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The Battle of the Somme.

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THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME 'If hell is like a battlefield, then God help the sinner'. -Anonymous soldier The Battle of the Somme was fought from July to November 1916. The British forces were commanded by General Douglas Haig and the French by General Joseph Jacques C�saire Joffre; the German forces were commanded by generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. The main purpose of the five-month Allied offensive was to relieve the German pressure on Verdun in northeastern France by a large-scale attack against the strongly fortified German positions along the Somme River. In this, the Allies were successful, because the Germans abandoned the Verdun offensive on July 16, 1916, and by the end of November had retreated from the Somme River to a previously prepared line of fortification and trenches, known as the Hindenburg Line. The French had also gained important ground at Verdun, and although the Allies gained only 324 sq km (125 sq mi) of territory at the Somme, the battle is often considered the real turning point in the war for the Allies. The battle, however, was costly: Allied and German troops sustained about 600,000 casualties each. The battle is renowned for the first use, by the British, of the modern tank. It is famous mainly on account of the loss of 58,000 British troops (one third of them killed) on the first day of the battle, 1 July 1916, which to this day remains a one-day record. ...read more.


1,500 British guns, together with a similar number of French guns, were employed in the bombardment. Following the artillery bombardment, it was determined that a creeping barrage would precede the advancing infantry to the German front line, and onwards to the second and third trench lines. The Royal Artillery had prepared an underground network of telephone cables so as to enable forward observation officers to monitor and correct the barrage as the battle progressed. Rawlinson's was instructed by Haig to consolidate after a limited advance. Rawlinson's troops went into battle heavily-laden with supplies for that purpose. Meanwhile to the north the rest of Fourth Army, in addition to 1 Corps of General Allenby's Third Army, attempted a complete breakthrough, with cavalry standing by to fully exploit the resultant gap in the German lines. Haig's background in cavalry convinced him that the coup de grace of the attack would best be carried out by cavalry troops. Following the taking of the German lines, the plan was for the British to break through to Cambrai and Douai, thus breaking the German line in two. However the advance artillery bombardment failed to destroy either the German front line barbed wire or the heavily-built concrete bunkers the Germans had carefully and robustly constructed. Much of the munitions used by the British were badly constructed and ineffective. Many charges did not go off; even today farmers of the Western Front unearth many tons of unexploded 'iron harvest' each year. ...read more.


And, so, commonly, they would say: "I leave everything to my mother," and sign their names, and that was their will. It was a religious army, in many ways. Very high degree of churchgoing in England, and even more so, in Scotland and Wales, before the First World War. So, there were countless services. If they belonged to communicating branches of a Christian church, they commonly took communion. And, there was a great deal of writing letters of home, and of shaky hands. But, I think in an optimistic -- and perhaps, not even forced optimism -- I think they really believed they were going to win a great victory on July the first. The British go up out of their trenches, shoulder to shoulder, for about ten or fifteen miles, and proceeded to advance across no-man's-land. And, as they did so, the Germans, (who, of course, had been waiting in terror in their trenches), realized when they heard the bombardment stop that they attack was coming. So, they rushed up from their dugouts beneath the trenches and set up their machine guns and began to fire for their lives -- literally for their lives -- because, of course, it was kill or be killed. They just saw in front of them wave after wave of khaki-clad men -- two, or three, or four, five hundred yards away -- plodding on towards them. And, they just began killing them, cutting them down as fast as they could. And, in many cases they did really kill almost everybody in front of them. ...read more.

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