opposing 21st and 17th Divisions, Fricourt. This section was already supported by the brought up 10th Royal Bavarian Infantry Division and the 183rd Infantry Division . The distressed section between Contalmaison and Longueval was taken over by the approaching 3rd Guards Division under General Arthur von Lindequist by the end of July .

From July 4, the British reserve army under General Hubert Gough took command of the section of the VIII and X Corps between Beaumont and Thiepval. For the continuation of the British attack on the positions at Thiepval , which were stubbornly held by the 26th Reserve Division, divisions of the 2nd Corps in reserve under General Claud Jacob were called in . The English and French attacks reached the new front line Contalmaison - Montauban - Hardecourt - Biaches - Estrées ; only a few kilometers had been gained; the attempted breakthrough had to be seen as a failure now.

Between July 6th and 14th, south of Longueval, there was fierce wrestling over the Trones forest, the wood changed hands 18 times until it remained in British hands. On July 9th, the English 23rd Division (Major General JM Babington) attacked south and west of Contalmaison, was able to repel a counterattack by the German Infantry Regiment 183 (183rd Infantry Division) and was able to occupy Contalmaison on July 10th . On July 9, the Mametzer Forest fell to the British, and the left wing of the French 20th Corps took the village of Hardecourt.

The French section

French section of attack south of the Somme, with the line reached in mid-July

The focus of the attacks of the French 6th Army was on both sides of the Somme, on the north bank the 20th Corps (General Balfourier) operated against Combles and Cléry and on the south bank the 1st Colonial Corps (General Berdoulat) tried to break through to the city of Péronne . On July 1 and 2, the French succeeded in taking the first German trench position 8 kilometers wide on both sides of the Somme. The assault divisions of the 1st Colonial Corps (2nd Col. Div., 99th and 61st Divisions) managed the entire first position of the Germans east of Foucaucourt to the western edge of Assevillers , from there to the north to Feuilleres on almost 3 km depth to overrun without major losses. There were slight losses, but the German 121st and 12th Divisions (General Martin Chales de Beaulieu) lost around 4,000 prisoners and 60 field guns. In the evening of the Goßler group to the left of the 12th Infantry Division, first the 12th and then the 11th Reserve Division between Maurepas and Flaucourt had to be brought forward. As the fighting continued, the French managed to win the western edge of Herbécourt - Assevillers on the south bank of the Somme on July 2nd and push their way to Estrées. The 2nd Colonial Division (General Mazillier ) advanced beyond Feuillères and initially occupied the Boucle, the sharp bend in the river northwest of the Somme near Péronne , with the exception of Frize . The new French positions now reached from La Maisonette to the right to Biaches, already opposite the third German position in the ditch, whereby Péronne was visible across the river.

Due to the lack of roads, General Foch could not provide enough reinforcements on the north bank of the Somme to advance into Maurepas. It was only when British troops stormed the second German trench position between Longueval and Bazentin le Petit that the French were able to attack Guillemont as well. In the meantime, the 20th Corps was ordered to maintain strong artillery fire. A French attack against the Bois de Favière at 6:00 a.m. briefly captured the northern edge of the forest before being pushed back by a German counterattack. Further attempts to storm the forest at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. also failed.

Troops of the French 35th Corps were able to storm Estrées on the evening of July 3rd, a German counterattack in the early morning hours, retook half of the village before the French attacked again on July 5th and then attacked most of the village could claw. The French succeeded in taking the Belloy held by the 11th Division (Lieutenant General Richard von Webern) and winning performances in front of the Biaches and Barleux line. A night attack on Biaches on the night of July 4th to 5th failed because of the German barrage. On July 5, the French, reinforced on the north bank of the Somme, conquered the towns of Curlu and Hem , to the north of which the German 12th Division initially held the line Maurepas - Monacu .

On the German side, the Quast group (General Command IX. Army Corps ) on the northern wing of the XVII. Army corps established on the threatened line Biaches - Barleux . The Frentz division, oppressed by the French at Barleux, was replaced by the 17th division . The south adjoining XVII. Corps now only defended the Chaulnes area on the shortened section of the front between Lihons and Andechy .

South of the Somme, the French were able to reach the Cléry - Biaches - Barleux line by July 19 in a struggle with the German 17th and 18th divisions and get close to Péronne. Therefore, the XVII. Army Corps, the 16th Division and the combined Liebert Division , the Quast Group, the 1st Guard Reserve Division , the 4th Guard Division and the 28th Division were added as reinforcements. The Guard Reserve Corps (Marshal Group) took over the leadership in the section on both sides of Barleux. In the German Guard Corps, the 1st Guard Division north of Lassigny was freed by the 44th Reserve Division and the XVII. Army corps transferred to Nesle as an intervention reserve.

Fight until the end of July

Fight in Delville Wood

After the British had made only minor gains in the first two weeks of the battle, the British 4th Army managed to break deeply into the German positions on July 14 at the Battle of Bazentin Ridge . At dawn, four divisions of the British XV attacked. Corps arrived on a front 5.5 km wide before daybreak, caught the German front troops by surprise with 22,000 men and penetrated almost six kilometers deep into the opposing rift system between Groß- and Klein- Bazentin . On July 13, the Germans pushed in the 123rd Infantry Division at Longueval in good time , and the right wing of the 12th Reserve Division under General von Kehler was withdrawn to Ginchy . On the right wing, the 9th Division (Major General Furse) successfully advanced to Longueval, but the German troops were still able to hold out in the northern part of the village. To the left of it the 3rd Division (Major General Haldane) attacked Bazentin le Grand. In the following attack, the advanced 7th Division (Major General Watts) initially conquered the forest of Bazentin le Grand by 3.25 a.m. and then stormed the village of Bazentin le Petit by 7.30 a.m. On the left wing, the 21st Division (Major General Campbell) entered the forest of Bazentin le Petit Wood and helped clean up the village. The relative ease with which the British reached their goals on July 14th was very high with the loss of 9,194 men dead and wounded. Compared to the English XIII. Corps, the 24th Reserve Division was deployed in front of Sailly and the 8th Bavarian Reserve Division had already been pushed into the front at Rancourt . The already wavering 11th Reserve Division under Lieutenant General Friedrich von Hertzberg was reinforced by the 23rd Reserve Division .

