Educational FAQs

This handy list of frequently asked questions, provides a brief summary of key facts about the Lochnagar Crater.

When?

7:28am 1st July 1916 the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The Battle of the Somme (also known as the Somme Offensive), took place during the First World War between 1st July and 18th November 1916 in the Somme area of France, on both banks of the river of the same name.

The Lochnagar Crater was formed at 7.28am on Saturday, 1st July 1916 – the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It was created by the detonation of a huge mine placed beneath the German front lines, exactly 2 minutes before the battle commenced.

It was blown along with 17 other mines as a two-minute precursor to the start of the offensive. (Note: One mine, the Hawthorn, was blown at 7.20am).

The Worcester Regiment took the area around the Crater two days later on 3 July.

Where?

La Boisselle, near Albert, on the Somme, France.

The Lochnagar mine was an explosive-packed mine, located south of the village of La Boisselle, near Albert in the Somme département of France.

Albert was the main town behind the lines for the Allies nearest to the 1916 Somme battlefields. It lies on the main D929 road that runs east to Bapaume across the Somme battlefields, and west to Amiens in the other direction.

Who?

34th Division – 101st Brigade, 102nd Brigade (The Tyneside Scottish), 103rd Brigade (The Tyneside Irish).

The tunnel for the Lochnagar mine was started on 11 November 1915 by 185 Tunnelling Company, but was completed by 179 Tunnelling Company who took over in March 1916.

In the front line, astride the road,
was the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade
with 1st and 4th Tyneside Scottish) to the left
and 21st and 23rd N.F. (2nd and 3rd Tyneside Scottish) to the right,
alongside 101st Brigade, with its battalions,
the 10th Lincolns (Grimsby Chums),
the 11th Suffolks (Cambridge Pals)
and 15th and 16th Royal Scots, on the right of the Divisional line.
The 103rd (Tyneside Irish) Brigade in support about a mile behind the front line.

They suffered many casualties that day – five battalions losing over 500 men each. Indeed the whole division lost 6,380 that day.

How?

Royal Engineers dug a mine and detonated 27 tons of high explosive in two chambers.

From a British communication trench called Lochnagar Street tunnellers dug a shaft down about 90 feet (27 Metres) deep into the chalk. They then excavated some 300 yards (91 Metres) towards the German lines, placing 60,000 lbs (27 tonnes) of ammonal explosive in two large adjacent underground chambers 60 feet (18 Metres) apart. Two minutes before the attack began, the mine was exploded, leaving the massive crater that we see today.

The reason that it is so large was that the chambers were overcharged. This means that sufficient explosive was used to not just break the surface and form a crater but enough to cause spoil to fall in the surrounding fields and form a lip around the Crater. The 15 feet (4.5 Metres) lip created protected the advancing troops from enfilade machine-gun fire from the nearby village of La Boisselle.

What?

A massive crater opened up. The British soldiers marched in a straight line towards the German trenches and more than 6,000 became casualties.

Debris was flung almost a mile into the air, as graphically recorded by Royal Flying Corps pilot Cecil Lewis in his superb book ‘Sagittarius Rising’. “At La Boisselle the whole earth heaved and flashed, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up into the sky. There was an ear-splitting roar, drowning all the guns, flinging the machine sideways in the repercussing air. The earth column rose, higher and higher to almost 4,000 feet. There it hung, or seemed to hang, for a moment in the air, like the silhouette of some great cypress tree, then fell away in a widening cone of dust and debris.”

When the main attack began at 7:30 am, the Grimsby Chums Pals Battalion successfully occupied the Crater and began to fortify the eastern lip which now dominated the surrounding ground. However, elsewhere the attack at La Boisselle went badly and infantry sought shelter in the Crater, particularly those who had been attacking up Sausage Valley to the south of the village. The prominent crater drew fire, including from British artillery although eventually it was learnt it contained sheltering infantry and the British shell fire ceased.

In eight successive waves the infantrymen of the 34th Division stood up from their trenches, and in the straight lines prescribed, officers in front as ordered, set off at a walk to attack the German front line trenches.

The slaughter was immense, the German machine guns cut down the British infantry like a farmer’s scythe cuts hay. Within minutes German artillery was raining down on the attacking survivors, the regimental rows of British soldiers had disappeared.

Why?

The aim was to tunnel towards and under the German trenches and explode mines under them.

The 34th Division, under the command of Lieut. General Sir W. P. Pulteney, was to advance on July 1st 1916, the opening of the British infantry assault of the Battle of the Somme.

On the front of the 34th Division two large and two small mines were ready to remove the heavily fortified German strong points such as the formidable strongpoint called ‘Schwaben Höhe’, which might be left in the enemy’s front line despite the previous seven day bombardment by the British artillery.

For the 1 July 1916 attack two large mines were planned, one to the north of La Boisselle (Y Sap) and one to the south (Lochnagar). Both were ‘overcharged’ which means that more explosive was used than was necessary to just break the surface, so large rims were formed from the disturbed ground.

The tunnel for the Lochnagar mine was started on 11 November 1915 by 185 Tunnelling Company, but was completed by 179 Tunnelling Company who took over in March 1916.

The objects of the mine were:

  1. to destroy the enemy trench and dugouts and to knock out his machine guns at this point, where his trench formed a pronounced salient
  2. destroy his underground system whatever it might be
  3. to kill any troops he might have sheltering underground from our bombardment.

Result

A very large crater, with many thousands killed and wounded in the ensuing attack.

Were the mines exploded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, a success? The official historian when writing on the 7 large and 12 small mines that were exploded on 1st July 1916 at the start of the battle of the Somme, stated: …’they were too much scattered up and down the front to produce a noticeable effect’.

How many men were killed by the explosion?

We will never know for sure although in the 1980s a veteran recalled entering German dugouts close to the south-west corner of the site. Inside were scores of seated German soldiers all killed by concussion from the explosion. The dugouts were sealed and remain there still.

The Crater itself was used as a temporary resting place immediately after the battle with many hundreds of bodies placed in it before re-burial elsewhere. Inevitably, with the constant heavy shellfire focused on the Crater some bodies were covered by debris and are there to this day. In 1998 the remains of Private George Nugent of the Tyneside Scottish Northumberland Fusiliers were disinterred and today a small cross commemorates him and the countless others at Lochnagar who have no known grave.

Yet more lives were lost when the Crater was fought over again in the Second Battle of the Somme in 1918.

The Crater that was left behind has a diameter of 91 metres. (Two full-sized football pitches would fit in side by side and it’s depts of 21 metres would fit six double decker buses on top of each other).

loading