Although the British losses on the first day of the Somme were far heavier than the German losses, as the battle progressed the orders to counter attack meant the Germans would loose many soldiers before the battle came to an end, balancing the death toll somewhat as attackers usually lost more men than defenders. The historian John Terraine wrote "By the end of July, responding to every British or French advance or attempt to advance, the German infantry had made not less than sixty-seven counter attacks, large or small, that I can identify, but in fact a great many more, possibly twice as many." Continuing his count through till the end of the battle, Terraine managed to identify 330 German counter attacks.
Participating in these attacks were Wehrmann May of the Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 84 and Gefreiter d. L. Jacob Kjaer of the Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 86, both of the 18th Reserve Division. Philp Gibbs, one of Britain's greatest war correspondents witnessed numerous German Counter attacks, including those of the 18th Reserve division and wrote of the German counter attacks in his book "Now it can be told". (It is unknown if May and Kjaer survived the war)
Wehrmann May's Iron Cross award document, the award was made in August 1915 while the Regiment was to the west of Noyon.
"Counter-attack!" came the order from the German staff, and battalions of men marched out obediently to certain death, sometimes with incredible folly on the part of their commanding officers, who ordered these attaches to be made without the slightest chance of success. I saw an example of that at close range during a battle at Falfemont Farm, near Guillemont. Our men had advanced from Wedge Wood, and I watched them from a trench just south of this, to which I had gone at a great pace over shell-craters and broken wire, with a young observing officer who had been detailed to report back to the guns. (Old "Falstaff", whose songs and stories had filled the tent under the Red Cross with laughter, toiled after us gallantly, but grunting and sweating under the sun like his prototype, until we lost him in our hurry.) Presently a body of Germans came out of a copse called Leuze Wood, on rising ground, faced round among the thin, slashed trees of Falfemont, and advanced toward our men, shoulder to shoulder, like a solid bar. It was sheer suicide. I saw our men get their machine-guns into action, and the right side of the living bar frittered away, and then the whole line fell into the scorched grass. Another line followed. They were tall men, and did not falter as they came forward, but it seemed to me they walked like men conscious of going to death. They died. The simile is outworn, but is was exactly as though some invisible scythe had mown them down.
Right:A grenadier on the Somme
In all the letters written during those weeks of fighting and captured by us from dead or living men there was one cry of agony and horror. "I stood on the brink of the most terrible days of my life," wrote one of them. "They were those of the battle of the Somme. It began with a night attack on August 13th and 14th. The attack lasted till the evening of the 18th, when the English wrote on our bodies in letters of blood, 'It is all over with you.' A handful of half-mad, wretched creatures, worn out in body and mind, were all that was left of a whole battalions. We were that handful." The losses of many of the German battalions were staggering (yet not greater than our own), and by the middle of August the morale of the troops was severely shaken. The 117th Division by Pozières suffered very heavily. The 11th Reserve and the 157th Regiments each lost nearly three-quarters of their effectives. The 9th Reserve Jäger Battalion lost about three-quarters, the 84th Reserve and 86th Reserve over half. On August 10th the 16th Division had six battalions in reserve. By August 19th, owing to the large number of casualties, the greater part of those reserves had been absorbed into the front and support trenches, leaving as available reserves two exhausted battalions. The weakness of the division and the absolute necessity of reinforcing it led to the 5th Reserve Infantry Regiment (2nd Guards Division) being brought up to strengthen the right flank in the Leipzig salient. This regiment had suffered casualties to the extent of over 50 percent west of Pozières during the middle of July, and showed no eagerness to return to the fight. These were but a few examples of what was happening along the whole of the German front on the Somme.
Gefreiter Kjaer's Iron Cross award document, awarded in March 1916 for the assault on the Gieslerhöhe to the east of Souchez.
It became apparent by the end of August that the enemy was in trouble to find fresh troops to relieve his exhausted divisions, and that the wastage was faster than the arrival of new men. It was noticeable that he left divisions in the line until incapable of further effort rather than relieving them earlier so that after resting they might again be brought on to the battlefield. The only conclusion to be drawn from this was that the enemy had not sufficient formations available to make the necessary reliefs. In July three of these exhausted divisions were sent to the east, their place being taken by two new divisions, and in August three more exhausted divisions were sent to Russia, eight new divisions coming to the Somme front. The British and French offensive was drawing in all the German reserves and draining them of their life's blood. "We entrained at Savigny," wrote a man of one of these regiments, "and at once knew our destination. It was our old blood-bath -- the Somme."