While the 21st Division was continuing the attack on the northwest corner of the village of Bazentin le Petit Wood, the complete capture of Longueval was ordered. Previously, control of the Delville Wood had to be won because the German troops were allowed to make dangerous flank attacks from it. The 21st Division was replaced by the 33rd Division in Bazentin le Petit on July 15, and the 7th Division (Major General Herbert Watts ) took over 270 meters of the previous front of the 3rd Division east of the forest of Bazentin le Grand. The South African 1st Brigade under Brigadier General Henry Lukin assigned to the 9th (Scottish) Division (Major General William Furse ) was ordered to capture Delville Wood and the 91st Brigade of the 7th Division attacked the High Wood. To the left of the 7th Division, the 33rd Division (Major General Herman Landon ) covered the attack by advancing towards Martinpuich . On the opposite side, the German 183rd Infantry Division had just been replaced by the 7th Division. The South Africans met the defensive fire of the German 3rd Guard Division in Delville Wood. The southern forest could be occupied in fighting until midnight, the German troops only held the north-western corner of the forest after Longueval. The artillery fire had shot the trees to pieces and exposed them to their roots. This made it very difficult to dig trenches. A battalion of RIR 107 of the German 24th Reserve Division attacked at 11:30 a.m. from the southeast and was able to fight its way 73 meters deep before it was forced to dig in itself. The 9th (Scottish) Division decided to postpone the attacks until the heavy artillery could bombard the village of Longueval again at 4:00 a.m. on July 17th. The capture of High Wood was deemed impossible for the time being and the 91st Brigade was withdrawn at 11:25 p.m. and the forest was bombed by divisional artillery. The attacks on Delville Wood only resulted in heavy casualties. After three days, the South Africans had 2,536 dead and wounded and had to be relieved by the 17th (Northern) Division, and later by the 14th and 20th light divisions. On 22/23 July the newly introduced 51st (Highland) Division (General GM Harper ) carried out a new attack against the High Wood, the 154th Brigade, which had been in the front, was repulsed by the German troops with heavy losses. By the August 7th detachment, the Highlander had lost more than 3,500 men, including 150 officers. The fighting over Delville Wood continued until the end of August.

From July 19, the section of the German 2nd Army was divided and reorganized for better command management: North of the Somme, the new 1st Army with headquarters in Bourlon was formed and General of the Infantry Fritz von Below took over. Army - now under General der Artillerie Max von Gallwitz with headquarters in St. Quentin - the leadership. Both armies were combined to form the " Heeresgruppe Gallwitz " until the reorganization, which took place at the end of August . North of the Somme, the established Stein Group (XIV. Reserve Corps) between Gommecourt and Thiepval remained in their old positions. The remnants of the 28th Reserve Division in the main attack area were replaced by Group Sixt von Armin (General Command IV Army Corps) with the 7th and 8th Divisions, and the Goßler Group with the 24th Reserve Division , 123rd Infantry Division and 11th Reserve Division defended south of it as far as the Somme.

On July 23, at 3:40 in the morning, the English 30th Division (Major General Sir John SM Shea) carried out the next advance on Guillemont. With one battalion each, the 21st Brigade attacked north from Trônes Wood and from Longueval Alley. The previous bombing of the village and the trenches had been extremely devastating, as was the barrage of heavy artillery on the line from Falfemont Farm to Wedge Wood, via Leuze Wood, east of Guillemont to south of Ginchy. The infantry attacking from Trônes Wood reached the German wire barriers with only a few casualties, where they were then caught by German artillery and machine gun fire. The defense of Guillemont provided by the Saxon 24th Reserve Division (Major General Max Morgenstern-Döring) held out despite heavy losses. British troops fighting too far ahead were cut off and overwhelmed after reinforcements arrived.

The 30th Division had to attack the line between Falfemont Farm and Guillemont again on July 30th through the section of the 35th Division, the 2nd Division should advance simultaneously from Waterlot Farm to Maurepas, where a simultaneous attack by the French 6th Army took place should. At 4:45 in the morning the 89th Brigade attacked Falfemont Farm as far as the edge of Guillemont, the village itself was targeted by the 90th Brigade. Guillemont station and the trenches there to the northwest were attacked by the 5th Brigade of the 2nd Division. In the dark, the view was only for a short distance, the hamlet of Maltzhorn and the nearby trenches were stormed jointly by a British battalion from the west and part of the French 153rd Division (General Magnan) from the south. The 90th Brigade advanced on both sides of the road from the Trônes forest to Guillemont and entered the village with little loss. On the left, the 3rd Division (Major General Aylmer Haldane) attacked the Delville Wood and Longueval. The 8th Brigade on the right was stopped while trying to take the area south of the railway and pushed back to the Waterlot Farm, from where they were able to fend off a German counterattack in the morning. The 9th Brigade attacked at Delville Wood and Longueval, this advance too was soon stopped by machine gun fire from the northeast and from Ginchy, which resulted in a general retreat. The failure of the attack on July 30th was due to the same reasons as the previous one on the 23rd and was decided by the leadership of the XIII. Corps attributed to the difficulty that the attack formations from the southwest and west were under flank fire from two sides.

