First Day of the Somme




36th (Ulster) Division, including 


X Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Sir TLN Morland




The 32nd Division, consisting of the 97 Brigade - including the 17th Highland Light Infantry - and the 96 Brigade - including the 16th Northumberland Fusiliers (Newcastle Commercials) and 15th Lancashire Fusiliers (Salford Pals), and the 36th Division, with the 49th Division in reserve.




This was the high ground in the centre of the line, and it was vital for Haig's Plan that it be taken and that the troops reach the village of Courcelette, almost 4 miles behind the German line.  




Morland was NOT one of those generals who stayed 20 miles behind the lines; he took up an observation post 3 miles behind the line, where he could see all of the action.  

Unlike the attack on Beaumont Hamel, here the troops were going to have to attack uphill, and - since here the German line 'bulged in' -  they would be under enfilade fire from the German line to north and south.   However, the reserve troops were able to congregate secretly in  two thick forests behind the British lines.

Many of the troops were exhausted by digging forward and communication trenches, and by carrying stores to the line.



Artillery bombardment

Observation parties the night before had reported that the enemy's wire was mainly uncut, and that the artillery bombardment had generally failed to knock out the German machine-gun posts.   (The artillery fire had also failed to destroy the Germans' deep dug-outs).   When this was reported, however, the divisional command rejected the information, coming to the conclusion that the men were just 'windy' (scared).

There were also problems with the telephone system, with everything having to be carried by messengers.



Advance (7.30)

32nd Division: In the south of the sector, at 7.23 the 17th HLI crawled out into No Man's Land, until they were 40 yards from a section of German line called the Leipzig Redoubt.   At zero hour they went over the top, rushed the German front line, took shelter in a chalk quarry just behind it, and established a new British front line along a line of trench called Hindenburg Strasse (labelled 'a' on the map).

To the north, however, the attack on Thiepval failed.   Attacking round the southern edge of the village, the Newcastle Commercials ran forward (following a football kicked out of the trenches); four German machine guns, trained on the few gaps in the wire, killed or wounded all but 11 of them, and the unit never reached the German front line.   Directly opposite the village, the initial rush of the Salford Pals was more successful.   About 100 of them took the German trench, and moved on towards the village, leaving it for their support troops to mop up the remaining German troops.   'The remaining German troops', however, turned out to be huge numbers of German soldiers, who - leaving the deep dug-outs which the artillery fire had failed to destroy - drove back the British support troops and cut off the advance British party; they were last seen trying to get back to the British lines.

36th Division: Attacking to the north of Thiepval, the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers did much better.   Here the wire had been cut and, attacking at 7.30am, they were able to advance some 400 yards to an area called the Schwaben redoubt (labelled 'b' on the map).  




32nd Division:  When the 17th HLI tried to advance further,  they were cut down by German machine-gun and artillery fire.   At 8.30am, the 11th Border Regiment was ordered to leave Authuille Wood and attack, but they sustained heavy casualties as they crossed No Man's Land, and few managed even to reach the 17th HLI in the Later in the day, the survivors crawled back to the British front line.  

36th Division: By 8.30am, it was becoming clear to Gen Morland that the attack was failing.   On the northern edge of the sector, the Royal Irish Rifles had suffered severe losses, as expected, from enfilading German machine gun fire from the north.   At 9.10am, therefore Morland instructed the 107 Brigade that they must not (as planned) move forward in support.   The messenger arrived too late - at 9.15am the 107 Brigade moved out of Thiepval Wood and hurried to join the 109 at the Swaben Redoubt, ready for the second stage of the attack.   For some reason, they did not have a senior officer with them, but the junior officers and the men had trained extensively behind the lines, and they knew their objective - the Stuff Redoubt (labelled 'c' on the map), about 600 yards beyond the Schwaben Redoubt.   Mistakes by the German generals had meant that the Redoubt was unoccupied, so they faced no resistance.   As a result, they set off 10 minutes too early, and as they ran across the 600 yards of open ground they suddenly found themselves under a bombardment from the BRITISH artillery which was firing on the German lines as part of the pre-ordained plan.   Two-thirds of the men were killed and wounded, and most of the rest had to take cover in craters; only 50 men reached the Stuff Redoubt.   There they held out bravely, but massive German counter-attacks forced them gradually back until, by 10.30, the British held only the German front line.


To save any further slaughter, General Morland did not commit any more of his reserves to the attack; the attack had failed.




The 36th Division suffered 5,104 casualties, including 2069 dead (making it the 4th worst-hit Division of the 16 used on the day).  

The 32nd Division suffered 3949 casualties (putting it 8th of 16).   Of 24 officers and 650 men from the 1st Salford Pals who attacked Thiepval, 21 officers and 449 men became casualties.  

The Thiepval Memorial commemorates 75,000 British dead lost during the whole of the Battle of the Somme).




Slight gains.