Gazetteer of the Western Front: the Butte de Warlencourt

Location

The Butte de Warlencourt is a battlefield feature in the Department of Somme, France. It lies to the north east of the village of Le Sars, which is between the towns of Bapaume and Albert.
Lat: 50° 04.54′ N
Lon: 2° 47.7′ E

Historical significance

The Butte is said to be an ancient burial mound. It was captured by German forces in 1914 and lay a considerable distance behind the location near to La Boisselle where the front line eventually settled and then remained until 1916.

From “The Sphere” of April 1917.

The Imperial War Museum says of the Butte, it  “is an isolated chalky tumulus, about 50 feet high, on the Warlencourt Ridge, overlooking, and about 3.75 miles south-west of Bapaume. It lies just south of the Albert-Bapaume Road, and beyond Le Sars, captured by the 23rd Division on 7 October 1916, the limit of the British advance at the end of the Somme Battles of 1916. The whole ridge was covered with trenches, wire entanglements, and the Butte pierced with subterranean galleries and bristling with machine gun and mortar emplacements, formed the key to a German fortress of the greatest strength, an impregnable obstacle to the advance on Bapaume. Incessant attempts to capture it were made by British troops during October and November 1916, and the fighting during the first two weeks of November being particularly fierce. The Butte was momentarily captured on 5 November by the 6th, 8th and 9th Battalions Durham Light Infantry but was retaken in a counter-attack by the Prussian Guard. Casualties in this area were heavy. During the winter of 1916-17, the Butte remained a prominent feature of the trench landscape and was frequently the target of concentrated British artillery fire but it was not until after a terrific bombardment on 25 February 1917 that the Butte was finally taken during the German withdrawal from the Somme. Only fragments of the surface defences remained and the whole ridge was covered with graves, its very shape having been altered by the constant pounding of shells. Memorial crosses were erected both by the German defences and the British and South African Units that attacked and finally captured it.”

The Butte was recaptured by advancing German forces during the Operation “Michael” offensive on 25 March 1918. It was once again in Allied hands from 26 August 1918 when retaken by the British 21st Division.

IWM photograph Q49393. Durham Light Infantry and South African memorials on the Butte de Warlencourt, 20 September 1917.

Several memorials were erected on the Butte during the war. This one, shown in the “Hawick News” in 1918, was to the Durham Light Infantry. It can be seen in the background of IWM Q49393.

The Butte site was acquired by the Western Front Association in 1990, after funds were raised by appeal to members and veterans of the Great War, with the intention of protecting and preserving it.

The Butte de Warlencourt on your battlefield tour

The site is easily found when driving or cycling along the Albert-Bapaume road. A brown tourist road sign points the way off the road. It is possible to drive part of the way towards the site but it is recommended that you park somewhere suitable once you are just a few yards once off the road. Your car will be out of your sight while you visit the Butte: in this remote area you would be advised to remove or lock away valuables out of sight.

The Butte is not easily accessible to anyone who is not capable of walking over fairly rough terrain or who finds steps difficult. The walk from your car is only a few hundred yards and there is a climb to the summit although not terribly steep.

The Butte today, left, seen from the main road.

The Western Front Association invested funds in improving access, site fencing, and laying a pathway to the summit. At the top is a memorial erected by the Association in the 1990s, bearing an information plaque describing its importance. The views from the summit are extensive in all directions but can be affected by tree growth.

Warlencourt British Cemetery lies within a few hundred meters of the Butte and can be seen from its summit. It can be reached on foot from the Butte but great care is required as there is no footpath and the main Albert-Bapaume road is busy with high speed traffic. Trying this would not be recommended for anyone requiring access by wheelchair. It is possible to walk further up the track that is alongside the Butte and then turn left down another track (as seen in the aerial photograph below): this avoids in part the need to walk along the main road, but not completely so.

Image courtesy of Google Maps, 2018. The Butte can be seen off the Y-shaped track and is the left-hand of the two wooded plots. The surrounding land is private, used for agriculture, and should be respected as such.

Access

The Western Front Association rather controversially announced in early November 2018 that the Butte site had been sold to its former chairman Bob Paterson. At time of writing it is believed that public access to the site remains free and open.

Links

Gazetteer of the Western Front

The Battles of the Somme 1916

Wikipedia article re fighting at the Butte