Sep
26

The Bloodiest Day in the History of the British Army

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1st July 1916 saw the Allies launched an extensive offensive along a 25 mile section of the Western Front. The attack took place to the north of the River Somme in rural France. Little villages are littered throughout the region along with the town of Albert. It was to be the battle that for plenty of people, characterized the horrors of the trench warfare of The Great War.

The Battle of the Somme lasted nearly 4 months with very little reward for Britain and her Allies. The casualties endured by each side were horrific; the British Army sustained 420,000 killed and wounded, the French 200,000 and the Germans roughly half a million.

The German soldiers were dug in deep and strategically held the more favourable ground hence it was obvious an enormous effort would be essential to make inroads into their lines. The plan was to lay down an artillery bombardment for seven days leading up to the attack. Furthermore, plenty of mines were laid beneath the German lines. It was predicted that the mines and artillery would bring about such destruction, Britain and her Allies would only need to advance over no mans land and occupy the trenches. Disastrously, this was definitely not the case.

For 7 days just before the assault, a thunderous barrage was laid down by the Alllies firing 1.7m shells. Bear in mind, the German trenches were dug deep into the earth delivering them with relative safety from the barrage. The mines did lead to deaths and injuries as intended but generally, the Germans had enough time to gear up their defences after the artillery ceased and the Allies went over the top.

All along the line, the story was the same. Brave men went over the top and were mown down before getting anywhere close to their objectives. At Beaumont Hamel, only 68 of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, ended the day unharmed out of around 800 men. At La Boisselle, the Tyneside Irish was almost destroyed as it tried to move forward more than 1 mile over open ground in full sight of German machine guns.

Nevertheless, there were some successes. The French soliders had made progress in the north and south of the lines. The 36th Ulster advanced on and took the Schwaben Redoubt consequently becoming undoubtedly one of the few to get to their objective. However, running short on ammunition, German counter attacks made the Ulstermen to withdraw later that night.

The 1st day of the Somme had cost the British almost 54,000 casualties, 21,000 of those being killed. Today, the site of the Schwaben Redoubt is marked by the Ulster Tower and not far away at Thiepval, the Memorial to the Missing commemorates the names of about 70,000 soldiers who fought at the Battle of the Somme.

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