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Remembered Today:

New website on German Casualties on the Somme, 24-30 June and 1 July 1916


Ralph J. Whitehead

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For many years I had wanted to see if the German casualties from the bombardment period, 24-30 June, and on 1 July 1916 could be determined with any degree of accuracy. This had proven elusive as there were only a few sources of information available; casualty details provided by the German regimental histories and estimates provided by Allied historians. The latter were all too often just guesses.

 

In recent years numerous records have been made available on line from various archives that have allowed an accurate review of the casualties suffered by the Germans on the Somme at the start of the battle. In many cases not only the date of the casualty but also detailed information as to the type of injury. After reviewing the available archive records I have been able to document the losses suffered by many of the units that were present on 1 July 1916 and with the invaluable assistance of Iain Hawkins I have been able to share the findings on a new website: 

http://www.sommeschlacht.com/index.php

 

Hopefully the information provided will be of some use to the members of the forum in understanding the events that occurred to the Germans on the Somme. I am hoping to expand the database so that every casualty can one day be included and to add photographs of the men listed on the database. If anyone has information that could add to the database or photos of the men who are listed please consider allowing me to add them to the web site. 

 

Ralph

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Excellent stuff, Ralph : groundbreaking and much needed.

 

All your volumes stand on my shelves.

 

The accounting is meticulous, but you manage to leaven it with the humanity and the anecdotal.

 

A question, if I may.

 

The allusion to the 10,150 pertains solely  to the casualties of the period of  bombardment prior to 1 July, am I right ?

 

Phil

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Hi Phil, Thanks for the kind words. In regard to your question, yes, the names with dates are losses only during the bombardment 24-30 June and 1 July. In cases of the names where the dates are missing indicates they were reported as losses for this period though presently we cannot identify the exact date. 

 

As most of the regiments of infantry are shown as are some artillery units, etc. the bulk of the losses from this period are on the site. Once I complete the searches we should have a good idea of the numbers of men actually lost as opposed to the numbers thrown out there as estimates only. 

 

Volume 4 will be out in 2021 per Helion, apparently sales of all books are down and they have extended their publication dates. I have everything ready for the last volume, August-September 1914 while fighting in the southern part of the front and this will include as comprehensive a list as possible as to casualties.

 

Ralph 

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Ralph,

 

Hoping to get a sense of this, in rough and ready terms, without seeking precision , it seems that of the rather more than ten thousand German casualties you have identified so far, about one third were attributable to the period 24-30 June, and approximately twice that number to the First of July .  Is this a plausible reckoning ?

 

Phil

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I can check rather easiiy I believe. I am not sure that it is 1/3-2/3, I suspect slightly less of a percentage for 24-30 June. Let me check.

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I can check rather easiiy I believe. I am not sure that it is 1/3-2/3, I suspect slightly less of a percentage for 24-30 June. Let me check.

 

Phil, I discovered that I can sort by date but then have to manually count. I went through the lists and found 1,450 men as casualties between 24-30 June on the lists posted and a new one going on. There are a number where dates are not known and a few outside of the target dates so the vast amount are 1 July it seems.

 

Ralph

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Thanks, Ralph.

 

Looks like about fifteen percent attributable to the period of the week long bombardment.

 

Is that just for the XIV Reserve Corps ?

 

By that criterion, it’s tantamount to one German casualty for every 1,000 shells fired by the British 24-30 June.

 

It might well be that there were more British casualties caused by German artillery fire in that week than the Germans suffered from British shelling.

 

Quite a thought !

 

Phil

 

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It is for the XIV Reserve Corps but at that time it included units from 6 divisions. There are some we are still working on for the units where the Stammrolle records are missing (example: one company from RIR 119 lost the original company book when a dugout was set on fire from artillery fire in August 1916, it was restored to a small degree in the surviving books). I am working on an aspect of the way the losses were reported on the Verlustlisten where I hope to identify more of these losses by date. 

 

I would say that the bombardment losses could increase by possibly as high as 2-300 at the present guess but until I complete the VL review it is only a rough guess. The number of shells fired, plus trench mortars, does indicate that the tonnage fired to injure a single man was quite high. Then consider that some of the injuries were so slight that the man never left the regiment and stayed to take part in the subsequent fighting on 1 July. Some men were shown to have slight wounds during the bombardment period and were casualties on 1 July. 

