The Battle of the Somme was one of the most famous battles from WWI, and also one of the most costly in human life. In an offensive that was meant to end the war early, more than one million men were killed or injured, from a total of over three million combatants.
Allied nations had settled on starting multiple coordinated offensives against the Quadruple Alliance in 1916 to limit the transfer of troops to strengthen areas of attack. It was hoped that using their resources all at once would be more affective than attacking one by one.
Britain and France would partner up in the Somme offensive.
Initially, the French would be the main force in the attack, supported by the British. However, before the Somme could begin, the Germans launched a huge attack at Verdun, causing the French send troops to Verdun, to defend against the attack.
The fierce fighting in Verdun meant the French urgently needed the Somme Offensive.
With the French now tied up at Verdun, the British were now the main force, with the French supporting. Instead of an all out assault to devastate German forces, the Somme Offensive would now serve to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, as Germany would have to divert troops to the Somme, and to inflict as much damage as possible while doing so.
The battle began on 1 July 1916 with the detonation of the Lochnagar Mine, which was filled with 30 tons of explosives and virtually vaporized the German positions above. Reportedly, the explosion was heard from London.
On the very first day of the British suffered almost 60,000 casualties, of which 19,240 were killed, due to attacking a well defended area in an advantageous defensive position. The death toll on this day is the worst ever in the history of the British Army. Other successes were found though, by both the British and French, who crushed German opposition in areas and caused retreats.
The battle lasted until 18 November 1916, where British and French forces had pushed 6 miles into previously occupied territory. It was hard-fought, muddy, violent and bloody, but it was a success.
Allied forces, especially the British, suffered terrible losses in exchange for victory, but this was regarded as acceptable at the time. The British essentially fought a war of attrition against Germany, who couldn’t replace their troops as fast as they lost them. Meanwhile, Britain had allies like France and Russia to support them.
The Somme also saw the first use of tanks, and heavily used air power to give a strategic advantage.
At the time the Somme began, British soldiers were physically great, but were inexperienced and poorly trained. In contrast, German defenders were often well trained and highly experienced. The Somme managed to drain Germany of these hardened soldiers, while giving Allied troops experience at the same time. It also drained Germany of valuable resources and severely reduced national morale.
The Somme is regarded as the battle that was the beginning of the end of WWI.