The Military Army Blog


Meet The British Army’s New Apache

The Ministry of Defence has announced a 1.8 billion deal to buy 50 of the latest generation Apache attack helicopters for the British Army. The new Apache AH-64E helicopters, built by Boeing and already in service with the US Army, can carry more weapons and also boast greater fuel efficiency, allowing them to operate in more demanding conditions for longer. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:

“This deal will give the British Army an outstanding helicopter at good value for money for the UK taxpayer. It is part of our plan for more ships, more aircraft, more troops available at readiness, better equipment for Special Forces, more being spent on cyber.”

“That plan, backed by a rising defence budget will enable us to deal with the increased threats to our country.”

When details of the deal became known earlier this year, there was criticism of the decision to buy the new helicopters from the US government rather than produce them in the UK, with fears that the move could put the future of 600 aeronautical jobs in the UK at risk.

Italian aerospace manufacturer Leonardo, which was known as Finmeccanica until recently, had been fighting to land the deal, which would have seen the new helicopters built at its base in Yeovil, Somerset, where 3,700 staff are employed.

Meet The British Army's New Apache

The original fleet of 67 British Apaches, produced by Westland, now part of Leonardo, cost around 44 million per helicopter, whilst the new versions are reportedly to be acquired at a knockdown price of 8.5million per helicopter.

Boeing offered the new helicopters at the much lower price by tacking them on the end of a larger Apache order for the US military.

The MoD say, however, that the new Apaches will bring benefits to the UK, with companies in Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Bedfordshire, Cheshire and Gwent being awarded subcontracts by Boeing that collectively represent around 5% of the global Apache supply chain.

Meet The British Army's New Apache

It added that UK suppliers could benefit from support and training contracts for the new Apache AH-64E helicopters, which will be finalised over the next year.

Leonardo will continue to lead the arrangements to support the existing Apache helicopters until they are retired from service in 2023/24, and it’s thought the MoD will hand the business support contracts for the new Apaches, although the manufacturer is believed to have enough work to support its Yeovil staff until 2018 without winning further orders.

One defence source told the Daily Telegraph:

“Despite concerns about the loss of expertise from not producing the Apaches, servicing them may even work out better for Yeovil. Buying the Apaches will be about 30pc of the total price, with the balance coming from supporting them during their 25-year service lives.”

Last year, meanwhile, Lieutenant General Gary Coward, a former head of the Joint Helicopter Command, said buying from Boeing was “the only sensible option”. Mr Fallon said:

“In the longer term, I want these new Apaches to be maintained in the UK, and for UK companies to do most of the work. This includes Leonardo Helicopters, who have developed substantial knowledge and experience in the support of our current Apache fleet over the last decade and will continue to support the helicopters until their eventual retirement in around eight years’ time.”

The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, said:

“The new Apache fleet will provide the British Army with a highly potent fighting element of its Future Force 2025.

“The Apache has already proved its worth on operations in Libya and Afghanistan, supporting UK and coalition troops, and this new model will give our pilots an attack helicopter that is faster, more responsive and more capable. These improvements will give us the edge on operations as we work to protect the UK and our interests both at home and abroad.”

Systems from the current Apache fleet, such as the Modernised Target Acquisition & Designation System, and the Longbow Fire Control Radar, will be reused and incorporated into the new helicopters where possible. The deal with the US government includes an initial support contract for maintenance of the new helicopters, along with spare parts and training simulators for UK pilots.

The MoD also says the new helicopter’s improved computing capacity and updated sensors means it will be receptive to upgrades in the future.

The first UK helicopters are due off the US production line in early 2020 and will begin entering service with the British Army in 2022, being flown by Army Air Corps pilots from the Joint Helicopter Command.

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The British Army’s Darkest Day

57,470 was the number of British soldiers killed or wounded on July 1st, 1916. Even by the standards of the First World War, this level of slaughter was staggering.

The emotional toll was made all the worse because it was the first major battle for many of Kitchener’s New Army recruits that had volunteered to swell the ranks in 1914 and 15.


The British Army's Darkest Day

The huge scale of battles and rudimentary methods of communication made command and control very difficult during the First World War. Radios that allowed for real-time reports to commanders and co-ordination between different units wouldn t be available until World War Two. In the meantime, commanders had to rely entirely on pre-battle planning, and three problems plagued first day planning on the Somme offensive:

1. There was a lack of cohesion. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, commander of the British forces in France, wanted to push for a larger breakthrough to make the most of the attack. But General Sir Henry Rawlinson, commander of Fourth Army and planner of the offensive, strongly believing in a more limited bite and hold strategy. Additionally, divisional and corps commanders interpreted the plan as they saw fit, leading to inconsistencies in implementation up and down the line.

The British Army's Darkest Day

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (left) and General Sir Henry Rawlinson (right) (IWM)

2. There was a lack of effective artillery support. More than anything else, the First World War was an artillery war, and like their counterparts in the infantry, many gunners were raw and inexperienced. Over the course of the battle, it became clear to British commanders that the French had developed much more sophisticated artillery strategies than they had. The result was that, although the week-long pre-battle barrage was impressive in scale (over a million shells were fired), it was far less effective than it could or should have been.

