Battles of the Somme

View of the Ancre river valley from the southern bank looking north-west towards Beaumont Hamel on the Somme WW1 battlefield.

The Great War Arrives in Picardy, September 1914

The German Kaiser Wilhelm II arrived in Bapaume on 29th September with his entourage. He was hoping for a victory over the French Army in Picardy followed by a triumphant march to Paris. (1)
German Kaiser Wilhelm II in Bapaume, September 1914.

By 22nd September 1914, following the First Battle of the Marne (6th – 12th September 1914) and the First Battle of the Aisne (12th – 21st September 1914), the French and German armies began fighting a series of battles side-stepping one another through northern France in an attempt to outflank the other. These outflanking manoeuvres would take them in a north-westerly direction from the Aisne region towards the French coast. This period of fighting became known as “The Race to the Sea”. When the fighting of the First World War arrived in the Somme and Picardy region in September 1914 the British Expeditionary Force was not involved in the first battles of the Somme at that time.

Battles of the Somme, 1914

The Somme Battlefield, 1915

German trench construction in Bernafay Wood (called Bayernwäldchen by the German Army) east of Montauban from 1915. Between the wooden fence and the supporting wooden wall in the photograph a set of stairs led down to one of the deepest German-built bunkers on the Somme. (3)
German trenches constructed in Bernafay Wood (Bayernwaldchen) on the 1915 Somme battlefield.

During 1915 the German Second Army carried out an intensive programme of construction on its Front Line and Second Line from its northern right flank at Monchy-au-Bois, south across the Ancre river valley and over the gently rolling chalk hills to the Somme river.

From August 1915 the British Third Army, commanded by General Sir Edmund Allenby, began to take over a sector of the Front Line north of the river Somme from the French Army. In December 1915 the new British front stretched from Ransart to Curlu on the Somme river. At this time the British Third Army was sandwiched between the French Tenth Army holding 20 miles of Front Line in the Arras sector and the French Sixth Army holding the Front Line south of the Somme river.

The Somme sector remained quiet over the winter of 1915/1916. The German troops busied themselves securing their defences. On both sides of the wire the troops carried on the daily routines of trench life and training.

Battles of the Somme, 1916

Battles of the Somme, 1918

Related Topics

Cemeteries on the Somme Battlefields

Crosses for German casualties buried at the Fricourt German military cemetery on the Somme battlefield.
German graves at Fricourt German military cemetery.

There are over 250 military cemeteries on the Somme battlefields for the many thousands of casualties who have identified graves. The cemeteries range in size from a few battlefield burials to cemeteries containing several thousand individuals.

There are also graves in these cemeteries marked as unidentified for those whose remains were discovered, but not identifiable. In the case of the French military cemeteries and burial sites there are graves and ossuaries for the remains of French soldiers. The German military cemeteries are on land granted by the French nation for the burial of German dead, but in most cases the soldiers are buried with up to four individuals in each plot and in mass graves marked as “Kameradengraben” (Comrades Grave).

Cemeteries on the Somme Battlefields

Monuments on the Somme Battlefields

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme battlefield.
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Somme WW1 battlefields.

Monuments and memorials on the Somme battlefields range from monuments dedicated to the memory of thousands of troops whose identified remains are missing, to monuments commemorating a specific military unit or an individual.

Monuments on the Somme Battlefields

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing commemorates over 72,000 soldiers of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20th March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died during the 1916 Battles of the Somme between July and November 1916.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing

Lochnagar Mine Crater Memorial, La Boisselle

Aerial photograph taken in the 1980s of the huge crater left by the explosion of the mine at Lochnagar at 07.30 hours on 1st July 1916.
Aerial view of the Lochnagar mine crater.

Lochnagar Mine was one of eight large mines blown by the British Army on 1st July 1916. The huge crater left by the explosion is now protected as a memorial and is one of the most visited places on the Somme battlefields.

Lochnagar Mine Crater Memorial, La Boisselle

Museums on the Somme Battlefields

Museums on the Somme Battlefields

Visiting the Somme Battlefields

See our page about places to visit and where to stay on or near the battlefields of the Somme:

Visiting the Somme Battlefields

Acknowledgements

(1, 2, 7) Das Württembergische Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr 119 im Weltkrieg 1914-1918, von Matthäus Gerster, Chr. Belsersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart, 1920.

(3) An der Somme: Erinnerungen der 12. Infanterie-Division an die Stellungskämpfe und Schlacht an der Somme, Oktober 1915 bis November 1916, Ferd. Dümmlers Verlagsbuchhandlung, Berlin, 1918.

(4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11 GWPDA) Photographs with grateful thanks to the Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War.

(10) History of the Great War, Military Operations, France and Belgium 1916, Sir Douglas Haig's Command to the 1st July: Battle of the Somme, compiled by Brigadier-General Sir James E Edmonds, CB, CMG, RE (Retired), psc. Macmillan and Co, Ltd., 1932, p. 315.

A Record of the Battles and Engagements of the British Armies in France and Flanders, 1914-1918, by Captain E A James. Originally published in 1924 by Gale & Polden Ltd, Aldershot. Republished in 1990 by The London Stamp Exchange Ltd.

History of the Great War, Military Operations, France and Belgium 1916, Sir Douglas Haig's Command to the 1st July: Battle of the Somme, compiled by Brigadier-General Sir James E Edmonds, CB, CMG, RE (Retired), psc. Macmillan and Co, Ltd., 1932.