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The Battles of the Somme: Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15 - 22 September 1916

From early August Haig had envisaged a large scale breakthrough offensive timed for mid-September. Fourth Army's eventual plan required an attack by 11 Divisions, supported by tanks, on a front of 12,000 yards, facing Courcelette in the north, to Lesboeufs and Morval in the south - the area pin-pointed for penetration and cavalry exploitation.

An intense preliminary bombardment began on 12 September and at 6.20am on Friday 15 September the advance began in mist and smoke. XIV Corps attack, on the extreme right, where hopes of breakthrough were pinned, fared badly; 56th Division and 6th Division lost heavily as tanks and artillery support failed to neutralise vital defensive positions; the Guards Division, amidst much confusion, advanced north-east of Ginchy some 2,000 yards but ended up short of its final objectives. XV Corps, in the centre, had better success and its Divisions made the greatest advances; tanks played a vital role especially in support of the 41st and New Zealand Divisions for the capture of Flers. Further to the left III Corps made progress but at a heavy cost; 47th Division suffered badly clearing High Wood, but the adjacent 50th Division was by nightfall close to the German third position. 15th (Scottish) Division captured, with minimal tank support, all its objectives (including Martinpuich) and on the extreme left of the attack 2nd Canadian Division (Reserve Army) was in Courcelette by evening.

Despite some notable successes the day's principal objectives were not gained; there was no dramatic breakthrough. Costly attacks continued over the next few days effecting some small gains; but over a week was to elapse before a renewed major assault could be made on Lesboeufs and Morval.

Learn about Morval and Thiepval Ridge >