General Sir Edmund Allenby's Third Army occupied the frontline to the north of General Sir Henry Rawlinson's Fourth Army. The two armies met just south of the villages of Foncquevillers (British-held) and Gommecourt (German-held). At Gommecourt the German trenches curved around a chateau and its parkland, creating a salient that marked the most westerly point of German territory. General Sir Douglas Haig instructed General Allenby to mount a diversionary attack to pin German forces to their trenches and attract artillery fire away from the main assault on 1st July 1916. The Third Army was also to capture Gommecourt thereby reducing the inconvenient salient.
This task fell to the VII Corps of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas D'Oyly Snow. A gap of one mile existed between the Gommecourt diversion and the northern edge of the main assault and preparations were made as obvious as possible in an effort to distract German attention away from the Fourth Army, but this only made the task of VII Corps all the more difficult. The plan called for a pincer movement, pinching out the base of the salient and capturing the garrison in a pocket. The northern pincer was to be formed by the 46th (North Midland) Division and the southern pincer was to be carried out by the 56th (1/1st London) Division, both Territorial Force divisions.
Gommecourt 1st July 1916.
The 56th (1/1st London) Division had prepared jumping-off trenches in no-man's-land and when the attack commenced at 07:30 hrs, progress was initially good. The first three German trenches were captured and a party pushed on towards the expected link-up point with the 46th (North Midland) Division, east of the village. Once a heavy German barrage descended on no-man's-land, it proved impossible for reinforcements to reach the captured positions or for a trench to be dug to form a defensive flank to the south. Finally the survivors were forced to withdraw.
In contrast the 46th (North Midland) Division's attack started badly and got worse. The German wire was uncut (the ground was littered with dud mortar shells) and the smoke that was meant to aid the British only managed to hinder them. Furthermore the ground on this sector was particularly wet and muddy, making movement difficult. A few groups made it to the German trenches, but not in sufficient numbers to hold them. The division's commander, Major General the Hon Edward James Montagu-Stuart-Wortley, was sacked for the failure.
To learn more about the VII Corps attack at Gommecourt on 1st July 1916 join one of our expert guides on a tailor made battlefield tour.