Battle of Pozières

Henry Horne, commander of the English XV. corps
Battle of Pozières

In mid-July, the I.  ANZAC Corps under General Birdwood was introduced at the front south-east near Pozières and dissolved the III. Corps off. At that time, the British strategy focused on conquering the ridge east of the village of Pozières, from where a flank attack could be carried out on the German positions further north in Thiepval, which had not fallen victim to the British attack on July 1. During this battle, the general command of the German IV Army Corps under General Friedrich Sixt von Armin took command in the area southwest of Bapaume . The 7th Division now defended the hard-pressed Pozières. The 8th Division , brought up on the night march, started a counter-attack that was supposed to regain the lost Delville Forest. Not least because the British reserves were moving too slowly, the decisive breakthrough could be prevented in this way, so that the front could be stabilized again on the German side.

On July 23, at 12.30 p.m., the Australian 1st Division (Major General Sir Harold Walker ) broke through the German front and reached the main road to Pozières. At dawn the Germans counterattacked, but the Australians held out. Pozières fell into the hands of the Australian 2nd Division (Major General Sir Charles Rosenthal ) on the night of July 23rd to 24th , further profits were made on the night of July 24th to 25th. The Germans responded after losing Pozières by concentrating most of their artillery on the Australians. Constant barrages were directed at Pozières and created a loss-making situation for troops who formed new attacks in the dark. After the loss of Pozières, the Sixt group was pulled out by Armin and replaced by the "Boehn Group" ( IX Reserve Corps with 17th and 18th Reserve Divisions and 117th Infantry Division ). The Australian 2nd Division was instructed to take the heights east of Pozières. The new attack started on July 29th at 12.15 p.m., but the Germans were ready and the failed attack brought the Australians 3,500 casualties. The commander of the Australian 2nd Division asked that his men could attack again instead of being withdrawn after failure. After a heavy bombardment on August 4th, the Australians conquered the heights of Pozières. The exhausted 2nd Division was relieved and the Australian 4th Division (Major General William Holmes ) took the positions on the heights of Pozières. The Australians attacked north along the ridge and reached Mouquet Farm in ten days of uninterrupted attacks. The “Gruppe Boehn” was replaced on August 12th by the “Gruppe Laffert” (24th and 40th Infantry Division and 16th Infantry Division ), which after two weeks was replaced by the Guard Reserve Corps (“Gruppe Marshal ”) was replaced. Mouquet Farm resisted the occupation until September 26th, when the great British tank attack at Flers came to an end . In six weeks, the three deployed Australian divisions had lost 23,000 men in the fighting in Pozières and Mouquet Farm, of which 6,800 men were killed or died as a result of their wounds. The Anzac units were replaced by the Canadian Corps (General Julian Byng ), which attacked Mouquet Farm from September 15.

Front line on the Somme from July 1st and mid-October 1916

The fights in August and September

As early as the end of July, it became necessary to replace worn-out German units in the main attack area north of the Somme. The groups Sixt von Armin and Goßler were by the IX. Reserve Corps ( Boehn Group with the 117th Infantry Division, 17th and 18th Reserve Division ), the Württemberg XIII. Army Corps and General Command XII. Reserve Corps with the 8th Bavarian Reserve Division and the 23rd Reserve Division on the front line between Thiepval - Combles - Maurepas to the Somme.

The Bavarian I. Reserve Corps under General Karl von Fasbender had already been added to the 1st Army as a reserve at the end of July and took over the left section of the “Kirchbach Group” south of Combles. The newly added XIII. Army Corps took over command as "Gruppe Watter " on August 3 , the 26th Infantry Division (Lieutenant General Wilhelm Karl von Urach ) held the ruins of the village of Ginchy east of Delville Wood and the 27th Infantry Division (Lieutenant General Otto von Moser ) defended the important positions of Guillemont with the Infantry Regiment No. 120 and 124 after the replacement of the 24th Reserve Division (on July 29). On August 13, the Bavarian 8th Reserve Division, hard pressed by the French, was pulled out again on both sides of Maurepas . The 5th Reserve Division held this town for days until it was finally left to the French on August 24th. The Bavarians had lost 4,500 men and had to be relieved on August 27 by the 1st and 2nd Guard Divisions .

The allied commanders-in-chief Foch and Haig met in early August to discuss the redistribution of the attacking forces of the French 6th Army to the north bank and the transfer of operations on the south bank to the 10th Army (General Joseph Alfred Micheler). On the north bank, the worn-out 20th Corps was to be replaced by the 1st and 7th Corps of Generals Adolphe Guillaumat and Georges de Bazelaire. The French 10th Army was reinforced by the 2nd Corps (3rd and 121st Divisions); south of the Somme, the 33rd Corps (70th and 77th Divisions) of General Nudant had the task of breaking through to Peronne via Biaches reach.

Henry Rawlinson met General Congreve and the commanders of the 55th, 2nd, and 24th Divisions on August 9 and suspended further attacks until more thorough preparations had been made. The 2nd Division was replaced by the 24th Division (Major General John Edward Capper) on the night of August 9-10, the 55th Division (General Hugh Jeudwine) was pushed in before Guillemont. General Haig then agreed with Joffre a less ambitious joint attack from the Somme to High Wood, thus setting the next day of major action on the Somme for August 18th. The German 27th Infantry Division was able to hold its positions in the major battle days of August 8th and 18th in 25 days of action and, after the loss of 920 dead and 3,550 wounded, was pulled out again on August 23 and by the 111th Infantry Division relieved. The 26th Infantry Division was replaced by the 56th Infantry Division . Reserve Corps ("Kirchbach Group").

