The Somme Battlefields of WW1, France

Images of sites to visit on the Somme battlefield.

The 1914-1918 battlefields of the Somme are located in the beautiful, rural landscape of the region of Picardy and the Département de la Somme. The River Somme flows through the Vallée de la Haute Somme (Upper Somme Valley) in the east of the Département. Winding its way through a gently rolling landscape the beautiful Somme river, with its famous marshes (marais) and swamps (marécages), makes its way westwards through the battlefield area from St. Quentin in the east, through Amiens and on to the coast.

Visitors to the Somme battlefields and the region can visit a number of private and public museums, preserved battle sites and the many cemeteries and monuments to those who fought and those who died in action. A range of hotel accommodation is available in the larger towns and nearby cities, and a number of bed and breakfast or self-catering cottages can be booked.

Local Events

Wreaths laid at the annual ceremony held at Lochnagar Crater, in Remembrance of those lost on 1st July and the subsequent fighting in the Battle of the Somme 1916.
Wreaths laid at the annual 1 July ceremony at Lochnagar Crater.

Commemorative events are held on the Somme battlefields according to an annual or special anniversary of a battle, there are private ceremonies and Remembrance events in relation to a particular monument or memorial, and there are exhibitions and events held at the various museums in the area.

Somme Events

Battles of the Somme

German trench at La Boisselle, 1915.
German trench at La Boisselle, 1915.

The fighting of the First World War arrived in the sector north and south of the River Somme in late September 1914. In an attempt to outflank the German forces in their bid to advance westwards towards the French coast in the so-called “Race to the Sea”, the French Tenth Army put up a fight on the rolling chalk downs east and north of Albert. A Front Line was held and the opposing German Army literally began to “dig in”. During the course of the following year this sector of the Western Front was relatively quiet. The German troops gradually established a very strong line of defence incorporating unrivalled vantage points on the high ground, large mined bunkers in the chalky soil, and numerous Somme villages as strong points such as Serre, Beaumont Hamel and Fricourt. The German Army's defensive line would not be tested in a major attack by the Allied forces for the next 21 months.

In early August 1915 the British Army began to take over the sector north of the Somme River from the French Army. From that time the British were holding the Somme Front from the south of Arras to the Somme River.

Second wave of British troops going over the top during the Battle of the Somme 1916. (GWPDA)
British troops going over the top during the Battle of the Somme 1916.

In the summer of 1916 a large-scale offensive was launched on 1st July against the German Front Line on both sides of the Somme River; the British Army attacked north of the river, the French Army attacked south of the river. The battles lasted for a gruelling four months and were carried out in several phases with many thousands of casualties on both sides of the wire.

Two years later the German Army launched a major offensive against the Allied Front Line in the Somme sector on 21st March 1918. After initially making a successful advance of several miles into Allied-held territory the German attackers became exhausted after several days without relief, they were experiencing difficulties of supply to the forward lines and German Supreme Command terminated the offensive on 5th April.

French ammunition depot near the Somme. Millions of artillery shells were fired from both sides of the wire during the Battles of the Somme. (GWPDA)
French ammunition depot near the Somme.

The Allied forces gradually pushed the German Army out of its defensive positions in the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line (called the Siegfriedstellung by the German Army) during the Second Battle of the Somme beginning with the first phase as the Battle of Amiens from 8 th August 1918.

For more information about the battles see

Battles of the Somme

Towns

German wounded evacuated from the Somme battlefield were treated at the hospital in the centre of Bapaume. Some would then be transported by train from the railhead at Bapaume to hospitals for treatment or convalescence in Germany.
German wounded transported from Bapaume by train.

Bapaume — The town is positioned in the French landscape at a natural junction between the two historic provinces of Artois and Picardy. For centuries Bapaume has been a meeting point for trade routes and travellers crossing through this region in north-eastern France. Nowadays it lies on the Paris-Lille motorway and the high speed French TGV rail network. Bapaume had already suffered in war many times before the German Army arrived in September 1914. The town was occupied by the German Army for almost exactly four years. The Allies entered and liberated the town in August 1918.

The basilica of Nôtre-Dame de Brébières in Albert, with the Golden Virgin precariously suspended from the tower. (GWPDA)
basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebieres in Albert.

Albert — In late September 1914 the French Army held firm in its defence of Albert, holding a line north of the town. The German forces advancing south along the old Roman road from Bapaume to Albert were prevented from reaching the town at that time. Albert remained in Allied territory until March 1918, when the German Somme offensive, codename Michael, advanced westwards for several miles. By 29th March Albert was in German hands. However, the German occupation lasted only for a few months until August 1918, when the Allies once again took control of the town. A famous building in the town during the war was the Basilica of Nôtre-Dame de Brébières with its golden statue of the Virgin Mary and her infant son Jesus on the tower. In January 1915 the statue was damaged by an artillery shell and knocked onto its side. It remained on its side until April 1918, when the Allies destroyed the basilica's tower to stop the Germans using it as an observation tower during their occupation of Albert.