 

Ralph

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At the risk of restating the bleeding obvious, this British bombardment was a dreadful failure.  One and a half million shells inflicting one and a half thousand casualties......oh dear!   I know I’m oversimplifying , but it’s not a terrible sleight of hand to cite that, is it ?

 

Bearing in mind the strength of the German positions, the depth and consolidation of their dug outs, the dispersal of their manpower and, of course, the scandalous proportion of duds fired by the British.....along with the insufficient proportion of heavy shells and the excessive length of frontage, it really begins to look like a damp squib.

 

Compared with what the British had already achieved at Neuve Chapelle fifteen months earlier , and what they were to manage thirteen months later at Third Ypres, the arithmetic of the Somme bombardment is abysmal.

 

You have to wonder what the Germans managed to do with the little they threw back at the British that week.  I expect that the British troops were too densely deployed in the front , and that an investigation into the casualty exchange rate will be shocking.

 

If I take a look at CWGC data for France June 24-30, and make a guess at what proportion of the commemorations might be attributable to the sector we’re discussing, and allow for a number of wounded commensurate with those fatalities, I reckon we might see a five to one disparity in the Germans’ favour.  I’ll test it and report back.

 

Phil

 

 

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Here we are : CWGC commemorations for France, 24 -30 June 1916, Army, UK ......2,215.

 

Three quarters of these, surely, are attributable to the frontage of the Somme bombarded , maybe more ?

 

I reckon that implies 1,700 deaths and 4,000 wounded : four to one against the German figure as suggested by Ralph ( forgive the word “ suggested”, Ralph....that doesn’t do justice to your research!).

 

Again, I’m being a bit presumptuous here, but, allowing for that, the thing looks dreadful for the poor British soldiers who had to go over on the First of July 1916.

 

As an American military enthusiast, Ralph, I expect you’re more than familiar with the story of Gettysburg, and I would suggest that , compared with the record of the British Somme bombardment, the notoriously  failed Confederate artillery barrage  prior to Pickett’s Charge, was eminently successful !

 

Phil

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The only other source to compare statistical information is in volume 3 of the Sanitätsbericht but as this provides the loss return numbers for the entire 2nd Army and for the period between 21-30 June we are still unable to make a final determination on bombardment losses. 

 

The totals for the 10 day period were 4,482 wounded, 1,189 killed and 1,289 missing. We would only be interested in the last seven days and for the front facing just the British. I said that there could be 2-300 more but I forgot RIR 99 and this regiment alone lost 450 +/-, I will track down the actual number for the bombardment period. I will check for any documented reports on losses for this period from the regiments where the Stammrolle records do not exist and see just what we come up with as a number. 

 

Since I am now retired I have almost all the time I need to pursue this and several other projects at my leisure. 

 

Ralph

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Ralph,

 

Your surveillance here is reassuring : while everyone familiar with the history of the Battle of the Somme will be aware of the flaws in the British bombardment, in terms of both quantity and quality, it still shocked me a bit to contemplate that , on the initial presentation of fewer than 1,500 German casualties and the approximate expenditure of 1.5million British shells, there was a one thousand to one disparity between munitions used and damage inflicted in the prior to 1 July .

 

I would hazard a guess that one year later, in the bombardment leading up to 31 July 1917, at Ypres, the British fired four million shells and accounted for one German for every three hundred shells.

 

More heavy guns, better fuzes and more skilful gunners made a huge difference, Flanders mud notwithstanding .

 

Phil

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The majority of shells fired in the days leading up to Z Hour were not intended to kill or maim. They were directed at wire-cutting. As we know, the battlefield was also littered with duds too. There is at least one photograph of a German soldier standing next to a super-heavy calibre projectile that failed to detonate. Interesting to note that, based on Jonathan Porter's excellent review of XIII Corps attack, the French 220mm mortars likely will have accounted for a proportionately higher number of German casualties in that sector ^_^.

 

Robert

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On 06/10/2020 at 10:23, Robert Dunlop said:

The majority of shells fired in the days leading up to Z Hour were not intended to kill or maim. They were directed at wire-cutting. As we know, the battlefield was also littered with duds too. There is at least one photograph of a German soldier standing next to a super-heavy calibre projectile that failed to detonate. Interesting to note that, based on Jonathan Porter's excellent review of XIII Corps attack, the French 220mm mortars likely will have accounted for a proportionately higher number of German casualties in that sector ^_^.

