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World War I Hell: How the Battle of the Somme Produced 1 Million Casualties

World War I Hell: How the Battle of the Somme Produced 1 Million Casualties

Warfare History Network

History, Europe

By Ernest Brooks - This is photograph Q 2486 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 1900-09), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=119588

A terrible, avoidable war.

Key point: Old tactics combined with new weapons caused World War I to be an especially bloody affair.

In February 1916, Allied military leaders met at Chantilly, in the Picardy region of France to discuss grand strategy as World War I entered its second full year. British and French commanders agreed to undertake a joint offensive against the Germans in the West, and the area of the Somme River in northern France was chosen.

Meanwhile, the German high command unleashed an offensive of its own, striking hard at French positions surrounding the city of Verdun further east. The French were obliged to commit ever growing numbers of troops to the terrible fighting at Verdun, and the planned Somme offensive became largely a British affair. The character of the offensive also changed. Success at the Somme would hopefully force the Germans to divert troops from Verdun, relieving pressure on the beleaguered French.

Four Months of Vicious Fighting

The four months of horrific fighting that followed have been remembered as one of the bloodiest military engagements in history. The Battle of the Somme, fought July 1 through November 1, 1916, resulted in more than 1.2 million men killed, wounded, or captured. On the opening day of the offensive, the British Army lost 60,000 men, making July 1, 1916, the bloodiest day in British military history. There was no major strategic goal clearly identified with the Somme offensive. Allied commanders, including General Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, and Field Marshal Joseph Joffre of France, hoped to breach the German defensive lines and exploit the resulting gap with cavalry.

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