The Battle of the Somme was one of the biggest battles of World War I and one of the bloodiest battles in stories of humanity. In this long operation on the banks of the Somme River (from July 1 to November 18, 1916), more than 1 million people were killed and wounded. This battle also went down in history thanks to the first experience of application. tanksleading percussion weapons XX century.
The main distinguishing feature of the Battle of the Somme was its absolute predictability: the German high command literally thoroughly knew when and in which sector the Anglo-French troops would go for a breakthrough, and the latter, knowing about the strong battle formations of the enemy, stubbornly tried to go ahead. All this resulted in one of the most famous battles of the Great War.
This is exactly what determined the outcome of the battle: in fact, neither side could call itself a winner or a vanquished one. The allies, choking on blood, were able to push the German defenses at the front of the 35 km and deep into the 10 km. The Germans created a new line of defense. The battle of the Somme was the bloodiest in the history of the English army. However, it was the Battle of the Somme in conjunction with the battle that began earlier at Verdun and the bloody battles on the Russian front that predetermined the further strategic defeat of the German Empire and the entire Central Powers bloc. The German Empire and its allies could no longer fully resist the military and economic power of the Entente countries in the war of attrition. Time played against Germany. Also, the German losses on the Somme and near Verdun and the Austro-German losses on the Russian front had a negative impact on the morale and combat capability of the German army and had far-reaching political consequences. The morale of the German bloc was undermined.
Preparation of the operation
The troops of the Entente were, according to the resolutions of the conferences in Chantilly, in 1916, produced a combined strike against the Central Powers on the Russian, Italian and French fronts. The February 14 conference launched the attack on the French front 1 in July, and in the Russian on June 15. However, the advance of the Austro-German forces in the Italian and French theaters forced the Allies to change plans. The Russian army launched an offensive earlier to support the Allies. The French and the British went on the offensive according to the original plan - July 1.
In this case, the British expeditionary units played the main role in the offensive on the Somme, as the French carried the brunt of the struggle near Verdun and suffered heavy losses. French troops supported the offensive only on the southern flank. Thus, the Western powers prepared for this operation within 4 months, and attracted unprecedented in size military equipment in the form of heavy guns, aviation and the amount of ammunition, also new weapons such as tanks. In general, about 50% of the heavy artillery and up to 40% of the aircraft of the Entente at that time on the Western Front should have been used in the offensive operation.
On the part of the allies, the original plan of the operation was worked out even before the start of the Verdunsky battle and came down to a simultaneous strike by both allied armies in one large enough area to avoid the danger of enemy counterattacks in the open gap between the inner flanks if strikes were delivered in separate groups. Therefore, the Anglo-French command chose a plot on both sides of the Somme for an offensive operation on a continuous front in 70 km. However, the Verdunne Meat Grinder drained the French army and made them make changes to the original plan. The main role in the operation was assigned to the British army brought to the 56 divisions, while the French troops were only to support the allies. Instead of the originally planned three armies, the French were able to deploy only one on the Somme - the 6 Army. Front breakthrough narrowed down to 40 km. General management of the entire operation was entrusted to the French General Ferdinand Foch. In fact, a significant part of the operational authority assumed the commander of the British expeditionary forces, General Douglas Haig.
The overall plan of the operation was to break through the German front in the area of Bapom - Cambrai and the withdrawal of troops on enemy communications in Cambrai - Valenciennes - Maubeuge. The allies assumed that with the release of the operational space, cavalry divisions of the main attacking armies and the forces of the additional 10 of the French army would be introduced into the breakthrough.
Joffre divided this general plan into separate phases, specifying, in order to streamline joint operations, the first and subsequent lines that the British and French armies should reach. Joffre strictly demanded: "Order is more important than speed." Artillery destroys, infantry takes. Then the guns move forward, and everything repeats. Escaping forward or attacking at night is strictly forbidden. As a result, this division had a negative impact on the course of the entire operation, as the French troops, having completed the first task, that is, having reached a certain line, waited for the British to level the front (the Russian corps and armies on the Eastern front also made a similar mistake).
