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15 Unbelievable Facts about the Battle of Somme (2023)

Most of us get to enjoy the peace and certain freedoms that those who came before us sadly didn’t. This is especially true for our predecessors who went to war, one of which was the Battle of Somme.

You wouldn’t be faulted for not knowing that this battle, also known as the Somme Offensive, was among the bloodiest of the First World War. But worry not. You’ve certainly come to the right place if you are one of those who’d like to discover more about the battle.

From July to November 1916, British and French armies fought against the German Empire. The battle got its name because it was fought near the Somme River in France.

The battle saw over one million casualties, with the British suffering the most losses at first. In addition, it is remembered as a turning point in the war, marking the end of trench warfare and the beginning of modern warfare. It also highlighted the importance of proper planning, coordination, and innovation in war.

Keep reading to learn 15 facts about the Battle of Somme you may not have known.

Battle-of-Somme

Image by Imperial War Museum London on Facebook

Facts About the Battle of Somme

Without further ado, let’s get to some sobering facts and better understand the battle and its impact on history.

1. The Battle of Somme Was Planned as a Joint Offensive Between the British and French Armies

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Image by National Army Museum on Facebook

However, the British led the offensive against the Germans in the Battle of Somme. Why, you may ask? German forces had just attacked the French army in Verdun in February 1916, so the British sought to assist the French embattled in Verdun.

Overall, this was part of the larger strategy between the Allies, the goal of breaking through German defenses and wearing them out. This was intended to end an 18-month-long trench deadlock in the fight against the Germans on the Western Front.

2. The Battle Began on 1 July 1916

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Image by Imperial War Museum London on Facebook

The British army launched an artillery barrage on the German trenches on 1 July 1916. What they did not foresee, though, was the German soldiers’ preparedness, with many having taken shelter in deep bunkers.

Looking back, this comes as no surprise. The German army had been preparing for such an attack for months. They had built deep, reinforced bunkers and dugouts to protect their soldiers, and they had strung multiple lines of barbed wire in front of their lines, making it almost impenetrable.

3. The Artillery Bombardment Lasted for Seven Days

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Image by National Army Museum on Facebook

This was supposed to destroy the German trenches and barbed wire. But it failed to do so.

Despite the British commanders’ hopes that the massive bombardment would be enough to destroy the German defenses, they were proven wrong. Even with the enormous amount of shells the British rained down on the German trenches, the defenders were able to weather the storm.

Many of them had taken shelter in their underground bunkers, and they emerged after the bombardment to find their defenses largely intact. The barbed wire, in particular, had suffered only minimal damage, making it a formidable obstacle for the British troops who were about to attack.

The result? The British troops were met with heavy machine-gun fire when they advanced.

Read more: Want to get clued up on World War 2 next? Save this to read later.

4. The First Day of the Battle Was the Worst in the History of the British Army

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Image by Imperial War Museum London on Facebook

With heavy machine-gun fire from the Germans came many deaths and casualties. According to reports, losses amounted to around 57,000, including about 19,240 British killed on the first day. Today, it’s still remembered as the bloodiest day in British military history.

It has been reported that most British killed died within the first hour. Furthermore, it is said that a man was killed almost every four seconds on 1 July 1916.

5. The Battle of Somme Was the First Time That Tanks Were Used in Warfare

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Image by National Army Museum on Facebook

The British first used the tanks on 15 September 1916. However, the tanks were not yet fully developed, and many broke down or got stuck in the mud, which impacted the success of the British army.

Speaking of mud, the region near the Somme River was known for its heavy rainfall. The rain posed a dilemma to the soldiers, making it difficult for them (and their equipment) to move.

6. The Battle of Somme Saw the First Use of Airpower in British Warfare

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Image by Imperial War Museum on Facebook

Before the Somme Offensive, planes were used for reconnaissance. Reconnaissance refers to using various means to gain intelligence on one’s enemies via scouting or exploration.

