It took place between July 1st, 1916 and November 13th, 1916 and it resulted in over a
million casualties. The Battle of the Somme was planned as a joint French and British operation. The idea originally came
from the French Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Joffre and was accepted by General Sir Douglas Haig, the
British Expeditionary Force (BEF) commander, despite his preference for a large attack in Flanders.
Although Joffre was concerned with territorial gain, it was also an attempt to destroy German manpower.
At first Joffre intended for to use mainly French soldiers but the German attack on Verdun in February
1916 turned the Somme offensive into a large-scale British diversionary attack. General Sir Douglas Haig now took over responsibility
for the operation and with the help of General Sir Henry Rawlinson, came up with his own plan of attack. Haig's strategy was
for a eight-day preliminary bombardment that he believed would completely destroy the German forward defences.
General Sir Henry Rawlinson was was in charge of the main attack and his Fourth Army were expected
to advance towards Bapaume. To the north of Rawlinson, General Edmund Allenby and the British Third Army were ordered to make
a breakthrough with cavalry standing by to exploit the gap that was expected to appear in the German front-line. Further south,
General Fayolle was to advance with the French Sixth Army towards Combles.
Haig used 750,000 men (27 divisions) against
the German front-line (16 divisions). However, the bombardment failed to destroy either the barbed-wire or the concrete bunkers
protecting the German soldiers. This meant that the Germans were able to exploit their good defensive positions on higher
ground when the British and French troops attacked at 7.30 on the morning of the 1st July. The BEF suffered 58,000 casualties
(a third of them killed), therefore making it the worse day in the history of the British Army.
Haig was not disheartened by these heavy losses on the first day and ordered General Sir Henry Rawlinson
to continue making attacks on the German front-line. A night attack on 13th July did achieve a temporary breakthrough but
German reinforcements arrived in time to close the gap. Haig believed that the Germans were close to the point of exhaustion
and continued to order further attacks expected each one to achieve the necessary breakthrough. Although small victories were
achieved, for example, the capture of Pozieres on 23rd July, these gains could not be successfully followed up.
On 15th September General Alfred Micheler and the Tenth Army joined the battle in the south at Flers-Courcelette.
Despite using tanks for the first time, Micheler's 12 divisions gained only a few kilometres. Whenever the weather was appropriate,
General Sir Douglas Haig ordered further attacks on German positions at the Somme and on the 13th November the BEF captured
the fortress at Beaumont Hamel. However, heavy snow forced Haig to abandon his gains.
With the winter weather deteriorating Haig now brought an end to the Somme offensive. Since the 1st
July, the British has suffered 420,000 casualties. The French lost nearly 200,000 and it is estimated that German casualties
were in the region of 500,000. Allied forces gained some land but it reached only 12km at its deepest points.