The Battle of the Somme was fought July 1-November 18, 1916, near the Somme River in France.
The battle was part of a plan for attacks to be conducted simultaneously on the Western, Eastern and Italian fronts to distract the Central Powers. In this case, the battle was intended to relieve the pressure placed on the French at Verdun, a battle that had begun months earlier.
The nations involved were Canada, Great Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Bermuda, Southern Rhodesia and Germany.
Major Battle Events
- On the opening day many shells were duds, and the British artillery inadvertently left the infantry exposed. Many soldiers were fighting in their first battle. As a consequence, July 1 is known as the bloodiest day in British history. Heavy casualties were not expected for the battle and the trip across No Man’s Land was expected to be easy.
- In the span of half an hour, one Newfoundland regiment lost all but 91 men. The regiment had started the battle with a strength of 801 men.
- Several smaller offensives were fought as part of the larger Somme Offensive.
- Tanks debuted at the offensive of Flers-Courcelette in September. The offensive also marked the arrival of the Canadians and New Zealanders to the battle.
- The battle ended when weather intervened and made fighting difficult.
- The battle is considered one of the bloodiest in history. Casualties totaled 1.5 million.
- Britain lost so many soldiers the death toll for the battle is higher than the Crimean War, the Boer War and the Korean War combined.
- There was no clear victor and the battle was considered a stalemate. The most the Allies advanced was seven miles.
The battle, Encyclopedia Britannica says, was a “costly and largely unsuccessful Allied offensive on the Western Front during World War I. The horrific bloodshed on the first day of the battle became a metaphor for futile and indiscriminate slaughter.”
To learn more about the Battle of the Somme, read my book A Tale of Two Nations: Canada, U.S. and WW1.
Updated: 21 October 2020
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