The Battle of the Somme (French: Bataille de la Somme; German: Schlacht an der Somme), also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British Empire and French Third Republic against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. More than three million men fought in the battle and one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Trench warfare gave the Germans an advantage because they dug their trenches deeper than the Allied forces which gave them a better line of sight for warfare. The Battle of the Somme also has the distinction of being the first battle fought with tanks. Tanks were still in the early stages of development and many broke down when used in September.
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.
The German Empire, also known as Imperial Germany, was the German nation state that existed from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918.
The Allies of World War I or Entente Powers is the term commonly used for the coalition that opposed the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria during the First World War (1914–1918).
The French and British had committed themselves to an offensive on the Somme during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise, in December 1915. The Allies agreed upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. Initial plans called for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the Imperial German Army began the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on 21 February 1916, French commanders diverted many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the "supporting" attack by the British became the principal effort.
The Chantilly Conferences were a series of three conferences held between 1915 and 1916 by the Allied Powers of World War I. The conferences were named after Chantilly, France, where the meetings took place.
The Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria—hence also known as the Quadruple Alliance —was one of the two main coalitions that fought World War I (1914–18).
The Fourth Army was a field army that formed part of the British Expeditionary Force during the First World War. The Fourth Army was formed on 5 February 1916 under the command of General Sir Henry Rawlinson to carry out the main British contribution to the Battle of the Somme.
The first day on the Somme (1 July) saw a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which was forced out of its first position by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank, and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the Albert–Bapaume road. The first day on the Somme was, in terms of casualties, also the worst day in the history of the British army, which suffered 57,470 casualties. These occurred mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack was defeated and few British troops reached the German front line. The British troops on the Somme comprised a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army; the Territorial Force; and Kitchener's Army, a force of volunteer recruits including many Pals' Battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations.
The first day on the Somme, 1 July 1916, was the opening day of the Battle of Albert (1–13 July), the name given by the British to the first two weeks of the Battle of the Somme. Nine corps of the French Sixth Army and the British Fourth and Third armies, attacked the German 2nd Army from Foucaucourt south of the Somme northwards across the Ancre to Serre and at Gommecourt, 2 mi (3.2 km) beyond, in the Third Army area. The objective of the attack was to capture the German first and second positions from Serre south to the Albert–Bapaume road and the first position from the road south to Foucaucourt.
The 2nd Army was an army level command of the German Army in World War I. It was formed on mobilization in August 1914 from the III Army Inspection. The army was disbanded in 1919 during demobilization after the war.
Foucaucourt-en-Santerre is a commune in the Somme department in Hauts-de-France in northern France.
The battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated 10 km (6 mi) into German-occupied territory, taking more ground than in any of their offensives since the Battle of the Marne in 1914. The Anglo-French armies failed to capture Péronne and halted 5 km (3 mi) from Bapaume, where the German armies maintained their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resumed in January 1917 and forced the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February, before the scheduled retirement to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) began in March. Debate continues over the necessity, significance and effect of the battle.
A tank is an armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat. Tanks have heavy firepower, strong armour, and good battlefield manoeuvrability provided by tracks and a powerful engine; usually their main armament is mounted in a turret. They are a mainstay of modern 20th and 21st century ground forces and a key part of combined arms combat.
The Battle of the Marne was a World War I battle fought from 6–12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German armies in the west. The battle was the culmination of the German advance into France and pursuit of the Allied armies which followed the Battle of the Frontiers in August and had reached the eastern outskirts of Paris. A counter-attack by six French armies and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) along the Marne River forced the Imperial German Army to retreat northwest, leading to the First Battle of the Aisne and the Race to the Sea. The battle was a victory for the Allied Powers but led to four years of trench warfare stalemate on the Western Front.
Péronne is a commune of the Somme department in Hauts-de-France in northern France.
Allied war strategy for 1916 was decided at the Chantilly Conference from 6–8 December 1915. Simultaneous offensives on the Eastern Front by the Russian army, on the Italian Front by the Italian army, and on the Western Front by the Franco-British armies, were to be carried out to deny time for the Central Powers to move troops between fronts during lulls. In December 1915, General Sir Douglas Haig replaced Field Marshal Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF. Haig favoured a British offensive in Flanders close to BEF supply routes, to drive the Germans from the Belgian coast and end the U-boat threat from Belgian waters. Haig was not formally subordinate to Marshal Joseph Joffre but the British played a lesser role on the Western Front and complied with French strategy. In January 1916, Joffre had agreed to the BEF making its main effort in Flanders, but in February 1916 it was decided to mount a combined offensive where the French and British armies met, astride the Somme River in Picardy before the British offensive in Flanders. A week later the Germans began an offensive against the French at Verdun. The costly defence of Verdun forced the French army to commit divisions intended for the Somme offensive, eventually reducing the French contribution to 13 divisions in the Sixth Army, against 20 British divisions. By 31 May, the ambitious Franco-British plan for a decisive victory, had been reduced to a limited offensive to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun with a battle of attrition on the Somme.
The Brusilov Offensive, also known as the "June Advance", of June to September 1916 was the Russian Empire's greatest feat of arms during World War I, and among the most lethal offensives in world history. Historian Graydon Tunstall called the Brusilov Offensive the worst crisis of World War I for Austria-Hungary and the Triple Entente's greatest victory, but it came at a tremendous loss of life.
The Western Front was the main theatre of war during the First World War. Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne. Following the Race to the Sea, both sides dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France, which changed little except during early 1917 and in 1918.
Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, was a senior officer of the British Army. During the First World War, he commanded the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front from late 1915 until the end of the war. He was commander during the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, the Third Battle of Ypres, the German Spring Offensive, and the Hundred Days Offensive.
