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The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle in World War I fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between July 1 and November 18 of 1916 on both sides of the River Somme in France. The battle was one of the largest of World War I, in which more than 1,000,000 casualties. A Franco-British commitment to an offensive on the Somme had been made during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise in December 1915. The Allies agreed upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. The main part of the offensive was to be made by the French Army, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force. When the German Army began the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse in February 1916, many French divisions intended for the Somme were diverted and the supporting attack by the British became the principal effort. The first day on the Somme was a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which was forced out of its first line of defence by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the British Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the Albert–Bapaume road. July 1 was also the worst day in the history of the British Army, which had 60,000 casualties, mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack failed disastrously, with very few British troops reaching the German front line. The British Army on the Somme was a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army, Territorial Force and the Kitchener Army which was composed of Pals battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations, whose losses had a profound social impact in Britain. The battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated 6 miles into German occupied territory, taking more ground than any offensive since the Battle of the Marne in 1914. The Anglo-French armies had failed to capture Péronne and were still 3 miles from Bapaume, where the German armies maintained their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resumed in January 1917 and forced the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February, before the scheduled retirement to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) began in March. General Sir Douglas Haig, the commander of the BEF and General Henry Rawlinson commander of the Fourth Army, have been criticised ever since, for the human cost of the battle and for failing to achieve their territorial objectives. On August 1, 1916 Winston Churchill criticised the British Army's conduct of the offensive to the British Cabinet, claiming that though the battle had forced the Germans to end their offensive at Verdun, attrition was damaging the British armies more than the German armies. Though Churchill was unable to suggest an alternative, a critical view of the British on the Somme has been influential in English-language writing ever since. A rival conclusion by some historians (Terraine, Sheffield, Duffy, Chickering, Herwig and Philpott among others) is that there was no strategic alternative for the British in 1916 and that an understandable horror at British losses is insular, given the millions of casualties borne by the French and Russian armies since 1914. This school of thought sets the battle in a context of a general Allied offensive in 1916 and notes that German and French writing on the battle puts it in a continental perspective, which is inaccessible to anglophone monoglots, because much of the writing has yet to be translated. The Battle of the Somme has been called the beginning of modern all-arms warfare, during which Kitchener's Army learned to fight the mass-industrial war, which the continental armies had been engaged in for two years. This view sees the British contribution to the battle as part of a coalition war and part of a process, which took the strategic initiative from the German Army and caused it irreparable damage, leading to its collapse in late 1918.

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