During the Battle of Somme, the British dropped bombs and attacked enemy German trenches with machine guns. The Royal Flying Corps served the British army in the offensive. They not only helped the British army gain intelligence, but also assisted them with directing artillery fire toward German targets.

Interestingly, the first recorded use of airpower in warfare was reported in the war between the Italians and the Turks in 1911, five years before the Battle of Somme.

7. The Battle of Somme Was Fought in a Sector of the Western Front That Had Not Seen Much Action Before

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Image by Imperial War Museum London on Facebook

The Germans had therefore been able to fortify their positions, making it difficult for the British to make any gains, especially within the first week. This also explains why the first week, particularly the first day, was the most costly regarding British lives lost.

8. The Battle of Somme Lasted Close to Five Months

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Image by Imperial War Museum London on Facebook

The British Commander in Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, called an end to the British army’s offensive against the Germans, bringing an end to the battle on 18 November 1916.

The bloody battle had gone on for about 141 days.

9. The Battle of Somme Was the First Film That Recorded Soldiers in Action

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Image by Imperial War Museum London on Facebook

Cinematographers John McDowell and Geoffrey Malins filmed the buildup to the battle and the early days. The film drew in 20 million views within the first months of release on 21 August 1916.

Following The Battle of Somme was The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks, released a year later in 1917.

10. The Film Was Made to Show That the Somme Offensive Was a Success

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Image by National Army Museum on Facebook

The objective of the film was to show that the offensive, known as “The Big Push,” was successful. It was also intended to show the public that the British soldiers were equipped with the weapons they needed and that they were well looked after.

The silent movie has even been touted as an example of war film propaganda.

11. Inexperienced Soldiers Fought the Battle

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Image by National Army Museum on Facebook

Many men who fought in the Battle of Somme came from the Army service. They had been volunteers who signed up in 1914 and 1915. Of these volunteers were men who were part of Pals Battalions

As the name suggests, these men served alongside members of their community: friends, family members, and colleagues.

Unfortunately, most of these men were inexperienced citizens and were not fit for war at such a scale. Following the devastating losses, the British disbanded the so-called Pals Battalions. The Pals Battalions were subsequently absorbed into other units.

12. The British Gained Tremendous Experience and Battle Insights

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Image by National Army Museum on Facebook

The British gleaned tremendous knowledge and insight, which helped them evolve into better fighters. They improved their tactics and used better artillery in their battle against the Germans.

While this resulted in the British experiencing major casualties, they were also able to strike a large blow to the German Army’s forces.

Read more: Interested in learning about different wars? Read my posts on facts about the Korean War and facts about the Vietnam War.

13. An Order by General Fritz von Below May Have Also Contributed to German Casualties

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Image by National Army Museum on Facebook

In addition to the British improving their tactics and warfare, it seems the Germans suffered many casualties due to an order by General Fritz von Below.

The field army commander told his troops not to lose ground to the Allied Forces (more below). As a result, German forces counterattacked to regain their losses. While this attack may sound intuitive (because who hasn’t thought of fighting back, even in everyday life?), it can also contribute to attrition.

Attrition warfare is an attempt to wear down the opponent’s troops but comes at a high cost. This cost involves lost lives and casualties for the party launching counterattacks, which the Germans certainly experienced. It is said that the German army lost about 440,000 men because of this order by General Fritz von Below.

14. The Allied Forces Comprised Various Nations

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Image by National Army Museum on Facebook

Allied troops who supported the French in the Battle of Somme included members of the British Commonwealth. Men from South Africa, Canada, India, and New Zealand were part of the offensive against German forces.

In addition, West Indians helped the British in the offensive. They were not allowed to join the fight on the Western Front, but they assisted the British in the background. Behind the lines, they were involved in logistics, such as moving artillery and building camps and dugouts in the trenches.

15. The British Lost About Half a Million Men

After nearly five months of the Somme Offensive, the British army lost over 420,000 men on the battlefield.

Overall, it is estimated that the Allied Forces (made up of Britain and France) and the Germans shared over a million casualties.

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