On this day in history : 1st July 1916 – 19,240 British and Allied soldiers are killed and a further 40,000 are injured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme during World War One….
100,000 Allied troops took part in the Battle of Albert – the name given by the British to the first two weeks of the planned joint operation between Britain and France…. Also included were men from South Africa, India, Newfoundland and many from Ireland….all brought together to try and break the deadlock on the Western Front…. The German and Allied troops faced each other from trenches separated only by a strip of ‘no man’s land’….
There had been a week’s long artillery bombardment before the main offensive, with the aim of destroying the German defences…. However, the decision was taken to extend the attack to a bigger area which meant the artillery fire had to cover a larger range….making it less effective….
On Saturday the 1st of July at 7.30am the first offensive began….for most of the infantry who went over the top it was their first taste of battle…. Many were volunteers of the ‘Pals’ battalions, formed after Lord Kitchener had called for volunteers…. At the beginning of the war the British Army consisted of 750,000 men….whereas the Germans had six times this number…. Kitchener appealed to Britain’s patriotism – calling friends, relations and neighbours to join-up together….the idea being men would have more desire to fight alongside those they knew….
Sending untrained, inexperienced men over the top was to be a recipe for disaster…. As they entered no man’s land they were met with a hail of machine gun fire…. The Germans, in their deep trenches, had ridden out the bombardment…. With German barbed wire defences still intact the Allies were unable to reach their objective; those that did were either killed or forced back…. On this, the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, the losses were catastrophic…. The 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment were virtually wiped out – and out of the 720 Accrington Pals – the 11th East Lancashire Battalion – 584 were casualties….
The Battle of the Somme continued for 4 months…. After that first day the Allied had captured 3 square miles….over the next two weeks a series of smaller attacks on the German lines were made, in preparation for another large assault…. On the 4th of July the two sides were engaged in another bloody battle….a further 25,000 were killed or injured…. By the second week in July the casualty numbers began to appear in the British newspapers….and people back home began to realise the hell that their loved ones had been sent to….