On the morning of 1 July 1916, the British army detonated a mine in the village of La Boisselle, just north of Albert in France. It was the first day of the Battle of the Somme, during the First World War. The Royal Engineers had dug a tunnel, 50 feet deep, extending for about 300 yards from the British lines to the German front line. There, under a German position called “Schwaben Hohe”, they laid a mine consisting of over 25 tons of Ammonal. The mine was detonated two minutes before 07.30 am – the hour of launch of the British offensive against the German lines. The resulting explosion blew almost half a million tons of chalk into the surrounding fields, sending debris over 4,000 feet into the air. It created a vast hole 300 feet across and 90 feet deep. Known as the Lochnagar crater, after the trench from where the main tunnel was started, it remains the largest crater made in warfare to this day. The sound of the blast was considered the loudest man-made noise in history up to that point, with reports suggesting it was heard in London.
2nd Lieutenant C.A. Lewis of No. 3 Squadron RFC, who witnessed the explosion from the air by described it:
The whole earth heaved and flashed, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up in 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.
Despite the successful blowing of the mine and the damage caused to the German strongpoint, the German defenders managed to get into well-placed positions to fire at the advancing British soldiers. Within half an hour of the start of the infantry attack many hundreds of them were already dead or wounded.
The crater is now located on the property of an English man, Richard Dunning, who bought it in 1978 to prevent the crater from being filled. At that time the crater was visited by just a few historians, pilgrims visiting a relative's grave and a very small number of organized battlefield tours. The crater was not formally maintained and occasionally it was found to have rubbish dumped at the bottom and was also being used by cross-country type motorbikes.
The Friends of Lochnagar Association, chaired by Richard Dunning, maintains the crater today and organizes a memorial ceremony every July 1st, at 7:30am, to commemorate the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.
It is possible to walk all around the edge of the crater, but access to the crater itself is not permitted. There is a large wooden cross made that stands beside the crater, and this is one of a number of memorials of various kinds that exist around the crater. Around the edges of the crater, the land still shows the vestiges of shell holes and is uneven with pockmarks.
British trenches are marked in blue, the German lines in red. Photo credit
Subscribe to our Newsletter and get articles like this delieverd straight to your inbox