The Chief of the German General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, intended to end the war by splitting the Anglo-French Entente in 1916, before its material superiority became unbeatable. Falkenhayn planned to defeat the large amount of reserves which the Entente could move into the path of a breakthrough, by threatening a sensitive point close to the existing front line and provoking the French into counter-attacking German positions. Falkenhayn chose to attack towards Verdun to take the Meuse heights and make Verdun untenable. The French would have to conduct a counter-offensive on ground dominated by the German army and ringed with masses of heavy artillery, leading to huge losses and bring the French army close to collapse. The British would then have to begin a hasty relief offensive and would also suffer huge losses. Falkenhayn expected the relief offensive to fall south of Arras against the Sixth Army and be destroyed. (Despite the certainty by mid-June of an Anglo-French attack on the Somme against the Second Army, Falkenhayn sent only four divisions, keeping eight in the western strategic reserve. No divisions were moved from the Sixth Army, despite it holding a shorter line with 17 1⁄2 divisions and three of the reserve divisions in the Sixth Army area. The maintenance of the strength of the Sixth Army, at the expense of the Second Army on the Somme, indicated that Falkenhayn intended the counter-offensive against the British to be made north of the Somme front, once the British offensive had been shattered. ) If such Franco-British defeats were not enough, Germany would attack the remnants of both armies and end the western alliance for good. The unexpected length of the Verdun offensive, and the need to replace many exhausted units at Verdun, depleted the German strategic reserve placed behind the Sixth Army, which held the Western Front from Hannescamps, 18 km (11 mi) south-west of Arras to St. Eloi, south of Ypres and reduced the German counter-offensive strategy north of the Somme, to one of passive and unyielding defence.
The German General Staff, originally the Prussian General Staff and officially Great General Staff, was a full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and later, the German Army, responsible for the continuous study of all aspects of war, and for drawing up and reviewing plans for mobilization or campaign. It existed unofficially from 1806, and was formally established by law in 1814, the first general staff in existence. It was distinguished by the formal selection of its officers by intelligence and proven merit rather than patronage or wealth, and by the exhaustive and rigorously structured training which its staff officers undertook. Its rise and development gave the German armed forces a decisive strategic advantage over their adversaries for nearly a century and a half.
General Erich Georg Sebastian Anton von Falkenhayn was the Chief of the German General Staff during the First World War from September 1914 until 29 August 1916. He was removed in the late summer of 1916 after the failure at the battle of Verdun, the opening of the Allied offensive on the Somme, the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war. He was later given important field commands in Romania and Syria. His reputation as a war leader was attacked in Germany during and after the war, especially by the faction which supported Paul von Hindenburg. Falkenhayn held that Germany could not win the war by a decisive battle but would have to reach a compromise peace; his enemies said he lacked the resolve necessary to win a decisive victory. Falkenhayn's relations with the Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg were troubled and undercut Falkenhayn's plans.
Hannescamps is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region of France.
The Battle of Verdun (21 February–16 December 1916) began a week after Joffre and Haig agreed to mount an offensive on the Somme. The German offensive at Verdun was intended to threaten the capture of the city and induce the French to fight an attrition battle, in which German advantages of terrain and firepower would cause the French disproportionate casualties. The battle changed the nature of the offensive on the Somme, as French divisions were diverted to Verdun, and the main effort by the French diminished to a supporting attack for the British. German overestimation of the cost of Verdun to the French contributed to the concentration of German infantry and guns on the north bank of the Somme. By May, Joffre and Haig had changed their expectations of an offensive on the Somme, from a decisive battle to a hope that it would relieve Verdun and keep German divisions in France, which would assist the Russian armies conducting the Brusilov Offensive. The German offensive at Verdun was suspended in July, and troops, guns, and ammunition were transferred to Picardy, leading to a similar transfer of the French Tenth Army to the Somme front. Later in the year, the Franco-British were able to attack on the Somme and at Verdun sequentially and the French recovered much of the ground lost on the east bank of the Meuse in October and December.
The Brusilov Offensive (4 June – 20 September), absorbed the extra forces that had been requested on 2 June by Fritz von Below, commanding the German Second Army, for a spoiling attack on the Somme. On 4 June, Russian armies attacked on a 200 mi (320 km) front, from the Romanian frontier to Pinsk and eventually advanced 93 mi (150 km), reaching the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, against German and Austro-Hungarian troops of Armeegruppe von Linsingen and Armeegruppe Archduke Joseph. During the offensive the Russians inflicted c. 1,500,000 losses including c. 407,000 prisoners. Three divisions were ordered from France to the Eastern Front on 9 June and the spoiling attack on the Somme was abandoned. Only four more divisions were sent to the Somme front before the Anglo-French offensive began, bringing the total to 10 1⁄2 divisions. Falkenhayn, and then Hindenburg and Ludendorff, were forced to send divisions to Russia throughout the summer to prevent a collapse of the Austro-Hungarian army and then to conduct a counter-offensive against Romania, which declared war against the Central Powers on 27 August. In July there were 112 German divisions on the Western Front and 52 divisions in Russia and in November there were 121 divisions in the west and 76 divisions in the east.
The original British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of six divisions and the Cavalry Division, had lost most of the army's pre-war regular soldiers in the battles of 1914 and 1915. The bulk of the army was made up of volunteers of the Territorial Force and Lord Kitchener's New Army, which had begun forming in August 1914. Rapid expansion created many vacancies for senior commands and specialist functions, which led to many appointments of retired officers and inexperienced newcomers. In 1914, Douglas Haig had been a lieutenant-general in command of I Corps and was promoted to command the First Army in early 1915 and then the BEF in December, which eventually comprised five armies with sixty divisions. The swift increase in the size of the army reduced the average level of experience within it and created an acute equipment shortage. Many officers resorted to directive command, to avoid delegating to novice subordinates, although divisional commanders were given great latitude in training and planning for the attack of 1 July, since the heterogeneous nature of the 1916 army made it impossible for corps and army commanders to know the capacity of each division.
