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The Somme From Defeat to Victory

The Battle of the Somme (French: Bataille de la Somme, German: Sommeschlacht), also known as the Somme Offensive, took place during the First World War between 1 July and 18 November 1916 in the Somme department, on either side of the river Somme. The battle consisted of an offensive by the British and French armies against the German Army, which, since invading France in August 1914, had occupied large areas of the country. The Battle of the Somme was one of the largest battles of the war; by the time fighting paused in late autumn 1916 the forces involved had suffered more than 1 million casualties, making it one of the bloodiest military operations ever recorded.

The plan for the Somme offensive evolved out of Allied strategic discussions at Chantilly, Oise in December 1915. Chaired by General Joseph Joffre, the commander-in-chief of the French Army, Allied representatives agreed on a concerted offensive against the Central Powers in 1916 by the French, British, Italian and Russian armies. The Somme offensive was to be the Anglo-French contribution to this general offensive and was intended to create a rupture in the German line which could then be exploited with a decisive blow. With the German attack on Verdun on the River Meuse in February 1916, the Allies were forced to adapt their plans. The British Army took the lead on the Somme, though the French contribution remained significant.

1 July 1916 saw the British Army suffer the worst day in its history, with nearly 60,000 casualties. Because of the composition of the British Army, at this point a volunteer force with many battalions comprising men from the same places, these losses had a profound social impact and have given the battle its legacy in Britain. The casualties also had a tremendous effect on the Dominion of Newfoundland, as a large number of the Newfoundland men that had volunteered to serve were lost that first day (712/780 men were killed or wounded). The battle is also remembered for the first use of the tank. The conduct of the battle has been a source of controversy: senior officers such as General Sir Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force and Henry Rawlinson, the commander of Fourth Army, have been criticised for incurring very severe losses while failing to achieve their territorial objectives. Other historians have portrayed the Somme as a vital preliminary to the defeat of the German Army and one which taught the British Army valuable tactical and operational lessons.

At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated a total of 6 miles (9.7 km) into German occupied territory. The British Army was three miles (5 km) from Bapaume and also did not capture Le Transloy or any other French town, failing to reach many objectives. The Germans were still occupying partially-entrenched positions and were not as demoralised as the British High Command had anticipated.

Conditions in Trenches - Dan Snow's Battle of the Somme


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