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Dispatch Box No.3 1916 The Somme

1916 - The Somme


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.

The Somme [click for larger image]

The Battle of the Somme - The Albion Country Band

From the record Battle of the Field

The Chesterfield Sherwoods on the Somme

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signaling the start of the Somme offensive.
Hawthorn Crater

related internet links

During the early years of the
 First World War Allenby
commanded the cavalry
division of the
British Expeditionary Force (BEF)
on the Western Front.
Following First Ypres Allenby
was promoted to commander
of the Third Army.

the British army sent to
France and Belgium in
World War I

an A to Z listing of all
manner of World War I material. 
The encyclopedia currently
includes some 3,100 entries.

the most controversial of
the First World  War generals
 Click here to read Haig's
wartime despatches

Notwithstanding the Somme
fiasco Rawlinson is generally
regarded as a highly
competent field commander

Letters and diaries which have
survived from the First World War
 can help to answer these questions. 
we can see the war and life in the
trenchesthrough the eyes of three
Welsh soldiers, each with
very different viewpoints.
this website is bilingual
in Welsh and English

Battlefields of the Somme

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