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Battle of the Somme Facts

The Battle of the Somme is one of the most remembered battles in our history. It was one of the biggest, longest, and most tragic battles of World War One and many soldiers lost their lives.

It lasted from July 1st to November 18th 1916.

Still today, many people go to visit the battlefields in northern France to see the site where their relatives or ancestors lost their lives.

The fields are now covered in little crosses, and each cross represents a life lost.

Battle of the Somme memorial crosses

Who fought at the Battle of the Somme?

The Battle of the Somme was fought in northern France in 1916 between the Allies (British and French) on one side and the Central Powers (Germans) on the other.

For many British soldiers, this was their first battle.

Lord Kitchener, the war minister in Britain, had recruited a volunteer army that were named Kitchener’s army.

Many soldiers were promised they could be placed alongside their friends to fight with their friends and neighbours.

Preston Pals at Preston Railway Station
Preston Pals at Preston Railway Station, August 1914

Because of this, groups within this army got nicknamed the Pals battalions. Many of soldiers were extremely young and did not know what war was really like before they set off from home and travelled to the trenches in northern France.

What would war be like?

Back in their home countries of Britain and Germany, young men had been told that going to war was heroic and brave.

But when these young men arrived at the trenches, the scene was far from what they could have imagined.

first day of the Battle of the Somme

The trench warfare of World War One introduced a new way of fighting.

There were brand-new rapid-fire machine guns and horrible, dirty, noisy conditions in the trenches. Such sights had never seen before in the history of warfare.

Being with pals may have helped, but these poor young men on all sides were facing the horrors of this new type of warfare when they risked their lives every day.

They had no idea what they were letting themselves in for when they left home.

Battle of Verdun 1916
Battle of Verdun 1916

The events of the Battle of the Somme

Leading up to the battle, both sides had been involved in trench warfare along the Western Front, but no one had gained any ground.

A huge attack was planned in order to finally force a German retreat.

Everything changed when the Germans attacked the French at the Battle of Verdun. France had to send troops, and England attacked early to try to pull German efforts away from Verdun and back towards the Somme.

Battle of the Somme map 1916

The Allies launched a pre-attack; firing over 1,600,000 shells with 3,000 guns in an eight-day straight attack.

This attack was a failure because the Germans waited and no damage had been done to their fortifications either.

australian-troops-charging-a -trench-at-the-battle-of-gallipoli
Australian Troops charging a trench at the battle of Gallipoli

A tragic ending on all sides

Ignoring this failure, the Allies ordered the attack on July 1st 1916. Thousands of men on the Allied side went ‘over the top’ (of the trenches) and advanced towards German lines.

In the worst day of British warfare, soldiers got gunned down and there were over 60,000 causalities and 20,000 dead on the first day.

war ambulance
Ford Model T Military Field Ambulance from World War I

But the allies continued, all the way until November 18th. They gained seven miles but suffered 623,000 casualties on the allied side and 500,000 German casualties.

Overall, there were 1,000,000 total casualties. It is one of the bloodiest, most tragic, battles in human history.

Battle of the Somme graves memorial

To this day, historians cannot decide whether Commander Haig should have launched this attack. Was his battle plan flawed and a tragic waste of life?

Or did he have no choice but to go ahead in order to help the French out of the Battle of Verdun?

What do you think?

Quiz Time – Now Test Your Knowledge

quiz-time

Where was the Battle of the Somme fought?

When did the Battle of the Somme take place?

Who fought in the Battle of the Somme?

How many casualties were there overall?

What is on the Battle ground now to help us remember the lives that were lost?

World War 1

Commander Sir John French in France

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