Thus, the main means of breaking through the German defense was to be heavy artillery. The Allied infantry was to follow the firing line, successively capturing one line of enemy defense after another. On the whole, conceptually, the idea of an Allied offensive on the Somme fully corresponded to the German idea of a consistent assault on the Verdun defense line.
The Allied command prepared very carefully for an offensive operation. Large stocks of stocks and food were concentrated behind the front; a number of railway lines, narrow railway lines, tram tracks and new roads were carried out. There were a lot of new shelters, communication lines, concentrated ammunition in the nearest places, etc. For example, about 750 km of railways (including narrow-gauge railways) were laid in the offensive line to the front, 6 concreted artillery platforms were built power, deployed 150 field hospitals.
The British were to attack the 3 and 4 armies north of the Somme between Maricourt and Gebüturn on the front of 25 km, in the direction of Bapom. Moreover, the main attack was inflicted 4 corps on the front Maricour - Saint-Pierre Divonte, on the river. Ankr, and auxiliary - further north to Gommekur. The French command on the southern flank assigned General Fayol’s 6 Army to attack. This army was to attack to support the British on both sides of the Somme at the front of 12 km from Marikur to Fukokur. South of the Somme was focused on the case of the development of a successful breakthrough of the newly formed 10-I army. The French, like the British, very carefully prepared for the offensive. Particular attention was paid to the artillery and aircraft.
Allies were confident of victory. It was believed that the German defense will not withstand the impact of such power. It was planned that after the breakthrough of the enemy's defense, long transitions would follow in the occupied territory. Therefore, the soldiers were loaded in full display (up to 30 kg). The British reigned almost festive mood. Back in 1915, the so-called. "Army Kitchener" - volunteers who responded to the call of the British Minister of War "Your country needs you!" And in 1916, Britain abandoned the old "freedom", instead of hiring introduced military service. The army increased to 5 million. There were many representatives of the elite, an educated part of society. The problem was that there was practically no one to recruit recruits - the few British cadre army was almost completely killed in the previous campaigns.
As a result, the British army consisted mainly of recruits who were ready to fill up the Germans with hats. And the British commander-in-chief, Douglas Haig, was confident that the power of the English artillery would compensate for the lack of combat experience of the infantry. In addition, the British artillery calculations were poorly prepared and could not provide the proper intensity of the "firing ground" in front of the infantry going forward. Therefore, the “fire-movement” method, when part of the attackers lay down to cover their comrades with fire, and then changed roles with them, Haig found it too difficult for his “raw” divisions. According to the order, the troops had to attack with thick waves of chains at a uniform speed, it was believed that the enemy’s trenches would be demolished by artillery from that time. The problem was that the Germans had time to dig deep into the ground (up to 10 m) and prepare long-term shelters, so a powerful artillery preparation did not lead to the expected results. Not surprisingly, the Battle of the Somme was the battle with the highest casualties in British military history.
The plan of the German command flowed from the general campaign plan for the 1916 year. Having thrown the main forces at Verdun, the Germans hoped that they had deprived the French army (the main force on the Western Front) of striking power. The Chief of the General Staff of the German Empire, von Falkenhain, noted in his memoirs: “About the 90 of the French divisions, i.e. around 2 / 3, the general armed forces of France, were ground at the Verdun mill. " Falkengine believed that the ratio of losses of the French armed forces to the losses in the German army were treated as 5: 2,25, i.e. German military machine operated at least 50% more efficiently. Some modern researchers refute the absolute figures in this analysis of the former chief of the German General Staff, but agree that the combat effectiveness of the actions of the German army was indeed higher than that of the allies.
