A Franco-British offensive on the Somme was planned as the major Allied effort on the Western Front in 1916. The start of a desperate struggle between French and German forces at Verdun in February meant that British Army would have to assume the main role. It was a mixture of pre-war regular soldiers, territorials, and volunteers. Many belonged to 'Pals' battalions, drawn from local communities, clubs and places of work, who joined up, trained and fought together.
On 1 July 1916, after a week-long artillery bombardment of German positions, the infantry assault began. Starting along a line from Maricourt to Foucaucourt-en-Santerre, the French Sixth Army drove the German Second Army from its front-line defences north and south of the river Somme, while divisions of the British Fourth Army took the villages of Montauban and Mametz.
In the north, between the Albert-Bapaume Road and Gommecourt, British forces made little progress and suffered heavy losses attacking formidable defences, many of which had survived the artillery barrage. By the end of the first day, the British Army had suffered some 57,000 casualties - including more than 19,000 killed.
Operations continued over the following months, and men from every part of Britain and across the British Empire took part, including troops from the West Indies and Bermuda, while volunteers from many other countries fought as part of the British Army. Both sides committed huge quantities of manpower and munitions to the struggle.
When the offensive was halted in November, more than 1 million British Empire, French and German servicemen had been wounded, captured, or killed. The battle had significant military, political, industrial and domestic consequences for all the countries involved.
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See our video about the Somme Offensive, which lasted for a total of 141 days
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