First Day of the Somme





XV Corps Commander General Baron Henry Sinclair Horne

GOC 64 Brigade: Major-General Headlam

GOC 50 Brigade: Major-General Glasgow




The 21st Division - i.e. the 50th (including the 10th West Yorks), the 62nd (including the 7th Green Howards), the 63rd (including the 4th Middlesex) and the 64th (including the 10th Green Howards) Brigades.

Also the 7th Division - ie the 91st Brigade (including the 21st Manchesters) and the 20th Brigade (which included the 9th Devonshires and the 2nd Border Regiment).




Fricourt was exposed in a right-angled spur on the German line.   The plan was that the 21st Division would attack eastwards around the village to the north and the 7th Division would attack northwards from the south (through the village of Mametz).   Then, when the Germans in Fricourt were cut off, the 7th Green Howards of the 21st Division would make a direct frontal assault on the village itself.

Horne's HQ was 8 miles behind the lines, but there is some evidence that he came forward to various observations posts during the battle.




A Russian sap had been built into No Man's Land.   Two minutes before zero hour, at 7.28am, three mines - of 25,000, 15,000 and 9,000 lbs - were exploded at Tambour, just to the west of Fricourt.  

Expecting an artillery counter-barrage, the commander of 7th Division had pulled his mem back 400 yards, which saved many lives.

Two companies of the 4th Middlesex tried to crawl forward into No Man's Land 5 minutes before zero hour, but they were spotted and driven back by machine-gun fire.  

Whilst on leave, Captain DL Martin of the 9th Devonshires made a plasticine model of the battlefield, and predicted (correctly) that his battalion would suffer greatly from machine-gun fire from an area called 'the Shrine' (labelled 'f' on the map).   On his return, he explained his ideas to his commanding officer; he was ignored.



Artillery bombardment

The artillery had failed to destroy the machine-gun emplacements.    Not all the wire had been cut in the southern sector of the line, and there were only four small breaks in front of Fricourt.   The ground was littered with shells which had failed to explode because of faulty fuses.   HOWEVER, IT HAD destroyed the German counter-battery (so that, vitally, the British troops did not have to advance under artillery bombardment), and - as the Germans had not been able to relieve their men here for a number of days - many of the German soldiers were dazed after days of what one of them called 'drumfire'. 



Advance (7.29)

7th Division: At 7.27am the men of 7th Division climbed out of their trenches safe behind the line, and moved to take their places ready to attack.  The 91st and 20th Brigades suffered badly, as Capt. Martin had predicted, from machine-gun fire, and Capt. Martin himself was killed in the attack.   However, many of the German troops were suffering from shell-shock and, by using a heavy bombardment of Stokes mortars and hand-grenades, the British were able to overrun the German trench.   The troops advanced 700 yards, until a fierce German counter-attack forced them back to the German front line trench.

21st Division: At 7.29am the 50 and 63 Brigades attacked.   A machine gun which had escaped the Tambour mine explosion, and 4 others in Fricourt inflicted heavy casualties.  The 10th West Yorks pushed on quickly over the German front line, but then found themselves trapped in open ground between the Germans second line, and the soldiers in the German front line who had now come out from their deep dug-outs; they suffered huge casualties.  'A' company of the 7th Green Howards, in error, went over the top with the other attackers; only 16 of them got further than the first 40 yards.   However, the attackers broke through the German front line.




7th Division: Initially, support troops sent up at 7.4am were unable to make any headway, but at 7.55am The Shrine was captured, and after 9.30 the 21st Manchesters and the 2nd Border Regiment captured Mametz (200 ashen-faced Germans came out with the hands up, wearing - strangely for the middle of summer - their grey great-coats) and established a new line north of Mametz.

21st Division: at 8.40 the support troops were ordered forward.   Despite heavy losses they pushed forward to a German reserve trench called 'Crucifix trench' (labelled 'g' on the map).  


By this time there was cheering in Horne's HQ.   Not only were they aware that their own men had made significant headway, they had heard that the XIIIth Corps had captured Monatauban and (incorrectly) that the Northumberlands had captured Contalmaison.   An observation balloon reported that the Germans were leaving Fricourt.   At 12.50, therefore, Horne ordered the 7th Green Howards to attack Fricourt.   Major-General Glasgow pointed out that the wire had not been cut, and that the 10th West Yorkshires were suffering heavy casualties, but he was told to 'press home the attack as planned'.   Many of the shells of a small preliminary barrage failed to explode and at 2.30pm the 7th Green Howards went over the top; in 3 minutes 15 officers and 336 men were killed or wounded.  


Further attempts to advance failed, and there were heavy German counter-attacks.   At 4.35pm the order was given to consolidate.




The 21st Division suffered 4256 casualties (making it the 7th worst-hit Division out of 16 used on the day).   The 7th Division suffered 3410 casualties (putting it 10th).

The official casualties suffered by 10th West Yorks were the highest in the British Army for a single day throughout the war - 22 Officers and 688 other ranks.   Only one officer remained alive at the end of the day, and he was wounded

It was during this battle that Major Loudoun-Shand (B company of the 10th Green Howards) won the Victoria Cross; his company went into action with 5 officers and 117 men and returned with 1 officer and 27 men.




This attack was watched by Siegfried Sassoon, whose bitter poetry later shaped the attitudes of the British nation to the First World War.