Webmatters Title
Webmatters : Somme 1st July 1916: The attack by the 36th (Ulster) Division
Rough Map of Area

36th (Ulster) Division

The Attack at 0730 hours

13th Bn Royal Irish Rifles

The 13th formed the left hand edge on the eastern bank of the Ancre and found themselves mercilessly cut to pieces by machine gun fire from in front and from the left across the valley. Pushed to their right and into the 11th Bn Royal Irish Rifles their attack was halted almost as soon as it had begun.

11th Bn Royal Irish Rifles

To the right of the 13th the 11th Battalion fared much better and made good progress. They had reached and consolidated the German first line within 45 minutes. By 0900 hours they had succeeded in gaining a toe-hold in the German second line, but this was almost as far as any of the 36th Division advanced that day.

15th Bn Royal Irish Rifles

Although part of 107th Brigade the 15th had been attached to 108th Brigade as the supporting battalion. Coming up behind the leading two battalions the 15th found their men caught in exactly the same situation. The companies on the left were shot down from across the river, whilst those on the right managed to make some headway.

The open slope between the Ancre Valley on the left and the Ulster Tower

The open slope between the Ancre Valley on the left and the Ulster Tower on the right

 

10th Bn Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Prior to the assault the men from the 10th had crawled out to positions only perhaps a hundred metres from the German front line. Their attack was so swift that the opposing machine gun crews never got the chance to man their positions. The enemy here were indeed shell shocked and surrendered in numbers.

By now the German artillery had come into play and no-man’s land was being subjected to heavy shelling. Not only here but in other places prisoners raced their escorts back to the British lines trying to avoid being killed by their own guns.

In the midst of the confusion it is perhaps hardly surprising that many of these men were taken for counter attacking troops and were shot down by those still in the British front line.

9th Bn Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

The right of the line was held by the 9th who launched their attack from the right of where Connaught Cemetery now stands. They were immediately hit by fire from the area of Thiepval. It was almost a mirror image of the left flank of the Division.

The Leipzig Redoubt on which the then fortified village of Thiepval stood had repulsed the efforts of the 32nd Division and the gunners in the village were now able to concentrate their efforts against the Ulstermen.

As they crossed the crest of the hill the Inniskillings became an increasing easy target, but they pressed on and reached their objective. A review of the situation revealed that whilst they had achieved their goal, there were very few of the 9th left. They would just have to hang on until reinforcements arrived.

107th Brigade

As I have already mentioned, Thiepval Wood was not exactly a haven for any troops passing through it. As you look at it today from Mill Road Cemetery it is hard to imagine just how easy it was for the Germans to see the approaching battalions. I once paced the distance from Connaught Cemetery to the Mill Road cemetery – 300 paces, a frighteningly long way under machine gun fire from front and right.

Yet the 36th Division succeeded and more.

Moving up through the forward lines of the 109th Brigade the 8th and 9th Royal Irish Rifles managed to get their objective of Grandcourt within site. Like the 108th Brigade before them they were also coming under enfilading fire from across the Ancre and from St Pierre Divion immediately to their left, but they continued to make steady headway.

Unfortunately the British barrage was timed to a schedule which could not be interfered with — in part because no communication system existed in those days — and although the Rifles were ready to continue the advance by 1000, they had to wait a quarter of an hour for the barrage to move on.

Of course by then it was too late. The Germans were ready and counter attacks were well in hand. This was as far north as the men from Ulster reached that day.