Museums

Display at the Musée Somme 1916 in Albert. (1)
Display at the Musee Somme 1916 in Albert.

Visitors to the battlefields in the Département de la Somme today will find a number of public and private museums and sites of special interest.

Museums on the Somme battlefields

Cemeteries

Devonshire British Cemetery, near Mametz. A memorial stone at the entrance now replaces the original wooden cross placed there on 4th July 1916 at the time of the battle, which read: “The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still”.
Devonshire Cemetery, near Mametz.

The 1914-1918 battlefields of the Somme are the final resting place of many thousands of soldiers who served with the British, French and German Armies during the Great War.

Cemeteries on the Somme Battlefields

Monuments and Memorials

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. There are over 72,000 names of officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African Forces who died on the Somme battlefields before 20th March 1918 and who have no known grave.
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Somme battlefield.

In addition to the many cemeteries there are a number of memorials and monuments to commemorate the names of “The Missing”. Hundreds of thousands of men serving with the military on both sides of the wire are known to have been killed but their remains have never been identified as found. Over the years since the end of the First World War memorials have also been put up in certain locations of the battlefields to commemorate a particular military unit or, in some cases, an individual.

Memorials and Monuments on the Somme Battlefields

Battlefield Remains

Lochnagar Crater, site of the huge mine detonated at 07.28 hours on 1st July 1916.
Lochnagar Crater, site of the huge mine detonated at 07.30 on 1 July 1916.

There are numerous sites to visit on the Somme battlefields where remains of the fighting can be visited. These include trenches and mine craters.

Battle Remains on the Somme Battlefields

Accommodation

For general information and a link to our page for properties offering accommodation as Bed & Breakfast and/or Self-catering on the Somme battlefields see our page at:

Accommodation on and around the Somme Battlefields

Where to Eat on the Somme Battlefields

The Somme battlefields are in a rural area of Picardy. These are some suggestions of places to eat when you are out and about.

Cafés and Restaurants on the Somme Battlefields

Tourist Information

Tourist Information for the Somme & Picardie

Related Topics

The Western Front

An overview of the main WW1 battle areas of the Western Front and the type of landscape where they are found in Belgium and France:

WW1 Battlefields of the Western Front Battles of the Western Front 1914-1918

Visit the WW1 Western Front Battlefields

Advice and information for travellers wishing to visit the battlefields in Belgium and France:

Visiting WW1 Western Front Battlefields

Further Reading

Cover of The Somme by Peter Barton

The Somme (Hardback)

by Peter Barton

Over WW1 50 panorama photographs of the Somme battlefield. Published by Constable (24 Feb 2011), ISBN-10: 1849017190; ISBN-13: 978-1849017190

Cover of First Day on Somme by Martin Middlebrook

The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 (Paperback)

by Martin Middlebrook

Highly recommended. 384 pages. Published by Penguin; New Ed edition (29 Jun 2006); ISBN-10: 0140171347; ISBN-13: 978-0140171341

Cover of Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine

Forgotten Voices of the Somme: The Most Devastating Battle of the Great War in the Words of Those Who Survived (Paperback)

by Joshua Levine

304 pages. Published by Ebury Press (1 Oct 2009); ISBN-10: 0091926289; ISBN-13: 978-0091926281

Cover of Somme Mud by E P F Lynch

Somme Mud (Paperback)

by E P F Lynch

It's the end of the 1916 winter and the conditions are almost unbelievable. We live in a world of Somme mud. We sleep in it, work in it, fight in it, wade in it and many of us die in it. We see it, feel it, eat it and curse it, but we can't escape it, not even by dying...” 432 pages. Published by Bantam (9 Oct 2008); ISBN-10: 0553819135; ISBN-13: 978-0553819137

Book, This Carnival of Hell

This Carnival of Hell

Edited by Richard A. Baumgartner

The Somme, 1916 — one of the biggest, longest and most terrifying battles ever fought. For a million or more German soldiers the toll was immense. At least 200,000 of them perished in this small region of France between July and November 1916. Only a few previously published works have focused attention on the German side of the Somme battle. This book, featuring first-person narratives from more than 85 participants and dozens of rare photographs, provides a compelling picture of what it was like for the German soldier at the apex of combat on the Western Front.

Cover of Walking the Somme Mud by Paul Reed

Walking the Somme (Battleground Europe)(Paperback)

by Paul Reed

240 pages. Published by Pen & Sword; 2nd Revised Edition (19 May 2011); ISBN-10: 1848844735; ISBN-13: 978-1848844735

Acknowledgements

GWPDA Photographs with grateful thanks to the Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War.

(1) Photograph courtesy of the Musée Somme 1916, Albert.