Despite considerable debate among German staff officers, Erich von Falkenhayn continued the policy of unyielding defence in 1916. Falkenhayn implied after the war that the psychology of German soldiers, shortage of manpower, and lack of reserves made the policy inescapable, as the troops necessary to seal off breakthroughs did not exist. High losses incurred in holding ground by a policy of no retreat were preferable to higher losses, voluntary withdrawals, and the effect of a belief that soldiers had discretion to avoid battle. When a more flexible policy was substituted later, decisions about withdrawal were still reserved to army commanders. 5–10 yards (4.6–9.1 m) wide to two, 30 yards (27 m) wide and about 15 yards (14 m) apart. Double and triple thickness wire was used and laid 3–5 feet (0.91–1.52 m) high. The front line had been increased from one trench line to three, 150–200 yards (140–180 m) apart, the first trench occupied by sentry groups, the second (Wohngraben) for the bulk of the front-trench garrison and the third trench for local reserves. The trenches were traversed and had sentry-posts in concrete recesses built into the parapet. Dugouts had been deepened from 6–9 feet (1.8–2.7 m) to 20–30 feet (6.1–9.1 m), 50 yards (46 m) apart and large enough for 25 men. An intermediate line of strongpoints (the Stützpunktlinie) about 1,000 yards (910 m) behind the front line was also built. Communication trenches ran back to the reserve line, renamed the second line, which was as well-built and wired as the first line. The second line was beyond the range of Allied field artillery, so as to force an attacker to stop and move field artillery forward before assaulting the line.On the Somme front, Falkenhayn's construction plan of January 1915 had been completed. Barbed wire obstacles had been enlarged from one belt
British intentions evolved as the military situation changed after the Chantilly Conference. French losses at Verdun reduced the contribution available for the offensive on the Somme and increased the urgency for the commencement of operations on the Somme. The principal role in the offensive devolved to the British and on 16 June, Haig defined the objectives of the offensive as the relief of pressure on the French at Verdun and the infliction of losses on the Germans. 27,000 yards (25,000 m) of the German first line, from Montauban to Serre and the Third Army was to mount a diversion at Gommecourt. In a second phase, the Fourth Army was to take the German second position, from Pozières to the Ancre and then the second position south of the Albert–Bapaume road, ready for an attack on the German third position south of the road towards Flers, when the Reserve Army which included three cavalry divisions, would exploit the success to advance east and then north towards Arras. The French Sixth Army, with one corps on the north bank from Maricourt to the Somme and two corps on the south bank southwards to Foucaucourt, would make a subsidiary attack to guard the right flank of the main attack being made by the British.After a five-day artillery bombardment, the British Fourth Army was to capture
After the Autumn Battles (Herbstschlacht) of 1915, a third defence line another 3,000 yards (2,700 m) back from the Stützpunktlinie was begun in February 1916 and was almost complete on the Somme front when the battle began. German artillery was organised in a series of Sperrfeuerstreifen (barrage sectors); each officer was expected to know the batteries covering his section of the front line and the batteries ready to engage fleeting targets. A telephone system was built, with lines buried 6 feet (1.8 m) deep for 5 mi (8.0 km) behind the front line, to connect the front line to the artillery. The Somme defences had two inherent weaknesses that the rebuilding had not remedied. The front trenches were on a forward slope, lined by white chalk from the subsoil and easily seen by ground observers. The defences were crowded towards the front trench, with a regiment having two battalions near the front-trench system and the reserve battalion divided between the Stützpunktlinie and the second line, all within 2,000 yards (1,800 m) and most troops within 1,000 yards (910 m) of the front line, accommodated in the new deep dugouts. The concentration of troops at the front line on a forward slope guaranteed that it would face the bulk of an artillery bombardment, directed by ground observers on clearly marked lines.
The first day on the Somme began 141 days of the Battle of the Somme and the opening day of the Battle of Albert. The attack was made by five divisions of the French Sixth Army either side of the Somme, eleven British divisions of the Fourth Army north of the Somme to Serre and two divisions of the Third Army opposite Gommecourt, against the German Second Army of General Fritz von Below. The German defence south of the Albert–Bapaume road mostly collapsed and the French had "complete success" on both banks of the Somme, as did the British from the army boundary at Maricourt to the Albert–Bapaume road. On the south bank the German defence was made incapable of resisting another attack and a substantial retreat began; on the north bank the abandonment of Fricourt was ordered. The defenders on the commanding ground north of the road inflicted a huge defeat on the British infantry, who had an unprecedented number of casualties. Several truces were negotiated, to recover wounded from no man's land north of the road. The Fourth Army took 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 men were killed, the French Sixth Army had 1,590 casualties and the German 2nd Army had 10,000–12,000 losses.
The Battle of Albert was the first two weeks of Anglo-French offensive operations in the Battle of the Somme. The Allied preparatory artillery bombardment began on 24 June and the Anglo-French infantry attacked on 1 July, on the south bank from Foucaucourt to the Somme and from the Somme north to Gommecourt, 2 mi (3.2 km) beyond Serre. The French Sixth Army and the right wing of the British Fourth Army inflicted a considerable defeat on the German Second Army but from the Albert–Bapaume road to Gommecourt, the British attack was a disaster where most of the c. 60,000 British casualties were incurred. Against Joffre's wishes, Haig abandoned the offensive north of the road, to reinforce the success in the south, where the Anglo-French forces pressed forward towards the German second line, preparatory to a general attack on 14 July.
The Fourth Army attacked the German second defensive position from the Somme past Guillemont and Ginchy, north-west along the crest of the ridge to Pozières on the Albert–Bapaume road. The objectives of the attack were the villages of Bazentin le Petit, Bazentin le Grand and Longueval which was adjacent to Delville Wood, with High Wood on the ridge beyond. The attack was made by four divisions on a front of 6,000 yd (5.5 km) at 3:25 a.m. after a five-minute hurricane artillery bombardment. Field artillery fired a creeping barrage and the attacking waves pushed up close behind it in no man's land, leaving them only a short distance to cross when the barrage lifted from the German front trench. Most of the objective was captured and the German defence south of the Albert–Bapaume road put under great strain but the attack was not followed up due to British communication failures, casualties and disorganisation.
The Battle of Fromelles was a subsidiary attack to support the Fourth Army on the Somme 80 km (50 mi) to the south, to exploit any weakening of the German defences opposite. Preparations for the attack were rushed, the troops involved lacked experience in trench warfare and the power of the German defence was "gravely" underestimated, the attackers being outnumbered 2:1. On 19 July, von Falkenhayn had judged the British attack to be the anticipated offensive against the 6th Army. Next day Falkenhayn ordered the Guard Reserve Corps to be withdrawn to reinforce the Somme front. The Battle of Fromelles had inflicted some losses on the German defenders but gained no ground and deflected few German troops bound for the Somme. The attack was the debut of the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front and, according to McMullin, "the worst 24 hours in Australia's entire history". Of 7,080 BEF casualties, 5,533 losses were incurred by the 5th Australian Division; German losses were 1,600–2,000, with150 taken prisoner.
