First Day of the Somme





VII Corps: Lt Gen Sir Thomas d'Oyly Snow

GOC 46 Division Major-General the Hon. Stuart-Wortley




46 (North Midlands) and 56 (London).




The attack was planned as a DIVERSION, to draw the German reserves away from the main attacks to the south.

The London Division (56) was planned to break through the German front-line to the south of Gommecourt, and the North Midland Division (46) to the north.   Both units would then advance around the village and join forces, creating a new front line east of Gommecourt.




Probably because the attack was meant to be a diversion, no attempt was made to keep the attack a surprise.



Artillery bombardment

Failed; the German batteries were out of range, and much of the German trench system was hidden behind Gommecourt wood.   There were insufficient guns available (only sixteen 18-pounders and four 4.5in guns per brigade).   German planes shot down many RAF spotter planes.



Advance (7.15)

56 Division: An excellent division, with many pre-war volunteers and well-educated men, which had experience in Western Front warfare.   They had sent out men the previous night with Bangalore torpedoes to clear the wire, so most of the wire was cut.   They had also dug a temporary trench in the middle of No Man’s Land, so they did not have so far to attack.  The smokescreen was well laid-down.   The men attacked quickly and reached the German front line as the Germans came out of their dugouts.   By 8.30am they had taken the German front line, whereupon a bombing party from the Queen’s Westminster Rifles fought their way to their second objective with heavy casualties.   But they found that the North Midlands Division had failed to make enough progress to join up with them, their grenades ran out, and they had to fall back – covered by 2nd Lt Arthur, who gave his life to cover their retreat.   By 4.00pm the Londoners had been driven back to the German front-line trench.


46 Division: The area was very muddy – some of the men had spent the night up to their waists in water.   Heavy German shelling during the night had killed many of the men already.   A smokescreen was laid down but it was too thick, and actually confused British soldiers.   In addition, some of 46 Division had drunk too much rum and could not be lined up properly for the attack    The men ‘advanced quietly as at manoeuvres’.   Although six battalions attacked, the Germans noticed them quickly, and heavy German counter-artillery and machine-gun fire killed or wounded most of them as they bunched to pass through the uncut wire.   The few men who reached the German front trench were soon thrown out.   Later reports blamed uncut wire, enfilading machine-gun fire, and 40ft deep German dugouts which had not been destroyed by the bombardment.  




At 12.15pm, Snow ordered Stuart-Wortley to mount another attack.   Realising the hopelessness of the situation, Stuart-Wortley postponed the attack until 1.30, and then 3.30pm.   About 3.00pm he did order a half-hearted attack by four companies, but then tried to call them back.   (One company did not receive the recall and therefore attacked; every single man was killed or wounded.)

For the next five hours the Germans, realising that the London (56) Division was alone, concentrated all their firepower on them.   Heavy German artillery fire on No Man’s Land hindered re-supply.   Most of the officers were killed.   As they ran out of ammunition, some men began to fall back.   By 9.00pm only 5 officers and 70 men remained in the German trench; a small party took all the remaining ammunition and covered the others’ retreat.




The 56th lost 4314 casualties (making it the 6th worst-hit Division out of 16 used on the day).

The 46th lost 2455 men (making it the least-hit Division on the day; this was obviously because Stuart-Wortley refused to prosecute the advance).

One battalion, the London Scottish, had 616 casualties from its 871 men.   About 2,000 Germans were killed or wounded.  




Stuart-Wortley was blamed for lack of enthusiasm and degummed (dismissed).