But on the part of the British army, the German high command was expecting a speech: from the beginning - as a response to the attack of Verdun, and then - as assistance to Russian operations on the Eastern front. The German command could not organize a new large offensive operation on the French front, so the Germans focused on defense. Particular attention was paid to the sector occupied by the British army.
In addition, the extensive preparatory work of the British were not a secret to the Germans. Preparation was carried out on such a scale that the Allied command did not conceal it. At first, the German commander-in-chief, Falkengine, even wanted to thwart this offensive: to strike first, capture and destroy batteries, ammunition depots, and stop there. However, the Russian offensive in the East did not allow to realize this plan. The troops had to be transferred to the Russian front.
At the same time, the German General Staff did not believe that the Allies would get something worthwhile. Therefore, in the English sector of the front were relatively small German forces. The Germans were confident in the power of their defense. Germanic positions were equipped here for 2 years and represented a high standard of military engineering art. Barbed wire, concrete fortifications, safe havens for the troops, machine-gun nests, villages and forests, turned into strong points. The German army had two fortified lines in this direction in 2-3 km one from another and the Germans began to build a third.
The forces of the parties
By the beginning of the battle on the Somme, the British had deployed at the site of the intended breakthrough of the 6 corps. The 7 Army Corps was part of the 46 and 56 Divisions in the left flank area to attack Gommekur. To the south, from Gebutern to Marikur, 25 corps of Henry Rawlinson's 5 army stood on a plot in 4 km. The 8 Corps, consisting of the 31, 4 and 29 divisions in the first line and the 48 division in reserve, attacked in the 4-kilometer section of Serre-Hamel; The 10 Corps deployed on the 5-kilometer front south to 141 south of Tipval, with the 36 and 32 divisions at the front and the 49 division in reserve; The 3 Corps attacked the 2 and 8 divisions in the 34-kilometer stretch from Oviller to La Buazel, having the 19-division in reserve; On the 15 kilometer front from La Buazelle to Mametz, the 5 Corps deployed all 3 divisions - 21, 17 and 7 divisions, in the first line and 13 body as part of 18 and 30. divisions in the first line and 8 division in reserve attacked on the 4-kilometer front from Mamets to Marikur.
South of the Somme, the French army of Fayol deployed to 16-kilometer front 6-kilometer front, having divisions in the first line of 10 and in reserve 4 infantry and 4 cavalry divisions. The 6 attack of the French army was supported by 216 90 to 105 mm caliber guns, 516 mm 120 280 guns and 122 1100 high power guns. In addition, there were up to 1 trench mortars in the breakthrough area, which gave an average of 75 km to 55 batteries, 8 guns (of which 69 were heavy) and 6 trench mortars. Provision of ammunition was huge, they amassed almost six months:. Had to 75 million 3100-mm shells and 90 shots on 105-mm - 2630-mm artillery shells at 120 shots on 155-mm - 1700-mm guns and 200 Shots calibers over 3500 mm. Total artillery in the area of the breakthrough reached 300 trunks, aircraft - over 4 aircraft. The infantry was well equipped: 8-12 light machine guns, 37 rifle grenade launchers. Stand out XNUMX-mm guns for action in the infantry ranks.
The Germans against the English breakthrough section had General von Belov's 2 Army: in the first line of the 5 divisions of the 14-second reserve corps and the 3 division in reserve. South of the Somme, on the site of the 6 of the French Army, the 17 of the German corps was located. The total number of artillery shells barely reached 672, there were only 300 mortars and 114 aircraft. In addition, the German command had 12-13 divisions in reserve, of which 4 were in the Cambrai-Saint-Quentin area and 3 in the Ypres area.
Thus, the Allies had a great advantage in manpower and artillery at the start of the operation: the 17-18 British divisions and the French 18 (with reserve) against the German 10,5 divisions. During the operation, Allied forces increased to 51 British and 48 French divisions. The forces of the German army in this area increased to 50 divisions.
