Battle of the Somme

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In France in 1916 the British and French armies met at the Somme River to begin a massive attack on the Germans in order to distract them from Verdun. This became the Battle of the Somme, and the fighting was even heard across the English Channel in England. The Somme Offensive, which began on July 1, 1916 and ended on November 18, 1916, is remembered primarily for its death toll: 420,000 British, 200,000 French, and 500,000 German soldiers. Over a 141-day period, there were 1,120,000 casualties — all for six miles of land.[1][2]

First the Allies "shelled" (fired many shots and bombs) at the Germans to weaken them, and then 100,000 British soldiers charged the enemy. But the shelling did not have its intended effect, as the Germans were dug in too deeply to be majorly affected by it. On July 1, 1916, the Germans killed 20,000 of the British soldiers and wounded over 40,000, making it the single worst day for the British in their history. This battle, which did not succeed in moving trench lines, eventually involved over 2 million men along a 30-mile front. The British and French lost nearly 750,000 men.

Whether or not the Somme campaign was very necessary to win the war remains controversial. The British general Douglas Haig was known to be very insensitive to the loss of human life and he consistently ignored the advise of other military and political leaders, including one incident where he prematurely deployed the newly invented combat tanks. He only used about 40 tanks and all but four of them were destroyed on the first day; the plan had initially been to use 500 tanks in order to surprise and overwhelm the Germans before they found out about the tanks. So Haig may very well have prolonged the war by two years because of his arrogance and archaic way of thinking.[3]


  1. The Battle of the Somme, History Learning Site, (Accessed January 29, 2013).
  2. Simply Amazing Photos Of WWI That You May Have Not Seen Before,, January 29, 2013.
  3. Gardner, Brian. The Big Push. The Quality Book Club, 1961