Battles of the Somme 1916

Preparations for the Offensive

General Sir Douglas Haig (left) and General Joseph Joffre (right) leaving Allied headquarters. GWPDA(1)
General Haig and General Joffre.

An offensive on the Somme battlefront was proposed by the Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies, General Joseph Joffre, as the year of 1915 turned into 1916. Originally intended as a combined Franco-British operation on both sides of the Somme river, the French reduced their participation to a supporting role in the operation as a result of the large-scale German attack on the Verdun front from February 1916.

The British Fourth Army was formed in March 1916 and it took over the Somme battlefront from the British Third Army between Fonquevillers and Maricourt on the Somme river. The British operational plan for an offensive between Serre on the left wing and Maricourt on the right wing developed during April, May and June 1916. It was approved that the Third Army would commit two infantry divisions for a subsidiary attack at the same time as the main offensive against the heavily fortified German front at Gommecourt on the Fourth Army's northern left flank. On the other side of the wire opposite the British line north of the Somme river five German frontline divisions were in position to defend their Front Line, with four in reserve and/or at rest.


Store of ammunition for British trench mortars. This would be the scene at one of the many dumps established behind the British Somme Front Line during the build-up to the offensive. GWPDA(2)
Store of ammunition for British trench mortars.

From the early spring of 1916 into June the Somme battlefield sector behind the British and French lines was the scene of a huge build-up of troops, artillery and equipment in preparation for the large-scale offensive against the German defensive line.

Preparatory Bombardment

British guns shelling German positions. GWPDA(3)
British guns shelling German positions.

The artillery programme was for a bombardment, the intensity of which had not been witnessed before on this battlefront. The bombardment was to wear down the morale and nerves of the German defenders, cut through the German barbed wire defences and smash their Front Line trenches and rear supply routes. As a result of the postponement of the infantry attack to 1 July, there were two additional days of preparatory artillery bombardment, making it seven days in total.

The Troops Prepare for the Battle

The German Reserve-Infantry-Regiment 121 regimental forward headquarters north of the Beaumont Hamel sector, damaged as a result of the British preparatory bombardment in June 1916. (4)
Damage to RIR 121 forward regimental headquarters, Somme battlefield, June 1916.

Final preparations of training and planning were made by the British infantry during the days of the preparatory bombardment. Raids and patrols were carried out. Reports about the wire were varied and at times conflicting. Generally it appeared from these reports that the wire had been better cut on the right of the Fourth Army front, south of the Albert-Bapaume road, than on the left front. During the night of 30 June into the early hours of 1 July thousands of British troops made their way on a moonless, but clear night along pre-prepared routes into their assembly positions in the forward lines, to get into position ready for Zero Hour at 07.30 on 1 July.

Battles of the Somme

Next >> The Somme 1918

Related Topics