The Somme

How it Began

The Battle of the Somme (French: Bataille de la Somme, German: Schlacht an der Somme), also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the River Somme in France. The battle was one of the largest of World War I, in which more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

A Franco-British commitment to an offensive on the Somme had been made during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise, in December 1915. The Allies agreed upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British, and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. The main part of the offensive was to be made by the French Army, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.

— Friedrich Steinbrecher

The Fateful First Day

When the German Army began the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on 21 February 1916, many French divisions intended for the Somme were diverted and the supporting attack by the British became the principal effort.

The first day on the Somme (1 July) was a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which was forced out of its first line of defence by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the British Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the Albert–Bapaume road.

This was the worst day in the history of the British Army, which saw 19,240 deaths of a total of 57,000 casualties, mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack was defeated and few British troops reached the German front line. The British Army on the Somme was a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army, the Territorial Force and the Kitchener Army, which was composed of ‘Pals’ battalions recruited from the same places and occupations.

Casualties of The Somme

Percentages of both sides from 1,110,000 casualties:

Allies: 480,000

40%

Germans: 630,000

60%