The Battle of Delville Wood was an operation to secure the British right flank, while the centre advanced to capture the higher lying areas of High Wood and Pozières. After the Battle of Albert the offensive had evolved to the capture of fortified villages, woods, and other terrain that offered observation for artillery fire, jumping-off points for more attacks, and other tactical advantages. The mutually costly fighting at Delville Wood eventually secured the British right flank and marked the Western Front debut of the South African 1st Infantry Brigade (incorporating a Southern Rhodesian contingent), which held the wood from 15–20 July. When relieved the brigade had lost 2,536 men, similar to the casualties of many brigades on 1 July.
The Battle of Pozières began with the capture of the village by the 1st Australian Division (Australian Imperial Force) of the Reserve Army, the only British success in the Allied fiasco of 22/23 July, when a general attack combined with the French further south, degenerated into a series of separate attacks due to communication failures, supply failures and poor weather. German bombardments and counter-attacks began on 23 July and continued until 7 August. The fighting ended with the Reserve Army taking the plateau north and east of the village, overlooking the fortified village of Thiepval from the rear.
The Battle of Guillemont was an attack on the village which was captured by the Fourth Army on the first day. Guillemont was on the right flank of the British sector, near the boundary with the French Sixth Army. German defences ringed the British salient at Delville Wood to the north and had observation over the French Sixth Army area to the south towards the Somme river. The German defence in the area was based on the second line and numerous fortified villages and farms north from Maurepas at Combles, Guillemont, Falfemont Farm, Delville Wood and High Wood, which were mutually supporting. The battle for Guillemont was considered by some observers to be the supreme effort of the German army during the battle. Numerous meetings were held by Joffre, Haig, Foch, General Sir Henry Rawlinson (commander of the British Fourth Army) and Fayolle to co-ordinate joint attacks by the four armies, all of which broke down. A pause in Anglo-French attacks at the end of August, coincided with the largest counter-attack by the German army in the Battle of the Somme.
In the Battle of Ginchy the 16th Division captured the German-held village. Ginchy was 1.5 km (0.93 mi) north-east of Guillemont, at the junction of six roads on a rise overlooking Combles, 4 km (2.5 mi) to the south-east. After the end of the Battle of Guillemont, British troops were required to advance to positions which would give observation over the German third position, ready for a general attack in mid-September. British attacks from Leuze Wood northwards to Ginchy had begun on 3 September, when the 7th Division captured the village and was then forced out by a German counter-attack. The capture of Ginchy and the success of the French Sixth Army on 12 September, in its biggest attack of the battle of the Somme, enabled both armies to make much bigger attacks, sequenced with the Tenth and Reserve armies, which captured much more ground and inflicted c. 130,000 casualties on the German defenders during the month.
The Battle of Flers–Courcelette was the third and final general offensive mounted by the British Army, which attacked an intermediate line and the German third line to take Morval, Lesboeufs and Gueudecourt, which was combined with a French attack on Frégicourt and Rancourt to encircle Combles and a supporting attack on the south bank of the Somme. The strategic objective of a breakthrough was not achieved but the tactical gains were considerable, the front line being advanced by 2,500–3,500 yards (2,300–3,200 m) and many casualties were inflicted on the German defenders. The battle was the debut of the Canadian Corps, the New Zealand Division and tanks of the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps on the Somme.
The Battle of Morval was an attack by the Fourth Army on Morval, Gueudecourt and Lesboeufs held by the German 1st Army, which had been the final objectives of the Battle of Flers–Courcelette (15–22 September). The attack was postponed to combine with attacks by the French Sixth Army on Combles, south of Morval and because of rain. The combined attack was also intended to deprive the German defenders further west, near Thiepval of reinforcements, before an attack by the Reserve Army, due on 26 September. Combles, Morval, Lesboeufs and Gueudecourt were captured and a small number of tanks joined in the battle later in the afternoon. Many casualties were inflicted on the Germans but the French made slower progress. The Fourth Army advance on 25 September was its deepest since 14 July and left the Germans in severe difficulties, particularly in a salient near Combles. The Reserve Army attack began on 26 September in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge.
The Battle of Thiepval Ridge was the first large offensive mounted by the Reserve Army of Lieutenant General Hubert Gough and was intended to benefit from the Fourth Army attack at Morval by starting 24 hours afterwards. Thiepval Ridge was well fortified and the German defenders fought with great determination, while the British co-ordination of infantry and artillery declined after the first day, due to confused fighting in the maze of trenches, dug-outs and shell-craters. The final British objectives were not reached until the Battle of the Ancre Heights (1 October – 11 November). Organisational difficulties and deteriorating weather frustrated Joffre's intention to proceed by vigorous co-ordinated attacks by the Anglo-French armies, which became disjointed and declined in effectiveness during late September, at the same time as a revival occurred in the German defence. The British experimented with new techniques in gas warfare, machine-gun bombardment and tank–infantry co-operation, as the Germans struggled to withstand the preponderance of men and material fielded by the Anglo-French, despite reorganisation and substantial reinforcements of troops, artillery and aircraft from Verdun. September became the worst month for casualties for the Germans.
The Battle of Le Transloy began in good weather and Le Sars was captured on 7 October. Pauses were made from 8–11 October due to rain and 13–18 October to allow time for a methodical bombardment, when it became clear that the German defence had recovered from earlier defeats. Haig consulted with the army commanders and on 17 October reduced the scope of operations by cancelling the Third Army plans and reducing the Reserve Army and Fourth Army attacks to limited operations, in co-operation with the French Sixth Army. Another pause followed before operations resumed on 23 October on the northern flank of the Fourth Army, with a delay during more bad weather on the right flank of the Fourth Army and on the French Sixth Army front, until 5 November. Next day the Fourth Army ceased offensive operations, except for small attacks intended to improve positions and divert German attention from attacks being made by the Reserve/Fifth Army. Larger operations resumed in January 1917.
