The Somme 1916

Touring the French Sector

By David O’Mara

Pen & Sword, 2018

The Battle of the Somme is probably the most written about battle in British military history. Few will not have heard of the casualties on 1st July or be aware of the impressive Thiepval memorial to the missing. Yet for most battlefield visitors – myself included – the journey, and extend of their knowledge, stops at Maricourt where the British and French lines met. Because the Battle of the Somme was of course a joint operation between the British and the French, yet few English-language books have been written about the French perspective and actions.

David O’Mara starts with a useful introduction to the French Army up to the beginning of the Battle of the Somme and the history operations in the region. The French first established lines in the area in September 1914 and carried out localised operations throughout the autumn as part of the plan to maintain aggression against the Germans. In 1915 offensive raids continued and underground mine warfare began in the area, until the British moved into the sector north of the River Somme in July.

O’Mara then provides details of the French preparations for the Somme offensive – highlighting that the French had over 1,800 guns and eight million rounds of ammunition available to cover a front line of 14 kilometres – which contributed to the French success on 1st July. His narrative continues with details of the offensive after the first day until it concluded on 17th December, with approximately 67,000 French soldiers killed during the campaign.

The second half of the book covers three tours of the French sector, covering the main areas of operations. The first tour north of the River Somme is in three parts, the first looking at the 1st July, the second at the continuing battle from July to August, and the third the period September to November. The second tour follows a similar format for the area south of the river. Tour three then looks at the southern-most part of French operations from September to December. Maps are plentiful with routes clearly marked and GPS co-ordinates provided.

Useful appendices list all of the French cemeteries in the region, details of French ranks and army abbreviations, and the French Orders of Battle. The book is well-illustrated with a large number of fascinating photos that will probably not have been seen before by the majority of readers.

Not only is this a useful guide to those planning on visiting the French sector, but it also serves as a great introduction to the French involvement in the campaign, which is bound to fill a gap in many a First World War enthusiast’s collection.

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The Somme 1916: Touring the French Sector