On the Western Front the weather is worsening. Yet at the Somme the British attacks are continuing. Haig will shortly be attending a conference of Allied war leaders; he wants to impress them by being able to report some progress by his men.
Haig has pressured Gough, one of the Somme army commanders, to attack. Gough sends his men forward today. The main target is the village of Beaumont Hamel, now reduced to little more than rubble by the long battle. British artillery has been softening up the enemy positions for the last week. Today in the small hours of the morning the British troops go over the top.
The artillery lays down a creeping barrage to assist the infantry’s advance. Unfortunately, the men on the British left wing find themselves in trouble. Fog makes it difficult for them to see where the creeping barrage is falling. Worse, the ground is now extremely muddy, making it nigh impossible for them to keep pace with the creeping barrage. There are reports of men sinking to their waists into the quagmire. As a result, the barrage moves on too quickly and the assault troops find themselves exposed to the Germans, whose machine guns cut them to pieces. Some succeed in penetrating the German positions but are thrown back by enemy counterattacks.
The British have better luck on their centre and right wing. The ground is firmer, making it easier for them to advance, and the fog is less intense. They also have the advantage of a huge mine being exploded under a key German position.
As a result, the British are able to reach Beaumont Hamel. Germans emerge from their dug-outs to engage the British, but they are outflanked and overwhelmed. The ruined village is secured and an impressive bag of prisoners taken.
So Haig has his victory to present to his colleagues. He hopes that none of them will be so rude as to mention that Beaumont Hamel was meant to have fallen on the first day of the Somme back in July.
pictures (Royal Dublin Fusiliers)