After Lieutenant General Lord Cavan, commander of the English XIV. Corps in mid-August, after General Congreve was wounded, the front section of the XIII. Corps had taken over, he held a meeting with the division commanders to discuss the next attack on Guillemont. On August 16, the French 153rd Division advanced northwest of Maurepas before being repulsed by a German counterattack at 10:30 p.m. Generals Haig and Foch met again on August 19th and agreed new plans for the capture of Guillemont, combined with simultaneous French attacks in the direction of Maurepas. While the assault attacks had so far almost exclusively taken place in the morning hours, the English and French did not attack until around 7:00 p.m. on August 24 between Thiepval and the Somme. The 16th Infantry Division (Lieutenant General Fuchs ) of the “Laffert Group” lost a promontory south of Thiepval, while the “Kirchbach Group” was in heavy losses in the battle for Guillemont.

New German command structure and defense tactics

On August 29, 1916, Erich von Falkenhayn was replaced by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff . Ludendorff quickly developed into the de facto sole decision-maker in the Supreme Army Command and went to the Somme in person to gain an impression of the military situation on site. He realized that the tactics of the German army, which had been ordered by Falkenhayn, led to extremely high losses, and commissioned a group of officers to work out a new tactical doctrine.

The foremost German front sections were no longer made up of fully occupied trenches (which had to be filled up again and again), but were replaced by a thin but flexible line of machine gun nests arranged like a checkerboard. This measure reduced the casualties in the event of enemy barrage and enemy attacks. The German abandonment of a rigid defense of all sections of the front came too late to be able to decisively influence the course of the Somme battle. However, the German losses now fell. The British army, meanwhile, continued its offensive with French support in August and September. She achieved only small gains in terrain, which were always associated with enormous losses.

The newly formed Army Group "Crown Prince Rupprecht" took over the management of all German operations in the Somme sector at the end of August from the briefly leading Army Group Gallwitz. From September 6th, the 10th replacement , 13th , 38th and 6th Bavarian divisions arrived one after the other on the Somme from the section of the German Crown Prince's Army Group (Verdun area) . Then the German army command made a regrouping.

Battle of the Somme, the situation on August 28, 1916.

On the left wing of the 1st Army, General of the Infantry von Ehrenthal ( XXVII. Reserve Corps ) took command instead of the "Fasbender Group". By inserting the 13th Division , narrower sections were created in the Cléry area for easier defense. On the right wing of the army, the section of the XIV Reserve Corps was shortened; the 1st Guard Reserve Division and the 4th Guard Division were pushed into the front between Thiepval and Pozieres . At the same time, the 3rd and 4th Bavarian divisions replaced the worn-out units in the area east of Pozieres, both remained in the unit of the II.Bavarian Corps ( Group of Stetten ), but were tactically the general command of General Marschall's group to better coordinate the defensive battles have been subordinated by Altengottern . In the rest of the army, the 5th Bavarian Division , the 45th and 54th Reserve - and the 185th Infantry Division replaced five large units that had been used up. In the area of ​​the 2nd Army opposing the French, the 11th and 10th replacement divisions were designated as transfer units.

First tank operation at Flers – Courcelette on September 15th

British tank Mark I on September 25, 1916
Rudolph Lambert Lord Cavan, Commander of the English XIV Corps

Between September 3rd and 6th the 7th Division captured the village of Guillemont and on September 9th after its replacement the Irish 16th Division (Major General WB Hickie ) in cooperation with the 56th Division in battle with the German 185th Infantry Division (Major General von Uthmann ) the village of Ginchy ; this was the prerequisite for the planned advance of the French on Combles . In order to make a quick decision, the British decided on September 15 to deploy their tanks for the first time . These should precede the infantry and tear open the foremost German line between Courcelette and Combles. Of the original 49 tanks, which were deliberately misled as "tanks", 17 stopped with technical problems on the way to the front. The remaining 32 Mark I tanks went into attack early in the morning near the village of Flers . The sight of this new type of military equipment initially caused panic among many German soldiers, but on the same day other tanks with technical defects failed, while others were destroyed by the German artillery.

The British XIV Corps under Lord Cavan on the right wing failed to make the expected breakthrough on Combles, on the right the 56th Division (Major General CPA Hull) east of Guillemont quickly got stuck, the 6th Division (Major General C. Ross) was wrestling in the Leuze Forest , the Guard Division deployed on the left (Major General Geoffrey Feilding) gained about two kilometers of terrain to the northeast on Ginchy. At the center of the British attack, the XV. Corps more success, his divisions made the greatest progress on this day compared to the Bavarian II Army Corps : The 14th Division (Major General VA Couper) was able to push the Bavarian 5th Division out of the frontal promontory east of the Delville Forest on the right. In the middle of the corps, the 41st Division (Major General STB Lawford) and the New Zealand Division (General Andrew H. Russell) from Longueval followed the breakthrough tanks and reached Flers. To the right of it, the III. Corps (Pulteney) made some progress, but at a high cost. The 47th Division (Major General C. St.L. Barter) suffered heavy losses in Foureaux Forest, but the neighboring 50th Division (Major General Percival S. Wilkinson) reached the German third line of defense before dark. The Scottish 15th Division (Major General FW McCracken ) wrested the village of Martinpuich from the Bavarian 3rd Division to the left . On the left wing, the Canadian 3rd (Major General Louis Lipsett ) and 2nd Divisions (Major General REW Turner ) pushed the German 45th Reserve Division out of Courcelette by evening . The British II Corps in front of Thiepval supported the Canadian Corps ( Julian Byng ), which was attacking from the Pozières area, with an attack by the 11th Division against Mouquet-Farme, but could not avoid the resistance of the 4th Guards Division . The British attack ultimately got stuck.

