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Layman's guide to The Battle of the Somme


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A simplified account of the Battle of the Somme, for those who don't know too much about it.

Published in: News & Politics

Layman's guide to The Battle of the Somme

  1. 1. The Battle of the Somme: A Layman’s Guide.Scott Addington
  2. 2. For many people The Battle of the Somme is synonymous withmilitary blundering and unnecessary slaughter.Picture: IWM Q65442
  3. 3. It is true that the first day of the battle is still theblackest moment in British military history…
  4. 4. … but the battle was more than just one day.
  5. 5. And the story starts way before July 1st 1916.1914
  6. 6. Field Marshall Earl Kitchener of Khartoum became Minister ofWar on 5th August 1914 and immediately put together plans toexpand the British Army.
  7. 7. He did not think the war would be over by Christmas. Instead heforesaw a long drawn out conflict that would require many moremen than the BEF currently had.
  8. 8. Kitchener didn’t want to rely on the Territorial Army for theexpansion because they could opt-out and avoid overseas service.Shoulder badge of the 10th Btn. Royal Scots. Territorial Army
  9. 9. Instead he went about building an army of volunteers. The ‘Call toArms’ went out and the country listened…
  10. 10. … two weeks later 100,000 men had joined up.Kitchener had his first Army: K1.
  11. 11. To help the recruitment effort men were encouragedto join up with friends and work colleagues into whatbecame known as ‘Pals’ Battalions.
  12. 12. By the end of Sept 1914 over 50 towns had formedone or more Pals Battalions. K2 was born.
  13. 13. By March 1915 enough men had volunteered to make five newArmies and a sixth was well on its way.
  14. 14. Almost 600,000 men had answered Kitchener’s call in 6 months.A quite remarkable achievement.
  15. 15. Over the following months the issues of training and equippingthese new recruits were slowly solved…
  16. 16. … and by the beginning of 1916 the Kitchener’s men were itchingto give ‘The Hun’ a good kicking.
  17. 17. It had long been decided that the main Allied assault on theWestern Front in 1916 would be in the Somme region.
  18. 18. It was originally planned to be a French assault with British support.
  19. 19. The objective was simple: To smash the German Army and depletetheir reserves of men and equipment.
  20. 20. As it was going to be their show, it was France who decidedto attack across the Somme region.
  21. 21. Haig didn’t agree. He preferred an attack in the north of Belgium,but was forced to agree with his French friends.
  22. 22. Eventually it was all agreed.The ‘Big Push’ was penciled in for August 1916.
  23. 23. Germany however ruined all of that planning when they decidedto attack Verdun at the beginning of 1916.
  24. 24. Suddenly it was France on the receiving end of a beating.
  25. 25. It quickly became apparent that France was going to struggle tolead any kind of major offensive in the summer.
  26. 26. In fact, it was touch and go as to whetherthey would survive at all.
  27. 27. France needed help. Fast.
  28. 28. The ‘Big Push’ was now going to be a large scaleBritish diversionary attack to relieve the pressure on Verdun.
  29. 29. Also, instead of being August, it was moved forward to 1st July.1st July 1916
  30. 30. Haig’s plan was simple...
  31. 31. Use more guns than have ever been used before…
  32. 32. … to fire more shells than have ever been fired before…
  33. 33. … for longer than had ever been done before.
  34. 34. The German defenses would stand no chance.They would be totally smashed to pieces.
  35. 35. Once the artillery had done their worst, the infantry(750,000 men, many from Kitchener’s Armies)would advance and consolidate.
  36. 36. The British guns smashed the German lines for 8 daysprior to the infantry advance.
  37. 37. However, due to a mixture of poor quality ammunition and worldclass German defenses the bombardment failed.
  38. 38. German wire was not destroyed, their defences were still intactand morale was not broken.
  39. 39. 2 minutes before ‘Zero’ several huge mines were detonatedunderneath the German lines.
  40. 40. However, when the British infantry advanced the Germanmachine gunners were ready and waiting.
  41. 41. The advancing infantry were either cut down in No Man’s Landor forced back to their own lines.Any success was isolated and temporary.
  42. 42. The result was carnage.The British Army suffered 57,470 casualties that day.A third of that number were killed.
  43. 43. It still stands as the blackest day in the history of the British Army.
  44. 44. Despite this, Haig continued to press the offensive over thefollowing days and weeks.
  45. 45. On 11th July the first line of the German defense system wassecured.Soldiers of 11th Btn. Cheshire Regiment occupy a captured German trench. July 1916 (IWM Q3990)
  46. 46. That same day Germany moved significant men from Verdun tothe Somme area, doubling the amount of men available.
  47. 47. The fighting continued throughout the summer, each side trying tosmash the other into submission, but to no avail.
  48. 48. On 15th September 1916 the British attacked again in the Battle ofFlers-Courcellete. It was here that the tank made its operationaldebut.
  49. 49. Although the tanks scared the hell out of the Germans,poor reliability and tactics meant these ‘land ships’failed to make a real impact in the fighting.
  50. 50. The fighting continued until the snow of November forced thesuspension of operation. The Allies had gained a slither oftortured land 8 miles across at its deepest point.
  51. 51. Britain and her Empire lost 419,654 men (wounded and killed)during the Battle of the Somme.
  52. 52. Germany took a beating too, with casualties of around 500,000.Fricourt German Cemetery. Photo from
  53. 53. Germany was also forced to stop attacking Verdun,allowing the French to rest and regroup.
  54. 54. So, even though the tactics of the battle remain controversial,Haig could be forgiven for saying ‘job done’.
  55. 55. This slideshare was inspired by the e-bookWorld War One: A Layman’s GuideAvailable on Kindle for less than the price of acup of
  56. 56. Lest we forget.