Somme 1916 - Success and Failure on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme, Paul Kendall

Somme 1916 - Success and Failure on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme, Paul Kendall

The first day of the Somme is infamous as the worst day in British military history. This account of the fighting on that fateful day traces the course of the battle division by division, going from north to south along the front. We start with a look at the planning for the battle, and the tensions between Haig and Rawlinson over the correct approach to take and look at the preparation for the battle, before moving onto the divisional histories.

Each of these is supported by a contemporary trench map showing the original front lines, the various British objectives, the further positions reached and the line held at the end of the day. The decision to gone from north to south means that we begin with the most disastrous attacks, starting with the totally unsuccessful diversionary attack at Gommecourt, to the left of the main attack. As we move south along the line things get better, until we reach XV and XIII Corps, nearest to the French, two corps that actually achieved many of their objectives for the day.

Seeing the battle division by division makes the main problems on the day very clear. Time after time we read about limited or non-existence communications between the advancing troops and the British lines. This limited the ability of the British artillery to intervene in the fighting, as it was rarely entirely clear where the attacking troops had reached and which German strong points needed to be dealt with. It was also very difficult to get reinforcements and supplies across no man lands, so in the north several divisions captured part of the German line, held on all day, but then had to retreat after running out of ammo, grenades and men. The massive mining operation didn't live up to expectations - in order to avoid taking casualties, the British waited for a crucial few minutes after the explosions to allow the debris to fall to earth, thus giving the Germans time to occupy the craters. Finally the plan was far too ambitious. In quite a few places British troops captured the German front lines, and then advanced on to the second or even third lines, where they ran into more serious opposition, and in most cases were later forced to retreat. If that effort had gone into completing the occupation of the German first line then more ground might have been secured.

This is a useful work. Giving fairly equal coverage to each division along the line means that we get a more accurate picture of the progress of the battle than is sometimes the case - the dramatic disasters naturally attract much of the attention in more general accounts of the battle, with the success on the right almost mentioned in passing. It also becomes clear that there were disasters on the right as well, just not on the same scale.


Part 1 - Prelude to 1 July 1916
1 - The British Army 1914-1915
2 - The Plan for the Somme Offensive
3 - Working Out the Details
4 - Preparations
5 - Preliminary Artillery Bombardment
6 - The Day Before - 30 June 1916

Part 2 - VII Corps Sector
7 - Gommecourt: 46th Division
8 - Gommecourt: 56th Division

Part 3 - VIII Corps Sector
9 - Serre
10 - Redan Ridge and the Heidenkopf
11 - Beaumont Hamel
12 - Beaumont Hamel: Y-Ravine

Part 4 - X Corps Sector
13 - Schwaben Redoubt
14 - Thiepval
15 - Leipzig Salient

Part 5 - III Corps Sector
16 - Nordwerk
17 - Ovillers-la-Boiselle and Mash Valley
18 - La Boisselle

Part 6 - XV Corps Sector
19 - Fricourt
20 - Mametz

Part 7 - XIII Corps Sector
21 - Pommiers Redoubt
22 - Montauban Ridge
23 - Livens Flame Projectors at Breslau Trench
24 - Montauban

Part 8 - Success and Failure
25 - Aftermath
26 - Assessment: Success and Failure

Author: Paul Kendall
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 320
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2015

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