While on the German side the right wing of the 1st Army - the " Gruppe Marschall " (General Command Guard Reserve Corps) around Thiepval with the 4th Guard Division and the 207th Infantry Division were able to maintain their positions, they were units wrestling in the middle - the 45th Reserve Division and the Bavarian 3rd and 5th Divisions - were overrun in places. Only southeast of Martinpuich, on the edge of the Foureaux forest and north of Combles, the 4th Bavarian and 185th Infantry Divisions stopped the British storm troops advancing sideways from the tanks with their machine gun fire. German counter-attacks by the " Kirchbach Group " ( XII. Reserve Corps ) encountered strong enemy reserves with which they fought on the Courcelette — Martinpuich — Flers line until the end of the month.

After the technically immature and slow tanks were unable to achieve the hoped-for breakthrough on the Allied side, the loss-making Somme battle over individual trench sections was continued. The French 6th Army under General Fayolle had been north of the Somme since the beginning of August with the 33rd Corps (70th and 77th Divisions) and opposite the "Kirchbach Group" with the 7th Corps (45th, 46th, 47th and 7th Corps) 66th Division) has been significantly strengthened. In the German 2nd Army, therefore, the advance of the XXIII. Reserve corps under General von Kathen necessary, which was pushed into the front with the 11th Infantry Division and the 46th Reserve Division at Vermandovillers . The French 10th Army under Micheler extended its northern wing to the north, received the 35th Corps and attacked with the 2nd and 10th Corps on the village line Chilly - Vermandovillers - Soyécourt - Deniécourt - Berny-en-Santerre to Barleux at fourteen Divisions. After three days of swaying to and fro, the German front between Barleux and Chaulnes was severely crushed, but not penetrated. The new line of defense of the "Quast Group" and "Kathen Group" now ran from Barleux via Fresnes - east past Vermandovillers to the western edge of Chaulnes.

Battle of Morval from September 26th

British infantry at Morval on September 25th

Although the 54th Reserve Division (Lieutenant General Karl von Knoerzer) held the Combles junction during the tank battle near Flers, the town, located in the immediate front area, remained extremely threatened. In order to prevent an impending British breakthrough at Bapaume, was approved by the Supreme Command of the German XXVI. Reserve Corps under General Otto von Hügel moved from Flanders to Combles from mid-September. The 51st Reserve Division under General Balck replaced the 185th Infantry Division and took up a position about five kilometers wide between Morval and Combles, followed on the right by the 52nd Reserve Division . In the section of the 51st Reserve Division, the 213rd Infantry Division under Major General von Bernuth was reorganized on 23 September from the 37th Reserve Infantry Brigade that had been assigned .

On September 26th, after heavy artillery fire to the west and near Morval, another major British attack by the Army of Rawlinson followed. On the left was the III. Corps (23rd and 50th Divisions) from the Martinpuich area to the north against Le Sars, in the middle the XV. Corps (now under Lieutenant General John Philip Du Cane ) with the 21st, 55th and New Zealand divisions on both sides of Flers, on the right the XIV. Corps led the main thrust against Morval. The XIV Corps under Lord Cavan could include Lesboeuf's British Guard Division advancing from the Ginchy area on the left . In the main attack area, the British 6th, 20th and 56th Divisions managed to capture Combles and Morval on September 26th and advance the front towards Le Transloy. From Rancourt, the northern wing of the French 6th Army tried several attacks, which broke into the front of the 213rd Division at short notice, but were immediately repulsed at Sailly. The also newly established 214th Infantry Division , which held the section of St. Pierre Vaast-Wald east of Rancourt and connected the left wing group of the "Group von Schenck " ( XVIII Army Corps ) northeast of Bouchavesnes , held their positions .

New mass attack on both sides of Thiepval

Simultaneously with the attacks by Rawlinson at Morval, the reserve army under General Gough opened new mass storms against the German XIV Reserve Corps ("Gruppe Stein") in the Thiepval area on September 26th. After a short recovery, the 26th Reserve Division under Lieutenant General von Soden returned to its old sector under more favorable conditions than on the first day of the attack. The bombardment began on the morning of September 23 and continued for the next few days. In the section of the II Corps (General Claud Jacob) alone, 60,000 light and 45,000 heavy grenades were fired. Gough had designated two divisions on the left (11th and 18th) for the assault, on the right from the Courcelles area the Canadian Corps under General Byng led the attack. A roller of fire initiated the infantry attack on September 26th. On the right flank, the Canadian Corps attacked with the 6th Brigade (Canadian 2nd Division) on the right, and with the Canadian 1st Division on the left against the so-called "Queen's Trench" and the "Hohenzollern Trench". The desired connection to the 11th division ahead on the left was not achieved. The 11th Division stormed right with the 34th Brigade against the heavily entrenched "Mouquet Farm" and the "Zollern Redoute", to the left of it the 33rd Brigade stormed against the "Schwabenfest". On the morning of September 27th, three fresh divisions were deployed (Canadian 2nd and 3rd on the wings, 39th English 39th division in the middle). All attacks did not lead to a breakthrough, German counter-attacks succeeded in holding the northern part of the "Schwabenfeste" and, to the north, St. Pierre Divion.