Position 400-mm French Cannon
The beginning of the battle
24 June 1916 of the year began an unprecedented artillery preparation. Artillery preparation lasted 7 days, and really impressed. For every meter of the front was released on a ton of steel and explosives. But the targets were not previously reconnoitered, they did not bother with the adjustment. Why, if the sea of steel and fire will sweep away everything? About 1 thousand aircraft went up in the air, the German Air Force crushed, dropped bombs. A certain success was. The first German defensive position was destroyed to a significant extent, half of the artillery batteries were put out of action. True, even the Germans managed to transfer three divisions and heavy artillery 30 batteries to the station during this time.
1 July the British went to the assault. After such preparation, the British decided that there was simply nothing alive ahead. Speak carelessly, like a walk. However, many German asylum withstood a multi-day bombardment. At 7.30 in the morning, when the British artillery fire was moved deep into enemy defenses, German machine-gunners began to appear from the dugouts, half-dead, crazy, but ready to fight. “The dugouts are still intact. The Germans, apparently, survived, "- reported intelligence Haigu. The British commander did not believe it. The order of the offensive was confirmed.
A further German official report describes this: “The enemy went into a massive attack with tightly closed uneven chains, immediately followed by small columns of soldiers. Although there can be no doubt of the extraordinary courage of the attackers, the British army should be obliged by heavy losses during these attacks to such an order of battle. ” At the same time, the British artillery plowed the ground so that it was very difficult to advance.
“The German troops exclusively expediently placed their machine-gun nests,” General Douglas Haig later recalled, “the presence of the majority of enemy machine guns was not even suspected by front-line intelligence of the Allied armies. German machine guns, saved from our shells, provided incredibly dense fire. " The intensity of the German fire was simply tremendous: the trunks of German machine guns from red-light bursts were red hot and sometimes failed. Thus, an accurate, massive fire of the German machine-gunners mowed up the coming dense English chains even on the distant approaches to the trenches.
As a result, from 100 thousand British soldiers who rose from the trenches, 19 thousand people were killed, and 39 thousand more were injured, that is, the losses amounted to more than half (for comparison, the Germans lost only about 6 thousand on the first day of the battle . person). Especially great were the losses among the officers, whose form was markedly different from the rank and file and sergeants. And the result was almost zero. Only on their right wing, next to the more successful French, did the British manage to seize several advanced fortifications. Not surprisingly, 1 July 1916, in the English history of the First World War, is called “the biggest catastrophe of the whole war”. On this day, the first day of the attack on the Somme River, the British lost more people than in any other battle before and after. In this battle lay the color of the English nation.
The following fact speaks about the effectiveness of the German defense and the mistakes of the English command: the German 180 Infantry Regiment lost 1 on July 1916, only about 200 people from the 3000 list. On the same day, the British 4 division, which attacked the positions of this regiment, lost the 5121 fighter from the 12 thousands. Some British military units, such as the 1 th Newfoundlen regiment, actually ceased to exist by the evening of July 1.
The French acted more skillfully, moving under the cover of a rampart. Captured the first position of the enemy, broke into the second. German commanders ordered to retreat from the second position, leaving key strongholds without a fight. And the third position was only built. In fact, the front was broken. However, "order is more important than speed!" The French commanders, having reached certain milestones assigned for that day, ordered to stop, wait for the lagging British. The French resumed the offensive on July 5 only. Meanwhile, the Germans came to their senses from the first strike, returned to positions that the French did not occupy. The Germans pulled up fresh forces, restored the system of continuous fire and obstacles. Then the bloody gnawing of the German defense began. The French were able to seize the second position only after 9 days, and again they waited for the British.
The Germans managed to equip the third position at this time. Its allies stormed 14, 20 and 30 in July. But the German soldiers stood to death - there were no defensive lines in the rear, it was impossible to retreat. Meanwhile, the German command pulled up additional forces and means to the dangerous section. Thus, two “meat grinders”, Verdun and Somme, were already working on the Western Front.
To be continued ...