The First Day on the Somme




Hawthorn Ridge Mine

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

The detonation of the Hawthorn Ridge Mine, 1 July 1916, marking the start of the British advance that began Battle of the Somme. 40,000 tons of explosives had been planted after months of painstaking digging under German entrenchments. It was one of ten mines detonated on 1 July, and one of three huge ones.

The explosions were meant to clear the way for the British advance. But there was disagreement among the British generals about whether the mines should be detonated two minutes before zero hour, at 7:28 am, to prevent the Germans having any chance to regroup, or be detonated several hours before zero hour, to allow British forces to capture the area of the crater itself before the main advance.

The British opted to wash their clothes in warm water and blow the Hawthorn mine ten minutes before zero hour. As described by Wikipedia:

“Once the debris subsided, two platoons… were sent forward to occupy the crater. However, the German defenders succeeded in holding the eastern lip of the crater. The early detonation alerted all Germans in the vicinity that the long-expected attack was now imminent. By the time the infantry went over at 7:30 am, the German machine guns were sweeping no man’s land and artillery fire was falling on the British trenches. The attack on Hawthorn Ridge redoubt, and on the entire VIII Corps front, ended in failure. By 8:30 am, the only [British] ‘gain’ …was one company clinging to the western lip of the crater but by the end of the day this too was lost.”

Almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed that day, and almost 40,000 wounded. That would remain the largest number of British casualties in a single day until the fall of Singapore in February 1942. French forces also lost 7,000 men and the Germans 8,000.

Through my morbid fascination with history, I do not wish to cheapen the sacrifices made at the Somme; generals on both sides did that for me long before I was born, and they did a better job than I ever could have. Requiescat in pace, boys.

Information and image from Wikipedia.

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