The first day of the First Battle of the Somme is acknowledged as being the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. Taking place during the First World War from July 1, to November 18, 1916, it was one of the most costly and devastating battles in human history, and the first day alone saw approximately 70 thousand casualties. The offensive took place on the morning of July 1, after seven days of heavy bombardment from British artillery. Artillery was supposed to clear a path through the maze of German wire that covered no mans land, as well as to suppress the German forces and disrupt their supply routes.
Heavy casualties in the initial attack
The British forces of over 120 thousand men, which also included soldiers from Ireland, Canada, South Africa and India, rushed the German lines early on the first day. The week-long artillery bombardment did not have its desired effect, as they could not damage much of the German trenches (which were fifteen meters deep in many areas) and much of the wire remained intact, resulting in heavy casualties inflicted by German troops who were able to mobilize quickly and mow down the approaching forces with machine gun fire. By the end of the day, the British troops secured approximately 8 square kilometers of ground, along a front that stretched 24km (averaging just 0.33km from the initial line of attack), at a cost of 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 fatalities. In comparison, the German and French armies were of relatively similar sizes to that of the British, however their casualty rate was much much lower.
Stalemate at Verdun
The French, who were originally supposed to lead the attack, had redirected much of their efforts to Verdun, where they were locked in a deadly stalemate against German forces. This resulted in the British leading the charge at the Somme. Although the British penetrated the German lines and pushed them back, they paid for it with many lives, compared to the Germans who suffered between ten and twelve thousand casualties. This form of trench warfare set the precedent for the remainder of the battle, where the British and French made slow yet devastating progress against a German force who were able to entrench themselves and mobilize defenses much faster than the Allies could organize their attacks. By the end of the battle approximately 3 million men had taken part, resulting in over one million casualties.
Number of casualties during the first day of fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916
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BBC. (July 1, 2019). Number of casualties during the first day of fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022431/casualty-statistics-first-day-battle-somme-1916/
BBC. "Number of casualties during the first day of fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916." Chart. July 1, 2019. Statista. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022431/casualty-statistics-first-day-battle-somme-1916/
BBC. (2019). Number of casualties during the first day of fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: September 29, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022431/casualty-statistics-first-day-battle-somme-1916/
BBC. "Number of Casualties during The First Day of Fighting in The Battle of The Somme in 1916." Statista, Statista Inc., 1 Jul 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022431/casualty-statistics-first-day-battle-somme-1916/
BBC, Number of casualties during the first day of fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022431/casualty-statistics-first-day-battle-somme-1916/ (last visited September 29, 2022)