On the first day of battle on July 1st 1916, 58,000 British troops were either wounded or died in the crossfire. Germany had the better position, even with the 8 day bombardment of the German lines. This failed in the beginning, as they had cleverly laid out one of the best defenses of the war.
Barbed wire, landmines and concrete bunkers were constructed and offered the Germans superior protection for recovery and better cover when attacking. With a little patience, they were able to use German machine guns to wipe out the advancing British and French Armies from all sides. The main reason why Somme fell to the other side is due to being outmanned. Germany couldn’t spare troops from the attack on Verdun, and the French had successfully made headway through the southern end of the Somme defenses. It took days of effort, hundreds of thousands of lives and a few tanks for the Germans to lose only 12 kilometers of ground.
French & British Backstory
With a 30 kilometer front to start out, even after years of planning many lives were lost and only 12 kilometers gained. Casualties for the French and British totaled 620,000, a number that caused many to question whether the strategies used in the battle.
French Commander in Chief Joseph Joffre with British Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Hag helped plan the offensive. The idea was to whittle down the German forces with a second priority of territorial gain. Despite this being a joint offensive, the forces were heavily British due to the attack on Verdun. With the bulk of the French forces defending Verdun against the German attack, the French and British had another reason to attack Somme.
The original plan was to attack Somme on August 1st 1916, but the French persuaded British forces to move it up a month earlier to July 1st. This would keep the German forces from sending resources to Verdun in its current attack. The Germans were much better prepared for the assault than expected, and it was the smaller French Sixth Army that headed south that did the most damage. Due to the number in favor of the British & French forces, the Germans were forced to bring some troops back from Verdun in defense of Somme. It took several tanks and reinforcements to gain ground, and even then, they didn’t fully win Somme. The advance on the Germans was slow, and the assault was stopped due to snow in the 18th of November.
Why Was the Battle of Somme Important?
The Germans were exhausting a good amount of their forces to overtake Verdun. Somme was well defended, but had a lot less manpower and resources as the forces were split in two. Somme was also deep into enemy territory and would give the British and French forces a major tactical advantage.
Who Was Affected?
Britain was affected the most, losing an incredible amount of soldiers on the first day alone. When the battle was over, and not won, Britain had lost 420,000 soldiers from Somme alone. The French fared better for a different reason, as the results of Somme allowed them to win the Battle at Verdun. There smaller force coming from the South was also a key reason the British forces advancing from the front wasn’t completely wiped out.
Here are some important things to remember about the Battle of Somme.
German casualties went over 500,000
British casualties went over 420,000
French casualties went over 200,000
Despite the long battle, there was no decisive winner in the end
If snow had not intervened to stop the Battle of Somme, the British and French could have very well won in the end. The battle served its purpose regardless, and allowed the French to defend Verdun from German control.
Names to Remember
Sir Douglas Haig’ strategy is one of the most scrutinized of all time concerning battles, even to this day. Many argue that there were several times where his frontal assault could have been pulled back for defensive positioning, but he refused to change tactics.