The Battle of the Somme: the bloodiest battle of WWI

The Battle of the Somme (July-November 1916) was one of the major battles of World War I that was tremendously costly to both sides of the conflict, and neither side achieved a clear victory from it. The ultimately futile nature of the bloody, four-month conflict was emblematic of the futility of the war on the Western Front, as the stalemate remained even after such a major effort. Initiated by an Allied offensive planned by the General Haig, the original assault was an ambitious, but disastrous attempt by the Allies to both relieve the pressure faced by the French at Verdun and to inflict damage towards the Germans.

A week long artillery bombardment had been launched prior to the initial Allied assault on German trenches on July 1st. Designed to weaken the German trench systems, the bombardment ultimately did little, as in the initial attack, involving 100000 Allied soldiers going over the top, charging towards their enemy, they were slaughtered by the relentless German machine guns. Approximately 19000 British soldiers died on the first day, yet General Haig agreed to continue the campaign in the Somme.

Shot from The Battle of the Somme film showing a staged attack prior to the start of the actual battle on the 1st of July (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Throughout July, the Allies did manage to make advances, including the British taking Longueval village on the 14th July, while the ANZACs captured Pozieres on the 23rd. The Allies still continued to suffered major casualties, as such attempts to gain territory were continued.

Like many other major battles throughout the war, the Battle of the Somme resulted in few changes in the overall stalemate on the Western Front, even through its four-month duration. The element of attrition was developing to be a major aspect, and it was highlighted in this very battle, especially for the Germans, who had soldiers struggling at both Verdun and Somme in 1916, as well as the Allied blockade causing severe shortages at the home front. As a result, the Germans started to lose ground at the Somme in order to defensively inflict more damage towards Allied soldiers. By the start of August,  the Germans suffered over 250000 casualties and morale was declining amongst these soldiers.

By September, the both sides took on new methods of warfare. The Allies introduced formidable tanks (which were initially used ineffectively), while Germans utilised new fighter planes that took and maintained air superiority. Late in the month, the Allies made key gains in territory, but by early October, further advances were halted by bad weather, as mud became ubiquitous across the front. As mid-November was reached, both sides started to dig in, preparing for the winter weather and putting an end to the huge battle. 

The British Mark I tank;  in the battle, tanks were first introduced in the later stages by the Allies (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Ultimately, the casualty-heavy battle resulted in very little change for the territory for the Allies and Germans with the Allies gaining only 11 kilometres of territory. When considering the substantial human cost of the Battle of the Somme, it reflects the seemingly unbreakable and unending stalemate that was associated with warfare on the Western Front. With over 500000 German casualties, 400000 British casualties and 200000 casualties, the human cost of the battle was a huge price for almost no difference in the war on the Western Front.


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