Today, July 1, is the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, an allied offensive that began on this date in 1916 and continued for almost five months until November 18.
|Going "over the top" at the Somme|
The Somme is one of those tragic events in human history that should never have happened. Planned and executed by the French and British, it achieved virtually nothing except the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Indeed, on just that first day of July a hundred years ago, the British suffered 58,000 casualties, including 20,000 deaths. This was and remains a one-day record in British warfare.
|French Chief of Staff Joffre|
|Sir Douglas Haig|
Haig ultimately took over the planning for the offensive which was preceded by a week of massive artillery bombardment of German positions. This not only eliminated the possibility of surprise, but also failed to achieve its objective of destroying the German fortifications. Once the artillery stopped, the Germans left their well-fortified underground bunkers, set up their machine guns, and began their slaughter of the attacking British infantry.
Haig, a leader of great inflexibility and stubbornness, continued the offensive along a 20-mile front in fits and starts until he eventually called it off on November 18. At the cost of well over one-million allied and German casualties, the Somme offensive resulted in the allies gaining less than eight miles.
Today is not a day to celebrate, but rather a day to mourn the loss of the youth of so many nations who perished during this war. These young men, needlessly sacrificed on a host of altars dedicated to greed, pride, stupidity, ideology, and blind nationalism, fought courageously while trusting that their military and political leadership would not abandon them. Sadly, too many of these leaders, on both sides, viewed the war quite simply as a war of attrition which would be won by the army that suffered fewer losses than its enemy. The result was carnage on a scale never before experienced.
I've included a remarkable 11-minute video that tries to describe what the Somme was like for the troops who fought there.