WW1: The Somme Offensive

"The most gigantic, tenacious, grim, futile and bloody fight ever waged in the history of war"

“The most gigantic, tenacious, grim, futile and bloody fight ever waged in the history of war.”

The Somme Offensive was a battle that took place in 1916 during World War One between the German Army and a combined British and French Force.  It occurred on the Somme River in northern France. “Somme” being Celtic for “tranquility,” the battle was anything but that. It is one of the bloodiest engagements on record, resulting in more than 1.5 million casualties.  It was planned by Joseph Joffre, a French General whose retreat and counterattack won the Battle of the Marne for the Allies in 1914 as well as Sir Douglas Haig, a British General.  Part of larger scheme to attack the Central Powers from multiple fronts, the Allies objective in the Somme region was to break through the German line and deliver a decisive blow. The hope was to recapture occupied French towns. The British fought the bulk of Somme Offensive because French troops were mostly committed to protecting Verdun, a French city to the west.[1]

Haig, the commander of the offensive, felt that an artillery bombardment of a million shells, over the course of a week, would demoralize the entrenched German Amy.  Afterwards, Haig believed that Allied forces could overrun the German line, basically walking right through.[2] This false hope was passed on by subordinated commanders to the troops.  However, Haig severely underestimated the level of German preparation for the attack.  The German Army had constructed thirty foot wide trenches, fronted by wire, which would make passage to and beyond the trenches difficult and deadly.  The attack began ten minutes at 7:20 a.m. on 1 July 1916; with the explosion of an allied mine the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt[3]. Ten minutes after the explosion, the allies advanced.  The Allies fought their way six miles into German occupied France, but failed in achieving their military goals against a well positioned German Army.[4]  On first day of battle, nearly sixty thousand casualties were suffered by the British.  This was the largest number of troops killed or wounded in British history.  Such a loss severely damaged national morale. It was also a tragedy for Newfoundlanders who lost over 700 men, only.[5]

The Somme became one of the largest battles of the war.  It would last until December, and ultimately see the introduction of that tank on the side of the Allies. What happened at the Somme can be seen many ways: as a senseless waste of life; a courageous victory by inexperienced, yet determined volunteers; and, sadly inept leadership by overzealousness and gross underestimation.  Even though the Allies saw great losses, the Somme Offensive can be seen as the beginning of the end for the Central Powers.  The outcome of the battle in the Allies favor would be a precursor to the defeat of the Germany and the end of World War Two.[6]

GuardianUK coverage:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/nov/09/first-world-war-somme

Bibliography

“Battle of the Somme.” Google Video.   http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6108229046742084686&ei=0klFS43-O5m-qQLDkb3eAQ&q=somme&hl=en&client=firefox-a# (accessed January 6, 2010)

“Battles-the Battle of the Somme, 1916.”  Firstworldwar.com: a multimedia history of world war one. http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/somme.htm (accessed January 6, 2010).

“Newfoundland and the Great War: The Somme, 1916.” Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage. June 2008. http://www.heritage.nf.ca/greatwar/articles/somme.html (accessed January 6, 2010).

Simkins, Peter. Essential Somme: The bloody first day. http://www.essentialsomme.com/articles/first_day_somme_02.htm (accessed January 6, 2010).

[1] “Battle of the Somme.” Google Video.   http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6108229046742084686&ei=0klFS43-O5m-qQLDkb3eAQ&q=somme&hl=en&client=firefox-a# (accessed January 6, 2010)

[2] “Battles-the Battle of the Somme, 1916.”  Firstworldwar.com: a multimedia history of world war one. http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/somme.htm (accessed January 6, 2010).

[3]  “Battle of the Somme.” Google Video.   http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6108229046742084686&ei=0klFS43-O5m-qQLDkb3eAQ&q=somme&hl=en&client=firefox-a# (accessed January 6, 2010)

[4] Simkins, Peter. Essential Somme: The bloody first day. http://www.essentialsomme.com/articles/first_day_somme_02.htm (accessed January 6, 2010).

[5] Newfoundland and the Great War: The Somme, 1916.  Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage. June 2008. http://www.heritage.nf.ca/greatwar/articles/somme.html (accessed January 6, 2010)

[6] Ibid.

Topic Report 2  01/06/10

 

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