The British Army's Darkest Day

A British shell factory (IWM) – women mostly worked in factories while men went to war

3. Many shells did not work properly. The increased reliance on artillery had depleted supplies and resulted in the Shell Crisis of 1915. The Ministry of Munitions was established and the quantity issue was resolved, but quality control became the next problem. 30 per cent of the shells fired at the Somme were duds. This is why farmers in the Picardy region of France have come across so much unexploded ordnance over the years, and why many of the soldiers attacking on July 1st found sections of barbed wire uncut and many German dugouts intact, despite promises to the contrary.

The British Army's Darkest Day


At the top of the battlefield, some troops from General Allenby s Third Army were to move on the village of Gommecourt. This was intended as a feint, to trick the Germans into moving troops and guns away from the real site of the battle further south. Soldiers of the 46th Midland and 56th London Divisions (of VII Corps, under General Snow, relative of TV historian Dan Snow) were to pincer around a bulge in the German line, and close in around the village.

The British Army's Darkest Day

Lieutenant-General Thomas Snow, great-grandfather of TV historian Dan Snow (picture: 412 Digital)

But lack of proper planning, bad luck, and not enough manpower meant that the preparations had not been properly thought through or executed. Thus, men of the 46th Division found themselves confronted by uncut barbed wire, German defenders very much alive, and lack of artillery support because smoke cover made it impossible for their gunners to avoid hitting them instead of the Germans. A few did make it into the German lines, miraculously, but many were cut down in no-man s-land, suffering 2,455 casualties. The 56th Division had more success. They had less ground to cover and found that the wire had been cut, partly because scouting parties had crawled out to check it the night before and blown holes in it using Bangalore Torpedoes.

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Bangalore Torpedoes, used to blow holes in barbed wire in Saving Private Ryan

Ironically though, the 56th Division suffered more casualties than the 46th. Up and down the line, the barrage before the attack had failed to properly locate and destroy German artillery, and once the battle started, many German guns started lobbing shells into no-man s-land. The result was that men who d got into the German lines, without reinforcement or support from the 46th on their left flank, were cut off and soon overwhelmed. Meanwhile, commanders kept pushing reinforcements forward to help consolidate those gains, thus dooming many men to be killed by German artillery in no-man s-land. The division suffered 4,300 casualties that day.

The British Army's Darkest Day

Picture: German artillery, German Federal Archives

This disaster was repeated almost verbatim on their right flank. Here, an enormous 40,600lbs mine had been blown underneath a German strongpoint at the crest of a hill near the village of Beaumont Hamel.

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Today, the site looks like an ordinary circle of trees, but closer inspection reveals an enormous hole hiding inside.

The British Army's Darkest Day

The mine should have given the British the element of surprise, but because of a messy bureaucratic compromise between key commanders, soldiers were ordered to wait a full 10 minutes after it had been blown before advancing. Hauling heavy equipment that reduced them to walking, and armed with rifles topped with bayonets glistening in the morning sun, much of Somme legend about young lions forced into German fire by donkey commanders is derived from the experience of units here.

The British Army's Darkest Day

View from the top of Hawthorne Ridge where the mine was blown. The British attacked from the left. The memorial in the distance is at the entrance to the Sunken Lane from which the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers attacked on July 1st.

At Serre, north of the mine, the pals battalions[1] in the 31st Division found wire in front of them uncut and, with a ten minute head start, German defenders were ready and shot them down in droves: 3,600 of them to be precise.

Meanwhile, the 4th and 29th Divisions (the latter featuring the origional Public Schools Battalion, 16th Middlesex Regiment, perhaps the most famous pals unit), were tasked with seizing the crater and the line around it. The ten minute gap similarly doomed many in these units to carnage in no-man s-land, slaughter that was compounded by further command errors. As with the 56th at Gommecourt, the few men from the 4th Division who made it into the enemy lines only encouraged the sending of reinforcements. White flares fired up by the Germans as a signal for their gunners to shell no-man s-land were also misinterpreted by commanders behind the 29th Division. They thought it was a signal for them indicating that the British attack had been successful (both sides used white flares). Reinforcements were sent in support, and ran straight into the German fire. Total casualties for the 4th, 31st, and 29th Divisions (VIII Corps) were 14,000.

The British Army's Darkest Day

Gravesite honouring those who fell at Beaumont Hamel – the Sunken Lane is to the Right and the Hawthorne Ridge in the distance

The 36th Ulster Division[2] had more luck at Thiepval, finding the German wire well cut and pushing a mile into the German lines (though they eventually ran out of ammunition and, without re-supply, had to return to their own lines that night).

