The Prussian Machine  -  Battles

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The Somme


* Dates:  24 June - 18 Nov 1916 

* Background:  The Allies under General Haig had planned a great offensive (The Big Push) on the Somme River sector, quiet since the First Marne, for the latter part of 1916. The fear of a German breakthrough at Verdun intensified the urgency of this attack. Though not fully prepared, the British (with French aid) launched the attack on 1 July.  

von Below


* The Germans:  General Fritz von Below's Second Army had taken advantage of the inactivity there to make the area impregnably strong throughout the chalk hills overlooking Allied positions. Corps commanders under von Below were: Quast (IX), Watter (XIII), Stein (XIV. Reserves), Boehn (IX. Reserves), and Kirchbach (XII. Reserves). This made for a total of 16 front-line divisions facing Haig's 27 divisions. Later on 19 July, General Max von Gallwitz took overall command of the Somme area with his Army Group Gallwitz


Second Army

  Gen.d.Inf  Fritz von Below
   IX. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Ferdinand von Quast
   XIII. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Theodor von Watter
   IX. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Max von Boehn
   XII. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Hans von Kirchbach
   XIV. Reserves   GenLt. Hermann von Stein


* The Battle:  The BEF made their intentions obvious with a week-long artillery barrage prior to 1 July, allowing the Germans to even further reinforce their defenses. The bombardment had little effect on the Germans, however, and the British were subsequently mowed down by machine gun crews, ending up with almost 60,000 casualties on the first day alone. With 19,000 dead, this day went down as the greatest one-day loss in the history of the British Army. The offensive nonetheless continued until the German line was almost breached in mid-July. On 13 November, the BEF was able to briefly capture the Fortress at Beaumont Hamel, but heavy snows forced them to abandon that small gain, as well as the offensive itself. Chief of General Staff Falkenhayn was ultimately forced to transfer reinforcements from the Verdun area, so to that degree the BEF did achieve an important objective.

A notable innovation during this campaign was the British employment of the tank in mid-September. It was well designed for Western Front battle conditions, but not enough tanks were used to win any permanent advantage. Just like poison gas, the tank failed in its desired effect simply because military commanders did not grasp its tactical potential. The First Battle of the Somme lasted over four months, with the Allies advancing approximately eight miles into a mostly muddy, desolate land of little military value. The Germans ended up with over 600,000 casualties during what some refer to as the "bloodiest battle in world history."

* click to enlarge