Z Day

The Attack of the VIII Corps at Beaumont Hamel

On the morning of Saturday, 1st July 1916, elements of eight Anglo-French Army Corps attacked the German trenches on either side of the River Somme. It was the beginning of four months of savage fighting in which more than one million men from the armies of all three countries were killed or wounded.  

For Britain, the 1st July 1916 was a day of loss unparalleled in the country’s history. The casualty returns recorded 19,000 dead. Another 38,000 were wounded, many physically and psychologically scarred for life.

Despite the terrible losses, every British Army Corps gained some German territory, however small the piece of ground and whatever the cost in blood. Every Corps except one: the British VIII Corps.

Commanded by the controversial Lt. Gen. Aylmer Hunter-Weston, VIII Corps was defeated everywhere its men left their trenches at 7.30 a.m. on the misty morning of that tragic summer’s day. The men of the Regular, Territorial, and Pals battalions who attacked with such enthusiasm were everywhere shattered, ruined by a steadfast German defence, and ham-strung by a plan of misplaced ambition foisted on them by the ever-optimistic commander of the BEF – Sir Douglas Haig.

Hunter-Weston blamed the shattering setback on bad luck. Haig blamed the generals and the ordinary soldiers.

Bravery, sacrifice, chaos, stupidity, incompetence – all are features of the attack of the VIII Corps on 1st July 1916. ‘Z Day’ endeavours to untangle the many myths associated with this attack and holds to account those whose decisions led to the loss of over 14,000 men in just a few hours.

Reviews and Comments

Stand To!

Western Front Association

Read Martin Middlebrook’s influential First Day on the Somme? Think you all know about the day? I’ve read the book a number of times and thought I had a real handle on 1 July 1916 until reading Alan MacDonald’s 700–odd pages of Z Day. Now I know better. This is the third of the author’s books to examine the BEF’s actions on 1 July in detail. It is an extremely readable and cogent ‘door stop’ of a book – unless you foolishly try to juggle it in bed. It reveals a sharp military historian’s grasp of detail after detail of VIII Corps planning for 1 July 1916 and the events which happened that day with an oh so sharp eye. MacDonald examines and judges the planning, the artillery and the infantry actions; the small unlinked successes and the widespread and inevitable failures.

This sequence of books may not be the very last word on 1 July 1916 when completed although I find it hard to imagine that it is likely to be bettered.

David Filsell

John H Schmahl on Amazon
5.0 out of 5 stars. MacDonald provides an thorough analysis of the planning and training that was required to launch the great offensive. His emphas

Reviewed in the United States on 4 January 2015

This is another outstanding and detailed account of the first day of the Somme. Mr. MacDonald provides a thorough analysis of the planning and training that was required to launch the great offensive. His emphasis on the stories of the soldiers and their daily struggles provides an eye-opening insight into the lives of the men who had to deal with the decisions made by those on high. If you have ever served in any military you will quickly recognize and appreciate the sacrifices of the soldiers brought back to life by Mr. MacDonald.


S. Haines

5.0 out of 5 stars. An epic account, unsurpassed in its telling.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 29 October 2014
Superb account. Thought his first two books could not be surpassed, but they have! A clear and precise account of that fateful and bloody day. A cast of higher ups who wouldn’t have disgraced Blackadder! Sadly a light hearted remark which when reading of the opening hours turns into a Tragedy unsurpassed. Buy this book, if you have not got the other two, then buy them!!

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