The last major attacks in October and November

Soldiers of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment lie exhausted on the ground, November 1916

Of the divisions of the British field army, 53 had already been involved in the attacks by the beginning of October, of which 38 had been deployed twice, 13 three times and 2 once. 26 divisions were completely exhausted, 9 more had to be pulled out of the front to freshen up. At the end of September the Germans drew further reserves: behind the Stein group , the 4th Replacement Division (Lieutenant General von Werder ) was called in from September 29 ; farther south, the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division (General Scanzoni ) advanced into the front main battle line via Francourt . The 18th Reserve Division (Major General von Wundt ) marched in the Lechelle - Neuville - Ytres area, the 15th Division (Lieutenant General von Frentz) at Etricourt and the 10th Reserve Division (Lieutenant General Dallmer ) at Nurlu as an intervention reserve .

In mid-September and early October, heavy attacks by the 6th Army under General Fayolle followed - the newly deployed French V. and VI. Corps of Generals Baucheron and Paulinier stormed in the Bouchavesnes area as far as the Somme near Cléry . On the German side, the Bavarian I. Reserve Corps ( von Fasbender ) opposite Sailly-Saillisel was quickly replaced by the XVIII. Army corps under Dedo von Schenck and then replaced by the V Reserve Corps under Otto von Garnier .

Battle of Le Transloy from October 8th

English gains by the end of October 1916

On October 7th, the day of the attack for the next attack by defectors was announced to the German army command ahead of time, so the situation of the German troops was not unfavorable. The 28th Infantry Division had already been pushed into the left wing of the “Stein Group” ; five further divisions were made available for the necessary replacements. The 19th Reserve Division was also assembled as a reserve of the Army Group at Valenciennes . During October 8th, the British 4th Army attacked the entire front; finally also north of the Ancre and at Eaucourt l'Abbaye. The place Le Sars, which the 4th replacement division defended, was lost to the British 23rd division. The French 6th Army attacked between Morval and Rancourt against Sailly, which was now being defended by the German 18th Division . From October 12th, the British continued in the section of the III. and XV. Corps launched five new divisions between Courcelette and Lesboeufs for a breakthrough on La Transloy. The reinforcement of the German artillery made itself felt through high losses, the offensive broke up more and more into partial attacks. The fight extended to Thiepval, where the British 39th and 18th divisions (Lt. Gen. Ivor Maxse ) managed to take the "Swabian Festival" completely by October 14th. On the same day three French divisions attacked on a broad front south of the Somme between Barleux and Ablaincourt, the village of Genermont was snatched from the German 183rd Infantry Division and the northern part of Ablaincourt from the 44th Reserve Division . The German divisions, which were quickly worn out between Bouchavesnes and Feuillaucourt, changed almost weekly with newly introduced units. On October 15, the French invaded the southern part of the hard-fought village of Sailly. On October 17, the British 47th Division was able to take Eaucourt l'Abbaye, the French were able to establish themselves in the northern part of Sailly, so that the Germans had to give up the place on October 18. At the height of Sailly-Saillisel , arriving from the Meuse section, the Bavarian 1st Division and brought up from the Aisnefront, the 16th Division , finally commanded the French advance to stop. The rainy weather that set in on October 23 made all planned operations difficult for both sides.

British final offensive on the Ancre (November 13-18)

Fight section at the Ancre
Commander of the XIV Reserve Corps

As of October 29, the previous reserve army under General Gough was renamed the 5th Army and prepared the last major attacks in the northern section of the battlefield on the line east of Gommecourt, at Beaumont-Hamel and at Hébuterne . The commander of the XIV. Reserve Corps, General of the Artillery Hermann von Stein was replaced by Lieutenant General Fuchs at the end of October . The 28th and 26th Reserve Divisions, which had been in position since the beginning of the Summer Battle, were pulled out of the main battle line on both sides of the Ancre.

The 5th Army began a new offensive in the early morning of November 13th on the north wing of the battle area between the Albert-Bapaume road and Serre with massive artillery fire. The English attacked the Fuchs group (52nd, 12th and 38th, later 223rd and 58th Infantry Divisions ) with seven divisions between Hebuterne and Courcelette. The V Corps, with the 3rd , 2nd and 51st Divisions, carried out the main attack against the German defense north of the Ancre; south of the river, the II. Corps with the 39th, 18th and 19th divisions attacked via the already secured "Swabian Redoute" to St. Pierre Divion. On the left wing of the V Corps, the 3rd Division tried to break through muddy ground to Serre. To the south of this the 2nd Division made an advance against the heights of Redan. On the right wing, the 51st Division led the attack on Beaumont-Hamel, which fell into British hands that afternoon. West of the Ancre, the 63rd Division broke through to Beaucourt in the evening. South of the Ancre, the 39th Division advanced with strong artillery support on St Pierre Divion. The English attacking extensively managed to overrun the front of the German 12th Infantry Division at Beaumont-Hamel and the section of the 38th Infantry Division at St. Pierre. In two days of fighting, the British went beyond Beaucourt to close to Grandcourt and were able to take 5,000 prisoners. Smaller counter-attacks by the Germans were set up by the 52nd Infantry Division at Serre, by the 58th Infantry Division south of Pys and by the Guard Reserve Corps at Warlencourt and Ligny Tilloy.

French troops advanced on November 14th from the Sailly-Rancourt line against the St. Pierre Vaast-Wald, the attack was repulsed by the German 30th Infantry Division and the 16th Reserve Division . On the morning of November 15, the 185th Infantry Division of the "Gruppe von Deimling " (General Command XV Army Corps ) was able to recapture the eastern part of Saillisel, but soon had to give it back to the overpowering enemy. After only relatively small territorial gains were achieved on the Ancre without achieving the desired breakthrough, Douglas Haig finally let the Somme battle end at the end of November 1916.


