Thursday, 22 January 2009

Battle of the Somme - First Day

The battle of the Somme is probably the most well known battle to have happened in the last one hundred years. This battle was fought between July and November 1916 and was called the Somme offensive at the time.

The battle of the Somme was one of the largest battles of the 1914 to 1918 war causing over one million five hundred thousand casualties.

The first day of the Somme was 1st July 1916 but seven days prior to this day there was a large artillery bombardment of 1.7 million shells (168 shells a minute for seven days) which the British believed would rock the core of the German army and leave little resistance. The truth was that many of the German defenders had survived by staying in deep dugouts throughout the bombardment as they had well built trenches.

While the bombardment was in full flow the British had dug deep mines full of explosives under the German lines ready for zero hour on the first day when the British advance was to start.

The attack at zero hour was to be made by 13 divisions of the British army and 11 divisions of the French army. These forces faced the German second army.

Ten minutes before zero hour on the first day (zero hour was 07:30am) an officer signalled and all the mines were blown. As zero hour struck the British and French climbed out of their trenches with 70 pounds (32kg) of kit and started towards the German lines.

The advance of the British was a huge disaster with many men dying before leaving friendly lines, while the French did have some success by advancing between 1,600 yards to 2,200 yards in different sectors on the day.

The British assualt started to wane in the late afternoon hours due to the numbers lost. Even after all the casualties of the day Lieutenant-General Henry Rawlinson who commanded the British fourth army issued orders at 10:00pm that he wanted the attacks to resume.

In the first day of the Battle of the Somme the British had 19,152 dead and 35,493 wounded while the defending German army suffered 8,000 casualties on the British front. The French had 7,000 casualties.

It took a good few days for the British command to realise the full extent of the disaster experienced on the first day.

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