The Battle of the Ancre Heights was fought after Haig made plans for the Third Army to take the area east of Gommecourt, the Reserve Army to attack north from Thiepval Ridge and east from Beaumont Hamel–Hébuterne and for the Fourth Army to reach the Péronne–Bapaume road around Le Transloy and Beaulencourt–Thilloy–Loupart Wood, north of the Albert–Bapaume road. The Reserve Army attacked to complete the capture of Regina Trench/Stuff Trench, north of Courcelette to the west end of Bazentin Ridge around Schwaben and Stuff Redoubts, during which bad weather caused great hardship and delay. The Marine Brigade from Flanders and fresh German divisions brought from quiet fronts counter-attacked frequently and the British objectives were not secured until 11 November.
The Battle of the Ancre was the last big British operation of the year. The Fifth (formerly Reserve) Army attacked into the Ancre valley to exploit German exhaustion after the Battle of the Ancre Heights and gain ground ready for a resumption of the offensive in 1917. Political calculation, concern for Allied morale and Joffre's pressure for a continuation of attacks in France, to prevent German troop transfers to Russia and Italy also influenced Haig.The battle began with another mine being detonated beneath Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt. The attack on Serre failed, although a brigade of the 31st Division, which had attacked in the disaster of 1 July, took its objectives before being withdrawn later. South of Serre, Beaumont Hamel and Beaucourt-sur-l'Ancre were captured. South of the Ancre, St. Pierre Division was captured, the outskirts of Grandcourt reached and the Canadian 4th Division captured Regina Trench north of Courcelette, then took Desire Support Trench on 18 November. Until January 1917 a lull occurred, as both sides concentrated on enduring the weather.
At the start of 1916, most of the British Army was an inexperienced and patchily trained mass of volunteers. 57,470 casualties,19,240 of whom were killed.The Somme was a great test for Kitchener's Army, created by Kitchener's call for recruits at the start of the war. The British volunteers were often the fittest, most enthusiastic and best educated citizens but were inexperienced and it has been claimed that their loss was of lesser military significance than the losses of the remaining peacetime-trained officers and men of the Imperial German Army. British casualties on the first day were the worst in the history of the British Army, with
British survivors of the battle had gained experience and the BEF learned how to conduct the mass industrial warfare which the continental armies had been fighting since 1914.The European powers had begun the war with trained armies of regulars and reservists, which were wasting assets. Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria wrote, "What remained of the old first-class peace-trained German infantry had been expended on the battlefield". A war of attrition was a logical strategy for Britain against Germany, which was also at war with France and Russia. A school of thought holds that the Battle of the Somme placed unprecedented strain on the German army and that after the battle it was unable to replace casualties like-for-like, which reduced it to a militia.
The destruction of German units in battle was made worse by lack of rest. British and French aircraft and long-range guns reached well behind the front-line, where trench-digging and other work meant that troops returned to the line exhausted.Despite the strategic predicament of the German army, it survived the battle, withstood the pressure of the Brusilov Offensive and conducted an invasion of Romania. In 1917, the German army in the west survived the large British and French offensives of the Nivelle Offensive and the Third Battle of Ypres, though at great cost.
Falkenhayn was sacked and replaced by Hindenburg and Ludendorff at the end of August 1916. At a conference at Cambrai on 5 September, a decision was taken to build a new defensive line well behind the Somme front. The Siegfriedstellung was to be built from Arras to St. Quentin, La Fère and Condé, with another new line between Verdun and Pont-à-Mousson. These lines were intended to limit any Allied breakthrough and to allow the German army to withdraw if attacked; work began on the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) at the end of September. Withdrawing to the new line was not an easy decision and the German high command struggled over it during the winter of 1916–1917. Some members wanted to take a shorter step back to a line between Arras and Sailly, while the 1st and 2nd army commanders wanted to stay on the Somme. Generalleutnant von Fuchs on 20 January 1917 said that,
Enemy superiority is so great that we are not in a position either to fix their forces in position or to prevent them from launching an offensive elsewhere. We just do not have the troops.... We cannot prevail in a second battle of the Somme with our men; they cannot achieve that any more. (20 January 1917)— Hermann von Kuhl
and that half measures were futile, retreating to the Siegfriedstellung was unavoidable. After the loss of a considerable amount of ground around the Ancre valley to the British Fifth Army in February 1917, the German armies on the Somme were ordered on 14 February, to withdraw to reserve lines closer to Bapaume. A further retirement to the Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung) in Operation Alberich began on 16 March 1917, despite the new line being unfinished and poorly sited in some places.
The British and French had advanced about 6 mi (9.7 km) on the Somme, on a front of 16 mi (26 km) at a cost of 419,654 to 432,000 British and about 200,000 French casualties, against 465,181 to 500,000 or perhaps 600,000 German casualties. Until the 1930s the dominant view of the battle in English-language writing was that the battle was a hard-fought victory against a brave, experienced and well-led opponent. Winston Churchill had objected to the way the battle was being fought in August 1916, Lloyd George when Prime Minister criticised attrition warfare frequently and condemned the battle in his post-war memoirs. In the 1930s a new orthodoxy of "mud, blood and futility" emerged and gained more emphasis in the 1960s when the 50th anniversaries of the Great War battles were commemorated.
Until 1916, transport arrangements for the BEF were based on an assumption that the war of movement would soon resume and make it pointless to build infrastructure, since it would be left behind. The British relied on motor transport from railheads which was insufficient where large masses of men and guns were concentrated. When the Fourth Army advance resumed in August, the wisdom of not building light railways which would be left behind was argued by some, in favour of building standard gauge lines.
Experience of crossing the beaten zone showed that such lines or metalled roads could not be built quickly enough to sustain an advance, and that pausing while communications caught up allowed the defenders to recover. On the Somme the daily carry during attacks on a 12 mi (19 km) front was 20,000 long tons (20,000 t) and a few wood roads and rail lines were inadequate for the number of lorries and roads. A comprehensive system of transport was needed, which required a much greater diversion of personnel and equipment than had been expected.
The Battle of the Somme was one of the costliest battles of World War I. The original Allied estimate of casualties on the Somme, made at the Chantilly Conference on 15 November 1916, was 485,000 British and French casualties and 630,000 German. As one German officer wrote,
Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.
