Why was the first day of the Battle of the Somme a failure?

Essay by andrewkight September 2004

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The Battle of the Somme was planned by General Sir Douglas Haig. It was fought in an attempt to end the stalemate, and to relieve pressure on the French Army who were fighting at Verdun. The Germans had said they had intended to 'bleed France white' at Verdun. The battle was also fought to make a big push past the German trenches and into Germany. The battle began on 1 July 1916 and ended in November of the same year. The first day on the Somme was a bitter failure: there were 60,000 British casualties, and 20,000 British were dead. By the end of the battle, there were 1.2 million casualties. There were some successes however. On the first day, the 36th Ulster division achieved a remarkable achievement. They achieved their objectives, as did the 30th division in the diversionary attack in the north of the country. They got to the village of Montaubau, and even pursued the fleeing Germans into the Montaubau Valley.

General Rawlinson had nearly not included this division in the plans, and was going to replace them. Over the whole war, the British took about 15 miles. These were about the only successes of a very dreadful war, but why was the Somme, in particular the first day, such a failure?

There were big problems with the trenches. The German trenches overlooked the British trenches, and so the Germans could see through binoculars everything that was going on in the British trenches. They therefore had weeks and weeks to prepare for the attack (as they could see the masses of artillery being collected), and this contributed to the failure of the first day. There was another problem with being at the bottom of a slope. When they came out of the trenches to attack the...