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First Battle of Somme - 1916

July 1 – November 18, 1916

Somme River Valley, France – Western Front

Allied Powers: British Empire
Allied Powers: France
Central Powers: German Empire

The Battle of the Somme was planned by French General Joseph Joffre as a joint offensive of the British and French troops to drain the German Army of troops and arms.
Sir Douglas Haig, the commander of the BEF, agreed to launch the offensive in 1916.

In 1916, the Germans launched an attack on Verdun, an important French town, forcing Joffre to direct most of the French Army towards the protection of Verdun. Consequently, General Haig took over the planning and execution of the Battle of the Somme from Joffre. On June 24, 1916, over 3,000 Allied guns were deployed at Somme to commence an eight day bombardment of German lines.

The plan was for General Rawlinson and the British Fourth Army to advance under the cover of a creeping barrage, to be followed by the infantry to cause a breach in the German trench line. Reinforcements in the form of the British Third Army cavalry and the French Sixth Army were kept armed and ready. The breach of the German line was planned at Cambrai. The Germans facing the attack belonged to the German Second Army.

The Allied forces had expected to find many of the German soldiers dead and bunkers destroyed by the initial bombardment. Much to their surprise, the German concrete bunkers were very well constructed and had sheltered the troops from the heavy bombardment. The barbed-wire fences and other defenses had suffered very little damage.

The Allied attack was launched on July 1, 1916. Seventeen mines laid by the Allies were set off at 7.30 a.m. The failure of the bombardment to have the desired effect resulted in the poor progress of the Allied forces. Some success was achieved by the French troops to the southern end of the attacking line. The German machine guns were very effective in repelling the BEF attack. The British forces lost over 58,000 soldiers on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

General Max von Gallwitz took charge of the German First Army on July 19, 1916. He restructured the defense positions. The BEF persisted in a series of offensives through November that year. The Battle of Flers-Courcelette was fought by the BEF in September 1916 with very little success. The BEF launched tanks in this battle. Through October and November, the BEF and the French troops made small advances through the front. By November 13, 1916, winter had set in and the snow made battles difficult. Though the BEF won Beaumont-Hamel, Haig decided to call off the offensive. By November 18, the Battle of the Somme ended with the BEF having lost 420,000 men, the French 200,000 soldiers, and the German army 500,000 soldiers.

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