The Battle of Somme: 7 Interesting Facts That Shed Light on the Fateful Day

The Battle of Somme: 7 Interesting Facts That Shed Light on the Fateful Day

Maria - June 13, 2016

The Battle of Somme was one of the biggest campaigns to be carried out over the course of WWI. Lasting an astounding 142 days, this battle has largely been remembered as one of the most destructive events of the war. Here, we’ve listed just a few of the more intriguing facts of the Battle of Somme, leading it to its place in military history.

7. The Somme Location Was a Strategic Move

The Battle of Somme: 7 Interesting Facts That Shed Light on the Fateful Day

The Western Front had reached a stalemate by 1916. Trench warfare had proven successful, giving both sides a leg up against their enemy. However, this also meant that new strategies were in order, to figure out a new plan of attack. The British were hoping for a win, and the French were anticipating the best course of action for removing the invasive Germans from their land.

This is where Somme’s location came into play. An offensive campaign would be perfectly launched from this point, due to the fact that it was the center point between the British and French lines. This would give both armies a chance to play their part in gaining an Allied victory.

But the planning proved to take too long; the Germans reacted first, launching an attack on the French at Verdun. French resources were quickly put to use fighting the Germans, leaving the British to take the majority of the hit for the Somme campaign.

With efforts to draw away German resources from Verdun, the plan at the Somme now had an even greater responsibility to be successful.

6. Multiple Strategies Were in Motion Before Deciding on an Official Plan

The Battle of Somme: 7 Interesting Facts That Shed Light on the Fateful Day

The British Commander-in-Chief, General Haig, was directing the plan for the Battle of Somme. His strategy was to break through enemy defenses and use that surprise opening to bring in the full-bore attack from their surrounding forces. The Pozières Ridgeline appeared to make the best opportunity for a breakthrough, while a second attack in the north at Gommecourt would provide a useful distraction.

General Rawlinson was on board to take control of the first attack, as Commander of the 4th Army. His experience led him to believe that a better option would be integrating “bite and hold” tactics, which meant progressing in small advances, only to come back together at their final destination.

Eventually, the men made a plan of attack to compromise and use a combination of both strategies – though the final plan wasn’t ideal for either officer.

5. The First Plan of Attack Was Hit with Roadblocks

The Battle of Somme: 7 Interesting Facts That Shed Light on the Fateful Day

The British set out on their mission, reinforcing their defenses and carrying heavy artillery. The bombardment, which began on June 24th, led to the use of 1.7 million shells, which had been fired off in just under a week. Miners even dug tunnels to fill with explosives, hoping to annihilate 17 of the German defensive points from below.

Unfortunately for Haig, the attack was less than effective. Many of the fired shells didn’t manage to cut through the protective barbed wire, and a substantial 30% of them didn’t explode at all. This meant the Germans were still able to safely return to their bunkers during heavy fire, avoiding any major pitfalls from shrapnel.

Then, when the main assault was supposed to be underway on June 29th, the weather had a different idea. Heavy rains made the grounds muddy and unusable, so any further attack was delayed even more.

4. The French Helped The British Fight Back on an Otherwise Deadly First Day

The Battle of Somme: 7 Interesting Facts That Shed Light on the Fateful Day

July 1st was soon to become one of the deadliest days of the entire campaign – and it was only the first day of the main attack.

The strategy to form a creeping barrage and make only small advances wasn’t proving very successful, as the Germans had more than enough time not facing heavy fire to return to their trenches and recreate their own stronghold. To make matters worse, the mud hadn’t dried from the heavy rainstorms, while the barbed wire was still in place.

By the end of that day, the British were soon made aware of the huge cost of their amateur planning. They had endured 57,470 casualties – an astounding loss that is immeasurable to many others in war history.

And though the French weren’t able to provide as many troops as they’d hoped, the arrival of their forces considerably helped. They brought with them large amounts of heavy artillery, and their continued support allowed the British in the south to make greater strides than their fellow men farther north.

3. The British Had No Choice But to Rely on Attrition – and The Introduction of Tanks to the Battlefield

The Battle of Somme: 7 Interesting Facts That Shed Light on the Fateful Day

Since the first attack was a major upset, amounting to little progress and a devastating death toll, Haig realized his response would have to merely be consistent attacks to keep the enemy at bay.

This started the beginning of nearly 142 days of intense, gruesome warfare. The British had some success, but their progress wasn’t as steadfast as they were hoping for, while the German counterattacks were even pushing the Allies back at certain points.

So the British decided to step up their game by bringing in the big guns; or, in this case, the big tanks.

As September rolled around, the Brits brought out their new weapons, and the Battle of Somme became the first campaign to include tanks in their warfare. The Germans were finally met with aggressive force they weren’t prepared for, watching some of the largest vehicles they’d ever seen barreling at them. The tanks faced some difficulties, but their arrival helped the British gain a breakthrough into the German third line.

2. Slow and Steady Won the Race, as Allies Received Their Victory

The Battle of Somme: 7 Interesting Facts That Shed Light on the Fateful Day

While it took over four months (instead of the initial plan of one day) to take control of Beaumont Hamel, the British eventually won.

Their victory marked the end of the campaign, and Haig considered it a success despite the loss of 415,000 men. The French also lost 200,000 but the Germans’ death toll of an estimated 650,000 meant that enemy resources had effectively been reduced. And while German front lines had been pushed back as much as nine km, the progress wasn’t near to anything Haig had aspired to, especially after 142 days of fighting and 615,000 lives. But overall, the Allies had carried out a winning campaign.

1. The Victory Became Part of an Iconic War, But Maybe Not for the Best Reasons

The Battle of Somme: 7 Interesting Facts That Shed Light on the Fateful Day

Since battalions from various British infantries were involved in the Battle of Somme, the majority of Britain was awash in sadness after the catastrophic death toll. Such a sacrifice of life for very little advantage signified one of the worst effects of war. So while the campaign for the Battle of Somme may have been the best strategy for the Allies given the situation, the plan of attack was far from ideal and the results spoke for themselves.