Meanwhile, the 32nd Division, from Northern England and Scotland, were, like the 56th and 4th Divisions to the north, victims of their own success. They sneaked into no-man s-land during the bombardment then rushed the Germans the moment it lifted. Unfortunately, with those flanking them being held up, their single success became the focus of multiple reinforcements who were cut down trying to reach them. Total casualties for X Corps (36th and 32nd Divisions, with the 49th in reserve) came to 9,000.

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In general, attacks in the south were far more successful than in the north, but these successes did not come without great loss of life. The 8th Division, composed of regular soldiers, headed for the village of Ovillers north of the Albert-Bapaume Road, and many of them managed to get into the German trenches before having their progress checked by stiffening German resistance. The 34th Division, to the south of the road, were able to overwhelm the Germans and get around the village of La Boiselle before being pushed back.

The British Army's Darkest Day

The attack on La Boisselle, approximately 7:35am

The 101st Brigade, on the right of the division s frontage, had a wide gap to cross over no-man s-land and suffered an incredible 80 per cent casualties. Some did manage to make it to edge of the Lochnagar crater, caused by the day s second largest mine of 40,000lbs that was blown right before the attack.

The British Army's Darkest Day

Lochnagar crater

Despite some successes though, all progress had been checked by 10.00am and the divisional commander decided that nothing further could done until nightfall. Total casualties for III Corps were over 11,000, almost an entire division s worth out of a total of three divisions in the corps, and of the two attacking that morning (one was in reserve). Soldiers attacking the villages of Fricourt and Mametz further south had more luck. Lieutenant General H.S. Horne had used the same preparations as his counterparts commanding the other corps mines, gas, smoke but in one area, that of artillery, he had made a slight alteration. He d arranged for artillery to continue to rain down in front of attacking troops but rather than simply lifting off and thudding over to more distant targets, he had it fade out in a smaller series of lifts, giving his men room to advance, and providing them with the suppressant fire they needed to get to the enemy. This became known as the creeping barrage and was eventually adopted as the standard artillery technique throughout the Army. Because of this the 21st, 17th, and 7th Divisions had considerable successes, but were eventually pushed back.

The British Army's Darkest Day

French 1897 75mm Field Gun, or the ‘French 75’ (picture: Mark Pellegrini), generally thought of as the first modern artillery piece that was adopted to fire impact-detonated high-explosive shells by the time of the Somme – the French were a lot more proficient at gunnery than the British by this point and, crucially, also had far more heavy guns which were better able to destory German dugouts

At Montauban, XIII Corps were even more fortunate. German trenches here were clustered more closely, making them easier targets for the British artillery. Additionally, units here were adjacent to the French and benefitted from some of their superior artillery preparation. Many German guns were knocked out, dugouts smashed, and survivors clustered unevenly in surviving shelters, unable to properly man the line when they emerged. The two divisions in XIII Corps were the 30th and the 18th, the latter of which was a New Army pals division trained exceptionally well by the famous and innovative Major-General Ivor Maxse.

The British Army's Darkest Day

Lieutenant General H.S. Horne, commander of XIII Corps (left); Major General Ivor Maxse, commander of 18th Division (right)

For their part, the 30th benefited from being adjacent to the French, and Colonel Fairfax, leading the 17th King s went forward arm in arm with Commandant Le Petit of the 153rd Infantry Regiment. Here too, the troops followed a creeping barrage and, because of good intelligence, were expecting to find the German wire uncut. The attack was so successful and rapid that the 21st Brigade had to pause to wait for its own creeping barrage to lift off in front of it. Under a smokescreen, the 90th Brigade captured Montauban village by 11.00am the only occupant was a fox.

Meanwhile the French captured virtually all of their objectives on their narrow sector to the south. British objectives here were largely taken, but because of some resistance to 18th Division s advance, they didn t come without loss of life. The corps lost a total of 6,000 men from its two divisions.

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The battle ground on for another four and a half months, seeing tanks introduced for the first time in September. The total casualty roster came to over 420,000 British, 195,000 French, and 400 to 650,000 German.

Many see the slaughter as a pointless waste of life, while some historians argue that, with the French being pummelled at Verdun, and simultaneous offensives being struck by the Russians and Italians, Haig had to support his allies and attack when he did. Whether he should have done it how he did it is perhaps another question. Historians will continue to debate the issue for years to come.

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Information in this article and the cover image, The Attack on La Boisselle, come from Somme 1 July 1916 Tragedy and Triumph, written by Andrew Robertshaw, and illustrated by Peter Dennis. To buy a copy and learn more about the first day of the Somme, visit: learn more about Armyrats © military history, visit[3] Osprey Publishing:[4]


  1. ^ pals battalions (
  2. ^ 36th Ulster Division (
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More Women In Uniform Says Head Of British Army

The head of the British Army says he wants to see more women leaders in khaki – and that he wants to maximise female career opportunities. General Sir Nick Carter was speaking as he gave his support to the army service-women’s network at their annual conference at Tidworth garrison. Open to regulars and reservists of all ranks, it’s focus is on professional development and ensuring women get the suppport they need to maximise opportunities in the Army.

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