The badly shot up road to Bapaume through Pozières . You can see a connecting ditch and the shot trees, September 20, 1916
Wilhelm Sauter : Serre (Somme) 1916

The large-scale material battle did not lead to the total wear and tear of the German army that General Haig had hoped for. However, for the first time, doubts about the victorious outcome of the war arose on the part of the German leadership and troops because of the now noticeable overexertion of the troops and the now clear lack of experienced officers and non-commissioned officers. The German front was indented by several kilometers on the Somme, but the Allies could not use the area they had conquered as a starting point for further offensives. At the beginning of 1917, the German troops withdrew to the heavily developed Siegfried Line as far as Cambrai and St. Quentin and mined the area they had cleared.

The material battles of the war year 1916 meant that the German army on the western front had to limit itself to the defensive. On the other hand, an offensive by the Central Powers from late summer to the end of 1916 enabled the majority of Romania, which had entered the war on the side of the Allies, to be conquered. This contributed to the further weakening of Russia, which also had to intervene on the Romanian front. The Allies were also able to carry out several offensives on the German Western Front in 1917. As a result of its experience in the Somme battle, the German army had switched to occupying its foremost front lines more weakly and, in the event of attacks, also abandoning sections of the front in order to lure the opposing troops deeper into its own rift system. There was then a counterattack by German intervention troops. This new tactic caused the heavy French defeat in the Battle of the Aisne .


July 1, 1916 is the most loss-making day in British military history, which is of some significance in the United Kingdom to this day. Northern Irish Protestants consider the first day of the Battle of Somme a sacrifice for the United Kingdom as the Ulster Division lost over half of its soldiers. The battles on the Somme and around Verdun are among the most costly battles of the First World War because they lasted for months. Over 450,000 British Empire soldiers and approximately 200,000 French were killed or wounded in the battle. The information on the losses on the German side vary greatly; they ranged between 420,000 and 465,000 men. A total of 104 divisions (48 of them French) were used by the Allies in the battle. The losses of the British Commonwealth during the period July 1 to November 30, 1916 are reported in the War Department works as follows:

  • Fallen: 5,270 officers, 74,506 men, total 79,776
  • Died of wounding: 1,430 officers, 25,133 men, total 26,563
  • Died for other reasons: 151 officers, 2,234 men, total 2,385
  • wounded: 14,788 officers, 328,643 men, total 343,431
  • Captured: 370 officers, 5,558 men, total 5,928
  • Missing: 1,071 officers, 39,900 men, total 40,971

The total losses were thus around half a million soldiers. The British contingent had 419,654 losses, the Canadian contingent 29,414 losses, the Australian contingent 34,489 losses, the New Zealand contingent 9,600 losses, the Newfoundland contingent 1,046 losses, the South African contingent 4,239 losses, the Indian contingent 162 losses and 2,879 casualties to the Royal Naval Division.

The losses of the French army are estimated at 194,451 to 205,000 soldiers, depending on the counting method.

The German casualties are stated in the medical report on the German army as follows: The German 2nd Army took part in the battle from June 24 to November 26, 1916, and the newly established 1st Army from July 19, 1916. The actual strength of the 2nd Army was about 364,000 men, that of the 1st Army was 386,000 men. In total, about 50 divisions were deployed in both armies during the battle.

  • Fallen: 57,982, including 1,662 officers, 5,420 NCOs, 50,900 men
  • Missing: 85,683, including 1,430 officers, 5,952 non-commissioned officers, 78,301 men
  • wounded: 273,132, of whom later died of their wounds: 2,980, died in the hospitals: 10,960. The number of those who died in the hospitals of the occupation army or at home can be estimated at around 7,000, since during the course of the war for every two wounded in the field army there was one wounded in the other hospitals.
  • no longer fit for work: around 48,000, 3,053 of them gas sick

The total German losses in the Somme battle were around 465,000 men.

The medical report lists the casualties after the tenth of the day. In the period from June 21 to June 30, 1916 (the British barrage began on June 24, 1916) the 2nd Army had lost 6,960 men: 4,482 wounded, 1,189 killed and 1,289 missing. The casualties increased enormously after the British attack from July 1 to July 10, 1916: 20,875 wounded, 5,786 killed and 18,438 missing, a total of 45,099 men. A comparison of the tens of days shows that the trenches offered relatively good protection against enemy fire, but that attacks also led to high losses for the attacked. British troops captured 40,207 German soldiers, 832 of them officers, on the Western Front in the second half of 1916. Most of this is believed to be due to the Battle of the Somme.

Characteristic of the battle was not only the enormous amount of personnel and material required, but above all the extremely careless handling of human life. The British military historian Basil Liddell Hart summed up the battles of the First World War with the succinct words: “ nothing but stupid mutual mass-slaughter ”.

Memorials and memorials

On the former front line, the Thiepval memorial, inaugurated in 1932, commemorates the British fallen. In Tübingen , Germany , what is now the former Thiepval barracks was named after the hamlet of Thiepval and was intended to commemorate the great losses of the German and, in particular, the Württemberg troops. The site still bears this name to this day. The Danger Tree marks a point where numerous British fell on the first day of the battle. In Albert, the Somme Museum documents what happened in the trenches in 1916 .

On the former battlefield, numerous smaller and larger memorials and war cemeteries commemorate the battle. Numerous British and Commonwealth monuments can be found around Pozières , Thiepval and La Boisselle . The Delville Wood South African National Memorial near Longueval , inaugurated in 1926, commemorates the South African participation, and the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, inaugurated in 1925 , commemorates the almost complete destruction of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the battle .

The central German event on the 100th day of remembrance was carried out by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge and took place on July 1, 2016 in the German war cemetery in Fricourt . The British and French celebrated the day at the Thiepval Memorial in the presence of President François Hollande , Prime Minister David Cameron , Prince Charles and other members of the British Royal Family .



