Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Battle of the Somme

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In 116, the French were taken by surprise at Verdun, trapped by the Germans. Quickly, Britain had to make an attempt to free the French army from their superior opposition. The plan was to make an attack at the Somme and then after defeating the Germans, free their French counterparts. However, the Germans were using scout planes and observer balloons, making themselves aware of the impeding British assault. They dug themselves deep in twelve-metre deep trenches; because there was nothing else that they could do, but defend their conquered land. As more new roads and railway lines appeared, so did many British volunteer soldiers, ammunition and other supplies. On 4th June 116, the Allied forces began an artillery bombardment of the enemy trenches, unaware of how deep they were. This continued constantly until 1st July. The British commander, General Haig, believed that this had annihilated the German trenches and so it would be easy for his battalions to simply march across no-man’s land into empty trenches. These trenches were empty, but the Germans were not dead- they were sitting comfortably in their deep dugouts!

On the same day as the end of the barrage, 100,000 troops were sent over the top in what is known as the ‘Big Push’. Soon after daylight, troops climbed out of their trenches and marched slowly, in long lines, wave after wave, across the forty kilometres of no man’s land. Each soldier carried around thirty kilograms of equipment, containing shovels, wire-cutters and sections of bridges that would allow them to reach the opposite trenches. Few made it that far. A worse factor for the Allies was that the artillery barrage had only destroyed a few of its targets; the dugouts were untouched, as were the guns and little barbed wire was moved. The Germans had been alerted about this offensive and so the ‘Tommies’ were easy targets for the German machine guns.

At 70 a.m. a huge mine was ignited under the German trenches. Unlike most of its equal, it did destroy its target, but also alerted the enemy to the advancing lines of infantry. Men quickly manned their posts and within minutes the Allied positions were being shelled. By 45 the battle for that day was practically over. Most men did not even reach their own barbed wire, and if they did manage to get any further attempted to throw bombs at the enemy trenches, before they were cut down by machine gun fire. In this day alone, the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties and 8,000 Germans were dead or wounded.

Nevertheless, General Haig continued with this misguided tactic until 1th November 116, when the British were still three miles from Bapaume and Serre, part of their first day objectives. By the end of this bloody campaign, the British death toll totalled 41,654 and the German count amounted to a figure between 450,000 and 680,000. The Somme was a battle lost by the British due to their lack of intelligence. Their poor artillery bombardment lost them many hundreds of thousands of men and their inability to change tactics triggered many deaths. The new tanks that were used were ineffective against the powerful guns and mud, and the sheer force of numbers did not win them the battle this time.

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