In 1931, Wendt published a comparison of German and British-French casualties which showed an average of 30 percent more Allied casualties than German losses on the Somme. 419,654, from total British casualties in France in the period of 498,054, French Somme casualties were 194,451 and German casualties were c. 445,322, to which should be added 27 percent for woundings, which would have been counted as casualties using British criteria; Anglo-French casualties on the Somme were over 600,000 and German casualties were under 600,000.In the first 1916 volume of the British Official History (1932), J. E. Edmonds wrote that comparisons of casualties were inexact, because of different methods of calculation by the belligerents but that British casualties were
The addition by Edmonds of c. 30 percent to German figures, to make them comparable to British criteria, was criticised as "spurious" by M. J. Williams in 1964. McRandle and Quirk in 2006 cast doubt on the Edmonds calculations but counted 729,000 German casualties on the Western Front from July to December against 631,000 by Churchill, concluding that German losses were fewer than Anglo-French casualties but the ability of the German army to inflict disproportionate losses had been eroded by attrition. Sheffield wrote that the calculation by Edmonds of Anglo-French casualties was correct but the one for German casualties was discredited, quoting the official German figure of 500,000 casualties. In the second 1916 volume of the British Official History (1938), Miles wrote that total German casualties in the battle were 660,000–680,000, against Anglo-French casualties of fewer than 630,000, using "fresh data" from the French and German official accounts.
|Grand total||c. 1,666,289|
In 1938, Churchill wrote that the Germans had suffered 270,000 casualties against the French, between February and June 1916 and 390,000 between July and the end of the year (see statistical tables in Appendix J of Churchill's World Crisis) with 278,000 casualties at Verdun. According to Churchill, at the time of the Battle of the Somme, German forces across the Western Front suffered 537,919 casualties, of which 338,011 losses were inflicted by the French and 199,908 losses by the British. In turn German forces inflicted 794,238 casualties on the Entente. Doughty wrote that French losses on the Somme were "surprisingly high" at 202,567 men,54% of the 377,231 casualties at Verdun. Prior and Wilson used Churchill's research and wrote that the British lost 432,000 soldiers from 1 July – mid-November (c. 3,600 per day) in inflicting c. 230,000 German casualties and offer no figures for French casualties or the losses they inflicted on the Germans. Sheldon wrote that the British lost "over 400,000" casualties. Harris wrote that total British losses were c. 420,000, French casualties were over 200,000 men and German losses were c. 500,000, according to the "best" German sources. Sheffield wrote that the losses were "appalling", with 419,000 British casualties, c. 204,000 French and perhaps600,000 German casualties.
In a commentary on the debate about Somme casualties, Philpott used Miles's figures of 419,654 British casualties and the French official figures of 154,446 Sixth Army losses and 48,131 Tenth Army casualties. German losses were described as "disputed", ranging from 400,000–680,000. Churchill's claims were a "snapshot" of July 1916 and not representative of the rest of the battle. Philpott called the "blood test" a crude measure compared to manpower reserves, industrial capacity, farm productivity and financial resources and that intangible factors were more influential on the course of the war. The German army was exhausted by the end of 1916, with loss of morale and the cumulative effects of attrition and frequent defeats causing it to collapse in 1918, a process which began on the Somme, echoing Churchill that the German soldiery was never the same again.
After the Battle of the Ancre (13–18 November 1916), British attacks on the Somme front were stopped by the weather and military operations by both sides were mostly restricted to survival in the rain, snow, fog, mud fields, waterlogged trenches and shell-holes. As preparations for the offensive at Arras continued, the British attempted to keep German attention on the Somme front. British operations on the Ancre from 10 January – 22 February 1917, forced the Germans back 5 mi (8.0 km) on a 4 mi (6.4 km) front, ahead of the schedule of the Alberich Bewegung (Alberich Manoeuvre/Operation Alberich) and eventually took 5,284 prisoners. On 22/23 February, the Germans fell back another 3 mi (4.8 km) on a 15 mi (24 km) front. The Germans then withdrew from much of the R. I Stellung to the R. II Stellung on 11 March, forestalling a British attack, which was not noticed by the British until dark on 12 March; the main German withdrawal from the Noyon salient to the Hindenburg Line (Operation Alberich) commenced on schedule on 16 March.
Defensive positions held by the German army on the Somme after November 1916 were in poor condition; the garrisons were exhausted and censors of correspondence reported tiredness and low morale in front-line soldiers. The situation left the German command doubtful that the army could withstand a resumption of the battle. The German defence of the Ancre began to collapse under British attacks, which on 28 January 1917 caused Rupprecht to urge that the retirement to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) begin. Ludendorff rejected the proposal the next day, but British attacks on the First Army — particularly the Action of Miraumont (also known as the Battle of Boom Ravine, 17–18 February) — caused Rupprecht on the night of 22 February to order a preliminary withdrawal of c. 4 mi (6.4 km) to the R. I Stellung (R. I Position). On 24 February the Germans withdrew, protected by rear guards, over roads in relatively good condition, which were then destroyed. The German withdrawal was helped by a thaw, which turned roads behind the British front into bogs and by disruption to the railways which supplied the Somme front. On the night of 12 March, the Germans withdrew from the R. I Stellung between Bapaume and Achiet le Petit and the British reached the R. II Stellung (R. II Position) on 13 March.
The Royal British Legion with the British Embassy in Paris and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, commemorate the battle on 1 July each year, at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. For their efforts on the first day of the battle, The 1st Newfoundland Regiment was given the name "The Royal Newfoundland Regiment" by George V on 28 November 1917. am on the Sunday nearest to 1 July. The Somme is remembered in Northern Ireland due to the participation of the 36th (Ulster) Division and commemorated by veterans' groups and by unionist/Protestant groups such as the Orange Order. The British Legion and others commemorate the battle on 1 July.The first day of the Battle of the Somme is commemorated in Newfoundland, remembering the "Best of the Best" at 11
On 1 July 2016, at 7:28 am British Summer Time, the UK observed a two minute silence to mark the start of the battle which began 100 years earlier. A special ceremony was broadcast on BBC1 and all BBC radio stations participated in the silence. At the start of the silence, the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery fired a gun every four seconds for one hundred seconds and a whistle was blown to end it. Just like a Remembrance Sunday silence, a bugler played The Last Post after the silence. The silence was announced during a speech by the Prime Minister David Cameron who said, "There will be a national two-minute silence on Friday morning. I will be attending a service at the Thiepval Memorial near the battlefield, and it's right that the whole country pauses to remember the sacrifices of all those who fought and lost their lives in that conflict." On 1 July 2016, a ceremony was held in Heaton Park in north Manchester in England. Heaton Park was the site of a large army training camp during the war.[ citation needed ]
Across Britain on 1 July 2016, 1400 actors dressed in replica World War I-period British Army uniforms walked about in streets and public open areas, from 7 am to 7 pm. Each took on temporarily the identity of a British soldier who died on the first day of the Somme, and handed out information cards about that soldier. They did not talk, except for occasionally singing "We're here because we're here" to the tune of Auld Lang Syne . This event was called "Ghost Soldiers".