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  • Joe Sacco : The First World War: The Battle of the Somme. Edition Moderne , Zurich 2014, ISBN 978-3-03731-122-6 .
  • Jack Sheldon: The German Army on the Somme 1914-1916. Pen & Sword Books, 2005, ISBN 1-84415-269-3 .
  • Peter Liddle: The 1916 Battle of the Somme: A Reappraisal (Wordsworth Military Library). Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 2001, ISBN 1-84022-240-9 .
  • Basil Liddell Hart : The real War. Boston 1964, pp. 227-248.
  • Rudibert Ettelt: Studies on the Summer Battle , No. 5. Neuve Chapelle, 10. – 13. March 1915, Kelheim 2000 ( digitized version ).
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  • Nigel Cave (ed.): Battleground Europe Series. Pen & Sword Books Ltd, Yorkshire:
Publications of the Reichsarchiv

The publications of the Reichsarchiv describe the battle in great detail, but are one-sided due to the temporal context and the history of the creation of the Reichsarchiv. A check of the information there is no longer easily possible due to the destruction of the Potsdam Army Archives.

  • Albrecht von Stosch: Somme North. Part 1: The focal points of the battle in July 1916 (battles of the World War. Edited in individual representations and published on behalf of the Reichsarchiv. Volume 20). Gerhard Stalling Verlag, Oldenburg iO / Berlin 1927.
  • Albrecht von Stosch: Somme North. Part 2: The focal points of the battle in July 1916 (battles of the world war. Edited in individual representations and published on behalf of the Reichsarchiv. Volume 21). Gerhard Stalling Verlag, Oldenburg iO / Berlin 1927.

Web links

Commons : Battle of the Somme  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. [1]. Page from DHM. Retrieved March 26, 2010 at 5:05 pm.
  2. a b c Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeich and Irina Renz (eds.): The Germans on the Somme 1914–1918. War, occupation, scorched earth. Klartext Verlag, Essen 2006, ISBN 978-3-89861-567-9 , p. 87 .
  3. a b c Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeich and Irina Renz in connection with Markus Pöhlmann (ed.): Encyclopedia First World War. Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn 2003, ISBN 3-506-73913-1 , p. 855 .
  4. Note: The numbers of German casualties are controversial, British authors estimate the number of slightly injured persons - allegedly not recorded in the German medical report (local loss figure: 335,688) as well as in the corresponding Allied reports - and come to German casualties of up to 650,000 Man. See: Hew Strachan: The First World War. A new illustrated story. Translated from the English by Helmut Ettinger. Pantheon Verlag, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-570-55005-2 , p. 240 f .; John Keegan: The First World War. A European tragedy. Translated from the English by Karl and Heidi Nicolai. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-499-61194-5 , p. 416.
  5. Saul David: Failures in Military History. Heyne 2003, p. 109.
  6. Matt Brosnan: What Happened During The Battle Of The Somme? on the Imperial War Museum website
  7. Lochnagar Crater The Official Site .
  8. Geoffrey Regan, Military Duds and Their Greatest Battles. Komet Verlag, Cologne, ISBN 3-89836-538-7 , p. 171.
  9. First Day of the Somme, Thiepval ( Memento from September 18, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  10. “Nevertheless, the first day of the fight was a disappointment for the attackers. All the prisoners' testimony shows that the English and the French believed that the seven days of iron hail must have shattered the resistance of the defense to the last. They had been prepared for a "walk" and found defiant, stubborn resistance, had to see how the destroyed believed enemy severe bloody losses tore into their ranks. " The Battle of the Somme in July, summary reports from the German supreme headquarters from August 22, 24 and 25, 1916
  11. The 16th Service Battalion (2nd Salford Pals) / XX. Lancashire Fusiliers, British Association from Salford , Greater Manchester
  12. Where the war turned into a world war. A visit to the French village of Thiepval, in the ninetieth year after the Battle of the Somme / Von Kurt Oesterle, Schwäbisches Tagblatt, Tuebingen, June 24, 2006
  13. Paul Kendall: Somme 1916: Success and Failure on the first day of the Battle of the Somme , p.
  14. Supreme sacrifice of Somme, Manchester Evening News, April 17, 2010 ( Memento of May 15, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  15. There was a high percentage of duds among the artillery shells.
  16. Why were 19,240 British soldiers killed on Day 1 of the Somme Battle? Dean McClelan. The Casual Observer
  17. ^ Thoughts on Militar History
  18. ^ The War Office: Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914-1920. London March, 1922, p. 324.
  19. ^ The War Office: Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914-1920. London March, 1922, pp. 258 f.
  20. ^ Medical report on the German army in the World War 1914/1918, III. Volume, Berlin 1934, p. 50 ff.
  21. ^ Medical report on the German army in the World War 1914/1918, III. Volume, Berlin 1934, p. 51.
  22. ^ The War Office: Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914-1920. London March, 1922, p. 632.
  23. Maurice Bonkat: Don't kill a day. Somme commemoration in Fricourt and Thiepval. of July 7, 2016.
  24. BBC of July 1, 2016: Battle of the Somme: Royals at Somme centenary commemoration
  25. Deutschlandfunk from July 1, 2016: Commemoration of the victims of the Battle of the Somme ( Memento from July 1, 2016 in the Internet Archive ).
  26. FAZ from July 1, 2016: World War Memorial. Hollande and Cameron remember the dead .
  27. ( Memento from June 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive )

Coordinates: 50 ° 1 ′ 0 ″  N , 2 ° 41 ′ 0 ″  E