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Why Was the Battle of the Somme So Deadly?

Why Was the Battle of the Somme So Deadly?

World War 1

Battle Of The Somme : The Battle of the Somme is among the largest and most brutal battles of the First World War. Fighting at the Somme was a pivotal engagement by British-French forces. Moreover, located on the West Front that began on July 1, 1916, lasting several months until finally ending on November 18, 1916. Furthermore, by this time, over a million soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing, making it the most costly battle in WWI.

In addition, the commander who initiated the Battle of the Somme was the recently appointed, now legendary, British Commander-in-Chief Douglas Haig. Furthermore, with the offensive, Haig hoped to relieve his French allies. As a result, who were struggling to withstand the German attacks at Verdun.

Map of the Battle of the Somme, 1916.svg
Although the battle itself started on July 1, 1916, the Allies had launched a week-long artillery bombardment prior to the attack to destroy the enemy’s position.

Moreover, months before the  attack, the allies placed 19 mines under the German lines on the Somme.

On July 1, 7:28 a.m., the German forces triggered the mines. The brutal explosion of the mines resulted in a crater of 91 meters in diameter. In addition, f 21 meters in depth–the largest crater of WWI. 

Furthermore, below,the Lochnagar crater was formed,the actual mine that caused it weighed 45,000-pounds or (2 tons). For comparison Fat Man, the nuclear weapon dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki was only 10,000-pounds.

Lochnagar crater
Source: Why Was the Battle of the Somme So Deadly?
While the Allies moved out with a size of 104 divisions, the Germans had a troop strength of just 50 divisions.

Although advantageous in size, the British army deployed there consisted largely of inexperienced volunteer soldiers. This was as a result of “Pals Battalions”, a strategy through which the British Secretary of War, Lord Kitchene, called for volunteers to expand the size of its army. 

By the end of September 1914, more than 50 cities had already formed “Pals Battalions”.

In the City of London, for example, 1600 bank employees signed up for the “Stockbrokers’ Battalion” shortly after the war began. Sportsmen, noble public schools, or simple grammar schools formed their own battalions. 

Advertising to attract volunteers

The “Accrington Pals”, for example, consisted of brothers, cousins, neighbors, and colleagues that volunteered to join the British army with hardly any combat experience. They were to take the village of Serre and marched towards the German lines confident of victory. A few minutes later, however, they suffered a devastating defeat. 

Men of the 10th (Service) Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment of the 31st Division marching to the front line, 28 June 1916. This is photograph Q 724 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Amiens 1918 : The Birth of Blitzkrieg

Within just 20 minutes, 235 of the unit’s approximately 700 soldiers had fallen and 350 were wounded. 

On this most devastating day in British military history, 19,240 men fell while another 40,000 were wounded or missing. 

Furthermore, the British believed that they could easily overwhelm the Germans because of their mine attacks. In addition, their superior numbers, prompting their aggressive offensive attacks. 

However, the bombing raids were not as successful as expected. Many of the barbed wires and trenches remained intact. The British had spent over 1.5 million shells with little to show for it. 

By July 1st, 2016 there was a stalemate between the two sides as neither could make significant headway and “war of attrition” began.

In this war off attrition at the Battle Of The Somme offensive attacks would prove to be fruitless. Furthermore, became a military learning experience in how not to conduct combat operations that cost thousands of lives. For further reading on the proper way to conduct combat operations, see our piece: Is the Tank Still Relevant? The Importance Of Combined Arms Operations

A 6-inch howitzer is hauled through the mud near Pozieres. September, 1916. This is photograph Q 4172 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Dead German soldiers in a captured German trench near Ginchy, August 1916 This is photograph Q 4218 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Consequently, the Germans were easily able to defend their territory with entrenched artillery, snipers, and machine guns. Moreover, inflicting massive casualties on the enemy side.

These weapons, in addition to grenades and poison gas, characterized the fighting in the Battle of the Somme. The following months were very similar to the first day, although the Allies managed to cause damage on the German side as well. 

A German soldier walks through the ruined streets of Peronne. November, 1916.

Lastly, by November 18, 1916, 450,000 Empire soldiers, 200,000 French, and more than 460,000 Germans were dead or wounded, all for just 6 miles gained by the victorious British-French forces.

Thiepval Memorial to the British Missing of the Somme

Why Was the Battle of the Somme So Deadly?

World War 1