The Battle of the Somme has been called the beginning of modern all-arms warfare, during which Kitchener's Army learned to fight the mass-industrial war in which the continental armies had been engaged for two years. This view sees the British contribution to the battle as part of a coalition war and part of a process, which took the strategic initiative from the German Army and caused it irreparable damage, leading to its collapse in late 1918.
Haig and General Rawlinson have been criticised ever since 1916 for the human cost of the battle and for failing to achieve their territorial objectives. On 1 August 1916 Winston Churchill criticised the British Army's conduct of the offensive to the British Cabinet, claiming that though the battle had forced the Germans to end their offensive at Verdun, attrition was damaging the British armies more than the German armies. Though Churchill was unable to suggest an alternative, a critical view of the British on the Somme has been influential in English-language writing ever since. As recently as 2016, historian Peter Barton argued in a series of three television programmes that the Battle of the Somme should be regarded as a German defensive victory.
A rival conclusion by some historians (Terraine, Sheffield, Duffy, Chickering, Herwig and Philpott et al.) is that there was no strategic alternative for the British in 1916 and that an understandable horror at British losses is insular, given the millions of casualties borne by the French and Russian armies since 1914. This school of thought sets the battle in a context of a general Allied offensive in 1916 and notes that German and French writing on the battle puts it in a continental perspective.
Little German and French writing on this topic has been translated, leaving much of the continental perspective and detail of German and French military operations inaccessible to the English-speaking world.
In current secondary education, the Battle of the Somme is barely mentioned in German school curricula, while it features prominently in the United Kingdom. In many British schools, variations of the question "Does Haig deserve to be called 'The Butcher of the Somme'?" (Year 9) or "To what extent can Sir Douglas Haig be considered either a butcher or a hero of the First World War?" (GCSE) are used to teach pupils historical empathy, evaluation and argumentative writing skills.
The Battle of Verdun, was fought from 21 February to 18 December 1916 on the Western Front. The battle was the longest of the First World War and took place on the hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France. The German 5th Army began by attacking the defences of the Fortified Region of Verdun and those of the French Second Army on the right (east) bank of the Meuse. Inspired by the experience of the Second Battle of Champagne in 1915, the Germans planned to capture the Meuse Heights, an excellent defensive position with good observation for artillery-fire on Verdun. The Germans hoped that the French would commit their strategic reserve to recapture the position and suffer catastrophic losses in a battle of annihilation, at little cost to the Germans, dug in on tactically advantageous positions on the heights.
Verdun is a small city in the Meuse department in Grand Est in northeastern France. It is an arrondissement of the department.
The I ANZAC Corps was a combined Australian and New Zealand army corps that served during World War I.
The Hindenburg Line was a German defensive position built during the winter of 1916–1917 on the Western Front during the First World War. The line ran from Arras to Laffaux, near Soissons on the Aisne. In 1916, the Battle of Verdun had been a costly failure for the Germans and the Anglo-French Battle of the Somme had forced a defensive battle on the Germans, leaving the western armies exhausted. On the Eastern Front, the Brusilov Offensive had inflicted huge losses on the Austro-Hungarian armies in Russia and forced the Germans to take over more of the front. The declaration of war by Romania had placed additional strain on the German army and war economy. Construction of the Hindenburg Line in France was begun in September 1916 to make a retirement from the Somme front possible, to counter an anticipated increase in the power of Anglo-French attacks in 1917.
The Battle of Bazentin Ridge(14–17 July 1916) was part of the Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November) on the Western Front in France, during the First World War. The British Fourth Army made a dawn attack on 14 July, against the German 2nd Army in the Braune Stellung from Delville Wood westwards to Bazentin le Petit Wood.
The Battle of Pozières took place in France around the village of Pozières, during the Battle of the Somme. The costly fighting ended with the British in possession of the plateau north and east of the village, in a position to menace the German bastion of Thiepval from the rear. The Australian official historian Charles Bean wrote that Pozières ridge "is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth."
The Battle of Guillemont was an attack by the Fourth Army on the village of Guillemont. The village is on the D 20 running east to Combles and the D 64 south-west to Montauban. Longueval and Delville Wood lie to the north-west and Ginchy to the north-east. The village was on the right flank of the British sector, near the boundary with the French Sixth Army. The Fourth Army had advanced close to Guillemont during the Battle of Bazentin Ridge (14–17 July) and the capture of the village was the culmination of British attacks which began on the night of 22/23 July. The attacks were intended to advance the right flank of the Fourth Army and eliminate a salient further north at Delville Wood. German defences ringed the wood and had observation over the French Sixth Army area to the south, towards the Somme river.
The Battle of Flers–Courcelette(15–22 September 1916) was fought during the Battle of the Somme in France, by the French Sixth Army and the British Fourth Army and Reserve Army, against the German 1st Army, during the First World War. The Anglo-French attack of 15 September began the third period of the Battle of the Somme but by its conclusion on 22 September, the strategic objective of a decisive victory had not been achieved. The infliction of many casualties on the German front divisions and the capture of the villages of Courcelette, Martinpuich and Flers had been a considerable tactical victory but the German defensive success on the British right flank, made exploitation and the use of cavalry impossible. Tanks were used in battle for the first time in history and the Canadian Corps and the New Zealand Division fought for the first time on the Somme. On 16 September, Jagdstaffel 2, a specialist fighter squadron, began operations with five new Albatros D.I fighters, which were capable of challenging British air supremacy for the first time since the beginning of the battle.