 

Robert

 

 

Alistair Horne contributed an article to Purnell's History of the 20th Century, dealing with the battles of Verdun and the Somme, and he alluded to the success of Congreve's 13th Corps, writing :

 

At Montauban, the cellars were found to be filled with German dead ; apparently killed by the French heavy mortars.

 

Phil

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We must all be aware that some of the accounts we have seen over the tears are not based upon actual facts. One such instance is an account that the Lochnagar mine killed dozens of Germans as it collapsed numerous dugouts filled with men from the 5/R110 I believe. The actual records for this company indicate that possibly 2 men were killed as a result of the mine. The area was recognized as being vulnerable as well as the knowledge that mining was taking place so the area was evacuated prior to 1 July. 

 

During the bombardment the most vulnerable men were trench sentries, carrying parties and rear areas where men were often in the open on the roads and paths leading from one area to another. My research continues, and in that context if anyone has any record, letter, etc. where a man is mentioned as being killed or injured during the bombardment or 1 July and does not appear on the lists then please let me know so he can be added, thanks everyone.

 

Ralph

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Ralph,

 

The same sort of exaggeration is apparent when we read about ten thousand Germans being killed in the Messines mine explosions of 7 June 1917.

 

Phil

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Quite - utterly implausible (Messines mine casualties, that is).

 

I seem to recall reading that it took on average over ten tons of Axis bombs to inflict a single casualty on the Maltese during the 'siege' of the island in WWII. I just took it on board and did not query it but it seems possible. 

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As Ralph reminds us, there were certain categories of men in the German ranks who bore the brunt of the British bombardment ; the arithmetic suggests that the Germans were eminently successful in keeping the majority of their men out of harm’s way.

 

I suppose that this became more difficult as the battle developed, and infantrymen  had to be deployed in a manner that rendered them more vulnerable.

 

If the preliminary bombardment was focused on demolishing defences rather than defenders , things appeared to have changed in the ensuing battles.

 

I wonder if I might not be too far off the mark if I suggested that it took one thousand shells to inflict one German casualty between 24 and 30 June , and “ only” one hundred to do likewise between 1 July and 18 November.

 

There are data from Verdun which could be cited to make my suggestion feasible.

 

Phil

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Excellent thread- I am impressed with the number of myths with regard to the effectiveness of British bombardments being taken to task. ( I did want to say exploded in the previous sentence).

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I knew that there was information on the losses from RIR 99 for the bombardment period: 5 officers, 92 OR killed; 8 officers, 311 OR wounded and 3 officers, 53 OR missing.

 

The Stammrolle for this regiment no longer exists so it is time to be creative. I have been searching for any references to losses in this regiment and have identified a few from the bombardment period and a larger number for 1 July. Time to add this regiment to the database.

 

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Ralph,

 

Good to see that you’ve got such a grip on this , and that the regimental history you cite conforms so well with what you’d suggested a few posts earlier. 

 

The proportion posted as killed in these regimental histories tends to be significantly higher than that returned by the sanitatsbericht, suggesting that the compilers of the regimental rolls had a better appreciation of who had actually died  : they presumably had a greater motive to investigate the fate of individual soldiers than the more impersonal accounting of the sanitatsbericht.

 

You initially mentioned about 1,450 casualties recorded in the regimental rolls for the period in question : would you be willing and able to tells us how many of those were recorded as killed, so that a comparison might be made with the proportion amongst the roughly seven thousand casualties that were tabulated for Second Army in the  sanitatsbericht for a ten day period ?

 

Phil

 

 

Edited by phil andrade
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Hi Phil, I will check to see if we can extract these details from the site. Iain is still working on new functions and features that would allow such reviews. I have found that the current set up is really helpful in my research into more known casualties. Since I can search by names I can verify the date of a casualty on a secondary list that also contains the names of men where the records exist and then compare these dates to the names of the men where the Stammrolle books do not exist any more. 

 

I have also found something that eluded me. There were Musketen units on the Somme on 1 July but despite searching through the Verlustlisten I could not find any reference to a casualty list for this period. Using another source of casualties I discovered that while these men were in a Musketen Battalion they were still being listed under the regiment they had come from. In all cases so far these men came from the 16th Coy, IR 117 and I have found the Verlustlisten listing their names. One more piece of the puzzle it seems.

 

Ralph

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