the war had reached a state of stalemate. Germany's original plan to
march through Belgium and take France before her allies could be mobilised
had been thwarted, but a Front stretching from the Channel to Switzerland
had developed with neither side able to take the initiative. The Allies
had tried to take the offensive at Mons, Neuve Chappelle and Loos but
to little avail and by 1916 Germany had embarked on an attack to 'bleed
France white' at Verdun. In an attempt to break the stalemate and to
relieve the pressure on Verdun the Allies decided to make another push
forward. Despite British reservations, it was decided that the focus
for the advance should be in the area around the River Somme in northern
France. The British commanders would have preferred a site closer to
their supply lines and a later start date but they were under considerable
pressure from the French and felt as though they had little option but
to submit. The advance would be launched on 1st July 1916.
weeks leading up to the start of the Battle, a huge amount of preparatory
work took place. Artillery positions were established; supply lines
were put in place; trenches were prepared; field hospitals were planned
and arranged; and the various units due to take part started to take
up positions. In the immediate run-up to the start of the Battle, the
artillery began their traditional bombardment of the enemy line. For
five days around 1500 artillery pieces bombarded the German trenches
in an effort to destroy the protective barbed wire, take out the German
artillery and stop the Germans from mounting their defense. This tactic
had been tried before but it failed at the Somme for a number of reasons.
First, the trenches were too well constructed for the artillery to inflict
any real damage. The Germans had had two years to build the trench system
here and you could tell. The trenches themselves were 3 metres deep
and the dug-outs could be as much as 10 metres deep. Secondly, the shells
used by the artillery was totally unsuitable for the purpose. Rather
than using heavy shells, the artillery had to use shrapnel shells which
had little impact on fortifications. What's more many of the shells
were duds. It has been estimated that between one quarter and one third
failed to explode. The result was that by the end of the bombardment
the German trenches were still largely intact.
of troops advancing in the Battle of the Somme. (DUL ref: Lowe papers,
of the Somme dragged on until November. By then the ground was so muddy
that getting supplies to the front line was practically impossible and
nothing could move. As the campaign petered out it was difficult to
tell whether there had been any winners and losers. For the Allies,
the Somme had not been the unmitigated disaster it is now depicted as.
Verdun had been relieved, the French army had not been bled white, new
techniques and tactics had been tested that would be more successfully
deployed in the future and some advances had been made. This is not
to deny that it had been done at considerable cost. By the end of the
Battle, British casualties amounted to 420,000 and the French to 200,000.
Germany had also suffered, her casualties being estimated at over 500,000.