The First Battle of the Somme is acknowledged as one of the most devastating and bloodiest battles of all time. The battle took place during the First World War, between allied British and French forces and opposing German forces, from July 1 to November 18, 1916. Initially this attack was supposed to be led by the French army, however their focus changed to the Battle of Verdun, where they were locked in a deadly stalemate against the German forces, therefore the role of the British changed from support to that of the lead. After a week of heavy bombardment from British artillery, on the morning of July 1, 1916 over 100,000 British troops charged the enemy lines, in what would become the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. The German trenches were dug so deeply that the artillery fire did not have its desired effect, and it failed to sufficiently clear much of the barbed wire, meaning that the German machine guns were able to mow down thousands of oncoming troops as they tried to rush across no mans land. By the end of the day, the British troops secured approximately eight square kilometers of ground, along a front that stretched 24km (averaging just 0.33km from the initial line of attack), at a cost of over 57,000 casualties, including over 19,000 fatalities. By comparison, the German and French armies were of relatively similar sizes, however their fatality rate was much lower.
Progress was slow
The first day set much of the tone for the remainder of the battle. The German forces were able to retreat and dig new trenches and form their defenses faster than the British and French could mobilize their attacks, meaning that progress was slow, and cost many many lives. The majority of casualties to British and French forces came from German machine gun fire. While the Battle of the Somme is justly regarded as the prime example of trench warfare, it is also important to note that the respective air forces did play a large part in gathering intel and coordinating attacks, as well as the artillery regiments who provided much of the suppressing fire and disrupted one another's supply chains. September 15th also marked the first ever use of a tank in battle, where the British sent a small fleet of tanks into the field, with mixed results.
Legacy of the Somme
By the end of the battle the casualties were high. As the battle progressed the French became more heavily involved, and German soldiers began falling more rapidly. The battle ended on November 18th 1916, with well over one million casualties and 300,000 fatalities. Although casualties were high for all sides, the battle is most prominently remembered in Britain and the Commonwealth as an example of the ultimate sacrifice made by the men who served throughout the First World War.
Number of casualties and fatalities during the Battle of the Somme in 1916
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The Daily Telegraph. (July 1, 2019). Number of casualties and fatalities during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022625/casualty-fatalities-statistics-battle-somme-1916/
The Daily Telegraph. "Number of casualties and fatalities during the Battle of the Somme in 1916." Chart. July 1, 2019. Statista. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022625/casualty-fatalities-statistics-battle-somme-1916/
The Daily Telegraph. (2019). Number of casualties and fatalities during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: September 29, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022625/casualty-fatalities-statistics-battle-somme-1916/
The Daily Telegraph. "Number of Casualties and Fatalities during The Battle of The Somme in 1916." Statista, Statista Inc., 1 Jul 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022625/casualty-fatalities-statistics-battle-somme-1916/
The Daily Telegraph, Number of casualties and fatalities during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022625/casualty-fatalities-statistics-battle-somme-1916/ (last visited September 29, 2022)