The Battle of Morval, 25–28 September 1916, was an attack during the Battle of the Somme by the British Fourth Army on the villages of Morval, Gueudecourt and Lesbœufs held by the German 1st Army, which had been the final objectives of the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. The main British attack was postponed, to combine with attacks by the French Sixth Army on the village of Combles south of Morval, to close up to the German defences between Moislains and Le Transloy, near the Péronne–Bapaume road. The combined attack from the Somme river northwards to Martinpuich on the Albert–Bapaume road, was also intended to deprive the German defenders further west near Thiepval of reinforcements, before an attack by the Reserve Army, due on 26 September. The postponement was extended from 21–25 September because of rain, which affected operations more frequently during September.
The Battle of Le Transloy was the last big attack by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the 1916 Battle of the Somme in France, during the First World War. The battle was fought in conjunction with attacks by the French Tenth and Sixth armies on the southern flank and the Reserve/5th Army on the northern flank, against Heeresgruppe Rupprecht created on 28 August, from the 1st and 2nd armies of the dissolved armeegruppe Gallwitz-Somme and the 6th and 7th armies. General Ferdinand Foch, commander of groupe des armées du nord and co-ordinator of the armies on the Somme, was unable to continue the sequential attacks by the Anglo-French armies achieved in September, because persistent rain, mist and fog grounded aircraft, turned the battlefield into a swamp and greatly increased the difficulty of transporting supplies to the front over the few roads in the area and the land that had been devastated since 1 July.
The Battle of the Ancre Heights, is the name given to the continuation of British attacks after the Battle of Thiepval Ridge from 26–28 September during the Battle of the Somme. The battle was conducted by the Reserve Army from Courcelette near the Albert–Bapaume road, west to Thiepval on Bazentin Ridge. British possession of the heights would deprive the German 1st Army of observation towards Albert to the south-west and give the British observation north over the Ancre valley to the German positions around Beaumont-Hamel, Serre and Beaucourt. The Reserve Army conducted large attacks on 1, 8, 21, 25 October and from 10–11 November.
The Battle of Albert, comprised the first two weeks of Anglo-French offensive operations in the Battle of the Somme. The Allied preparatory artillery bombardment commenced on 24 June and the Anglo-French infantry attacked on 1 July, on the south bank from Foucaucourt to the Somme and from the Somme north to Gommecourt, 2 mi (3.2 km) beyond Serre. The French Sixth Army and the right wing of the British Fourth Army inflicted a considerable defeat on the German 2nd Army but from the Albert–Bapaume road to Gommecourt, the British attack was a disaster, where most of the c. 60,000 British casualties of the day were incurred. Against the wishes of General Joseph Joffre, General Sir Douglas Haig abandoned the offensive north of the road to reinforce the success in the south, where the Anglo-French forces pressed forward through several intermediate lines, until close to the German second position.
The Second Battle of the Somme of 1918 was fought during the First World War on the Western Front from late August to early September, in the basin of the River Somme. It was part of a series of successful counter-offensives in response to the German Spring Offensive, after a pause for redeployment and supply.
The Capture of Martinpuich took place on the 15 September 1916. Martinpuich is situated 18 miles (29 km) south of Arras, near the junction of the D 929 and D 6 roads, opposite Courcelette, in the Pas-de-Calais, France. The village lies south of Le Sars, west of Flers and north-west of High Wood. In September 1914, during the Race to the Sea, the divisions of the German XIV Corps advanced on the north bank of the Somme westwards towards Albert and Amiens, passing through Martinpuich. The village became a backwater until 1916, when the British and French began the Battle of the Somme (1 July – 13 November) and was the site of several air operations by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), which attacked German supply dumps in the vicinity.
Gueudecourt village lies on the Le Sars–Le Transloy road, north-east of Flers and north-west of Lesbœufs. Behind Gueudecourt lay open country which had hardly been shelled with Le Barque in the middle distance and then Bapaume beyond. German troops passed through the village in late September 1914 during the First Battle of Albert, part of a series of reciprocal operations by the German and Franco-British armies, to advance round the northern flank of their opponent during the operations known as the Race to the Sea. The village became a backwater until 1916 when a third line of defence was dug behind the Somme front, as part of the German preparations to receive the British-French offensive being prepared on the Somme.
Lesbœufs is a village on the D 74 between Gueudecourt and Morval, about 30 mi (48 km) north-east of Amiens; Le Transloy lies to the north-west and Bapaume is to the north. French Territorials fought the II Bavarian Corps on the north bank of the Somme in late September 1914, after which the front line moved west past Lesbœufs. Little military activity occurred round the village until the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, when German troops passed through the village in the first weeks of the battle. During the Battle of Flers–Courcelette (15–22 September), advances by the right flank corps of the British Fourth Army, brought the front line forward to the Gallwitz Riegel trenches west of Lesbœufs but exhaustion prevented the British from reaching their third objective, a line east of Morval, Lesbœufs and Gueudecourt.
Combles lies 30 mi (48 km) north-east of Amiens and 10 mi (16 km) east of Albert, on the D 20 Rancourt–Guillemont road, 8 mi (13 km) south of Bapaume, in the Combles valley a hollow between outcrops of Bazentin Ridge, between Morval to the north, Ginchy to the north-west and Falfemont Farm to the west. North of the village the valley widens into a basin, which forks north-east around the Morval Spur. In late September 1914, military operations took place in the vicinity, when the II Bavarian Corps was engaged by French Territorial divisions in an encounter battle. The French divisions were forced back and the two divisions of the II Bavarian Corps, advanced westwards on the north side of the Somme, eventually being stopped around Maricourt, Montauban and Fricourt. Combles became a backwater until the Battle of the Somme in 1916, when it was used as a shelter for reserves, supplies and engineer stores and a staging area for reinforcements. Gallwitz Riegel the German third defensive position being built as the battle began, ran close behind the village.
The Capture of Ovillers was a British local operation during the Battle of Albert, the name given by the British to the first two weeks of the Battle of the Somme. The village of Ovillers-la-Boisselle forms part of the small commune of Ovillers-la-Boisselle, located some 22 mi (35 km) north-east of Amiens in the Somme department in Picardie in northern France. By 1916, the village was called Ovillers by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to avoid confusion with La Boisselle south of the road. To the south-west of Ovillers lies La Boisselle.
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