Introduction - Battle of the SommeThe Somme River, in northern France, is named for the Celtic word meaning "tranquility". In 1916 the events that took place near this river were far from tranquil. The WW1 Battle of the Somme was one of the largest and most violent battles the world had ever seen. Listed below are interesting facts about this great World War One battle including information on who started it, why it was so important, and how many casualties there were. We hope both kids and adults will find this summary useful.
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Battle of the Somme Basic Facts
- This WW1 battle was fought from July 1st to November 18th of 1916.
- The battle pitted the British and French armies against the German Army.
- The casualties at the Battle of the Somme were staggering; the British suffered about 423,000 casualties, the French approximately 200,000, and the Germans some where near 500,000. These numbers make it perhaps the bloodiest battle in world history.
- The main German commanders were General Rupprecht, General Max von Gallwitz, and Prussian General Fritz von Below.
- The Commander-in-Chief of the allied forces was the British commander Sir Douglas Haig. Other important allied commanders included British General Henry Rawlinson and French General Ferdinand Foch.
- Who won the Battle of the Somme? The British and French forces are considered the winners. They forced the Germans to retreat about 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) and to give up their attack on Verdun. However they did not achieve their tactical objectives and they suffered horrific losses for which allied commander Sir Douglas Haig has been greatly criticized.
Interesting Battle of the Somme Facts
- The battle was started by the British and French. They had planned a major offensive in Northern France in the hopes of pushing the German forces out of that country. Starting the battle became more urgent after the Germans started the Battle of Verdun in February of 1916. The French were experiencing incredible losses at Verdun and hoped the Battle of the Somme would take the pressure off of them at Verdun due to the need of the Germans to divert their military resources to the Somme.
- The battle started with the British unleashing an incredible artillery bombardment against the German positions. Approximately 3,000 artillery pieces launched over 1,600,000 shells over eight days. Unbelievably very little damage was done as the Germans took shelter and many of the artillery shells were duds that never exploded.
- Believing the initial 8 day bombardment of the German lines had been successful in nearly wiping out their enemy the British began their ground assault on July 1, 1916. What ensued was a blood bath. In what has been dubbed the worst day in the history of British warfare thousands of British soldiers were shot down by the Germans who had left there shelters and manned their machine guns. It is estimated that over 19,000 British soldiers were killed on the first day of the attack with an additional 40,000 casualties.
- Despite the heavy losses of the first day of battle the allies continued the battle for several more months.
- One interesting fact is that for the first time in history tanks were used at the Battle of the Somme. On September 15 of 1916 the British unleashed this new weapon at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (part of the Battle of the Somme).