Battle of the Somme: the tragedy of a military campaign
Almost a hundred years ago, in November 1918, in the Compiegne forest, the representatives of Germany signed an armistice, signifying the end of the First World War. In the summer of 1914, no one would have believed that this military conflict would last several years, kill more than 10 million people, lead to fundamental changes in the world, the consequences of which are still being felt.
Contemporaries do not accidentally called the First World War Great. Indeed, never before in history has a military conflict between several countries developed into a global one.
Government promises of an easy and quick victory proved to be nothing more than an illusion. Instead, huge armies in the east and west of Europe are bogged down in combat for several years.
The commanders-in-chief of both sides developed offensive operations, which in practice proved to be ineffective in military terms, but cost opponents enormous casualties. One of them was the battle of the Somme (1916).
In March 1916, at the final conference of the Allies in Chantilly, the overall strategic plan of the Entente for the year was agreed. It was supposed in the summer to carry out an offensive operation on the Somme River in order to break through the German defenses at the front of 70 km.
Initially, the main role was assigned to the three French armies, which were to work closely with the two British. However, in May, the Allies made significant adjustments to the plan of operation. The reason was the battle of Verdun, which began in February, later called the “meat grinder”.
Since the French suffered huge losses in it, the Allied command decided, firstly, to cut the planned breakthrough line three times and, secondly, to lay the main blow on the 4th British Army under the command of General Rawlinson.
The battle on the Somme was planned as a methodical seizure of the German defense lines. The Allied artillery was required to ensure the breakthrough of the infantry, and that, in turn, was to move forward exactly in accordance with the schedule.
The offensive of the Anglo-French troops was prepared very carefully for almost five months.The soldiers in the military camps specially created for this purpose worked out the order of interaction, melee techniques and methodical attacks. Everything seemed to be done so that the battle on the Somme would be won by the army of the Entente.
Start of operation
The German General Staff did not remain in ignorance of the impending offensive. True, the German generals believed that the French would not be able to conduct active operations because of the huge losses at Verdun, and the combat capability of the British troops left much to be desired.
As it was foreseen by the plan, starting from June 24 and throughout the week, the Allies conducted powerful artillery preparation. The miscalculations cost the German army dearly, which, despite the rush transfer of forces, failed to change the situation in their favor.
In July 1916 the battle on the Somme began the onset of the Anglo-French troops under the cover of artillery. The success of their attacks was not identical in different parts of the front. Several corps, connected with the offensive schedule, stopped advancing deep into enemy territory.
The German command took an unexpected pause, redeployed fresh divisions and organized a new defense line.Subsequent attempts by the Entente to turn tactical success into operational proved fruitless. Just ten days after the start of the operation, the attack choked. From now until the end of the summer hostilities take a protracted nature.
In early September, the Allies changed tactics aimed at exhausting the enemy by organizing a new offensive. 58 Anglo-French divisions opposed 40 German. A large-scale offensive within ten days allowed the Entente forces to break through the defenses of the enemy, retreating 2-4 km.
At this stage, for the first time in the history of wars, tanks were brought into battle. The psychological effect of the use of armored vehicles was enormous. The German infantry, which had never before encountered it, left the fortified positions in a panic.
The September offensive of the Allied forces reached its peak by September 28. From this day on, the Battle of the Somme enters a new phase. In the next month and a half, neither side took any more active steps along the whole front. The forces of the opponents were completely exhausted.
As already noted, the Allies had been preparing for the operation for a long time and thoroughly, however, it did not bring them the expected victory.The Germans defended themselves heroically and did not give up their positions, retreating just a few kilometers. This result was completely unjustified, taking into account the enormous losses.
According to estimates, the battle on the Somme killed more than a million soldiers on both sides, becoming one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. Only British divisions on average lost about 80% of the personnel.
However, the real cost of the loss was different. For example, if the majority of the 400,000 dead British were hastily trained volunteers, the German army, who fought on the Somme, consisted mainly of professional soldiers. Such losses could not but reflect on the morale and combat effectiveness of the German army, which soon became apparent.
The battle of the Somme (year 1916) became the forerunner of the end of the First World War. She demonstrated the superiority of the Allies over the Kaiser Germany in both the military and the economic sphere. The battle in France together with the Brusilov breakthrough (spring-summer 1916) finally transferred the strategic initiative to the Entente.
On the other hand, the operation on the Somme revealed, firstly, the inconsistency of the Allied command, and secondly, convincingly proved the fallacy of military theory about the effectiveness of methodical attacks and the breakthrough of the front in one place through a powerful strike.
According to the testimony of the participants, the battle on the Somme crippled a whole generation morally and physically. In memory of those events in France, an underground museum was created near the city of Albert, which reproduces the lives of soldiers during the war, called the Great Witness.