New Zealand on the Somme, 1916 - map

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In late August 1916 the New Zealand Division was transferred from the ‘quiet’ Armentières sector to the Somme sector, where a bloody offensive had been launched in July. The map above shows the advance the division made as part of the British Fourth Army’s XV Corps in three battles in September and October: Flers-Courcelette, Morval and the Transloy Ridges. This was the division’s first experience of large-scale action on the Western Front.

At 6.20 a.m. on 15 September 1916, the New Zealand Division set off from the front line (the solid purple line on the map above) into no-man’s-land behind a curtain of artillery fire. In the first push, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, the New Zealanders captured the German-occupied Switch Trench after close-quarter fighting with grenades and bayonets, while the British 41st Division secured the town of Flers. The front line moved northwards to the line of purple dashes on the map, where the corps consolidated its new positions and repelled German counter-attacks.

A second attack – which became known as the Battle of Morval – was launched on 25 September. More German trenches were taken in this sweep towards the north and west before the Corps consolidated again along the line of purple dashes and dots. Within a few days a third attack was launched to the west against the fortified ruins of Eaucourt L’Abbaye as part of the Battle of Transloy Ridges, which extended the front to the purple dotted line.

The New Zealand Division’s infantry was relieved on 4 October, while the artillery brigades stayed on to support British operations until 25-26 October. The division had been relatively successful in achieving its objectives, but at a cost of some 8000 casualties, including more than 2100 fatalities – not far off its total death toll during the Gallipoli campaign.

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